Wanted: Daly's big name and a big game

By Mercer BaggsMay 8, 2016, 11:04 pm

THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Amid a stiffening wind and under ever-darkening clouds, John Daly made his way around the U-shaped fence surrounding the scoring area at The Woodlands Country Club.

One by one, he signed autographs and was peppered with encouragement. Some seeking his signature likely had no idea he had just triple-bogeyed the 17th hole.

“Thanks for coming out.”

“Seven birdies today, John!”

“Welcome to the tour, man.”

“You’ll get ‘em, JD!”

However much was absorbed is unknown. Daly exited stage right without sharing his thoughts with writers and print media (though he did talk to Golf Channel TV reporters).

It was an exhausting and entertaining PGA Tour Champions debut for Daly. He played four pro-ams and 54 holes of tournament golf, fulfilled who-knows-how-many sponsor obligations, and provided as many fans as he possibly could with an autograph or a photograph.

The Insperity Invitational routinely draws a good crowd, particularly on Saturdays, when it hosts the 3M Greats of Golf – a scramble event featuring nine legends of the game. Daly’s appearance, however, secured more fans throughout the week.

Hundreds followed him on Day 1, maybe a little less on Day 2 (many were watching the Greats), and Day 3 was more subdued, but still impressive by tour standards.

Official attendance records aren’t kept, because tickets aren’t sold. Fans got in free thanks to the funds of corporate sponsors.

It was never a madhouse, but it wasn’t a “freak show,” either. Kenny Perry used the latter term earlier in the year to describe the way, in his opinion, fans and media view the PGA Tour Champions, saying the circuit doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

A steady diet of a competitive Daly can help change that.

A good example: Ten minutes after Daly teed off in the final round, Perry’s group was announced on the first tee. The hundred-plus people who once were there, outside the ropes and under the shaded seating, were now up the fairway. Less than 30 fans remained.

High-profile players are key to the tour’s popularity.

Officials know that, using a system that takes into account PGA Tour wins, major victories and career earnings in determining a player’s status.

Card members know it. No one had a negative thing to say about Daly’s arrival, knowing that his presence increases interest. Increased interest helps the tour, which benefits all involved.

And the guys who used to carry the tour know it.

The biggest concern is, outside of Daly, where are the big draws? Davis Love III won last year on the regular tour and is competing full time, also so he can stay connected to potential members of his U.S. Ryder Cup team. Vijay Singh has played seven career senior events. Fred Couples has only played in two this year. Greg Norman and Nick Faldo don’t play at all.

There are recognizable names and faces who transition to the elder circuit ever year. The potential 2017 crop includes: Jerry Kelly, David Toms, Steve Stricker and Steve Flesch. But will they draw a crowd?

As Hale Irwin, who won more Champions events (45) than anyone, pointed out, the biggest names in today’s game are in their early-20s. “There’s a lot of players in between [22 years old and 50],” Irwin said. “And how many of them are we, collectively, focused on? That’s part of the issue.”

And when a big name does become eligible, like Ernie Els will be in late 2019 or Phil Mickelson in the summer of 2020, is there a desire to play?

In 1990, Lee Trevino won more money ($1,190,518) on the senior tour than leading money winner Greg Norman did ($1,165,477) on the PGA Tour. Gary Player pointed that out. Irwin also noted that he accomplished the same feat in 1997, out-earning Tiger Woods, $2,343,364 to $2,066,823.

Of course, Woods turned the compensatory system on its ear.  Bernhard Langer won $2,340,288 to lead all seniors last season. Jordan Spieth earned $12,030,465, officially, and then some on the regular tour.

“Will it be driven by money? Absolutely not. They’re going to have enough money,” Irwin said of a player’s motivation to play full time on the PGA Tour Champions. “Will it be driven by competitive fires? Most likely.”

And if that desire burns, it might keep them challenging the younger set. “If they can still play, you don’t blame them for doing it,” Dave Stockton said.

The PGA Tour Champions is not the Senior PGA Tour. The newer version has lots of skill, plenty of competitiveness and its share of Hall of Fame players. But it’s missing those older faces.

Saturday’s scramble, which included Jack Nicklaus, Player, Trevino, Irwin, Stockton, Ben Crenshaw, Tony Jacklin, David Graham and Tom Weiskopf, was the week’s biggest draw. On this tour, in the eyes of fans, nostalgia trumps true competition.

In an ideal world, you’d get both and maybe Daly can provide that but, “It’s not going to be easy for him,” Trevino said.

“[A player] came up to me a couple, three or four years ago, and he says to me, ‘You know, I didn’t know it was this difficult to win out here. … and it was Mark O’Meara. Mark thought he was going to come out here and just march right through everyone, and it’s difficult.”

“It’s all up to John,” Nicklaus said. “How well he does is up to him.”

Daly wasn’t expecting much this week. He likely would have taken a top-20 finish (he tied for 17th), if offered to him on Thursday. He played almost as many competitive rounds this week as he had all year, missing the cut in the Qatar Masters and the Puerto Rico Open.

Now comes the interesting part. Daly, who hasn’t had full-time status on the PGA Tour since the end of 2006, plans to play a full Champions schedule. He is slated to compete in nine of the next 10 tournaments on the calendar – in addition to starts at the Open Championship and PGA Championship.

If he can avoid injury and fatigue, he should continue to draw support. And if he can find a way to contend, it will be an even bigger boost to the tour.

Wading through the crowd late Sunday afternoon, having bypassed the print press, Daly quickly paced into the sanctuary of the clubhouse.

When Daly threw an iron into Lake Michigan at last year’s PGA Championship, he said it was a sign of how much he cared.

Maybe this was another one of those signs.

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Mickelson misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”