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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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.