When TGC Turns 20 Then What
Its been a wild ride. I remember working as a sports anchor in the Kalamazoo/Grand Rapids/Battle Creek, Mich., television market. The call came in about a start-up Golf Channel, which I thought was a great idea.
Without a completed studio to show off, but with a January 17, 1995, launch date as the target, TGC flew me down for an interview that went very well. Apparently liking what they heard and had seen from me, they offered me the job as reporter-anchor.
I had come by myself (on their first class ticket, which was impressive), and stayed at Bay Hill Club and Lodge. But given their urgency to keep the process moving, they needed a quick answer. I remember calling my wife from a Chilis restaurant in Orlando and trying to make a decision. I needed a couple days, I told them.
Two days granted, I flew home (on their coach ticket, which was a bit unnerving) to talk it over with my wife. Ill never forget it. We stayed up all night searching for pros and cons. Ultimately the risk of uncertainty and the fear of TGC failing was outweighed by the potential for being a part of something spectacular ' from the ground floor up.
Decision made, I was on board. I remember telling my news director in Kalamazoo, Mich., about the job I had been offered and had accepted. The Gulf Channel? Whats that? he asked. I laugh about it to this day. His name was Mike ' one of the best bosses Ive ever had. And he could play the game, too. He thought it was some sort of Gulf Coast news station searching for a sports anchor.
In the end, it was nothing but support. And now, 10 years later, those friends and family that wondered where we were headed, have a lot to look back on.
So all that as a backdrop - and with 10 years of great golf to cover and talk about - lets look ahead to what we MIGHT just be talking about when The Golf Channel turns 20.
Heres 10 years of TGC experience and my LUCKY 7 as to what might be on January 17, 2015:
1. The Golf Channel reaches as many homes as any other cable network. Also carries numerous PGA Tour events, along with being the dominant home for every other professional tour.
2. Tiger Woods about to hit 40 years of age (I know this to be true). Hes tallied at least eight more majors. Hard to believe he wouldnt average close to one a year. Dont be fooled, however, those eight or so majors will not again include 15-shot runaways.
3. Ernie Els, whos 45 years old, has five more and also the career Grand Slam. Vijay Singh hits the Champions Tour with three more majors, still racking up PGA Tour titles in big numbers. Phil Mickelson has three more major victories, at least one more Masters. Adam Scott proves the best of the current young guns collecting three major titles. Chad Campbell and Zach Johnson have two majors apiece. Surprise, surprise David Duval earns one more. And someone we dont even know yet will have four! And, by the way, well see a tournament, somewhere, pay $5million to win.
4. The European Tour brags about Padraig Harrington. He dominates like no other player in Europe and wins two majors. Europe also continues its Ryder Cup success, winning more that it loses.
5. Annika Sorenstam has a change of heart on retirement, making a strong push at the 88 titles amassed by Kathy Whitworth. Shes got plenty of talent behind her, though.
6. Which brings me to Michelle Wie. Shell be 25. And for all you skeptics, shell have 15 LPGA wins including four majors ' at least.
7. The game of golf is stronger than ever. A huge growth in total players, fueled by years of hard work paying off from the First Tee program and also a leveling off of costs to play the game. The next Tiger Woods is out there somewhere.
Who really knows? Not me. Not any of us.
But the beauty of sport and golf in particular is that its nearly impossible to predict. Im certain of that. Actually, Ive been lucky enough to be living proof. The Golf Channel? Who knew how great it could really be?
And thanks, too, to all of you for being as big a part of the success as anyone or anything!
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
McIlroy gets back on track
There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:
He is well ahead of schedule.
Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.
“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”
To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”
And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.
After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out.
Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.
“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”
The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.
The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)
But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.
Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.
Everything in his life is lined up.
Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.
Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.
There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.
Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.
The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.
Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.
It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.
Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.
While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.
Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.
The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.
McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.
McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.