Champions Tour Alive and Vibrant
Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Isao Aoki, Raymond Floyd the time has come to cut back on the Champions Tour schedule. Poised to take their place are Craig Stadler, Wayne Levi, D.A. Weibring and Morris Hatalsky. And ignoring their advancing age, still golfing to a standard reserved only for champions, are names like Hale Irwin, Tom Watson, Jim Thorpe, Bruce Fleisher, Allen Doyle, Larry Nelson and Gil Morgan.
It took 16 events this year before the Champions Tour had its first repeat winner. Names like Dana Quigley, Dave Barr, Vicente Fernandez and David Eger jumped out to wins early, followed by Tom Purtzer, Rodger Davis, Bob Gilder, Tom Jenkins, Jay Sigel, Jim Ahern and Doug Tewell. Not until Bruce Lietzke won the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, then the U.S. Senior Open, did a player win two events this year.
Obviously, from a competitive standpoint, it's been really an unbelievable year, said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. Twenty-five different winners in 30 weeks - just a very balanced amount of competition. Each week we seem to have a different mix of players in the hunt. It's a tremendously competitive tour again, which is terrific.
Once Lietzke won the sixth and seventh victories of his young Champions Tour career ' and his first and second this year - the floodgates broke and multiple winners became a little more common. Watson won two majors the second half of the season ' the British Senior Open (a major for the first time) and the JELD-WEN Tradition. Stadler made a grand entrance to the tour, winning his third time out, winning on the regular tour, then coming back two more times. Included in his three Champions Tour victories was a major ' the Ford Senior Players Championship.
There wasnt any adjustment at all for The Walrus.
You're basically starting Thursday or Friday morning, doing the same thing you've been doing for 30 years, said Stadler. Just different players in the field, but, you know, same guys I played with for 20 and over 30 years.
The only thing you might want to call an adjustment is the fact that I've never seen any golf courses, and obviously the first year you don't. But, we do that every week, and one or two practice rounds, you pretty much know what you've got.
Jim Thorpe got into the multiples act, winning the Long Island Classic and the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
Thorpe studied a frequent playing partner, Tom Kite. Kite didnt win a tournament this year, yet played consistently enough to be No. 6 on the money list.
Tom has been a consistent player throughout his entire career, said Thorpe. At this particular point, his putting is a little suspect. But we have a good break - actually we have two breaks. One break that Tom Watson only plays 12 or 14 times, and another break is that Tom Kite is a little weak with the putter right now. We all go through it. I think these two players would absolutely dominate. Between Watson, Kite, and Irwin, you can probably add Morgan and Nelson in that crew.
I think these guys would dominate if things went their way. If Tom Kite was just a mediocre putter, if he putted 29, 30 putts per round, and Tom Watson isn't playing that much anymore, so we have another break there, he's going to play 14 events. He played 14 events and he leads the money list.
The Golf Channel has an increased role in the Champions Tour next year, becoming its exclusive cable home. Commissioner Finchem duly noted that during a speech at the Schwab Cup.
I must say that the Golf Channel people have done a terrific job, and especially on the promotion side, as they get ready to take over full production next year, said Finchem. But the promotion this year has been, we think, very, very good indeed. Thus we think we're well positioned to take off next year.
Irwin, injured much of the year with a problem back, won two times this season. At 58 years old, he increased his Champions Tour record to 38 victories, the ninth consecutive season that he has won at least twice. Some say he is playing even better than when he was on the regular tour. That is definitely possible, says Tom Jenkins.
All of a sudden, there wasn't a distraction about having to make a cut, explained Jenkins. And I think that's probably the biggest difference in players that had decent careers on the regular tour. You know, the cut was a major, a major thing on Fridays out there.
For some reason I never got over that. I was always concerned about the cuts. And now all of a sudden you don't have a cut, you go out and play, and mentally it made it so much easier and I think those three things alone, if you had any game at all and you work at it, you should be able to succeed out here.
Kite, for one, says the some facets of his game are definitely better than were on the regular tour, while some may not be so good.
I wish that I had the golf swing 25 years ago that I have right now, said Kite. I wish I had the conditioning 25 years ago that I have now. I think I would have won a lot more tournaments.
Obviously, I did a lot of great things with the short game back then that really carried me and saved me an awful lot from my wedges and my chipping, my bunker play and putting. That part of the game is not as sharp as what it used to be.
The Champions Tour should be just as impressive in 2004. Sam Torrance comes from Scotland to try to qualify. Jay Haas and Peter Jacobsen both will turn 50, as will Keith Fergus, Mike Reid, Ron Streck and John Adams.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.