Ridley's Augusta legacy may lie in the course

By Rex HoggardOctober 18, 2017, 2:00 pm

Fred Ridley began his tenure as chairman of Augusta National Golf Club this week, replacing Billy Payne who announced he was stepping down from the position in August.

That change in title, however, didn’t alter his enthusiasm on his way to work. That has never changed.

“When I drove down Magnolia Lane as my first day as chairman of the club, I promise you that I did so with the same excitement and anticipation that I had over 41 years ago,” said Ridley, who first visited Augusta National as the 1975 U.S. Amateur champion and had been invited to play the ’76 Masters.

There are those who correctly contend that Augusta National’s chairman is among the most influential people in golf, and Ridley conceded that there’s no on-the-job training that can prepare someone for such a prominent gig, although having Payne as his predecessor will certainly help.

Payne’s 11-year tenure was defined by substantial change, from his business savvy to his ambitious infrastructure projects that included construction of a new tournament range, media center, tournament office and high-end hospitality.


Photo gallery: Fred Ridley through the years


They say nothing really changes at Augusta National, and officials work hard to maintain that notion, but Payne’s time as chairman was nothing short of an extreme makeover.

Ridley will continue to oversee that expansion and talked at length on Tuesday about the club’s continued commitment to growing the game, which has always been a central tenet at Augusta National, but it took on renewed urgency under Payne.

“I don't really know exactly what might come of that, I will tell you that we have several ideas that are being discussed,” Ridley said. “There's nothing definite, no commitments, but I think you'll see in the coming months, that we will be doing other things because I think there is a lot more to be done.”

Where Ridley may forge a new path, however, is on the competitive front.

A lawyer by trade and former USGA president, Ridley has spent the last 11 years as chairman of the Masters competitions committee. He was also an accomplished amateur who played college golf at the University of Florida and the kind of person those who gather under the sprawling oak behind the Augusta National clubhouse call a “golf guy.”

Where Payne was a businessman who skillfully coaxed the club into the new millennium, albeit at a genteel pace, Ridley seems poised to leave a different mark, a mark that could resonate well beyond the gates of Augusta National.

Ridley was asked on Tuesday in his first give-and-take with the golf media as chairman his thoughts on possible changes to the storied course and his answer was equal parts reserved and resounding.

“Some of the most significant changes occurred back in the late 1990s, early 2000s under Hootie Johnson's chairmanship, and I think that time has proven that those were very wise decisions,” he said. “I will tell you that we will take whatever action, whatever course of action is necessary to protect the integrity of Augusta National.”

There’s been speculation in recent months following news that the club had purchased a parcel of land from Augusta Country Club that officials could lengthen the 13th hole, and the rerouting of Berckmans Road could also allow for changes to the course.

While Augusta National, more so than any other course, has been able to withstand the test of time and increased driving distances, the club may be approaching another tipping point, particularly at the celebrated par-5 13th that is regularly played as a two-shot hole even by players who are considered middle-of-the-pack on the modern distance scale.

There are precedents on this front in Ridley’s past. At the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, then-chairman of the USGA’s championship committee Ridley converted the second hole from a par 5 to a par 4.

“I've noticed a lot of the players have commented that, really, records are kept in scores, not necessarily in relation to par,” Ridley said at the time. “I would agree with that. The U.S. Open record of 272 is 8 under par, and I believe Ben Hogan's record of 276 was also 8 under par. We [the USGA] recognize scores.”

Ridley, then the USGA vice president, oversaw a similar adjustment to the ninth hole at Olympia Fields at the ’03 U.S. Open; but it seems wildly unlikely Augusta National would convert the backend of Amen Corner to a par 4 simply to protect par.

There is another, more intriguing option. It’s possible Ridley could take a much more dramatic step to mitigate distance gains and introduce a limited-distance tournament golf ball for the Masters.

“The USGA and the R&A now have a more concentrated effort about that issue,” Payne said in April when asked about a possible “tournament” golf ball. “We have great confidence in their ability to forge a solution. But, of course, as you would imagine, we always reserve the right to do whatever we have to do to preserve the integrity of our golf course. I don't think that will ever happen.”

But that’s not to say it couldn’t happen, particularly with a new chairman who spent decades helping craft and create those same USGA policies, and someone who understands the issue better than anyone.

It remains to be seen what kind of chairman Ridley will become, but if his history is any indication his tenure could be just as profoundly groundbreaking as Payne’s, but for much different reasons.

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: