Players favor Finals over Q-School

By Randall MellSeptember 27, 2013, 10:26 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Just thinking about the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament made Will MacKenzie’s stomach churn.

He twisted his face briefly in a knot and gently rubbed his belly Friday when asked to compare Q-School to the Tour Finals, the new four-tournament series that replaced Q-School this year as the system for doling out PGA Tour cards.

“This is a little easier, it’s less stress,” MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie wasn’t saying the Tour Finals are easy, or that they’re devoid of stress, but he believes this new series is a more just examination of who is ready to play the PGA Tour than Q-School’s draconian system was.

“It seems pretty fair,” says Heath Slocum, a four-time PGA Tour winner. Tour Championship: Articles, videos and photos

MacKenzie and Slocum aren’t alone thinking that way here at the Tour Championship, the series finale that will end with 50 PGA Tour cards awarded on Sunday. The absence of Q-School is practically a tonic for young and veteran players alike.

“It’s fairer than Q-School, to be sure,” said Aron Price, who has no fond memories of his two visits to the final stage of Q-School. “Q-School is a week that makes you feel like you’ve aged five or 10 years.”

The Finals spares players the angst of knowing their card is determined in a single, grueling week.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Chesson Hadley, 26, who finished third on the Tour regular-season money list and now has a chance to win the Finals series after posting a 4-under-par 66 Friday to take the lead halfway through the Tour Championship. “It’s so much more comfortable for everyone knowing you have potentially 16 rounds to earn your card than just six.”

Count Michael Putnam, 30, the Tour’s regular-season money leader, among the converts.

“Every player loves it,” Putnam said.

Well, not every player. These are professional golfers. There’s never unanimous agreement.

“If you want me to be real honest, I’m not playing well, so I hate it,” Tag Ridings told Golf World in last week’s publication. “Yeah, there are a lot of us who wonder why they did this. In theory, I suppose it’s not a bad idea. In practice, it’s not great right now.”

Ridings may believe a lot of players wonder about the validity of the Tour Finals, but a sampling of players here this week casts Ridings among a minority. You may not like that the gut-wrenching drama that built over six days of Q-School isn’t building the same way in this four-tournament series, but that doesn’t bother the players in the least. The majority have been won over with the idea that this is a better way, if not the perfect way.

“It seems like more guys who were quietly questioning the concept have warmed up to it a little bit, especially guys who went out the first week and didn’t play well and then went out the next week and played well,” said Joe Durant, 49, a four-time PGA Tour winner. “It’s a long stretch. Anything can happen over four tournaments.”

Last year, the PGA Tour awarded cards to the top 25 on the Tour’s season-ending money list. They also awarded cards to the top 25 at Q-School.

This year, the system for awarding cards was revamped. The PGA Tour put the top 75 players from the Tour regular-season money list and the players who finished Nos. 126-200 on the PGA Tour money list together to compete in the Tour Finals. The four-tournament series ends Sunday with 50 PGA Tour cards awarded. While the top 25 from the Tour regular season are guaranteed cards, they continue to play in the series for priority ranking access to the PGA Tour next year.

The majority of players like the fact that they’re tested over four different tournaments on four different courses.

“Variety of courses, variety of grasses,” Durant said. “Some courses have been a little more open, others have been tight. Rough’s been thick a couple places, not as thick at a couple others. There have been some differences in the courses, and I think it’s a good mix.”

Q-School left little margin for error. If you had one bad round at the first stage, you were not likely to advance. Same with second stage. At final stage, just one triple-bogey could doom your chances.

That’s not the case in the Tour Finals. There’s a generous margin of error built into the series.

In fact, Byron Smith, Andrew Loupe, Ashley Hall and Oscar Fraustro each missed the cut in the first three events of the Finals series, but their hopes of winning a PGA Tour card remain alive this weekend. They all made the cut Friday at the Tour Championship and can lock up a card with a hot weekend. A top-five finish will win them a PGA Tour card. In fact, a top-eight finish might.

A common criticism of Q-School was that a player could ride one hot week at the final stage to a card.

That’s still the case in the Finals.

Trevor Immelman and Ricky Barnes are going to win PGA Tour cards despite the fact that each of them missed the cut in three of four starts in this Finals series. Immelman secured his card winning the Hotel Fitness Championship, Barnes with a T-6 at the Chiquita Classic.

Most players don’t view this lack of consistency in the Finals as a drawback. They see a larger picture. They see that they’ve proven themselves over a full year just to give themselves a chance to ride a hot week to a PGA Tour card.

“At Q-School, if you miss first stage, you don’t have any status,” Barnes said. “You miss second stage, you don’t have any status. Now, if you have a bad first and second tournament, you’re still good to go. I put myself back in good position after one good tournament. In the past, if I had a bad tournament at the first stage, I didn’t see the light of day in second stage.”

Seeing a colleague ride a hot week to a PGA Tour card is more tolerable knowing he earned his chance over a year on the Tour or PGA Tour.

“They’re saying you did a lot of your work throughout the year,” Barnes said.

As much as players prefer the Finals over Q-School, there’s talk about improvements. A number of players sampled mentioned that they would like to see the top 25 money winners from the Tour’s regular season be rewarded more in the Finals for their efforts in the regular season. As it stands, the second-leading money winner in the regular season could end up ranked 49th in priority access among the 50 card winners.

“This is a better idea, but it might need to be tweaked a little bit,” Adam Crawford said.

Whether it’s tweaked or not, the Finals is proving easier on stomachs than Q-School did.

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Kisner (66) leads Open by 1; Woods 5 back

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 7:44 pm

The course was playing firm and the winds never truly gusted, but it was still quite a mixed bag for some of the world's best during the first round of The Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things stand as Kevin Kisner moved into the lead in search of his first career major:

Leaderboard: Kevin Kisner (-5), Erik van Rooyen (-4), Tony FInau (-4), Zander Lombard (-4), Brandon Stone (-3), Brendan Steele (-3), Ryan Moore (-3)

What it means: Van Rooyen took the early lead in one of the first groups of the morning, and he remained near the top despite a bogey on the final hole. But that left a small opening for Kisner to eke past him, as the American put together a round with as many bogeys as eagles (one apiece). Already with two wins on the PGA Tour and having challenged at the PGA Championship in August, Kisner tops a crowded leaderboard despite never finishing better than T-54 in three prior Open appearances.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Round of the day: Kisner started slowly, as a bogey on No. 5 dropped him to 1 over on the round. But that proved to be his lone dropped shot of the day, and he quickly rebounded with an eagle on the par-5 sixth. Kisner added four birdies over his final 11 holes, including three in a row from Nos. 13-15, and successfully navigated the difficult closing stretch to post the only 66 of the day on the par-71 layout.

Best of the rest: Van Rooyen held a four-shot lead heading into the final round of the Irish Open two weeks ago, but he fell apart at Ballyliffin as Russell Knox rallied for victory. He's off to another surprisingly strong start after a 4-under 67 that included only one bogey on No. 18. Van Rooyen has never won on the European Tour, let alone contended in a major, but he's now in the thick of it after five birdies over his first 15 holes.

Biggest disappointment: Two major champs were among the short list of pre-tournament contenders, but both Patrick Reed (4 over) and Dustin Johnson (5 over) appear to already be out of the mix. Reed has finished T-4 or better each of the last three majors but made only one birdie in his opener, while Johnson was the consensus betting favorite but played his last three holes in 4 over including a triple bogey on No. 18.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Kisner is no stranger to the top of the standings, but keep an eye on the chase pack a few shots back. The group at 2 under includes Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm. Tiger Woods is just five shots off the pace after an even-par 71 that featured three birdies and three bogeys as Woods made his return to The Open for the first time since missing the cut at St. Andrews in 2015.

Shot of the day: Stone put his head on his hands after pulling his approach from the rough on No. 18, but his prayers were answered when his ball rattled off a fence, bounced back in bounds and rolled to the front of the green. One week after winning the Scottish Open with a final-round 60, Stone turned a likely double into a par to close out his 68.

Quote of the day: "I've been taped up and bandaged up, just that you were able to see this one. It's no big deal." - Woods, who had KT tape visible on both sides of his neck after a bad night of sleep.

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Rory 'convinced' driver is the play at burnt Carnoustie

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 6:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – There are two distinct schools of thought at this week’s Open Championship - that Carnoustie is either best played with a velvet touch and a measured hand off the tee, or that it makes sense to choose the hammer and hit driver whenever and wherever possible.

Count Rory McIlroy in the latter camp.

Although the Northern Irishman’s opening 2-under 69 may not be a definitive endorsement of the bomb-and-gouge approach, he was pleased with his Day 1 results and even more committed to the concept.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I’m convinced that that's the way that I should play it,” said McIlroy, who hit just 4 of 15 fairways but sits tied for eighth. “It's not going to be for everyone, but it worked out pretty well for me and I would have taken 69 to start the day.”

From the moment McIlroy’s caddie, Harry Diamond, made a scouting trip to Carnoustie a few weeks ago, the 2014 Open champion committed himself to an aggressive gameplan, and there was nothing on Thursday that persuaded him to change.

The true test came early on Thursday, with McIlroy sending his tee shot over the green at the 350-yard, par-4 third and scrambling for birdie.

“That hole was a validation for me. It proved to me it’s the right way for me to play here. It was a little personal victory,” said McIlroy, who played his opening loop even but birdied Nos. 12 and 14 to move under par.

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Report: USGA, R&A to 'severely restrict' green books

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 6:42 pm

The detailed yardage books that many players rely on to help read greens at various tournaments could soon become a thing of the past.

According to a Golfweek report, the USGA and R&A are poised to "severely restrict" the information offered to players in green-reading books, which currently include detailed visuals and specifics about the location and severity of slopes and contours on each putting surface. The change is expected to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

Green-reading books have come under scrutiny in recent years as their use has increased, seen as both an enemy of pace of play and a tool that can take the skill out of reading the break on putts.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

"We believe that the ability to read greens is an integral part of the skill of putting and remain concerned about the rapid development of increasingly detailed materials that players are using to help with reading greens during a round," the R&A said in a statement. The USGA also reportedly issued a statement that they plan to update their review process on the books "in the coming weeks."

Speaking to reporters after an opening-round 72 at The Open, Jordan Spieth seemingly implied that the rule change was all but official.

"I don't think we're allowed to use them starting next year, is that right?" Spieth said. "Which I think will be much better for me. I think that's a skill that I have in green reading that's advantageous versus the field, and so it will be nice. But when it's there, certain putts, I certainly was using it and listening to it."

According to the report, new language in the Rules of Golf is expected to address the presentation of the books and "end the current level of detail."

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'Super 7' living – and loving – frat life in Carnoustie

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 6:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It’s not exactly “Animal House Scotland,” but it’s as close as the gentleman’s game allows itself to drift toward that raucous line.

For the third consecutive year, some of golf’s biggest and brightest chose to set up shop on the same corner of the Angus coast, a testosterone-fueled riff session where feelings are never spared and thick skin is mandatory.

Among the eclectic “Super 7” who are sharing two houses in Carnoustie this week are defending champion Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Kevin Kisner – a group that ranges in age from 24 (Spieth) to 42 years old (Johnson).

The tradition, or maybe “guy’s week” is a better description, began in 2016 at Royal Troon when Spieth, Fowler, Thomas, Walker, Johnson and Dufner all roomed together. Kisner was added to the mix this year and instead of baseball – the distraction of choice in ’16 – the group has gone native with nightly soccer matches. Actually, the proceedings more resemble penalty kicks, but they seem to be no less entertaining.

“I just try to smash [Dufner] in the face,” Kisner laughed. “He's the all-time goalie.”

For the record, his flat mates will attest to Dufner’s abilities as a goalie, although asked about his chances to make the U.S. national team Thomas was reluctant to go that far.

“As a U.S. citizen, I hope he does not make our team, but he's a pretty good backyard goalie,” Thomas said.

The arrangement comes with a litany of benefits, from the camaraderie to the improved logistics of having so many VIPs under the same roof.

“Honestly, it just makes everything really, really easy because there's a lot of cars going to and from the golf course. They know our address. We have food essentially at our beck and call. And we have friends. I mean, we have some women [wives] in there to keep the frat house somewhat in order,” Johnson said. “But I mean, every individual there is great. It's fun.”

But this goes well beyond some random male bonding for what at the moment represents nearly one-third of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. This is a snapshot into a curious side of golf that’s as rare as it is misunderstood.

Unlike team sports, golf is a lonely pursuit. A player can collect as many swing coaches, sports psychologists and handlers around them as they wish, but there’s a connection between athletes at this level that creates a unique flow of ideas that’s normally only present during the annual team events, be it a Ryder or Presidents cup.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this level, players talk a language only they understand that’s littered with the kind of insider give-and-take one would expect from PGA Tour winners and major champions. Between the two houses, which are adjacent to each other, there are eight major victories.

“I have zero, so I don't know how many they have,” Kisner joked when asked about his accomplished roommates.

Kisner is southern like sweat and sweet tea and can trade good-natured jabs with the best of them, but given the pedigrees assembled between the two houses he seems to understand the importance of listening.

“Everybody is just really chill, and it's a lot of fun to be around those guys. There's a lot of great players. It's really cool just to hear what they have to say,” Kisner said. “Everybody's sitting around at night scratching their head on what club to hit off of every tee.”

It’s worth pointing out that The Open winner has come from this group twice in the last three years, including 2017 champion Spieth, who took no small measure of inspiration from Johnson’s victory at St. Andrews in ’15.

Nor is it probably a coincidence that four of those players now find themselves firmly in the mix and all within the top 20 at Carnoustie, including Kisner who will have bragging rights on Thursday night following a first-round 66 that vaulted him into the lead.

“I probably get to eat first,” he smiled.

In their primes, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player would occasionally share a house, they even vacationed together from time to time – you know, SB1K68 – but the practice fell out of favor for a few generations. It’s hard to imagine Greg Norman enjoying a friendly kick-about with any of his contemporaries and even harder to think that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson could share a cab ride, let alone a house for a week.

Some say this type of fellowship is the product of a new generation who grew up playing junior golf against each other and logically took their bond to the big leagues, but that ignores the 40-somethings (Johnson and Dufner) in the frat.

Maybe it’s a byproduct of America’s Ryder Cup rebuilding efforts or an affinity for non-stop one-liners and bad soccer. Or maybe it’s a genuine appreciation for what each of the “7” have to offer.

“[Kisner] is good friends with all those guys, he likes to cut up and have a good time and talk trash. It’s a good little group,” said Kisner’s swing coach John Tillery. “This last year or two and the Presidents Cup and being on the teams with those guys has just escalated that.”

Some seem to think these friendships run a little too deep. That sharing a bachelor pad and dinner for the week somehow erodes a player’s competitiveness. But if the “Super 7” have proven anything, other than American golfers probably aren’t the best soccer players, it’s that familiarity can be fun.