Vigilance is key for Tour's security since '96 incident

By Rex HoggardFebruary 26, 2014, 9:35 pm

Fans lined up to brave the elements and Sunday’s extended matches at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship grumbled as they waited to pass through security, but – as is the case in nearly every avenue of modern life – they endured the wait and moved on.

Following last year’s bombing at the Boston Marathon, the PGA Tour’s enhanced security measures – including wanding and a limit on bag size – is widely considered the price of vigilance and the twisted realities of a dangerous world.

Even the Tour’s own website seemingly references the incident on a page explaining the new procedures, “Due to the events earlier this year and heightened security measures across our nation, the PGA Tour will . . . expand screenings for all patrons, sponsors, volunteers, media and vendors attending or working at all events.”

But shortly after the two finalists set out on Sunday at Dove Mountain, commissioner Tim Finchem’s mind raced back nearly two decades to another incident that, although not even remotely as devastating as the Boston bombing, was nonetheless alarming for Tour officials.

“We had an incident in Akron (Ohio), quite a while ago. Back before 9/11. There was a device that had exploded on the first tee. The final group had left the first tee, everybody had left. Nobody got hurt,” Finchem recalled.

“There wasn’t much to it. Whoever did it, my recollection is, they put it in a trash can and that sort of contained it. It was homemade, it wasn’t a significant thing. It just reinforced to us that while our fans are really solid fans, anyone can get in.”

The incident occurred in the 1996 NEC World Series of Golf  just as the leaders, including Phil Mickelson, set out at Firestone Country Club. The report filed with the Akron Police Department considered the incident a “dangerous ordinance” which caused “minor injuries” to a few fans but no major damage.

Although no one was seriously hurt, and the incident received little attention in the press, it prompted an intense evaluation of the circuit’s security policies.

“That got everybody’s attention,” said Jim Cook, the tournament director at the Tour’s Akron, Ohio, stop in 1996. “That incident came down to being a prank and the Tour took very strong action and made it a priority because of the access fans have to players at a golf tournament.”

The Tour’s policy has evolved from that incident and during last year’s winter meetings of the tournament directors, the circuit held a special break-out session with security officials to go over the policy adjustments.

Some have suggested that one of the byproducts of the new procedures, specifically the added cost of screening at entry points, is that some tournaments, like the Northern Trust Open two weeks ago, have closed their Tuesday practice rounds to the public.

One tournament director estimated the additional security costs to tournaments would range between $10,000 and $20,000, and if tournaments are not selling enough tickets to cover expenses on Tuesday they have discovered it’s better to simply keep their gates closed, although Finchem dismissed that cause-and-effect relationship.

“I don’t see a correlation,” he said. “In some markets it seems like some tournaments have concluded that when they do that it helps their tournament out later in the week and they like that.”

As many as 10 events are expected to close Tuesday rounds to the public this season, but many tournaments – like the Wells Fargo Championship and Wyndham Championship – have been wanding for years and have no plans to close Tuesday rounds.

“Heck no,” said Kym Hougham, the executive director of the Wells Fargo. “We have thousands of people out there on Tuesday. You can save a lot of money (closing Tuesday rounds), but there are some of us that do a good business on Tuesday.”

Last year’s Wells Fargo Championship was held just three weeks after the bombing in Boston and for Hougham the policy changes were easy choices. Simply put, whatever tradeoff individual tournaments and fans may have to endure is the price golf has to pay.

No athlete in any other major sport is as exposed to potential threats as professional golfers.

“We’re out here on 200 acres of property with 40,000 or 50,000 people sometimes,” Finchem said at Dove Mountain. “You have to be real careful and do anything you can. That’s when we up scaled it. Anything we have done since has just been to fine-tune it.”

Completely securing 18 holes will never be an option, and last year’s bombings in Boston brought that reality into sharp focus. But for Finchem and the Tour, doing nothing is not an option. It was a lesson learned on a summer Saturday in Akron, Ohio, 18 years ago.

“We’re always looking to upgrade security. Security in today’s world has to be as vigilant as you can make it and we ask ourselves, are we doing it as good as we can? How can we do better?” Finchem said.

In that context, longer lines to get into PGA Tour events doesn’t seem like that big of an inconvenience.

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Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

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“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

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On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

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Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1