In this week’s edition, the stunning views and stars return to Pebble Beach, the USGA doubles down on distance and a sponsor exemption sparks a social media storm.
Return of the Crosby. Just six years ago, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am had the lowest strength of field (210) of any full-field West Coast PGA Tour event.
When this week’s rankings are released, the tournament formerly known as the Crosby will be among the year’s deepest fields, with five of the top 10 players in the world including Nos. 1, 2 and 3: Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Jordan Spieth.
It’s telling that within the friendly arms race that exists among tournaments to produce quality fields, it was just a few subtle but meaningful changes that put the event back on the path to relevance.
In 2010, officials ditched the much criticized Poppy Hills layout for Monterey Peninsula Country Club, which is consistently voted among the circuit’s most popular stops. The event also contracted its field from 180 players to 156, alleviating much of the congestion and delays that had plagued the tournament.
Although neither change was ground breaking, they’ve made a world of difference.
Something to smile about. Last fall, Gary Woodland told Cut Line that 2017 was the “toughest year of my life,” a period that included the tragic loss of one of his wife’s unborn twins and ongoing health issues with his son, Jaxson, who was born 10 weeks premature in June.
At the time, his trip to East Lake for the Tour Championship was an impressive accomplishment considering everything he and his wife, Gabby, had been through.
Last Sunday Woodland took another step in the healing process, outlasting Chez Reavie to win his third Tour title at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
“It puts it in perspective. It was obviously a long year for us. I’m really happy; one, to be holding him and also to be where I’m at,” Woodland said.
Victory can never change what the Woodlands have gone through the last 12 months, but it was inspiring to see the family have something to smile about.
Tweet of the week: @MavMcNealy (Maverick McNealy) “Hey @McIlroyRory – can we wager a signed golf ball on our father-son match this week @attproam?”
The first-year professional is playing this week with his father, Scott, who is the co-founder of Sun Microsystems and currently the executive chairman at Wayin; while McIlroy set out with his pater familias, Gerry. The challenge drew only silence from the Northern Irishman’s camp. McIlroy must have taken his Tour-mandated integrity training.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
A line in the fairway. Maybe this is all talk. Maybe this is just a chance for the USGA to clear the air. Maybe it will be business as usual for the next decade.
But that’s not the way it sounds.
At the USGA’s recent annual meeting, executive director Mike Davis appeared to double down on his ongoing chorus of concern over how far modern players hit the golf ball.
“We all love hitting the ball far, but distance is all relative,” Davis told Golf.com. “I remember watching Jack Nicklaus, when he really got a hold of one maybe it went 280. That was the long ball then, and the long ball now is a lot longer.”
Davis also made it clear this isn’t just a Tour problem, and that distance is an issue at every level. It’s all a much different tune than what golf’s rule makers were singing at this time last year when they released the annual driving distance report.
Among the highlights of that report, officials said the average launch conditions on Tour – clubhead speed, launch angle, ball, spin rates, etc. – have been “relatively stable since 2007.”
A year removed from that assessment, the buzz words have changed from “relatively stable” to “unsustainable.”
Sign of the times. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson announced this week he’d signed an endorsement contract with Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). He also announced he’d be playing the Canadian Open and the Heritage.
RBC is the title sponsor of both the Canadian and South Carolina events. Unlike the European circuit, the PGA Tour doesn’t allow appearance fees, but RBC has created a workaround that everyone is comfortable with by signing players – like Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk – to endorsement deals with the understanding they will play the events sponsored by the company.
While the endorsement, and accompanying agreements, follow the letter of the Tour law, it’s beginning to feel like an appearance fee by another name.
Crossover appeal. Nothing rattles the social media experts like a wild-card sponsor exemption, and news this week that former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will play the Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in March drew plenty of opinions.
The first-year Tour event will be played in the Dominican Republic and opposite the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Having Romo, who is playing this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am to a zero handicap, in the field might be the only chance for the tournament to draw any interest.
Still, there were those who declared the move a gimmick and a blow to the event’s competitive integrity.
There were many of the same concerns last year when NBA all-star Stephen Curry played the Ellie Mae Classic on the Web.com Tour. Although Curry missed the cut, he posted respectable rounds of 74-74.
Tournaments regularly use sponsor exemptions to increase an event’s exposure, and giving Romo a spot in the field, however unpopular it might be in some circles, has already accomplished that.