National Golf Day a success on Capitol Hill

By April 19, 2012, 1:10 am

WASHINGTON – In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Congress took legislative action to provide desperately needed relief to the Gulf Coast. Excluded from the relief bill, was golf and the facilities damaged by a 100-year storm. Golf facilities were ineligible for aid from the bill, lumped together with businesses like massage parlors and casinos.

It was that slight – repeated since in other legislative exclusions – to a game perceived as a niche for well-to-do Caucasian men that coalesced the industry to convince Washington of the widespread positive impact the game has on the economy. Four years later, a golf industry group called We Are Golf convened for the fifth National Golf Day in Washington.

'We don't want to be given special treatment compared to other industries. We just want to play from the same set of tees,' PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka said Wednesday.

The idea behind the day remains the same as the first in 2008: designate a different kind of demo day for Congressional representatives and their staff to share golf as more than an activity for leisure or campaign fundraising.

The day is organized around a two-pronged strategy of work and play.

In the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building, the coalition built the golf equivalent of a McDonald's Play Place – a golf simulator, brief lessons from Michael Breed of 'The Golf Fix' and a putting contest pitting the two parties against each other. Though California Democrat Joe Baca was among the first to wield the flat stick, the Republicans won the day.

Meanwhile, the game's envoys met behind closed doors to lobby for industry-friendly bills, such as tax cuts supported by representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) and a proposal by Ron Kind (D-WI) and Spencer Bachus (R-AL) to remove the golf exclusion from future disaster relief legislation.

Steranka was one of the ambassadors, making one last, windy trip under, around and throughout Congressional office buildings to praise the golf industry before he steps aside from his post at year's end. He recalled a particular eureka moment emblematic of the broader change the day aims to produce.

'I was telling Congressman Baca earlier that when we first got here (when he was chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus), he was an avid fan of the game, but more the sport. He liked the PGA Tour, watching on TV,' Steranka explained. 'When we dove into the economic impact studies – including the state-by-state numbers – in the state of California, the sport of golf provides some 160,000 jobs. That changed the tone of conversation from golf being a part of the entertainment sector to being a conversation about jobs.'

Stephen Mona, CEO of the World Golf Foundation which organizes National Golf Day, believes the message is sticking.

'I think there's been a sea change here. We came from having no profile here collectively to today, in a number of meetings we're having, the congressmen can almost recite our impact back to us,' he said. 'We feel very good about our ability over the last five years to get out our message and change the dialogue about golf.'

The talking points are recited rote, but bear repeating amid the saturnine tone from many in the game concerning participation.

The industry claims $76 billion of economic impact, leading to billions in philanthropy. The game's green spaces can be environmental sanctuaries.

The average round of golf is $25 with margins stretched almost invisible by the Great Recession – a difficult reality for entrepreneurs running small businesses that employ 40-50 people, summing almost 2 million jobs. 

The downturn no doubt also affected some of the 23 million golfing Americans. That collective is closer to 10 percent of the population than the reviled One Percent. Only one in 10 golfers belong to a private club with more than 85 percent of rounds played at daily fee courses.

Though the mantra appears to have done some good, some representatives can testify to the game's virtue without coaching.

Dan Burton, a Republican representative from Indiana and former chairman of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, became the power broker he is today because of his exposure to the game.

'Golf had more to do with changing my life than almost anything. We had very difficult problems when I was a kid and one of my buddies told me that I ought to go caddie. I said, 'What's a caddie?' The first day I caddied, I decided I wanted to learn that game,' he said.

'It's made a big difference. As a matter of fact, it might sound hard to believe, but I don't think I would have become a businessman or a congressman if I hadn't started playing golf when I was a kid because my stepfather wanted me to go into the foundry business. But I didn't want to because I wanted to be like the guys I caddied for.'

For every Burton, there are other representatives not so smitten with the game and its economic footprint, or are frankly focused elsewhere. The work to reach those representatives continues on Capitol Hill as powerful lobbying firm Podesta Group will continue on behalf of We Are Golf until the golf rodeo comes into town again next year.

While the day was deemed a success, like Earth Day, every day is Golf Day.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.