Notes: European Tour mulling membership change

By Doug FergusonNovember 3, 2015, 5:21 pm

SHANGHAI - The European Tour is contemplating what amounts to a level playing field for those who want to be considered global players.

Typically, being a member of the two largest tours in golf requires a top 50 world ranking. That effectively assures the player of getting into the four majors and four World Golf Championships, which would be more than half of the minimum starts required on the PGA Tour (15) and European Tour (13).

That's a significant issue facing new European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley.

Pelley has spent the majority of his three months on the job talking to players of every level to figure out what works for them globally and what strengthens the European Tour. One solution under consideration is to lower the minimum requirement to five - provided that doesn't include the majors and the WGCs.

That would make the requirement the same for someone like Justin Rose (No. 6 in the world) and Luke Donald. A former world No. 1, Donald fell out of the top 50 in May. He played all four majors, but only because he qualified for the U.S. Open and British Open. But he was not eligible for three of the WGCs.

''We're evaluating and looking at that,'' Pelley said. ''Have we made a definitive decision? No. Will I give a bit more context in Dubai? The answer is yes. And that's where we are. I've talked to a lot of players. Everybody has a different feeling. Some want to play on both tours that are not on an elite level. And if they're not qualifying for the WGCs, they're playing 33 to 34 events to play on two tours.''

The main incentive for keeping European Tour membership is being eligible for the Ryder Cup.

Ian Poulter thought he was about to lose his membership when he fell out of the top 50 and was no longer eligible for the HSBC Champions. He flew to Hong Kong and was helped immensely by Rich Beem giving up his spot in the Hong Kong Open. As it turned out, Poulter got into the HSBC Champions as an alternate.

''What I am finding, which is consistent with all of them whether that's Ian Poulter, Luke Donald or Graeme McDowell, is they all want to be part of the process as we look to make some changes in the tour,'' Pelley said. ''They all want to embrace it. They have an unwavering desire for the tour to flourish.''

On his end, Pelley said it would be important to increase prize money to make it worthwhile for Europeans to play a little more often. But he sees no harm in making it easier for Europeans to follow the money to America and the PGA Tour.

''They're no longer European Tour players or PGA Tour players,'' Pelley said. ''They're global players.''

YOUNG EXPECTATIONS: A back-handed compliment in golf used to be calling a player the ''best to have never won a major.'' It was a burden, sure, but also an indication the player was so talented he should have won a major.

Now it might be the word ''finally'' attached to a PGA Tour winner.

A common narrative last week in Malaysia involved Justin Thomas finally breaking through and winning his first PGA Tour event. Thomas is 22. He is starting out his second full year on tour. This was his 37th start on the PGA Tour as a pro.


''It was funny. Everyone and a lot of media were like, 'When are you going to get that win?' I said, 'I don't know, I'll just keep trying to put myself there.' Obviously, it could have happened sooner. I'm just happy to get that done so I can stop hearing about it.''

Thomas had great chances to win the Humana Challenge and Greenbrier Classic. He played in the final group going into the weekend at the Sony Open, Phoenix Open, and he was two shots behind going into the final round at The Players Championship.

Mentioned that Thomas has ''finally'' won, Rickie Fowler raised his eyebrows at the word and chuckled. He heard that during his first two years on tour.

''It's tough when they say 'finally,''' Fowler said. ''But it's a testament and a compliment to how good players are when they're coming up.''

BRIDESMAID LEWIS: This isn't the kind of record Stacy Lewis had in mind.

Lewis tied for second in the Blue Bay LPGA in China on Sunday, her sixth runner-up finish of the year. That pushed her season earnings to $1,832,425, which would shatter the LPGA Tour record for most money without winning.

Suzann Pettersen won just over $1.5 million without a victory in 2010.

Lewis still has a couple of tournaments left, starting this week with the Toto Japan Classic. More importantly, she is among the top three in the Race to the CME Globe, meaning she would have a clear shot at the $1 million bonus in Naples, Florida.

Even so, it's been a frustrating year without a trophy. Lewis said she was slowed by changing golf balls, which took longer than she imagined, though her putting is the reason she remains No. 3 on the money list behind Lydia Ko and Inbee Park.

''You look at what I've done this year, I've had opportunities to make it a really good year,'' Lewis said recently. ''Even as frustrating as it has been, you get a win and it kind of turns a pretty frustrating year into a pretty good one. I'd like to be in the top three going into CME so that I kind of control my own destiny there. I'm finally playing some good golf.''

STANDING PAT: Now that the R&A and USGA have updated the latest edition for the Rules of Golf in 2016, don't look for any immediate changes in technology.

Martin Slumbers, who took over for Peter Dawson in September as chief executive of the R&A, says research from the tours indicate that the average distance off the tee has increased only 3 to 4 yards over the last 10 years.

''What we are seeing at the moment is a fairly consistent percentage of some tremendous athletes who are hitting the ball further,'' Slumbers said at the HSBC Golf Business Form. ''The percentage of them is unchanged. The average is a lot less than what the media talk about. The average has only moved 3 to 4 yards in the last 10 years. There's no burning desire on our part to make any changes.''

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem concurred. He said the professional game is ''as strong as it's ever been.''

''I do think if we get to a point where 75 percent of the field is hitting it where Dustin (Johnson) is and it gets a little boring, and we see signs of it affecting the integrity of the sport, it's a different matter,'' Finchem said. ''Right now, I agree totally. We shouldn't do anything.''

Slumbers also said distance ''isn't getting out of control.''

''It's a single-digit number of players who hit over 320 (yards),'' he said. ''The average is in the mid-280s - this is run and carry. As long as it stays within those parameters, I'm celebrating skill.''

DIVOTS: Rickie Fowler kept a busy schedule since the Presidents Cup. He left South Korea for Los Angeles, then went to Las Vegas for a PGA Tour event, then to Dallas to take part in a charity event for Jordan Spieth, back to Los Angeles and then over to Shanghai. ''Luckily, I enjoy travel,'' Fowler said. ... The PGA Tour has signed a deal with iQIYI for it to provide more than 1,500 hours of live stream from 40 PGA Tour events. ... Ping chairman and chief executive John A. Solheim was honored with the distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award at the HSBC Golf Business Forum. Bubba Watson was at the forum to present Solheim the award.

STAT OF THE WEEK: The combined age of the last four PGA Tour winners is 90.

FINAL WORD: ''If a disappointing week is shooting 14 under and finishing 19th in a PGA Tour event, then that's a good sign for me.'' - Anirban Lahiri of India.

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.