Notes: Houston, we have a problem ... or do we?

By Doug FergusonApril 10, 2012, 6:34 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. ' The Houston Open has created an identity as the last chance for a player to qualify for the Masters.But not next year.

The Masters traditionally ends on the second Sunday of April, and the way the calendar falls in 2013, that pushes it back one week later than usual. The Masters next year will be April 11-14.

That leaves an extra week between Bay Hill - the end of the Florida swing - and the first major of the year. The PGA Tour has decided that Houston will stay the week after Bay Hill, and the Texas Open in San Antonio will take the spot the week before the Masters.

Along with giving players (Ernie Els comes to mind) one final chance to qualify for the Masters, Houston has become an attractive spot for players wanting competition before the first major. It sets up Redstone Golf Club to help prepare players for Augusta.

''We're going to work with it,'' Houston Open tournament director Steve Timms said. ''It's not going to change the strategy at all in terms of how we set up the golf course. We have momentum. We've been received well by the players. We're hopeful they'll continue to want to play in Houston to prepare for the Masters.''

But it's less than ideal for Houston.

For starters, the Houston Open will end on Easter Sunday next year. And if that's not enough, the PGA Tour has agreed to move the Tavistock Cup - a Monday-Tuesday exhibition - from the week of Bay Hill to the week of Houston. That made-for-TV gig attracts 24 players, most of them in the Orlando, Fla., area.

That roster typically includes Tiger Woods, who represents Team Albany from The Bahamas. And that might hurt the one upside of Houston moving away from the week before the Masters - a chance to get Woods for the first time. Timms spoke to Woods' agent last week at the Masters about the schedule change.

''He said that was interesting, but he doesn't know how that will affect his schedule,'' Timms said. ''Historically, he has played two weeks before the Masters.''

The last time this scheduling quirk happened was in 2008. New Orleans was inserted after the Florida swing, and Houston kept its spot before the Masters. Woods did not play in New Orleans that year.

It's the second time in three years the Texas Open has been given a spot that belonged to another tournament. Hilton Head is traditionally the week after the Masters, but in 2011 when the tournament was trying to replace its sponsor, it was moved to two weeks after Augusta. The Texas Open followed the Masters.

Why can't Texas go a week before the Houston Open next year?

According to two officials, the Texas Open contract says that it cannot end on Easter Sunday, which is why it was given the week after the Masters last year. The tournament is one of the top contributors to charity on the PGA Tour, with much of that money coming from a golf outing it holds the day after its event. The fear is that ending on Easter would limit participation in the outing.

Timms sees some positives out of the date change for 2013. There's still a chance he can get Woods. And because it will fall two weeks before the Masters, that will be the cutoff for players trying to get into the top 50 in the world to qualify for the Masters.

''We'll only know next year at this time if that's able to outweigh some of the challenges with Easter,'' Timms said.


WHAT'S IN A NAME: The name of the most famous shot in Masters history makes no sense.

Augusta National came across two newspaper clippings from 1935 when Gene Sarazen holed a 4-wood for his second shot on the par-5 15th. Both referred to the shot as a ''double eagle.''

But if an eagle is two shots under par, a double eagle then would be four shots under par.It's known as an ''albatross'' everywhere but in the United States, no doubt because of Sarazen, yet Sarazen once referred to his shot as a ''dodo,'' and so the mystery continues.

''I didn't know what a double eagle was until I came to the U.S.,'' Geoff Ogilvy once said. ''Maybe they couldn't think of a word for something better than an eagle, so they called it double eagle. But it's not really a double eagle, it's an eagle-and-a-half.''

Scoring terminology went to the birds long ago.

According to the ''Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms,'' the word ''birdie'' came from the American slang of something special. The story goes that three men were playing the par-4 second hole at The Country Club in Atlantic City, N.J., when Ab Smith's second shot stopped inches from the hole, and he called it a ''bird of a shot.'' That led to a shot one under par being called a birdie. That was in 1903.

Thus began the use of birds in scoring, such as an eagle, and so ''albatross'' makes sense.

''It's a good bird, isn't it?'' Ogilvy said. ''They fly across oceans. It's grand, which is what describes the shot.''Grand, indeed, considering there have been only four such scores in Masters history, the most recent Louis Oosthuizen on the par-5 second hole Sunday.


DIVOTS: Greg Norman will be designing a course in Brazil, although it has nothing to do with the Olympics. He was chosen to build a course in the coastal city of Cabo de Santo Agostinho, about 1,500 miles north of Rio de Janeiro. ... One of the first things Bubba Watson did on his first day as Masters champion was to change his cell phone number. ''It's crazy how people get ur number,'' he tweeted. ... The last 14 majors have been won by 14 players, the longest stretch of parity since 15 major winners starting with Nick Price at the 1994 through Lee Janzen at the 1998 U.S. Open. ... Americans have won consecutive majors for the first time since Lucas Glover (U.S. Open) and Stewart Cink (British Open) in 2009.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Of the four players who made an albatross at the Masters, Jeff Maggert is the only one not to finish among the top 10. He made 2 on the par-5 13th in the final round of 1994 and shot 75 to tie for last place.


FINAL WORD: ''It's like Disneyland for the adults.'' - Lee Westwood, on bringing friends to the Masters.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.