Golf Channel celebrating 20th anniversary

By Doug FergusonJanuary 17, 2015, 1:21 am

HONOLULU - Twenty years ago on Saturday, Arnold Palmer flipped a ceremonial switch to launch a risky venture that cynics saw as an easy punch line.

The Golf Channel?

Tennis magazine mocked the idea as ''24 hours of chubby guys in bad clothes speaking in jargon that only they understand.'' Rick Reilly, in his column for Sports Illustrated, suggested programming that included ''Body by Jack,'' a workout session with Jack Nicklaus in which he ''takes you through a 30-minute routine you can do without getting out of the cart.''

Even the players had their doubts.

''I'm always stunned that there's enough golf stuff for 24 hours a day,'' Paul Goydos said. ''I would have thought, 'Do we really need a Golf Channel? Is there enough viewership? Enough material?' I thought it would be a tough row to hoe, in my opinion. They've proven me wrong.''

Players today can't imagine life without Golf Channel, as it is now called.

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''That's all I watch,'' Jason Day said. ''I say I don't watch much golf, but I do. Pretty much every day I'm watching Golf Channel.''

The network was launched on Jan. 17, 1995, and could be seen in about 10,000 homes. It began as a premium fee ($6.95) and changed to part of a basic cable package by the end of the year, helping it to reach 1.4 million homes.

Twenty years later, Golf Channel can be seen in roughly 120 million homes in 83 countries and is broadcast in 12 languages around the world. Its offices in Orlando, Florida, have more than quadrupled to 160,000 square feet.

And there is no shortage of programming.

The first tournament it broadcast was the Dubai Desert Classic, which Fred Couples won in 1995. On its 20-year anniversary, Golf Channel will have four hours of live coverage from Rory McIlroy's season debut in Abu Dhabi; seven hours of taped coverage and four hours of live coverage from the Sony Open (including a pre-game show), along with its popular ''Morning Drive'' and a news show.

''It's a big deal,'' Palmer said Friday morning from his office at Bay Hill. ''Everybody is excited and happy with the channel and all the stuff going on. Who would ever thought 20 years ago ... all the things that have happened with Golf Channel?''

Palmer was a co-founder with TV mogul Joe Gibbs, who plans to make an appearance on Golf Channel on Saturday to commemorate the anniversary. Golf Channel began 18 months before Tiger Woods turned pro, so it was blessed with good timing. Comcast eventually bought out the network, and then acquired NBC Universal, which gave Golf Channel even greater resources and branding capabilities.

The most significant moment in its 20 years was when the PGA Tour signed it to a 15-year deal in 2006 that gave Golf Channel rights to Thursday and Friday rounds from the PGA Tour, along with full tournament coverage for the opening three events and the tournaments in the fall. Golf Channel previously had the European Tour and other global events, along with the other three U.S. tours (seniors, women and what is now

But there was another turning point equally important in the infancy of the network, a time when even Palmer had his doubts about the future. The question was whether it was prudent for Palmer and his investors to get out and cut their losses.

''We were questioning what we were doing and the viability of what was happening,'' Palmer said. ''And they said, 'How do you feel?' I said, 'Let me say this to you: If I didn't try to hit it through the trees a few times, none of us would be here.'''

The quote is now on a wall at Golf Channel headquarters, a daily reminder that when you hitch up your pants and go for broke, the reward can be immense.

''Even though we're now part of a big company, you still want the spirit of how this place was founded to be a living, breathing part of what makes it tick,'' Golf Channel President Mike McCarley said. ''That culture and everything Arnold represented, that should be part of it.''

McCarley said Golf Channel now is the most affluent network of those devoted to a sport, mainly because of the demographic of those watching.

Davis Love III smiled at the coincidence that a network co-founded by Palmer would benefit from the arrival of Woods, the two players who in different ways made golf appealing to the masses.

''It's made a big difference for our sport,'' Love said.

Golf Channel has kept the newspaper clippings from two decades ago that either panned the idea of a golf channel or predicted failure.

''That was an easy column to write,'' McCarley said. ''It was the first of its kind. Now every sport has its own network.''

Geoff Ogilvy of Australia was among the skeptics. He remembers when he first came over to America to play in events like the Western Amateur and the Porter Cup. Golf Channel was just getting started.

''Coming from Australia, we had four channels and we didn't have any cable,'' Ogilvy said. ''I thought this was cool, but no chance anyone was going to watch. They had all these infomercials, like Orlimar Trimetal. Remember that? So I was like, 'Who's going to watch this?' But in the last 10 years when they got the Tour deal, I think it really kicked on. Now it's a legitimate channel - really legitimate.

''ESPN was the same,'' he said. ''I remember when they started, they showed Aussie Rules football because it was the only thing they could afford. ESPN only got there when they started showing real sport, and Golf Channel is probably the same. It's a big channel now. It's a big part of our tour.''

How far has Golf Channel come?

There are sheer numbers. Golf Channel had the rights to 23 domestic tournaments when it began (mostly the LPGA and Nike tours) and 41 events from Europe, South Africa and Australia. This year, it will televise 189 events from the major tours around the world. It began with 180 employees and now has nearly 700; McCarley said 13 employees have been there from the start.

And there are intangibles. On the day before it celebrated its 20-year anniversary, Palmer watched his grandson, Sam Saunders, compete on the PGA Tour on a network that he helped to start.

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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.