Hawks Nest: Money, motive and manners

By John HawkinsNovember 4, 2013, 3:00 pm

It’s always nice to see a mega-talent like Dustin Johnson win a real golf tournament, even if it is a WGC with some big names MIA or AWOL, depending on your POV. It’s not Johnson’s fault that Tiger Woods traveled 8,169 miles to China for a $3 million game of pattycake with Rory McIlroy, then couldn’t schlep it 902 miles north to Shanghai and join a decent field three days later.

Conventional wisdom tells me Tiger needed the time off to prepare for this week’s Turkish Airlines Open. I’m gonna be dead honest with you – I didn't even know Turkey had its own airline. Now it has its own European Tour event, although it should be pointed out that Turkey is one of those rare countries that is part of two continents: Europe and Asia.

I know, I know. You couldn’t care less. All anyone wants to know is, how much free money is Woods getting to show up in Antalya with a clean red shirt and a golf swing? Again, $3 million seems to be the magic number – roughly the same amount Eldrick split with McIlriches last Monday at Mission Hills.

Does the $3 million come with a complimentary tank of jet fuel from the title sponsor? It’s a long way back to Jupiter, be it the town in Florida or the planet next to Saturn, and the last thing anyone wants is a 14-time major champion leaving town unhappy. With that in mind, I suggest that a local caterer handle the clubhouse spread. You know what they say about airline food.

YOU’LL BE SADDENED to hear that Englishman Simon Dyson has withdrawn from the TAO after he was accused of cheating at the BMW Masters, which necessitated his appearing before an independent disciplinary panel to address the charge last week. Multiple published reports refer to Dyson’s illicit action as “tapping down a spike mark,” which, at least technically, wasn’t really the case.

Dyson obviously broke a rule by flattening the ground a few inches in front of his mark – the defendant himself admitted as much. As is often the case in these situations, however, things get more complicated from there. What I find particularly appalling is Dyson’s description of the infraction as an “accidental mistake,” a term he used in a statement on the matter last week.

Rarely could a pro golfer’s intent appear more obvious. Dyson’s use of the ball as a “flattening tool” is so unusual that any denial of a motive will be hard to justify and harder to believe. As a golf fan who doesn’t always believe the crime fits the punishment, I’m certainly hoping level-headed justice is served here.

WHILE PLAYING IN an inter-club match a couple weekends ago, I was asked the question a veteran golf writer hears more than any other. “Who are the nicest guys on the Tour?” one of our opponents inquired, which usually precedes a request to identify the biggest jerks. Only in safe company will I bother responding to the follow-up, but my nicest-guy answer has been the same for a decade or so.

Kenny Perry.

There are more than a dozen worthy candidates, and though I may not be the world’s fairest judge of character, I didn’t get this space by being wishy-washy, either. Perry is an exceptionally kind-hearted human being without a phony nerve in his body. He is the ultimate family man, a giver and a pleaser, and though every tour pro I’ve ever met has at least a little ego, Perry is a Kentucky boy with tremendous balance and clear perspective in his soul.

Now that he’s won the 2013 Charles Schwab Cup as the best player on the Champions Tour, I feel compelled to share a few Kenny Perry stories. My favorite actually emerged from the lone dust-up we’ve had – I wrote a column for Golf World in the summer of 2008 criticizing Perry’s decision to skip the British Open and play in the John Deere Classic.

“Hawkins and those guys have said some pretty rude things about me,” Perry quipped at the Deere, which didn’t bother me because it wasn’t exactly true. Having won the Memorial and Buick Open that June, KP was the hottest golfer on the planet, and I simply thought it was a shame that he wasn’t heading over to Royal Birkdale in search of that elusive first major title.

Anyway, it wasn’t until late August at The Barclays that I finally caught up to Perry. I had tried to contact him by phone through my longtime colleague, Tim Rosaforte, but KP was on a houseboat at the time and told Rosaforte he didn’t want to talk to me. So I drove down to New Jersey not knowing what to expect. I just knew I had to do whatever it took to work things out.

There he was on the practice range, one of three or four guys hitting balls late Tuesday afternoon. Perry saw me coming, put down his club and broke into a million-dollar smile. “Ancient history,” he would call our difference of opinion, and for the next 15 minutes, we chatted like a couple of guys creeping up on our 50th birthdays.

A few years earlier, I’d flown into Nashville and driven about 45 minutes north to meet Perry at his pride and joy: Country Creek GC, a cute little public track in his hometown of Franklin, Ky. I found it rather funny that it was snowing when I landed in Tennessee, knowing how much Perry dislikes cold weather, and made it a point to let him know about it when I arrived in Franklin.

We spent the day filling microcassettes and hanging out with 14-handicaps in denim overalls. When you write a lengthy feature on someone, you don’t always like them as much as when you started the project. When I turned in the Kenny Perry piece, I liked him about 10 times more.

Fast-forward to the 2009 Masters, where Perry bogeyed the final two holes and lost in a playoff to Angel Cabrera. As the twilight turned to darkness, there was KP explaining himself in front of maybe 15 television cameras just outside the Augusta National media center. Both of his daughters, who were 20 and 24 at the time, were crying, as was Perry’s daughter in-law.

Justin Perry, Kenny’s lone son, had this blank, faraway look on his face that I’ll never forget, listening to his dad beat himself up and second-guess crucial decisions down the stretch. The whole scene was agonizing to watch but impossible to walk away from – a painful family portrait no journalist could adequately capture with syllables.

Maybe I would have felt differently if it had been somebody else, but it wasn’t. Nice guys hardly ever finish last. Sometimes, they finish second and shatter the hearts of all the good people around them.

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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.

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Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by GolfChannel.com paints a different picture.

Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.