Endings and Beginnings
After a look through the 2011 circuit, a few key points stand-out:
-The “Gulf Swing” features an additional tournament, the Volvo Golf Champions, making it a four tournament jaunt through the Middle East, with stops in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Qatar and Dubai. Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are expected to play at least one event each.
-Players not exempt for the WGC events will have a month break in February and March. This may not be welcomed by the rank and file players, but is much needed for the tour’s tournament and broadcast staff.
-The Volvo World Match Play Championship returns to the schedule but moves from the autumn to the spring and remains at Finca Cortesin in southern Spain. It will attract a top-class field.
-The Barclays Scottish Open will move to a links course in 2011 but will that make a difference to the field? Perhaps not too much this year, with Royal St. George’s hosting the Open Championship, players may not want to spend their final week of preparations battling the Scottish elements when they can spend a few days on the south course of England playing links golf in temperatures which average 10 degrees warmer.
-The Andalucia Masters venue is yet to be announced, meaning Valderrama could be absent from the tour once again.
-A new tournament appears on the schedule; the Asian Tour’s Iskandar Johor Open will be played opposite the President’s Cup in November.
-The 2012 schedule is expected to begin in mid-January in the Middle East, leaving the fate of the four South African tournaments played in 2011 unknown.
This week I’ll be part of the broadcast team at the LPGA Tour Championship, as we conclude the season at Grand Cypress. Having played the course a few weeks ago, I can safely say the tour has found the perfect venue for a season-ending event. On Thursday, Laura Davies will be wearing a microphone. Never afraid to speak her mind, Davies may come-up with a few gems during our first-round coverage. On the subject of Davies, her 2010 season could easily be overlooked. The 47-year-old has won five times on the LET, a sixth victory at the season-ending event next week in Dubai would propel her to top of the money list. Even though the standard of golf on the LET is not as high as the LPGA, the achievement is remarkable. Yet Davies can’t seem to emulate that sort of form in the United States. In 2010 she’s played 15 tournaments, with just two top 10’s, and sits two points shy of automatic qualification into the Hall of Fame.
And finally, the AJGA celebrated its 2010 season at the Rolex All-America Awards Banquet at PGA National last week. This is the second year running I’ve attended the evening, and once again I was thoroughly impressed, not only by the achievements of these players on the golf course, but by the way they carried themselves at this dinner. Both AJGA Players of the Year spoke eloquently. The girl’s recipient, Kristen Park, paid tribute to her mother and those who have supported her in her run to the top of junior golf. Anthony Paolucci, the boy’s recipient, spoke about the need for his generation to give back to the game which was rewarding his peers with so much, a message you might expect from the game’s elders rather than high-school senior with college days and years of excitement ahead of him. Their words re-assured me that our great game seems to be in good hands.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.