Hot Topics and Wishful Thinking
And so, here I am, after a weeks vacation, in suburban Chicago at the Cialis Western Open stuck wondering about so many things that my golf mind is actually spinning!
Topic - Tiger and Butch
Butch told The Golf Channel on the Sprint Post Game last Sunday that he and Tiger did in fact talk in the days after the United States Open. Then Tiger answered a TGC driven line of questioning on the topic and told the assembled media here on Wednesday in Chicago that he, in fact, was the one who called Butch to clear the air.
Ive always wondered why we care/cared so much but I think Ive figured it out.
Theory: Since Tiger launched his campaign toward professional success and worldwide stardom, all we seemed to hear about from Woods was what he and Butchie were working on. It was talked about at every press conference. It was talked about at every major.
Butchie and I are making some adjustments, Woods would say. Butchie and I worked on this, Butchie and I worked on that.
And while we listened, we also believed. We believed that if Woods trusted his swing to Harmon then, he was also trusting a good bit of his future too. And if I remember correctly, not many thought Woods would fail. Thus, we also came to believe that Butch Harmon was as good as they came, when it came to keeping the best of the best on the right path, so to speak.
And now, we feel the need to reunite them. To get things back the way they were. To solve the crime thats taken away our dominant star.
Topic ' Tiger and Steve Williams
On his website Tiger admitted that Steve may have gone a bit overboard.
In that same Wednesday news conference Woods again said Williams was a bit out of bounds and told us that discussions had taken place with the PGA Tour about future security involving cameras and the like.
Woods made it clear that the PGA Tour does a fine job of policing things, and at the same time reminded us that the Williams Camera Heist took place on USGA property under the USGAs watch.
And now, Williams, in an interview with the Associated Press, admits that kicking over a news photographers camera was not his best move, but defends his actions in taking a camera away from another photographer while standing on the tee.
Ive wondered why fans and media have seemed so passionate about this over the lasts few weeks.
Theory: Many realize full well that golf as a sport has reached all time highs in popularity. Crowds are greater in number than ever before.
And if the paid assembled crowds at baseball, basketball and football and even tennis are allowed to make noise, boo athletes, and feel safe in doing so, why should golf be so radically different? Did Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa drop their bats in disgust while flash bulbs went off by the hundreds before and during and after each swing in hopes that the record home run swing would be captured for all to see? No. Did somebody come to either sluggers rescue to make sure those cameras were in proper order? No.
Spectators, for the most part, do not want to see those they pay to watch, entertain by taking shots at other paying customers. And many feel that if Williams, whose next smile toward a gallery member might just be his first, chooses to act the way he does, his on-course life will only get more difficult. Agreed?
Another note, on the 18th green of Tigers first round Thursday at Cog Hill, Williams was not wearing his caddy bib. The other two caddies were. Williams, by the way, sports corporate logos on his shirts. Im left wondering if the incident I witnessed was just coincidence.
All that said, I keep wondering about the rest of the year. I have no genie, I have no bottle and as you know by now, I have absolutely no ability for magic. But maybe you can find your way into agreement with some of these wishes for the rest of the 2004 golf calendar:
* I wish, above all other things, that Tiger Woods will once again find his magic. Love him or not, hes a better thrill ride when hes on his so-called A game.
And who wouldnt want Mickelson, Els, Singh and others to earn their biggest triumphs with Woods alongside instead of finishing a few hours in front.
* I wish that Tigers stuntman, I mean front man, I mean caddie Steve Williams would spend more time counting clubs and adding yardages instead of subtracting cameras and bouncing members of the gallery. Hes giving caddies a bad name. Period. Get to know the gallery a little bit. Remember Fluff?
* I wish the United States Golf Association would find a way to keep a weeks worth of U.S. Open discussion targeted on the competition instead of its playing surface. Each year the course garners far too much attention for all the wrong reasons. Its slowly diminishing my enthusiasm for our national championship, and who knows what theyre writing overseas!
* I wish David Duval the best this summer. I hope Shinnecock did something to re-fuel his fire. And he now knows, hes got plenty more work ahead.
* I wish I knew what happened to Matt Kuchar. Hes gone from weekend winner to weekend traveler real quick. And hes got company in the form of David Gossett. Both are true examples for the college stars to emulate so I hope theyre back to winning form soon.
* I wish Europes best players would start doing more than just showing up at majors and instead start winning. Like it or not, it makes for better Ryder Cup fire. And as you know, they have little trouble in beating up on the U.S. in that competition.
* I wish it wasnt so that Dottie Pepper called it a career. Shes been great for the game, and has the drive and desire to go along with the terrific talent.
Injuries can be a tough thing. Maybe a few weeks rest and a few good tournaments (she says shell play a few more this year) might make her reconsider. If not, then I wish shed come to work for TGC!
* I wish for more of Cristie Kerr. Not so much that Im a Kerr fan, but I love it when some of Americas best play to their potential. Now, if Kerr could grab a tow rope to pull up the likes of Laura Diaz, Beth Bauer, Natalie Gulbis and others.
* I wish for a whole lot more of Annika. Just think if Annika called it quits and started a family. The LPGA loses its top draw and more than a few ratings points. How long would sponsors continue to pony up? How much pressure would find its way to Hawaii for Michelle Wie to come up to the big leagues to save the day? Just asking.
* I wish more people would wake up to the strength of the Nationwide Tour. If youre one of those who likes taking your son or daughter out to a minor league baseball game for the ability to catch a better seat and a less expensive experience, go out and watch Jimmy Walker or D.A. Points. Both are PGA Tour bound, and you can actually see them play a round of golf!
* I wish for Steve In the Flesch to continue his superb play. A top 10 at the U.S. Open earned him more Ryder Cup points, and wouldnt it be sweet for him to play for Hal Sutton?
I know, I know. Im biased.
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
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."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
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.
Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions
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.
Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week
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.