Playing the percentages: Tour players look at U.S. Open purse

By Rex HoggardFebruary 23, 2017, 11:10 pm

It’s the simple math that makes this story interesting.

Although it’s easy to get lost in the macro-economics of professional sports - in this case golf - this narrative isn’t about how many figures are involved as much as it is a lesson in percentages.

Consider last year’s collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the players’ union, a deal that kept the players’ share of revenue between 49 and 51 percent, which was largely considered a victory for commissioner Adam Silver and the owners.

The players were willing to maintain the status quo because of the league’s nine-year, $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and Turner Sports, an influx of revenue that assured dramatically increased salaries for players and plenty of continued revenue for owners.

Now consider the USGA’s reported 12-year, $1.1 billion deal with Fox Sports that began in 2015. Two weeks ago, the association announced a purse increase to $12 million for this year’s U.S. Open, making it the game’s most lucrative event.

Even with that bump, however, the men’s cut of the Fox Sports deal is about 13 percent annually. Remember, there were many who weren’t pleased that the players’ portion of the new NBA deal remained at roughly 50 percent but accepted it because of the massive increase in TV rights.

With this backdrop, the topic was brought up at the PGA Tour’s first player meeting of 2017 last month at the Farmers Insurance Open. According to numerous players who attended the meeting, the idea of purse equity was simply a talking point, not some sort of line in the sand or action item, and the focus wasn’t just on the USGA. The association’s recent deal with Fox simply made for an easy starting point considering that under the USGA’s old TV deal with NBC (parent company of Golf Channel) and ESPN – which was reportedly around $37 million annually – about 24 percent of that income went to the U.S. Open purse. This doesn’t include revenue from the foreign TV rights.

But this isn’t about a $24 million purse, because that’s not going to happen anytime soon. The concern among some Tour types is simply on the percentages, which saw the player’s take nearly cut in half from 24 to 12 percent under the new deal.

According to one player involved in the meeting, a $25 million purse for the U.S. Open would skew the Tour landscape. The jump to $12 million this year already surpassed The Players and PGA Championship and threatened an escalating purse war that neither the Tour nor the players want.

Instead, the players at the meeting focused on how the additional revenue could possibly be used, from additional funding for Web.com Tour purses, to rookie stipends or even a caddie retirement plan, which is currently a hot-button topic because of an ongoing lawsuit between the circuit and a group of caddies.

According to the USGA’s financial statement for 2016 about half (49 percent) of its revenues ($98.7 million) came from broadcast rights fees, while about half (46 percent or $91.5 million) of its operating expenses were related to its “open championships.”

Included in that group would be the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open, which had purses of $10 million, $4.5 million and $3.75 million, respectively, in 2016. That would make the combined purses for its three national championships ($18.25 million) about 20 percent of the total “open” operating costs, never mind the association’s total revenue.

In 2017, the total purse for all three of the association’s “open” championships will increase to $20.75 million, or about 22 percent of the association’s annual deal with Fox Sports (reported to be $93 million annually). A spokesperson with the USGA pointed out that the broadcast revenue remains flat over the life of the contract, which will make for varying percentages as the purses increase.

“Each year the USGA determines the most appropriate prize money allocation for its three U.S. Open championships, with the goal to provide a purse that is consistent with the premium stature of the championships,” Sarah Hirshland, the USGA’s senior managing director of business affairs, said in a statement provided to GolfChannel.com.

The remainder of the USGA’s ’16 operating expenses included $34 million in golfer engagements – which included programs like the handicap platform (GHIN), community outreach and the museum – and more than $10 million to conduct the association’s 11 amateur championships and six international team competitions.

While those investments go to the core of the USGA’s mission statement to “promote and conserve the true spirit of the game,” to Tour players, who provide the labor for the association’s most lucrative property, it paints an inequitable picture.

By comparison, according to a Tour spokesperson, the Tour doles out 100 percent of its “net" revenues to member benefits, which includes purses on all of its tours and other player-related income (like FedEx Cup bonuses and the circuit’s retirement program). As far as specific percentages of TV revenues and anything discussed at the Torrey Pines player meeting, the Tour spokesperson declined to comment.

Where the conversation goes from here is uncertain. One player who spoke at the meeting and requested anonymity because of the potential for future negotiations said the concern goes deeper than simply a fair share of the TV rights, and that players want a say in future venues and how the championship is run, pointing out last year’s rules snafus at both the U.S. Open and Women’s Open.

It’s unclear how far the players would be willing to take a potential negotiation with the USGA or any of the game’s other ruling bodies.

“Let’s be honest, we’re not going to boycott a major,” one player said.

Perhaps, but as players proved following the 2014 Ryder Cup there is an implied leverage enjoyed by competitors, as evidenced by the U.S. task force that has now transitioned into a six-person committee which includes three players and dictates future captains and the U.S. side’s selection criteria.

As TV rights deals continue to balloon in golf like in other sports, the concept of revenue equity is sure to gain traction even among Tour players, who don’t belong to a union and often struggle to speak with a single voice. It won’t be the size of the pot that players focus on, it will be the percentages.

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.


CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''