Getty Images

The year of JT (and TW and DJ and JS ...)

By Brandel ChambleeDecember 21, 2017, 7:00 pm

Unforgettable years in golf are about as rare as a Tweet-less day by President Trump, understandable given the scarcity of greatness in general and even more so when one considers what we have come to expect of great golfers.

For example, in 2017 Justin Thomas won five times, including a major championship, something Arnold Palmer only did three times in his career – one of those being his seminal year of 1960 – but more recently Tiger Woods has raised the bar. Woods won at least five events and a major within a given year, seven times in his career. So it is with that in mind that Thomas’ epic year registers little more than a meh reaction from many. However, it is easier to make sense of things after they have happened than to predict them before they do.

In 1960, Palmer turned 31. In 2017, Thomas turned 24.

As I have said countless times, the single biggest predictors of success in this game, in descending order, are: Winning a major at a young age (before turning 25), winning by wide margins, and winning in bunches. To that effect, we have been introduced to Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and now Thomas.

Look at that list again. Of the nine names, four of them are playing the game right now, which makes this era unprecedentedly wealthy in its preternatural talent. It teases 2018 with the possibility of a year in golf unlike any other in history.

So while this past year may not have moved you off your couch with the success of any one player, it gave us another name who is only a major away from the career Grand Slam in Spieth. It gave us one more potential young superstar in Thomas. And it gave us a look at what might prove to be the most historically impactful comeback in sports’ history in Woods. To say nothing of Dustin Johnson, Lexi Thompson, Sergio Garcia, Brooks Koepka, McIlroy, Jason Day, Lydia Ko, Phil and Bones, and the bubbling up of what might prove to be the most contentious debate since Old Tom Morris and Allan Robertson had a falling out over – damned if history doesn’t repeat itself – the golf ball.

I’d argue to the still-present Spieth doubters that in the past year he validated the success of 2015 and invalidated the choking whispers of 2016.

I’d argue to the Thomas ignorers that his body, his upright swing and his putting stroke are never going to change. And in this era of playing musical chairs with teachers and their ever-changing philosophies and fitness coaches, that sets him further apart, and will keep him on the same trajectory of his rocketing tee shots.

Ben Hogan, injured in February 1949 when a bus hit his car head on, teed off in the L.A. Open on Jan. 2, 1950, 334 days after sustaining a broken pelvis in two places, a broken collar bone, broken ribs and a broken left ankle – unable to play golf until November ‘49. He would have had, at most, 60 days to prepare for the event he lost in a playoff to Snead. Woods teed off at the Hero World Challenge in December 2017, 301 days after walking off the golf course mid-round in Dubai, his whole body and mind seemingly ground under repair. He would have had, at most, 60 days to prepare for an event with just 18 players in the field where he finished ninth.

I’d argue to the Tiger dissenters that while ninth in an 18-man field does hardly a comeback make, he did manage to beat the PGA Tour Player of the Year in Thomas, the No. 1 player in the world in Johnson, and the current U.S. Open champion Koepka, who wasclearly on his game having just won the Dunlap Phoenix by a record nine shots (breaking the mark of eight shots, set by none other than Woods in 2004).

Hogan went on the win the U.S. Open in 1950, authoring what is considered one of the most remarkable comebacks in sports’ history. Woods has already authored a few minor miracles in winning the U.S. Open after coming back from surgery in 2008, and coming back from scandal and further surgeries to be named 2013 Player of the Year.

Both Ben and Tiger, these instances are prime examples, were not the best of their eras because they practiced or worked harder than anyone else, but because they had the best form and, perhaps more importantly, they had the ability, like a magnifying glass focusing light from the sun, to put all of their energy into a task and to not be put off by the enormity of what they were doing. The enormity of Woods’ impact will be felt again in the coming year. The Hero convinced me of that and I have not easily been convinced before.

It is likely that the stage will never again be set better than it was for Johnson at this year’s Masters, or for that matter all of the majors in 2017. His slip on the stairs and subsequent injury the night before the first round in Augusta was a poignant reminder, just like Rory’ kick-about accident in 2015, that while the highest reaches of this game are about controlling the mind, there is one thing that no one, not even the greatest of athletes can control: Luck.

What Johnson seems able to do as well as anyone in recent memory, is bounce back from disappointment.

I find it somewhat amusing that changes in this game seem to be happening in such a reactionary way, not so much from the powers-that-be, as from the powers that won’t let us be. Knee-jerk reactions to social media outrage have become the norm. When it seems to me that we are allowing the most disgruntled, the most profane, the most obnoxious of dissent to establish the narrative. The outrage to Thompson’s miss-marked ball and subsequent four-stroke penalty at the ANA made her out to be the victim. Although, I admit, there were also fellow professional’s taking her side in this matter, much to my astonishment. She quite clearly and immediately – so no argument could be made that time had elapsed and thus she had forgotten the coin-to-ball relationship she had established – miss-marked her ball.

Every professional player watches how others mark their ball and there is a big differences between marking it correctly, without raising any eyebrows, marking it in such a way as to raise a few eyebrows, and marking it in such a way as to make one raise their voice. Raise a few eyebrows and word gets around. Story goes that Nicklaus stood inches from another player when they were marking their ball on the green. When the player looked up, Jack said, “You see my shoes? You are going to see them every time you mark your ball today.” And that as they say was that. When a player marks their ball the way Lexi did, there is hell to pay, and she had to pay it. The outrage and rule change to follow have almost made her out to be the victim. What she is, is one helluva player.

Thompson has the potential to reestablish the United States as the leader on the LPGA tour, and much as Michelle Wie once did, she has the athleticism to be a Babe Zaharias-type player and dominate with her physical gifts. If she chooses to look at her improved play this past year as evidence of what she can do and the missteps as further motivation for what she wants to do, there is not much that could stop Lexi in the next year.

What can one say about Sergio Garcia winning the Masters except that it was a long time coming and the most deserved major win since Phil Mickelson’s “Is it his time” Masters win in 2004.

If you went into a bar and ordered a “Dustin Johnson” and the bartender said it was Happy Hour – as in two-for-one – and you got a “Brooks Koepka” on the second go-around, you might not notice the difference. Yep, Koepka is that good and reminds me of a younger DJ, and there is going to be a lot of happy hours over the next few years I suspect.

Three recent No. 1’s went winless in 2017: McIlroy, Day and Ko. A stark reminder that there are no guarantees in this game and that the biggest enemy of good, is better. It seems that Rory and Jason wanted better, fitter bodies, which is understandable given what Tiger did with his mega-muscled frame. It seems that Lydia wanted an even better swing, understandable given what Tiger did with his new and improved swings. But in the same way there was much to learn from Tiger’s ascent, there was much also to learn from his descent. Tiger’s transitions had a cost; in time at first, and then in physical decline, and finally in the apparent loss of his genius. Everyone was watching, but were they paying attention?

I suppose the real question of the year is not why Phil and Bones broke up, but how did they stay together for so long? Emotions run high on the golf course and there is a lot to do by both caddie and player. The caddie has to clean and rake; organize and add; know when to speak and when to be silent; show up early and stay late; admit mistakes when there were none; and often be the teacher, coach and counselor. It’s a damn hard job. The player must guard against getting too close to the caddie lest the line of business and pleasure get crossed, but this invariably happens and things one would never say to a friend, one ends up saying on the golf course to their caddie. This leads to a growing awkwardness that takes a few years to germinate and few years to bloom, which is why I’d put the over-under on a caddie-player lifespan at four years and change. Phil and Bones lasted a quarter of century.

As I write this there are people adamantly lining up on both sides of the ball debate and I suspect in the coming year this topic will come to a head.

Since 1980, the average tee shot on the PGA Tour is 36 yards longer.

In my view, this breaks down like this:

From 1980-99, players picked up, on average, 15.1 yards, largely because of the COR or rebound in the face of the metal-wood drivers. This was either an oversight by the governing bodies, or having just regained their equilibrium from the Ping Eye 2 lawsuit (a measuring dispute about the width between square grooves), they were reluctant to raise an issue given the huge popularity of metal-woods and the massive cost it would have been to disavow them.

From 1999-2005, players picked up an additional 16.8 yards, largely owing to the mass conversion from wound balls to solid core balls.

From 2005-17, players have picked up 4.1 yards for any number of reasons, but likely because most PGA Tour players now look like Greek gods.

Somewhere in all this minutia there is the varying contributions of much better agronomy, the lightness and increased length of the shafts, and the increased volume and MOI of drivers making them much more forgivable and thus encouraging harder swings, likely accounting in total for as much as one-third of the increased yardage.

So there it is, 36 damning yards with every swing of the driver and it is now almost impossible to build a par 5 that tour players can’t reach in two or a par 4 that tour players can’t reach with a drive and a short iron. This is hardly the test that anybody with any sense of the history of this game, or respect for its traditions, wants to see. To be sure, this is not at all an outrage to low scoring, at least it is not as far as I am concerned, but rather an outrage to the lack of something missing in the game, and in the games of the best players. First, the need to drive it in the fairway, as coming out of the rough with short irons is hardly a penalty. And second, the need for long-iron approaches on the occasional par 4. And finally, a return to relevancy of some of the game’s most sacred pieces of land, most notably St. Andrews.

There have already been more than a few players talk about rolling the ball back, which when one looks a little deeper smacks of the same type of player-sponsor tandem that sought to have square grooves – i.e. Ping’s irons, which were threatening a huge market share at the time – deemed illegal on the PGA Tour a few decades ago. And, of course, there are more than a few “ancient idolaters” who’d like to see wood and balata come back for no other reason than they think the courses of Tillinghast, Thomas, MacKenzie, Raynor, Ross, Crump, and Wilson should be restored to all their majesty.

And yet Alister MacKenzie, who said that a golf course should be elastic in order to accommodate advances in technology, designed Augusta National to play a ghastly 6,700 yards for the best players in 1934 – that yardage more than making up for the 20-plus yards players had picked up since the turn of the century, when the rubber core ball replaced the gutta-percha. 

When I hear people scream, “Roll the ball back!” I first think, Why the ball and not the rebounding and forgiving metal woods? Why the ball and not the longer lighter shafts? And then I think, At what cost? Who is going to pay restitution to the manufactures whose products will be rescinded? Who will pay for the lawsuits? Who is going to tell all of those amateurs who have been having a blast hitting the ball farther than they ever have, no more smash?

And then I think, that since this really is a problem that affects very few people in the world, namely those who can swing a golf club 120 mph with a fairly high degree of accuracy and who can putt on greens that stimp at 14, wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier and far cheaper to carve out a few teeing grounds here and there on only a select championship courses, slow the courses down with mowing patterns or the height of grasses, and everyone will be happy with the smallest of cost and inconvenience.

After all, the parameters for the ball and driver have been set in stone, so to speak, for more than a few years now and any improvements in distance and score going forward, for maybe the first time in history, can rightly be attributed to the athlete and not the equipment.

Yes, let’s let this sleeping dog lie and the year quietly come to an end.

Getty Images

Sources confirm Charles Schwab to sponsor Colonial event

By Rex HoggardApril 19, 2018, 2:42 pm

Multiple sources have confirmed to that officials at Colonial are poised to announce a new sponsorship agreement with Charles Schwab Corporation.

Tournament officials scrambled this year after Dean & DeLuca ended its sponsorship of the event just two years into a six-year agreement, pulling together an assortment of local sponsors and renaming the event the Fort Worth Invitational.

Colonial’s status on the PGA Tour schedule became even more uncertain when the PGA Championship announced it would move from August to May, beginning in 2019 as part of a major overhaul of the circuit’s schedule.

According to the Dallas News, and confirmed by multiple sources at the club, officials plan to announce the new long-term agreement with Charles Schwab on Monday that will begin in 2019.

News of a long-term sponsorship deal would also suggest the event will remain in May in 2019 and beyond. The Tour has indicated it plans to announce the ’19 schedule at next month’s Players Championship.

Getty Images

PNC Extends Title Sponsorship of PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Golf Channel Public RelationsApril 19, 2018, 1:00 pm

ORLANDO, Fla., April 19, 2018 – IMG and NBC Sports today announced that The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. has extended its contract as title sponsor of the PNC Father/Son Challenge, the tournament that pairs the games’ legends alongside their sons, daughters and grandchildren.

PNC’s multi-year extension as title sponsor keeps the PGA Tour Challenge Event in Orlando reflecting the bank’s commitment to Central Florida. PNC has served as title sponsor of the tournament since 2012. The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes will continue to play host to the PNC Father/Son Challenge. The 2018 PNC Father/Son Challenge will take place Friday-Sunday, Dec. 14-16, with television coverage on Golf Channel and NBC.

“The PNC Father/Son Challenge long ago became one of my family’s favorite golf tournaments,” said 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus. “I have had the pleasure of playing with my sons, and last year, partnering with my 15-year-old grandson GT was a thrill. I am delighted the event—a uniquely special one to us fathers and grandfathers, and perhaps to the many fans out there watching from home or outside the ropes—will continue for many years to come.”

“After our victory in 2016, I said that this win was as good as anything I have done in my career,” said former World No. 1 and major champion David Duval, who alongside his stepson Nick Karavites captured the 2016 title. “I felt blessed to have Nick inside the ropes with me and to have our family surrounding us all week. That’s what makes the PNC Father/Son Challenge so special, and I’m pleased to hear that PNC has extended its support of the event. This golf tournament means so much to all of us who are lucky enough to have the opportunity to play in this event.”

The tournament also holds three events in qualifier markets per year. This year they will be in Dallas, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

“The PNC Father/Son Challenge allows fans to see golf’s legends playing the game they love alongside those they love most,” said Alastair Johnston, vice chairman, IMG. “We are grateful for PNC’s ongoing support of this unique tournament and we look forward to returning to Orlando to celebrate golf and family for many years to come.”

Community support is a key aspect of the tournament and PNC’s sponsorship. PNC is committed to donating $150,000 annually to local non-profits over the life of its sponsorship. Across six previous years of title sponsorship, PNC has already donated $900,000 to Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation and the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children to support the “Healthy Families Orange” program. Over the years, PNC has also had the opportunity through this tournament to co-host events for local women in business, to put on clinics and provide free access to the tournament for active military, and even provide a service dog for a local veteran.

"PNC's long-standing sponsorship of the Father/Son Challenge reflects the philanthropic values we share with the PGA Tour and the golf community, as well as our focus on strong relationships,” said Bill Demchak, chairman, president and chief executive officer of The PNC Financial Services Group. “As PNC Bank continues to expand its footprint, the PNC Father/Son tournament helps us gain visibility with new audiences and to strengthen the relationships we enjoy today with more than 8 million retail, wealth, and corporate and institutional banking customers across the country.”

“NBC Sports is extremely proud of our heritage as co-founder for the Father/Son Challenge, one of golf’s most special events that closes out the calendar year on the golf schedule,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports. “Our relationship with PNC Bank elevates this event each year as a must-attend and must-see event for players and fans alike, and we look forward to our continued relationship with PNC Bank for years to come.”

Past winners of the PNC Father/Son Challenge include some of the biggest names in golf including Raymond Floyd (1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001), Jack Nicklaus (1999), Bernhard Langer (2005-06, 2014), Davis Love III (2012) and David Duval (2016).  Masters champion Angel Cabrera and his son, Angel Cabrera Jr. captured the 2017 title.

To qualify for the PNC Father/Son Challenge, participants must have won either a major championship or THE PLAYERS Championship in their career. The professional’s partner must not currently hold a Tour card, and while the majority of partners in the history of the event have been the sons of the golf legends, the family-themed tournament has seen daughters, grandsons and one father – Justin Leonard’s dad, Larry – participate over the years.

The PNC Father/Son Challenge is operated in partnership by IMG and NBC Sports.

Getty Images

Fire damages National Golf Links of America clubhouse

By Will GrayApril 19, 2018, 12:55 pm

A fire broke out Wednesday at National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y., causing "extensive damage" to a portion of the historic course's clubhouse.

According to a report, an initial call was made to the Southampton police department about a fire on the roof of the clubhouse at 11:34 a.m. With the club's gates too narrow to fit a fire truck through, more than 100 firefighters from various departments helped douse the flames by transporting water up a hill to the east side of the clubhouse.

The fire was reportedly extinguished by 2:30 p.m., with no injuries requiring medical attention. According to a Golf Digest report, the club was undergoing construction on its outdoor eating area known as "the Birdcage" and that most of the club's historical documents reside on the opposite end of the clubhouse from where the fire broke out and was contained.

Opened in 1911, National Golf Links of America was designed by C.B. MacDonald and hosted the inaugural Walker Cup in 1922. The biennial matches returned in 2013 to NGLA, which is often rated among the top courses in the U.S. and sits adjacent to Shinnecock Hills, site of this summer's U.S. Open.

Getty Images

Chappell returns to Valero as defending champ

By Will GrayApril 18, 2018, 9:48 pm

It's impossible for any of the players at this week's Valero Texas Open to forget who captured the trophy last year.

That's because most players stay at the JW Marriott hotel that's a short walk from the first tee at TPC San Antonio, and the defending champion's face is emblazoned on the hotel's room keys. This week, that honor belongs to Kevin Chappell.

"You get some sly comments from players about their room key," Chappell told reporters Wednesday. "'Oh, I'm tired of looking at you.' And I'm saying, 'Believe me, I'm tired of being in everyone's room.'"

The position of defending champ is one Chappell relishes this week as he returns to the site of his maiden PGA Tour victory. A one-shot win over Brooks Koepka led to a euphoric celebration on the 72nd green, and it helped propel Chappell to his first career spot on the Presidents Cup team in October.

Chappell has missed the cut each of the last two weeks, including the Masters, but he also recorded top-10 finishes at the CareerBuilder Challenge, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Arnold Palmer Invitational. It's reason enough for Chappell to feel optimistic heading back to a course where he was a runner-up in 2011 and finished T-4 in 2016.

"This year's been a little bit of a strange year for me. I usually don't find form until about here, usually a slow starter," Chappell said. "But having three top-10s before this event, I've kind of found some form. I'm looking to turn those top-10s into top-5s, and the top-5s into wins. That's the challenge moving forward this year."