WGC-Mexico success is something to build on

By Rex HoggardMarch 6, 2017, 5:02 pm

MEXICO CITY – Early last week, Rory McIlroy couldn’t contain his enthusiasm that officials had finally put the “world” back in World Golf Championships with the move to Mexico City.

Of the 61 WGCs that have been played since the concept was launched in 1999, just 14 had ventured outside the friendly confines of the Lower 48. That was until the PGA Tour uprooted the annual stop at Doral for Club de Golf Chapultepec.

“I've been quite vocal in the fact that I think we've got the name ‘World Golf Championships’ in there and it's great to be able to take them around the world,” McIlroy said. “It's great to have one in South America. Yeah, I've been looking forward to this event for a while.”

That play for four days at the WGC-Mexico Championship followed a similar script, with more flags then a Benetton commercial atop the leaderboard, only added to the international appeal.

Among the top 15 finishers on Sunday, there was a threesome of Englishmen, a pair of Spaniards, a Belgian, a Paraguayan, a Northern Irishman and seven Americans.

It was a United Nations of golf, which was exactly what one would expect from a WGC, and what local officials had hoped for.

But Benjamin Salinas, the CEO of TV Azteca who led the move to bring the event to the world’s fourth-most populated city, wants more than a showcase event to add to his country’s sports portfolio. He wants something to build on.

WGC-Mexico Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Officials launched a Mexican branch of The First Tee last week and Salinas said he hopes to use the interest generated by the WGC to fill what he considers a gaping hole in his nation’s golf landscape.

“We are starting from scratch and it is a dream that we hope will grow. In Mexico we only have 200 golf courses, which is not very much considering we have 120 million people, and of course none of those are public,” Salinas said. “We have spoken about the first public golf course being close to Tijuana, with the help of the state government and businessmen who are ready to pay for it.”

Having the kind of finish tournament organizers dream about certainly helped increase the game’s exposure, with large and enthusiastic crowds filling Chapultepec.

There were, however, a few curious moves if the primary goal of golf in Mexico City is to grow the game, as opposed to catering to the well-to-do. A single-day pass for Sunday’s final round was $170, which is about 20 percent of the average household income ($843) in Mexico. Children were allowed free admission, but that was with a ticket-holding adult, which is a financial stretch for most families.

Even Tuesday’s First Tee clinic hosted by Jordan Spieth seemed to be dominated by young faces of the country club variety who were already interested golf, not would-be juniors who had never been exposed to the game.

Salinas’ commitment to the event is evident. The deal to move the WGC from Doral - where it had been a Tour staple since 1962 - to Mexico is for seven years and reportedly worth $12 million per year, although Salinas said in a recent interview with Golf.com that it would cost around $25 million per year to hold the championship.

All along, the Tour said the move to Mexico City was a financial decision and that’s at least partially true, but as fans filled the course to watch Dustin Johnson hold off Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood, it was clear the move to Mexico was much more than simply a business decision.

On Wednesday, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan spoke of the potential impact of having an event with a World Golf Championships field – let’s not forget there has been a Tour stop in Mexico (OHL Classic) since 2007 – could have on the potential growth of golf in Mexico.

“When the World Golf Championships were formed it was an opportunity to come together, bring the world's best players and take them to great markets around the world to showcase the game played at its highest level,” said Monahan, who brokered the deal with Salinas to move the WGC to Mexico. “Hopefully to inspire young people and future generations because this is one of the very few global games and we felt like that was our responsibility.”

To a man, players marveled at how well the event was run, particularly considering officials had just eight months to organize the logistics and prepare the golf course. And with the exception of a few players dealing with bouts of a stomach virus, the event exceeded most expectations.

However, that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement.

Shifting the championships’ place on the schedule so it’s played after the Genesis Open, which was the original plan according to various sources, would make it more appealing to players and restore the continuity of the Florida Swing.

Officials could also work to bring juniors from more limited backgrounds to the tournament to truly fulfill Salinas’ mission to grow the game in Mexico.

But as far as experiments go, putting the “world” back in World Golf Championship was an unqualified success.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.