Cut Line: Dissolution and solution

By Rex HoggardJune 23, 2017, 8:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Cut Line has never been a fan of standardized testing, so we’ll keep this week’s edition simple, starting with a player-caddie relationship that had withstood the test of time, a new era of drug testing on the PGA Tour and Erin Hills passes its major championship test, but at what cost?

Made Cut

End of an era. It’s a measure of how significant Phil Mickelson and Jim “Bones” Mackay’s relationship was that news the Tour had dramatically expanded its anti-doping program and Tiger Woods announcing he’s seeking treatment were the second and third most important stories on Tuesday.

The headlines instead focused on Mickelson and Mackay splitting after 25 years together. To put that relationship in context, Mackay was on Lefty’s bag for 41 of his 42 Tour victories, five majors and 11 starts at the Ryder Cup.

It was the benchmark to which nearly every other player/caddie relationship aspired and set a standard that will likely never be equaled considering the toll the often volatile relationship can have on both parties.

As one caddie mused this week after learning the news, “The fairytale is over. Phil and Bones - they were the honeymoon we all wanted.”

Tweet of the week: @skovy14 (Rickie Fowler’s caddie Joe Skovron) “This relationship helped change caddying. Bones’ professionalism and Phil’s respect for what Bones did was unmatched. What a run they had.”

Michael Greller, Jordan Spieth’s caddie, added “100 percent agree, one of the all-time great golf partnerships.”

Speaking of Jordan. He wasn’t a factor at the U.S. Open, has contended just once since his victory earlier this year at Pebble Beach and arrived at the Travelers Championship answering far too many questions about his normally automatic putting stroke.

Turns out there was nothing wrong with Spieth’s game that a few trips around TPC River Highlands couldn’t cure.

After two solid if not spectacular days, Spieth was atop the leaderboard and, more importantly, gaining confidence with each stroke.

The short, tree-lined course is right up Spieth’s alley and his ball-striking has been impressive, but after a few relatively poor putting events it’s the old story of lowered expectations that may have tipped the scales.

“I put in so much time worrying about kind of what feeling, what technique I wanted at Erin Hills, and this week we spent less time on the green,” he said. “I don't think that's something that would normally work, but it was something where we've been more feel-based this week knowing that on poa annua anything can kind of happen.”

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Full disclosure, sort of. Tuesday’s announcement that the Tour would begin blood testing for performance-enhancing drugs next season was not a surprise. Golf’s reintroduction into the Olympics last year all but assured that eventuality, but it was the circuit’s course change in regard to drugs of abuse that did count as a bona fide surprise.

As recently as January, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan had clung to the company line that violations involving drugs of abuse, like marijuana and cocaine, would remain private. Under the new policy, these types of suspensions will now be made public.

So why the sea change?

“The thinking changed because it was approached way more by the players. They put it in front of the players, they talked about it and we had multiple meetings and discussed it and they were asked how they feel about it,” said Jason Bohn, one of four player directors on the policy board. “Management saw that guys think this is a good idea.”

While many heralded the move as a dawn of more transparency at the Tour, it’s important to point out that Monahan still has the discretion not to suspend a player for a drug-of-abuse violation. Without a suspension, there would be no public disclosure.

The Tour may have pulled back the veil on drug testing, but there’s still room for more sunshine.

Erin (Down) Hills. Lost in what turned out to be a busy news week was the normal post-U.S. Open breakdown, which largely cast a positive light on Erin Hills.

Although some fan reaction seemed to dismiss the course as a pushover, there’s no denying the layout identified the week’s best player, champion Brooks Koepka, and provided a decent measure of drama despite record-low scoring.

“I agree it wasn’t a regular U.S. Open golf course, but you also have to give credit to the guys how well they played,” said Kevin Na, who tied for 32nd last week. “It was entertaining.”

With a few days to digest last week’s action, however, player opinions regarding Erin Hills took on a more nuanced element. It’s not a question of whether Erin Hills is an enjoyable or quality layout so much as it is its place in the major championship landscape.

“It’s not a U.S. Open course,” Lucas Glover said. “I liked the course, thought it was a lot of fun and it was cool, but it was not a U.S. Open golf course. The U.S. Open, to me, is 22-yard-wide fairways, bluegrass rough and fast greens. That’s what I grew up watching, that’s what I grew up playing.”

The USGA scored some much needed style points with last week’s drama-free U.S. Open, but the association seems to have hurt Erin Hills’ future as a major venue in the process.

Missed Cut

Uncertain future. There was a sense, at least among those close to Tiger Woods, that his most recent back surgery could pave the way to a long awaited comeback.

Last month Davis Love III suggested that the fusion surgery Woods underwent in April would allow the 14-time major champion to play and practice without pain and could help dial back his swing. Love should know - he won on Tour after undergoing a similar procedure.

But then Woods was arrested for suspicion of DUI on May 29 in South Florida and on Monday revealed he’s seeking “professional help to manage my medications and the ways that I deal with back pain and a sleep disorder.”

Perhaps there’s still a path back to competitive relevance for Woods, but his future has never seemed so unclear.

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PNC Extends Title Sponsorship of PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Golf Channel Public RelationsApril 19, 2018, 1:00 pm

ORLANDO, Fla., April 19, 2018 – IMG and NBC Sports today announced that The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. has extended its contract as title sponsor of the PNC Father/Son Challenge, the tournament that pairs the games’ legends alongside their sons, daughters and grandchildren.

PNC’s multi-year extension as title sponsor keeps the PGA Tour Challenge Event in Orlando reflecting the bank’s commitment to Central Florida. PNC has served as title sponsor of the tournament since 2012. The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes will continue to play host to the PNC Father/Son Challenge. The 2018 PNC Father/Son Challenge will take place Friday-Sunday, Dec. 14-16, with television coverage on Golf Channel and NBC.

“The PNC Father/Son Challenge long ago became one of my family’s favorite golf tournaments,” said 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus. “I have had the pleasure of playing with my sons, and last year, partnering with my 15-year-old grandson GT was a thrill. I am delighted the event—a uniquely special one to us fathers and grandfathers, and perhaps to the many fans out there watching from home or outside the ropes—will continue for many years to come.”

“After our victory in 2016, I said that this win was as good as anything I have done in my career,” said former World No. 1 and major champion David Duval, who alongside his stepson Nick Karavites captured the 2016 title. “I felt blessed to have Nick inside the ropes with me and to have our family surrounding us all week. That’s what makes the PNC Father/Son Challenge so special, and I’m pleased to hear that PNC has extended its support of the event. This golf tournament means so much to all of us who are lucky enough to have the opportunity to play in this event.”

The tournament also holds three events in qualifier markets per year. This year they will be in Dallas, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

“The PNC Father/Son Challenge allows fans to see golf’s legends playing the game they love alongside those they love most,” said Alastair Johnston, vice chairman, IMG. “We are grateful for PNC’s ongoing support of this unique tournament and we look forward to returning to Orlando to celebrate golf and family for many years to come.”

Community support is a key aspect of the tournament and PNC’s sponsorship. PNC is committed to donating $150,000 annually to local non-profits over the life of its sponsorship. Across six previous years of title sponsorship, PNC has already donated $900,000 to Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation and the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children to support the “Healthy Families Orange” program. Over the years, PNC has also had the opportunity through this tournament to co-host events for local women in business, to put on clinics and provide free access to the tournament for active military, and even provide a service dog for a local veteran.

"PNC's long-standing sponsorship of the Father/Son Challenge reflects the philanthropic values we share with the PGA Tour and the golf community, as well as our focus on strong relationships,” said Bill Demchak, chairman, president and chief executive officer of The PNC Financial Services Group. “As PNC Bank continues to expand its footprint, the PNC Father/Son tournament helps us gain visibility with new audiences and to strengthen the relationships we enjoy today with more than 8 million retail, wealth, and corporate and institutional banking customers across the country.”

“NBC Sports is extremely proud of our heritage as co-founder for the Father/Son Challenge, one of golf’s most special events that closes out the calendar year on the golf schedule,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports. “Our relationship with PNC Bank elevates this event each year as a must-attend and must-see event for players and fans alike, and we look forward to our continued relationship with PNC Bank for years to come.”

Past winners of the PNC Father/Son Challenge include some of the biggest names in golf including Raymond Floyd (1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001), Jack Nicklaus (1999), Bernhard Langer (2005-06, 2014), Davis Love III (2012) and David Duval (2016).  Masters champion Angel Cabrera and his son, Angel Cabrera Jr. captured the 2017 title.

To qualify for the PNC Father/Son Challenge, participants must have won either a major championship or THE PLAYERS Championship in their career. The professional’s partner must not currently hold a Tour card, and while the majority of partners in the history of the event have been the sons of the golf legends, the family-themed tournament has seen daughters, grandsons and one father – Justin Leonard’s dad, Larry – participate over the years.

The PNC Father/Son Challenge is operated in partnership by IMG and NBC Sports.

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Fire damages National Golf Links of America clubhouse

By Will GrayApril 19, 2018, 12:55 pm

A fire broke out Wednesday at National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y., causing "extensive damage" to a portion of the historic course's clubhouse.

According to a report, an initial call was made to the Southampton police department about a fire on the roof of the clubhouse at 11:34 a.m. With the club's gates too narrow to fit a fire truck through, more than 100 firefighters from various departments helped douse the flames by transporting water up a hill to the east side of the clubhouse.

The fire was reportedly extinguished by 2:30 p.m., with no injuries requiring medical attention. According to a Golf Digest report, the club was undergoing construction on its outdoor eating area known as "the Birdcage" and that most of the club's historical documents reside on the opposite end of the clubhouse from where the fire broke out and was contained.

Opened in 1911, National Golf Links of America was designed by C.B. MacDonald and hosted the inaugural Walker Cup in 1922. The biennial matches returned in 2013 to NGLA, which is often rated among the top courses in the U.S. and sits adjacent to Shinnecock Hills, site of this summer's U.S. Open.

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Chappell returns to Valero as defending champ

By Will GrayApril 18, 2018, 9:48 pm

It's impossible for any of the players at this week's Valero Texas Open to forget who captured the trophy last year.

That's because most players stay at the JW Marriott hotel that's a short walk from the first tee at TPC San Antonio, and the defending champion's face is emblazoned on the hotel's room keys. This week, that honor belongs to Kevin Chappell.

"You get some sly comments from players about their room key," Chappell told reporters Wednesday. "'Oh, I'm tired of looking at you.' And I'm saying, 'Believe me, I'm tired of being in everyone's room.'"

The position of defending champ is one Chappell relishes this week as he returns to the site of his maiden PGA Tour victory. A one-shot win over Brooks Koepka led to a euphoric celebration on the 72nd green, and it helped propel Chappell to his first career spot on the Presidents Cup team in October.

Chappell has missed the cut each of the last two weeks, including the Masters, but he also recorded top-10 finishes at the CareerBuilder Challenge, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Arnold Palmer Invitational. It's reason enough for Chappell to feel optimistic heading back to a course where he was a runner-up in 2011 and finished T-4 in 2016.

"This year's been a little bit of a strange year for me. I usually don't find form until about here, usually a slow starter," Chappell said. "But having three top-10s before this event, I've kind of found some form. I'm looking to turn those top-10s into top-5s, and the top-5s into wins. That's the challenge moving forward this year."

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Scott returns to Valero with major streak in jeopardy

By Will GrayApril 18, 2018, 8:34 pm

Adam Scott is back in the Lone Star State as he looks to keep alive a majors streak that has stretched across nearly two decades.

The Aussie tends to play a relatively light schedule during the spring, often times skipping every event between the Masters and The Players. But this time around he opted to return to the Valero Texas Open for the first time since 2011 in an effort to capitalize on the form he found two weeks ago at Augusta National, where he tied for 32nd.

"Hopefully kind of pick up where I left off on the weekend, which was really solid, and get a bit of momentum going because that's what I haven't had this year," Scott told reporters. "Trying to put four good rounds together and get the most out of my game for a change."

Scott has won each of the four stroke-play events held annually in Texas, completing the so-called "Texas Slam" before the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play relocated to Austin. That includes his win at TPC San Antonio back in 2010, when he closed with rounds of 66-67 for a one-shot victory.

After a seven-year hiatus, Scott is back San Antonio after a solid but underwhelming spring stretch. He cracked the top 20 at both the Honda Classic and Valspar Championship, but his worldwide top-10 drought stretches back nearly a year to the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June. As a result, the former world No. 1 has dropped to No. 59 in the latest rankings.

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

"I'm trying to be really in tune with where my game's at and identify why I'm just not having better results," Scott said. "To kind of change that, I've got to change something, otherwise I'm just going to do the same thing."

That ranking will become even more important in the coming weeks as Scott looks to keep his streak of consecutive majors intact. He has played in 67 straight dating back to The Open in 2001, second only to Sergio Garcia's 75 among active players. But Scott's five-year exemption for winning the 2013 Masters has run its course, meaning he is not yet exempt for the upcoming U.S. Open.

Barring a win next month at TPC Sawgrass, Scott's only way to avoid a trip to sectional qualifying will be to maintain a position inside the top 60 in the world rankings on either May 21 or June 11.

The key for Scott remains easy to identify but hard to fix. While he ranks fifth on Tour this season in strokes gained: tee-to-green, he's 194th in strokes gained: putting. Scott won in consecutive weeks in 2016 with a short putter, but otherwise has largely struggled on the greens since the anchoring ban took effect more than two years ago.

"Hopefully a quick turnaround here and things start going in the right direction, because I think I can have a really great back end of the season," Scott said. "My ball-striking is where I want it; I like where my short game's at. I just need to get a bit of momentum going on the greens. It's easy to do that on the putting green at home, but that doesn't always translate out here. I think I've just got to make it happen out here."