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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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.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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.