Players Not Sold on New Houston Open Course
It's not the date, but the course that could keep many away.
The Tournament Course at Redstone, where Stuart Appleby shot 19 under last weekend to win the event, got a lukewarm response from the players, most of whom were seeing it for the first time.
Vijay Singh won the previous two Houston Opens at the adjacent Jacobsen/Hardy course at Redstone. The event moved to the 7,457-yard Rees Jones layout this year.
Singh said too many of the holes look the same.
'The golf course did not grow on me,' said Singh, the 2000 Masters winner. 'Normally, the more you play, the more it grows on you. I just hope they go back to the old golf course next year. I think that's the consensus of most of the players.'
Bob Estes, who finished second to Appleby, didn't like the distance between holes. The second tee was more than a quarter mile from the first green and though players had carts waiting to shuttle them, Estes said the process backed up play.
'It's just so spread out, the rounds were really long, and that's the downside of it,' Estes said.
Appleby led wire-to-wire and won by six shots. Naturally, he liked the course, but said it was not the ideal tuneup for Augusta. But he added that no course really is and said most players only play the week before majors for the competition.
'Certainly, if I play like this next year going into Augusta, I'll have the next event to gain the momentum and the vibe going in,' he said.
Others did have compliments for the new course north of Houston, which former PGA champion David Toms helped Jones design.
John Daly, who drew the largest galleries last week despite finishing tied for 59th, said the new course was more demanding than the old one off the tee.
'The other one, you can rip driver on all the par 4s and par 5s and this one here, you can't,' he said. 'But I do like it. It's an awesome golf course.'
Outside of a few long walks, Estes enjoyed it, too.
'It's definitely hard enough to challenge all of us,' he said.
Larry Mize, who won The Masters in 1987, said The Tournament Course does have similarities to Augusta.
'You've got big, undulating greens and your iron play is as key as it is at Augusta,' said Mize, who finished at even-par last week. 'You can get some Augusta-like putts out here. I think it can work as a warmup.'
The Houston Open was often played the week before the Masters in the late 1980s and early '90s. It was two weeks before The Masters in 2002, the final year it was played at the TPC at The Woodlands.
It got the late April time slot in 2003, and tournament director Steve Timms said organizers asked the PGA Tour for a change. While acknowledging organizers hope to draw more marquee stars with the move, Timms said the request was also made to protect the course's condition.
Last week, the course was in transition between its winter and summer grasses, requiring more water. Estes said the fairways felt overwatered.
Timms said the course will play firmer and faster -- and more like Augusta -- in late March because of a reduced need for water. The Jones layout will host the event for at least the next six years.
'We're on a heavily overseeded golf course, and playing earlier, with the temperatures here as they are in late March, that works perfectly for us,' Timms said.
Timms isn't expecting Tiger Woods to change his usual routine of skipping the tournament before any major. But Timms expected to draw a few more marquee names than this year's did.
'We were going to take whatever date we got and do the best we could,' he said. 'This will give us a higher probability of attracting a good field. Now, it's just up to us to do all the things we need to do to make this an event players want to play in.'
Caddies drop lawsuit; Tour increases healthcare stipend
After nearly four years of litigation, a group of PGA Tour caddies have dropped their lawsuit against the circuit.
The lawsuit, which was filed in California in early 2015, centered on the bibs caddies wear during tournaments and ongoing attempts by the caddies to improve their healthcare and retirement options.
The caddies lost their class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court and an appeal this year.
Separately, the Association of Professional Tour Caddies, which was not involved in the lawsuit but represents the caddies to the Tour, began negotiating with the circuit last year.
“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the APTC.
In January 2017, Jay Monahan took over as commissioner of the Tour and began working with the APTC to find a solution to the healthcare issue. Sajtinac said the Tour has agreed to increase the stipend it gives caddies for healthcare beginning next year.
“It took a year and a half, but it turned out to be a good result,” Sajtinac said. “Our goal is to close that window for the guys because healthcare is such a massive chunk of our income.”
The Tour did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the agreement or the end to the lawsuit.
Caddies have received a stipend from the Tour for healthcare for some time, and although Sajtinac wouldn’t give the exact increase, he said it was over 300 percent. Along with the APTC’s ability to now negotiate healthcare plans as a group, the new stipend should dramatically reduce healthcare costs for caddies.
“It’s been really good,” said Sajtinac, who did add that there are currently no talks with the Tour to created a retirement program for caddies. “Everybody is really excited about this.”
PGA Tour Latinoamerica moving season finale to Doral
PGA Tour Latinoamérica announced Wednesday that it will play its season finale, the Latinoamérica Tour Championship-Shell Championship, at Trump National Doral from Nov. 29-Dec. 2.
The limited-field event will feature the top 60 players on the circuit's money list competing on Doral's Golden Palm Course.
“We are very happy that we will continue playing the Latinoamérica Tour Championship-Shell Championship in South Florida, and Doral is a tremendous community that we know will open its arms to our players and this tournament,” PGA Tour Latinoamérica president Jack Warfield said in a statement.
The PGA Tour ended its more than 50-year relationship with Doral and the resort's Blue Monster course back in 2016, when Cadillac's title sponsorship of the World Golf Championship lapsed as then-candidate Donald Trump was mounting his bid for the presidency.
“We continue to stand by our earlier statement, and the statement of other golf organizations, that Mr. Trump's comments are inconsistent with our strong commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment in the game of golf,” then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in December 2015, referring to Trump's campaign rhetoric concerning Mexicans and Muslims.
The event was moved to Mexico City in 2017 and renamed the WGC-Mexico Championship.
The Latinoamérica Tour Championship was staged the last two years at Melreese Country Club in Miami, where David Beckham is currently attempting to build a stadium for his Major League Soccer expansion club, Inter Miami.
PGA Tour Latinoamérica's release states that the move to Doral "keeps the event in this part of the Sunshine State and allows the tournament to maintain its ties to The First Tee of Miami as a charitable recipient and sponsor." Melreese, the city's only public golf course, is home to the First Tee of Miami, which naturally opposes Beckham's efforts to close the facility and repurpose the land.
A November referendum will ask voters to decide if the city should negotiate a no-bid lease with Beckham's ownership group, which seeks to create a $1 billion dollar complex comprising of the proposed stadium, youth soccer fields, a park, commercial and retail space, and a hotel.
Im wins Web.com Player and Rookie of the Year awards
Sungjae Im on Thursday was named the Web.com Tour's 2018 Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.
Im won twice on the Web.com this year, taking the season opener in January, The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, and the season finale in August, the WinCo Foods Portland Open, to become the first player in history lead the circuit's money list wire-to-wire.
Im is the first Korean-born player to win the Web's POY award and, at 20 years old, its youngest recipient.
In a player vote, Im bested Anders Albertson, Sam Burns, Kramer Hickok and Martin Trainer, 2018's only other two-time winner, for POY honors, and Burns, Hickock, Trainer and Cameron Champ for ROY honors.
“My first year on the Web.com Tour was an incredibly happy time for me,” Im said, “and it’s pretty surreal that I was able to win the first and last tournament of the season. I honestly thought I would spend about two to three years on the Web.com Tour before making it to the PGA Tour, so I’m happy to have achieved my goal so soon. I’m grateful to have earned the Player of the Year honors and I hope to finish the remainder of the PGA Tour season on a good note.”
In his first PGA Tour start, Im tied for fourth at the Safeway Open, earning $241,280, a little less than half of the $534,326 he amassed in 25 starts as the Web's regular-season money winner.
Playing this week's CJ Cup in his native South Korea, Im opened with a 1-over 73 Thursday.
Former DJ advisor found guilty in embezzlement case
A federal jury has found Nathan Hardwick, a former advisor to Dustin Johnson, guilty of embezzling $26 million in funds from his now-bankrupt real estate closing firm, Morris Hardwick Schneider.
Per Golf.com, citing Law.com, a 12-person jury convicted Hardwick of "one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 21 counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements to federally insured banks."
As for where exactly the money went, The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, once again citing Law.com, has the details:
"The alleged spending included $18.47 million on gambling, private jet travel and women from 2011 through August 2014. The prosecution submitted two binders of documentation as evidence that Hardwick spent $4.39 million on “female social companions,” including one testifying witness who claimed to have met him through SugarDaddy.com."
"Other alleged expenditures described in testimony include more than $7 million at casinos, more than $3 million with a bookie, $680,000 for a luxury condo at The St. Regis Atlanta, $273,000 on a diamond ring, $186,000 on a deposit for a party on a private island, and $635,000 on a trip to the 2014 British Open for golfing buddies that included a customized jet and round at St. Andrews."
Johnson in 2014 sued Morris Hardwick Schneider over a $3 million loan he believed to be an investment. Instead, Johnson argued, the money was going to make up for shortages created by Hardwick's embezzlement. Johnson later amended his suit to argue that Hardwick, who previously served on the board of the Dustin Johnson Foundation, was being used as a "pawn" by the firm's other partners.
That suit was settled in 2016 for $2 million.