A Thanksgiving weekend without the Skins Game

By Doug FergusonNovember 25, 2009, 2:11 am
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Each year brought more recognition to Curtis Strange. He was the first PGA Tour player to earn $1 million in a season in 1988, then he became the first player in nearly a half-century to win the U.S. Open in consecutive years.

Success brought another perk, even if it sounds silly now to mention it with the others.

He was invited to play in the Skins Game.

“That was huge,” Strange said in a telephone interview. “Remember, we didn’t play for that kind of money back then. More importantly, it was huge for everyone because of the exposure you got for two straight days. Career-wise, it meant you had arrived.”

The original Skins Game has left the sports landscape, maybe for good.

Thanksgiving weekend will have its usual television lineup of NFL games in Detroit and Dallas, college rivalries such as Alabama-Auburn, Florida-Florida State and USC-UCLA, and way too many meaningless college basketball games.

It will not include the Skins Game for the first time since it became a Thanksgiving tradition in 1983, when Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tom Watson played in a made-for-TV sensation.

Will anyone notice that the Skins Game is gone?

Probably not.

The Skins Game drew a paltry 0.7 rating on Saturday and a 1.1 rating on Sunday last year when K.J. Choi defeated a field that included Stephen Ames, Phil Mickelson and Fred Funk. Even when Tiger Woods played for the last time in 2005, the Sunday rating was a 2.6.

“On the one hand, it will be the first Thanksgiving I’ve had at home in a long time, which is good,” said Barry Frank, executive vice president of IMG Media who has produced the Skins Game since its inception. “As part of the bigger picture, I miss the event. Not having it this year is kind of upsetting. I’m hopeful for next year.”

The Skins Game was canceled when it lost its corporate sponsor, and Frank continues the search for another. Golf sponsorship is a tough sell these days.

It is easy to blame the demise of the Skins Game on the players it attracted. The years of Palmer, Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Fuzzy Zoeller and Fred Couples gave way to Fred Funk, Rocco Mediate and Brett Wetterich.

Golf became so rich that stars had little reason to spend Thanksgiving in the California desert with no guarantee of a paycheck. Strange earned $200,000 for his second U.S. Open title in 1989. He won the Skins Game five months later and made $265,000.

Prize money at the Skins Game remained $1 million. First prize was more than that at 27 PGA Tour events last year.

“I don’t think it went wrong, it got bypassed,” said Alastair Johnston, vice chairman at IMG who delivered the Fab Four for the inaugural Skins Game. “When the money didn’t become competitive, when the silly season became overburdened, when golf was on television 52 weeks, it wasn’t something special. There was no point of distinction.”

Johnston said the Skins Game in 1983 was “a relief from football,” which sounds ludicrous now until put into context.

Back then, golf went off the air after the World Series of Golf at Firestone. The PGA Tour had eight more tournaments through the end of October, and the only coverage came from print.

Then along came a unique event among four superstars, big money up for grabs on every hole.

“The Skins Game had money at stake on every shot, and people were watching,” Johnston said. “It was a very different event. It wasn’t like the Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf. It was real time. There wasn’t a great player who didn’t play in the Skins Game. You had press guys always looking for the scoop on who was going to be in the Skins Game.”

Johnston recalls one golf magazine noting that NBC Sports “finally got its major.” This was before NBC had the rights to the U.S. Open. The first play-by-play announcer? None other than Vin Scully.

“It became a staple of Thanksgiving weekend,” Johnston said. “We even thought about using Roman numerals, like the Super Bowl.”

It wasn’t long before the silly season became crowded – the Shark Shootout, the Kapalua International, the PGA Grand Slam, Diner’s Club Matches, Wendy’s 3-Tour Challenge, the Skills Challenge, even something called the Tommy Bahama Challenge.

Cable networks started televising the occasional PGA Tour event on weekdays, and now The Golf Channel combines with networks to bring all four days of every tournament. It’s a rare week when golf is not on TV.

Frank recalls the Skins Game getting ratings in the 8-9 range in the early days, second only to the Masters. Not even PGA Tour events won by Woods get that kind of rating now. And the arrival of Woods brought TV contracts that quadrupled the prize money in a decade.

Not as many people were watching the Skins Game in the final years, and some might not realize it is gone.

All is not lost. If fans want to watch golf this weekend, they can see the World Cup in China on The Golf Channel. It comes on every night at 10:30 p.m. EST. The Americans used to win the World Cup all the time with teams that featured Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Nicklaus and Palmer, Trevino, Couples and Davis Love III.

The Americans are represented this year by Nick Watney and John Merrick.

Total prize money is $5.5 million.
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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.

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Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.

The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.