Stricker Begins the Long Road Back
Harrington regards this week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship as the final event of his 2000 season. The Irishman stated he plans to take six weeks off following his stay in Melbourne, Australia.
Unfortunately for Harrington, his vacation came a bit earlier than anticipated.
Harrington fell to Stricker 2-and-1 at the Metropolitan Golf Course.
Both Harrington and Stricker first made a name for themselves in 1996. Harrington won the Peugeot Open de Espana as a rookie on the European Tour. Stricker captured the Kemper Open and Western Open in his third full season on the PGA Tour.
By year's end Stricker had risen to 12th on the Official World Golf Ranking, while Harrington cracked the top 100 at 95th.
Since then, however, the Irishman's stock has risen while the American's has plummeted.
Entering Australia, Harrington is ranked 24th in the world. Stricker has fallen to 90th.
Since '96, Harrington has won twice and qualified for the '99 European Ryder Cup Team. Stricker has but a pair of runner-up finishes and an outstanding string of missed cuts to his credit.
The 33-year-old Wisconsin native is making his first official start since the Bell Canadian Open in September. He missed the cut that week, leaving him with a streak of four consecutive missed cuts entering the New Year.
So, all things considered, Stricker's first-round victory over Harrington was an upset. Right?
'In my mind I don't think it was an upset,' Stricker said. 'I feel like I am a good enough player to beat anybody if I get my game going.'
That's been a rare occurrence for Stricker, however.
After freefalling from 4th to 130th on the season-ending money list in 1997, Stricker temporarily got his game going near the end of his '98 campaign. The former Illinois All-America recorded eight top-10s in his final ten starts, including a second-place finish at the PGA Championship and ties for fifth at both the U.S. Open and Tour Championship.
Unfortunately, Stricker's late-season surge didn't prove to be a catalyst to the 1999 season. He made only half of what he had earned the year prior, dropping from 13th to 64th on the money list.
1999 was hardly a disaster, though. Stricker continued to display his apparent skills in the season's toughest tournaments. For the year, Stricker notched three top-10s; two of those came in a tie for sixth at THE PLAYERS Championship and a second straight fifth-place finish at the U.S. Open.
Last year, Stricker's topsy-turvy career again troughed as he missed ten cuts in 21 starts, including the aforementioned four in a row to close the season. He also managed but one top ten, thus increasing the lingering doubt as to whether he should quit the game.
'I think about it a lot,' said Stricker. 'It's just the fact that I'm disappointed because I know where I once was and how I feel about it right now. I am not fond of all the travel either. I feel like I have been doing this my whole life.
'I think if you talk to any Tour player they all have had those thoughts when they are not playing well. But I am a big competitor. I can't just give up. I mean, what would that show to everyone? I love to compete.'
Competitively, Stricker averages only about 20 starts each year on the PGA Tour. He admits that stashing away the clubs earlier than most may damage his game, 'but it's sure is great for the mind.'
In reference, Stricker said: 'I guess at some point in time if I want to become a better player, I'm going to have to play a little bit longer. Those are the decisions I'm going to have to make come the end of the year time.'
That decision might be made a bit easier this year with his wife, Nicki, returning to his bag at next week's Touchstone Energy Tucson Open. His mother plans to come along to help care for their 2-year-old daughter, Bobby Maria.
'I've got a lot of goals,' Stricker said. 'But my major one is getting back in the winner's circle again and trying to go to the level where I once played.'
Having disposed of one top-notch opponent, Stricker's quest will now continue against fellow American and 23rd-seeded Scott Verplank, who defeated Brent Geiberger over 19 holes in his first match. Should he get past Verplank, Stricker could be facing Justin Leonard in the Sweet 16.
But Stricker's not looking that far ahead.
He's well aware that to get back to where he once was he needs to establish firm footing before taking that giant leap.
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.
One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge
Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.
Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.
Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:
Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.
Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.
Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.
Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.
David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.