Sorry, Boo: Wraparound season creates new realities

By Rex HoggardNovember 11, 2015, 6:55 pm

For all the talk of charity and branding, the PGA Tour primarily exists to run golf tournaments.

It’s in the Tour’s DNA, all the way down to the circuit’s mission statement filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

“The [Tour’s] principal mission is to promote the sport of professional golf through sanctioning and administering golf tournaments,” the statement begins.

It’s a job those who walk the halls of the Tour’s Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., headquarters have gotten very good at; this season’s schedule features 47 events, from October’s season-opening Open to the Tour Championship next September.

The docket has become so crowded that some would say the Tour has become too adept at its primary mission. This vocal minority would contend that the wraparound schedule has reached a point of diminishing returns for fans and more than a few players.

“Honestly, this wraparound season sucks. It does, seriously,” Boo Weekley said last week. “It's just, it's stupid. I still ain't figured out this FedEx, what does this FedEx Cup stuff do? It ain't doing nothing, but it is what it is. It's supposed to be the player’s tour. It's [Tour commissioner] Tim Finchem and them's Tour is what it is.”

Although Weekley’s comments were sharper than what one would expect from a player about to tee off in an event with a $4.1 million purse, he’s hardly alone in his assessment of the wraparound season, which began in 2014 and still seems to be searching for an identity.

 It was an interesting sign of the times late last season when Martin Kaymer failed to play his 15-event minimum and lost his Tour card.

While some framed Kaymer’s plight as a hit for both the Tour and the German, Paul Casey had a more nuanced take when asked about the situation.

“It actually may be the best thing for him,” Casey said in August at The Barclays. “He will be able to focus on playing in Europe, build up Ryder Cup points and not wear himself out trying to get his starts in the U.S. He’ll even be fresh for the Olympics.”

When the Tour transitioned to the wraparound schedule, the narrative went that other sports had similar dance cards that spanned calendars. The move also allowed the circuit to fold the “fall series,” a collection of post-Tour Championship tournaments that had largely become a competitive afterthought, into the schedule proper.

Statistically, the move has helped the fall fields. All three full-field events that have been played this fall been benefitted from an increase in competitive strength since the inception of the wraparound season, according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

The Open, which has been the leadoff event the last three seasons, jumped to 46 ranking points for the winner, compared to 36 and 28 the previous two years, respectively.

The Shrines Hospitals for Children Open (44 points to the winner) has enjoyed a similar jump, while the Sanderson Farms Championship, which transitioned to the fall in 2014 after being played opposite the Open Championship, has remained largely the same.

Next week’s RSM Classic, which moved to the anchor spot in the fall this season, will likely not be as fortunate, but the fields are certainly better off post-wraparound.

Where the non-stop competitive calendar has started to wear thin, however, is among players and fans who appreciate the benefits of a true offseason. Whether it’s the eternal optimism of Major League Baseball’s spring training or the surreal spectacle that has become the NFL’s scouting combine, there is no time to reflect and recharge in golf.

Where other sports leave fans wanting more, the Tour has gone with just more.

For the independent contractors, the easy answer is to simply skip the fall stops. Except it's not that easy.

With an increased focus on the FedEx Cup and postseason participation, failing to play is a handicap most players can’t overcome.

Of the seven fall champions last season, four advanced to the Tour Championship based at least partially on their performance before the new calendar year.

Players may not like the wraparound season, but the competitive reality dictates at least a modicum of effort in the fall, lest they fall woefully behind in the season-long points dash.

“It's aggravating having to play this much, but it's important to come out and try to get a good start,” Weekley said. “It's just golf after golf after golf. Ain't no time for hunting and fishing, man.”

With apologies to the man from Milton (Fla.), cutting into Weekley’s extracurricular outdoor activities is the least of the Tour's problems. Instead, rest and recovery are in short supply at the highest level and more than one Tour swing coach has lamented that the slim offseason window has made it virtually impossible to institute any meaningful changes to a player’s game.

It’s the Tour’s mandate to create playing opportunities for every member, but as is the case in most businesses, quantity doesn’t always equate to quality.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.