Will Olympic fields hold fans' interest?

By Rex HoggardJuly 9, 2014, 9:04 pm

The International Golf Federation will announce next week at Royal Liverpool the creation of a ranking that will track the fields for the 2016 Olympics and likely give an update on the progress of the golf course that will host the Games in two years.

While the rankings promise to be eye-opening for many, the word on Gil Hanse’s stalled project in Rio de Janeiro remains unchanged, but then growing grass is no one’s national pastime.

The rankings for the Olympic fields will dovetail with the Official World Golf Ranking for the men and Rolex Rankings for the women, drawing the top 60 players that would make up the fields for golf’s return to the Olympic stage.

The idea is to provide players, media and fans a weekly update of the Olympic field, but the rankings may leave some wondering if golf will be playing for gold in Rio or some watered-down World Golf Championship trophy.

By design, the selection process to earn a spot in Rio casts a wide net. A country can have up to four players qualify for the ’16 Games if they are ranked within the top 15 on July 11, 2016, the deadline for both fields. After that the fields will be filled out with the highest-ranked players with a maximum of two players per country.

While infinitely inclusive, the process promises to create fields that will cause a few double takes.

Using this week’s world golf ranking, Golf Channel crunched the numbers to create what the men’s Olympic field would look like. Among the normal cast of characters were some surprising additions to the Rio tee sheet.

Along with Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth – the U.S. is currently the only country to have four players in the top 15 – and Adam Scott and Jason Day, Australia’s lineup, would be Chan Shih-chang from Chinese Taipei at 266th in the world.

The current field would also include Antonio Lascuna and Juvic Pagunsan from the Philippines at Nos. 268 and 278, respectively; Brazil’s Adilson da Silva at 275 and Portugal’s Ricardo Santos at 285.

And Santos isn’t even the highest-ranked player in the current field. That honor belongs to Nicholas Fung from Malaysia, who is 290th in the world.

The field for the women’s event may go even deeper into the Rolex Rankings, with officials estimating they could dip to 400th in the world to fill the tee sheet in 2016.

Olympic qualifying is broad by design, and, honestly, if you want to see the game’s deepest field go toe-to-toe, tune in for the PGA Championship. But officials must know this will be a tough sell to the average golf fan who is accustomed to a steady diet of the world’s top players from Augusta National to Akron, Ohio.

An official with the IGF recently explained to your scribe that during the 2008 Beijing Games there were plenty of similarly high-ranked players competing against the world’s best in various sports.

The difference is in sports like swimming there are layers of qualifying that would keep a developing player like Fung from going head-to-head with the likes of Woods or Scott. In Rio, however, the Malaysian will dig a tee into the ground next to major champions and world-beaters.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept, just don’t expect it to pass the taste test for some fans.

In the Olympics the more inclusive an event can be, the greater impact it can have on the global growth of the game, and the selection process for the ’16 Games certainly delivers on that front.

There would be 35 countries represented based on the current ranking, but that competitive potpourri has also produced a field that includes 24 players who rank outside the top 100 in the world.

The opportunity for Fung and Santos to compete is sure to increase golf’s exposure in Malaysia and Brazil, but for fans in developed golf nations, like England, the United States and Australia, it’s simply going take some getting used to.

Similar to what officials experienced with tennis, there will be push-back from core fans who fail to see the romance of an Olympic tee sheet with a less-than-stellar strength of field.

The IGF doesn’t need to change the way it selects the fields for the ’16 Games, but it may want to start preaching the importance of inclusiveness. They have 758 days to make their case.

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.