Good or bad: Golf no longer has an offseason

By Doug FergusonJanuary 7, 2012, 4:42 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii - The start of a new season doesn’t feel much different from the old one.

Nine players - that’s one-third of the 27-man field at Kapalua - were together only a month ago at the Chevron World Challenge. A week later, eight players were in Florida for the Shark Shootout. They went home for the holidays, then packed their clubs and flew across the Pacific Ocean for the Tournament of Champions for the 2012 season.

The offseason in golf isn’t what it used to be.

When this winners-only tournament first came to Kapalua in 1999, the landscape in golf was different. The Tour Championship ended the first week in November, and the majority of players disappeared until the start of the new year. The elite would only play in the silly season at events like the Skins Game or the Shark Shootout. Some chased appearance money in Asia.

David Toms was supposed to be at the Chevron World Challenge last month, part of an 18-man field playing for $5 million. He withdrew at the last minute, saying he was tired and wanted some time with his family.

“I needed a break,” Toms said. “If I would have played there, I’d have had only three weeks, and some of that was spent on holidays.”

Nowadays, the offseason is whenever a player feels he can take time off.

Padraig Harrington has never been to Hawaii for the Tournament of Champions. He takes this time of the year to refresh and recharge in Ireland. Rory McIlroy is doing the same thing. Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, didn’t start his 2011 season until the third week in February at Riviera. Graeme McDowell tried to take a four-week break in February.

Toms showed that players can make their offseason as long as they want it to be. Even so, he worries that such time is getting harder to find in a global game that relies so heavily on the world ranking.

“For guys that want to get in big tournaments, if they stop at Disney or even before that, they can lose so many spots,” he said. “I’ve taken off three months and lost 20 spots in the ranking. And you’ve got big tournaments early in the season when you need it. So you’re kind of forced to play.”

When he tied for third in the McGladrey Classic, his final tournament in 2010, Toms was No. 62 in the world. He took off three months, returning at the Bob Hope Classic, and had slipped all the way to No. 84. He did not get in the Match Play Championship or the Cadillac Championship that year, missing two playing opportunities in World Golf Championships.

This year was a little different.

Toms chose to miss the biggest college football game of the year—Alabama against his beloved LSU Tigers - and flew halfway around the world to China for the HSBC Champions. He also played the Australian Open in the week before the Presidents Cup in Australia.

“I went to China trying to improve that ranking; I would never have gone over there,” he said. “I played in the Australian Open because there were world ranking points there. That’s stuff that I would never do. So what’s going to happen now is I’ll play some, and then I’ll need some time off during our season instead of taking time off the other way.

“So you have options, but you don’t,” he said. “If you want to maintain a certain status, or a certain level, you’ve got to play.”

At some point, though, Toms needs a break.

So do the others.

Steve Stricker won the Match Play Championship at the start of the 2001 season and took nearly two months off toward the end of the season, even to the point of risking his spot in the Tour Championship for the top 30 on the money list. He narrowly made it. Walking on the practice range one day at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Tiger Woods saw him and said, “Welcome back out of retirement.”

It’s not much different now. Stricker took off nearly two months before the Presidents Cup. Part of that was to rest a weakened left arm, though he had planned only one tournament between the Tour Championship and Presidents Cup even if he had been healthy.

“It’s tough to find the time,” Stricker said. “You can play all year long, but I think you’ve still got to find the time. You’ve got to still get away, find the time where you can set the clubs down for a little while and get refreshed and ready to go for another year. Because it’s a long year, and there’s so many big things at the end of it all that you want to make sure you’re fresh and still able to play at the end.”

Stricker is taking four weeks off when he finishes next week in the Sony Open. He’ll return at Riviera.

As much grumbling as there is about the weak field at Kapalua, it’s a product of where players live, how they build a worldwide schedule and when they can find time to take a break.

Donald played three times in December. McIlroy played five times over the last two months. Masters champion Charl Schwartzel is the defending champion next week in the Joburg Open in his native South Africa.

This is all new for Keegan Bradley, a rookie who figured his season would end quietly sometime in September. That was before he won the PGA Championship. Before long, he was off to Bermuda for the Grand Slam of Golf, then to China for the HSBC Champions, and the Chevron and Shark Shootout.

But he’s not complaining. Plus, he’s young.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Bradley said. “It was fun. But you could play more in the offseason than you do in the regular season if you wanted to.”

So it’s the start of the new year for some, and it feels like a continuation of the old year for others. All of them will take a break at some point, and when they do, there will be tournaments that wished they were playing.

Then again, golfers have no guaranteed income from tournaments. They are self-employed, independent contractors.

That much hasn’t changed.

Getty Images

Lopez fires flawless 63 for lead in Arkansas

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 12:41 am

ROGERS, Ark. – Since its first year on the LPGA Tour in 2007, the crowds at the NW Arkansas Championship have belonged to Stacy Lewis.

Another former University of Arkansas star staked her claim as the hometown favorite Friday when Gaby Lopez shot a career-low 8-under 63 to take the first-round lead at Pinnacle Country Club.

Like Lewis, the two-time winner of the tournament, Lopez starred as a three-time All-American for the Razorbacks before joining the LPGA Tour in 2016. Despite flashes of potential, Lopez had yet to join Lewis among the ranks of the world's best - missing the cut in her last two tournaments and entering this week ranked 136th in the world.

For a day, at least, the Mexican standout felt right at home atop the leaderboard in her adopted home state.

''I feel like home,'' Lopez said. ''I feel so, so comfortable out here, because I feel that everyone and every single person out here is just rooting for us.''


Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


Moriya Jutanugarn was a stroke back along with Minjee Lee, Catriona Matthew, Nasa Hataoka, Lizette Salas, Mirim Lee and Aditi Ashok. Six others finished at 6 under on a day when only 26 of the 144 players finished over par, thanks to some mid-week rain that softened the greens and calm skies throughout the day.

Jutanugarn finished second at the tournament last year and is trying to win for the second time on the LPGA Tour this year. Her younger sister, Ariya, is already a two-time winner this year and shot an opening-round 66.

Lewis, the former world No. 1 who won the event in 2007 in 2014, finished with a 66. She's expecting her first child in early November

Defending champion So Yeon Ryu, coming off a victory Sunday in Michigan, shot a 67.

Friday was Lopez's long-awaited day to standout, though, much to the delight of the pro-Arkansas crowd.

After missing the cut her last two times out, Lopez took some time off and returned home to Mexico City to rest her mind and work on her game. The work paid off with two straight birdies to open her round and a 6-under 30 on her front nine.

Lopez needed only 25 putts and finished two shots off the course record of 61, and she overcame a poor drive on the par-5 18th to finish with a par and keep her place at the top of the leaderboard. Her previous low score was a 64 last year, and she matched her career best by finishing at 8 under.

''(Rest) is a key that no one really truly understands until you're out here,'' Lopez said. ''... Sometimes resting is actually the part you've got to work on.''

Getty Images

Harman rides hot putter to Travelers lead

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:28 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – There are plenty of big names gathered for the Travelers Championship, and through two rounds they’re all chasing Brian Harman.

Harman opened with a 6-under 64, then carded a 66 during Friday’s morning wave to become the only player to finish the first two rounds in double digits under par. The southpaw is currently riding a hot putter, leading the field in strokes gained: putting while rolling in 12 birdies and an eagle through his first 36 holes.

“Putted great today,” said Harman, who ranks 22nd on Tour this season in putting. “Got out of position a couple of times, but I was able to get myself good looks at it. I started hitting the ball really well coming down the stretch and made a few birdies.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Harman, 31, has won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship. While he doesn’t have a win this year, he started his season in the fall by reeling off five straight finishes of T-8 or better to quickly install himself as one of the leaders in the season-long points race.

Now topping a leaderboard that includes the likes of Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, he realizes that he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s going to leave Connecticut with trophy No. 3.

“The putter has been really good so far, but I’ve been in position a lot. I’ve had a lot of good looks at it,” Harman said. “I’m just able to put a little pressure on the course right now, which is nice.”

Getty Images

10-second rule costs Zach Johnson a stroke

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:06 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Zach Johnson heads into the weekend one shot back at the Travelers Championship, but he was a matter of seconds away from being tied for the lead.

Johnson had an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 3 at TPC River Highlands, his 12th hole of the day, but left the ball hanging on the lip. As Johnson walked up to tap the ball in, it oscillated on the edge and eventually fell in without being hit.

Was it a birdie, or a par?

According to the Rules of Golf, and much to Johnson’s chagrin, the answer was a par. Players are afforded “reasonable” time to walk to the hole, and after that they are allowed to wait for 10 seconds to see if the ball drops of its own accord. After that, it either becomes holed by a player’s stroke, or falls in and leads to a one-shot penalty, resulting in the same score as if the player had hit it.

According to Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president of rules and competitions, Johnson’s wait time until the ball fell in was between 16 and 18 seconds.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“Once he putts the ball, he’s got a reasonable amount of time to reach the hole,” Russell said. “Then once he reaches the hole, he’s got 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, the ball is deemed to be at rest.”

Johnson tried to emphasize the fact that the ball was oscillating as he stood over it, and even asked rules officials if marking his ball on the edge of the hole would have yielded a “bonus 10 seconds.” But after signing for a 2-under 68 that brought him within a shot of leader Brian Harman, the veteran took the ruling in stride.

“The 10-second rule has always been there. Vague to some degree,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is I went to tap it in after 10 seconds and the ball was moving. At that point, even if the ball is moving, it’s deemed to be at rest because it’s on the lip. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just the way it is.”

While Johnson brushed off any thoughts of the golf gods conspiring against him on the lip, he was beaming with pride about an unconventional par he made on No. 17 en route to a bogey-free round. Johnson sailed his tee shot well right into the water, but after consulting his options he decided to drop on the far side of the hazard near the 16th tee box.

His subsequent approach from 234 yards rolled to within 8 feet, and he calmly drained the putt for an unexpected save.

“I got a great lie. Just opened up a 4-hybrid, and it started over the grandstands and drew in there,” Johnson said. “That’s as good of an up-and-down as I’ve witnessed, or performed.”

Getty Images

Travelers becoming marquee event for star players

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 11:29 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Get lost in the throngs following the defending champ, or caught up amongst the crowds chasing the back-to-back U.S. Open winner, and it’s easy to forget where this tournament was a little more than a decade ago.

The Travelers Championship was without a sponsor, without a worthwhile field, without a consistent date and on the verge of being jettisoned to the PGA Tour Champions schedule. The glory days of the old Greater Hartford Open had come and gone, and the PGA Tour’s ever-increasing machine appeared poised to leave little old Cromwell in its wake.

The civic pride is booming in this neck of the woods. Main Street is lined with one small business after the next, and this time of year there are signs and posters popping up on every corner congratulating a member of the most recent graduating class at Cromwell High School, which sits less than two miles from the first tee at TPC River Highlands.

Having made it through a harrowing time in the event’s history, the local residents now have plenty of reason to take pride.

The Tour’s best have found this little New England hamlet, where tournament officials roll out the red carpet in every direction. They embrace the opportunity to decompress after the mind-numbing gauntlet the USGA set out for them last week, and they relish a return to a course where well-struck shots, more often than not, lead to birdies.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Ten years ago, this tournament was also held the week after the U.S. Open. Stewart Cink won, and for his efforts he received a paltry 36 world ranking points. But thanks to a recent influx of star-power, this week’s winner will pocket 58 points – the same amount Rory McIlroy won at Bay Hill, and two more than Justin Rose got at Colonial. Now at the halfway point, the leaderboard backs up the hefty allocation.

While Brian Harman leads at 10 under, the chase pack is strong enough to strike fear in the heart of even the most seasoned veteran: McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson, they of the combined eight major titles, all sit within three shots of the lead. Former world No. 1 Jason Day is one shot further back, and reigning Player of the Year Justin Thomas will start the third round inside the top 20.

Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau, both likely participants at the Ryder Cup this fall, are right there as well at 8 under. Casey lost a playoff here to Watson in 2015 and has come back every year since, witnessing first-hand the tournament’s growth in scope.

“It speaks volumes for what Travelers have done and how they treat everybody, and the work that Andy Bessette and his team put in to fly around the country and speak highly of this event,” Casey said. “And do things which matter, to continue to improve the event, not just for players but for spectators.”

Part of the increased field strength can be attributed to the Tour’s recent rule change, requiring players who play fewer than 25 events in a season to add a new event they haven’t played in the last four years. Another portion can be attributed to the short commute from Shinnecock Hills to TPC River Highlands, a three-hour drive and even shorter across the Long Island Sound – an added bonus the event will lose two of the next three years with West Coast U.S. Opens.

But there’s no denying the widespread appeal of an event named the Tour’s tournament of the year, players’ choice and most fan-friendly in 2017. While Spieth’s return to defend his title was assumed, both Day and McIlroy are back for another crack this year after liking what they saw.

“Anyone that I talked to could only say good things about the tournament about the golf course, how the guys are treated here, how the fans come out, and how the community always gets behind this event,” McIlroy said. “Obviously I witnessed that for the first time last year, and I really enjoyed it.”

After starting the week with all four reigning major champs and five of the top 10 players in the latest world rankings, only Masters champ Patrick Reed got sent packing following rounds of 72-67. The remaining top-flight contingent will all hit the ground running in search of more low scores Saturday, with Spieth (-4) still retaining a glimmer of hope to keep his title defense chances alive, perhaps with a 63 like he fired in the opening round.

The Tour’s schedule represents a zero-sum game. Outside of the majors and WGCs that essentially become must-play events for the game’s best, the rest of the legs of the weekly circus become victim of a 12-month version of tug-of-war. Some players like to play in the spring; others load up in the fall. Many play the week before majors, while a select group block off the week after for some R&R far away from a golf course.

But in an environment where one tournament’s ebbs can create flows for another, the Travelers has continued a steady climb up the Tour’s hierarchy. Once in jeopardy of relegation, it has found its footing and appears in the process of turning several of the Tour’s one-name stars into regular participants.

Rory. Jordan. Bubba. JT.

It’s been a long battle for tournament officials, but the proof is in the pudding. And this weekend, the reward for the people of Cromwell – population 14,000 – looks to be a star-studded show.

“All the events are incredible,” Thomas said. “But this is kind of one of those underrated ones that I think until people come and play, do they realize how great it is.”