Monahan deserves credit for strength-of-field success

By Rex HoggardOctober 11, 2017, 4:15 pm

More times than not your scribe uses this space to address some wrong that the PGA Tour should right or simply lament a general lack of interest from the circuit on whatever hot topic is stirring the social media pot at the moment.

But this week isn’t going to be like that. This edition, in the name of fair play and demonstrated success, is an ode to finding a solution that, for decades, seemed hopelessly out of reach.

As far back as anyone can remember, the Tour has wrestled with the reality that its schedule was a collection of have and have-nots; and there was little reason for the game’s top players to alter that reality.

Players being the ultimate independent contractors resisted even the slightest suggestion to change their schedule, and the tournaments that needed the boost from an occasional cameo by a star were reluctant to allow themselves to be officially labeled “B” tier events.

The solution was introduced for the 2016-17 season and dubbed the strength-of-field regulation. Like many things produced out of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., the new requirement initially seemed overly-complicated; but after a full season to digest, the verdict is in – the new rule works.

“I don’t have an issue with the rule. I feel like it’s already paid some tournaments back, look at Travelers [Championship] this year,” Paul Casey said. “It was great. It probably won’t be Travelers next year, it will be someone else who wins.”

Actually, there were two metaphorical winners last season.

This year’s Travelers Championship, which is played the week after the U.S. Open and has historically struggled to draw a marquee field despite one of the circuit’s more popular courses and arguably the Tour’s most dedicated sponsor, featured eight of the top 30 in the world rankings - including Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. Overall, the Travelers strength of field in June was 348, it’s highest mark in over a decade.

“What I found with Rory and Jordan when I first talked to them [the new rule] was part of the conversation, I don’t think it was the only thing,” Travelers Championship tournament director Nathan Grube said. “As a tournament, any time you can get a player thinking about your event that’s all you want. That’s all you can ask for.”

Last season’s Safeway Open also received a much-needed boost from the new rule, with a collection of players who probably wouldn’t have penciled the season opener down on their schedules, including Casey.

Essentially, the new rule has allowed the Tour to venture into a touchy area without drawing the ire of players or tournament directors.

The rule requires a player to add an event to their schedules that they haven’t played in four years – a list that doesn’t include the majors, Players Championship, World Golf Championships or FedExCup Playoffs – if they didn’t play at least 25 events the previous season. Players can sidestep the new requirement if they play 25 events in the current season, but even that small print serves the larger narrative of getting players to play more.

“Whether it’s Hartford or other events early in the season that hadn’t had certain players play before it just brings really good energy,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said. “It’s challenging when you make a change like that but as a collective whole we’re pleased with where it is.”

All total, 50 players were a part of the program in 2017 and all 50 played a new event, according to Monahan. That’s a list that included nearly all of the game’s best players from Spieth and McIlroy to Dustin Johnson and Jason Day.

This year that number has climbed to 53 players who must add a new event, or commit to play 25 events. Players who don’t meet the new requirement are subject to a “major penalty,” which under the Tour’s regulations would be a fine in excess of $20,000 or possible suspension.

It’s a sign of the policy’s widespread appeal that it’s been the carrot - not the stick - that’s motivated players to expand their horizons when it comes to scheduling.

Although Casey conceded that adding a new event for this season is a bit more “complicated,” players are given a list of options by the Tour and have found the process relatively painless and straightforward.

“I’ve contemplated something early in the fall, Las Vegas, Mexico, one of those. Las Vegas is easy and I’ve never played it,” said Casey, who fell one event short of the 25-tournament minimum in 2016-17.

McIlroy is reportedly considering adding the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am or the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, neither of which he’s ever played, to his schedule this season, or maybe both; while Adam Scott allowed himself to become a little overzealous last season and added two events, the St. Jude Classic and Shell Houston Open, to his dance card in 2017 that would have met the requirement.

“I kind of shot myself out of them for next year,” Scott laughed. “Actually really enjoyed going back to both those courses. It will be interesting to see where I might add next year. I would like to go back to the [AT&T] Byron Nelson, things like that are on the radar.”

And that was the Tour’s ultimate goal. Mandating starts was always going to be a delicate proposition for the circuit and maybe there’s room for improvement under the new guidelines. But given how far back and how contentious this debate has been, Monahan and company deserve credit for finding a solution to a problem that not long ago seemed unsolvable.

Ogilvy urges distance rollback of ball

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 8:49 pm

Add Geoff Ogilvy to the chorus of voices calling for a distance rollback of the golf ball.

In an interview before the start of the Emirates Australian Open, Ogilvy said a "time-out" is needed for governing bodies to deal with the issue.

"It's complete nonsense," he said, according to an Australian website. "In my career, it’s gone from 300 yards was a massive hit to you’re a shorter hitter on tour now, legitimately short. It’s changed the way we play great golf courses and that is the crime. It isn’t that the ball goes 400, that’s neither here nor there. It’s the fact the ball going 400 doesn’t makes Augusta work properly, it functions completely wrong.’’


Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open


Ogilvy used an example from American baseball to help get his point across to an Australian audience.

“Major League Baseball in America, they use wooden bats, and everywhere else in baseball they use aluminium bats,’’ he said. “And when the major leaguers use aluminium bats they don’t even have to touch it and it completely destroys their stadiums. It’s just comedy.

“That’s kind of what’s happened to us at least with the drivers of these big hitters; We’ve completely outgrown the stadiums. So do you rebuild every stadium in the world? That’s expensive. Or make the ball go shorter? It seems relatively simple from that perspective.’’

Ogilvy, an Australian who won the 2006 U.S. Open, said he believes there will be a rollback, but admitted it would be a "challenge" for manufacturers to produce a ball that flies shorter for pros but does not lose distance when struck by recreational players.

The golf world celebrates Thanksgiving

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 6:01 pm

Here's a look, through social media, at how the golf world celebrates Thanksgiving.

Lexi Thompson:

Baking time!!

A post shared by Lexi Thompson (@lexi) on

David Feherty:

Jack Nicklaus:

GC Tiger Tracker:

Steve Stricker:

Golf Channel:

Frank Nobilo:

Ian Poulter:

Tyrone Van Aswegen:

Happy Thanksgiving: Biggest turkeys of 2017

By Grill Room TeamNovember 23, 2017, 3:00 pm

Thanksgiving brings us golf's biggest turkeys of the year. Donald Trump, Grayson Murray and a certain (now-former) tournament director headline the list. Click here or on the image below to check out all the turkeys.

Tributes pour in for legendary caddie Sheridan

By Randall MellNovember 23, 2017, 2:54 pm

Tributes are pouring in as golf celebrates the life of Greg Sheridan after receiving news of his passing.

Sheridan, a long-time LPGA caddie who worked for some of the game’s all-time greats, including Kathy Whitworth and Beth Daniel, died Wednesday in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla., at 63. He was diagnosed in July 2016 with brain and lung cancer.

Sheridan worked the last dozen years or so with Natalie Gulbis, who expressed her grief in an Instagram post on Wednesday:

“Greg…I miss you so much already and it hasn’t even been a day. 15+ seasons traveling the world you carried me & my bag through the highs and lows of golf and life. You were so much more than my teammate on the course…Thank you.”

Sheridan was on Whitworth’s bag for the last of her LPGA-record 88 titles.

“When I first came on tour, I would try to find out how many times Greg won,” Gulbis told Golfweek. “It’s a crazy number, like 50.”

Matthew Galloway, a caddie and friend to Sheridan, summed up Sheridan’s impressive reach after caddying with him one year at the LPGA Founders Cup, where the game’s pioneers are honored.

“Best Greg story,” Galloway tweeted on Thanksgiving morning, “coming up 18 at PHX all the founders were in their chairs. Greg goes, `Yep, caddied for her, her and her.’ Legend.”

In a first-person column for Golf Magazine last year, Gulbis focused on Sheridan while writing about the special bond between players and caddies. She wrote that she won the “looper lottery” when she first hired Sheridan in ’04.

“Greg and I have traveled the world, and today he is like family,” Gulbis wrote. “Sometimes, he’s a psychologist. Last year, my mom got sick and it was a distraction, but he was great. When I used to have boyfriend issues and breakup issues, he was my confidant. In a world where caddies sometimes spill secrets, Greg has kept a respectful silence, and I can’t thank him enough for that. He’s an extension of me.”

Four months after Gulbis wrote the column, Sheridan was diagnosed with cancer.

“The LPGA family is saddened to hear of the loss of long-time tour caddie, Greg Sheridan,” the LPGA tweeted. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and players he walked with down the fairways. #RIP.”

Dean Herden was among the legion of caddies saddened by the news.

“Greg was a great guy who I respected a lot and taught me some great things over the years,” Herden texted to GolfChannel.com.

Here are some of heartfelt messages that are rolling across Twitter:

Retired LPGA great Annika Sorenstam:

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan in a retweet of Gulbis:

Golf Channel reporter and former tour player Jerry Foltz:

Christina Kim:

LPGA caddie Shaun Clews:

LPGA caddie Jonny Scott:

LPGA caddie Kevin Casas:

LPGA pro Jennie Lee: