Cut Line Grooves Edition
Sport hasn’t been subjected to this kind of minutia since NASCAR introduced restrictor plates. Luckily no one on Tour has gone into the wall at Turn 3, but there has been no shortage of bodies being thrown under the metaphorical bus.
Phil Mickelson. OK, so he’s no Rosa Parks and considering everything else that golf is dealing with right now maybe Lefty’s powers would be better applied elsewhere, but you’ve got to respect the zeal he displayed throughout this whole confusing and sordid process.
“My point has been made,” Mickelson said Wednesday in L.A.
His “point,” of course, is that the U.S. Golf Association attempted a back-door rollback of the golf ball with a convoluted grooves rule that has cost manufacturers millions of dollars, the Tour untold style points and hacker-nation their only chance to hold a hard green from a buried lie.
As Brad Faxon told GolfWorld, “I don’t see amateurs giving up the game because they say it’s too easy.”
eBay. One player called “Cut Line” Thursday afternoon giddy with excitement saying, “I found a (Ping Eye 2) wedge on eBay for $1,000.”
Whatever the outcome of Groovegate it has been a boon for aftermarket sales of the 20-year-old club and, after ridiculously marked-up Super Bowl tickets, the primary cash cow for the online flea market.
Who knew golf’s stimulus plan depended on panicked sales of out-of-date technology?
Jerry West. A year ago Riviera had a duck-and-cover feel to it after a few members of Congress made Northern Trust public enemy No. 1 for what was deemed excessive corporate hospitality.
This year, thanks in large part to “Mr. Clutch,” who was named executive director of the L.A. stop last May, ticket sales are up at Hogan’s Alley and the Northern Trust field is the young PGA Tour season’s deepest.
Of course, not all weeks are perfect. On Tuesday Kobe Bryant passed West as the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer.
No. 10 at Riviera. Seems apropos amid the grooves debate that the 315-yard 10th hole is at center stage this week.
USGA and architecture types take note, the wee 10th played to a stout 3.8 stroke average for those attempting to drive the green and a 4.05 average for those who laid up on Thursday. Sometimes bigger really isn’t better.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
John Solheim. Interesting that the villain in all this groove ugliness – after Scott McCarron, of course – is the Ping CEO.
“If he and the USGA sat down tomorrow and said we'll take that language out, then we are free,” Finchem said. “They would change their condition and we would have no problem. That would be the cleanest, easiest way.”
Let’s be clear, Ping no longer produces the Ping Eye 2s and therefore is not cashing in on the online onslaught. And while the publicity generated by Groovegate may be a guerilla marketer’s dream there are deeper issues at play here.
An industry executive who attended the final meetings between Ping and the USGA two decades ago remembers it this way: “(Solheim’s father, Karsten) stood up there and said, in closing, ‘I feel like someone has stabbed me in the back as all I ever wanted to do was produce equipment that helped people enjoy the game.’”
It will be John Solheim’s heart, not his head or Finchem’s s thinly-veiled nudges, that will decide how much ground he wishes to give, and that’s powerful stuff.
Monday morning contenders. Pundits are paid to second guess, it’s part of the DNA. But Michael Sim’s decision to layup on the 72nd hole on Sunday at Torrey Pines has been unfairly criticized in some circles.
On Sunday the young Aussie found himself one shot behind eventual champion Ben Crane and in the middle of the final fairway about 250 yards from the hole. While some have said Sim was playing for a paycheck when he laid up, the truth is he was only playing what the conditions were giving him.
What most critics missed is that the 18th played into a cold, damp wind on Sunday, which brought Devlin’s Billabong into play, and that Sim is perhaps the best wedge player in the under-30 set. For the record, just 25 of 78 players attempted to reach the green in two shots on Sunday and just eight of those players hit the putting surface.
Was he playing for a paycheck? No more so than Zach Johnson was playing for a green jacket at the 2007 Masters. And we all know how that one turned out.
Tim Finchem. On Wednesday in Los Angeles the lawyer wanted to do what lawyers do, cloud the water, while the commissioner knew there had to be some crow on the menu.
The mea culpa, as it was, was short and ambiguous: “The assumption was made last year that very few, if any, players would use that club because they're 20 years old,” Finchem said.
Perhaps the letter John Solheim sent the Tour nearly two years ago regarding the impending change to the groove rule and the outstanding agreement between Ping, the USGA and Tour got lost in the mail or the bureaucratic shuffle.
Either way the rank-and-file deserved better from a commish who is paid handsomely – $5.3 million in base pay and performance bonuses in 2008 according to a recent Sports Business Journal report – to avoid these types of embarrassing situations.
Blast McCarron for his poor choice of words or Solheim for what some say is a dogmatic policy or even Mickelson for his poorly timed political statement, but don’t forget Finchem’s role in all of this when the final grades are handed out.
Tweet of the week. Ianjamespoulter. “I don’t think I’m going to go to the superbowl [sic]. I couldn’t even tell you who is playing. The atmosphere will be great down there though.”
Hint: It’s not Arsenal and Man U.
Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik
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.
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.
Childhood rivals share Sr. PGA lead
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.
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.''
Wise, Simpson both miss cut at Colonial
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.
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.
Sr. PGA caddie learns of nephew's heroism in school shooting
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.”