Tour moves closer to designating must-play events
In an effort to bolster tournaments that typically get weak fields, the concept is to designate a small number of events and demand players choose one to play. The policy board approved the idea at a meeting last week in West Virginia, which was the first step.
“Because it’s a tournament regulation, it has to be passed twice,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. “It was preliminarily approved in concept. Now we go back to the PAC (Players Advisory Council) and work through the details, get some player input and bring it back to the fall meeting.”
Finchem said he was “positively inclined” that it ultimately would be adopted.
What remains are the details, starting with how many tournaments would be designated and which players would be required to play. The tour could use the FedEx Cup standings, money list or even the world ranking from a previous year to determine who it affects.
It would be the closest thing the tour has had to mandatory participation, although it falls short of the “1-in-4” concept of the LPGA in which players must compete in every tournament at least once over a four-year span.
Finchem has said he would want the policy adopted by around September, which would give the tour the rest of the year to explain and educate players on the plan.
Another proposal that appears to have stalled – at least for now – is expanding the field at the season-opening SBS Championship at Kapalua, traditionally reserved only for winners from the previous season. The PAC has discussed giving a two-year exemption to Kapalua for PGA Tour winners.
Finchem supports the idea, but the tour is looking for another title sponsor (although SBS is under contract through 2019). The commissioner said he wants to see if another sponsor emerges before making changes, to be sure a new sponsor agrees with the change.
AMERICAN DROUGHT: Anthony Kim put his Ryder Cup hopes in jeopardy when he had left thumb surgery in May, which forced him to miss two majors over three months. He was No. 2 in the standings, but movement is volatile during a Ryder Cup year.
Kim returns this week at the Bridgestone Invitational and has fallen all the way … to No. 5.
That speaks to the lack of American success on the PGA Tour over the last three months. In the 14 tournaments since Kim had surgery, the only American winners were Zach Johnson at Colonial, Bubba Watson at the Travelers Championship, Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic and Matt Bettencourt, who won an opposite-field event in Reno the week of St. Andrews.
Americans finished second in only eight of those events, a list that includes the Ryder Cup captain (Corey Pavin) and one of his assistant captains (Paul Goydos). About the only player who consistently contended was Jeff Overton, who has been rewarded by moving up to No. 4 in the standings.
That doesn’t make Overton – or Kim, for that matter – a lock to finish in the top eight and make the team.
Only about $645,000 separates Jim Furyk at No. 2 from Tiger Woods at No. 9, with two events remaining with combined prize money of about $16 million.
PATIENT PADRAIG: Padraig Harrington is playing the kind of consistent golf that usually leads to winning.
He’s just not winning.
The Irishman is approaching the two-year anniversary of his last official victory – the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills. And he concedes that his patience is being tested, although Harrington finds his expectations at odds with everyone else.
He had 10 finishes in the top 10 last year, more than he had in either 2008 or 2007, and his runner-up finish in the Irish Open was his sixth top 10 of this season.
“I don’t normally use as a guideline how many top-10s because I think it’s not a great thing to focus on,” he said. “But I’ve had more top-10s in the last year than I’ve ever had in my career. So going on a guideline that most people use, I’ve actually had the best year of my career. Glaringly obvious, I haven’t won. But my form has been solid enough.”
Harrington posed a question last week about which should be considered a better player – someone who won and did nothing else the rest of the year, or contended a majority of the time without ever winning?
“Obviously, a win would make life a lot easier,” he said. “But I can tell, as much as I need a win, I’m quite happy that the form is there.”
TOP COURSES: Despite hosting its sixth major championship, Pebble Beach failed to beat out Pacific Dunes on Golf Magazine’s list of “Top 100 Courses You Can Play.” Pacific Dunes, designed by Tom Doak in Bandon, Ore., was voted No. 1 by the magazine’s panel.
Bandon had four courses in the top 15, including Old Macdonald, which was among seven new courses on the list.
California had the most courses in the top 100 with 10, while 67 of the golf courses could be played for under $100.
LANGER IN WALES?: Bernhard Langer won senior majors in consecutive weeks, eight time zones apart, and there are some wondering whether he merits consideration as a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup.
Don’t count Darren Clarke among them. In between Langer winning the Senior British Open and the U.S. Senior Open, Clarke was asked if he thought the 52-year-old German had played himself into contention for the team.
“Which team?” Clarke replied.
The Ryder Cup.
“What year?” he asked.
“Have you been drinking?” came the latest reply.
Langer has not played in the Ryder Cup since 2002, and he was the European captain in 2004. Could he be a player again?
“I couldn’t see that, no,” Clarke said last week at the Irish Open. “I think Bernhard is a great player, has been a great player. I think he’s obviously played great winning the British Seniors Open, but it’s a different field you’re competing in.”
STAT OF THE WEEK: Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin and Tiger Woods each have played seven times on the PGA Tour this year. Pavin is No. 96 in the FedEx Cup standings, while Woods is No. 111.
FINAL WORD: “If the fairways are 15 yards wide and you didn’t have to hit it 330 (yards) to compete, maybe I wouldn’t do that.” – Jeff Overton on the swing he uses to create power.
Goat visor propels Na to Colonial lead
Jason Dufner officially has some company in the headwear free agency wing of the PGA Tour.
Like Dufner, Kevin Na is now open to wear whatever he wants on his head at tournaments, as his visor sponsorship with Titleist ended earlier this month. He finished T-6 at the AT&T Byron Nelson in his second tournament as a free agent, and this week at the Fort Worth Invitational he's once again wearing a simple white visor with a picture of a goat.
"I bought it at The Players Championship for $22 with the 30 percent discount that they give the Tour players," Na told reporters. "It's very nice."
Perhaps a change in headwear was just what Na needed to jumpstart his game. Last week's result in Dallas was his first top-35 finish in his last six events dating back to February, and he built upon that momentum with an 8-under 62 to take a one-shot lead over Charley Hoffman after the first round at Colonial Country Club.
While many sports fans know the "GOAT" acronym to stand for "Greatest Of All Time," it's a definition that the veteran Na only learned about earlier this year.
"I do social media, but they kept calling Tiger the GOAT. I go, 'Man, why do they keep calling Tiger the GOAT? That's just mean,'" Na said. "Then I realized it meant greatest of all time. Thinking of getting it signed by Jack (Nicklaus) next week (at the Memorial)."
Golden: Dull rude, caddie 'inebriated' at Florida Mid-Am
Jeff Golden has offered more detail on what transpired at the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship, writing in a long statement on Twitter that Marc Dull’s caddie was “inebriated” before he allegedly sucker-punched Golden in the face.
In a story first reported by GolfChannel.com, Charlotte County Police responded to a call May 13 after Golden claimed that he’d been assaulted by his opponent’s caddie in the parking lot of Coral Creek Club, where he was competing in the Mid-Am finals. Golden told police that the caddie, Brandon Hibbs, struck him because of a rules dispute earlier in the round. Hibbs denied any involvement, and police found no evidence of an attack.
Golden posted a 910-word statement on the alleged incident on his Twitter account on Thursday night. He said that he wanted to provide more detail because “others have posed some valid questions about the series of events that led to me withdrawing” from what was an all-square match with two holes to play.
Golden wrote that both Dull and Hibbs were rude and disruptive during the match, and that “alcohol appeared to be influencing [Hibbs’] behavior.”
Dull, who caddies at Streamsong Resort in Florida, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“I’ve never seen an opposing caddie engage in so much conversation with a competitor,” Golden wrote. “On the eighth hole I had become extremely frustrated when my opponent and caddie were talking and moving. I expressed my disappointment with their etiquette to the rules official in our group.”
On the ninth hole, Golden informed the official that he believed Hibbs had broken the rules by offering advice on his putt. Golden won the hole by concession to move 2 up at the turn, and Hibbs removed himself from the match and returned to the clubhouse.
Golden wrote that after the penalty, the match “turned even nastier, with more negative comments from my opponent on the 10th tee.” He added that he conceded Dull’s 15-foot birdie putt on No. 10 because he was “sick of the abuse from my opponent, and I wanted the match to resemble what you would expect of a FSGA final.”
Though there were no witnesses to the alleged attack and police found little evidence, save for “some redness on the inside of [Golden’s] lip,” Golden wrote that the inside of his mouth was bleeding, his face was “throbbing” and his hand was also injured from bracing his fall. X-rays and CT scans over the past week all came back negative, he said.
Golden reiterated that he was disappointed with the FSGA’s decision to accept his concession in the final match. He had recommended that they suspend the event and resume it “at a later time.”
“The FSGA has one job, and that’s to follow the Rules of Golf,” Golden wrote. “Unfortunately, there’s no rule for an inebriated ‘ex-caddie’ punching a player in a match-play rain delay with no witnesses.”
Asked last week about his organization’s alcohol policy during events, FSGA executive director Jim Demick said that excessive consumption is “highly discouraged, but it falls more broadly under the rules of etiquette and player behavior.”
Dull, 32, was back in the news Wednesday, after he and partner Chip Brooke reached the finals of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. They lost to high schoolers Cole Hammer and Garrett Barber, 4 and 3.
D. Kang, M. Jutanugarn in four-way tie at Volvik
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Amy Olson crossed paths with her coach, Ron Stockton, on her walk to the 18th tee at the Volvik Championship.
''Make it another even $20,'' Stockton said.
The coach was already prepared to give his client $35 for making seven birdies - $5 each - and wanted to take her mind off the bogey she just had at 17.
Olson closed the first round with a 6-under 66, putting her into the lead she ended up sharing later Thursday with Moriya Jutanugarn , Caroline Masson and Danielle Kang.
Do small, cash incentives really help a professional golfer?
''Absolutely,'' said Olson, who graduated from North Dakota State with an accounting degree. ''He'll tell you I'm a little bit of a hustler there.''
Olson will have to keep making birdies - and petty cash - to hold her position at Travis Pointe Country Club.
Jessica Korda, Minjee Lee, Nasa Hataoka, Lindy Duncan, Morgan Pressel, Megan Khang and Jodi Ewart Shadoff were a stroke back at 67 and six others were to shots back.
Ariya Jutanugarn, the Kingsmill Championship winner last week in Virginia, opened with a 69.
The Jutanugarn sisters are Korda are among six players with a chance to become the LPGA Tour's first two-time winner this year.
Moriya Jutanugarn won for the first time in six years on the circuit last month in Los Angeles.
''What I feel is more relaxed now,'' she said. ''And, of course I like looking forward for my next one.''
Olson, meanwhile, is hoping to extend the LPGA Tour's streak of having a new winner in each of its 12 tournaments this year.
She knows how to win. It just has been a while since it has happened.
Olson set an NCAA record with 20 wins, breaking the mark set by LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, but has struggled to have much success since turning pro in 2013.
She has not finished best finish was a tie for seventh and that was four years ago. She was in contention to win the ANA Inspiration two months ago, but an even-par 72 dropped her into a tie for ninth place.
If the North Dakota player wins the Volvik Championship, she will earn a spot in the U.S. Open at Shoal Creek in Alabama. If Olson finishes second or lower in the 144-player field, she will enjoy an off week with her husband, Grant, who coaches linebackers at Indiana State.
''I'll make the best of it either way,'' she said.
Olson was at her best in the opening round on the front nine, closing it with four birdies in a six-hole stretch. Her ball rolled just enough to slowly drop in the cup for birdie on the par-3, 184-yard 13th. She had three birdies in five-hole stretch on the back, nearly making her second hole-in-one of the year at the par-3, 180-yard 16th. A short putt gave her a two-stroke lead, but it was cut to one after pulling and misreading a 6-foot putt to bogey the 17th.
Even if she doesn't hold on to win the tournament, Olson is on pace to have her best year on the LPGA Tour. She is No. 39 on the money list after finishing 97th, 119th, 81st and 80th in her first four years.
''Two years ago, I started working with Ron Stockton and whenever you make a change, it doesn't show up right away,'' Olson said. ''That first year was tough, but we've turned a corner and I've just found a lot of consistency in the last year. And, it's a lot of fun to go out there and play golf a little more stress free.''
Stockton helped her stay relaxed, walking along the ropes during her morning round.
''Maybe some people feel a little more pressure when their coach is there,'' she said. ''I'm like, 'Great. If he sees the mistake, he knows what can go wrong and we can go fix it.' So, I like having his eyes on me.''
Watch: Na punctuates caddie tiff with hole-out
Kevin Na went with his gut on this seemingly impossible shot ...— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 25, 2018
and it paid off! pic.twitter.com/UaVrbKEQNe
Microphones captured a fascinating and testy exchange between Kevin Na and his caddie, Kenny Harms, on Na's final hole of the first round of the Fort Worth Invitational on Thursday.
Na was in the right rough, 185 yards from the ninth green, which was guarded by water. He vacillated between a hybrid and an iron, but with either club he would have to hit "a 40-yard cut," as Harms termed it.
"Over the green's dead," Harms warned.
"It's not gonna go over the green, Kenny," Na replied.
Na finally settled on an iron and said to Harms, "As long as you're OK with this club."
"I'm not," Harms replied. "I'm not OK with either one of them."
"I'm going with this," Na ended the discussion.
He missed the green with his approach shot, but avoided the water. After taking a free drop away from the grandstand, he had 92 feet 3 inches to the cup and of course, holed the pitch shot for a birdie-3, a 62 and a one-shot lead at the end of the first round.