Some graduates still looking for place to play

By Doug FergusonOctober 16, 2013, 1:51 am

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – Kevin Tway is the latest son of a major champion to earn a spot on the PGA Tour, and he is already getting attention as a rookie.

Just not for the reasons one might think.

It has nothing to do with his father's eight PGA Tour wins, or even that famous bunker shot at Inverness that Bob Tway holed for birdie to beat Greg Norman in the 1986 PGA Championship. Not that the son has forgotten.

''I even put 'past champion's son' and it didn't work out,'' Tway said with a laugh.

He was referring to the letter he sent the Las Vegas tournament director asking for a sponsor exemption, which is hard to come by these days. Tway received an exemption for the Open, but not for Las Vegas. He tried to qualify Monday for one of four spots and lost in a playoff.

What's amazing is that Tway even needs an exemption.

The PGA Tour this year eliminated Q-school as a route to the big leagues, leaning instead on the Tour as the ''primary pathway to the PGA Tour.'' Tway won a Tour event, made the cut in 14 of his 18 tournaments and had four top 10s to finish No. 5 on the money list.

The top 25 are assured Tour cards.

But this path to the PGA Tour comes with a catch. What follows the regular season are four additional tournaments – the Tour Finals – that determine where the rookies and returning Tour members are seeded going into the new season. The higher seed, the more likely a player gets into a tournament.

Tway had little to gain, plenty to lose. He missed two cuts, didn't finish higher than a tie for 52nd in the other two and now can't get into tournaments. Instead of being seeded No. 9, he plunged to No. 46 out of 50 players.

It's another reminder that getting a PGA Tour card and getting a chance to play are not always the same. What's worse is that these 50 players will be seeded again at the end of the six tournaments this fall – except that only the top half are assured of getting into the tournaments.

Tway was lucky to get a spot in the Open, and even though a 72-71 weekend left him tied for 40th, it's better than no tournament at all. Mark Anderson finished at No. 8 on the Tour money list. He'll be lucky to get into a single tournament until sometime in 2014.

The flip side is someone like Brendon Todd. He finished 20th on the money list, and then in the four-event ''Finals'' he had a pair of top 20s and tied for second in the last one. His seeding went up 27 spots to No. 12, meaning he's likely to get in all four North American events.

''Obviously, I want them to do it a different way,'' Tway said. ''It seems unfair. But other people like it. I'm not a smart enough person to come up with a plan. Hopefully, when I get my starts I'll play well. And if you play well, they can't keep you off the Tour.''

That comment was refreshing, especially coming from a 25-year-old rookie who got the short end of the draw.

Playing better is always the solution in golf, no matter how the system works.

Even so, there's something wrong with the Tour's message that a year on the Tour now is the ''primary path'' to the big leagues. Because it's not. It's an entire season, followed by four tournaments that decide how much you get to play.

It's like driving from California to Florida and being told upon entering the state that the actual destination is Miami.

''Most people feel that guys who play all year long on the Tour should have some merit,'' said Jamie Lovemark, who went from No. 12 on the money list to the 39th seed. He received an exemption to the Open, and missed out at the qualifier in Las Vegas. ''Maybe you should protect the top 10. I'm sure they'll tweak it. But no matter what they do, someone will get the wrong end of it.''

There were bound to be glitches in the first year of a new system. The Tour's mistake was underestimating how many guys would play in October when it went to a wraparound season. Officials thought all 50 players from the Tour Finals would get in all four events, or at least two of them.

The day after the Tour Finals, nearly every player had signed up for the first event.

The Tour is reviewing the first year of the Tour Finals, and changes are likely. They weren't simple the first time, and they won't be now. Along with looking after the players on the Tour, consideration has to be given players who just missed their cards on the PGA Tour, the strongest circuit in the world.

Alex Aragon – No. 9 on the Tour money list who fell to a No. 36 seed – barely got into the Open as an alternate. It felt like Christmas morning when he learned over the weekend he received an exemption to Las Vegas.

''There's no perfect solution,'' Aragon said.

But he had what seemed to be the most reasonable one. The top 25 on the Tour money list would be assured their cards, and the money list from them would continue through the four $1 million events in the Finals to determine their seeds. A separate money list would apply for everyone else competing for 25 additional cards at the Tour finals. The 50 seeds would be determined by alternating from one category to the other.

Otherwise, that ''primary path'' could feel more like a dead end.

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.

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Spieth vs. Reed random? Hmm, wonders Spieth

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 6:42 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Monday’s blind draw to determine the 16 pods for this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play didn’t exactly feel “blind” for Jordan Spieth, whose group includes Patrick Reed.

Spieth and Reed have become a staple of U.S. teams in recent years, with a 7-2-2 record in the Ryder and Presidents Cup combined. So when the ping-pong ball revealed Reed’s number on Monday night Spieth wasn’t surprised.

“It seems to me there's a bit more to this drawing than randomness,” laughed Spieth, whose pod also includes Haotong Li and Charl Schwartzel. “It's not just me and him. It's actually a lot of groups, to have Luke List and Justin [Thomas] in the same group seems too good to be true. It might be some sort of rigging that's going on, I'm not sure.”

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Spieth will play Reed on Friday in the round-robin format and knows exactly what to expect from the fiery American.

“I've seen it firsthand when he's been at his best. And we have history together in a couple of different playoffs, which is a match-play scenario,” Spieth said. “I've got to take care of work tomorrow and the next day for that day to even matter. But even if it doesn't matter, trust me, it will matter to both of us.”