Participation Problem Take a Club to It
In the wake of a conference focused on increasing golf participation over the next two decades, the industry has much hope, but not a lot of concrete plans yet. That's understandable, what with the initiatives being in the early stages. So I'm here to help.
Here's the answer: Forget the golf course. Focus on the golf club.
Say 'golf club' in the United States and most people get an image of the latest driver. But I'm talking about a group of people who come together because of their common interest in golf.
Mention that kind of golf club to most Americans, and they think of a tony, perhaps snooty, private club. It doesn't have to be that way.
The precedents are many. Contrary to popular belief, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews does not own the Old Course. They simply 'play over' it. So do at least four other golf clubs in town. The Old Course is their home course because it's convenient, and they have arranged for access.
Just down the road at Kingsbarns, Scotland, the Kingsbarns Golf Club meets in a cozy pub. They play over the nearby Kingsbarns course. But their trophies, records, and piano are at the pub.
In this country, the handicapping gurus at the U.S. Golf Association got around the growing trend away from private club membership by creating so-called Golf Clubs Without Real Estate. Any 10 people who had a chance to play together regularly and otherwise satisfy the peer review elements of the handicapping rules could form a golf club, even if they didn't own a course. And so it is that the Satellite Bay Golf Club maintains our handicaps here at The Golf Channel, and even provides the basis for an annual match play tournament.
We are a nation of joiners, say observers of the American scene. Just start a group, and Americans will join it. So we have bowling clubs, bridge clubs, sailing clubs, and on and on. It's fundamental: All these people get together because they find a particular activity to be fun.
Where has golf missed the boat? Well, despite the legendary exclusivity of clubs such as the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield, Scotland, golf snootiness was raised to a fine art in this country. If we could somehow beat back that idea, as dozens of chapters of the Executive Women's Golf Association have done, we could get somewhere.
Try this: Find nine other people and start a golf club. Better yet, find 11, so your three groups could hold regular events or simple play-for-fun, reshuffle-partners-at-the-turn days. Make tee times at whatever course you decide, or wherever you can get a deal. Call yourself the New Kensington Golf Club, or the Shaker Heights Swingers, the Lake Oswego Links Group, or whatever.
Watch what happens when your members talk up the fun they've had. See how many people ask to join in. Smile as your Tuesday night summer nine-hole league spills over to a Thursday night event as well. Watch as the golf industry raises its eyebrows and thinks of ways to cultivate the grass roots you have planted.
After all, not every good idea has to come out of a conference.
Post-Masters blitz 'exhausting' but Reed ready for return
AVONDALE, La. – After briefly suffering from First-Time Major Winner Fatigue, Patrick Reed is eager to get back inside the ropes this week at the Zurich Classic.
The media blitz is an eye-opening experience for every new major champ. Reed had been told to expect not to get any sleep for about a week after his win, and sure enough he jetted off to New York City for some sightseeing, photo shoots, baseball games, late-night talk shows, phone calls and basketball games, sitting courtside in the green jacket at Madison Square Garden next to comedian Chris Rock, personality Michael Strahan and rapper 2 Chainz. Then he returned home to Houston, where the members at Carlton Woods hosted a reception in his honor.
With Reed’s head still spinning, his wife, Justine, spent the better part of the past two weeks responding to each of the 880 emails she received from fans and well-wishers.
“It’s been a lot more exhausting than I thought it’d be,” he said Wednesday at TPC Louisiana, where he’ll make his first start since the Masters.
It’s a good problem to have, of course.
Reed was already planning a family vacation to the Bahamas the week after Augusta, so the media tour just took its place. As many directions as he was pulled, as little sleep as he got, Reed said, “We still had a blast with it.”
There are few places better to ease into his new world than at the Zurich, where he’ll partner with Patrick Cantlay for the second year in a row.
Reed wants to play well, not only for himself but also his teammate. After all, it could be an important week for Cantlay, who is on U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk’s radar after a victory last fall. That didn’t earn him any Ryder Cup points, however – he sits 38th in the standings – so performing well here in fourballs and foursomes could go a long way toward impressing the captain.
“There’s maybe a little extra if we play well,” Cantlay said, “but I’m just trying to play well every week.”
Reed got back to work on his game last Tuesday. He said that he’s prepared, ready to play and looking forward to building off his breakthrough major.
“A lot of guys have told me to just be careful with your time,” he said. “There will be a lot of things you didn’t have to do or didn’t have in the past that are going to come up.
“But first things first, you’ve got to go out and grind and play some good golf and focus on golf, because the time you stay and not focus on golf will be the time you go backward. That’s nothing any of us want. We all want to improve and get better.”
Success and failure more than wins and losses
It was a vulnerable moment for James Hahn that was driven by emotion and unflinching self-examination.
Hahn had just dropped a tough decision to Patton Kizzire, losing on the sixth extra hole at January’s Sony Open, so the feelings were raw and his mind was still digesting the missed opportunity.
“I feel like losing sticks with me longer than winning,” he allowed.
Put another way, Hahn, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, acknowledged that he hates losing more than he likes winning, which is all at once understanding for an elite athlete and curious coming from a professional golfer.
Tiger Woods has played 334 Tour events in his career and won 79 times. That’s a 24-percent winning clip, which would get you sent to the minor leagues in professional baseball but is the benchmark for greatness in golf.
Perhaps Jack Nicklaus is an even more apropos example, considering that the Golden Bear played 164 majors in his career and won 18, more than any other player. Even if you edit that scorecard to only count Nicklaus’ Grand Slam starts during his prime, let’s say through the 1986 season when he won his last major, that’s a .166 batting average.
“When it comes to golf it’s tough to have that mentality, because you lose a lot more than you win. Even Tiger in his hay day was losing a lot more than he was winning,” Wesley Bryan said. “I definitely hate losing, but there’s a caveat: I hate losing to my brother more than I like winning.”
But the statistical reality of golf doesn’t discount Hahn’s take, it simply suggests there’s a more nuanced way of defining how the win/loss column impacts Tour types.
In the case of Nicklaus, it’s not just those 18 majors that assures his spot as one of the greatest; it’s also his 19 runner-up finishes in Grand Slam starts that pads his resume. Although Nicklaus is often reluctant to revisit those near misses, and there are a few of those also-rans for which he’d passionately embrace a cosmic mulligan, there’s something to be said for simply having the opportunity.
“I hate losing, losing stinks, but at least if you put yourself there it’s better than if you didn’t put yourself there,” explained Billy Horschel, a four-time winner on Tour. “We lose a lot, we lose more than any other professional athlete. Do you get accustomed to losing? Yeah maybe, but you hate not having the chance to at least win.”
Horschel isn’t making excuses or giving himself psychological cover, he’s simply being realistic. Even the best seasons, like Justin Thomas’ five-victory outing in 2017 that included a major triumph (PGA Championship) and Tour Player of the Year honors, features what in any other sport would be considered a losing record (he played 25 events).
Even Woods, who for much of his career adhered to a strict “second sucks” mindset, has found some solace in moral victories following multiple injuries and medical setbacks in recent years.
“We’re all so competitive out here and when you’re going head-to-head like that you’re wanting to win so bad,” Harris English said. “Losing sucks, but with golf you lose a whole lot more than you win. You’ve got to be a pretty good loser.”
Success in golf is relative and requires a subtle scale to measure progress. For many, a top-10 finish is all the validation they need to push forward, while for others, like Horschel, progress is measured by winning opportunities.
The joy of victory and pain of defeat is evident each Sunday on Tour, the emotions often etched into a player’s face with equal clarity. But for many, simply making or missing the cut can produce just as much emotion.
“If you miss a cut you don’t have a chance to win, that’s the worst feeling in the world,” Horschel said. “I could lose in a playoff, like to Jason Day [at the 2017 AT&T Byron Nelson, which Horschel won], that would’ve sucked, but I don’t think it would have sucked as much as me missing the cut. I hate not having a chance.”
The fine line between victory and defeat can also be defined on a much more personal level for some. In other sports, you are what your record says you are, but in golf you can be what the opportunity provided. Although it’s a fine line with infinite shades of success and failure, there is a notion in golf that sometimes you lose an event and sometimes you’re beaten.
It was a distinction that Hahn at the Sony Open had little interest in, but with time can allow a player to make an à la carte assessment that’s emotionally detached from what the box score may say.
“It’s all about you giving it your all,” English said. “If you did everything you could, if you hit the shots you wanted to, if you hit the putts you wanted to, under that situation that’s all you can do. If someone outplays you, so be it.”
Hahn’s point is no less valid, even the game’s greatest contend you learn more from defeat than you do victory, and it’s competitive nature to, as he explained, hate losing more than you like winning. But in professional golf defining what’s a win and what’s a loss, is very much a sliding scale.
Listen up: All the walk-up songs for Zurich Classic teams
Teams that make it to the weekend at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will be accompanied by walk-up music to the first tee. The top 35 teams will qualify for weekend play. Here's a look at what the two-man teams have chosen:
|William McGirt/Sam Burns||Callin’ Baton Rouge||Garth Brooks|
|Kevin Na/Byeong Hun An||Make ’em say Uhh||Master P|
|Chris Kirk/J.T. Poston||Crazy Train||Ozzy Osbourne|
|Chez Reavie/Lucas Glover||For Whom the Bell Tolls||Metallica|
|Martin Piller/Joel Dahmen||Lovumba||Daddy Yankee|
|K.J. Choi/Charlie Wi||Gangnam Style||PSY|
|Ryan Armour/Johnson Wagner||Enter Sandman||Metallica|
|C.T. Pan/Zac Blair||Half Time||Ying Yang Twins|
|Tyrone Van Aswegen/Retief Goosen||Africa||Toto|
|Tom Hoge/J.J. Henry||Right Now||Van Halen|
|Shawn Stefani/John Rollins||Thunderstruck||AC/DC|
|Tony Finau/Daniel Summerhays||Doo Wa Ditty (Blow That Thing)||Zapp & Roger|
|Keith Mitchell/Stephan Jaeger||Pizza Guy||Touch Sensitive|
|Ben Silverman/Matt Atkins||Enter Sandman||Metallica|
|Zach Johnson/Jonathan Byrd||Thunderstruck||AC/DC|
|Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay||Eye of the Tiger||Survivor|
|Greg Chalmers/Cameron Percy||Down Under||Men at Work|
|Keegan Bradley/Jon Curran||Shipping up to Boston||Dropkick Murphys|
|Brendan Steele/Jamie Lovemark||California Love||Tupac|
|Charley Hoffman/Nick Watney||California Love||Tupac|
|Billy Horschel/Scott Piercy||Young Forever||Jay Z ft. Mrs. Hudson|
|Cody Gribble/John Peterson||Careless Whisper||George Michael|
|Steve Stricker/Jerry Kelly||As Good As I Once Was||Toby Keith|
|Chris Stroud/Brian Stuard||Enter Sandman||Metallica|
|Sergio Garcia/Rafa Cabrera Bello||The Best||Tina Turner|
|Kevin Tway/Kelly Kraft||Gucci Gang||Lil Pump|
|D.A. Points/Kyle Thompson||Working for the Weekend||Loverboy|
|Mac Hughes/Corey Conners||Big League||Tom Cochrane & Red Rider|
|Justin Thomas/Bud Cauley||Circle of Life||Carmen Twillie|
|Shane Lowry/Padraig Harrington||Beautiful Day||U2|
|Russell Knox/Martin Laird||Flower of Scotland|
|Gary Woodland/Daniel Berger||Forever||Drake|
|Brandon Harkins/Lanto Griffin||Started From the Bottom||Drake|
|Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown||Slippery||Migos|
|Andrew Landry/Talor Gooch||Big Poppa||Notorious BIG|
|Jason Day/Ryan Ruffels||Down Under||Men at Work|
|Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson||Gold||Spandau Ballet|
|Matt Every/Sam Saunders||Running With the Devil||Van Halen|
|Jon Rahm/Wesley Bryan||DNA||Kendrick Lamar|
|Emiliano Grillo/Peter Uihlein||Mi Gente (Remix)||J Balvin, Willy William, Busta K.|
|Jamie Donaldson/Ross Fisher||Sweet Disposition||The Temper Trap|
|Harold Varner III/Robert Garrigus||Ebony and Ivory||Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder|
|Alex Cejka/Ben Crane||Here I Go Again||Whitesnake|
|Abraham Ancer/Roberto Diaz||Mexico Lindo y Querido||Vicente Fernandez|
|Xinjun Zhang/Zecheng Dou||Believe in Myself||Zero Point Band|
College season one for the record books
March Madness may be over, but in the college golf world, the madness is just beginning.
With NCAA Division I Regionals the next two weeks, championship season is officially underway, which means it’s time for college golf to again swing into the spotlight. And rightfully so. This is turning out to be a record-breaking season, and the excitement around this year’s NCAA Championships is brewing.
In this wrap-around college campaign, five different NCAA Division I men’s teams have won four or more events. Oklahoma State leads the way with eight wins, seven of which came in consecutive starts to tie the school’s single-season winning streak, set in 1986-87. The most wins in one season for the Cowboys is 10, and with a home-course advantage at this year’s NCAA Championships, they’re setting themselves up for a good shot at another record – and a national title.
On the women’s side, three teams have notched half-a-dozen wins each. Arkansas won the SEC Championship for the first time in program history to earn their sixth victory of the year, while Southern California has won six times with four freshmen in their starting lineup. Top-ranked UCLA captured its sixth win at the Pac-12 Championship by a 12-shot margin, leaving the last three national champions coughing in the dust.
Much of UCLA’s success this season can be credited to powerhouse junior Lilia Vu. She captured four individual titles in as many starts earlier this season, a repeat of the feat she also accomplished last year. Along with being the top-ranked amateur in the world, her most recent victory etched her name in the record books, setting a Bruins women’s golf record for most career wins (8) and 54-hole scoring record (14 under par).
Stanford’s Andrea Lee has also been on the record-breaking trend. The 2017 Freshman of the Year set a new Cardinal freshman scoring average last season, and is currently on track to break the sophomore scoring record this season. Lee is just one win shy of tying the Stanford women’s career victories record of eight, and she hasn’t even finished her second full season.
College golfers are getting better and better, and they’ve got the scoring averages to prove it.
The Golfstat Cup is an annual award given at the end of the season to the men’s and women’s collegiate golfers with the lowest adjusted scoring average who played a minimum of 20 stroke-play rounds.
It’s no surprise that Vu leads the women’s side, with a scoring average of 69.95. What is surprising, however, is how much scoring averages are improving. Ten years ago, Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst won the award with a scoring average of 71.00. Another decade before that, in 1998, fellow Blue Devil Jenny Chuasiriporn led the standings with a 72.94 scoring average – nearly three strokes higher than Vu. In the 2017-18 season, the entire top 10 in scoring average fall below a 71.00.
The men are faring well, themselves. California junior Collin Morikawa leads the Golfstat Cup standings with a 68.67 scoring average. PGA Tour superstar Rickie Fowler took the top spot in 2008 with a 71.11 average at Oklahoma State, a number that would rank 70th in the standings today. Other notable winners of the Golfstat Cup include Tiger Woods (70.61 average in 1995-96), Luke Donald (70.45 average in 1998-99), and Jordan Spieth (70.92 average in 2012-13). Morikawa’s average is nearly two shots better than all three.
To put it in perspective, the PGA Tour average score this season is 71.46 and the LPGA tour’s average is 72.17. While courses and set up on the pro ranks are vastly different than at collegiate events, it’s no wonder we’ve seen an influx of young players leaving school early to pursue a professional career after proving they can score low – and win – amongst their peers. Sam Burns (LSU), Cameron Champ (Texas A&M), John Oda (UNLV), and Joaquin Niemann are just a few notable names who chose to forego their degree for a shot at a Tour card this past year. Collectively, they’ve already earned over $887,000.
As the regular college season comes to a close in the coming weeks, our attention inevitably will turn towards which standout amateurs could be The Next Big Thing and make their mark in the professional world. For the players slashing NCAA records this season, though, long-term success is secondary, at the moment. What’s primary in their minds? Stillwater, Oklahoma, and a national championship trophy.