Dont Always Follow the Leader

By Kraig KannJanuary 17, 2004, 5:00 pm
I know, I know. You want to get to the tournament early. You don't want to miss a glimpse of Tiger. Nothing wrong with that. Heck, I do the same thing! Ernie does it to me, too. Davis has a certain appeal. I know full-well what Mickelson and Couples do to fans at every stop. And there's no better time to spend a day following Vijay or Weir.
 
World-class stars to be certain. You can bet each and every one of them will lead a tournament, win a tournament (or two, or three), or have a great chance to win a tournament (or four or five) before the kids are out of school for the summer.

But this is a tour with appeal well beyond its ratings-grabbers. So take those kids, a program and a Sharpie and go check out Darren Clarke. He's a fan's man, a guy's guy and apparently ready to be a ratings horse. albeit some 30 pounds lighter. Find Aaron Baddeley, too. You can say the pants on 'Badds.com' are plaids-gone bad if you want, but the young Aussie is a swashbuckling superstar in the making.
 
Same goes for Hank Kuehne. Make sure you watch him play a par 5. You won't believe how far you have to walk to watch his second shot! Jerry Kelly's a workin' man's pro with arguably the best 'walk' on tour next to Couples. Talk up Rocco Mediate, Scott McCarron or Jeff Sluman if the chance presents itself. Plenty of success among that trio and they take nothing for granted.
 
And I'm set to give you 10 other players worth following for a few holes like
they're your brother. Ready? Here's the categories:
 
'THEY'VE EARNED IT'
 
1. Nick Price - Recently inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, Nick is all class. If you want your son or daughter to watch the definition of 'professional' in person, he's your man. No other reason necessary.
 
2. Paul Azinger - Who knows how long Zinger can keep his name among the tour's elite. But, like Price, he's one of the great ball-strikers and a true gentleman of his time. He's funnier than you'd imagine and would probably be more well-received than any of the top analysts currently sitting in the booth for the networks.
 
3. Hal Sutton - This year's American Ryder Cup captain is a guy who's all business on the course and one of the game's classiest off the course. He speaks his mind when asked and makes a whole lot of sense when he does. Taking nothing from any of the captains in recent memory, but the PGA of America hit a home-run with Sutton. Plus, listen close and he might just utter, 'Be the right club TODAY!'
 
'THEY NEED IT'

4. David Duval - Did you see the two hours he spent with us last year at the PGA Championship? Duval stood up to every question, offered nothing but candid comments and is worthy of every bit of your support. Don't get me wrong here - not every guy would handle things the way he has. His personal life is on the upswing, now let's hope his backswing and downswing find the proper groove.
 
5. Steve Stricker - Ever been to the Greater Milwaukee Open? I have. And trust me when I say, it's his town! It's been too long since Stricker really impressed us. He won the WGC-Match Play in Australia in 2001 and seemingly hasn't come up from Down Under. A genuine good guy. Nothing phony. Make the SHO and the GHO feel like the GMO, would you please? Let's get him a win.
 
'ON-COURSE ACADEMY'
 
6. Joe Durant - Multiple wins on the PGA Tour for one big reason. The guy hardly misses a green. Personable and unassuming. A guy you'd have no trouble getting for an autograph and a re-cap of just how he did it that day.
 
7. Heath Slocum - No wins on the PGA Tour, but don't be surprised when it comes. If Durant is your guy to hit greens, Slocum's the guy you want putting him in the fairway! The next one he misses will be his first! (figuratively speaking)
 
'ON-COURSE COMEDY'
 
8. Neal Lancaster - A winner on tour, this guy's so down to earth he's buried up to his waistline! He's a nervous-Nellie who'd be perfect for reality television. Catch him on the tee during a long wait or under a tree after a wayward drive. You'll get your money's worth.
 
9. Ian Leggett - Winner in Tucson a couple year's back. The Canadian is a former speed skater who won't forget a face or a name or a joke you told a few months back. Some players don't get it when I say he's a cut-up. Try him yourself. In fact, tell him I sent you.
 
'FAN FRIENDLY'
 
10. Dean Wilson - Do you like a guy who's grinding his tail off but actually looks like he's enjoying every minute of it? Here's your man. Wilson might be best known for playing two days with Annika last year at the Bank of America Colonial. Don't short him. Wilson's got a great smile, a great attitude and he 'gets it,' if you know what I mean.
 
This list could go on and on - It's the beauty of covering this sport for a living. People always ask me - 'Who's the nicest guy on the PGA Tour?' I like the fact that it takes a while to answer that one.
 
P.S. How about that Steve Flesch on the Sprint Pre-Game Wednesday night!
 
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.