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.

Ryu, S.H. Park among winners at Rolex awards

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 5:51 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – The Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy winners won’t be determined until Sunday’s finish of the CME Group Tour Championship, but seven other awards were presented Thursday during the LPGA’s Rolex Awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort.

The awards and winners:

William and Mousie Powell Award – Katherine Kirk won an award given to the player “whose behavior and deeds best exemplify the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA.” Kirk won the Thornberry Classic this year, her third LPGA title. “Some people ask me if I feel obligated to give back to the game,” Kirk said. “I think it’s a privilege.”

Heather Farr Perseverance Award – Tiffany Joh, who had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma earlier this year, thanked the Farr family and all those who supported Joh through her diagnosis and recovery.

“I found a great quote from Ram Dass, `We are all just walking each other home,’” Joh said. “I’ve really come to understand the value of all my relationships, no matter how fleeting or profound they seem.”

The Commissioner’s Award – Roberta Bowman, outgoing chair of the LPGA Board of Directors, was honored for her service the last six years. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan called her “my friend, my boss and my hero.” Bowman deflected the praise for her back on to the tour, thanking Whan, LPGA staff, players, sponsors, fans and the media.

“The world needs more role models for little girls,” Bowman said. “And they don’t need to look much farther than the LPGA.”

Ellen Griffin Rolex Award and Nancy Lopez Golf Achievement Award – Sandy LaBauve, who founded the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf program, was honored as the first person to win both these awards.

The Griffin Award honors golf teachers and the Lopez Award honors an LPGA professional who emulates the values Lopez demonstrated. LaBauve is the daughter of Jack and Sherry Lumpkin, both teachers of the game.

“This program doesn’t belong to me,” LaBauve said of LPGA-Girls’ Golf. “I merely planted the seed. The fruit belongs to all of us.”

Rolex Annika Major Award – So Yeon Ryu won the award, named for Annika Sorenstam, for the best overall performance in women’s major championships this year. She won the ANA Inspiration and tied for third at the U.S. Women’s Open.

“It’s such an honor to win an award named after Annika Sorenstam,” Ryu told Sorenstam during the presentation. “It’s a special award for me.”

Rolex Rookie of the Year Award – Sung Hyun Park won the honor, telling the audience in a message translated from Korean that she was disappointed failing to win the KLPGA’s Rookie of the Year Award and was grateful for a dream come true getting the chance to win it on the LPGA.

Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale

By Associated Press, Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 1:50 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.

At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.

Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.

In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.


DP World Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the DP World Tour Championship


Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.

Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.

Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.

''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.

''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''

Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.

''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.

''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''

Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.

Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.

''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''

Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 12:16 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.

Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.

''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''

The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.

''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''

The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.

''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'

Joel Dahmen had a 64.


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.

''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.

''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.

''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.

Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.

''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.

Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.

Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.

Co-leader Smith credits Foley's influence

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:33 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sarah Jane Smith is making the most of the devoted efforts of Sean Foley this week.

Foley’s prize pupil, Justin Rose, is in the hunt at the World Tour Championship in the United Arab Emirates, looking to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but Foley isn’t there with him.

Foley promised to help Smith this week, and he’s living up to the pledge, making the trip to Naples.

“At 33, Sarah is in her prime,” Foley told GolfChannel.com. “She is going to hold a trophy at some point. She is too skilled not to win.”

Foley's extra attention is paying off for Smith.


CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


With a 6-under-par 66, Smith moved into early contention to make her first LPGA title memorable at the CME Group Tour Championship. She’s tied for the first-round lead with Taiwan rookie Peiyun Chien.

“I just seem to play my best with him,” Smith said.

Foley, the former coach to Tiger Woods, was No. 10 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 teacher rankings released this fall.

Foley sees a lot coming together in Smith’s game. She is a 12-year veteran building some momentum. She tied for third at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year and is coming off three consecutive top-15 finishes in Asia. She is sixth on tour in birdies this season. 

“As a coach, you try to get a player to see something in themselves that is already there,” Foley said.

Rose, by the way, opened with a 6-under-par 66 in Dubai and is one shot off the lead.