All questions to the new season begin with Woods
“Right there, through those trees,” a caddie said jokingly, pointing into the distance toward the Pacific Ocean, where a white yacht was cruising along the Maui coastline below Kapalua. “He’s on his boat.”
For a guy who hasn’t been seen in more than six weeks, Woods seems to be everywhere. And while he isn’t at the season-opening SBS Championship, his presence looms larger than ever.
Woods hasn’t played this tournament since 2005, so his absence is not unusual. Last season began with a similar question – when would he return? – only that was from knee surgery, and it was a matter of time. He is gone from golf now because of a shocking sex scandal that led him to take an “indefinite break” while he tries to save his marriage.
Indefinite could mean anything from two months to all year.
In the meantime, the Tour faces a pivotal year in renewing title sponsorships and laying the groundwork for negotiations on a new television contract. The Americans have a Ryder Cup to defend in October. The major championship rotation features three of the most famous courses in golf – Augusta, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews.
Every season contains questions, yet every answer winds its way back to one player.
Pat Perez was asked for his list of questions about 2010 on the PGA Tour, and he wasted no time rattling off two of them.
“When is Tiger coming back?” he said. “And where the hell is he?”
That’s a good place to start on a few questions for the new season:
1. When will Woods appear?
Considering that a healthy Woods has started every season at Torrey Pines since 2006, the “indefinite break” really doesn’t start until he doesn’t show up at the San Diego Open starting Jan. 28.
Woods had planned on playing the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on Feb. 11, especially since Poppy Hills was replaced in the course rotation by Monterey Peninsula, the field was reduced from 180 to 156 players, the U.S. Open is returning to Pebble Beach in June and Woods carried the AT&T logo on his golf bag.
That was before AT&T ended its endorsement deal with him, and it was agreed that Woods no longer would be the host of the AT&T National this summer outside Philadelphia, a tournament that benefits his foundation.
Accenture dropped him too, making it unlikely he would return to the Match Play Championship toward the end of February. Woods returned from his knee surgery at Match Play, and his relationship with Accenture played a part in that.
Speculation has shifted to the Florida swing – either Doral or Bay Hill, as a tuneup for the Masters. But that assumes he will play in the Masters. Would he really skip Augusta National? Maybe. Could he possibly skip majors at Pebble and St. Andrews? Could he return to Torrey Pines – next year?
To borrow a slogan from the PGA Tour, anything is possible.
2. Can the Americans win another Ryder Cup?
Tom Watson, who turned 60 in September, is No. 6 in the Ryder Cup standings going into the year. That’s because points in a non-Ryder Cup year only are awarded at the majors. David Duval is No. 8.
The Americans are defending champions for the first time in eight years, and U.S. captain Corey Pavin has extra large shoes to fill after the job Paul Azinger did in 2008 at Valhalla. Europe is led by Colin Montgomerie, who believes the Ryder Cup is bigger than majors and can only hope he gets a better outcome.
It will be played the first weekend in October in Wales, and past captain Nick Faldo wasn’t kidding when he reminded everyone at closing ceremonies in 2008 to bring rain gear.
The big question: Will the Americans bring the No. 1 player?
Woods has tolerated the Ryder Cup more than he has enjoyed it. Even if he has returned to competition, his family crisis might be a good excuse for him to sit this one out. Besides, the Americans did just fine without him last time.
3. What will Phil do next?
The way Phil Mickelson ended last year, he appeared poised to make a run at several milestones – winning a money title, player of the year and reaching No. 1 in the world, none of which he has ever achieved in an otherwise stellar career.
His wife continues her recovery from breast cancer, which has allayed fears at home, and Mickelson regained his putting touch with the help of Dave Stockton. And with Woods out of the picture indefinitely (whatever that means), it would seem the stars are aligned.
Strangely, though, Mickelson is one of the few players who thrives on competition with Woods. He did next to nothing at the tail end of 2008 when Woods was out with knee surgery, and didn’t win on the PGA Tour until the week Woods announced his return.
He won Doral with Woods in the field, outplayed him in their final round pairing at the Masters, outplayed him at the U.S. Open, then ended the year by beating him in consecutive tournaments at the Tour Championship and in Shanghai.
4. Is the worst of the golf economy over?
Tour commissioner Tim Finchem already faced a big year trying to find title sponsors for San Diego, Hilton Head and Palm Springs, along with renewals at crucial venues such as Doral.
Throw in the Woods scandal and it doesn’t get any easier.
“It will be an interesting year for us with the economy and the hit we’re taking with our image,” said British Open champion Stewart Cink, a member of the tour’s policy board. “We’ll have to see how that plays out.”
Mickelson: 'Not my finest moment ... 'I'm sorry'
Days after his putter swipe ignited a controversy that threatened to overshadow the U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson offered an apology.
Mickelson received a two-shot penalty for purposely hitting his ball while it was still in motion on the 13th green during the third round at Shinnecock Hills. In the eyes of the USGA, his actions fell short of a disqualification for a “serious breach” of the rules, and the 48-year-old ultimately matched his age with a T-48 finish after returning to play the final round.
Mickelson declined to speak to reporters after a Sunday 66, but Wednesday he sent a note to a select group of media members that included Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte in which the five-time major champ offered some contrition.
“I know this should’ve come sooner, but it’s taken me a few days to calm down. My anger and frustration got the best of me last weekend,” Mickelson wrote. “I’m embarrassed and disappointed by my actions. It was clearly not my finest moment and I’m sorry.”
Mickelson’s actions drew ire from both media members and his fellow competitors, with members of both groups implying that his actions merited disqualification. His most recent remarks seem to indicate that the decision to run up and stop his ball from tumbling back across the 13th green was more of an impulse than the calculated use of the rule book he described after the third round at Shinnecock.
“It’s certainly not meant (to show disrespect). It’s meant to take advantage of the rules as best you can,” Mickelson said Saturday. “In that situation I was just, I was just going back and forth. I’ll gladly take the two shots over continuing that display.”
Mickelson is not in the field this week at the Travelers Championship and is expected to make his next start in two weeks at The Greenbrier.
Hubert Green, Hall of Famer, dies at 71
Hubert Green, a World Golf Hall of Famer who won 19 times on the PGA Tour, including the 1977 U.S. Open and 1985 PGA Championship, died Tuesday from complications following a lengthy battle with throat cancer. He was 71.
A remarkably consistent player, Green used his distinctive swing to finish in the top 25 in a third of the PGA Tour events he entered. He also played on three Ryder Cup teams (1977, 1979, and 1985) and was undefeated in singles play.
A native of Birmingham, Ala., Green graduated from Florida State University in 1968. While at FSU, he won the Cape Coral Intercollegiate tournament by eight strokes and the Miami Invitational, the nation’s largest collegiate tournament, by five strokes. He turned pro in 1969, earned his Tour card in 1970 and was named PGA Rookie of the Year in 1971.
Green's first PGA Tour win was the 1971 Houston Champions International, in which he beat Don January in a playoff. Between 1973 and 1976 he won 10 more times, including a three-week stretch in 1976 when he won at Doral, Jacksonville and Hilton Head.
Green won the 1977 U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., despite being informed of a death threat against him that had been anonymously telephoned to the course. He received the news after putting out on the 14th hole of the final round. He decided to keep playing, and wound up winning by one stroke over Lou Graham.
A seldom-remembered fact about Green: he finished third behind Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus in their 1977 "Duel in the Sun" Open Championship at Turnberry. He was 11 strokes behind winner Watson.
Green won his second major championship in 1985, taking the PGA Championship at Cherry Hills. By a margin of two strokes, he denied Lee Trevino's bid to win back-to-back PGAs. It would be Green's last win on the PGA Tour. Afterward, Trevino praised his opponent, saying “He’s a great sand player and probably the best chipper we’ve got. Every time he got into trouble, he chipped it close to the hole.”
Green joined what is now known as the PGA Tour Champions in 1997 and went on to win four times, the first win coming in 1998 in his hometown of Birmingham.
Green was also involved in golf course design, including courses such as TPC Southwind, Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Ga.; and Greystone Golf & Country Club in Birmingham.
Green was diagnosed with stage-four throat cancer in 2003. Treated with chemotherapy and radiation, he continued playing golf. In 2005, he was named the Champions Tour's Comeback Player of the Year. He also received the Ben Hogan Award at the Masters that year. In 2007 he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Green is also remembered for his philanthropic efforts. Over the years he participated in hundreds of charity tournaments and community fund-raising events that supported a wide range of causes including childhood cancer, united cerebral palsy, and other illnesses.
Green is survived by his wife Becky Blair, of Birmingham; three sons, Hubert Myatt Green Jr. of Hurricane, Utah; Patrick Myatt Green; and James Thomas Green (Adrienne) of Panama City, Fla.; sisters Melinda Green Powers and Carolyn Green Satterfield and brother Maurice O. V. Green, all of Birmingham, step-sons Richard O’Brien of New Orleans and Atticus O’Brien of Dallas, Texas, and several grandchildren.
A memorial service is being planned at Highlands United Methodist Church in Birmingham, and details are pending. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to Highlands United Methodist Church Community Ministry or to a charity of your choice.
Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88
Hailed as a hero to some and as golf royalty to others, Peter Thomson, a five-time winner of The Open and the only player in the 20th century to win the championship for three straight years, died Wednesday. He was 88.
Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members, Golf Australia said.
The first Australian to win The Open, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by American Tom Watson.
The Australian's wins came in 1954, '55, '56, again in 1958 and lastly in 1965 against a field that included Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
Only Harry Vardon, with six titles between 1896 and 1914, won more.
Thomson also tied for fourth at the 1956 U.S. Open and placed fifth in the 1957 Masters. He never played the PGA Championship.
In 1998, he captained the International side to its only win over the United States at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.
Asked by The Associated Press in 2011 how he'd like to be remembered, Thomson replied: ''A guy who always said what he thought.''
Veteran Australian golfer Karrie Webb was among the first to tweet her condolences, saying she was ''saddened to hear of the passing of our Aussie legend and true gentleman of the game .... so honored to have been able to call Peter my friend. RIP Peter.''
Former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Thomson was ''a champion in every sense of the word, both on the course and in life.''
''Many know him as a five-time champion golfer of the year or as a three-time captain of the Presidents Cup International team.'' Finchem added. ''But he was also a great friend, father, grandfather and husband. He was golfing royalty, and our sport is a better one because of his presence.''
Former golfer and now broadcaster Ian Baker-Finch, the 1991 Open champion, called Thomson his ''hero'' - ''Peter - my friend and mentor R.I.P. Australian golf thanks you for your iconic presence and valuable guidance over the years.''
From Britain, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers praised Thomson's plans for the game's future.
''Peter gave me a number of very interesting and valuable thoughts on the game, how it has developed and where it is going, which demonstrated his genuine interest and love of golf,'' Slumbers said. ''He was one of the most decorated and celebrated champion golfers in the history of The Open.''
Born in the Melbourne inner-city suburb of Brunswick on Aug. 23, 1929, Thomson was a promising cricketer. He scored an unbeaten 150 runs for the Carlton club against a men's side as a 15-year-old.
But golf became his passion, and he turned professional in 1947.
He won the national championships of 10 countries, including the New Zealand Open nine times and Australian Open three times. He first played on the PGA Tour in the U.S. in 1953 and 1954, finishing 44th and 25th on the money list, respectively. He won the Texas International in 1956.
Thomson won nine times on the Senior PGA tour in the U.S. in 1985, topping the money list. His last tournament victory came at the 1988 British PGA Seniors Championship, the same year he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Overall, he won 26 European Tour events, 34 times on the Australasian PGA tour and 11 on the seniors tour in the U.S, as well as once in Japan.
In later years, Thomson wrote articles for many publications and daily newspapers, was club professional at Royal Melbourne and designed more than 100 golf courses. In the 2011 Presidents Cup program, Thomson provided an insightful hole-by-hole analysis of the composite course at Royal Melbourne.
Thomson was always reluctant to compare his wins with anyone else's.
''All records are qualified in that they were made at a certain time in history,'' Thomson told golf historian and author Brendan Moloney for a story on his 80th birthday.
''The circumstances change so much, and so do the players' attitudes. In golf, only in the last 30 years or so has there been a professional attitude to playing for money. The professionals in the USA and Britain and anywhere else all had club jobs as a backstop to their income.
''When they did play and make records, you have to understand that they were taking time off from the pro shop,'' he said. ''So the records that were set were pretty remarkable.''
Thomson always had stories to tell, and told them well. With a full head of hair and a lineless face that belied his age, the Australian wasn't afraid to let everyone know his feelings on any subject.
That was true as far back as 1966. As president of the Australian PGA, Thomson was indignant that Arnold Palmer's prize for winning the Australian Open was only $1,600, out of a total purse of $6,000, one of the smallest in golf.
''Golf Stars Play for Peanuts,'' blared the headline of a story he wrote. ''Never before has such a field of top golfers played for what $6,000 is worth today. Canada offers 19 times that. I know 19 other countries who give more.''
But he was always happy on the golf course.
''I've had a very joyful life, playing a game that I loved to play for the sheer pleasure of it,'' Thomson said. ''I don't think I did a real day's work in the whole of my life.''
Thomson served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years and worked behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.
In 1979, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf, and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.
Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Gaston leaves USC to become head coach at Texas A&M
In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.
This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.
Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.
Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.
The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.