Cut Line: Change is all around golf world


NEW YORK – In a final election season edition, the PGA Tour transitions to a new commissioner, officials in New Orleans embrace a new team format, and the PGA of America sets the tone for what could be a sweeping schedule change.

Made Cut

End of an era. Although the transition had been preordained for some time, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem made it official on Monday when the policy board named Jay Monahan the circuit’s new front man starting on Jan. 1.

Finchem took over the Tour in 1994 and presided over unprecedented growth in purses and popularity. The commissioner had been reluctant in recent months to consider his own legacy, but in the wake of Monday’s announcement many began keeping score.

During his tenure in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Finchem introduced the FedEx Cup Playoffs, Presidents Cup and the creation of the World Golf Championships and International Federation of PGA Tours. He also led the way for The First Tee program and was a key part of golf’s push to return to the Olympics this year.

There were mistakes and missteps along the way, including the clumsy handling of Vijay Singh’s anti-doping violation/non-violation and the decision to draw a curious line in the sand over Casey Martin’s use of a golf cart in competition.

But on the final scorecard of Finchem’s time in office, the man described by many as the ultimate tactician has earned the victory – let’s call it a 3-and-1 triumph – in what turned out to be an impressive 22-year match.

A true patriot. Of all the awards doled out this week by the PGA of America at the association’s annual meeting, it was the Patriot Award given to Steve Greiner that truly stood out.

Greiner, the head pro at Fort Belvoir Golf Club, is the executive director of the Links to Freedom Foundation in Springfield, Va., an organization that helps disabled veterans overcome the mental and emotional challenges of rehabilitation through golf.

Many of the veterans Greiner’s program has helped were in New York this week to celebrate the award, and their stories of perseverance were a testament to what’s possible through golf.

Tweet of the week.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

The body politic. About five blocks from where protestors gathered on Thursday in front of Trump Tower, the PGA of America held the association’s annual meeting.

Although the PGA’s election for secretary, which was held on Friday, wasn’t anywhere near as contentious as the race for the White House, the association still found itself wedged uncomfortably between the divisive president-elect and a stated goal of creating an inclusive atmosphere to grow the game.

Next year’s Senior PGA Championship is scheduled to be played at Trump National in Potomac Falls, Va., and the ’22 PGA Championship will be held at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., which are both courses owned by the president-elect (Next year’s U.S. Women’s Open is also scheduled to be played at Trump’s Bedminster facility).

An association that impeached a president (Ted Bishop in 2014) for tweeting Ian Poulter was a "lil girl," now finds itself tied to Trump who made several controversial statements during the campaign.

“We’ve said from the get go that we’re not a political organization, we’re a golf organization,” said PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua. “But diversity and inclusion are a key element, it’s a backbone of our strategic plan, it’s the backbone of what we’re trying to do.

“These are both great golf facilities that have open memberships, and it’s not about an individual, it’s not about politics. It’s about conducting the best championship we can and prove that we are about accessibility and inclusion in the game. We’re not perfect, we’re trying.”

Bevacqua and the PGA are golf’s front lines in growing the game in the United States, and now find themselves in the awkward no-man’s land between the White House and a segment of the population that is widely underrepresented in golf. The choices the association makes over the next few years will be telling.

New look in NOLA. Golf Channel’s George Savaricas reported this week that the Tour is poised to announce a new team format for the Zurich Classic in New Orleans.

Although the NOLA stop could certainly use a facelift and a team concept is enticing, there are some details that still need to be flushed out before the move is deemed a success.

According to the report, the top 80 qualifiers will be able to partner with a player of their choosing, as long as their partner has some Tour status, and play will include both foursomes (alternate-shot) and fourballs (best-ball) play.

The field size (160 players) seems a bit much and it doesn’t appear the format will allow for some of the more coveted pairings – say Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, let’s call it Team JDJ – but in theory the new format has the potential to be a promising addition to the Tour landscape.

Missed Cut

Scheduling matters. While golf’s return to the Olympics this year was largely a success, the cut-and-paste schedule required to make it work was difficult for all in involved, particularly the PGA of America.

The PGA Championship was played two weeks earlier than normal because of the Games, and Bevacqua and the PGA have already started to move to higher ground with an eye toward 2020.

“We are huge proponents of the Olympics. We are all about the Olympics, but we also have to protect the PGA Championship and we can’t just bounce the PGA Championship around every four years,” Bevacqua said. “To truly make it work, to make it succeed and to make sure golf is in the Olympics for the next century, the whole schedule needs to be adjusted.”

Bevacqua confirmed that a move to May in 2020 was “very much on the table,” which could set the stage for a more permanent schedule adjustment that would include The Players moving back to March and the PGA Championship settling into a new home in May.

Stay tuned.