Good or bad: Golf no longer has an offseason

By Doug FergusonJanuary 7, 2012, 4:42 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii - The start of a new season doesn’t feel much different from the old one.

Nine players - that’s one-third of the 27-man field at Kapalua - were together only a month ago at the Chevron World Challenge. A week later, eight players were in Florida for the Shark Shootout. They went home for the holidays, then packed their clubs and flew across the Pacific Ocean for the Tournament of Champions for the 2012 season.

The offseason in golf isn’t what it used to be.

When this winners-only tournament first came to Kapalua in 1999, the landscape in golf was different. The Tour Championship ended the first week in November, and the majority of players disappeared until the start of the new year. The elite would only play in the silly season at events like the Skins Game or the Shark Shootout. Some chased appearance money in Asia.

David Toms was supposed to be at the Chevron World Challenge last month, part of an 18-man field playing for $5 million. He withdrew at the last minute, saying he was tired and wanted some time with his family.

“I needed a break,” Toms said. “If I would have played there, I’d have had only three weeks, and some of that was spent on holidays.”

Nowadays, the offseason is whenever a player feels he can take time off.

Padraig Harrington has never been to Hawaii for the Tournament of Champions. He takes this time of the year to refresh and recharge in Ireland. Rory McIlroy is doing the same thing. Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, didn’t start his 2011 season until the third week in February at Riviera. Graeme McDowell tried to take a four-week break in February.

Toms showed that players can make their offseason as long as they want it to be. Even so, he worries that such time is getting harder to find in a global game that relies so heavily on the world ranking.

“For guys that want to get in big tournaments, if they stop at Disney or even before that, they can lose so many spots,” he said. “I’ve taken off three months and lost 20 spots in the ranking. And you’ve got big tournaments early in the season when you need it. So you’re kind of forced to play.”

When he tied for third in the McGladrey Classic, his final tournament in 2010, Toms was No. 62 in the world. He took off three months, returning at the Bob Hope Classic, and had slipped all the way to No. 84. He did not get in the Match Play Championship or the Cadillac Championship that year, missing two playing opportunities in World Golf Championships.

This year was a little different.

Toms chose to miss the biggest college football game of the year—Alabama against his beloved LSU Tigers - and flew halfway around the world to China for the HSBC Champions. He also played the Australian Open in the week before the Presidents Cup in Australia.

“I went to China trying to improve that ranking; I would never have gone over there,” he said. “I played in the Australian Open because there were world ranking points there. That’s stuff that I would never do. So what’s going to happen now is I’ll play some, and then I’ll need some time off during our season instead of taking time off the other way.

“So you have options, but you don’t,” he said. “If you want to maintain a certain status, or a certain level, you’ve got to play.”

At some point, though, Toms needs a break.

So do the others.

Steve Stricker won the Match Play Championship at the start of the 2001 season and took nearly two months off toward the end of the season, even to the point of risking his spot in the Tour Championship for the top 30 on the money list. He narrowly made it. Walking on the practice range one day at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Tiger Woods saw him and said, “Welcome back out of retirement.”

It’s not much different now. Stricker took off nearly two months before the Presidents Cup. Part of that was to rest a weakened left arm, though he had planned only one tournament between the Tour Championship and Presidents Cup even if he had been healthy.

“It’s tough to find the time,” Stricker said. “You can play all year long, but I think you’ve still got to find the time. You’ve got to still get away, find the time where you can set the clubs down for a little while and get refreshed and ready to go for another year. Because it’s a long year, and there’s so many big things at the end of it all that you want to make sure you’re fresh and still able to play at the end.”

Stricker is taking four weeks off when he finishes next week in the Sony Open. He’ll return at Riviera.

As much grumbling as there is about the weak field at Kapalua, it’s a product of where players live, how they build a worldwide schedule and when they can find time to take a break.

Donald played three times in December. McIlroy played five times over the last two months. Masters champion Charl Schwartzel is the defending champion next week in the Joburg Open in his native South Africa.

This is all new for Keegan Bradley, a rookie who figured his season would end quietly sometime in September. That was before he won the PGA Championship. Before long, he was off to Bermuda for the Grand Slam of Golf, then to China for the HSBC Champions, and the Chevron and Shark Shootout.

But he’s not complaining. Plus, he’s young.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Bradley said. “It was fun. But you could play more in the offseason than you do in the regular season if you wanted to.”

So it’s the start of the new year for some, and it feels like a continuation of the old year for others. All of them will take a break at some point, and when they do, there will be tournaments that wished they were playing.

Then again, golfers have no guaranteed income from tournaments. They are self-employed, independent contractors.

That much hasn’t changed.

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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.'"


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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."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.