AskLav: Mo' money, fewer problems

By Ryan LavnerOctober 25, 2012, 5:00 pm

The rumor mill was cranked up to overdrive this week. Did you know that, according to several media outlets, it has been widely reported that there is much speculation from industry sources who have anonymously suggested that Rory McIlroy will sign a 10-year, $250 million endorsement deal with Nike when his contract expires with Titleist, though various people close to the situation – or, you know, at least the guys with knowledge of the discussions – cannot agree precisely when it is supposed to end?

Hey, they teach you early on in j-school to never let facts get in the way of a good story, or something along those lines. Logistical issues aside, we seem to be skimming over the larger point in this hypothetical Rory-to-Nike story: $250 million is a healthy chunk of change. So healthy, in fact, that it would become one of the most lucrative endorsement deals in history.

The number – $250 mil – is a mind-boggling one, no doubt. But it’s not unprecedented. Three times has the $250M threshold been surpassed in sports, but each was a commitment between player and team, not company. 

The first big player contract of this century, of course, was Alex Rodriguez signing with the Texas Rangers, for 10 years, $252 million. 

The lead paragraph in The Associated Press that day: A-Rod has a new nickname: A-Lot.

Adapted for this story, perhaps we might soon see: Golf's new king, Rory is McIl…rollin’.

Oh, whatever. It’s only money. Which reminds me: Tomorrow is payday.

Here are this week’s mailbag questions:

@RyanLavnerGC Do you think Tiger-Rors 'bromance' is a Nike ploy to woo Mop-Top away from Titleist? #AskLav

Popular question, now that the initial shock of a $250M price tag has worn off. Call me naïve, but I think Tiger actually enjoys being around Rory. This is a fascinating time in Tiger’s career – he remains highly competitive on a week-to-week basis, continues to factor in majors (however exasperatingly), but at age 36 and with a creaky body he must soon transition into the role of elder statesman. Like those who before him (Arnie, Jack, Watson, Norman), this, now, is Woods’ chance to graciously usher in the next generation’s dominant player. Could TW have gotten a little nudge from Nike? Could he have been told to embrace Rory a little more? It’s certainly plausible. But if this was all a marketing ruse by Nike, then this much is certain: At the Oscars, there’s a new frontrunner for Best Original Screenplay.

My opinion: @bovanpelt could be the most underrated guy out there. 20/24 cuts, 10 top10s + win at Perth - #asklav, who is your most underrated?

Completely agree. There is no logical explanation for why BVP has won only once on Tour, in 2009 at the now-defunct U.S. Bank Championship. His 10 top-10 finishes this season are tops on Tour. He ranks fifth in total driving, 11th in strokes gained-putting, 16th in scoring average and fourth in the all-around statistic. He’s always a trendy sleeper pick in majors, given his ball-striking prowess, but he has only one top 10 in golf’s biggest events. One of the sport’s great mysteries.

Nobody using a belly putter cracked the strokes gained top 20, but 3 of the last 5 majors were 'belly' wins. Ban or no ban? #asklav

Ah, citing the Webb Simpson Theory, I see, which states that anchorers experience no discernable advantage. I tend to side with Webb on this one, actually. Looking at statistics, we can deduce that anchoring doesn’t make a good putter a great one, but merely allows a poor putter to become an average one. They’re more consistent. Less streaky. (From a purity-of-the-game perspective, well, that’s an entirely different post.) As for the major streak, with three of the past five winners using an anchored putter, that is more coincidence than conundrum. But what do I know? I have a belly putter sitting in my trunk, waiting for its opportunity to resurrect my game.

@RyanLavnerGC #AskLav the main club I struggle with in my bag is my driver! The slice!!! How can I reduce it without lessons?

Watch. More. Golf. Channel. (Disclaimer: I’m getting paid $250 mil to type that.)

#AskLav Give me 3 names to watch out for on Tour in 2013.

Sir, yes sir! You’ve heard of all these guys, sure, but I will continue to herald the emergence of Bud Cauley, whose record in 37 career starts is worth repeating: 15 top 25s, 8 top 10s, a pair of thirds, $2.5 million in earnings. Russell Henley has won three times in 30 career starts on the Tour, a stellar win percentage for a 23-year-old. And I expect 2013 to be a huge comeback year for Jason Day, who this season welcomed his first child and battled various injuries and is still just 24.

Hey @RyanLavnerGC, the next time we play golf how many shots can I expect you to give me? #AskLav

If I say anything other than 12 strokes, which is fair (if not generous), am I at risk of being demoted? No? You sure? OK, good. Twelve it is, then.

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.