Bishop admits Ryder Cup changes could be coming

By Rex HoggardSeptember 30, 2014, 8:00 pm

Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean on Monday, Ted Bishop gathered with a group of PGA of America executives to talk about the 2016 Ryder Cup.

Less than 24 hours after the U.S. team’s eighth defeat in its last 10 tries at the biennial matches, Bishop knows there will be more discussions in the coming weeks, but following the 16 1/2 to 11 1/2  rout at Gleneagles the captivity of the transatlantic chartered flight seemed as good a time as any to start looking for answers.

“We had philosophical conversations on the plane home yesterday, ‘Where do we go next?’” said Bishop, the PGA of America’s president who was back at work at his Legends Golf Club in Indiana on Tuesday morning. “We understand what we have to do and we are not on a serious timeline. We are going to take some time and figure out the best way going forward.”

The good news for Bishop and the PGA is they have time on their side, unlike in 2012 when the association was in the process of selecting Tom Watson as this year’s captain during the build up to the matches at Medinah.

The decision to delay any moves on future captains was intentional.

“We have all collectively said we are going to see where 2014 goes and I think that was prudent,” Bishop told GolfChannel.com.

In the aftermath of another U.S. loss, it makes even more sense for the PGA to move slowly. The criticism reached a crescendo on Monday when many, including your scribe, questioned why the association doesn’t copy the European model when selecting captains.

European captain Paul McGinley, for example, was selected by the European Tour’s tournament committee which is a group that consists of former captains and players, some of whom (like Thomas Bjorn) participated on this year’s team.

Bishop explains, however, that while he and the other officers on the PGA’s executive committee make the final decision on potential captains, there was no shortage of input during that process.

After initially meeting with Watson in Kansas City two weeks after the U.S. loss at Medinah in 2012, the entire PGA delegation returned to Watson’s home in November to make the final decision.

Before that, Bishop said he spoke with many former captains, including Davis Love III, Corey Pavin and Lanny Wadkins. He even reached out to Paul Azinger, the last winning American captain in 2008, but “never heard back from him.”

There was even an interesting conversation with Curtis Strange, who actively lobbied for Larry Nelson to have his turn as captain.

“In that plea he said what this American team needs is someone they look up to and respect. ‘I’m talking about guys like (Arnold) Palmer, (Jack) Nicklaus and Watson,’” Bishop recalled.

While the process, he explained, is not as structured as the European system, Bishop contends it was more inclusive than some may think.

“It’s not like we don’t ask former Ryder Cup captains their opinions. We definitely value their opinions,” he said.

Bishop also explained that he valued current player input throughout the process leading up to last week’s matches.

On Sunday night at Gleneagles, Phil Mickelson seemed to suggest that the current Ryder Cup system is broken and that the U.S. needs to return to the format Azinger used in 2008 at Valhalla.

“There were two things that allowed us to play our best I think that Paul Azinger did,” Mickelson said. “One was he got everybody invested in the process . . . The other thing that Paul did really well was he had a great game plan for us.

“We use that same process in the Presidents Cup and we do really well. Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula.”

It was the same take Mickelson had in July when he was paired with Bishop during the pro-am at the Scottish Open. When Bishop suggested Lefty share his thoughts with Watson, Mickelson declined.

“He said it wasn’t his place and I said, ‘Phil, that would be a mistake,’” Bishop said. “(Watson) wasn’t as stubborn or bullheaded as people thought he could be. There is a patient side. Unfortunately, Phil didn’t do that. If Phil is going to be a leader on that team or future teams he should take it upon himself to have that conversation with the captain.”

The silver lining for the PGA of America is that the move to make Watson – who didn’t fall into the traditional mold of U.S. captains – this year’s skipper, has opened the door for a new philosophy when it comes to picking captains.

“We are going to be talking going forward about the selection process for captains and the selection of players,” Bishop said.

In 2016, for example, Bishop points out that the PGA Championship, the traditional cutoff date to name the team’s automatic qualifiers, will probably have to be changed. The ’16 PGA is being played July 28-31 instead of early August due to scheduling constraints caused by the Olympics.

“There is no way, in my opinion, you can announce the automatic qualifiers two months before the Ryder Cup,” said Bishop, who suggested a scenario where the automatic qualifiers are named after the Deutsche Bank Championship and the captain’s picks after the Tour Championship.

Finally, Bishop addressed the current elephant in the American team room. In the days since the U.S. loss there has been a chorus of support to bring back Azinger to captain the ’16 team. On Sunday night Azinger told GolfChannel.com’s John Hawkins that he “can’t rule it out.”

Nor does it seem the PGA would be averse to the idea.

“That decision will be made by someone other than me, but at this point the slate is totally clear. Why wouldn’t you consider him?” Bishop said. “A Ryder Cup captain doesn’t have to be a major champion. We have to get over that. We have to look for guys who are not afraid to roll their sleeves up and take a blue collar approach like McGinley did and Azinger did.”

Before Bishop went back to work on Tuesday afternoon, he offered one final thought that seemed apropos considering the criticism Watson and the PGA has received in the aftermath of last week’s blowout.

“I think the PGA of America is willing to change from a certain stand point,” he said. “We are willing to try to put all the appropriate pieces into place to collectively make a good decision going forward.”

Criticism was sure to come, it’s part of the process and Bishop knew that. But never doubt that the PGA wants a winning U.S. team every bit as badly as anyone else.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.