Players skipping TOC overshadowing those playing event

By Jason SobelJanuary 2, 2013, 11:38 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – There’s trouble in paradise. And it isn’t the blew-out-my-flip-flop, stepped-on-a-pop-top kind of trouble.

This week marks the beginning of the PGA Tour season, with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions taking place here on the island of Maui, against the backdrop of breaching whales, resplendent rainbows and abundant palm trees. If that doesn’t sound appealing enough, players are shuttled back and forth from the nearby Ritz-Carlton, which isn’t exactly a Motel 6.

“I was walking around near the hotel yesterday and I looked around and told my wife, ‘I want to be here every year,’ said Webb Simpson, who finished in a share of third place last year. “To be able to start your year in Hawaii, it doesn’t get any better.”

Even aesthetically challenged competitors can find beauty in the tournament’s format. After many of them had shut it down during the holidays, they can now enjoy the relaxed nature of this week’s four-round, no-cut, guaranteed money setup. Consider it the Tour’s version of a holiday bonus.

So where’s the trouble? Check the numbers.

Of the 37 players who qualified for this event by winning in 2012, only 30 are here, leaving the rest to cruise on back home.

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That number may provide an above average percentage for greens in regulation, but it denotes a problem for what should – or at least could – be one of the crown jewels of the annual schedule. In effect, those here are being overshadowed by those who chose to stay away.

Especially because the Magnificent Seven is a who’s who list of special talents: Rory McIlroyLuke DonaldTiger WoodsJustin RoseSergio GarciaPhil MickelsonErnie Els.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s the top four players in the world ranking and three others who are 24th or better. They have accounted for 156 career PGA Tour victories and two dozen major championship titles.

In other words, they’re really good.

And none of them are here.

Aloha really does mean goodbye.

It’s easy to place blame on the players themselves for being too greedy/lazy/apathetic/inflexible. Choose your favorite adjective. But that is too narrow of a view. Many of those seven were competing into December and five retain membership on other tours, which requires widespread travel throughout the year.

The fact is, there are many other tournaments throughout the season for which all seven of those players will technically be eligible – including next week’s Sony Open – but won’t play due to other commitments or family priorities or simply needing a week of rest.

It’s also not as if this is a new issue, either. This tournament has been losing superstars on an annual basis for the past decade, yet has continued in its current form. All of which could translate to the Tour being labeled more inflexible than any of the players.

If anything, it’s a shared blame here, but there is no apparent solution.

Change the date? Change the venue? Offer more prize money? Increase the field size? Decrease it?

Quite frankly, none of those factors would ensure the A-listers return to this event. It says less about the TOC, though, than it does the rest of the schedule. When the likes of Woods and Mickelson first played this tournament, there were no World Golf Championship events, no FedEx Cup playoffs and less of an importance on other late-season global events.

“It is far to come,” Simpson explained, “but so is Abu Dhabi, Qatar – those places are pretty far, too. So I don’t know. I think the way the game is changing, it’s becoming more global. Guys are playing around the world more than they used to.”

As if to further complicate matters, this tournament will remain in its current slot going forward, despite the impending wraparound schedule. What it means is that PGA Tour winners during each calendar year will earn invitations to an exclusive event that will now fall as the seventh tourney of the season, but first of the actual year.

Still, it doesn’t solve any of the issues about getting those Magnificent Seven to the Aloha State.

“Our season is so long now. You basically play all year, right to the end of the year and I think guys need some time away,” said defending champion Steve Stricker. “It’s just a tough spot for some guys. Others, we love being here. I hear the field is better this year, so I think it’s going in the right direction.”

There’s still trouble in paradise, with so many elite players skipping the festivities. The other 30 who are here will just have to make do with four rounds earning guaranteed money adjacent to the mighty Pacific.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.