At This PGA Show Excitement and Uncertainty Go Hand in Hand
There is the annual excitement that accompanies the golf industrys biggest gathering, a surge of adrenaline at seeing the combined commercial might of the game to which so many have devoted their working lives. There is the buzz about new products, this time including an aggressive entry into a new segment for the largest sporting goods company in the world as Nike introduces its new golf clubs. And there is that undeniable temptation to handicap the year ahead, to speculate on whether Titleist will loosen Nikes golf ball foothold, whether Precepts bet on a second stage in the soft ball fad will come in, or whether Callaway can make a go of the C4, a very light driver that is neither metal nor wood.
But accompanying the industry head rush is an inbox full of problems and uncertainty. This is the first industry meeting since September 11, a day whose utter darkness still tempers any exuberance. Even if the effects of that tragedy could be ignored, recreational golf is still a game saddled with the puzzle of flat participation over the past six years (one executive calls it the three-million-in, three-million-out-each-year problem). The included challenge of attracting juniors who will become lifelong customers involves competing against other leisure activities that require much less investment of time and money (soccer, basketball, and video games, to name just a few).
Also, even though the U.S. Golf Association has relaxed its proposal on clubhead size limitations by 75 cubic centimeters, the industry feels beleaguered by repeated attempts to regulate driver distance for recreational players. (The proposed limitations come a year after the debate on spring-like effect off of driver faces began to boil over.) Also, ball manufacturers still bristle at the USGAs plans to introduce a new Overall Distance Standard to replace the one made in 1976; the ball makers see no need for a new standard.
The golf industry owes a lot to Tiger Woods on many levels, but as this show opens, the most relevant gift from Tiger may be hope. Whenever things seem tight, industry vets remind themselves that golf still has the most recognized athlete in the world, one whose prominence was immune even to the return of his predecessor to basketball. Without Tiger as a touchstone for a possible resurgence of the game, many smaller golf companies, weary of red ink and escalating marketing costs, would probably give up.
With all that in mind, here are some of the questions that this show will raise, and perhaps answer:
1. Order, please: Most golf equipment companies say their orders declined for about 10 days to two weeks after September 11, then picked up considerably. But with the recession now endorsed as official by the government and the business press, exhibitors worry that order-writing will be down at this show. Add anything but good spring weather to that, and the industry could have a disappointing start this year.
2. Nikes pyramid of influence: By releasing a better-player iron first, will Nike irritate most recreational players? Or will they have those golfers aspiring to use clubs like those in the bags of their heroes, such as David Duval and (eventually) Woods?
3. Ball dominance: There are no caves to clear out; this war is being fought out in the open. What will Titleist bring as a Pro V2, and can it make as big a noise as the unprecedented Pro V1 did? What will be Nikes return salvo? Now that TaylorMade-adidas Golf is essentially in charge of Maxfli, what will happen to that troubled brand? And will the industry pay more attention to Spalding balls, or to rumors that Spalding owner KKR is about to sell to another holding company with a split-it-and-sell-it reputation?
4. When does the cycle break down?: How long before consumers get tired of being asked to buy new every 12 months?
5. Does the show have a future?: Ping is in this year, but has decided not to come to the 2003 PGA Show. Will other companies examine how well their trade-show marketing dollar works? The Las Vegas show became a second-tier flea market in short order. Show owner Reed Exposition will be working hard to make sure theres no domino effect in Orlando.
Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba
Conor Moore is known for his impressions of golfers, and he is back with a new video just in time for The Open.
Moore even got the thumbs up from Ian Poulter.
This is hilarious..— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) July 16, 2018
Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite
Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.
Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.
Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.
Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:
12/1: Dustin Johnson
16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose
20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm
25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods
30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed
40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton
50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick
60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson
80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele
100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen
Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC
If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.
Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.
Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.
There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.
There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.
Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.
John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.
Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.
Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.
Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.
“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”
Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.
“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”
But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.
“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”