New Name New Faces Great Year
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Tom Watson captured two major titles on the Champions Tour, won the money title and took the year-long Charles Schwab Cup and the $1 million annuity that comes with it.
Watson won the Senior British Open and the Tradition but his record in the other majors is also astonishing. He tied for 17th at the Senior PGA Championship, finished second at the U.S. Senior Open and tied for second at the Senior Players Championship.
In 14 starts on the elder-50 tour, Watson finished outside the top-17 once, a tie for 31st at the Toshiba Senior Classic. He was in the top-10 in driving distance (eighth), greens in regulation (seventh), putting average (second) and led the tour in eagles and scoring average.
Watson's success in 2003 was not limited to the Champions Tour. He held the first-round lead at the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields before tying for 28th place. Watson also tied for 18th at the British Open.
All of the riches Watson experienced this year, he did it with a heavy heart. His caddie and longtime friend Bruce Edwards is dying in front of his eyes due to ALS, a crippling disease that has whittled Edwards' body but not his spirit.
Edwards shared in the spotlight when Watson shocked the golf world at the U.S. Open. Galleries chanted his name and Watson played up to the challenge. Watson said that people in the stands handed him checks for thousands of dollars for research for ALS. Their partnership and Watson's outstanding play in big events, have done more for the disease than any public-service commercial.
To no one's surprise, Watson donated his $1 million annuity to various ALS charities. For all Watson endured in 2003, coupled with the way he stood over the rest of the tour, Tom Watson is the Champions Tour Player of the Year.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Craig Stadler was the only other player that could be considered for Player of the Year, so it makes sense for 'The Walrus' to be the 2003 Rookie of the Year.
In his debut on the Champions Tour, Stadler tied for 15th at the Senior PGA Championship at a tough Aronimink track. He tied for 10th place at the U.S. Senior Open, then broke through at the Senior Players Championship for win No. 1 on tour.
He added two titles late in the year and tied for ninth at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
As good as Watson was on the PGA Tour, Stadler was even better. He returned to the PGA Tour a week after winning the Senior Players and became the first player in history to go back and win on the PGA Tour when he titled at the B.C. Open.
TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR
The Senior British Open became a major for the first time in 2003 and it was a doozy. The combatants were Tom Watson, winner of several major titles and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, and Carl Mason, European Tour journeyman with two victories.
Watson bogeyed the 72nd hole on Sunday to post a 64 but seemed like all hope was gone. Mason, standing on the 18th tee, held a two-shot lead but collapsed, starting in a bunker after his drive. He had to chip out sideways but he hit too hard and it went into the gallery. Mason finally reached the green in four but two-putted for double-bogey and the pair were headed to a playoff.
The duo parred the first extra hole, the 18th, but Mason once again made a mess of it with the second playoff hole. He drove into another fairway bunker, chipped out, advanced his third a few feet, and reached the green in four.
Watson was calmly on in regulation and left himself with a tap-in par.
Watson seemed destined to win the Senior British Open after coming so close in the season's three other majors. His successful run at the U.S. Open, his close relationship with his struggling caddie, and his past triumphs in British Opens (five claret jugs), all made Watson a logical and emotional favorite to win.
Through the first 16 tournaments of the 2003 season, there were 16 different winners on the Champions Tour. Talk about parity. But after Bruce Lietzke captured the U.S. Senior Open, the number of multiple winners began to pile up.
Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Craig Stadler and Jim Thorpe all came on to win at least twice in 2003 but Stadler was the only player to win three times.
One of the highlights every year is to see which rookies make an impact on the Champions Tour. D.A. Weibring and Craig Stadler both won on tour but they were the only first-year guys to make any waves.
What will be problematic for the elder circuit is next year. Keith Fergus, Mike Reid and 1999 European Ryder Cup captain Mark James are some of the names but the two biggest who are eligible might not come to the tour.
Jay Haas turns 50 in early December but he tallied eight top-10s, was selected to play in the Presidents Cup and finished 15th on the PGA Tour's money list.
Peter Jacobsen, whose charm and sense of humor would make him a natural fit on the laid-back Champions Tour, broke back into the winner's circle on tour when he captured the Greater Hartford Open.
Neither is sure what they will do next year, but both have indicated they will spend some time on the PGA Tour but when it comes down to it, they will spend some time on the Champions Tour. Fifty-four hole tournaments on easier courses will appeal to these guys more than anything else.
Jim Thorpe. Thorpe won the huge purse with the Charles Schwab Cup Championship to finish second on the money list. Since the Senior Players Championship in early July, Thorpe recorded 10 top-10s in 13 events.
Des Smyth. Smyth, an Irishman who won Q-School last year, finished 18th on the money list thanks to 10 top-10s. Although he didn't win in his rookie campaign, Smyth finished in the top-30 in almost every statistical category.
Mark Lye. Lye, who spent most of 2003 in the studios at the Golf Channel while battling cancer, played in only six events but made respectable showings in all six. With a full season under his belt, and his health back to form, Lye could be a top-25 guy on the Champions Tour.
Ben Crenshaw. This two-time Masters winner has not figured out the Champions Tour. In his second season, Crenshaw finished 58th on the money list with two top-10s.
Tom Kite. Hard to say a guy had a bad year with 12 top-10s and a sixth on the money list but Kite, who led the tour in greens in regulation, is at a stage in his career where multiple wins a season is not unrealistic. Zero wins in 2003 makes it a bad year.
Jan Stephenson. Stephenson became the first woman to play on the Champions Tour when she teed it up at the Turtle Bay Championship. She tied for last place, did nothing for the game and insulted almost every player on her tour, the LPGA Tour, with her ill-advised comments about Asian players ruining the tour.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.