Breaking borders: Americans playing globally

By Doug FergusonNovember 15, 2011, 6:01 pm

MELBOURNE, Australia – One thing already can be said for this Presidents Cup. The Americans have come a long way.

Only it has nothing to do with the oceans and time zones they crossed to get Down Under. Nor is progress measured by the outcome, for the Americans have lost this event only once since it began in 1994.

It’s all about their willingness to travel amid the changing landscape in golf.

The Presidents Cup returns to Royal Melbourne for the first time in 13 years, and just think how differently golf looked back then from an American perspective. It was late in the season – the second week in December – some six weeks after the Tour Championship. Hardly anyone was playing meaningful golf. Even fewer felt like going all the way to Australia.

The International team handed the United States its worst loss in any team competition. The score was 20 1/2 -11 1/2 , such a blowout that the Cup was secured when Nick Price beat David Duval in the second of 12 singles matches on the final day.

“Got beat and still had time to eat breakfast,” Duval said with a laugh.

That was the year before the World Golf Championships began, a series of tournaments for players around the world, and originally designed to be played around the world.

But in the first year, a half-dozen Americans from the top 50 in the world chose not to go to Spain at the end of the season. And when the Match Play Championship went to Australia two years later, so many players stayed away – most of them Americans – that the tournament went down to No. 104 in the ranking (Greg Kraft) to fill the 64-man field.

That led to Stuart Appleby’s famous line about Americans.

ldquo;They’re like a bag of prawns on a hot Sunday,” he once said. “They don’t travel well.”

Now those passport pages are filling up quickly.

U.S. captain Fred Couples wanted his two captain’s picks to play the week before in the Australian Open, and was pleased that six other players joined them. Some of them started even earlier.

Jim FurykBill HaasHunter MahanDavid Toms and Nick Watney were in Shanghai the week before at the HSBC Champions. Furyk and Mahan were in China even earlier, playing the Shanghai Masters. Phil Mickelson was in Singapore last week. After the Presidents Cup, Matt Kuchar is headed to China for the World Cup.

They worry less about the destination and more about what time the plane leaves.

“I think it’s fantastic the way Americans have embraced the way global golf is played nowadays,” International captain Greg Norman said Tuesday. “The season post-Tour Championship gives them the validity of going to Shanghai or Singapore or down here to Melbourne or other places around the world to play. And those opportunities, the guys are taking.”

The shocker might have been Toms in Shanghai.

He played overseas when he was young because he had not made it onto the PGA Tour and had few other options. Once he established himself, Toms found little need to travel except for the British Open or the Ryder Cup. The prize money was minimal, and whatever appearance money he received wasn’t always worth the trip.

But there he was at the HSBC Champions – the same week of the LSU-Alabama game, no less. Toms acted like a true pro, too. The game was on Sunday morning, he wasn’t in contention, yet the LSU alum was on the range an hour before his round, just like always.

Watney takes about every opportunity that comes his way overseas. He gave up Thanksgiving one year to play the World Cup with John Merrick. He has become a regular in Shanghai.

“I just believe that to be a truly great player, you have to win all around the world,” Watney said.

Dustin Johnson might take up European Tour membership next year. Bubba Watson went to France, although he lasted all of two days at the French Open and couldn’t get home fast enough.

Norman says more travel, especially this time of the year, could make the matches closer this time. But he looked beyond that to a broader picture of Americans getting out more.

“Look, it’s the responsibility of every player, no matter what their position is, to promote the game on a global basis,” Norman said. “And I like to see what the Americans are doing, traveling and playing overseas.”

Ernie Els was talking about the history of the Presidents Cup a few weeks ago, how the only two times the International team did not lose was in Melbourne and South Africa (the famous tie). Not so coincidentally, his team had the crowd on its side.

And then there was that other “road” game in Montreal in 2007.

“All due respect to my great friend Mike Weir, but why go to Canada?” Els said.

There was a reason for that.

After the plunder Down Under in 1998, and with South Africa already planned for the next road game, there was enough concern about Americans traveling a long distance for the Presidents Cup that the Tour made it easy on them by going north of the border.

That’s no longer necessary. The next overseas Presidents Cup in 2015 is likely headed to either South America (depending on the state of the Olympic golf course being built in Brazil) or Asia, with South Korea a prime candidate. This year’s International team has a record four Asian players.

Els was on his way to the first tee for a practice round when asked about this crop of Americans being more willing to travel. He was more concerned about his own itinerary – Singapore last week, Australia this week, South Africa next week.

“The only trouble is it’s so bloody far to get down here,” he said.

The Big Easy laughed when it was pointed out to him that as a South African, he had no choice but to go bloody far to get anywhere.

“These American boys are starting to travel a bit more,” he said. “And it’s good to see.”


Watch wall-to-wall coverage of the Presidents Cup live on Golf Channel beginning Monday at 6PM. Tournament air times: Golf Channel Wednesday 9PM-2AM, Thursday 7:30PM-2AM, Friday 3PM-2AM and Saturday 6:30PM-12:30AM. NBC coverage Saturday at 8AM and Sunday at noon. (Note: all times are ET)

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”