Drastic Measures

By Rex HoggardFebruary 3, 2011, 4:31 am

The move to May seemed mindless in retrospect. TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course has certainly flourished outside of the perpetual March rain shadow and The Players Championship no longer serves as an “unofficial” Masters media day.

The move to May did not transform The Players into the “fifth major” – there are only four Grand Slam events until the players, no one else, decide otherwise – but it was an unmitigated upgrade. At least it was until Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy decided to make it a “bye” week on their 2011 schedules.

Whatever their motivations, Westwood and McIlroy have, at the least, exposed a flaw in the May Players, as well as a concerning byproduct of an ever-increasing global game.

As former PGA Tour members who forfeited their cards, Westwood and McIlroy, Nos. 1 and 8 in the world, respectively, are limited to 10 U.S. starts plus The Players, a last-minute deviation that failed to lure the two stars back to TPC Sawgrass this spring.

Tim Finchem
PGA Tour membership will likely remain a pressing issue for Tim Finchem. (Getty Images)

That’s down from the normal 12 exemptions most non-Tour members are allowed and although circuit officials say the regulation was not intended to be punitive it sure felt like a swat on the wrist. And The Players move to May is no longer the no-brainer it was originally thought to be.

“Playing the TPC in May puts it in the meat of Europe's schedule, with only one week between it and the BMW PGA, the most important tournament on the European Tour,” one long-time player's manager said.

But then a congested calendar is only a symptom of the greater ailment, at least for players looking to play both tours full time.

“Playing (the PGA Tour minimum) 15 events in the States and 13 in Europe is a big ask,” Justin Rose said last week at Torrey Pines. “The European Tour doesn’t make it easy for me to play so I think (the Tour) needs to stick to your guns.”

Rose should know, he did it as successfully as any in 2007 and has the SkyMiles to prove it. Four years ago the Englishman bounced across the Atlantic Ocean to play both tours, won the European Order of Merit and finished 16th in FedEx Cup points in just 22 total events thanks to co-sanctioned stops like the World Golf Championships and majors.

But since then the European Tour minimum has been raised from 11 to 13 and players have learned that to be competitive in the Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs, unlike college football, the regular season matters.

Balancing a two-tour schedule is not impossible, but neither is it conducive to Transatlantic success which may be the most important lesson learned from the Westwood-McIlroy Players miss.

“I'm not troubled by it. I'm disappointed that they're not playing, but I'm not troubled by it,” Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said last week. “My only message to those guys is you're always welcome, and we'd love to have you back.”

Finchem may publically “welcome” Westwood, et al, but his words don’t necessarily dovetail with Tour policy. Even the circuits’ Qualifying School Tournaments have conflicting dates that make earning a card on both almost impossible.

Whether Westwood and McIlroy’s Sawgrass snub is a one-off event or the seeds of a larger problem remains to be seen, but even an aberration, at least one that includes the current world No. 1, is concerning.

Last week Finchem was asked what was stopping the Tour from exempting all top-10 players from any rules that would limit the number of Tour events they can play, a move that was supported by many long-time observers who pointed out it’s in the entire Tour’s best interest to have the best possible fields.

“The rules that we have as it relates to how many (events) a player has to play to be a voting member, 15. How many can you play if you're not a member? How many sponsor exemptions can you accept as a non-member? And all those rules are something that we look at every year. Isn't any right or wrong to it,” Finchem said.

“We're not going to try to juggle the rules to try to make this right now as a result of this. It's a long-term thing. We'll analyze it from a long-term standpoint.”

And the long view is certainly on Finchem’s side considering that even without Westwood and McIlroy The Players will still sport one of the year’s deepest fields. It may, however, ignore an emerging trend at the game’s highest levels.

Six of the top 10 players in the current World Ranking are from Europe and emerging markets in Asia and the Middle East are making it increasingly unlikely a top player will be content plying his trade exclusively in the “Lower 48.” Even Steve Stricker, a confirmed homebody, is starting his season on the other side of the globe this week at the Qatar Masters and Phil Mickelson kicked off 2011 two weeks ago in Dhabi.

“There is so much to balance in world golf and we need to appreciate there are many good places to play,” said Rose, a newly named member of the Tour’s 16-member Player Advisory Council.

Unfortunately for the Tour, May’s Players doesn’t count itself on that list, at least not for Westwood and McIlroy. It’s a reality that may make another drastic move, not on a calendar but in policy, necessary.

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NBC Sports' Coverage of LPGA Tour in 2017 Most-Viewed Season Ever for NBC Sports

By Golf Channel Public RelationsDecember 13, 2017, 8:45 pm

NBC Sports’ LPGA Tour Coverage Ties 2013 for Most-Watched Year Since 2011

NBC and Golf Channel Boast Top-6 Most-Watched Women’s Golf Telecasts in 2017

Beginning with the dramatic playoff finish at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic in January and concluding with Lexi Thompson winning the $1 million Race to the CME Globe, nearly 22 million viewers tuned in to LPGA Tour coverage across Golf Channel and NBC in 2017. This makes 2017 the most-viewed LPGA Tour season across NBC Sports since Golf Channel joined the NBC Sports Group in 2011. Additionally, 2017 tied 2013 as the LPGA Tour’s most-watched year across NBC Sports since 2011. Coverage drew an average of 221,000 viewers per telecast in 2017 (+24% vs. 2016), according to data released by The Nielsen Company.

NBC SPORTS GROUP CLAIMS TOP-6 MOST-WATCHED WOMEN’S GOLF TELECASTS IN ‘17

For the first time ever in televised women’s golf, Sunday’s final round of the RICOH Women’s British Open (Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017, 1.1 million viewers) delivered the most-watched and highest-rated women’s golf telecast of the year. NBC’s Saturday (Day 2) coverage of the Solheim Cup in August placed second with 968,000 viewers, followed by Sunday’s Solheim Cup coverage on NBC with 946,000 viewers. Golf Channel’s live coverage of Sunday’s final day of the Solheim Cup drew 795,000 viewers, the most-watched women’s golf event on cable in eight years.

Rank

Network

Event

Day

Avg. Viewers P2+

1

NBC

RICOH WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN

Sunday

1,100,526

2

NBC

SOLHEIM CUP

Saturday

968,202

3

NBC

SOLHEIM CUP

Sunday

946,387

4

NBC

KPMG WOMEN'S PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Sunday

839,983

5

NBC

RICOH WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN

Saturday

808,578

6

GOLF

SOLHEIM CUP

Sunday

795,000

ADDITIONAL VIEWERSHIP MILESTONES FOR WOMEN’S GOLF IN 2017

  • ANA Inspiration - The LPGA’s first major championship delivered thefifth most-watched LPGA final round in Golf Channel history with 551,000 viewers when So Yeon Ryu defeated Lexi Thompson in a playoff following Thompson being assessed a four-stroke penalty earlier in the final round.
  • KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – The LPGA’s second major was seen by 6.6 million viewers across Golf Channel and NBC, the largest audience for the event on record (2006-17). Sunday’s final round on NBC, which saw Danielle Kang win her first LPGA Tour event over defending champion Brooke Henderson, also was the most-watched telecast in the event’s history with 840,000 average viewers.
  • RICOH Women’s British Open – NBC’s Sunday coverage of the RICOH Women’s British Open delivered the most-watched and highest-rated women’s golf telecast in 2017 (.78 U.S. HH rating, 1.1 million viewers). In total, 7 million unique viewers tuned in to coverage across Golf Channel and NBC, the most-watched RICOH Women’s British Open in the past 10 years and the most-watched among the five women’s major championships in 2017.
  • Solheim Cup – Seen by a total audience of 7.3 million viewers across Golf Channel and NBC, the Solheim Cup posted the largest total audience for women’s golf since the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open on ESPN/NBC. Golf Channel’s live coverage of the final day drew 795,000 average viewers, becoming the most-watched women’s golf telecast on cable in the last eight years, since the final day of the 2009 Solheim Cup.

GOLF CHANNEL DIGITAL POSTS RECORD STREAMING CONSUMPTION

Golf Channel Digital posted record numbers of LPGA streaming consumption with 11.9 million live minutes streamed across LPGA Tour telecasts in 2017 (+563% vs. 2016).

  • Solheim Cup – Three-day coverage of the Solheim Cup saw 6.3 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports’ Digital platforms, trailing only the 2016 Rio Olympics (9 million) as the most-ever for a women’s golf event airing on Golf Channel / NBC.
  • RICOH Women’s British Open – Four-day coverage of the RICOH Women’s British Open saw 2 million minutes streamed, +773% vs. 2016.

NBC Sports Group combined to air 31 LPGA Tour events in 2017 and a total of 420 hours of coverage, the most in LPGA history. The exclusive cable home to the LPGA Tour, Golf Channel aired coverage of four of five women’s major championships in 2017, with three majors also airing on NBC: the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, RICOH Women’s British Open and The Evian Championship. The biennial Solheim Cup also returned to network television for the first time in 15 years with weekend coverage on NBC.

Source: Nielsen 2017 Live+Same Day DVR vs. prior available data. Persons 2+ avg 000’s and/or Persons 2+ reach w/six-minute qualifier. Digital Metrics from Adobe Reports & Analytics. Details available.

Hensby takes full responsibility for violation

By Rex HoggardDecember 13, 2017, 5:28 pm

The PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program manual covers 48 pages of details, from the pressing to the mundane, but for Mark Hensby the key section of the policy could be found on Page 5.

“The collector may allow you to delay reporting to the testing area for unavoidable obligations; however, you will be monitored from the time of notification until completion of the sample collection process,” the policy reads. “A failure to report to the testing area by the required time is the same as a doping violation under the program.”

Hensby, a 46-year-old former Tour winner from Australia, didn’t read that section, or any other part of the manual. In fact, he said he hasn’t received the circuit’s anti-doping manual in years. Not that he uses that as an excuse.

To be clear, Hensby doesn’t blame his anti-doping plight on anyone else.

“At the end of the day it’s my responsibility. I take full responsibility,” he told GolfChannel.com.

Like Doug Barron, Scott Stallings and even Vijay Singh before him, Hensby ran afoul of the Tour’s anti-doping policy because, essentially, of a clerical error. There were no failed tests, no in-depth investigations, no seedy entourages who sent Hensby down a dark road of performance-enhancing drug use.

Just a simple misunderstanding combined with bad timing.

Hensby, who last played a full season on Tour in 2003, had just completed the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship when he was approached by a member of the Tour’s anti-doping testing staff. He was angry about his play and had just used the restroom on the 17th hole and, he admits, was in no mood to wait around to take the urine test.

“Once I said, ‘Can I take it in the morning,’ [the Tour’s anti-doping official] said, ‘We can’t hold you here,’” Hensby recalled. “I just left.”

Not one but two officials called Hensby that night to ask why he’d declined to take the test, and he said he was even advised to return to the Country Club of Jackson (Miss.) to take the test, which is curious because the policy doesn’t allow for such gaps between notification of a test and the actual testing.

According to the policy, a player is considered in violation of the program if he leaves the presence of the doping control officers without providing the required sample.

A Tour official declined to comment on the matter citing the circuit’s policy not to comment on doping violations beyond the initial disclosure.

A week later, Hensby was informed he was in violation of the Tour’s policy and although he submitted a letter to the commissioner explaining the reasons for his failure to take the test he was told he would be suspended from playing in any Tour-sanctioned events (including events on the Web.com Tour) for a year.

“I understand now what the consequences are, but you know I’ve been banned for a performance-enhancing drug violation, and I don’t take performance-enhancing drugs,” Hensby said.

Hensby isn’t challenging his suspension nor did he have any interest in criticizing the Tour’s policy, instead his message two days after the circuit announced the suspension was focused on his fellow Tour members.

“I think the players need to read that manual really, really well. There are things I wasn’t aware of and I think other players weren’t aware of either,” he said. “You have to read the manual.”

It was a similar message Stallings offered following his 90-day suspension in 2015 after he turned himself in for using DHEA, an anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour.

“This whole thing was a unique situation that could have been dealt with differently, but I made a mistake and I owned up to it,” Stallings said at the time.

Barron’s 2009 suspension, which was for a year, also could have been avoided after he tested positive for supplemental testosterone and a beta-blocker, both of which were prescribed by a doctor for what were by many accounts legitimate health issues.

And Singh’s case, well that chapter is still pending in the New York Supreme Court, but the essential element of the Fijian’s violation was based on his admitted use of deer-antler spray, which contained a compound called IGF-1. Although IGF-1 is a banned substance, the World Anti-Doping Agency has ruled that the use of deer-antler spray is not a violation if an athlete doesn’t fail a drug test. Singh never failed a test.

The Tour’s anti-doping history is littered with cases that could have been avoided, cases that should have been avoided. Despite the circuit’s best educational efforts, it’s been these relatively innocent violations that have defined the program.

In retrospect, Hensby knows he should have taken the test. He said he had nothing to hide, but anger got the best of him.

“To be honest, it would have been hard, the way I was feeling that day, I know I’m a hothead at times, but I would have probably stayed [had he known the consequences],” he admitted. “You’ve got to understand that if you have too much water you can’t get a test either and then you have to stay even longer.”

Hensby said before his run in with the anti-doping small print he wasn’t sure what his professional future would be, but his suspension has given him perspective and a unique motivation.

“I was talking to my wife last night, I have a little boy, it’s been a long month,” said Hensby after dropping his son, Caden, off at school. “I think I have a little more drive now and when I come back. I wasn’t going to play anymore, but when I do come back I am going to be motivated.”

He’s also going to be informed when it comes to the Tour’s anti-doping policy, and he hopes his follow professionals take a similar interest.

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Lesson with Woods fetches $210K for Harvey relief

By Will GrayDecember 13, 2017, 2:51 pm

A charity event featuring more than two dozen pro golfers raised more than $1 million for Hurricane Harvey relief, thanks in large part to a hefty price paid for a private lesson with Tiger Woods.

The pro-am fundraiser was organized by Chris Stroud, winner of the Barracuda Championship this summer, and fellow pro and Houston resident Bobby Gates. It was held at Bluejack National in Montgomery, Texas, about an hour outside Houston and the first Woods-designed course to open in the U.S.

The big-ticket item on the auction block was a private, two-person lesson with Woods at Bluejack National that sold for a whopping $210,000.

Other participants included local residents like Stacy Lewis, Patrick Reed and Steve Elkington as well as local celebrities like NBA All-Star Clyde Drexler, Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.

Stroud was vocal in his efforts to help Houston rebuild in the immediate aftermath of the storm that ravaged the city in August, and he told the Houston Chronicle that he plans to continue fundraising efforts even after eclipsing the event's $1 million goal.

"This is the best event I have ever been a part of, and this is just a start," Stroud said. "We have a long way to go for recovery to this city, and we want to keep going with this and raise as much as we can and help as many victims as we can."

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LPGA schedule features 34 events, record purse

By Randall MellDecember 13, 2017, 2:02 pm

The LPGA schedule will once again feature 34 events next year with a record $68.75 million in total purses, the tour announced on Wednesday.

While three events are gone from the 2018 schedule, three new events have been added, with two of those on the West Coast and one in mainland China.

The season will again start with the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic on Paradise Island (Jan. 25-28) and end with the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., (Nov. 15-18).

The LPGA played for $65 million in total prize money in 2017.

An expanded West Coast swing in the front half of the schedule will now include the HUGEL-JTBC Championship in the Los Angeles area April 19-22. The site will be announced at a later date.

The tour will then make a return to San Francisco’s Lake Merced Golf Club the following week, in a new event sponsored by L&P Cosmetics, a Korean skincare company. Both new West Coast tournaments will be full-field events.

The tour’s third new event will be played in Shanghai Oct. 18-21 as part of the fall Asian swing. The title sponsor and golf course will be announced at a later date.

“Perhaps the most important aspect of our schedule is the consistency — continuing to deliver strong playing opportunities both in North America and around the world, while growing overall purse levels every year,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement. “There is simply no better [women’s] tour opportunity in the world, when it comes to purses, global TV coverage or strength of field. It’s an exciting time in women’s golf, with the best players from every corner of the globe competing against each other in virtually every event.”

While the Evian Championship will again be played in September next year, the tour confirmed its plans to move its fifth major to the summer in 2019, to be part of a European swing, with the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

The Manulife LPGA Classic and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational are not returning to the schedule next year. Also, the McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open will not be played next year as it prepares to move to the front of the 2019 schedule, to be paired with the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

The U.S. Women’s Open will make its new place earlier in the summer, a permanent move in the tour’s scheduling. It will be played May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek Golf Club outside Birmingham, Ala. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (June 28-July 1) will be played at Kemper Lakes Golf Club on the north side of Chicago and the Ricoh Women’s British Open (Aug. 2-5) will be played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England.

For the first time since its inception in 2014, the UL International Crown team event is going overseas, with the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, scheduled to host the event Oct. 4-7. The KEB Hana Bank Championship will be played in South Korean the following week.

Here is the LPGA's schedule for 2018:

Jan. 25-28: Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic; Paradise Island, Bahamas; Purse: $1.4 million

Feb. 15-18: ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open; Adelaide, Australia; Purse: $1.3 million

Feb. 21-24: Honda LPGA Thailand; Chonburi, Thailand; Purse: $1.6 million

March 1-4: HSBC Women's World Championship; Singapore; Purse: $1.5 million

March 15-18: Bank of Hope Founders Cup; Phoenix, Arizona; Purse: $1.5 million

March 22-25: Kia Classic; Carlsbad, California; Purse: $1.8 million

March 29 - April 1: ANA Inspiration; Rancho Mirage, California; Purse: $2.8 million

April 11-14: LOTTE Championship; Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii; Purse: $2 million

April 19-22: HUGEL-JTBC Championship; Greater Los Angeles, California; Purse: $1.5 million

April 26-29: Name to be Announced; San Francisco, California; Purse: $1.5 million

May 3-6: Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic; The Colony, Texas; Purse: $1.3 million

May 17-20: Kingsmill Championship; Williamsburg, Virginia; Purse: $1.3 million

May 24-27: LPGA Volvik Championship; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Purse: $1.3 million

May 31 - June 3: U.S. Women's Open Championship; Shoal Creek, Alabama; Purse: $5 million

June 8-10: ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer; Galloway, New Jersey; Purse: $1.75 million

June 14-17: Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Purse: $2 million

June 22-24: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G; Rogers, Arkansas; Purse: $2 million

June 28 - July 1: KPMG Women's PGA Championship; Kildeer, Illinois; Purse: $3.65 million

July 5-8: Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic; Oneida, Wisconsin; Purse: $2 million

July 12-15: Marathon Classic presented by Owens-Corning and O-I; Sylvania, Ohio; Purse: $1.6 million

July 26-29: Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open; East Lothian, Scotland; Purse: $1.5 million

Aug. 2-5: Ricoh Women's British Open; Lancashire, England; Purse: $3.25 million

Aug. 16-19: Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim; Indianapolis, Indiana; Purse: $2 million

Aug. 23-26: CP Women's Open; Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; Purse: $2.25 million

Aug. 30 - Sept. 2: Cambia Portland Classic; Portland, Oregon; Purse: $1.3 million

Sept. 13-16: The Evian Championship; Evian-les-Bains, France; Purse: $3.85 million

Sept. 27-30: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Purse: $1.8 million

Oct. 4-7: UL International Crown; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $1.6 million

Oct. 11-14: LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $2 million

Oct. 18-21: Name to be Announced; Shanghai, China; Purse: $2.1 million

Oct. 25-28: Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship; New Taipei City, Chinese Taipei; Purse: $2.2 million

Nov. 2-4: TOTO Japan Classic; Shiga, Japan; Purse: $1.5 million

Nov. 7-10: Blue Bay LPGA; Hainan Island, China; Purse: $2.1 million

Nov. 15-18: CME Group Tour Championship; Naples, Florida; Purse: $2.5 million