TOC at Kapalua: Don't mess with a good thing

By Doug FergusonJanuary 8, 2013, 8:34 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Paradise can leave a lasting impression.

Steve Stricker was just starting to pull himself out of a deep slump in 2006 when he was reminded by his daughter, Bobbi Maria, how long it had been since he last won on the PGA Tour. She was 8 at the time and won a tournament for juniors at their home club in Wisconsin, no more than three or six holes.

''She comes home all excited and says, 'Daddy, I won, I won! We're going to Hawaii,''' Stricker once recalled.

He had to break the news to her.

Stricker was the one who had to win a tournament for them to go to Kapalua to start a new season, and he did that the following year.

As traditions go in golf, starting the year on the rugged coast of Maui is relatively new. The Tournament of Champions began in Las Vegas in 1953, moved to La Costa Resort north of San Diego in 1969 and stayed there 30 years until coming to Kapalua.

This was the 15th year the Tour has started at Kapalua, and there has never been another year like this one. A tournament that was supposed to end on Monday didn't start until Monday because of three days of powerful wind – one gust measuring 48 mph – that had the locals drawing comparisons with a 100-year storm.

About the only good that came out of such freak weather was that it took attention away, however briefly, from the Tour winners who stayed home and missed out on the endless days – the top four players in the world ranking, for starters, led by Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.

It's not a new problem, but it's still a problem. And it contributes to a future as cloudy as Molokai at sunrise.

Kapalua has a contract only through this year to host the tournament.

Hyundai's three-year deal as the title sponsor of the Tournament of Champions expires this year, even though corporate officials sounded optimistic about renewing, and there are strong signs it will happen.

It doesn't help that Mother Nature was in a bad mood this week. Few things in golf cause a knee-jerk reaction like bad weather.

There were suggestions to move the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am to the end of the West Coast Swing after the tournament was canceled by rain in 1996, completed nearly seven months after it started in 1998 because of rain, and shortened to 54 holes a year later because of – you guessed it – rain.

Since then, Pebble has had more than its share of glorious weather.

The rain was so bad in California in 2005 that the Nissan Open at Riviera went five days to get in 36 holes. The next week, the Match Play Championship at La Costa was postponed one day because the entire course looked like a water hazard. Woods wondered if it might not be better for the Tour to spend February in Florida and March in California. It sounded like a reasonable idea until a Champions Tour event in Florida was shortened to 36 holes because of rain.

Wiser heads will realize that golf is an outdoor sport. It's not a disgrace when weather causes problems. It's a miracle it doesn't happen more often.

The issues on Maui go beyond weather.

The Tour is going to a wraparound season in the fall, meaning the real season-opener will be in October at the Frys.com Open. There already will be six tournaments in the books before the Tournament of Champions next January.

Is that a problem? Not when you consider that for 33 years, the Tournament of Champions was held after the Masters.

''We are not terribly concerned about it,'' said Steve Shannon, vice president of marketing for Hyundai. ''I think there is that aspect of it's the start of the year, so even if it's literally not the first PGA Tour event, there's something about the start of the year, and there's something about this location.''

Still to be determined is what he meant by location – Kapalua specific or Hawaii in general?

Kapalua tends to get the brunt of the bad weather. There can be what the locals call ''pineapple showers'' along this portion of the coast, while only 20 miles away there is abundant sunshine and less wind. Still, the Plantation Course is the only course in Hawaii that Golf Digest ranks among the greatest 100 courses in America (No. 97). It's unlike any course the Tour plays all year with dramatic changes in elevation and stunning views of the Pacific, such as humpback whales breaching and surfers at Honolua Bay.

The bigger concern is getting more players to come, though that's been an issue for years now.

Woods hasn't been back since 2005, when he started taking uninterrupted breaks in the winter. Phil Mickelson stopped coming a decade ago, suggesting the wind and slope allowed bad habits to creep into his swing. Adding to the list of absentees is Europe producing some of the best players. The European Tour season stretches deep into November, and some players simply want a long break going into the new season.

The 30-man field this year was hardly a disaster, and the leaderboard going into the final round featured a top five of Dustin Johnson, Stricker, Masters champion Bubba Watson, FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker and former PGA champion Keegan Bradley. A lot of tournaments would love to have a leaderboard like that.

Years ago, an idea was tossed around to expand the field by offering a two-year exemption to the Tournament of Champions and include all past champions of the event, with the idea of getting Els and Sergio Garcia to the event because they didn't win the year before. Sure, having them at Kapalua would have helped. But the biggest mistake golf can make is to change rules around any one player, even a player like Woods.

Besides, Els and Garcia both won on the Tour last year and were eligible to start the year in Kapalua. Neither of them showed up.

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Thomas donating to hurricane relief at East Lake

By Jason CrookSeptember 19, 2018, 9:20 pm

Much like in years past, Justin Thomas is using his golf game to help with relief of a natural disaster.

The world No. 4 announced on Twitter Wednesday that he’d be donating $1,000 per birdie and $5,000 per eagle at the Tour Championship to a charity benefiting the victims of Hurricane Florence, which ravaged the Carolinas last week.

At a fan's suggestion, Thomas, who has averaged 4.35 birdies per round this season, also pledged to donate $10,000 for a hole-in-one.

Hurricane Florence made landfall on Friday just south of Wrightsville Beach, N.C., and has left much of the area flooded and without power. At least 37 people have died in storm-related incidents.

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Rose realizes his No. 1 ranking is precarious

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 8:18 pm

ATLANTA – Asked how he would like to be identified when he was finished playing golf, Justin Rose didn’t hesitate – “major champion, Olympic gold medalist, world No. 1.”

He’s had only a week to enjoy the last accomplishment, but the Englishman is aware of what it means to his career to have finally moved into the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“It's a moment in your career that you always remember and cherish,” said Rose, who overtook Dustin Johnson with his runner-up finish two weeks ago at the BMW Championship.


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Rose said he took some time last weekend with family and friends to relish the accomplishment and will play his first event this week at the Tour Championship as the world’s best, but he also understands how tenuous his position atop the ranking is at the moment.

“I accept it's really tight up top. It could easily switch this week,” he said. “I just feel that if I go to [No.] 2 or 3 this week, if Dustin and Brooks [Koepka] both play well, I have an opportunity the week after and British Masters, and going to China and Turkey, there's going to be opportunities to get back there.”

Johnson, Koepka and Justin Thomas could unseat Rose atop the ranking this week depending on their finishes at the Tour Championship.

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Likely ROY Wise not looking past 'special' East Lake

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 8:05 pm

ATLANTA – Much like the PGA Tour Player of Year Award, voting for the Rookie of the Year Award is very much a rubber stamp this season.

Brooks Koepka is a lock to win the Jack Nicklaus Trophy after winning two majors - the U.S. Open and PGA Championship - despite missing a portion of the season with an injury. Similarly, Aaron Wise, who won the AT&T Byron Nelson, is the only rookie this year to advance to the Tour Championship, which is normally the threshold players use for voting for Rookie of the Year.

“I knew with the rookie class that we had it was going to be tough, and the players still have to vote but it’s definitely something that was important to me,” he said on Wednesday at East Lake. “My focus is just finishing strong this week and giving them a reason to vote for me.”


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For Wise, who had four top-10 finishes this season and begins the week 21st on the FedExCup point list, the chance to win the award is gratifying, but being among the best 30 players on Tour, and securing his spot in all four major championships next season, is an accomplishment worth savoring.

“To win Rookie of the Year you have to have a solid season, but to make it to East Lake, so many guys don’t get this far. You really have to have a special season and this is really special,” Wise said.

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Stanford returns home to share Evian celebration

By Randall MellSeptember 19, 2018, 5:33 pm

Angela Stanford’s eyes welled with tears when her flight touched down at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in her return from winning the Evian Championship.

When she lands from the south, as she did Monday, she always looks for the towering grain elevators in her Saginaw hometown. She also always looks for downtown Fort Worth’s skyline.

She got teary with the replica of the Evian Championship trophy in her carry-on in the luggage bin above her seat, knowing she wasn’t bringing it home just for her.

But for her mother, Nan, who’s battling a second bout with breast cancer.

For her father, Steve, who got her started in the game.

For other family and friends.

For Shady Oaks, the club Ben Hogan made famous, where she is a member.

And for TCU, her alma mater.

She realized how empty she felt in so many returns from major championships.

She’s 40 now.

She won in her 76th try in a major.

For so long, Stanford believed she had what it took to win a major, but that only made the string of disappointments harder.

“So I remembered what it felt like coming home from so many disappointments, but not this time,” Stanford said. “This time I got to bring something home for everyone to see.”



When Stanford got off the plane, her parents were among a group of family and friends waiting to greet her. So was her TCU coach, Angie Larkin, who brought along the Horned Frogs mascot, Superfrog.

Tour pros Kristy McPherson, Dori Carter, Kendall Dye and Emory University coach and former tour pro Katie Futcher were all in Fort Worth helping Stanford celebrate.

“It was pretty cool,” Stanford said. “Of course, I asked them all if they wanted to see the trophy.”

She pulled it out of her carry-on and never put it back.

“It’s a heavy trophy, but I told them I’m carrying this everywhere,” Stanford said.

There was a celebration dinner with family and friends Monday night, and another celebration with friends on Tuesday.

“I think it’s just the start of many celebrations with more friends to see,” Stanford said.

Stanford went to work with a new swing coach about a year ago, Todd Kolb, from Sioux Falls, S.D. In her flight home, she thought about how grateful she was for all the help poured into her game, not just the good work Kolb is doing, but the foundation important figures in her life helped to lay. She thought about the lessons and wisdom Amy Fox, Mike Wright and Joe Hallett passed along.

“I’m still using things I learned from my first instructor,” Stanford said. “Amy Fox is a huge reason I’m playing on tour. Mike Wright is a huge reason why I’ve won on tour. Joe Hallett helped me navigate through a tough time in my career.

“They were all important to my winning Sunday. They all gave me building blocks, and they’ve all helped lay the foundation to what I’m learning now from Todd.”

Stanford said being able to share her gratefulness made her return home special.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” she said. “It’s been everything you could imagine it would be.”