Does Evian deserve major status?

By Randall MellAugust 5, 2015, 12:11 am

The Evian Championship wins just by being at the root of this uproar over what constitutes a Grand Slam in the women’s game. 

This debate over whether the Grand Slam should be defined by winning four major championships on the LPGA schedule or sweeping all five is brilliant misdirection.

The fact that we’re debating what is legitimately a Grand Slam is a massive triumph for LPGA commissioner Mike Whan. It means in our passionate lurch to debate we’ve acquiesced on a larger point. We’ve officially bestowed legitimacy to Evian as a fifth major.

David Copperfield would be proud.

Like a magician turning our attention to his alluring assistant – one provocatively named “Grand Slam" - Whan went on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" on Tuesday and pulled Evian out of his hat as a bona fide major championship.

While we are all in a huff over what constitutes a Grand Slam, we’re validating the Evian Championship as worthy of its elevated status.

But if we’re really intent on debating the sacrosanct principles of major championship golf, we probably ought to back up and take a harder look at Evian. That’s where this Grand Slam question should begin again.

Is winning Evian a measure of greatness worthy of keeping Inbee Park from being declared a Grand Slam champion?

OK, I was having some fun with the idea of Whan as a magician, because he didn’t impressively rebuild the LPGA by misdirecting people. He’s a true believer dedicated to a noble cause. He believes the women’s game deserves better, that the women deserve another large stage to display their gifts. That’s what he’s fighting for. It’s why he went all in when Evian started pushing to become a major.

No matter Whan’s motives, the Grand Slam debate serves to cloud a more important question about the LPGA’s major championship lineup.

Does Evian really deserve major championship status?

Whan took a calculated risk “declaring” it a major. His gamble comes with a price. Actually, it comes with a bill that will eventually come due. He asked us all, including his elite players, to believe Evian is a legitimate examination that rewards the greatness required to win a major. He owes it to all of us to deliver that examination.

Majors are way too important to the game’s greatest players and their legacies to diminish the meaning of winning one.

If Evian doesn’t measure up, it’s not fair to Annika Sorenstam, Inbee Park, Karrie Webb, Juli Inkster, Lorena Ochoa, Yani Tseng, Laura Davies, Stacy Lewis and a host of other major championship winners in this era who poured their hearts and souls into winning them.

If Evian isn’t a legitimate major championship test, then equating the historic meaning of winning Evian to Park’s victory Sunday at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry isn’t fair to Park. It isn’t fair to Sorenstam, Webb, Inkster ... 

Whan defends Evian saying most of the LPGA’s majors got their starts as regular events. He cites the Colgate-Dinah Shore as an example of a regular tour event that dedicated itself to becoming a major and then became one. That’s not exactly how it happened. The Colgate-Dinah Shore became a great event first, and then its new title sponsor pushed for it to become a major. It was a regular LPGA event for 11 years before the tour granted Nabisco’s wish and adopted it as a major in 1983.

“We believed it was a major from about the second year,” Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “It put us on the map, from Dinah Shore’s involvement to the commercial success. It was an easy decision.”

Notably, the LPGA and its players had no problem granting Nabisco’s desire to be a major its second year of title sponsorship because the event felt like a major anyway.

Like Nabisco, Evian pushed the LPGA to elevate its status, too, but Evian didn’t feel like a major before it was officially designated one, even with its giant purses. It feels like Whan declared it a major with the intent of helping Evian’s Franck Riboud build it into a great event. The fact that Evian Resort Golf Club underwent an $8 million redesign the year leading into its debut as a major underscores that assessment.

Evian Resort Golf Club was definitely not a major championship test in 2013, that first year, even with the major redesign.

Evian’s debut as a major was just short of a disaster with the course pock-marked with bare patches of turf, and with giant portions of the course marked as ground under repair. Yes, a hard winter and a wet summer were factors on a course built on a mountainside, but it was a huge mistake to play it as a major the first year of a redesign. Rain caused the event to be shortened to 54 holes, another challenge to its credibility as a major. Played the month after the Women’s British Open was staged at St. Andrews, Evian’s fifth-major designation seemed to have riled the golf gods.

Evian Resort Golf Club looked a lot better last year, but Hyo Joo Kim made a statement torching it with a 61 in the first round, the lowest score ever shot in a men’s or women’s major. You don’t shoot 61s in majors. You especially don’t shoot them in the first round of the first major you’ve ever played, as Kim did. Somewhere, Johnny Miller must have been shaking his head. It was yet more evidence Evian hasn’t earned its elevated status.

Here’s the deal, though. Ultimately, it won’t matter how Evian was designated a major. What will matter is if Whan’s vision of young girls dreaming of “going to the mountain” to play a major rivals their dream to leap into Poppi’s Pond at Mission Hills. If that happens, the LPGA’s created something special.

In Evian’s Riboud, Whan hitched his hopes to a benefactor with an ambitious vision and indefatigable will. Riboud has the resources to make Evian feel like a major. It’s just that the cart seems to have gone before the horse in making Evian a Grand Slam event. Riboud and Whan are trying to build a great event after designating it a major.

If Evian evolves as a real major, then the Grand Slam debate will have real legs.

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.