Cut Line: No cut, guaranteed cash not always enough

By Rex HoggardOctober 31, 2014, 2:30 pm

If a tree falls at TPC Sawgrass, does anyone hear it? If the PGA Tour travels to Asia, will anyone play? And if the PGA of America stumbles on the way to the high road, is the association beyond reproach? Answers in this week’s edition of Cut Line.

Made Cut

DL 2.0. From host to PGA Tour title hopeful in a single news cycle. Not bad for a 50-year-old grandfather.

After an eventful week spent entertaining sponsors, doling out trophies and, just for good measure, finishing tied for 41st place at his own McGladrey Classic, Davis Love III managed to make his flight to Malaysia for this week’s CIMB Classic and is tied for 12th placeafter opening 68-71.

Not bad for a part-time Tour player and fulltime host last week at Sea Island. Despite officially reaching his golden years, the 20-time Tour winner doesn’t seem to have much interest in slowing down.

“Now family and business will allow me to expand my horizons a little bit, so I'm going to try to play a little bit more all around the world, try to play in some of these events that I'm invited to,” Love said this week. “At 50 years old, now I can start my world travels, I guess.”

Who knew 50 was the new 30?

All access. It was, as Tour commissioner Tim Finchem explained last week, “really the only [issue],” with the circuit’s new wraparound schedule and it appears to be atop the Tour’s to-do list.

The lack of playing opportunities for Tour graduates, the result of deeper-than-expected fields in the fall, turned into the Tour’s primary action item heading into the second split-calendar season.

The Tour responded with the expansion of field sizes at the Open and Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, from 132 players to 144; the addition of the Sanderson Farms Championship, which was historically played in the summer as an opposite-field event; and news last week the McGladrey Classic would go to a two-course rotation and expand from 132 players to 156.

Combined, the Tour will have added 180 new playing opportunities next fall and the moves have already started to produce results, with 13 more players from the Tour category playing the Las Vegas stop and 25 more at the McGladrey Classic.

For an organization often associated with slow play, the Tour certainly deserves credit for reacting quickly.

Tweet of the week:


Although the loss of the iconic tree adjacent the Stadium Course’s sixth tee shouldn’t be a surprise – this is, after all, the same course that struggled to grow grass in time for The Players this year – it will be missed. Not by Cut Line, who has clipped the thing on numerous occasions, but we’re sure someone will miss it.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Playing favorites. It is a sign of the times that the PGA Tour had to dip beyond the top 125 from last season’s FedEx Cup list to fill the field for this week’s no-cut, 78-man, guaranteed money CIMB Classic.

Even players who could likely benefit from an early-season points boost passed on a trip to Malaysia, which would explain how Nicholas Thompson, who finished last season 127th on the points list, earned a spot in the field.

Even more concerning for Tour types is the number of members who made the trip to Asia but are playing the BMW Masters in Shanghai, the first of four European Tour post-season stops, instead of the CIMB Classic.

Both events have $7 million purses, but the BMW Masters is allowed to dole out appearance fees, which might explain why some U.S. players – including Ryan Palmer and Kevin Stadler – are in China and not Malaysia.

Competition is a healthy part of every business, but when it comes to this type of head-to-head duel with the European circuit, the Tour is playing six clubs short of a full bag without being able to woo players with appearance fees.

Speed dating. At first blush it would appear the McGladrey Classic has it all: a respected golf course (Sea Island’s Seaside layout), stability (McGladrey announced a five-year sponsorship extension last week) and leadership (Love).

The only thing missing is a permanent, and workable, spot on the calendar. Since the inaugural event in 2010, the McGladrey has been played the first week in October, the first week of November and everywhere in between; and next year the event will try out another spot on the schedule.

The 2015 McGladrey Classic will be played the third week of November, one of two dates offered to tournament officials and, according to some, the best of two bad options.

The alternative was the second week of November, which would have put the event just after the WGC-HSBC Champions and likely have kept many of the Tour’s biggest names away.

Love and officials at the McGladrey have given the Tour everything they have asked for. It’s time for the Tour to return the favor.

Missed Cut

Crisis management. There is no escaping the fact that it was Ted Bishop, not the PGA of America’s board of directors or anyone in the media, who pressed the “send” button last Thursday.

It was Bishop who allowed his emotions to get the best of him. It was Bishop who thumbed in the fateful tweet that ultimately cost him his position as PGA president.

The PGA’s board and staff, however, are not without some blame in arguably the most surreal saga in the association’s history. It was a senior staff member who, according to Bishop, advised him to “go underground and be silent for 24 hours and see what happens.”

It’s crisis management 101 – always go on the offensive.

There is also an issue of semantics. According to Bishop, when he pressed for the reasons behind his dismissal the PGA board of directors gave him three – negative feedback from the media, potential damage to sponsor relations and negative responses from PGA members.

In a memo sent to various leaders and PGA section directors, however, the association stated, “The board felt that the comments made through social media violated the PGA of America Code of Ethics Bylaws.”

In his own missive made public on Wednesday, Bishop warned the association’s membership what the ruling could mean going forward. “This is powerful and for someone who served six years on the PGA Board of Control it clearly sets an eye-opening precedent. I want to emphasize to all of you the severe importance in the use of your social media platforms. Do not be cavalier with your words and succumb to a Code of Ethics violation,” Bishop wrote.

Bishop has no one to blame for his removal from office but himself, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more than enough blame to go around.

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.

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Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by paints a different picture.

Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.