Making Pebble cut is goal for many business titans

By Doug FergusonFebruary 4, 2014, 6:10 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – For Ryan Palmer, with three PGA Tour wins and over $14 million in career earnings, it seemed like any other day at the office after he finished his third round at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

For Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast with a net worth estimated at $1 billion, it was so much more than that.

He had a chance to make the cut.

''We're sitting in the Tap Room at Pebble Beach and here's Brian Roberts, basically the owner of Comcast worth I don't know how much,'' Palmer recalled. ''And I've never seen a guy more nervous. He was going back and forth and kept saying, 'Where do we stand?' He was nervous about making the cut. It was cool to see a guy like that who was so excited, really anxious to make the cut.''

Pebble Beach is celebrated for so many reasons.

It's played on one of the world's most picturesque courses on the first weekend after the Super Bowl, offering magnificent views of the Monterey Peninsula to golf fans still digging out from the snow. The amateur field is noted for a shrinking list of actors and entertainers and a growing list of athletes. Getting the least amount of recognition are the corporate executives, many of them in charge of Fortune 500 companies.

''They're the show – well, we are on Sunday,'' Geoff Ogilvy said. ''They're equally accomplished in their fields as we are in ours. But they do much more important stuff. We just entertain. They add to the economy.''

They're very successful. And they're very much out of their element at Pebble.

Bill Gross is the co-founder of Pacific Investment Management, the largest bond fund in the world which, according to Forbes, has $2 trillion under its management. There wouldn't seem to be a lot that could get him nervous.

Except maybe playing in the final round with Tiger Woods.

''We were both under the impression that our team had missed the cut by a shot, so Bill went to the airport,'' said Kevin Sutherland, his partner for the better part of a decade. ''He's talking to a friend who said, 'Where did you guys finish?' and Bill told him we were 22-under, or whatever we were, and missed by one. The guy says, 'No, I think that made the cut. If I were you I'd check.'

''He comes back from the airport, and the next day we're playing with Tiger,'' Sutherland said. ''He was noticeably jittery, almost shaking. I found that odd, that you deal with billions of dollars but you're nervous playing with Tiger.''

This is not the boardroom or a playoff game or a concert before 80,000 fans. These amateurs are playing golf. For one week, they are living the life of a PGA Tour player. It's a different stage. It's a blast. And it can be a little overwhelming at times.

''It's their Masters,'' Brad Faxon said.

Palmer had a better understanding a few years ago when the Tour asked him and Jason Bohn to play with a couple of VIPs. One was Roberts, whose company owns Golf Channel and NBC. The other was Mike Glenn, executive vice president of market development for FedEx, which at the time was negotiating an extension of the FedEx Cup.

''Two of the biggest check-writers in our business,'' Palmer said.

The Tour didn't pick two of its biggest stars for two important clients, rather two players who understand what Pebble is all about. Bohn emailed them to arrange a practice round on Wednesday (rare unless the pros and amateurs are longtime friends), and they hit it off. Palmer and Bohn decided to splurge on a bottle of Caymus Special Selection if either of them shot 65 in the second round. Neither did. The next morning, a magnum was waiting for them on the first tee – a gift from Roberts.

Peter Jacobsen considers Pebble as important event as any all year.

''This combines all the elements we're looking for when it comes to the PGA Tour – corporate involvement, amateur involvement, celebrity and fan interaction,'' he once said. ''It's a combination of good fun and good golf.''

The celebrities are easy to spot. Some of the CEOs don't get as much TV time, though they might be having more fun.

''There's one group called the 'Cut-Makers Dinner,' where a bunch of these guys go out to dinner and people who made the cut have to pay,'' Faxon said. ''They've made this into a big deal. It's a prestigious thing to pay for that dinner.''

One executive is said to have tipped his pro's caddie $25,000 after winning the pro-am. It means that much to them.

Faxon shared the pro-am title in 2003 with Tom Ryan, the former chief executive of CVS/Caremark Corp. Ryan received a crystal set. Far more important, Ryan's name is permanently on the rock near the first tee with the rest of the amateur winners.

Faxon didn't appreciate how much it meant to the head of CVS until a few months later back home in Rhode Island.

''Later on that summer, Tom invites Dory (Faxon's wife) and I to the Black Pearl in Newport,'' he said. ''We get there and he had the 45-piece crystal set on the bar and he was offering drinks to buddies who walked by.'' 

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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.