Back at Hoylake, golf's landscape has changed

By Doug FergusonJuly 12, 2014, 8:22 pm

HOYLAKE, England - The British Open packs 154 years of history on links courses that have been nurtured more by time than by tractors. It returns this year to Royal Liverpool, the second-oldest golf club in England, established in 1867 before anyone in America knew much about the Royal & Ancient game.

For all its heritage, however, the charm of this major is what lies ahead. No one ever knows what to expect.

Consider the landscape.

Royal Liverpool was so brown and baked when The Open was last here in 2006 that the R&A asked players to take extra care if they smoked, and it had two fire engines stationed on the golf course. The ball rolled so far when it hit the ground that Tiger Woods hit only one driver over 72 holes and won by two shots.

Now the grass is greener than it was at Pinehurst No. 2 for the U.S. Open.

It feels like a new course this year.

''It's lush. The greens are soft and very green. Fairways are pretty similar,'' said Rory McIlroy, who took a scouting trip to Hoylake last week. ''But I think they are going to get a spell of good weather leading up to The Open, and hopefully, it will get a bit firmer.''

He recalled watching in 2006 when ''the ball was like bouncing down a road on the fairways.'' McIlroy says he could hit as many as five drivers each round.

''It's going to be a little different,'' he said. ''There's some thick spots of rough on the course, so avoiding that and avoiding those fairway bunkers ... if I can just do that, and anyone else can do that, then they'll have a good chance.''

A greater change might be the landscape of golf.

Woods was at the height of his powers eight years ago when he won the claret jug for the third time. He was the first player in more than 20 years to repeat as Open champion. He would go on to win the PGA Championship that year, making history as the only player to capture multiple majors in successive years.

Now he makes news when he can even play in a major.

Woods has had three surgeries since he was last at Royal Liverpool - two on his left knee, the most recent on March 31 to alleviate a nerve impingement in his back, which caused him to miss the Masters for the first time, and then the U.S. Open. When the British Open begins on Thursday, it will be his first major in 11 months.

Woods returned earlier than anyone thought - himself included - three weeks ago in the Quicken Loans National at Congressional. He missed the cut, which annoyed him, and played without pain, which thrilled him.

''I hate to say it, but I'm really encouraged by what happened this week,'' Wood said. ''What I was able to do physically, and the speed I had and the distance that I was hitting the golf ball again, I had not done that in a very long time.''

He wasn't worried about the little mistakes, mainly with his short game, because he could fix them.

But how soon?

Woods is 38 and without a major in six years, leaving him at 14 for his career and still four short of catching Jack Nicklaus. It might help to return to a course where he has won before, except that this is a different golf course. And he is not the same player.

''We haven't seen Tiger really, really play well in a while now,'' two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange said.

There hasn't been a dominant player even during his time away from various injuries and surgeries over the last five years. Golf is ruled by committee.

McIlroy, with two majors by age 23, is just now starting to get his game back in order. Martin Kaymer is in the best form, having won The Players Championship and U.S. Open by going wire-to-wire in both. Adam Scott is No. 1 in the world. Phil Mickelson is the defending champion. Justin Rose is fresh off a big win at Congressional. Bubba Watson is a Masters champion again.

All have had moments of greatness, none of it sustained.

Nineteen players have won the 24 majors that have been held since Woods won his last one.

''We have all witnessed what Tiger has been able to do over his career, whether that's come back from injury and win, come back from any sort of off-course stuff and win. I mean, win the U.S. Open on one leg,'' McIlroy said. ''Is it foolish for people to write him off? I would say so. If he's playing and he's competing, he's got as good a chance as any.''

Considering the circumstances, Woods winning would be a surprise.

Then again, for as long as golf's oldest championship has been around, it is still capable of delivering a few shockers.

Mickelson produced one of his own at Muirfield last summer when he had his named etched on that silver claret jug for winning the one major that for years befuddled him. Only five years ago, 59-year-old Tom Watson came within an 8-foot par putt of being the oldest major champion. Ben Curtis was playing his first major in 2003 when he won at Royal St. George's. He was the only player to break par. The Open returned to St. George's eight years later, and 11 players had a better score than Curtis.

What happened eight years ago at Royal Liverpool feels like ancient history.

Perhaps that should be the adage for The Open. The more things stay the same, the more they change.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 3, Tiger Woods

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 12:45 pm

After returning to competition at the Hero World Challenge in December 2016, Woods started the new year with an ambitious slate of tournament starts as he eyed his first full season since 2013. But he made it only three rounds, looking rusty en route to a missed cut at Torrey Pines before withdrawing abruptly in Dubai.

The “spasms” that led to that withdrawal turned out to be something far more serious, as Woods underwent his fourth and most invasive back surgery in April, a lumbar fusion. It brought with it an extensive rehabilitation, and at the Presidents Cup in September Woods humored the prospect that he might never again play competitive golf.

At Liberty National he also faced some scrutiny for an off-course incident from months prior. In May he was arrested for suspicion of DUI, an incident that produced a startling roadside video of an intoxicated Woods struggling to follow instructions from the arresting officer after driving erratically.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


While he was not drinking at the time, Woods was found to have a mix of several prescription medications in his system, including multiple painkillers. He checked himself into a private drug treatment program in July to address his dependency issues, and in October he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving.

But the incident was barely a memory when Woods again made a return to competition in the Bahamas at the tournament he hosts. This time around he exceeded nearly every expectation, twice shooting 4-under 68 while tying for ninth among the 18-man field. Having re-tooled his swing following fusion surgery, Woods appeared relaxed, happy and healthy while briefly taking the lead during the tournament’s second round.

What lies ahead for Woods in 2018 remains uncertain, as the stop-and-start nature of this past season serves as a cautionary tale. But after a harrowing arrest and another serious surgery, he seems once again focused on his game, intent on chasing down a new crop of elite talent, some of whom are barely more than half his age.

Woods' initial comeback short-lived, leads to another back surgery

Article: Woods undergoes "successful" fourth back surgery

Article: Woods (back spasm) withdraws from Dubai

Article: Players disappointed Woods withdraws from Dubai

Really, again: Tiger undergoes fourth back surgery

Begay on Tiger: Future is 'extremely uncertain'


Woods arrested for DUI, enters diversion program after getting "professional help"

Article: Woods arrested for DUI in May

Article: Police say Woods had 5 drugs in system when arrested

Article: DUI affidavit states Tiger asleep in parked car

Dashcam video released of Tiger's DUI arrest

Begay, Rolfing: Tiger's arrest needs to be wakeup call

Photos: Tiger Woods' car during DUI arrest

Tiger Woods at his 2017 DUI court hearing.

Photos: Tiger Woods in court for DUI hearing

Article: Tiger gets 'professional help' for prescription meds

Tiger Woods at his 2017 DUI court hearing.

Article: Woods pleads in court guilty to reckless driving


Woods goes from unsure of his pro golf future to resuming full golf activities

Article: Doctor clears Woods for full golf activity six months after back surgery

Article: Tiger doesn't know what future holds

Article: Woods back to making full swings

Woods admits he might never return to competition

Making progress: Breaking down Tiger's driver swing


Woods returns to competition for first time since February at Hero World Challenge

Article: Hero comeback a success for healthy Woods

Article: Woods discusses his back: 'No issues at all, none'

Tiger Tracker: Woods finished T-9 in return to competition

Chamblee: 'I was wrong' about some of my Woods skepticism

Tiger, if you were hurting, would you tell us? 'Yeah, I'd tell you'


Woods out and about in 2017

Article: Video, images of Tiger's round with Trump

Article: Woods posts photo as 'Mac Daddy Santa'

Article: Tiger at U.S. Open sitting in Nadal's box

Article: Shirtless Tiger holds up a massive lobster

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

NBC Sports' Coverage of LPGA Tour in 2017 Most-Viewed Season Ever for NBC Sports

By Golf Channel Public RelationsDecember 13, 2017, 8:45 pm

NBC Sports’ LPGA Tour Coverage Ties 2013 for Most-Watched Year Since 2011

NBC and Golf Channel Boast Top-6 Most-Watched Women’s Golf Telecasts in 2017

Beginning with the dramatic playoff finish at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic in January and concluding with Lexi Thompson winning the $1 million Race to the CME Globe, nearly 22 million viewers tuned in to LPGA Tour coverage across Golf Channel and NBC in 2017. This makes 2017 the most-viewed LPGA Tour season across NBC Sports since Golf Channel joined the NBC Sports Group in 2011. Additionally, 2017 tied 2013 as the LPGA Tour’s most-watched year across NBC Sports since 2011. Coverage drew an average of 221,000 viewers per telecast in 2017 (+24% vs. 2016), according to data released by The Nielsen Company.

NBC SPORTS GROUP CLAIMS TOP-6 MOST-WATCHED WOMEN’S GOLF TELECASTS IN ‘17

For the first time ever in televised women’s golf, Sunday’s final round of the RICOH Women’s British Open (Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017, 1.1 million viewers) delivered the most-watched and highest-rated women’s golf telecast of the year. NBC’s Saturday (Day 2) coverage of the Solheim Cup in August placed second with 968,000 viewers, followed by Sunday’s Solheim Cup coverage on NBC with 946,000 viewers. Golf Channel’s live coverage of Sunday’s final day of the Solheim Cup drew 795,000 viewers, the most-watched women’s golf event on cable in eight years.

Rank

Network

Event

Day

Avg. Viewers P2+

1

NBC

RICOH WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN

Sunday

1,100,526

2

NBC

SOLHEIM CUP

Saturday

968,202

3

NBC

SOLHEIM CUP

Sunday

946,387

4

NBC

KPMG WOMEN'S PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Sunday

839,983

5

NBC

RICOH WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN

Saturday

808,578

6

GOLF

SOLHEIM CUP

Sunday

795,000

ADDITIONAL VIEWERSHIP MILESTONES FOR WOMEN’S GOLF IN 2017

  • ANA Inspiration - The LPGA’s first major championship delivered thefifth most-watched LPGA final round in Golf Channel history with 551,000 viewers when So Yeon Ryu defeated Lexi Thompson in a playoff following Thompson being assessed a four-stroke penalty earlier in the final round.
  • KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – The LPGA’s second major was seen by 6.6 million viewers across Golf Channel and NBC, the largest audience for the event on record (2006-17). Sunday’s final round on NBC, which saw Danielle Kang win her first LPGA Tour event over defending champion Brooke Henderson, also was the most-watched telecast in the event’s history with 840,000 average viewers.
  • RICOH Women’s British Open – NBC’s Sunday coverage of the RICOH Women’s British Open delivered the most-watched and highest-rated women’s golf telecast in 2017 (.78 U.S. HH rating, 1.1 million viewers). In total, 7 million unique viewers tuned in to coverage across Golf Channel and NBC, the most-watched RICOH Women’s British Open in the past 10 years and the most-watched among the five women’s major championships in 2017.
  • Solheim Cup – Seen by a total audience of 7.3 million viewers across Golf Channel and NBC, the Solheim Cup posted the largest total audience for women’s golf since the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open on ESPN/NBC. Golf Channel’s live coverage of the final day drew 795,000 average viewers, becoming the most-watched women’s golf telecast on cable in the last eight years, since the final day of the 2009 Solheim Cup.

GOLF CHANNEL DIGITAL POSTS RECORD STREAMING CONSUMPTION

Golf Channel Digital posted record numbers of LPGA streaming consumption with 11.9 million live minutes streamed across LPGA Tour telecasts in 2017 (+563% vs. 2016).

  • Solheim Cup – Three-day coverage of the Solheim Cup saw 6.3 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports’ Digital platforms, trailing only the 2016 Rio Olympics (9 million) as the most-ever for a women’s golf event airing on Golf Channel / NBC.
  • RICOH Women’s British Open – Four-day coverage of the RICOH Women’s British Open saw 2 million minutes streamed, +773% vs. 2016.

NBC Sports Group combined to air 31 LPGA Tour events in 2017 and a total of 420 hours of coverage, the most in LPGA history. The exclusive cable home to the LPGA Tour, Golf Channel aired coverage of four of five women’s major championships in 2017, with three majors also airing on NBC: the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, RICOH Women’s British Open and The Evian Championship. The biennial Solheim Cup also returned to network television for the first time in 15 years with weekend coverage on NBC.

Source: Nielsen 2017 Live+Same Day DVR vs. prior available data. Persons 2+ avg 000’s and/or Persons 2+ reach w/six-minute qualifier. Digital Metrics from Adobe Reports & Analytics. Details available.

Hensby takes full responsibility for violation

By Rex HoggardDecember 13, 2017, 5:28 pm

The PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program manual covers 48 pages of details, from the pressing to the mundane, but for Mark Hensby the key section of the policy could be found on Page 5.

“The collector may allow you to delay reporting to the testing area for unavoidable obligations; however, you will be monitored from the time of notification until completion of the sample collection process,” the policy reads. “A failure to report to the testing area by the required time is the same as a doping violation under the program.”

Hensby, a 46-year-old former Tour winner from Australia, didn’t read that section, or any other part of the manual. In fact, he said he hasn’t received the circuit’s anti-doping manual in years. Not that he uses that as an excuse.

To be clear, Hensby doesn’t blame his anti-doping plight on anyone else.

“At the end of the day it’s my responsibility. I take full responsibility,” he told GolfChannel.com.

Like Doug Barron, Scott Stallings and even Vijay Singh before him, Hensby ran afoul of the Tour’s anti-doping policy because, essentially, of a clerical error. There were no failed tests, no in-depth investigations, no seedy entourages who sent Hensby down a dark road of performance-enhancing drug use.

Just a simple misunderstanding combined with bad timing.

Hensby, who last played a full season on Tour in 2003, had just completed the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship when he was approached by a member of the Tour’s anti-doping testing staff. He was angry about his play and had just used the restroom on the 17th hole and, he admits, was in no mood to wait around to take the urine test.

“Once I said, ‘Can I take it in the morning,’ [the Tour’s anti-doping official] said, ‘We can’t hold you here,’” Hensby recalled. “I just left.”

Not one but two officials called Hensby that night to ask why he’d declined to take the test, and he said he was even advised to return to the Country Club of Jackson (Miss.) to take the test, which is curious because the policy doesn’t allow for such gaps between notification of a test and the actual testing.

According to the policy, a player is considered in violation of the program if he leaves the presence of the doping control officers without providing the required sample.

A Tour official declined to comment on the matter citing the circuit’s policy not to comment on doping violations beyond the initial disclosure.

A week later, Hensby was informed he was in violation of the Tour’s policy and although he submitted a letter to the commissioner explaining the reasons for his failure to take the test he was told he would be suspended from playing in any Tour-sanctioned events (including events on the Web.com Tour) for a year.

“I understand now what the consequences are, but you know I’ve been banned for a performance-enhancing drug violation, and I don’t take performance-enhancing drugs,” Hensby said.

Hensby isn’t challenging his suspension nor did he have any interest in criticizing the Tour’s policy, instead his message two days after the circuit announced the suspension was focused on his fellow Tour members.

“I think the players need to read that manual really, really well. There are things I wasn’t aware of and I think other players weren’t aware of either,” he said. “You have to read the manual.”

It was a similar message Stallings offered following his 90-day suspension in 2015 after he turned himself in for using DHEA, an anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour.

“This whole thing was a unique situation that could have been dealt with differently, but I made a mistake and I owned up to it,” Stallings said at the time.

Barron’s 2009 suspension, which was for a year, also could have been avoided after he tested positive for supplemental testosterone and a beta-blocker, both of which were prescribed by a doctor for what were by many accounts legitimate health issues.

And Singh’s case, well that chapter is still pending in the New York Supreme Court, but the essential element of the Fijian’s violation was based on his admitted use of deer-antler spray, which contained a compound called IGF-1. Although IGF-1 is a banned substance, the World Anti-Doping Agency has ruled that the use of deer-antler spray is not a violation if an athlete doesn’t fail a drug test. Singh never failed a test.

The Tour’s anti-doping history is littered with cases that could have been avoided, cases that should have been avoided. Despite the circuit’s best educational efforts, it’s been these relatively innocent violations that have defined the program.

In retrospect, Hensby knows he should have taken the test. He said he had nothing to hide, but anger got the best of him.

“To be honest, it would have been hard, the way I was feeling that day, I know I’m a hothead at times, but I would have probably stayed [had he known the consequences],” he admitted. “You’ve got to understand that if you have too much water you can’t get a test either and then you have to stay even longer.”

Hensby said before his run in with the anti-doping small print he wasn’t sure what his professional future would be, but his suspension has given him perspective and a unique motivation.

“I was talking to my wife last night, I have a little boy, it’s been a long month,” said Hensby after dropping his son, Caden, off at school. “I think I have a little more drive now and when I come back. I wasn’t going to play anymore, but when I do come back I am going to be motivated.”

He’s also going to be informed when it comes to the Tour’s anti-doping policy, and he hopes his follow professionals take a similar interest.