When US Amateur Stopped Counting as a Major
Tiger Woods could say he has won 13 majors using that math, but he doesn't see it that way and never has. Ask him how many majors he has collected, and Woods doesn't hesitate to say the British Open last month was his 10th.
None of it really matters to Jack Nicklaus.
Whether he has 18 or 20 majors, he still holds the record.
``You could do it either way you want to do it,'' Nicklaus said. ``I could have 20 and Tiger could have 13. I mean, I don't care. But I can't imagine that anybody would have thought of the U.S. Amateur being a major in the last 10 or 15 years. Forty years ago, they still looked at it that way.''
Nicklaus spoke two weeks before the start of the U.S. Amateur, the oldest championship (by one day) in American golf and long considered a major title. He won it in 1959 and 1961 before turning pro, then captured the U.S. Open the following year for the first of 18 professional majors.
Somewhere along the way, the U.S. Amateur seems to have lost its status, if not some luster.
Edoardo Molinari of Italy is the latest champion, winning Sunday afternoon at fabled Merion Golf Club to become the first European winner since Harold Hilton in 1911.
The victory earned Molinari a place in history alongside some of the biggest names in golf -- Francis Ouimet, Bobby Jones, Palmer, Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Woods. It gets him into the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open.
But should it count as his first major?
It sure didn't for Mickelson. And it certainly won't for Nathaniel Crosby or Bubba Dickerson.
``That should be classified as one of the major championships,'' said Palmer, who won the 1954 U.S. Amateur before adding seven majors as a pro. ``I don't know who downplayed it or why they did. Until they downgraded it, I used to say I had won eight. I've sort of backed off of that now, because no one recognizes it any more.
``To not recognize it as a major is too bad.''
If not for the U.S. Amateur, there wouldn't be a Grand Slam.
This is the 75-year anniversary of Jones winning the four major titles of his time -- the British Open, the British Amateur, the U.S. Open and the U.S. Amateur. George Trevor of the New York Sun referred to Jones' feat as the ``impregnable quadrilateral,'' while O.B. Keeler in the Atlanta Journal later called it the ``Grand Slam.''
And that's what inspired Palmer in 1960 to reinvent the notion of winning all four majors in one year.
He won the Masters and U.S. Open and was on his way to St. Andrews with Pittsburgh sportswriter Bob Drum. They got to talking about Jones, and Palmer suggested a new Grand Slam.
``That became the talk of the town,'' Palmer said. ``They dropped the status of the Amateur, and I'm sorry they did that. How can you say Jones won the Grand Slam if you don't include the Amateur?''
Someone was still counting the U.S. Amateur when Nicklaus came around.
His victory in the 1973 PGA Championship at Canterbury gave Nicklaus his 14th career major to break Jones' record of 13 (five U.S. Amateurs, four U.S. Opens, three British Opens and one British Amateur). At the time, Nicklaus had won 12 professional majors and two Amateurs.
But when he won his last major at the 1986 Masters, the record he left behind was 18 professional majors.
What became of the U.S. Amateur?
``It's a major championship in the game of golf,'' Nicklaus said. ``But is it one of the ones that you want to put in that list? Because of Jones is the only way you would put it there. I accept it either way.''
Without the U.S. Amateur, Jones only has seven majors. Nicklaus still would have beaten the record at Canterbury with his 12 professional majors, one more than Walter Hagen.
Trying to determine when the U.S. Amateur lost its status as a major is as unclear as when the Masters and PGA Championship took over.
Woods brought the U.S. Amateur some attention by becoming the first male to win three straight years. But he never considered it a major. He suggests the demise of the Amateur came in the 1940s and 1950s, when Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson were the popular forces in golf.
``That's when professional golf got big,'' Woods said. ``They didn't play in it because they were all pros. I think that's when you can discount any guy winning the Amateur as being a major.''
Even Nicklaus says the U.S. Amateur as a major was ``borderline'' when he won in 1959 and 1961. He probably counted it toward his major total because the record he chased -- 13 by Jones -- included six amateur titles.
``A lot of people considered that a major at that time because of Jones' situation and what he did,'' Nicklaus said. ``I think as time has gone on, and so much focus has gone on the four professional majors, they just sort of dropped off.''
USGA president Fred Ridley is the last U.S. Amateur champion (1975) who didn't turn pro. Jay Sigel won in 1982-83 and remained an amateur until he turned 50 and tried the Champions Tour.
Golf at the highest level is now about professionals.
So are the majors.
Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions
The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”
For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.
There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.
“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”
But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by GolfChannel.com paints a different picture.
Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”
“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”
Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.
“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”
It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.
Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”
The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”
You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.
How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?
“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.
Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.
The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.
Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.
Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.
“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”
It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.
Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.
The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.
Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week
Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.
That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.
Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.
From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.
Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.
She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.
She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.
“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”
Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.
With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.
The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.
She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.
The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.
One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge
Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.
Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.
Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:
Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.
Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.
Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.
Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.
David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.
DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.
The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.
''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''
In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.
''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''
The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.
''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.