Walker Cup needs new selection process

By Ryan LavnerAugust 21, 2017, 11:29 pm

LOS ANGELES – About the same time Doc Redman shocked the crowd at Riviera with his eagle-birdie-birdie finish at the U.S. Amateur, the USGA’s International Team Selection Committee was orchestrating how it would handle its own stunner.

Set to unveil the 10-man U.S. Walker Cup roster in a press release at noon Monday, the USGA instead moved up the announcement a day earlier, so it could appear at the end of the Fox telecast. Good thing, because a larger audience witnessed how broken the system really is.

The selection process for any team competition, at any level, always generates controversy, but rarely is the oversight this egregious.

Snubbed for one of the coveted 10 spots was Sam Burns. Like several players who were under consideration, the 21-year-old received a brief phone call Sunday night from USGA president Diana Murphy during which he was informed that he did not make the squad. That was the extent of the conversation. No explanation was given for the decision, nor did the USGA wish to elaborate Monday, saying that they were “private conversations.”

But even U.S. captain Spider Miller, who does not have a vote in how the final roster is constructed, seemed caught off guard. Standing on the 10th green at Riviera, after Redman won the U.S. Am and earned a spot on the team, Miller said Team USA wasn’t finalized until “just recently – probably hours ago.”

“There were literally 16 or 17 players you could have thrown a dart at,” Miller said. “I’m sad that there were several players who played well enough but they were only able to pick 10. It’s very unfortunate. It’s sad.”

And it also confounds.

Though it operates with the secrecy of a special-ops unit, the committee does not make these decisions lightly. But Burns’ situation was a reminder of the ramifications, both financial and professional, and why it’s imperative that the USGA makes a few necessary changes.


Photos: History of the Walker Cup


By almost any metric, Burns should have been a lock for the U.S. team. Three months ago, the LSU sophomore earned the Nicklaus Award, given to the top college player. Drawing significant interest from sponsors and tournament directors, he could have turned pro in June but opted instead to wait until after the Walker Cup in September. It should not have been a risk, but that decision proved costly: Last month he played the Barbasol Championship, an opposite-field event on the PGA Tour, and tied for sixth. Because he was an amateur, however, he forfeited a $113,000 payday and sacrificed other playing opportunities.

Burns was the Division I player of the year. He remained amateur through the summer. He starred in a Tour event. It’s unclear what else he could have done to show the committee how much making the team meant to him, save for getting an American flag tattoo.

In previous Walker Cup years, the committee has named a handful of players before the Western Amateur, then filled out the rest of the squad after the U.S. Amateur. Burns surely would have been a strong candidate for one of the first few spots, but Miller lobbied to announce the team all at one time, not only to avoid the perception of two tiers but to keep players motivated heading into the two biggest amateur events on the schedule.

Burns was eliminated in the Round of 64 at the U.S. Am – two rounds earlier than newly named Walker Cuppers Will Zalatoris (Round of 16), the same round as Maverick McNealy and one round late than Scottie Scheffler, who missed the 36-hole qualifying cut and doesn’t have a top-20 since earning low-amateur honors at the U.S. Open.

Conduct a blind-résumé test among those four players, and it’s hard to fathom how Burns was the one left off.

Asked for clarification, John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s managing director of rules and governance, said in an email Monday that it would be a “disservice to our process and to all our players to discuss specific deliberations.”

“The USGA and our ITS Committee understands that there are differing opinions on who should be selected for the Walker Cup team,” Bodenhamer said. “This is not unlike the other selection processes in golf and in other sports. Making these selections is never an easy task, as there are also so many fine players and outstanding young men to consider. That was certainly the case this time.”

Though “shocked” by the committee’s decision, Burns struck the proper tone afterward. He thanked the USGA for its consideration – he will serve as the first alternate at Los Angeles Country Club – but also added: “Never been more motivated.”

Burns’ situation immediately recalled fellow LSU Tiger John Peterson’s snub six years ago. Peterson had won the Jones Cup and NCAA Championship and was ranked No. 6 in the world in the summer of 2011, but he was passed over in favor of Blayne Barber. The USGA never explained that decision, either, but there apparently were some questions about whether Peterson’s brash personality would jell with the rest of the team. (Never mind that these players have competed against each other for years and, as grown men, should be able to get along during a two-day competition.)

Not surprisingly, Peterson weighed in Sunday, tweeting: “Unbelievable @USGA. You leave a kid that has a top 6 in a pga tour event off the walker cup. Not to mention he’s the best player in college.”

Even more salient was this: “How r u going 2 keep the next generation of great college players from turning pro if u constantly prove it’s 100% politics @WalkerCup #2011.”

Also left off this year’s team were mid-amateur Scott Harvey, Dawson Armstrong, Sean Crocker and Dylan Meyer, who has struggled to find his form this summer but, at No. 4 in the world, was the highest-ranked player passed over.

A member of the losing 2015 Walker Cup team, Harvey said the USGA has “let down an entire demographic” by selecting only one mid-am to the team. Four years ago, in another shortsighted decision, the USGA decided that two of the 10 team members must be 25 years or older. It was billed as a grow-the-game initiative and a way to promote the spirit of the friendly competition with Great Britain and Ireland – except Team GB&I didn’t follow suit, and the Americans essentially sabotaged their own roster by failing to pick the 10 best players, regardless of age. The U.S. split the past two Walker Cups, but the mid-ams went 3-8 over those two events and the Americans were routed by a record margin two years ago at Royal Lytham.

The USGA wisely backtracked on the two mid-am rule – albeit 19 months into a 24-month process – and selected only one deserving candidate this year: Stewart Hagestad, the 26-year-old financial analyst who won the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur and made the cut at this year’s Masters. The race for the 10 spots was too tight for another automatic handout, but Harvey still expressed his disappointment in being passed over (“The message @USGA has sent to Mid Ams this year isn’t very positive”) in a series of ill-advised tweets, since at age 39, he’ll be under consideration for the next several cup teams.

No tweaks to the Walker Cup selection process will eliminate all of the handwringing and complaining, of course, but the solution to the USGA’s transparency problem is not complicated.

When making roster decisions, Bodenhamer said that the committee prefers a “holistic approach” that takes into account performance (including in USGA events), world ranking, character, sportsmanship, team chemistry, and how a player will represent his country and the USGA in competition.

Bodenhamer said that the committee does not operate from an points list – but perhaps it should, since the current model is too subjective.

Create an algorithm that spits out point values for finishes in amateur and PGA Tour events, with heavier weighting in Walker Cup years.

Make that points list public, so players know where they stand and fans can follow along, thus creating interest all year.

Put the top 7 points-earners on the team.

Leave three picks to the committee – a committee that must now include the sitting captain, since for the past two cups, Miller has attended 15 events a year, and talked with the players and their parents, but does not have a deciding vote.

And then, once the team is finalized, stand up and be accountable.

Answer questions.

Explain why Player A was picked over Player B.

Because with so much at stake, they deserve more than a 30-second phone call.

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The Tiger comeback just got real on Friday

By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 1:11 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Slow play was a big storyline on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, but not so much anymore.

Not with Tiger Woods speeding things up Friday at the Honda Classic.

Not with Woods thumping the gas pedal around PGA National’s Champion Course, suddenly looking as if he is racing way ahead of schedule in his return to the game.

The narrative wondrously started to turn here.

It turned from wondering at week’s start if Woods could make the cut here, after missing it last week at the Genesis Open. His game was too wild for Riviera, where a second-round 76 left him looking lost with the Masters just six weeks away.

It turned in head-spinning fashion Friday with Woods climbing the leaderboard in tough conditions to get himself into weekend contention with a 1-over-par 71.

He is just four shots off the lead.

“I’d be shocked if he’s not there Sunday with a chance to win,” said Brandt Snedeker, who played alongside Woods in the first two rounds. “He’s close to playing some really, really good golf.”

Just a few short months ago, so many of us were wondering if Woods was close to washed up.

“He’s only going to improve,” Snedeker said. “The more time he has, as the weather gets warmer, he’ll feel better and be able to practice more.”

Snedeker has had a front-row seat for this speedy Tiger turnaround. He played the third round with Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open last month. That was Woods’ first PGA Tour start in a year.


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How much improvement did Snedeker see from that Torrey Pines experience?

“It was kind of what I expected – significantly improved,” Snedeker said. “His iron game is way better. His driver is way better. I don’t’ see it going backward from here.”

This was the hope packed into Friday’s new narrative.

“I’m right there in the ballgame,” Woods said. “I really played well today. I played well all day today.”

Tiger sent a jolt through PGA National when his name hit the top 10 of the leaderboard. He didn’t do it with a charge. He did it battling a brutish course in wintry, blustery winds, on “scratchy” and “dicey” greens that made par a good score.

When Woods holed a 25-foot putt at the ninth to move into red numbers at 1 under overall and within three shots of the lead, a roar shook across the Champion Course.

“It got a little loud, which was cool to see,” Snedeker said. “It’s great to have that energy and vibe back.”

Woods sent fans scampering to get into position, blasting a 361-yard drive at the 10th, cutting the corner. He had them buzzing when he stuck his approach to 9 feet for another birdie chance to get within two of the lead.

“I thought if he makes it, this place will go nuts, and he could get it going like he used to,” Snedeker said.

Woods missed, but with the leaders falling back to him on this grueling day, he stuck his approach at the 12th to 10 feet to give himself a chance to move within a shot of the lead.

It’s another putt that could have turned PGA National upside down, but Woods missed that.

“It really is hard to make birdies,” he said. “At least I found it hard. It was hard to get the ball close, even if the ball is in the fairway, it's still very difficult to get the ball close, with the wind blowing as hard as it is. It’s hard to make putts out here.”

Patton Kizzire, a two-time PGA Tour winner who won just last month at the Sony Open, could attest to how tough the test at Honda has become. He played alongside Woods this week for the first time in his career. He shot 78 Friday and missed the cut.

Kizzire had a close-up look at what suddenly seems possible for Woods again.

“He’s figuring it out,” Kizzire said. “He hit some nice shots and rolled in some nice putts. It was pretty impressive.”

Woods could not hide his excitement in getting himself in the weekend hunt, but his expectations remain tempered in this comeback. He knows the daily referendums his game is subject to, how we can all make the highs too high and the lows too low.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Woods said.

Woods lost a tee shot in a bush at the second hole and made bogey. He hit his tee shot in the water at the 15th and made double bogey. He three-putted the 16th to make bogey. He knows this course can derail a player’s plans in a hurry, but he knows his game is quickly coming around.

“I’m right there where I can win a golf tournament,” Woods said. “Four back on this golf course with 36 holes to go, I mean, anybody can win this golf tournament right now. It’s wide open.’”

Woods hit his shot of the day at the 17th to right his game after the struggles at the 15th and 16th. He did so in front of the Goslings Bear Trap Party Pavilion, cutting a 5-iron to 12 feet. It was the hardest hole on the course Friday, with nearly one of every three players rinsing a shot in the water there. Woods made birdie there to ignite an explosion of cheers.  He got a standing ovation.

“I was telling you guys, I love Riviera, I just don't play well there,” Woods said. “So here we are, we're back at a golf course I know and I play well here.”

So here we are, on the precipice of something special again?

Woods seems in a hurry to find out.

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List, Lovemark lead; Tiger four back at Honda

By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 12:41 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Even with a tee shot into the water for another double bogey, Tiger Woods could see the big picture in the Honda Classic.

He was four shots out of the lead going into the weekend.

Luke List delivered a round not many others found possible in such difficult conditions Friday, a 4-under 66 that gave him a share of the lead with Jamie Lovemark (69). They were at 3-under 137, the highest score to lead at the halfway point of the Honda Classic since it moved to PGA National in 2007.

So bunched were the scores that Woods was four shots out of the lead and four shots from last place among the 76 players who made the cut at 5-over 145. More importantly, he only had 13 players in front of him.

''This is a difficult golf course right now,'' Woods said. ''Making pars is a good thing. I've done that, and I'm right there with a chance.''

And he has plenty of company.


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Tommy Fleetwood, who won the Race to Dubai on the European Tour last year, scratched out a 68 and was one shot out of the lead along with Webb Simpson (72), Russell Henley (70) and Rory Sabbatini (69).

Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger each shot 72 and were in a large group at 139. They were among only 10 players remaining under par.

Fleetwood laughed when asked the last time he was at 2 under after 36 holes and only one shot out of the lead.

''Maybe some junior event,'' he said. ''It's good, though. These are the toughest test in golf. Generally, one of the best players prevail at the end of weeks like this. Weeks like this challenge you to the ultimate level. Whether you shoot two 80s or you lead after two rounds, you can see what you need to do and see where your game is. Because this is as hard as it's ever going to get for you.''

The difficulty was primarily from the wind, which blew just as hard in the morning when List shot his 66 as it did in the afternoon. More aggravating to the players are the greens, which are old and bare, firm and crusty. It's a recipe for not making many putts.

Defending champion Rickie Fowler had six bogeys on his front nine and shot 77 to miss the cut.

''It's unfortunate that the greens have changed this much in a year,'' Fowler said. ''They typically get slick and quick on the weekend because they dry out, but at least there's some sort of surface. But like I said, everyone's playing the same greens.''

It looked as though List was playing a different course when he went out with a bogey-free 32 on the back nine, added a pair of birdies on the front nine and then dropped his only shot when he caught an awkward lie in the bunker on the par-3 seventh.

''It's very relentless,'' List said. ''There's not really too many easy holes, but if you hit fairways and go from there, you can make a few birdies out there.''

List and Lovemark, both Californians, have never won on the PGA Tour. This is the third time List has had at least a share of the 36-hole lead, most recently in South Korea at the CJ Cup, where he shot 76-72 on the weekend.

''It's kind of irrelevant because there's going to be 30 guys within a couple shots of the lead,'' List said. ''It's going to be that type of week.''

He was exaggerating – there were 11 players within three shots of the lead.

And there was another guy four shots behind.

Woods brought big energy to a Friday afternoon that already was hopping before he overcame a sluggish start and holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 9 to make the turn at 1 under for his round, and leaving him two shots out of the lead. Everyone knew it just from listening to the roars.

Woods had his chances, twice missing birdie putts from inside 10 feet at Nos. 10 and 12, sandwiched around a 12-foot par save. His round appeared to come undone when he found the water on the 15th and made double bogey for the second straight day.

Then, he hit out of a fairway bunker, over the water and onto the green at the dangerous 16th hole and faced a 65-foot putt. He misread the speed and the line, so badly that it was similar to a car driving from Chicago to Denver and winding up in Phoenix. A bogey dropped him to 2 over.

The big moment was the 17th hole, 184 waters into the wind and over water. That's where Rory McIlroy made triple bogey earlier in the day that ruined his otherwise solid round of 72, leaving him seven behind. Making it even tougher for Woods is the Brandt Snedeker hit 5-iron before him to about 6 feet. Woods got to the tee and the wind died, meaning 5-iron was too much and 6-iron wouldn't clear the water.

He went with the 5-iron.

''I started that thing pretty far left and hit a pretty big cut in there because I had just too much stick,'' Wood said.

It landed 12 feet below the hole for a birdie putt.

Thomas made 17 pars and a double bogey when he three-putted from 6 feet on No. 16. He felt the same way as Woods.

''I'm in a good spot – really good spot – going into this week,'' Thomas said.

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Woods to play with Dufner (12:10 p.m.) in third round

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 12:10 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods will play alongside Jason Dufner in the third round of the Honda Classic.

Woods and Dufner, both at 1-over 141, four shots back, will tee off at 12:10 p.m. ET Saturday at PGA National. They’re in the 10th-to-last group.


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Co-leaders Luke List and Jamie Lovemark will go at 1:40 p.m.

Some of the other late pairings include Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger, who will be playing together for the third consecutive day, at 1 p.m.; Louis Oosthuizen and Thomas Pieters (1:10 p.m.); and Webb Simpson and Russell Henley, in the penultimate group at 1:30 p.m.

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Woods doesn't mind 'fun' but brutal 17th hole

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods doesn’t mind the boisterous crowd that surrounds the par-3 17th hole at PGA National.

And why should he?

When the wind died down Friday afternoon, Woods played a “big ol’ cut” with a 5-iron that dropped 12 feet from the cup. He made the putt – one of just nine birdies on the day – and when he walked off the green, the fans gave him a standing ovation.

The scene is expected to be even more raucous Saturday at the Honda Classic, especially with Woods in contention.

There is a Goslings Bear Trap tent just to the right of the tee. The hole has become a hot topic in recent years, after a few players complained that the noise from the nearby crowd was distracting as they tried to play a wind-blown, 190-yard shot over water.


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Woods was asked his thoughts on the party setup after finishing his second-round 71.

“As long as they don’t yell in our golf swings, we’re fine,” he said. “They can be raucous. They are having a great time. It’s fun. They are having a blast, and hopefully we can execute golf shots, but as long as they don’t yell in our golf swings, everything’s cool.”

After the recent Waste Management Phoenix Open, a few players told Woods that fans were trying to time their screams with the players’ downswings.

“There’s really no reason to do that,” Woods said. “I think that most of the people there at 17 are golfers, and they understand how hard a golf shot that is. So they are being respectful, but obviously libations are flowing.”

The 17th played as the most difficult hole on the course Friday, with a 3.74 scoring average and a combined score to par of 104 over. More than a quarter of the tee shots found the water.