Shotlink Zinger Heartache

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PGA TourWhen the PGA Tour first introduced Shotlink, the statistics-oriented scoring system that tracks each shot by player, caddies scoffed at being asked to supply club selection without compensation.
 
Now that Shotlink is fully operational and capable of making money, they might not have a choice.
 
The tour's latest proposal is for caddies or players to carry a green index card that fits in their yardage books. They are to fill out club selection of every shot during or after the round.
 
Another test will take place this week in the Chrysler Championship, and the tour says everyone must do it at the season-opening Mercedes Championships next year at Kapalua.
 
While the tour is working with caddies, the responsibility will fall to the players.
 
'It's not a matter of choosing,' said Henry Hughes, the tour's chief of operations. 'It's going to be part of their day, like turning in a scorecard.'
 
And what if the players don't go along with the plan?
 
'There would be some action that would have to be taken,' Hughes said, although he declined to confirm speculation by some caddies that players would be fined for conduct unbecoming a professional if the card wasn't turned in.
 
Most caddies are not inclined to help, claiming they don't work for the tour and that an extra assignment could take away from their responsibilities to their players. They also don't believe the tour has treated them well when it comes to better parking and services at a tournament, among other things.
 
Still, most said they would do it if instructed by the player.
 
'I'll probably just do it,' Jeff Sluman said. 'Are there days I won't want to do it? Yeah. Maybe I've had a rough day, and at the end of the round, I'm not going to want to sit there and fill it out.'
 
The tour has not spoken to Tiger Woods about club selection, and his caddie, Steve Williams, is as stubborn as anyone when it comes to obeying a tour edict. Williams routinely paid fines for not wearing authorized shorts.
 
Getting Woods to buy into the plan will be crucial, because one reason for having club selection is to market an interactive game with EA Sports.
 
The tour could get by without club selection at the inception of Shotlink two years ago. The system still gives exact yardage and length of putts.
 
Now, however, the tour needs to start recouping some of its investment.
 
'We're starting to have revenue-producing items,' Hughes said. 'To enhance that, we're at the point where club selection is more critical.'
 
The key is getting everyone to go along.
 
Hughes maintains that more money for the tour means more money for the players, which eventually is passed along to the caddies.
 
AZINGER'S EXTRA YEAR
Being a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup comes with perks not many players need.
 
For Paul Azinger, it proved to be timely.
 
Azinger was a surprising pick for the 2001 team, having won only once in eight years (2000 Sony Open) and finishing 22nd in the Ryder Cup standings.
 
Then, the matches were delayed by one year because of the Sept. 11 attacks.
 
Fast forward to this summer, when Azinger was struggling with his swing and back injuries. His 10-year exemption from winning the '93 PGA Championship expires this year, and he figured he was going to finish out of the top 125.
 
The only thing saving him was his standing on the career money list.
 
Players get a one-time exemption for being in the top 25 in career money. If they remain in the top 50, they get another free pass.
 
'I called the tour and talked to them at Westchester,' Azinger said. 'I thought you could use it (career money exemption) one time. They said I could use a top 25 and a top 50.
 
'But they didn't mention anything about the Ryder Cup.'
 
Indeed, No. 10 in the pecking order of exempt status on tour is 'Members of the last-named U.S. Ryder Cup team.' In fact, Azinger will have higher status than those who finish in the top 125.
 
Azinger wasn't obsessed with keeping his exempt status; he's more concerned about fixing his swing, and says he is getting closer.
 
Still, he was pleasantly surprised that he didn't have to spend his one-time exemption with six years remaining before he is eligible for the Champions Tour.
 
'I hadn't even thought about keeping my card,' Azinger said. 'I would like to play well so I don't finish 190th on the money list, or wherever I am (175). It makes me sick to play the way I'm playing, but I'm on the mend. I've got to figure out how to make the game easier again - and fun.'
 
NATIONWIDE HEARTACHE
Every putt matters this time of the year, and so does every dollar.
 
That was never more true than last week in Miami on the Nationwide Tour, when Shane Bertsch closed with a 72 and was in a six-way tie for 28th. He would have earned $3,570, enough to finish No. 55 on the money list and qualify for the Nationwide Tour Championship.
 
But wait.
 
Chris Starkjohann holed a 30-foot birdie putt and finished one stroke ahead in a tie for 23rd. That meant Bertsch went from a six-way tie for 28th to a five-way tie for 29th, a difference of $250.
 
He wound up 56th on the money list by $18.
 
DIVOTS
The Houston Open made a record contribution for the 11th straight year, giving more than $5.2 million to local charities. ... Scott Hoch, Rocco Mediate and U.S. Senior Open champion Bruce Lietzke will play for the U.S. team in the UBS Cup next month at Sea Island in the 40-and-older version of the Ryder Cup. ... Paul Lawrie (Great Britain and Ireland) and Jose Maria Olazabal (continental Europe) were selected as captain's picks for the Seve Trophy to be played Nov. 6-9 in Spain.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK
The last player in his 40s to win the PGA Tour money title was Greg Norman, who was 40 when he won it in 1995. Norman also was the last player to be voted player of the year without having won a major.
 
FINAL WORD
'Maybe because I've hit a million balls.' - Vijay Singh, when asked why he was having his best season on the PGA Tour.
 
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