Growing the game: How golf gets it wrong

By Brandel ChambleeJuly 10, 2015, 3:50 am

 When I was new to golf the head professionals where I played, including Rives McBee, introduced me to the game, helped me get better and passed on their passion for playing. Before anyone had shot 63 in a major, McBee had a share of the record for lowest round in a major, a 64 that he shot in the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic. He traveled with Lee Trevino early in their careers and he knew the game inside and out. Still does.

As a head pro, McBee, along with Jerry Andrews and Lanny Turentine, wasn’t holed up in an office. He was on the putting green, the driving range or the golf course, showing people how to play, explaining this part of the grip or that part of the stance. If he wasn’t in one of those places, he could be found at the 19th hole, talking about the history of this game, its traditions and past greats. For McBee and Andrews and Turentine, these weren’t just characters out of books, they were people they knew personally.

These men weren’t trying to generate rounds, they were trying to generate interest. They weren’t trying to grow the game, they were trying to preserve the game.

In my mind, the golf professional is the most important person in golf, the link between the golfer and the game. But another link, one between golf courses and boardrooms and Wall Street, has fundamentally changed the golf professional’s job as “growing the game” has become golf’s highest priority.

I hear repeatedly that golf’s participation numbers are falling; that the millennials aren't interested in it and the 18- 30-year-old set that was, isn't anymore; that those who care about the future of golf should all work to “grow the game.”

Today, that means getting the golfer to the course at all costs. It means cutting the cost of the green fee and the salary of the golf professional. It means trying to make the game easier (15-inch cups), faster (9- to 12-hole rounds) or even completely different (Footgolf).

The downturn in golf's popularity – and this is not the first one - is not because it is expensive, not because it is too difficult, not because of anything other than the natural ebb and flow of the sport.

Golf has always been expensive. In the 1600s a golf ball, or a featherie as it was known then, cost the equivalent of $14. A surgeon in Great Britain in 1700 made roughly $75 a year. The game has always been expensive.

Golf didn't just suddenly become hard; it has driven people crazy for centuries. The difficulty of the game has always been a large part of its allure. The difficulty is offset by the passion that people have for it.

As I said, this isn’t the first downturn golf has experienced. The first one in the U.S. followed the boom that came from Francis Ouimet’s stunning upset of Ted Ray and Harry Vardon in the 1913 U.S. Open playoff and the heyday of Bobby Jones, climaxing in his Grand Slam of 1930. During this period, the number of USGA-affiliated clubs rose from 267 in 1910 to more than 1,100 in 1932.

Golf's growth abated in the 1930s for two primary reasons - the stock market collapse of 1929 and Jones’ retirement in 1930. This was a one-two punch to an expensive, star-driven game that was almost exactly duplicated by the circumstances of the economy's downturn in 2008 and Tiger Woods’ scandal in 2009. The only difference? In the 1930s nobody was suggesting a need to grow the game.

After World War II golf enjoyed slow, steady growth until Arnold Palmer burst onto the scene in the 1950s. Then the game grew like bacteria in a petri dish, which is to say parallel to his popularity. Aaron Sorkin couldn't have written this guy. Spielberg couldn't have directed him. He mesmerized man, woman and child with great manners and all manner of gesticulations on the way to heroic wins and tragic losses. He moved people, literally, to the golf course.

Where Palmer’s popularity grew over time, Woods’ was like a bowling ball dropping into a koi pond. By 2013 there were 10,600 USGA-affiliated golf courses. That number, however, was down from the previous few years, as was the number of players, which is why there is such a hullaballoo about needing to grow the game.

Golf used to be mostly a break-even business. Courses and the experience were designed for the enjoyment of players. Profits went back into the facilities. This began to change when conglomerates began taking over ownership and/or management of courses.

The fallout from this has changed golf more than anything else in its history. Somewhere in a board room there is a man or woman whose job is to look at spread sheets and figure out how to maximize profits, to generate more revenue by generating more rounds. The burden of doing this often falls on the golf professional, so instead of being out on the range as Rives McBee, Jerry Andrews, Lanny Turentine and their ilk used to be, golf professionals are instead huddled in their offices trying to figure out how to generate more rounds.

The goal shouldn’t be to grow the game at all costs, it should be to connect on a one-to-one level with each golfer or prospective golfer, to help them appreciate why it's worth taking the time to learn how to play. Pay the golf professionals more money because they are worth every penny and will make people want to play this game. In time there will be another star every bit as alluring as Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer and Bobby Jones, and once again the game will grow.

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Web.com Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.