The Players prestige falls just short of major status

By Doug FergusonMay 5, 2015, 11:58 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The criteria to be considered for the World Golf Hall of Fame smacks of yet another effort by the PGA Tour to make The Players Championship something it's not.

Eligible players must have won 15 times on any of the six major tours around the world or win at least two of the following tournaments - The Masters, U.S. Open, The Open Championship, PGA Championship and The Players Championship.

Five tournaments of equal standing.

Four of them are majors.

''On first hearing that, it sounds wrong,'' Graeme McDowell said. ''I'm not offended by it. But there are four majors. And this is very, very good.''

The Players Championship tries to dress like a major, and for the most part, wears it well.

There are a few glaring differences, of course. It's tough to get past the Jacksonville Jaguars' mascot parading around the practice range (can anyone picture the Georgia Bulldogs' mascot on the range at Augusta National?), or that the TPC Sawgrass is not open to the public until Tuesday.

Rory McIlroy won't arrive until Wednesday. It's hard to imagine the world's No. 1 player not showing up at St. Andrews until the day before the tournament.

Too much is made about what The Players Championship is not instead of celebrating what it is.

The Players Championship has the strongest and deepest field of the year on a golf course that wouldn't appear to discriminate against any style of game. It has a back nine filled with risk and reward. And it has an island green on the par-3 17th hole that is either exciting or a gimmick, but it makes you look.

A better description of The Players is this: It's the biggest event run by the biggest Tour in golf. The name needs an apostrophe. It's a championship that belongs to PGA Tour players.

That should be enough.

''It's big,'' Jimmy Walker said. ''If you wanted one under your belt, this would be one of them. It's the PGA Tour's premier event. It's the biggest tournament run by the best Tour in the world.''

But a large poster on the wall in the media center has a quote from defending champion Martin Kaymer that starts, ''At the end of the day, for all of us it's a major.''

Augusta National celebrated a piece of wood, a center cut of the fabled Eisenhower Tree lost during an ice storm. The Players countered with a press release that its oak tree overhanging the sixth tee, removed in November because of decay and disease, had been converted into a bench.

And on it goes.

Tiger Woods will meet the Hall of Fame criteria, just barely. He has 90 victories on the major tours and 16 of those special tournaments (14 are majors, along with The Players Championship twice). He wasn't buying the idea of The Players being linked with the majors.

''I think you could probably honestly say,'' he said with a smile, ''it's the Tour that probably runs it, so that's what they're trying to elevate.''

Woods looked at the last two groups of Hall of Fame inductees to say that it's worth paying attention to how score is kept. Fred Couples was inducted in 2013 with 15 wins, including the Masters and two Players Championships. Mark O'Meara gets inducted this year with 16 wins, including the Masters and British Open.

''Freddie actually won less tournaments than Mark did, but he had two Players,'' Woods said. ''But Mark had two majors in there. Freddie had one major. So is that three to two, or is it one to two? According to the new system, it's three to two. I think that's how they're trying to make it look. But I think that us as players – I can't speak for everyone, but certainly me – I think you have to look at them in probably two different categories.''

McDowell puts The Players a notch below the majors, on a level with the World Golf Championships. He said American-born players would tend to place The Players ahead of the WGCs because it's their Tour. The Players has a 25-year head start on the WGCs. And for some international players, the WGCs helped them get PGA Tour cards.

Jim Furyk said The Players was ''always a giant event.'' He described it as the ''fifth-biggest event in golf.''

So maybe the Hall of Fame criteria was right.

The Players might be every bit as difficult to win as the majors. The final hour rarely lacks for suspense or pressure. The tournament does not lack in prestige. It gets better every year. It gets bigger every year. If it hasn't earned the right to be rated alongside the majors, it is getting closer.

In everything but name.

''If it was a major,'' Justin Leonard said, ''then it would be a major.''

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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.