Place on Tour schedule hurts Quicken Loans field

By Rex HoggardJuly 29, 2015, 6:27 pm

GAINESVILLE, Va. – Professional golf is often considered the most democratic of all sports.

There are no guaranteed contracts, no rookie minimums, no franchise tags to create competitive safety nets that can ease the transition through bouts of less-than-stellar play. In golf, a player is what his record says he is regardless of name recognition and star power.

That’s not to say, however, all PGA Tour players are created equal, with status determined by a detailed priority ranking based on 37 categories.

Similarly, Tour events are relegated to a less defined yet very real pecking order, although those calling the shots at Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., would be reluctant to concede that point.

Of the 47 Tour events there are varying shades of “haves” and “have nots,” starting with the majors atop that pyramid of influence and working down through the World Golf Championships and assorted invitational events to rank-and-file tournaments, which is where the wheat and the chaff are often separated by the slimmest of margins or, in some cases, a date on a calendar.

As one former tournament director once opined, “I’m just the redneck between the Golden Bear [Jack Nicklaus’ affiliation with the Honda Classic] and the King [Arnold Palmer’s annual stop at Bay Hill].”

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While this has been a reality for some time it’s arguably never been as evident as it is this week as the circuit gathers for Tiger Woods’ own Quicken Loans National just outside Washington, D.C.

In its ninth year, the Quicken Loans has become, if not a “must play” stop, then a mid-summer Tour staple. 

While the event maintained solid fields early in its development, an awkward date combined with an increasingly crowded schedule has eroded the tournament’s competitive turnstile.

Consider that in 2007, the first year the event was played, winner K.J. Choi received 62 world ranking points.

That number hovered around 50 for the next three years before dropping to 44 in 2011. Two years later officials had the Quicken Loans National moved away from the Fourth of July weekend and the field, at least according to the world ranking math, improved.

But this year that number has dropped to an all-time low, with Sunday’s winner projected to earn 34 world ranking points. To put that in context, that’s the same number of points awarded to Fabian Gomez for winning last month’s FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Or, put another way, that’s less than the winners of the Greenbrier Classic or RBC Heritage or Travelers Championship received, and well below the points awarded at the Memorial and Arnold Palmer Invitational, events the Quicken Loans National would be immediately compared to given Woods’ status as the event’s host.

Just two of the top 10 players in the world, defending champion Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler, are in this week’s field at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, and only three of the top 20.

Some will point to the first-year course as a possible reason for the relatively weak field, and while RTJ is no Congressional, the event’s normal Washington, D.C., area home, it has hosted three Presidents Cups and has received widespread praise from players this week.

“I want to thank Robert Trent Jones Golf Club for having us here this year for the first time,” Woods said Tuesday to open his media meet-and-greet.

The real culprit here seems to be math.

When the Tour transitioned to a split-calendar schedule last year it condensed a handful of high-profile events into a small window, leaving top players having to make tough choices.

Consider the plight of Fowler, who took last week off to prepare for a run that will include seven starts in nine weeks, a lineup that includes a major (PGA Championship), World Golf Championship (Bridgestone Invitational) and four FedEx Cup playoff events.

“Really just making sure that I’m well rested,” Fowler said. “It’s going to be a tough little stretch of a lot of golf.”

It will be similar for Rose, who returned from the United Kingdom on Tuesday to ready himself for the grueling closing leg of the Tour season.

“It’s a condensed schedule right now. You’re trying to think about your rhythms and when you play well and what times of year you play well,” Rose said. “It’s about winning tournaments and playing places where you feel you can win.”

Historically, the standard Tour line when it comes to setting a schedule is that the quality of the golf course is the most important element when deciding what events to play. But with the advent of an increasingly busy lineup a new litmus test has surfaced.

For many players, it’s a question of diminishing returns, which largely explains this week’s field at the Quicken Loans National. And it’s a phenomenon that won’t be rectified anytime soon considering an even more crowded schedule with golf’s return to the Olympics next year.

Nothing else would explain how an event that checks off all of the right boxes – high-profile host, endearing golf course, large purse ($6.7 million) – has suddenly been boxed into the wrong corner of the Tour schedule.

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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.