A Thanksgiving weekend without the Skins Game
Success brought another perk, even if it sounds silly now to mention it with the others.
He was invited to play in the Skins Game.
“That was huge,” Strange said in a telephone interview. “Remember, we didn’t play for that kind of money back then. More importantly, it was huge for everyone because of the exposure you got for two straight days. Career-wise, it meant you had arrived.”
The original Skins Game has left the sports landscape, maybe for good.
Thanksgiving weekend will have its usual television lineup of NFL games in Detroit and Dallas, college rivalries such as Alabama-Auburn, Florida-Florida State and USC-UCLA, and way too many meaningless college basketball games.
It will not include the Skins Game for the first time since it became a Thanksgiving tradition in 1983, when Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tom Watson played in a made-for-TV sensation.
Will anyone notice that the Skins Game is gone?
The Skins Game drew a paltry 0.7 rating on Saturday and a 1.1 rating on Sunday last year when K.J. Choi defeated a field that included Stephen Ames, Phil Mickelson and Fred Funk. Even when Tiger Woods played for the last time in 2005, the Sunday rating was a 2.6.
“On the one hand, it will be the first Thanksgiving I’ve had at home in a long time, which is good,” said Barry Frank, executive vice president of IMG Media who has produced the Skins Game since its inception. “As part of the bigger picture, I miss the event. Not having it this year is kind of upsetting. I’m hopeful for next year.”
The Skins Game was canceled when it lost its corporate sponsor, and Frank continues the search for another. Golf sponsorship is a tough sell these days.
It is easy to blame the demise of the Skins Game on the players it attracted. The years of Palmer, Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Fuzzy Zoeller and Fred Couples gave way to Fred Funk, Rocco Mediate and Brett Wetterich.
Golf became so rich that stars had little reason to spend Thanksgiving in the California desert with no guarantee of a paycheck. Strange earned $200,000 for his second U.S. Open title in 1989. He won the Skins Game five months later and made $265,000.
Prize money at the Skins Game remained $1 million. First prize was more than that at 27 PGA Tour events last year.
“I don’t think it went wrong, it got bypassed,” said Alastair Johnston, vice chairman at IMG who delivered the Fab Four for the inaugural Skins Game. “When the money didn’t become competitive, when the silly season became overburdened, when golf was on television 52 weeks, it wasn’t something special. There was no point of distinction.”
Johnston said the Skins Game in 1983 was “a relief from football,” which sounds ludicrous now until put into context.
Back then, golf went off the air after the World Series of Golf at Firestone. The PGA Tour had eight more tournaments through the end of October, and the only coverage came from print.
Then along came a unique event among four superstars, big money up for grabs on every hole.
“The Skins Game had money at stake on every shot, and people were watching,” Johnston said. “It was a very different event. It wasn’t like the Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf. It was real time. There wasn’t a great player who didn’t play in the Skins Game. You had press guys always looking for the scoop on who was going to be in the Skins Game.”
Johnston recalls one golf magazine noting that NBC Sports “finally got its major.” This was before NBC had the rights to the U.S. Open. The first play-by-play announcer? None other than Vin Scully.
“It became a staple of Thanksgiving weekend,” Johnston said. “We even thought about using Roman numerals, like the Super Bowl.”
It wasn’t long before the silly season became crowded – the Shark Shootout, the Kapalua International, the PGA Grand Slam, Diner’s Club Matches, Wendy’s 3-Tour Challenge, the Skills Challenge, even something called the Tommy Bahama Challenge.
Cable networks started televising the occasional PGA Tour event on weekdays, and now The Golf Channel combines with networks to bring all four days of every tournament. It’s a rare week when golf is not on TV.
Frank recalls the Skins Game getting ratings in the 8-9 range in the early days, second only to the Masters. Not even PGA Tour events won by Woods get that kind of rating now. And the arrival of Woods brought TV contracts that quadrupled the prize money in a decade.
Not as many people were watching the Skins Game in the final years, and some might not realize it is gone.
All is not lost. If fans want to watch golf this weekend, they can see the World Cup in China on The Golf Channel. It comes on every night at 10:30 p.m. EST. The Americans used to win the World Cup all the time with teams that featured Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Nicklaus and Palmer, Trevino, Couples and Davis Love III.
The Americans are represented this year by Nick Watney and John Merrick.
Total prize money is $5.5 million.
Vegas helicopters in to Carnoustie, without clubs
Jhonattan Vegas did some range work, putted a little and strolled to the first tee for his 5:31 a.m. ET start in the 147th Open Championship.
Everything before that, however, was far from routine.
That face when you realized you visa to the UK is expired the same day you were supposed to travel. La cara cuando te das cuenta que tu visa al Reino Unido está vencida el mismo días que viajas.pic.twitter.com/lztAcLUNN0— Jhonattan Vegas (@JhonattanVegas) July 12, 2018
Vegas' visa to travel to Scotland expired and the process to renew it got delayed - and it looked like his overseas' flight might suffer the same fate. Vegas, upon getting his visa updated, traveled from Houston, Texas to Toronto, Canada to Glasgow, Scotland, and then took a helicopter to Carnoustie.
He arrived in time on Thursday morning, but his clubs did not. Mizuno put together some irons for him and TaylorMade got him his preferred metal woods. He hit the clubs for the first time on the range, less than 90 minutes before his start.
"I'm going to go out there and play with freedom," Vegas told Golf Channel's Todd Lewis.
How to watch The Open on TV and online
You want to watch the 147th Open? Here’s how you can do it.
Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be televising 182 hours of overall programming from the men's third major of the year at Carnoustie
In addition to the traditional coverage, the two networks will showcase three live alternate feeds: marquee groups, featured holes (our new 3-hole channel) and spotlight action. You can also watch replays of full-day coverage, Thursday-Sunday, in the Golf Channel app, NBC Sports apps, and on GolfChannel.com.
Here’s the weekly TV schedule, with live stream links in parentheses. You can view all the action on the Golf Channel mobile, as well. Alternate coverage is noted in italics:
(All times Eastern; GC=Golf Channel; NBC=NBC Sports; GC.com=GolfChannel.com or check the GLE app)
Monday, July 16
GC: 7-9AM: Morning Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)
GC: 9-11AM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)
GC: 7-9PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)
Tuesday, July 17
GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)
Wednesday, July 18
GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)
Thursday, July 19
GC: Midnight-1:30AM: Midnight Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)
GC: Day 1: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)
GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)
GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)
GC.com: Day 1: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)
GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)
Friday, July 20
GC: Day 2: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)
GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)
GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)
GC.com: Day 2: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)
GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)
Saturday, July 21
GC: Day 3: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)
NBC: Rd. 3: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)
GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)
GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)
GC.com: Day 3: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)
GC: Live From The Open: 3-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)
Sunday, July 22
GC: Day 4: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)
NBC: Rd. 4: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)
GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)
GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)
GC.com: Day 4: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)
GC: Live From The Open: 2:30-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)
Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship
Tiger Woods is competing in his first Open Championship since 2015. We're tracking him this week at Carnoustie.
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The Open 101: A guide to the year's third major
Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:
What's all this "The Open" stuff? I thought it was the British Open.
What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.
How old is it?
It's the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.
Where is it played?
There is a rotation – or "rota" – of courses used. Currently there are 10: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in.
Where will it be played this year?
At Carnoustie, which is located on the south-eastern shore of Scotland.
Who has won The Open on that course?
Going back to the first time Carnoustie hosted, in 1931, winners there have been Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007).
Wasn't that the year Hogan nearly won the Slam?
Yep. He had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, then traveled to Carnoustie and won that as well. It was the only time he ever played The Open. He was unable to play the PGA Championship that season because the dates conflicted with those of The Open.
Jean Van de Velde's name should be on that list, right?
This is true. He had a three-shot lead on the final hole in 1999 and made triple bogey. He lost in a playoff to Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.
Who has won this event the most?
Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.
What about the Morrises?
Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.
Have players from any particular country dominated?
In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we'll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.
Who is this year's defending champion?
That would be American Jordan Spieth, who survived an adventerous final round to defeat Matt Kuchar by three strokes and earn the third leg of the career Grand Slam.
What is the trophy called?
The claret jug. It's official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).
Which Opens have been the most memorable?
Well, there was Palmer in 1961and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Hogan's win in 1953; Tiger Woods' eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.
When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like "gorse" and "whin" and "burn." What do these terms mean?
Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.