Sign 'o the times: PGA Tour not the destination it used to be

By Doug FergusonAugust 2, 2011, 10:51 pm

AKRON, Ohio – There was a time when Martin Kaymer couldn’t get to America fast enough.

First came the inspiration from Tiger Woods’ incomparable 2000 season, when he won three straight majors among his 10 titles around the world. It was enough for the 15-year-old German to start dreaming of the PGA Tour, a chance to compete against Woods and the rest of the best players, to show them that he could play.

Then came a chance to go to PGA National in South Florida with his German national team.

“At that stage, I was still in school and couldn’t go,” Kaymer said Tuesday. “I said to my dad, ‘I really want to go there. Is it not possible you can take me out of school for a week or two weeks?’ He said, ‘Just keep working and you will play on the PGA Tour one year and then you will be there all year long.”’

Now that he’s a major champion, which comes with a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, Kaymer no longer is in such a hurry.

And why should he be?

Golf has changed so much over the last 10 years that America, once the ultimate destination for the best players from all corners of the globe, now is no more than an occasional detour for so many Europeans.

The World Golf Championships, such as this week’s Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, used to offer a taste of the PGA Tour with enormous prize money, impeccable conditions and a chance to compete against the best in the world.

Kaymer now gets enough of that while based in Europe.

He can play 12 times on the PGA Tour, which includes four majors and three World Golf Championships. That leaves him five other events to play, which is ample. He can still pick the best events to play in Europe and other parts of the world.

It’s a formula that appears to be working.

Kaymer, who won the PGA Championship last year and already has nine wins at age 26, stayed at No. 1 in the world earlier this year for two months. And while he lives part-time in Arizona, he has no immediate plans to join the PGA Tour.

“I can’t tell when it’s going to be,” he said. “At the moment, I like my position that I can play a little bit in Europe, a little bit in America. I play all the tournaments I want to play, so there’s no need to join only the European Tour or only the PGA Tour or both. I don’t need to join the PGA Tour.”

He is not alone. Three of the four major champions are not PGA Tour members.

The PGA Tour is not as strong without them, though it remains the strongest tour in the world, and that isn’t likely to change any time soon. It’s easy to get swept up over Europeans dominating the world ranking – 11 of the top 25, including Nos. 1-2-3 – by overlooking the fact that America still attracts most of the best players from Asia, Australia, South Africa, South America and its fair share of Europeans.

That’s why it has the strongest fields each week, with about a half-dozen exceptions.

Europe, however, has more than held its own since it looked to be doomsday five years ago. It was in 2006 when the PGA Tour announced its new FedEx Cup competition, complete with $35 million in bonus money and $10 million to the winner. It also made plans to move The Players Championship to May.

European Tour chief executive George O’Grady gathered two dozen players at La Costa during the Match Play Championship in 2006 to figure out how to proceed. The message that emerged from that meeting was that the European Tour was worth fighting for.

It is more than holding its own.

The FedEx Cup has not been enticing to all. Lee Westwood, who has joined the PGA Tour a couple of times, found no point in playing a full American schedule because the bonus series is right about the time his kids are on summer vacation. U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy tried the PGA Tour last year, then decided it was too much golf at the wrong time of the season at this stage in his career.

Darren Clarke, fresh off his popular British Open win, hasn’t made up his mind about returning to America, but he said enough Tuesday to indicate that he was better off at home in Northern Ireland to spend more time with his two sons.

Clarke is 42 and has been around long enough to notice a change in the landscape of golf.

“I was a member of the PGA Tour, and I was proud to be a member of the PGA Tour, and I wanted to be a member of the PGA Tour,” he said. “Now with the way that game is on a much more global basis, the European Tour is pretty good, as well. We in Europe have got the majority of the top 10 players in the world right now. We’re pretty fortunate, and we have some players who deserve to be in those positions.”

A decade ago, Clarke figured the only way to move up in the ranking was to play more in America because that’s where all the best were playing. Now, there is ample opportunity to pick up big ranking points in Abu Dhabi, Scotland, Shanghai and Singapore.

“The necessity to be a PGA Tour member is not quite there like it used to be,” Clarke said. “A lot of guys will take up opportunities to be members, but at my stage in my career when I’m 42, do I need to join the PGA Tour again?”

Kaymer is only 26 and asking the same thing.

“I just don’t want to play tournaments because I have to play,” he said, alluding to the PGA Tour’s minimum requirement of 15 events. “If I go there, I want to play well. I want to enjoy being there. And if you travel to some countries or if you play too many tournaments, I don’t think that you can enjoy every tournament you play.”

Getty Images

Davies a fitting winner of inaugural USGA championship

By Randall MellJuly 15, 2018, 11:26 pm

Laura Davies confessed she did not sleep well on a five-shot lead Saturday night at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

It’s all you needed to know about what this inaugural event meant to the women who were part of the history being made at Chicago Golf Club.

The week was more than a parade of memories the game’s greats created playing in the USGA’s long-awaited showcase for women ages 50 and beyond.

The week was more than nostalgic. 

It was a chance to make another meaningful mark on the game.

In the end, Davies relished seeing the mark she made in her runaway, 10-shot victory. She could see it in the familiar etchings on the trophy she hoisted.

“I get my name on it first,” Davies said. “This championship will be played for many years, and there will only be one first winner. Obviously, quite a proud moment for me to win that.”

Really, all 120 players in the field made their marks at Chicago Golf Club. They were all pioneers of sorts this past week.

“It was very emotional seeing the USGA signs, because I've had such a long history, since my teens, playing in USGA championships,” said Amy Alcott, whose Hall of Fame career included the 1980 U.S. Women’s Open title. “I thought the week just came off beautifully. The USGA did a great job. It was just so classy how everything was done, this inaugural event, and how was it presented.”

Davies was thankful for what the USGA added to the women’s game, and she wasn’t alone. Gratefulness was the theme of the week.

Full-field scores from the U.S. Senior Women’s Open

The men have been competing in the U.S. Senior Open since 1980, and now the women have their equal opportunity to do the same.

“It was just great to be a part of the first,” three-time U.S. Women’s Open winner Hollis Stacy said. “The USGA did a great job of having it at such a great golf course. It's just been very memorable.”

Trish Johnson, who is English, like Davies, finished third, 12 shots back, but she left with a heart overflowing.

“Magnificent,” said Johnson, a three-time LPGA and 19-time LET winner. “Honestly, it's one of the best, most enjoyable weeks I've ever played in in any tournament anywhere.”

She played in the final group with Davies and runner-up Juli Inkster.

“Even this morning, just waiting to come out here, I thought, `God, not often do I actually think how lucky I am to do what I do,’” Johnson said.

At 54, Davies still plays the LPGA and LET regularly. She has now won 85 titles around the world, 20 of them LPGA titles, four of them majors, 45 of them LET titles.

With every swing this past week, she peeled back the years, turned back the clock, made fans and peers remember what she means to the women’s game.

This wasn’t the first time Davies made her mark in a USGA event. When she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1987, she became just the second player from Europe to win the title, the first in 20 years. She opened a new door for internationals. The following year, Sweden’s Liselotte Neumann won the title.

“A lot of young Europeans and Asians decided that it wasn't just an American sport,” Davies said. “At that stage, it had been dominated, wholeheartedly, by all the names we all love, Lopez, Bradley, Daniel, Sheehan.”

Davies gave the rest of the world her name to love, her path to follow.

“It certainly made a lot of foreign girls think that they could take the Americans on,” Davies said.

In golf, it’s long been held that you can judge the stature of an event by the names on the trophy. Davies helps gives the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open the monumental start it deserved.

Getty Images

Suwannapura beats Lincicome in playoff for first win

By Associated PressJuly 15, 2018, 10:49 pm

SYLVANIA, Ohio - Thidapa Suwannapura won her first LPGA event on Sunday, closing with a 6-under 65 and birdieing the first playoff hole to defeat Brittany Lincicome at the Marathon Classic.

The 25-year-old Thai player is the sixth first-time winner on tour this year. Her previous best finish in 120 starts was seventh at the 2014 Kingsmill Championship.

Suwannapura picked up three strokes over her final two holes, making eagle on the par-5 17th and closing with a birdie on the par-5 18th at Highland Meadows to finish at 14-under 270.

In the playoff, Suwannapura converted a short birdie putt after Lincicome hit her second shot into a water hazard and scrambled for par.

Lincicome shot 67. She had a chance to win in regulation, but her birdie putt from about 10 feet did a nearly 360-degree turn around the edge of the cup and stayed out. Next up for the big-hitting Lincicome: a start against the men at the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship.

Third-round leader Brooke Henderson led by two shots after six holes, but struggled the rest of the way. Back-to-back bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes dropped her out of the lead. The 20-year-old Canadian finished with a 2-under 69, one shot out of the playoff.

Getty Images

Kim cruises to first win, final Open invite at Deere

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 9:38 pm

Following the best week of his professional career, Michael Kim is both a winner on the PGA Tour and the 156th and final player to earn a tee time next week at The Open.

Kim entered the final round of the John Deere Classic with a five-shot lead, and the former Cal standout removed any lingering doubt about the tournament's outcome with birdies on each of his first three holes. He cruised from there, shooting a bogey-free 66 to finish the week at 27 under and win by eight shots over Francesco Molinari, Joel Dahmen, Sam Ryder and Bronson Burgoon.

It equals the tournament scoring record and ties for the largest margin of victory on Tour this season, matching Dustin Johnson's eight-shot romp at Kapalua in January and Molinari's margin two weeks ago at the Quicken Loans National.

"Just super thankful," Kim said. "It's been a tough first half of the year. But to be able to finish it out in style like this means a lot."

Kim, 25, received the Haskins Award as the nation's top collegiate player back in 2013, but his ascent to the professional ranks has been slow. He had only one top-10 finish in 83 starts on Tour entering the week, tying for third at the Safeway Open in October 2016, and had missed the cut each of the last three weeks.

But the pieces all came together at TPC Deere Run, where Kim opened with 63 and held a three-shot lead after 36 holes. His advantage was trimmed to a single shot during a rain-delayed third round, but Kim returned to the course late Saturday and closed with four straight birdies on Nos. 15-18 to build a five-shot cushion and inch closer to his maiden victory.

As the top finisher among the top five not otherwise exempt, Kim earned the final spot at Carnoustie as part of the Open Qualifying Series. It will be his first major championship appearance since earning low amateur honors with a T-17 finish at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, and he is also now exempt for the PGA Championship and next year's Masters.

The last player to earn the final Open spot at the Deere and make the cut the following week was Brian Harman, who captured his first career win at TPC Deere Run in 2014 and went on to tie for 26th at Royal Liverpool.

Getty Images

Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.