PGA Tour-LPGA alliance important step for both tours

By Randall MellMarch 5, 2016, 3:00 am

So what’s really at the heart of this new strategic alliance the PGA Tour and LPGA announced Friday morning?

It sounds like a potential game changer for the women. They can only benefit partnering with the PGA Tour, the colossus of tournament golf organizations. The resources and audience the men possess can boost the women’s game in ways previously never experienced, especially with the PGA Tour serious about “exploring the potential development of joint events.”

That’s an LPGA fan’s dream.

But what does the PGA Tour get out of the alliance?

While both tours made it clear there is no transfer of ownership or control, and that the PGA Tour and LPGA remain “wholly separate and independent,” it’s only natural to wonder if this is some sort of courtship that might ultimately lead to a marriage.

Is the PGA Tour interested in acquiring ownership of the LPGA if this now formal relationship blossoms?

“It hasn’t even come up in the dialogue,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan told “Nobody at the PGA Tour, at any level, has ever brought it up.”

Rick Anderson, the PGA Tour’s executive vice president of global media, said formalizing a working relationship with the LPGA was a natural next step given how much the organizations have been teaming together in growing-the-game initiatives.

“There are no formal discussions, or even a thought process, about going beyond where we are at right now.” Anderson said. “This isn’t something happening in phases or anything like that.”

So then why is PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem making this alliance formal? What is his tour going to get out of its investment in the women’s game?

“If we’re all approaching the issues facing us, and opportunities presented us, in a more coordinated way, we’re all better off,” Anderson said. “And the game’s better off.”

If growing the game is really important to the overall health of the sport, the PGA Tour’s role as a leader in revitalizing the game can’t be underestimated. The PGA Tour and PGA of America announced a cooperative initiative in 2013. The PGA Tour also announced its own women’s initiative that same year.

If the PGA Tour is serious about welcoming women in a special way, a more formal relationship with the LPGA makes sense.

Still, Friday’s strategic alliance announcement was a stunner among long-time devotees to the women’s game. The LPGA, after all, has been around since 1950 without any formal cooperative effort in place with the PGA Tour. There are a lot of industry insiders who never expected this.

“It’s a pleasant surprise,” said Rob Neal, chairman and president of the LPGA’s Tournament Owners Association. “It seems like it would be such a natural state of affairs, but having been around the game so long, you start feeling as if something like this was never going to happen.”

For Neal and other industry insiders, the alliance is a gold star for Whan, who in six-plus years as commissioner has rebuilt the LPGA from the withering entity he inherited. Back at the end of 2009, when Whan took over as commissioner, it would have been hard to imagine the PGA Tour wanting to partner with the troubled women’s tour.

That’s the beauty of this, Neal said. The PGA Tour sees an upside in what the LPGA offers.

“The PGA Tour wouldn’t do this if the LPGA was an unhealthy organization,” Neal said. “A knee-jerk reaction in the past might have been, `Well, the LPGA must be in trouble and the PGA Tour is bailing it out.’ But this is validation for the LPGA, some respect, because the PGA Tour believes doing business with the LPGA will help grow the game and it will also help the PGA Tour.

“There is no organization on the professional side of golf that has more respect than the PGA Tour. Globally, everyone wants to do business with them. They get to pick and choose who they do business with.”

And they want to do business with the LPGA.

In a significant new aim in the alliance, the PGA Tour will help the LPGA in future domestic TV negotiations.

“The PGA Tour is going to represent our TV rights domestically as we head to the end of our Golf Channel agreement in the United States,” said Jon Podany, the LPGA’s chief marketing officer. “There is a lot of opportunity there.”

Golf Channel’s TV rights deal with the LPGA runs through 2019.

Podany said the PGA Tour and LPGA also are planning cross promotional marketing of future events.

“So as you are watching PGA Tour coverage, you will see updates on the LPGA and what’s coming up next week for the LPGA,” Podany said. “This will add tremendous value for us as we continue to elevate our sport and will add a lot of value for our sponsors, as well, to be included in that coverage.”

The PGA Tour is also serious about developing joint events with the LPGA.

“I’ve been talking to Tim [Finchem] about putting together a joint event since about the second day I was on the job,” Whan said. “To Tim’s credit, he has always shown an interest in that.”

Anderson said the PGA Tour is interested in developing new ideas.

“There is certainly a history of joint men’s and women’s events that were popular with fans,” Anderson said. “There’s the possibility we could revive some of those formats, but also look at some new and exciting ways to put the men and women together.”

The European Tour and the Ladies European Tour announced last fall that they will stage events together in May of this year at Royal Golf Dar Es in Morocco, with the women playing the Lalla Meryem Cup on the Blue Course and the Trophee Hassan on the Red Course. Anderson was asked if the PGA Tour would consider sharing a venue like that with the LPGA.

“Definitely,” Anderson said. “There is nothing on the board at the moment, so to speak, but it is certainly something that could be on the table and that would be explored. We’re in the early stages. We’re just starting to have these conversations.”

Industry leaders in the women’s game believe the PGA Tour wouldn’t be interested in joint events if the women didn’t have something valuable to offer.

“The growth of golf is stagnant in North America, so growth depends on bringing more women into the game,” said J.S. Kang of Sterling Sports Management, which represents Stacy Lewis, Brittany Lincicome and several other women pros. “Joint PGA Tour and LPGA Tour events are likely to get more eyeballs on the women’s game and raise the appreciation for it and the interest level.”

Kang believes the women’s game lacks the exposure it deserves and playing alongside the men will help remedy that.

“The frustration in the women’s game isn’t with the product, it’s getting more people to appreciate the incredible talent out there,” Kang said. “So, if these joint efforts can get more eyeballs on women’s golf, then there is a better chance at increasing participation in golf among women and at closing the unjustifiable gap that exists with purses and sponsorships between men’s and women’s golf.”

Chris Higgs, Octagon’s executive vice president of events and hospitality, also sees joint events as one of the best accelerants to the growth of the women’s game.

“You look at the parity of men’s and women’s tennis, and you see them playing together, in the same tournament, sharing a collective audience, but on their own stages at the same venue,” Higgs said. “There’s a great opportunity for both to succeed in that environment. Golf has never really explored that. The closest we’ve been were the U.S. Opens at Pinehurst.”

The revitalization of the LPGA under Whan can’t be dismissed as a factor in this alliance. He’s making the LPGA a good partner. The PGA Tour is seeing that in all the new relationships Whan’s team is forging. The PGA Tour is seeing that with the PGA of America partnering with the LPGA to put on the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. They’re seeing that with the LPGA partnering with IMG to put on the ANA Inspiration, and they were witnesses to how LPGA pros helped make the USGA’s hosting of the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open in back-to-back weeks successful at Pinehurst two years ago.

The PGA Tour also just watched the Royal & Ancient bring the Ladies Golf Union under its umbrella in Great Britain this year.

“These alliances have worked out for our partners, for the PGA of America and KPMG, for LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf and for IMG and ANA,” said LPGA president Vicki Goetze-Ackerman. “Mike Whan and his staff have worked incredibly hard to get our tournament schedule back to 34 events. Our players are working hard to represent the brand, doing their part with media, with sponsors and with pro-am partners and, obviously, with their elevated play. We have some unbelievable competition every week.”

The fact that the PGA Tour isn’t portraying this new alliance as a chance to evaluate the LPGA’s suitability as a future marriage partner doesn’t mean this new relationship couldn’t blossom into a romance. Whether LPGA members would want to give up their autonomy to play under the PGA Tour’s umbrella is another question.

There seems no doubt the tours have a better understanding of each other today than they’ve ever had. That’s due in part to the fact that PGA Tour chief marketing officer Ty Votaw is a former LPGA commissioner and that Podany, Whan’s right hand man, is a former PGA Tour executive. Whan said they began talking about a possible alliance at The Players Championship last year.

“I've said to our members many times, there are a lot of things we cannot do alone, so we can either cry about it, or we can find a strategic partner who can help lift us to another level,” Whan said.

Whan was asked if he feels like the PGA Tour might be using this new alliance as a way to evaluate the LPGA’s worthiness as a future procurement.

“Are they kicking the tires?” Whan said. “I don’t know. If they are, they certainly aren’t disclosing it.

“I think, if I can speak for Tim Finchem in this instance, the PGA Tour recognizes that the growth of women’s golf and the female golfer is going to be important for their own growth. The LPGA can be a component in doing that. A healthier LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program and LPGA Tour gives us a lot more female fans going forward. I think there is some goodwill on the part of Tim and the PGA Tour in this, too.”

Getty Images

Teenager Im wins season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

Getty Images

Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

Getty Images

Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

Getty Images

The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.