That -- Very Important -- Time of the Season
While the passive golf fans now turn their attention to the pennant chases and the beginning of the NFL season, those men who lace up their spikes for a living are going to be hard at work trying to earn a chance to do just that'earn a living by trying to keep their jobs. The chase for the top-125 on the PGA Tour money list is headed for the home stretch. Most of the players that fail arent likely to starve anytime soon, but their last shot at glory is far different than the one pursued last week at Whistling Straits. And while the pressure mounts for those players on the PGA Tours bubble, the same type of pressure starts to build on the Nationwide Tour.
The race for the top-20 is on, and much the same as those fighting to keep their cards on the PGA Tour, these combatants know that this is their best shot at glory. Of course, theres still one last chance at Q-School, but the odds at the fall classic could never serve as collateral for a mortgage.
While the Nationwide Tour will always play somewhat in the shadow of the PGA Tour, that shadow appears to be shrinking significantly.
The stated goal of the powers-that-be in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., is to make the Nationwide Tour the second best tour in the world. If the players are to be believed, it could be argued that, from a competitive standpoint, its already there. But thats the subjective part. Other evidence of what the Nationwide Tour is has emerged this year.
The easiest way to quantify the Nationwide Tours success is to look directly at the PGA Tours money list. Its littered with Nationwide Tour Alums. Fifty-seven of the top 125 were previously members of the No. 2 tour. So were 12 of the top 30. Alums have won 15 PGA Tour events this year. Two of those were from last years graduating class'Zach Johnson and Mark Hensby. Only four previous players have gone on to win the year after graduating from the Nationwide Tour: Stewart Cink in 96, Notah Begay III in 98, and Jonathan Byrd and John Rollins in 01. And lest we not forget, five of the 10 players to automatically qualify for the Ryder Cup team are Nationwide Tour alums.
Perhaps the most convincing evidence of the Nationwide Tours rapid ascension in stature can be seen simply by seeing a Nationwide Tour event. Every tour'PGA, LPGA, and Champions'holds tournaments that struggle for large crowds, and the Nationwide Tour is no different. But in recent years, and most notably this year on the Nationwide Tour, those sparsely attended events are now the exception and definitely not the rule. There have been record-breaking crowds at just about every event compared to previous years. But most encouraging has been the fan interest at the new tournaments and existing tournaments that have changed venues.
At the inaugural Pete Dye West Virginia Classic, there simply wasnt enough viewing space to accommodate the immense crowds. They were literally lining every inch of ground on which someone could keep their balance. Same goes for the Samsung Canadian PGA Championship that this year moved to the outskirts of Toronto. Nebraska, South Carolina, Missouri, and just about everywhere the Nationwide Tour has traveled this season has witnessed the popularity of the Nationwide Tour as a sporting event that has outgrown its minor-league moniker.
So now that the major season is complete, many golf fans will start to keep an eye on the Nationwide Tour and it wont be a blind eye at that. Six remaining Nationwide Tour events are on The Golf Channel, including four of the last five.
The Nationwide Tour has always been a big part of TGCs programming. In the beginning it was because we needed programming and we needed live tournaments to cover. Thats not so much the case anymore. But like the golf fans we serve, TGC has also realized what the Nationwide Tour has become.
Has it reached its potential? Is this as good as its going to get? Well, theres two ways to answer that.
When I qualified for my first Nationwide Tour event in Wichita, Kan., in 1990, I wouldnt have guessed in a million years that it would grow to its current level. However, having witnessed its growth in purse size, level of competition, and community support, I couldnt imagine in a million years that it would do anything but continue to explode.
My favorite analogy is to pose the following hypothesis: If the Nationwide Tour didnt graduate players to the PGA Tour, it would already be to the point of an AFC vs. NFC in football. The number of stars would be equal to the PGA Tour, and the passion, hunger, and desire of the Nationwide Tour players would be even greater.
But for now, Ill enjoy it for what it is'the second best tour in golf. And Ill also enjoy covering the stories that unfold. Those stories arent second best.
Email your thoughts to Jerry Foltz
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
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.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
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.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
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.