State of the Game: It's just fine, Arnie says

By Arnold PalmerJanuary 6, 2015, 3:45 pm

In May of 1994, Sports Illustrated ran a cover asking, “Is Tennis Dying?” Of course, the cover generated a lot of attention, but the answer was obvious. While the sport may have been experiencing challenges at the time it was far from dead. In fact, between 2000 and 2012 U.S. participation in tennis was up 31 percent.

In 2014 some analysts questioned whether golf - a sport that has been growing worldwide for about 500 years - is dying. You’ve heard some of the eulogies:  Participation, they say, is down. That’s not exactly accurate. Sure, golfers are always leaving the game, but new golfers are always joining and if you ask the National Golf Foundation the churn we’re seeing is in line with historical norms.

The critics cite the problems experienced by one or two sectors of the industry while ignoring the solid results of others. For instance, nearly all of the Chicken Littles screeched in July when 500 PGA professionals were laid off from a national sporting goods retailer. The media played up the fact that the layoffs were due to softening sales of golf equipment. What the headlines didn’t mention is that those golf equipment sales were down just 2 percent from the previous quarter.

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For six years, the doubters have been describing Tiger Woods and his recent struggles as a drag on the game. Sure, a healthy, winning Tiger is good for the sport, but I think that as we look ahead to 2015 we’ll have the best of two worlds: a returning, rejuvenated Tiger and a roster of talented young players who want to take him on at his best. As I see it, there are actually two pieces of very good news for Tiger as 2015 begins. The first is that after years of being hindered by injuries, Tiger finally took the extensive break his body needed. From what I’m hearing, he’s shown real discipline in easing himself back into competitive form. 

The second bit of good news for Tiger was his decision to go coach-less for a while and re-think his approach to the golf swing. And when he did hire instructor Chris Como, Tiger referred to him as a “consultant,” not a “coach.” We can argue about major championships and whether Tiger will ever surpass Jack’s 18 majors, but what can’t be argued is this: Tiger Woods is the most dominant, most skilled player we’ve ever seen. A person with that kind of ability may need coaching, but on a limited scale. I love that idea. Look at the better players of my era - Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd. They had pros they worked with from time to time, but out on Tour, thousands of miles from home, each of them learned to be his own best coach.  I think Tiger can do the same.

Another very hopeful development for the game was last summer’s U.S. Women’s Open victory by Michelle Wie. Aside from Tiger himself, I doubt that the golf world has ever put so heavy an expectation on a young professional. Imagine that as she entered 2014 she was only 24 years old and was already considered by many a bust. Then, after a win in April and her memorable performance at Pinehurst, you could almost see the confidence brewing. I have a feeling that her win at Pinehurst changed everything for Michelle. Injuries, long her nemesis, kept her from playing her best as 2014 came to a close, but I see great success for her ahead.

Then there’s Rory McIlroy. What a pleasure he is to watch. His power and flexibility are hypnotic. He seems to be maturing from a boy into a young man and as he does so his game is only improving. I fully expect that he’ll contend at this year’s Masters. A green jacket would complete for him the career grand slam at the age of 25. I’ve got 60 years on the guy and I haven’t completed the slam…yet.

Another promising sign for the game can be found right here at Golf Channel. As hard as it may be to believe, Golf Channel will celebrate 20 years on the air on January 17, 2015. We seem to grow stronger with each passing year, something that simply couldn’t happen without a vibrant, healthy industry to support us. How those 20 years have flown by. I remember like yesterday standing beside my friend and co-founder Joe Gibbs and throwing the switch to put Golf Channel on the air. Our recollections of the birth of Golf Channel can be found in a recently published book, “The Golf Book: Twenty Years of the Players, Shots and Moments That Changed the Game” (to which I contributed the foreword). The book, by veteran golf writer Chris Millard, takes a look back at the last two decades of the game and it dedicates an entire chapter to the rise of Golf Channel.

The last chapter of Chris’ book, is titled The Next Twenty. It makes a very strong case for the future of our sport. It details the likely growth of golf in Asia and the global boost that the game is likely to enjoy as a result of golf’s return to the Olympic Games in 2016.  I think he’s right. Golf has had a couple of tough years, but we’ve had them before. In fact, all sports go through cycles. Think of the NBA before Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Think of boxing after Muhammad Ali. Finally, before we bury golf, we might want to note that Golf Channel's ratings last year were the second best in its 20-year history. The fact of the matter is that golf is alive, well and booming worldwide.

Here’s to a happy, healthy 2015 for all of us. And lots of great golf.

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Ko part of 5-way tie for Mediheal lead

By Associated PressApril 27, 2018, 3:20 am

DALY CITY, Calif. - Lydia Ko was back on top at Lake Merced.

Ko shot a 4-under 68 on a chilly Thursday morning at the LPGA Mediheal Championship for a share of the first-round lead. Jessica Korda, Caroline Hedwall, In-Kyung Kim and Su Oh joined Ko atop the leaderboard in the LPGA's return to Lake Merced after a year away.

''This is a golf course where you need to drive the ball well and putt well,'' said Ko, the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic winner at the course in 2014 and 2015.

Ko eagled the par-5 fifth and had four birdies and a bogey. The New Zealander has 14 LPGA wins, the last in July 2016.

''It's nice to come back to a place where you feel super-welcomed,'' Ko said. ''It just brings back a lot of great memories. ... My family and friends are here this week, so I'm hoping that I'm going to continue the solid play.''

She turned 21 on Tuesday.

''I don't think I feel a huge difference, but I know turning 21 is a huge thing in the U.S.,'' Ko said, ''So, I'm legal and I can do some fun things now.''

Korda, playing alongside Kim a group ahead of Ko, also eagled the fifth and had four birdies and a bogey. Korda won in Thailand in February in her return from reconstructive jaw surgery.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Mediheal Championship

''The score says one thing and my hands say another,'' Korda said. ''It was really cold out there today, so it was good that I stuck to kind of my process. ... Actually, this is still some of the nicer conditions that we've played in compared to the past. I'll take the cold as long as there's no rain.''

Hedwall and Kim each had five birdies and a bogey.

''I just love the city. It's really nice,'' said Hedwall, from Sweden. ''It's sort of a European-style city with all the shopping going on downtown and stuff. I love it here. I even like this weather, suits me really well, too.''

Oh had a bogey-free round. The Australian was the only one of the five players tied for the lead to play in the afternoon.

''It was cold and pretty windy out there and, because it's got a lot of elevation, it kind of swirls in the middle like in the low areas, so it was tough,'' Oh said. ''I hit the ball really solid today. Then the ones I missed, I made really good up-and-downs.''

Lexi Thompson, Sei Young Kim, Charley Hull and Celine Herbin shot 69.

''This course is very challenging, especially when the wind picks up,'' the third-ranked Thompson said. ''It's chilly, so it's a little longer of a course. Some of the par 5s are reachable, so you try to take advantage of that, but pars were good and just take the birdie chances as you can get them.''

Moriya Jutanugarn, the winner Sunday in Los Angeles for her first LPGA title, had a 71 playing with former Stanford student Michelle Wie and ANA Inspiration winner Pernilla Lindberg. Wie had a 74, and Lindberg shot 79. Ariya Jutanugarn matched her sister with a 71, playing in the group with Ko.

Top-ranked Inbee Park matched playing partner Brooke Henderson with a 72. The third member of the afternoon group, second-ranked Shanshan Feng, shot 73.

Juli Inkster shot 72. The 57-year-old Hall of Famer grew up in Santz Cruz, starred at San Jose State and lives in Los Altos. She won the last of her 31 LPGA titles in 2006.

Stacy Lewis had a 74 after announcing that she is pregnant with a due date of Nov. 3. She plans to play through the Marathon Classic in July and return for a full season next year.

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Glover, Reavie share Zurich lead with Chinese pair

By Associated PressApril 27, 2018, 3:04 am

AVONDALE, La. - Chez Reavie had quite a few good moments at TPC Louisiana on Thursday. So did teammate Lucas Glover.

In best-ball format, the most important thing was those moments came on different holes.

Reavie and Glover teamed to shoot a 12-under 60 for a share of the Zurich Classic lead with China's Zhang Xinjun and Dou Zecheng.

''Chez started well and I picked it up in the middle of the back nine,'' Glover said. ''He closed it off and then we both played really well on the front. Just kind of ham and egged it, I guess, as they would say.''

Reavie and Glover each had six birdies in the best-ball format, pushing through soggy weather early in the round before conditions cleared at TPC Louisiana. Six teams are two shots back in a tie for third after shooting 62.

''We were just rolling,'' Reavie said. ''I think we're comfortable. We like to laugh and have a good time when we're playing golf, and it definitely helps.''

Zhang and Dou birdied four of their final five holes. Dou made a 31-foot putt on No. 9 to cap the impressive rally and jump into the lead with Reavie and Glover.

Full-field scores from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans

Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos

Tony Finau-Daniel Summerhays, Chris Paisley-Tommy Fleetwood, J.J. Henry-Tom Hoge, Michael Kim-Andrew Putnam, Kevin Kisner-Scott Brown and Troy Merritt-Brendon de Jonge shot 62. Jason Day and Ryan Ruffels shot 64.

It's the first time since last year's Tour Championship that the reigning champs of all four majors have been in the same field. None of them were among the leaders after the first round.

Masters champion Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay had a 65, and British Open winner Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer were at 66.

''I didn't feel like there was really any rust,'' Reed said. ''I felt like I hit the ball all right today. I felt I hit some good quality putts. A couple of them went in, a couple of them didn't.''

This is the second year that two-player teams have competed at the Zurich Classic. The unusual tournament features best-ball play in the first and third rounds and alternate shot in the second and final rounds.

U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and Marc Turnesa shot a 67. PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas and Bud Cauley shot a 70.

There are 80 teams in the tournament and the top 35, along with ties, will make the cut after Friday's second round.

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Lewis says she's expecting first child in November

By Randall MellApril 27, 2018, 2:18 am

Stacy Lewis is pregnant.

The 12-time LPGA winner confirmed after Thursday’s first round of the Mediheal Championship that she and her husband, University of Houston women’s golf coach Gerrod Chadwell, are expecting their first child on Nov. 3.

Lewis learned she was pregnant after returning home to Houston in late February following her withdrawal from the HSBC Women’s World Championship with a strained oblique muscle.

“We're obviously really excited,” Lewis said. “It wasn't nice I was hurt, but it was nice that I was home when I found out with [Gerrod]. We're just really excited to start a family.”

Lewis is the third big-name LPGA player preparing this year to become a mother for the first time. Suzann Pettersen announced last month that she’s pregnant, due in the fall. Gerina Piller is due any day.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Mediheal Championship

Piller’s husband, PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, withdrew from the Zurich Classic on Thursday to be with her. Piller and Lewis have been U.S. Solheim Cup partners the last two times the event has been played.

“It's going to be fun raising kids together,” Lewis said. “Hopefully, they're best friends and they hang out. But just excited about the next few months and what it's going to bring.”

Lewis, a former Rolex world No. 1 and two-time major championship winner, plans to play through the middle of July, with the Marathon Classic her last event of the year. She will be looking to return for the start of the 2019 season. The LPGA’s maternity leave policy allows her to come back next year with her status intact.

“This year, the golf might not be great, but I've got better things coming in my life than a golf score.” Lewis said. “I plan on coming back and traveling on the road with the baby, and we'll figure it out as we go.”

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Coach scores in NFL Draft and on golf course

By Grill Room TeamApril 27, 2018, 1:47 am

To say that Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had a good day Thursday would be an understatement. Not only did his team snag one of the top defensive players in the NFL Draft - Georgia outside linebacker Roquan Smith, who the Bears took with the eighth pick of the first round - but earlier in the day Fangio, 59, made a hole-in-one, sinking a 9-iron shot from 125 yards at The Club at Strawberry Creek in Kenosha, Wis.

Perhaps the ace isn't so surprising, though. In late May 2017, Fangio made another hole-in-one, according to a tweet from the Bears. The only information supplied on that one was the distance - 116 yards.