Thanks for the Memories

By John FeinsteinJanuary 19, 2011, 1:12 am

There is great risk involved in starting a sentence with, “I remember when…” Anytime I do it in a golf locker room someone – usually Paul Goydos – will ask me what I remember about covering Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris.

That said, I DO remember when this was one of the special weeks on the PGA Tour. The Bob Hope Desert Classic was one of the most important, prestigious and fun events on the calendar for players and for fans. It was a week when a lot of people digging out from underneath the snow in the east or the Midwest could sit in front of their televisions, stare longingly at the sparkling fairways of the four golf courses in the Coachella Valley and dream of warmer days ahead.

It was also one of the must-play events for most players. If you only played twice on the West Coast you played the Hope and you played the Crosby. That was the list. Everything else was Glen Campbell by comparison. If you doubt that just check the list of winners: Arnold Palmer (five times); Jack Nicklaus; Billy Casper; Doug Sanders; Johnny Miller (back-to-back); Lanny Wadkins; Corey Pavin; Tom Kite; Fred Couples; David Duval and Phil Mickelson. Those are just the guys who won. Plenty of others played.

In the days when the Hope was in its glory, golf was only on TV on the weekends. Saturday at the Hope was celebrity day – Hope clowning with all of his Hollywood pals and a handful of politicians – led from the mid 70s on by former President Gerald Ford who could always be counted on to spray a few shots into the gallery – and making everyone involved feel as if they were part of something that was important. Then on Sundays, the amateurs and celebrities moved outside the ropes and the pros played their fifth round – the Hope is still the only 90-hole tournament on Tour – for the money and the trophy.

Frequently, if he wasn’t in contention, Palmer would join Hope in the NBC booth and they would talk golf and crack jokes while the tournament was being decided. Then Palmer would often help Hope do the post-round interview with the champion. In 1970 when Bruce Devlin won with a then jaw-dropping score of 339 (21 under par) Hope asked Palmer if he had any questions.

“I sure do,” Arnie said. “Just how the hell did you shoot 339?”

If only today’s post-round interviews would be so direct.

Yes, those were the good old days.

These days the Hope is treated by the Tour as an afterthought. While Tim Finchem and company have worked diligently to find new title sponsors for Phoenix, San Diego, Memphis and Doral – among others – they have not been able to find one for the Hope since Chrysler pulled out two years ago. For the past several years the Hope has come right after the Tour is in Hawaii which means a lot of players skip it because they aren’t eager to fly from Oahu on Sunday and tee it up for real on Wednesday. As if that isn’t bad enough, the Tour granted nine competing event exemptions this week to players – one of them being Mickelson – who wanted to go play for an appearance fee in Abu Dhabi rather than play the Hope.

In fact, the event in Abu Dhabi has all four major champions from 2010, and six of the world’s top 10 and 11 of the top 20. The Hope? None of the top 10 and two of the top 20.

No wonder neither NBC – Hope’s home network for most of his life – nor any other broadcast network televises the tournament anymore.

Tiger Woods has never played the Hope. That’s sad. For all of Woods’ talk about his appreciation for golf history he has no understanding apparently what Hope did for the game. He did play at Pebble Beach early in his career but that had nothing to do with Bing Crosby, it had to do with liking the golf course. Now, even that’s not enough.

There’s also the celebrity list: Once, in addition to Hope and President Ford, you could find Crosby, Phil Harris and Phil Silvers, among others. Now? Other than Kurt Russell, the list reads like a group hoping to get on “Dancing with the Stars,” someday. In fact, one of the bigger names on the list is John O’Hurley who was on “Dancing with the Stars.” Can Bristol Palin be far behind? The closest thing to a truly big name is comedian Tom Dressen, who was once close to Frank Sinatra when he warmed up for him in Vegas.

Once upon a time, players looked forward to the Hope. They loved the warmth of the desert, the feel of the week and didn’t mind playing four rounds with amateurs. Now most of them roll their eyes and complain about the torture of 72 holes with amateur partners – celebrity or non-celebrity. It’s not surprising that those who play well in the tournament are those who like playing with amateurs.

“I’ve always enjoyed it,” Bill Haas, the 2010 champion said. “I feel like when you’re playing well, they becomes your cheerleaders. That’s kind of fun.”

That’s what the Hope used to be: a lot of fun mixed in with some outstanding golf. The quality of the golf is still there – remember these guys are good – but it doesn’t seem likely that TV viewers are going to get terribly fired up about watching Scott Hamilton yuck it up with Alice Cooper or Eric Dickerson lining up a putt for par net birdie.

The Hope deserves a lot better than it’s getting. Thanks for the memories indeed.

Getty Images

Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

Getty Images

Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.