Cut Line: Change is all around golf world

By Rex HoggardNovember 11, 2016, 5:15 pm

NEW YORK – In a final election season edition, the PGA Tour transitions to a new commissioner, officials in New Orleans embrace a new team format, and the PGA of America sets the tone for what could be a sweeping schedule change.

Made Cut

End of an era. Although the transition had been preordained for some time, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem made it official on Monday when the policy board named Jay Monahan the circuit’s new front man starting on Jan. 1.

Finchem took over the Tour in 1994 and presided over unprecedented growth in purses and popularity. The commissioner had been reluctant in recent months to consider his own legacy, but in the wake of Monday’s announcement many began keeping score.

During his tenure in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Finchem introduced the FedEx Cup Playoffs, Presidents Cup and the creation of the World Golf Championships and International Federation of PGA Tours. He also led the way for The First Tee program and was a key part of golf’s push to return to the Olympics this year.

There were mistakes and missteps along the way, including the clumsy handling of Vijay Singh’s anti-doping violation/non-violation and the decision to draw a curious line in the sand over Casey Martin’s use of a golf cart in competition.

But on the final scorecard of Finchem’s time in office, the man described by many as the ultimate tactician has earned the victory – let’s call it a 3-and-1 triumph – in what turned out to be an impressive 22-year match.

A true patriot. Of all the awards doled out this week by the PGA of America at the association’s annual meeting, it was the Patriot Award given to Steve Greiner that truly stood out.

Greiner, the head pro at Fort Belvoir Golf Club, is the executive director of the Links to Freedom Foundation in Springfield, Va., an organization that helps disabled veterans overcome the mental and emotional challenges of rehabilitation through golf.

Many of the veterans Greiner’s program has helped were in New York this week to celebrate the award, and their stories of perseverance were a testament to what’s possible through golf.

Tweet of the week.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

The body politic. About five blocks from where protestors gathered on Thursday in front of Trump Tower, the PGA of America held the association’s annual meeting.

Although the PGA’s election for secretary, which was held on Friday, wasn’t anywhere near as contentious as the race for the White House, the association still found itself wedged uncomfortably between the divisive president-elect and a stated goal of creating an inclusive atmosphere to grow the game.

Next year’s Senior PGA Championship is scheduled to be played at Trump National in Potomac Falls, Va., and the ’22 PGA Championship will be held at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., which are both courses owned by the president-elect (Next year’s U.S. Women’s Open is also scheduled to be played at Trump’s Bedminster facility).

An association that impeached a president (Ted Bishop in 2014) for tweeting Ian Poulter was a "lil girl," now finds itself tied to Trump who made several controversial statements during the campaign.

“We’ve said from the get go that we’re not a political organization, we’re a golf organization,” said PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua. “But diversity and inclusion are a key element, it’s a backbone of our strategic plan, it’s the backbone of what we’re trying to do.

“These are both great golf facilities that have open memberships, and it’s not about an individual, it’s not about politics. It’s about conducting the best championship we can and prove that we are about accessibility and inclusion in the game. We’re not perfect, we’re trying.”

Bevacqua and the PGA are golf’s front lines in growing the game in the United States, and now find themselves in the awkward no-man’s land between the White House and a segment of the population that is widely underrepresented in golf. The choices the association makes over the next few years will be telling.

New look in NOLA. Golf Channel’s George Savaricas reported this week that the Tour is poised to announce a new team format for the Zurich Classic in New Orleans.

Although the NOLA stop could certainly use a facelift and a team concept is enticing, there are some details that still need to be flushed out before the move is deemed a success.

According to the report, the top 80 qualifiers will be able to partner with a player of their choosing, as long as their partner has some Tour status, and play will include both foursomes (alternate-shot) and fourballs (best-ball) play.

The field size (160 players) seems a bit much and it doesn’t appear the format will allow for some of the more coveted pairings – say Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, let’s call it Team JDJ – but in theory the new format has the potential to be a promising addition to the Tour landscape.

Missed Cut

Scheduling matters. While golf’s return to the Olympics this year was largely a success, the cut-and-paste schedule required to make it work was difficult for all in involved, particularly the PGA of America.

The PGA Championship was played two weeks earlier than normal because of the Games, and Bevacqua and the PGA have already started to move to higher ground with an eye toward 2020.

“We are huge proponents of the Olympics. We are all about the Olympics, but we also have to protect the PGA Championship and we can’t just bounce the PGA Championship around every four years,” Bevacqua said. “To truly make it work, to make it succeed and to make sure golf is in the Olympics for the next century, the whole schedule needs to be adjusted.”

Bevacqua confirmed that a move to May in 2020 was “very much on the table,” which could set the stage for a more permanent schedule adjustment that would include The Players moving back to March and the PGA Championship settling into a new home in May.

Stay tuned.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."

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Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."

Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.

"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''