Cut Line: Shorts, slow play hit spotlight on Euro Tour

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2016, 4:01 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – It’s time to reflect on Jack Nicklaus’ greatness, time to trade professionalism for a more relaxed look on the European Tour, and time to realize the solution to slow play isn’t going to be pretty.

Made Cut

Contrived excitement. Officials at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship never hesitated, sending world No. 1 Jordan Spieth, No. 3 Rory McIlroy and No. 6 Rickie Fowler out together for Rounds 1 and 2 this week.

Say what you will about this type of forced showdown, considering how rarely the game’s top players get grouped together – Spieth and McIlroy have never played together on the weekend at a PGA Tour event – it’s an intriguing chance to see the headliners go head-to-head.

“We were saying walking off the last green there, we wish that we could play this group all the time,” Spieth said following the opening round. “It's very rare to get it, so we're soaking it in. It's fun feeding off each other.”

We all agree it would be a much better pairing on, say Masters Sunday to see Spieth, McIlroy, Fowler, etc. together, but this early in the golf season we’ll take what we can get.

Golden years. They say once you reach a certain age you stop counting birthdays, but when you’ve won 18 majors and are widely considered the best player of all time it’s hard to fly under the radar.

Jack Nicklaus turned 76 on Thursday, a milestone that was celebrated far and wide on social media and an opportunity to revisit some of the Golden Bear’s greatest moments.

And what does a legend do on his birthday?

“I don’t ever play golf, but I’m going to go play on my birthday,” Nicklaus said on “Morning Drive.”

No word on whether Nicklaus broke his age on Thursday, but we would like to think he did.

Tweet of the week: @TigerWoods “Happy Birthday Jack, 76 years young and could probably shoot your age anytime you wanted to.”

There was no shortage of social media shoutouts to Nicklaus on Thursday, but from one GOAT to another seems like a winner.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Pace setters. When European Tour CEO Keith Pelley declared war on slow play many figured it was little more than an empty promise. Slow play, after all, has been public enemy No. 1 for decades and yet nothing meaningful has been done to speed things up.

Pelley’s answer was a new, albeit complicated “monitoring” system announced this week in Abu Dhabi that is aimed at singling out the game’s slowpokes.

Although the new plan may end up being an encouraging first step in practice, on Thursday it was the cause of considerable handwringing when Spieth was assessed a monitoring penalty after taking too long to hit his birdie putt on the eighth hole.

Spieth was guilty of violating the new policy. The European Tour, however, is equally guilty of not properly explaining the rule to those with a need to know.

Short answers. Slow play wasn’t the only bold move made by Pelley and Co. this week.

The tour announced a new rule that will allow players to wear shorts during practice and pro-am rounds, a move that was quickly embraced by players.

“Isn’t this great,” beamed Ernie Els, who showed up for a practice round on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi wearing blue shorts.

In fact, reaction from players and fans was so positive it led some to ask if it was something the PGA Tour should consider?

“I think it's awesome. It will be something that I would love to see on the PGA Tour, as well. Guys seem to all love it over here,” Spieth said. “I've not heard one person, one tour player complain about it. And most of the guys that are really talking highly of it are the older guys oddly enough.”

It will be interesting to see who listens when the world No. 1 talks.

Missed Cut

Musical chairs. For those who keep track of such things, the last few days have been a hectic time for PGA Tour sponsors. First Barclays WD’d from the first FedEx Cup playoff event and was replaced by Northern Trust, which was then replaced by Hyundai at the annual Los Angeles-area tournament.

The empty chair, however, is now the Tournament of Champions in Maui.

While it seems likely the Tour will find a replacement for the winners-only event, it is a bit of a kick that the folks at Kapalua are left searching after one of the most successful events in a decade. This year’s field included six of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking and the world No. 1 (Spieth) for the first time since 2005.

It seems no good deed goes unpunished.

Transatlantic tiff. Chalk it up to a scheduling anomaly, the byproduct of golf’s return to the Olympic Games and an exceedingly crowded summer tournament schedule, but that doesn’t make things any easier for those who have to walk the delicate transatlantic line.

This year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played the same week as the French Open, a marquee event on the European Tour held at the site of the 2018 Ryder Cup outside of Paris.

Pelley decided to protect an important partner because of the conflict, removing the Bridgestone from the European Tour schedule and making the French Open count as two starts for his members with double the Ryder Cup points.

While Pelley’s move is perfectly understandable it makes many of his top players endure a tough choice, like Martin Kaymer who said he’s still not sure which event he will play the first week of July.

Henrik Stenson conjured up a slightly different solution.

“No Bridgestone for me, No French Open,” Stenson said this week. “Because of the clash with the French Open I decided not to make anyone happy or mad. I’m just not playing.”

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.