PGA Tour-LPGA Alliance inspired by Olympics

By Randall MellAugust 16, 2016, 11:15 pm

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Jessica Korda says the medal ceremonies are making her cry.

Justin Thomas says he was intrigued by the Opening Ceremony.

Golf’s return to the Olympics is making an impression on more than just the players who qualified to play in Rio de Janeiro. Korda and Thomas say they have been riveted to their televisions watching the Games and are even more motivated now to try to make the American teams headed to the Olympics in Tokyo in four years.

“I’ve been watching every single minute that I possibly can,” Korda, 23, said Monday from the studios of WPTV in West Palm Beach, where she and Thomas were doing long-distance media day interviews beamed over to Malaysia, where each will be defending titles this fall in back-to-back events on the same golf course in Kuala Lumpur. “I loved watching Michael Phelps win his five gold medals, and the men’s golf was so much fun to watch. One of my favorite lines from the Olympics was Matt Kuchar saying he has never been so happy finishing third [to win a bronze medal].

“I’ve watched the gymnastics, too. I had tears in my eyes every single time someone went up to the podium. I love the Olympics.”

Thomas, 23, said he also has been watching.

“I didn’t quite get to the tears stage like Jessica did, but it’s been a lot of fun,” Thomas said. “The Opening Ceremony really did it for me.

“I obviously wanted to play, and I want to play in future Olympics. Any time you get to represent your country, no matter what it is, it’s an honor. But to do it on the highest stage, like the Olympics, would be something very, very special to both of us. We’re excited to hopefully win ourselves some medals in the future.”

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The men’s and women’s Olympic competitions are being played on the same golf course in Rio, in back-to-back weeks, with the women’s event beginning Wednesday. The men and women will do that again in Malaysia, with the PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic scheduled to be played Oct. 20-23 at Kualua Lumpur Golf & Country Club. The women will play the LPGA’s Sime Darby event there the week after.

Korda and Thomas were doing the joint media-day event as part of the new PGA Tour-LPGA Alliance, a formal cooperative effort to promote the game and their tours together.

For both Korda and Thomas, it seems like a natural alliance.

They have been friends since they met each other as 15-year-olds playing American Junior Golf Association events. On that circuit, the boys and girls compete in separate competitions but on the same venues during the same weeks. They were part of a traveling tour of juniors and parents.

Thomas also got to know Lexi Thompson and her brother, Curtis, as juniors, as he did Alison Lee, Emma Talley and Ginger Howard.

“We’ve been friends for a long time, and we follow each other,” Thomas said.

After Korda won the Sime Darby in Malaysia last year, she got a congratulatory text from Thomas.

“I’m pretty sure the first thing she texted back was, `Now I want you to win there,’” Thomas said.

Two weeks later, Thomas won his first PGA Tour title there.

“Growing up playing AJGA events, we were on a lot of the same ranges together, practice greens together, playing the same venues, and it was a lot of fun,” Korda said. “So this alliance, I think it’s going to be fun for those of us who grew up playing together, to continue to do things together in our real jobs.”

The alliance involves joint marketing, with the PGA Tour and LPGA helping promote each other. The joint media day was a step in developing the relationship.

In a completely unofficial and unplanned way, the joint marketing actually started earlier this year, with some high profile PGA Tour and LPGA players “marketing” vacation time in similar fashion.

Back in April, Thomas joined Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Smylie Kaufman on an epic Bahamas vacation they called #SB2K16, where they shared their good times in amusing fashion on Snapchat. Last week, Korda joined Michelle Wie, Alison Lee and Austin Ernst on a “Babecation” on Lake Keowee in South Carolina. The women also sent out a series of photos documenting their trip.

Korda acknowledged they were inspired by Thomas, Spieth, Fowler and Kaufman.

“We definitely had so much fun watching their vacation (through social media),” Korda said. “But their vacation was way different. They played some golf, and we wanted nothing to do with golf. We just wanted to be on the lake and decompress from everything. And I don’t think we documented it as well as they did.”

The PGA Tour and LPGA are in the midst of planning a joint event as part of this new alliance. Ideas are still being hashed out. Korda and Thomas aren’t sure how that will play out, but they know this: In four years, they would love to compete together in the Olympics.

“We didn’t really know what to expect with golf in the Olympics, how it would really work,” Thomas said. “We didn’t know if it would be something great, or just OK, but I think it was everything we hoped and more. I can’t say enough good things about golf’s return to the Olympics.” 

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x