Ten ways to change the golf model
These events have given me the opportunity to visit with a wide range of golfers and it's been a real pleasure. In my conversations with all these golfers I've tried to get a feel for 'the state of the game.' What I'm hearing bothers me. Participation in the U.S. is flat and it feels like enthusiasm is waning. I know much of this can be blamed on the economy, but I get a feeling there's more to it than that. I get the sense that, for many people, the current golf model is broken. I know that many owners and operators are struggling. Many have have not survived and even more are teetering on the edge of solvency.
We need a new model for golf. The old model isn't going to cut it in post Great Recession America. Albert Einstein suggested that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. We need change. I think it's possible to to be progressive on some fronts and still be respectful of the game's history and traditions. Golf needs to increase the 'fun factor' to attract more youth, decrease the 'time factor' to accommodate a stressed out and pressed-for-time middle age population, and increase the 'fitness and socialization factors' for seniors. I've been collecting ideas that can help to accomplish all three of these goals.
I'd appreciate your feedback and any other suggestions you might have.
1) It makes no sense that recreational golfers (especially beginners) play by the same rules that professionals and elite amateurs play. Simplify rules for everyday recreational play. Would you ski off a double black diamond hill after your first ski lesson?
2) Players choose which tees they play from. They should also be able to choose the size of the hole they play to. Courses should have a regulation hole and a 10-inch hole on every green. This would have a major impact on pace of play and enjoyment.
3) Get the pros out from behind the counters. Golf can be intimidating and confusing. Pros should meet, greet and make golfers feel welcome. Let the grumpy rangers collect the cash. Quick tips on the range and advice on how to play the course should be the priority for pros. Who knows? This might even bring back pro shop customer loyalty and give those grumpy rangers more cash to collect. Golf pros don't need to be general managers. They need to be golf pros. Deal with the golfers, not the computers.
4) Find ways to let seniors and juniors play 3-, 6-, and 12-hole loops walking. If regular play starts at 8 a.m., let juniors and seniors tee off the 12th or 16th tee at 8:30.
5) Widen fairways and lower rough cuts. Nobody wants to have an Easter egg hunt on every hole. And more importantly, nobody wants to stand on a tee watching the group in front of them have an Easter egg hunt.
6) Educate golfers on the economic reality of high green speeds. Golfers need to appreciate healthy turf more than greens that roll 14 on the Stimpmeter. Not only does this take pressure off the golf course owner but it also helps with pace of play.
7) Learn from bowling. Bowling was withering on the vine in the 1970s and early 1980s. People couldn't figure out how to keep score and gutter balls just weren't that much fun. Automatic scoring and retractable bumpers helped revitalize the sport.
8) Push the physical activity and socialization button with seniors. Movement and activity helps fight heart disease and diabetes. Socialization helps depression and overall mental health. Nothing brings these factors together better than golf. Especially on a golf course with less rough and a 10-inch hole. Find creative ways to get seniors on the golf course.
9) Base handicaps on scores shot in competition and on designated medal play days. Illegitimate handicaps discourage many golfers from competing. The current system doesn't provide incentive for many golfers to take pride in their handicap.
10) Have golf courses prepped and ready for play at first light on weekends. This gives parents the opportunity to get in some golf and still have time to spend with the family. Recreational time can't compete with family time in this day and age. And rightfully so.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.
The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.
It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.
"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."
Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.
Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.
"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."