PGA Opens Up Some Tough Questions

By George WhiteAugust 19, 2003, 4:00 pm
2003 PGA ChampionshipIm really trying to be careful here. Shaun Micheel, after all, is a professional golfer. So is Chad Campbell. Ditto Tim Clark and Alex Cejka. So the problem ' if you think there is a problem - isnt with any of those gents.
 
But where were the men you expect to be lurking around the top at the majors? Something somewhere is wrong when people such as Davis Love III, Retief Goosen, Thomas Bjorn or Sergio Garcia cant even make the cut. Tiger Woods never contended. Neither did David Toms, Kenny Perry, or Jim Furyk. Phil Mickelson was in it the first day, Ernie Els hung around within shouting distance all four days. Mike Weir was definitely a factor until Sunday.
 
But in the end, Micheel ' God bless em, but he wasnt even among the top 150 players in the world when the week began ' was the victor. For the second straight major, the Official World Rankings had it all wrong. Ben Curtis, remember - the worlds No. 396th player before he played in England - was the winner at the British Open (incidentally, he didnt come close to making the cut at the PGA, either).
 
Either somebody is trying to tell us something about the way Oak Hill and Royal St. Georges was set up ' or you can forget about the form charts from here into the unforeseen future.
 
Do you feel that B is the correct answer? Then you have to believe Micheel, Campbell, Tim Clark and Cejka were the four best players in the world last week. If you feel A would be more appropriate, then you would have to take a look at the two venues.
 
Lets say that Micheel was the best golfer in the world last week. That is certainly possible. He is a solid veteran who is capable, apparently, of jumping up and winning a major championship. But the last six tournaments prior to the PGA, he had missed the cut three times, finished in a tie for 10th at Hartford, and had two other finishes of a tie for 24th and a tie for 60th.
 
The stuff of a major winner? Yes, possibly. You can see one red-hot week and ' boom! ' Micheel wakes up with the Wannamaker Trophy.
 
Lets look at Campbell. Hes a very quiet, very unsung player. Hes in his second year on the tour, he had finished in the top two twice this year prior to the PGA. I guess he could wind up second at the PGA and the whole world wouldnt cave in. Clark is a little more of a stretch ' he has missed the cut in eight of 18 events prior to the PGA. But, OK, I guess you could visualize Clark having a career week and finishing third.
 
Cejka? He had a tie for second in the B.C. Open the week of the British. But other than that, his big claim to fame was the WCG-Accenture back at the end of February, where he beat Colin Montgomerie and Angel Cabrera in match play but lost to Toms.
 
Do these four guys finishing 1-2-3-4 suggest something else is at work here? Yep.
 
Woods said Oak Hill was the hardest, fairest golf course Ive ever played. OK. Oak Hill was fair, says the No. 1 player in the world.
 
And theres nothing wrong with those four guys finishing in the top four spots, says the worlds No. 1 player. You hit the nail on the head, said Woods. The depth of the tour is getting that much deeper. The guys, their techniques are better, they are more consistent, our equipment is better, more forgiving.
 
And what does this mean for the popularity of the game? Plenty. If Woods is not winning one or two majors a year, the popularity is back down where it was pre-1997 before Woods won his first Masters.
 
Is this really a peek into the future? Will we have 20 different winners the next 20 majors? Are the tours really this even?
 
If you dont accept that Royal St. Georges and Oak Hill were set up cock-eyed to make it possible for virtually anyone to win, then you have to think so. If you honestly believe that 150 players can win a major, then this is what has happened. If you believe that Shaun Micheel, who has now won a major, is better than Phil Mickelson, who hasnt - then this is what you get.
 
Mickelson, too, didnt think it was the course that was responsible for the unlikely high finishers.
 
I dont think the course was too hard ' I think its a very fair test, he said. When the greens are receptive, its a very fair test I really enjoy the course.
 
So maybe the Age of Tiger is over, here when it just barely got going. We shouldnt be at all surprised to see a Brendan Pappas, Heath Slocum, Brandt Jobe or J.L. Lewis win one. They all were right around Micheels position of 73rd on the money list before the PGA. Tim Petrovic, Geoff Ogilvie, Carl Pettersson ' yep, those guys, too.
 
Tiger may win one every once in a while ' maybe. He isnt in a slump ' remember? ' and this is apparently about what was expected. But if Tiger isnt going to win one of these exercises more than just once every couple of years, then this game is headed back down in popularity.
 
Of course, the preferred way to look at it would be to marvel at the quality of golf being played by these other gentlemen. Thats how the PGA Tour and these four major championships hope you will view it.
 
The real world, however, will view it quite differently. If this is the end of an era, if Shaun Micheel or Ben Curtis is as likely to win one of these as Tiger Woods or Ernie Els, then Im afraid golf is going back to page 8 on the sports pages. The sporting public will never accept that there are 150 guys who are of the same approximate skill level.
 
I probably wont, either, for a couple of years. But if its true, then more power to Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel!
 
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    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    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.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    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.

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    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    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.

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    Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

    By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

    Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

    At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

    Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time Web.com winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

    Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

    “Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

    In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

    “I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

    Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.