API's future now up to the players

By Ryan LavnerMarch 20, 2017, 5:02 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Marc Leishman’s victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational wasn’t even three hours old Sunday when crews began to deconstruct some of the tournament signage and grandstands.

Just like that, they were on to next year.

The first edition of the API without its beloved host was by any measure a resounding success. A strong field assembled. Bay Hill Club & Lodge was presented immaculately. Players and fans paid homage to one of golf’s patriarchs. And Sunday evening, a deserving champion was crowned, as Leishman slipped into a red cardigan sweater, one of Palmer’s favorite pieces of outerwear, not the usual blue blazer.

The PGA Tour has done its part to preserve the legacy of Palmer’s event. The tournament has been elevated in stature, as it raised the purse from $6.3 million to $8.7 million, and offered a three-year exemption to the winner, not the usual two-year free pass.

“This is a new day,” said PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan.

And now the fate of Arnie’s event is in the players’ hands.

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

For all of the pre-tournament kvetching about the jam-packed schedule and strength of field, four of the top 5 players in the world, and 14 of the top 25, came here to Orlando – the second-best showing at the API in the past decade.

When a player plots out his schedule, two of the most important factors are timing and course.

The API is in a difficult spot on the Tour schedule, sandwiched between a pair of World Golf Championship events with the Masters beginning in three weeks. That time crunch doesn’t figure to get any easier in the future, especially if The Players returns to March, as has been rumored.

“We want to put this tournament in the best possible position to succeed,” Monahan said.

What won’t change is the course, and Bay Hill, like most venues on Tour, is either loved or hated by players. Those who play Arnie’s Place each year say that it proves a good test for Augusta, with its premium on ball-striking and speedy greens.

“It was bittersweet,” said Brandt Snedeker. “The best year I’ve ever seen it, he wasn’t here. He would have taken pride and he would have loved a day like (Sunday), seeing us struggle out there. This was his baby, and he didn’t want anybody shooting 7 or 8 under par on it. He would have been smiling all day.”

Graeme McDowell had a unique perspective last week as one of five co-hosts but the only one who played in the tournament. Asked a few months ago to become an ambassador for the event, McDowell views his role as a liaison between the players and tournament officials. That meant attending various pre-tournament functions and soliciting feedback from his peers.

McDowell said Palmer’s loss was felt most on the 18th green Sunday. Palmer usually stood atop the slope to the left of the green, congratulating and thanking players for coming to his event. This year, those duties were handled by past tournament chairmen.

“To look over and be one of the last groups and not see Arnie up on the hill,” Rickie Fowler said, “it’s definitely different.”

And so players were left to honor Palmer in their own way. Fowler, for instance, wore custom shoes with Palmer’s image on the sides and signature on the strap. (He left the shoes and his hat in Palmer’s office, with the message: “We miss you!! Much love!!”) Many players signed a commemorative flag and posed in front of the bronze statue and stitched the colorful umbrella logo on their hats, shirts and bags.

Other tributes were less visible.

“This week was an unsaid opportunity for guys to conduct themselves the way they should and learn from a role model like Palmer,” McDowell said. “Every time I signed an autograph, I’ve made more of an effort. That’s just a subconscious thing.

“It was an opportunity for players to ask themselves: Am I being a role model for kids? Am I doing the right things? How can I be a better professional and a better person?”

The concern is that the API will lose its luster just like the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship has after the tournament’s namesake died in 2006. That year, six of the top 10 players in the world showed up. Four years later, it had only two of the top 20.

The tournament, won last year by Sergio Garcia, usually draws a top-heavy field, with Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth among the recent participants. But it offered only 48 world-ranking points to the winner – or less than the Travelers Championship. With money no longer an inducement to the world’s best players, officials hope a venue change (to Trinity Forest) will help fortify the field.

McDowell is aware that there’s only so much he and the rest of the API tournament committee can do off the course to make the event a must-stop for Tour players.

“There’s only so many bottles of vodka and fillets you can feed them in the players’ lounge,” McDowell said. “We’re spoiled on a week-to-week basis. All these events fight for the .1 percent that keeps guys coming back, but you’re fighting an uphill battle there. If the schedule doesn’t work or the guys don’t like the course, there’s a good chance they’re not going to be there.”

The PGA Tour has done all it can to make these legacy events feel bigger, more relevant and more important.

Whether they survive is solely up to the players. 

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm
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Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.