Tour's new schedule rule making pros play, plan

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2016, 5:50 pm

Paul Casey’s smile widened and he swept his hands from side to side.

“This is a home run. This is sweet. Take care of the rules so [the Tour] doesn’t get all over me,” he said.

The Englishman was playing the Safeway Open for the first time since 2011, and while he wasn't there under duress - the rolling hills are rather easy on the senses - Casey was in Napa Valley by directive.

Casey’s start last week at the season opener was a result of the PGA Tour’s new strength-of-field regulation that was implemented for the 2016-17 season.

The new rule requires players who didn’t have at least 25 starts in the previous season to add an event to their schedules that they hadn’t played in the last four years.

Those who fail to meet the new requirement could be subject to a “major penalty,” which under the Tour’s regulations would be a fine in excess of $20,000 or a possible suspension.

“It was pretty easy because I wanted to go to Napa anyway,” Casey said. “It’s a good rule. Maybe there are events that have had weaker fields in the past, they might get a couple of guys they might not ordinarily get.”

After decades of debate over strength-of-field concerns and the rights of independent contractors, the new rule is something of a compromise. Although various regulations have been proposed over the years to improve tee sheets at certain tournaments, there was always a degree of oppositon from players. There was also a concern from tournament organizers that didn’t want their event to be labeled as inferior.

The new regulation proved to be an acceptable compromise for both parties. Players, with some foresight and planning, can add events that don’t disrupt their normal schedules, and tournaments, like last week's Safeway, can enjoy incremental field improvements without being relegated to second-tier status.

In practice, the new regulation shouldn't prove much of a burden. Of the 125 players that advanced to last season’s playoffs, 78 played 25 or more events and aren’t subject to the new rule.

And for some those who didn’t play 25 tournaments, adding a new event will prove easy enough.

Jason Day, for example, finished the season sixth on the FedEx Cup points list but played just 20 events. According to the Tour, he has 16 events to choose from this season that he can add to his schedule to fulfill the new requirement.

FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy can choose from 22 events to add to his schedule this season.

Worth note, major championships, World Golf Championships, playoff events and the Presidents and Ryder Cups don’t count toward the new regulation, even if a player hadn’t participated in that tournament in the last four years. Similarly, a player like McIlroy, who is qualified for all of the top events, wouldn’t be able to add an opposite-field event played the same week as a major or WGC.

“There was actually two or three [new events] I was planning to play anyway,” said Ryan Moore, who was considering adding either the FedEx St. Jude Classic or Valero Texas Open to his schedule this season because of the new rule. “For me, it really wasn’t much of an issue because there were a couple I really wanted to play, but for some reason it hadn’t worked out.”

But the new regulation isn’t perfect. Some players have played vastly different schedules as their Tour status has changed over the years, resulting in a surprisingly limited number of options to add to their lineup this season.

Lucas Glover, for example, has to choose one of just three events to add after playing 23 times last season. Billy Horschel has 10 events from which to choose.

“What you have to avoid this year is to not play a bunch of events that you haven’t played in five years,” Casey said. “I could shoot myself in the foot because if I don’t play 25, again, then you run out of options and you may have to play something that doesn’t suit you or doesn’t fit nicely in the schedule.”

For Casey, that means not returning to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which he hasn’t played since 2002 but was looking to add to his schedule thanks to the re-worked West Coast swing. Instead, he’ll wait a year or two to play Pebble Beach, just in case he doesn’t get his 25 starts in 2017.

Players that split their time between the PGA Tour and European circuit may also struggle with the new regulation.

Although McIlroy only made 18 starts on the PGA Tour last season, he also had to meet his minimum requirements on the European Tour (five events, not including the majors or WGCs), and now he has the strength-of-field requirement to fulfill.

“If this is your only tour, it’s a fair rule. If you’re playing two tours, then it’s tough,” Casey conceded.

Moreover, fans shouldn't get too excited to see Phil Mickelson at their hometown event as a result of the new rule any time soon. A player is exempt from the regulation if they are a life or veteran member who is at least 45 years old.

Despite some of the more concerning details, the new rule has proven to be a workable solution for both players and, more importantly, tournaments that could always use a little extra star power.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.