Tweaking and tinkering

By John FeinsteinAugust 23, 2011, 11:44 pm

It has now been five years since the PGA Tour launched the so-called playoffs.

They have been tweaked and changed. This year there will be a break between Week 2 and Week 3. The last two years the break came after Week 3. In 2008 there was a break for the Ryder Cup, meaning several top Americans arrived in Atlanta for the Tour Championship complaining that playing for a $10 million had cut into their victory parties.

The tweaking needs to stop. It is time for a complete revamping, a makeover, a do-over – you pick the term.

In other major sports there is a clear delineation between the regular season and the postseason. Everyone starts at zero in the postseason. Sure, top teams earn home-field advantage but no one is given a head start – except in the NFL where four teams get a first-round bye.

NASCAR fans may point out that the Chase doesn’t begin with everyone back at zero. True, but the Chase only includes 12 drivers – not 125 golfers – and has been tweaked often because it is also far from perfect. What’s more NASCAR doesn’t call its final 10 races playoffs. The only word repeated more often by Tour officials than playoffs is FedEx.

In order to get people to buy into the playoffs, the Tour has created a remarkably unfair points system. The idea that winning a major championship is only worth 100 points more than winning a regular Tour event is ludicrous. It is why, for example, Keegan Bradley, is only fifth in the standings in spite of two victories.

Ask any player this question: You can win any tournament out there (including the Tour’s beloved Players Championship) five times or a major once, which would you choose? The answer is easy. If you don’t want the majors to be the one qualifier, fine, but triple the points. Barely bumping the points is insulting to those who win majors.

Once the playoffs begin, the points become downright silly. The player who wins this week’s Barclays will get 2,500 points, which is more than the 1,906 points Nick Watney, the regular season leader, accumulated all year. It also means that William McGirt, who slipped into No. 125 in Greensboro last week could be the points leader next Sunday night by winning, even though he hasn’t finished in the top 10 once all season.

The Barclays champion, and the winners the next two weeks, will be awarded more points than a player would receive if he won all four majors. Think about how that would look: Rory McIlroy wins the grand slam next year, makes history and then, after the 125th player on the points list wins The Barclays and vaults to the top of the standings.

Are you kidding?

Sure, that’s the longest of long shots but the fact that it could happen is proof that this current system is out of kilter.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with McGirt leading the standings if everyone understands that the regular season is over and that no one is putting a value on any postseason event vs. any regular season event. They should be completely separate entities.

Start everyone off at zero and let them all play hard for three weeks to get into the Tour Championship. No one gets a bye. In past years both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have skipped playoff tournaments in part because they had enough points to qualify for Atlanta even if they missed an event.

In theory one of the ways to reward players for a great regular season would be to give them a first week bye. This doesn’t work in golf because sponsors would go ballistic if the top 20 players were told to take their week off. But players shouldn’t be allowed to skip a week because they know it won’t hurt them en route to Atlanta. Charl Schwartzel is skipping Barclays and is 21st in the standings. In future years he should be told to skip the next three tournaments too. You are all in or all out.

If you argue that by taking everyone back to zero you downplay the importance of the regular season you’re probably right. So what? That’s what happens in any sport that has a playoff. Who had the best record in the NFL last season? It wasn’t the Green Bay Packers, the team that won the Super Bowl. In fact, they were a wild-card team. Who finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in college basketball last year? It wasn’t national champion Connecticut.

Players still make a lot of money during the regular season and they have the chance to win major championships. If you want, set up a regular season bonus pool for the top 10 or top 20 finishers on the money list.

If you win a major championship, regardless of whether you are a PGA Tour member or not, you should be invited to the playoffs. Adding Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke certainly wouldn’t have been a bad thing this year. And two more players in a 125-player field – even four if that somehow occurred – is hardly a big deal. Like everyone else, McIlroy and Clarke would start at zero and have to play their way into the next rounds.

Finally, the Tour Championship. The event has become a complete yawn. Changing it can’t possibly hurt and might help it a good deal.

Send 32 players to Atlanta. Make it a match-play event – winner-take-all. No more projections on a player needing to finish T-3 to win the FedEx Cup or T-8 to finish fourth. The guys who play the best the first three weeks advance to Atlanta and are seeded based on how they played those three weeks. The winner that final week gets the $10 million whether he’s seeded No. 1 or No. 32.

Do not start with the tired, “TV will never go for it,” argument. Because the ratings will be lower? Worst case they’d drop so little that no one would notice. Best case, if you get a compelling 18-hole final you might actually get higher ratings. Imagine, a year from now, McIlroy vs. Rickie Fowler or Ryo Ishikawa. Or maybe the old men creak their way through and we get Woods vs. Mickelson. If you don’t get that, so what? The ratings stay low but at least you get a true finish, a dramatic and different finish.

That’s the problem with the playoffs. If you remove the Tour’s constant hype, never-ending ads and hyperbole, they’re just four big money tournaments where the rich get richer. In reality they aren’t any different than the Texas Swing, the Florida Swing or any other non-major event.

If you want playoffs make them real playoffs, accept that they’ll never mean as much as the majors then make them as dramatic and fair as you possibly can.

Instead of telling us how special they are do something to actually make them special. It isn’t easy. But it isn't impossible either.

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Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:54 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - After losing in a playoff last weekend, Nasa Hataoka is making another bid for her first LPGA Tour victory.

Hataoka shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, and the Japanese teenager led by one stroke over Minjee Lee after the second round of the Volvik Championship. Hataoka, who is coming off the first two top-10 finishes of her LPGA career, made seven birdies at Travis Pointe Country Club. She began her round on No. 10, and her best stretch came toward the end, when she birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

''I'm really comfortable playing the LPGA,'' the 19-year-old Hataoka said through a translator. ''I've really got confidence now.''

Hataoka made the cut nine times in 17 starts as a rookie in 2017, and she has made significant strides of late. She tied for seventh at last month's MEDIHEAL Championship and nearly won a week ago at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia.

Hataoka finished the second round in Michigan at 9 under. Lee (69) was also solid Friday. Gaby Lopez (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70) and Lindy Duncan (70) were a stroke behind Lee in a tie for third.

Hataoka did not make a single bogey in last week's three-round tournament, and she didn't have any in the first round in Michigan. She finally made a few Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking sole possession of the lead.

''I kind of feel like not really perfect, but I just kind of try to (be) aggressive,'' she said.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lee, who lost by one stroke on this course last year, is in contention again.

''I guess the fairways are pretty generous and I think the greens are a little bit on the trickier side to read,'' Lee said. ''As long as your iron shots are pretty solid, I think you're going to be in good position around this golf course.''

Lee birdied the first two holes, and the only blemish on her scorecard Friday came on the par-5 14th. After missing the fairway to the right, she hit an aggressive shot out of the rough that went straight toward a water hazard well in front of the green. She settled for a bogey after taking a drop.

''I thought the ball was sitting OK in the rough, but it must have been a bit funny, or underneath it,'' she said. ''I made a mistake. I thought it was good enough to hit 3-wood there.''

Lee lost last year in Michigan to Shanshan Feng, but Feng will have some ground to make up in her attempt to repeat. She shot 69 on Friday but is still eight strokes behind the leader.

Ariya Jutanugarn was 6 under after a second consecutive 69.

Lopez made only six pars in the second round, tied for the fewest of the day, but her eight birdies and four bogeys put her near the top of the leaderboard.

''It was a little bit of an up and down,'' she said. ''There's so many opportunities out here to make birdie, that the most important thing to do is just to be patient, to be in the moment and not to get ahead of yourself. I think I came back from a couple mistakes that I did.''

In contrast to Lopez, Brittany Lincicome parred all 18 holes Friday and made the cut at 1 under. Paula Creamer (71) triple bogeyed the par-4 13th. She followed that with an eagle on the very next hole but missed the cut by a stroke.

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Childhood rivals share Sr. PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:00 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron have been rivals since their junior golf days around Sacramento, California. The two old friends were back at it Friday at the top of the Senior PGA Championship leaderboard.

''It's honestly, nothing new for us,'' said Sutherland who played in the third-to-last group and birdied his last two holes for a 5-under 66 to match McCarron at 8 under.

McCarron had a 68 in the morning wave to emerge from a championship record group of six tied for the first-round lead.

Sutherland was last year's Charles Schwab Cup winner with his only senior win coming in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, while McCarron has six PGA Tour Champions wins, including a major at the 2017 Senior Players Championship.

''We are both (Northern California) guys, played in high school, junior golf, on tour and it seems like a lot on the Champions Tour,'' Sutherland said. ''We were in the last group on Sundays a lot last year. Scott played so well and had an incredible year, and I had a great year, too.''

Sutherland's lone PGA Tour victory came at McCarron's expense in 2002 at La Costa in the Accenture Match Play Championship, when he beat McCarron 1 up in the 36-hole final. As youngsters they played on opposing high school teams located about an hour apart and met often in state tournaments as well as on the California junior circuit.

''It's been happening for 30 years, wait 35 years now, I guess,'' Sutherland said. ''Playing together on a Saturday is a little different. We're both still trying to get in position to win.''

Jerry Kelly shot a 65 to join Tim Petrovic (69), Chris Williams (68) and Joe Durant (67) at 7 under. Durant tied for second last week in the Regions Tradition, also a major championship.

Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

McCarron feels like he is just starting to warm to the task this year. He had to replace his clubs, including a favored putter damaged beyond repair in air transit two months ago.

''I've been putting with a back-up putter I had, but it just didn't feel quite right,'' he said. ''I changed last Sunday at the Regions Tradition and started putting better on Sunday. So I'm using this one again this week and seem to be putting pretty good with it.''

McCarron said the Harbor Shores course played a little tougher in light winds in the second round. He made six birdies and three bogeys.

''I would just like to have a couple of those bogeys back,'' he said. ''But we're in a good position going into the weekend.''

McCarron came to the press center after his round and walked in on a press conference where course-designer Jack and Barbara Nicklaus were being honored by sponsoring KitchenAid with the establishment of a local college scholarship program in their name.

McCarron, who said he has idolized Nicklaus since his youth, played media and asked Nicklaus what he ate when he was near the lead going into the weekend of a major championship.

Nicklaus said if you play well one day, eat the same thing the next day.

''But no hamburgers, or you will play like hamburger,'' he said.

Stuart Smith, the Reno, Neveda, club pro who was tied for the lead after the first round, missed the 36-hole cut with a second-round 83.

''I'll take the 66, 83 and enjoy the 66 yesterday,'' he said. ''You put this one down to just plain old golf. It's a nasty game we play sometimes. Glad I have a day job.''

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Wise, Simpson both miss cut at Colonial

By Nick MentaMay 25, 2018, 11:34 pm

The two most recent winners on the PGA Tour, Aaron Wise and Webb Simpson, missed the cut at the Fort Worth Invitational on Friday.

Wise and Simpson both came up short of the 2-over total by a shot following rounds of 70-73.

Wise was safely inside the number before playing his last four holes in 4 over par with two bogeys and a closing double following a trip into the water at the par-4 ninth.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Simpson, making his first start following his Players triumph, similarly struggled coming home, bogeying three of his final six holes.

Other notables who won't be around for the weekend at Colonial include Xander Schauffele (+4), Jason Dufner (+5), Patrick Cantlay (+6), Smylie Kaufman (+13), and Sam Burns (+13).

This is Kaufman's 11th consecutive MC and his 15th in his last 16 starts.

Jason Seaman and Kristi Hubly Seaman

Sr. PGA caddie learns of nephew's heroism in school shooting

By Tim RosaforteMay 25, 2018, 10:33 pm

Tracy Hubly caddied for her husband, club pro Chris Starkjohann, on Friday at the KitchenAid Senior PGA and learned after their round that her nephew was credited with helping stop the school shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana.

Jason Seaman, a 29-year-old science instructor and seventh grade football coach at the school, took three bullets but survived as what his aunt called a hero.

“You hear the stories about these shootings and I think about Parkland and the officer that was trained but didn’t go into the school,” Hubly said. “It’s really shocking to think it comes close to your family, but it does."

It’s not unusual for Hubly to caddie for her husband, a teacher at Carlsbad Golf Center and coach of a PGA Junior League program in Southern California. Hubly, who works in the pro shop at Emerald Island Golf Course in Oceanside, Calif., was on the bag when he was low golf professional at the 2009 Senior PGA Championship held at Canterbury GC. 

Starkjohann, 61, missed the cut at Harbor Shores with rounds of 76-79—155 and was heading to the Colorado State Open.

 “I didn’t hear about it until after my round was done,” Starkjohann said. “Everything happened after I got in.”