Golf continues to grow globally

By Doug FergusonOctober 9, 2012, 10:02 pm

The best measure of how much golf is growing around the world can be found in Turkey, of all places.

And not just because that's where the stars have come to play.

Never mind that Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are among eight elite players in an exhibition called the ''World Golf Finals'' that began Tuesday. It's mostly for show (four players wore shorts during the opening round of medal matches) and plenty of dough ($1.5 million for the winner).

No doubt, this can only help Turkey's bid to land the Olympics in 2020 and present itself as a golfing destination. And having the biggest names in golf, even for a few days, might inspire more interest in the game.

Far more significant, however, was the tournament that left town with little fanfare.

The World Amateur Team Championship wrapped up Sunday, with the United States winning for the first time since 2004. What made this significant was not who posed with the Eisenhower Trophy, rather who didn't get to play. For the first time in the tournament's 54-year history, there was an alternate list.

Television executive Neal Pilson once said the financial health of the PGA Tour was best measured by the waiting list of potential sponsors, and the same can be said of the World Team Amateur. It began in 1958 with 29 teams at St. Andrews. This year, there was a full field of 72 teams - from the U.S. to Ukraine, from Bermuda to Bulgaria - on the Sultan and Faldo courses at Antalya.

Among those on the waiting list, which was determined by when they signed up, were Saudi Arabia, Mauritius, Namibia and Lebanon.

''We had our biennial meeting of all member organizations and the accent and emphasis on the Olympics was very evident,'' said Peter Dawson, chief executive of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club who serves as president of the International Golf Federation. ''The interest is there. It's amazing that in these countries they think of Olympic sports, instead of golf as its own sport. It's certainly starting to serve to grow the game.''

It's too convenient to attribute the growth of the World Amateur Team to golf being approved as an Olympic sport for 2016. Golf was approved for the Olympics only three years ago, not nearly enough time for some countries to develop a reasonable infrastructure - golf courses, practice facilities, instruction, corporate involvement and, perhaps most important, a strong middle class.

The numbers have been trending in this direction for the last decade - 63 teams in 2002 at Malaysia, 70 teams in 2006 in South Africa. And it helps that Turkey is centrally located for some African and Asian nations.

But it illustrates how far golf has come - and how much more room there is to grow.

''I thought this was a good, inevitable outcome,'' said David Fay, the former USGA executive director who spent 30 years working the World Amateur Team. ''It confirms the game is going global, in large part because golf is an Olympic sport. There are more countries playing now, and they look at Olympic sports differently than they look at other sports. There's so much evidence. When tennis became a medal sport (in 1988), that's when they invested more money in tennis, and you saw what the outcome was - all the champions produced by the former Soviet Union.''

The first time Fay worked the World Amateur Team was in 1980 at Pinehurst, where he saw a 17-year-old Fijian named Vijay Singh ''who couldn't break 90.'' Singh now is in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

One of the early concerns was that emerging golf nations might get embarrassed competing against more polished players, and there's still plenty of evidence. Just last week, Azamat Maksytbekov of Kyrgyzstan made only one par in 54 holes. He had rounds of 128-125-125 to finish 163-over par. Only the top two scores from the three-man teams count, so he was bailed out by his teammates - Konstantin Surikov was 95 over and Alexey Konev was 117 over.

Macedonia fielded a team for the first time, and 17-year-old Peter Stojanovski opened with a 71 - the same score (on a different course) as U.S. Amateur champion Steven Fox. Stojanovski followed with two rounds in the 80s. Macedonia wound up in 63rd place.

''The original objective when the Eisenhower Trophy began was friendship through sport, and that thread has stayed,'' Dawson said. ''Teams tend not to stay at the bottom forever. Nobody feels embarrassed. Everyone is very tolerant of the newcomers.''

John Cook played on the 1978 team, when the Americans won just about every year. South Korea finished last among 24 teams, 128 shots behind.

''That tells you the direction of golf and how much it's grown,'' Cook said. ''Korea is one of the top countries now.''

There have been some interesting moments along the way.

Fay recalled India having to pull out in consecutive years, the first time in 1982 in Switzerland when the team reached London and its embassy realized South Africa (during the apartheid era) was in the field. ''They told their team to go home,'' Fay said. Two years later, the India team was practicing in Hong Kong when its prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards. Fay was told to find out if the team still planned to play.

''I thought, 'This is going to be interesting,''' Fay said. ''There were three Hindus and a Sikh on that team. And the first question they asked me was, 'Who was responsible?' I ducked the question. I said, 'I'm not sure.'''

Fay looks back fondly at the World Amateur Team. There were stars from the golf-rich nations such as the U.S. (Woods, Jack Nicklaus) and Britain (Colin Montgomerie). There were promising players from smaller countries like what was then Rhodesia (Nick Price).

''It really was the United Nations of golf,'' Fay said.

And the membership keeps growing.

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."