If You Change It They Will Come

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 7, 2005, 4:00 pm
Tournament prestige will always draw a popular crowd. That above all else will determine the number of quality players who enter a PGA Tour event.
 
After that, there are various other ways to draw the top-ranked players.
 
Tournament organizers can inflate their purse, they can align themselves with a golfing legend, and they can even offer up intriguing off-course options.
 
But give a player a great venue on which to compete and they most certainly guarantee themselves of getting the names they desire.
 
Vijay Singh and Ernie Els
Vijay Singh and Ernie Els are just two of the big names on hand this week due to the course change.
Most tournaments really treat us well, Vijay Singh said. For instance, New Orleans ' you couldnt ask for better treatment. But then, when you come to the golf course, its a night-and-day difference.
 
You make your schedule according to the golf course, as well. We love going to a great golf course and playing great golf courses. I think it brings the best out of good players.
 
And a good golf course seems to bring out the best players. Case in point: this weeks Booz Allen Classic.
 
For the past 18 years, the tournament has been contested at the TPC at Avenel in Potomac, Md. And for the past 18 years, the tournament has been struggling year-to-year to get the best players to come play.
 
So while the venue is undergoing an overhaul, Congressional Country Club has agreed to host the event for this year and this year only. Then its scheduled to return to a revamped Avenel.
 
And that is the single, solitary reason ' not the fact that it is preceding the U.S. Open this year ' why 16 of the top 25 players in the world are competing this week as opposed to one of 25 a year ago.
 
I think we've got a great field for Congressional, Singh said. When they went back to Avenel ' nobody wants to play Avenel.
 
Congressional has hosted this tournament seven times before, last doing so in 1986. It was also the site of the 1997 U.S. Open, won by Ernie Els, and the 1964 U.S. Open, won by Ken Venturi
 
Congressional (par-71, 7,232 yards) is a major-league venue and a major-league attraction. It also has a major-league list of past champions.
 
Six of the seven prior Booz Allen winners at Congressional currently have a major championship victory to their credit. The lone exception is Bill Glasson, who defeated Larry Mize and Corey Pavin in 1985. For that matter, during that same seven-year stretch, nine of the 12 players who finished runner-up are also major champions.
 
On the other hand, only five of the last 18 winners at Avenel are current major champions. That highlights the fact that Avenel isnt in the same championship-caliber category as is Congressional, and that the top-ranked players just arent coming the way they used to ' or are this year.
 
Keeping the major theme in mind, it should come as little surprise that a host of proven major winners are the leading candidates to add to Congressional's impressive list of champions.
 
Five for the Title
 
Ernie Els
No one in the field will have more positive feelings upon his return to Congressional than Els, who claimed his second U.S. Open title here eight years ago. Els has only twice competed in this event, and not since 2000. But past history in this tournament means very little considering the course change. Els has won three times outside of the U.S. this year, but it still seeking his first PGA Tour win of the season. Hes hoping his Congressional defense turns out better than his Memorial defense last week, when he tied for 45th.
 
Retief Goosen
Retief Goosen
Retief Goosen is looking for more than just a tune-up to next week's U.S. Open title defense.
Goosen always has to be considered a threat. But when its the middle of June and youre playing on a U.S. Open-style venue, he has to be considered among the short list of favorites. Goosen, like Els, has a pair of Open trophies on his mantle. And just like Els, he has nary a tour win this year. A win this week would be nice, but Goosen really wants to sharpen his game for next weeks title defense at Pinehurst. Goosen, who didnt compete in the 97 Open, has played in only two tournaments since tying for third at the Masters. He missed the cut at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship and tied for 11th at the BMW Championship on the European Tour.
 
Vijay Singh
Singh missed the cut at last weeks Memorial Tournament. Dont expect him to do it again this week. Singh hasnt missed back-to-back cuts on tour since 2001. How good has Singh been over the last three years? His two missed cuts this season equal his total over the last two seasons combined. Singh tied for 77th in the 97 U.S. Open, but that was 23 wins and three major victories ago. Singh said that while in his native Fiji, he didnt pick up a club for 10 days. That would explain his rounds of 77-74 at Muirfield. Expect those calluses to be hardened by the time he tees it up Thursday.
 
Phil Mickelson
Mickelson skipped last weeks Memorial to get in a few practice sessions at Pinehurst. And continuing his major routine, hell play this week to get into competitive form. Phil will be trying to reverse his recent trend of diminishing returns. Since his playoff victory at the BellSouth Classic, he has gradually been slipping down the leaderboard. But he still has only three finishes outside the top 25 this year, and he has yet to miss a cut. He tied for 43rd at Congressional in 97.
 
Adam Scott
Scott is the defending champion, having cruised to a four-stroke victory at Avenel a year ago, when the tournament was contested the week after the Open. While nearly all of the winners at Congressional are current major champions, that doesnt mean they had a major title on their resume at the time of their victory. Only John Mahaffey (1980) and Craig Stadler (1982) were major winners prior to their Booz Allen triumphs at Congressional. The other four ' Stadler, 1981; Fred Couples, 1983; Greg Norman, 1984; Norman, 1986 ' became major champions after their Congressional victories. Scott isnt a major champion yet, but he would seem to be a perfect fit in this latter category.
 
Playing Out the Front Nine
 
Four more players to keep an eye on
 
*Jim Furyk, whose decision to play this week is based solely on the change in venue. Furyk hasnt played this tournament in six years, but he couldnt pass up the opportunity to play Congressional. The 2003 U.S. Open champion, who tied for fifth here in 97, shot 64-68 over the weekend at Muirfield to earn his sixth top-10 of the season.
 
*Tom Lehman, who lost a heartbreaker at Congressional in 97. Eight years ago, Lehman led through three round of the U.S. Open, before eventually finishing third after plunking his approach shot into the water on the 71st hole. A win this week wouldnt exactly atone for that loss, but it would be some form of redemption ' and his first victory since 2000.
 
*Jeff Maggert, who played in the final twosome with Lehman in 97. Maggert shot 74 that Sunday to finish fourth. Few players perform better on difficult venues than does Maggert. He has eight career top-5 finishes in the majors, but he doesnt have a win of any kind since 1999.
 
*Stewart Cink, who also plays tough tracks well. Cink tied for 13th here in 97 as a tour rookie. If the course has any semblance to a U.S. Open venue, expect Cink, who has three top-10s at the Open, to compete.
 
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    Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

    By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

    South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

    Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

    Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

    Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

    Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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    Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

    By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

    He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

    12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

    Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.


    11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

    At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.


    11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

    Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.


    1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

    Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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    Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

    By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

    HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

    It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

    Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

    It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

    ''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

    The reward now?

    ''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

    He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

    During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

    ''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

    Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

    ''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

    During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

    ''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

    It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

    Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

    And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

    It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

    ''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

    Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

    And not the Masters.

    He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

    ''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

    There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

    Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

    ''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

    He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

    ''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

    He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

    ''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

    Except for that first week in April.

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    The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

    By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

    The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

    All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

    By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

    Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

    As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

    While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

    Yeah, you heard that right.

    “I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

    Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

    Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

    Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

    You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

    As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

    Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

    Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

    A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

    Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

    With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

    First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

    “I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

    Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

    We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

    The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

    These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

    Here's two more just for good measure.

    Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

    Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

    Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

    Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

    Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

    Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

    But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

    We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

    Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

    PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

    Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.