Pleading the fifth

By Randall MellJuly 25, 2011, 8:39 pm

The best players in the women’s game are at Carnoustie for the Ricoh Women’s British Open this week.

The destination is notable given its history and its treacherous test.

It’s notable with the nature of major championship golf being redefined in the women’s game.

Last week, the Evian Masters was designated to become the LPGA’s fifth major beginning in 2013. There will be a new name, The Evian, new September dates and a new test on an $8 million redesign of Evian Masters Golf Club.

The news fuels debate with the women arriving at Carnoustie for the year’s final major on the Scottish course built in 1850, a links Old Tom Morris once helped redesign. Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Tom Watson all won the claret jug there.

The Evian Masters didn’t begin until 1994 and wasn’t an LPGA-sanctioned event until 2000. With the turn to Carnoustie, this week feels like a major in every regard. It sparks conversation about what really constitutes a major championship.

How much should history and tradition dictate in the designation? Can you really just issue a proclamation making an event a major? And what about five majors in a year? Is it blaspheme or a brilliant stroke?

Know this: If there are golf gods, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan didn’t want to offend them, and that’s why the decision to upgrade The Evian didn’t come easily or quickly.

“I grinded over this a long time,” Whan told

Whan said Evian executive Franck Riboud first approached him about turning the Evian Masters into a major a full month before he officially assumed the commissioner’s job more than a year-and-a-half ago. Riboud had been pushing even before that, but Whan knew the notion of five majors would irritate some golf devotees. He knew the crowning of a major champion at Evian Masters Golf Club would come with questions about the benign nature of the test it offers.

“If you asked me before I became commissioner how I would stand on designating a fifth major, I probably wouldn’t have been in favor of it,” Whan said. “I’m really respectful of the game’s traditions. I didn’t want to mess with tradition without walking through this.”

So Whan sought out some of the game’s icons and dignitaries to seek their opinions. He cornered former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman at the World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremony. He called on former LPGA commissioner Charlie Mechem. He quizzed Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez, Louise Suggs, Beth Daniel and Karrie Webb. He sought out today’s top players, including Paula Creamer and Suzann Pettersen.

“If you dig, you’ll probably find 30 people I turned to,” Whan said. “I told them, ‘Hey, this is where I’m going. Am I nuts?’ I was looking for somebody to say you have completely flipped your lid.”

Whan said he didn’t hear that.

“I remember telling my wife that each of these conversations is giving me momentum, not fear,” Whan said. “I think I had some fear because I didn’t want to be the guy who messed with tradition.”

Whan knew he would get a no-nonsense answer from Suggs, one of the LPGA’s founders.

“Louise said, ‘Hey, Mike, if somebody is going to put you on a grand stage with a big purse and make a big deal of the women’s game, that’s your job,’” Whan said. “I thought that was the best synopsis.”

Lopez also liked the idea.

“Five majors is definitely a plus, I think,” Lopez said. “The TV time, the attention, we need that.”

About messing with tradition, Whan learned the LPGA’s unique history factored into perceptions. The women’s game doesn’t have the fixed nature of major championship history. It’s been all over the place. When the LPGA was created in 1950, there were just three majors. For 10 years over the late ‘60s and ‘70s, there were only two majors. The Women’s Western, the Titleholders and the du Maurier Classic have come and gone. The Kraft Nabisco’s only been a major since 1983, the Women’s British Open since 2001.

Ask most golf fans, and they can’t tell you who holds the most major championship triumphs in the women’s game. Patty Berg’s record 15 isn’t as revered a feat as Jack Nicklaus’ 18.

With the women’s schedule having shrunk the last three years, Whan also didn’t see the harm in offering players another chance to earn two points toward the 27 required to earn Hall of Fame induction.

So Whan presented Riboud and Evian tournament director Jacques Bungert a list of provisions the tour wanted met before it would designate Evian a major.

“There was a list of 10 things I really thought kept this tournament from being a legitimate major, and until they were addressed, there was really no point in talking about something more significant,” Whan said. “To [Evian’s] credit, over the last year, we knocked all 10 off the list.”

A golf course redesign was on high the list. Evian secured architect Steve Smyers for the $8 million renovation at the LPGA’s recommendation. The LPGA also required securing of financing for network TV coverage. Plus, the tournament dates had to be moved to September.

The course redesigns looms as vital. If The Evian’s going to be a legitimate fifth major, the test has to live up to the billing.

“I know Steve Smyers will take it seriously, and hopefully he’ll do a good job,” Daniel said. “I totally understand Franck and Jacques wanted this to be a fifth major, and now they understand they have to make changes to the golf course, and they’re willing to do it.”

In the final analysis, Whan agreed to designate Evian as a fifth major to elevate LPGA exposure.

“After doing the job a couple years, you realize the most important thing you can do is give the best players in the world the grandest stages you can,” Whan said. “We don’t get 12 hours of network TV every week. The coverage we get at a major, that’s really our big moments. It’s an opportunity to showcase the best players in the world on a big stage. We really thought we should take advantage of it.”

And that’s how a fifth major was born.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.