Attitude of Gratitude

By Rex HoggardFebruary 4, 2009, 5:00 pm
SAN DIEGO ' It was the live version of the five-minute digital pep talk PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem sent out during golfs short, sleepy off-season. CBS Sports Lance Barrow spoke for about an hour and a tent filled nearly to capacity listened.
Tuesdays mandatory players meeting at Torrey Pines covered familiar ground ' the economy, sponsors and the media ' but it put an end to the notion that some players still dont get it. The Tour may be prepared to weather the current economic slide and flush circuit coffers may help ease all that financial anxiety, but it doesnt take a Wall Street type to read the economic tea leaves. Car manufacturers and financial institutions are the backbone of the Tours business model, the same institutions that have been hit so hard by the current downturn.
The Cliffs Notes version of Tuesdays meeting were these: forget the long-term contracts with television and many sponsors. Consider 2009 a contract year which means that these guys are not only good, as the Tour tag line says, but they are good corporate partners.
(Finchem) just doesnt want us to do anything stupid, said one player. Go the extra yard, make sure the sponsors feel appreciated. Make sure the fans have a good time.
Serious times. Serious messages.
Barrow may have been the keynote speaker, but Finchem could have plucked Ted Purdy out of the crowd had he wanted a ready-made Exhibit A.
Purdy is a notorious nice guy, as approachable and engaging as any on Tour, but he went off the extra mile charts at last weeks FBR Open. Purdy regained full status this year via Q-School, but he was ranked low in that category and needed a sponsor exemption to play his hometown event. Prior to the tournament, Purdy had the FBR logo put on his shirt, not as a condition of the exemption but as a simple thank you.
Purdy began the practice last year. For $20 to his local seamstress he showed the folks at the Wachovia Championship and Sony and FBR opens that the insular athlete cloak doesnt fit every make and model
Its easy to do, Purdy smiled in his signature sheepish way. Being grateful is always important.
If Tuesdays meeting needed a face, welcome Purdys expressive mug.
Perhaps the Tours wagon circling seems a bit preemptive given the overall state of the Tour. Most sponsors are signed to multiple year deals. Yet, without the aid of a financial looking glass, the timetable for recovery is unknown. To Finchem, that financial uncertainty means he and his players must start selling the Tour product now.
At the grass roots level, that means more engagement during sponsor events, towards the media and during pro-ams.
The way the economy is going, that reflects on the Tour, Pat Perez said. I love pro-ams. These guys have paid a lot of money to play, they want to have a good time, they want to leave and tell everyone they had a great day. Thats our job.
A component of Finchems off-season video was to ask players to consider playing events they historically have not, a concept that has rekindled the one-in-four debate. There has been little traction for the potential rule, which would require players play every event at least once every four years, but drastic times require drastic measures.
I would support a one-in-four rule, said Purdy, a member of the Tours 15-member Players Advisory Council. We need Tiger and we need Phil and the big names. The sponsors need them, because they are putting up the big bucks. It would be great for the Tour. Any sponsor who is entering into a three or four year deal with the Tour, he knows hes going to get Tiger at least once. It would help negotiations in the future.
The concept, however, has not been embraced by the Tours top players and some who cling to the circuits independent contractor ways. Truth is it is hard to criticize Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson for not playing more considering how successful they have been with their current schedule.
I think there are things we can do to show appreciation to our sponsors and really our partners, Mickelson said. I dont know how (the one-in-four rule) would really affect anything. Pretty much everyone on Tour plays 18 to 20. Even Tiger averages over 18 events a year.
To saddle Woods and Mickelson with the financial well-being of the entire Tour is misplaced and whiffs of micro-management. Its not fair to make it all about Tiger because hes earned his status, Purdy concedes.
Perhaps, but Woods is the engine that drives the Buick, to use a timely metaphor. Asking Woods to add a Turning Stone or Zurich to his schedule is not the answer. But its not too much to ask any card-carrying member to spend some extra time with sponsors or a pro-am partner.
Golf, be the market bear or bullish, should be an easier sell than say the NBA or MLB. The Tours athletes are more accessible, the image much more corporate friendly and its commitment to charities unique among all professional products. The task for those on the front line is to hammer that point, now more so than ever.
You need an attitude of gratitude. Its the way to live life, Purdy said.
Barrow couldnt have said it any better.

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”