Cut Line: It's a party on the European Tour

By Rex HoggardJanuary 20, 2017, 5:36 pm

DJs on the practice range at European Tour events, record scoring has some seeing red and Rory McIlroy takes to Twitter to prove his point, all of this and more in this week’s Cut Line.

Made Cut

Trailblazer. Last year he introduced shorts during practice and pro-am rounds and now DJ K-Pell, sorry European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, has set his sights on livening up life on the practice tee.

Pelley and the European circuit debuted a DJ on the range this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, playing assorted tracks while players warmed up, and “walk up” music when competitors made their way to the first tee.

“We're in the entertainment business,” Pelley told the Associated Press. “As long as you are always conscious of the integrity and protection of the game's magic. But you are always looking to improve your product, in any business that you run.”

Reaction from players was largely positive with the lone exception being Paul Lawrie, who said, “I didn’t like it on Tuesday.” May Cut Line suggest the 48-year-old’s “walk-up” song be “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel.

Lefty’s return. It won’t garner as much attention as Tiger Woods’ return to the Tour next week at the Farmers Insurance Open, but Phil Mickelson’s start this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge is noteworthy on many fronts.

For starters, following multiple surgeries to correct a sports hernia in the off-season it’s encouraging to have the southpaw back in action for his 26th season. But it’s Mickelson’s decision to play the old Bob Hope that is the real shot in the arm for officials.

Mickelson took over this year as ambassador for the event, which has been searching for an identity since Hope died in 2003.

According to various sources, Mickelson wants to get the community more involved with the Tour stop that dates back to 1960, and given Lefty’s status as one of the circuit’s elder statesmen his association can only help the field.

“I love the golf courses here, it's a great place to come out and start the year,” Mickelson said after an opening-round 68. “You don't have to be perfect, like I wasn’t [perfect] today, to still score.”

A perfect punch line, Hope would like that.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Hazeltine hangover. There was no task force, no committee designed to forge change, but the European Tour didn’t let last year’s Ryder Cup loss go unanswered.

The circuit reduced the minimum number of starts required to maintain tour membership, which is required to play for the Continent in the biennial matches, and gave captain Thomas Bjorn an extra pick, to match the number [four] that U.S. captain Jim Furyk will have in 2018.

The four events required for membership don’t include the majors or World Golf Championships and could persuade players like Paul Casey, who plays mostly in the United States, to return to the circuit.

Both moves are aimed at assuring Europe’s best 12 players make the team in ’18. Last fall, for example, both Casey and Russell Knox were ranked inside the top 20 in the world ranking but neither were on the Continent’s team at Hazeltine National.

Tweet of the week. Full disclosure, we are neither a TrackMan maestro nor a swing expert, so we’ll stay well clear of the technical mumbo gumbo behind the spat, but this week’s give and take between Rory McIlroy and Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee – which began when Chamblee tweeted that the best players drive the ball with a level or descending strike – was worth the price of admission.

McIlroy countered with a tweet that included plenty of data to support his take, “To get the most out of modern equipment you need to hit up on the driver. #fact”

The world No. 2 finished with a tweet showing his rank in the strokes gained: off-the-tee category last year (first).

Missed Cut

Off course, again. While the golf world is still reeling from news late last year that the Olympic Golf Course in Brazil is already in financial trouble, this week officials with the International Golf Federation are facing another golf course issue.

A non-profit golf council in Japan has challenged the venue for the 2020 games outside of Tokyo because of the club’s all-male membership policies.

Although officials at the club said they are prepared to review its membership policies if asked to do so by the International Olympic Committee, the Japanese non-profit contend that having a private course host the golf competition is not in the “spirit” of the Olympic legacy.

Although officials have plenty of time to work out any issues before the 2020 Games, it’s curious that handball and table tennis never seem to have these kinds of venue issues.

Are you not entertained? There was plenty of handwringing last week as the Tour’s best and brightest took apart Waialae Country Club one record round at a time.

The week began when Justin Thomas, the hottest player on the planet right now, shot an opening 59, and on Saturday Kevin Kisner narrowly missed a 9-footer for eagle on his final hole that would have made him the eighth player in Tour history to post a sub-60 round. Chez Reavie completed the assault, with a 61 on Sunday that included a bogey on his 15th hole.

Golf purists weren’t impressed, taking to social media to decry the distance modern players hit the golf ball and lament the loss of classic courses as a challenge to the game’s best.

Lost in all this, however, was the entertainment value of good golf. If grinding pars and good bogeys are your thing, there will be plenty of that at the U.S. Open.

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Miller's biggest on-air regret: Leonard at Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:00 am

Johnny Miller made a broadcasting career out of being brutally honest, calling golf tournaments exactly like he saw them.

His unfiltered style is what kept him on the air for nearly 30 years, but it wasn't always the most popular with players.

After announcing his upcoming retirement, Miller was asked Tuesday if there were any on-air comments he regretted over the last three decades. One immediately came to mind.

"I think that I didn't say the right words about Justin Leonard at Miracle at Brookline about he should be home watching it on TV. I meant really - I did say he should be home, but I meant the motel room. Even then I probably shouldn't have said that," Miller recalled. "I want so much for the outcome that I'm hoping for that I actually get overwhelmed with what I want to see. Almost the kind of things you would say to your buddies if you were watching it on TV, you know? He just couldn't win a match."

After struggling on Friday and Saturday in team play, Leonard ended up the U.S. hero after halving his Sunday singles match with José María Olazábal by holing a 40-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole - one of the most famous shots in Ryder Cup history.

"Of course he ended up - after the crappy comment I made that motivated maybe the team supposedly in the locker room, and he ends up making that 45-, 50- foot putt to seal the deal," Miller said. "Almost like a Hollywood movie or something."

Not only did the putt seal the comeback for the U.S., but it also earned Leonard an apology from Miller. 

"I apologized to him literally the next day; I happened to see him. I tried to make a policy when I go over the line that I get ahold of the guy within 24 hours and tell him I made a double bogey, you know. That's just the way I have done it through the years."

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Love him or not, Miller's authentic style stood out

By Doug FergusonOctober 16, 2018, 10:11 pm

The comment was vintage Johnny Miller, raw enough to cause most television producers to wince.

Miller was in the NBC Sports booth at Doral in 2004 when he watched Craig Parry hit another beautiful shot to the green. Miller said what he saw. That was his job.

He just didn't say it like other golf analysts.

''The last time you see that swing is in a pro-am with a guy who's about a 15-handicap,'' Miller said. ''It's just over the top, cups it at the bottom and hits it unbelievably good. It doesn't look ... if Ben Hogan saw that, he'd puke.''

Parry got the last word, of course, holing out a 6-iron from 176 yards in a playoff to win.

Except that wasn't the last word.

''I was in Ponte Vedra going back to the Honda Classic, and my phone is blowing up,'' said Tommy Roy, the longtime golf producer at NBC. ''It started percolating down in Australia, and you had radio stations demanding Johnny Miller be fired.''

Miller could make golf more fun to hear than to watch.

''He doesn't have a filter. That's why he's so good,'' Roy said. ''What he's thinking comes out. And 99.5 percent of the time, that was a great thing for viewers, and for me. And 0.5 percent of the time, it was a problem for our PR department and for me.

''And it was worth it.''

Roy was in Wisconsin on Monday night for his first look at Whistling Straits for the 2020 Ryder Cup. It will be the first Ryder Cup since 1989 that doesn't have Miller in the booth weighing in on good shots and bad with thoughts that immediately become words.

He often entertained. He occasionally irritated. He was rarely dull.

Miller is retiring after three decades calling the shots for NBC. His last tournament will be the Phoenix Open, the perfect exit for a Hall of Fame player once known as the ''Desert Fox'' for winning six times in Arizona. Miller was so good for so long that it was easy for younger generations to forget about that other career he had.

Miller to retire from broadcast booth in 2019

Best of: Photos of Miller through the years

And to think that was nearly his only career in golf.

Miller said he wasn't interested when NBC first approached him, but then his wife stepped in and told him it would be nice to have a steady paycheck. Even then, it took time for him to realize his audience was in the living room, not the locker room.

He made his debut at the Bob Hope Classic in 1990 and it didn't take long for him to leave his mark. Peter Jacobsen faced an awkward lie to the 18th green with water to the left.

''The easiest shot to choke on,'' Miller said.

People thought about choking. Miller said it because that's what he was thinking.

''What came into his brain came out of his mouth,'' said Mike McCarley, president of golf for NBC Sports. ''He was the first to really talk about the pressure. It's the most important element of the game, especially in those really big moments. He was doing it at a time when others weren't.''

It wasn't just the word ''choke.''

Phil Mickelson was getting up-and-down from everywhere at the 2010 Ryder Cup when Miller suggested that if Lefty weren't such a good putter he'd be selling cars in San Diego. Justin Leonard and Hal Sutton were losing a fourballs match at the 1999 Ryder Cup when Miller blurted out, ''My hunch is that Justin needs to go home and watch it on television.''

During the 2008 U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines that Tiger Woods won in 19 holes over Rocco Mediate, Miller suggested that guys named ''Rocco'' don't get their name on the trophy, and that Mediate looked like ''the guy who cleans Tiger's swimming pool.''

It wasn't all bad.

Roy, who also has produced NBA Finals and Olympics, said he wants analysts who first-guess, not second-guess. The latter is for talk radio. First-guessing means sharing instincts, and Miller had plenty of them.

Woods was playing the final hole at Newport in the 1995 U.S. Amateur when Miller said, ''It wouldn't surprise me if he knocked this thing a foot from the hole.''

And that's just what Woods did.

McCarley remembers how retired NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol used to worry whenever Miller called because he thought it was about retirement. McCarley soon inherited that feeling.

''Every time I'd see Johnny's number pop up on my cellphone, my heart would skip a beat,'' McCarley said. ''Two years ago, he made that call I had been dreading.''

McCarley kept him working a slightly reduced schedule, but no longer. Miller is 71 and has been on the road for 50 years. His 24th grandchild was born on Sunday. He wants to teach them fly fishing in Utah, perhaps even a little golf.

Miller wasn't sure he would last a week when he started. He never imagined going nearly 30 years.

He leaves behind a style all his own.

Most loved it. Some didn't. But everyone listened, and that might be his legacy in the broadcast booth. Roy said what he has heard from viewers he knows is that 70 percent really like Miller, and 30 percent really don't.

''But they all have an opinion,'' he said.

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CJ Cup: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 16, 2018, 9:20 pm

The PGA Tour returns to South Korea this week for the second edition of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges. Here is the key information for the no-cut event, where Justin Thomas is defending champion.

Golf course: Located on Jeju Island, the largest island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, The Club at Nine Bridges opened in 2001 and was designed by Ronald Fream and David Dale. The par-72 layout (36-36) will measure 7,184 yards for this week's event, 12 yards shorter than last year.

Purse: The total purse is $9.5 million with the winner receiving $1.71 million. In addition, the winner will receive 500 FedExCup points, a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and invitations to the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions, Players, Masters, and PGA Championship.

Last year: Thomas defeated Marc Leishman with a birdie on the second playoff hole to earn his seventh career PGA Tour win.

TV schedule (all times Eastern): Golf Channel, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m.

Live streamingWednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. 

Notable tee times (all times Eastern): 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, 8:15 p.m. Thursday: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Sungjae Im; 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Thursday: Marc Leishman, Si Woo Kim, Ernie Els; 8:25 p.m. Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. Thursday: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama

Notables in the field: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Ernie Els, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and last week's winner Marc Leishman.

Key stats:

 This is the third of 46 official events of the season and the second of three consecutive weeks of events in Asia

• 78-player field including the top 60 available from the final 2017-2018 FedExCup points list

The field also includes 12 major champions and two of the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking (highest ranked are No. 3 Koepka and No. 4 Thomas)

Thomas and Koepka both have a shot to ascend to No. 1 in the OWGR this week - they will play their first two rounds grouped together

Stats and information provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit

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Els eyeing potential Prez Cup players at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:55 pm

Ernie Els is teeing it up this week in South Korea as a player, but he's also retaining the perspective of a captain.

While the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia is still more than a year away, Els has already begun the process of keeping tabs on potential players who could factor on his International squad that will face an American contingent captained by Tiger Woods. Els played in last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and this week received one of eight sponsor exemptions into the limited-field CJ Cup on Jeju Island.

Els played a Tuesday practice round with Presidents Cup veteran and Branden Grace and India's Shubankhar Sharma, who held a share of the 54-hole lead last week in Malaysia.

"It's going to be a very diverse team the way things are shaping up already," Els told reporters. "We've got another year to go, so we're going to have an interesting new group of players that's going to probably make the team."

In addition to keeping tabs on Grace and Sharma, Els will play the first two rounds with Australia's Marc Leishman and South Korea's Si Woo Kim. Then there's Sungjae Im, a native of Jeju Island who led the Tour money list wire-to-wire last season.

"There's so many Korean youngsters here this week, so I'm going to really see how they perform," Els said. "Still a long way to go, but these guys, the young guys are going to be really the core of our team."

Els, who will turn 49 on Wednesday, made only five cuts in 15 PGA Tour starts last season, with his best result a T-30 finish at the Valero Texas Open. While it's increasingly likely that his unexpected triumph at the 2012 Open will end up being his final worldwide victory, he's eager to tackle a new challenge in the coming months by putting together the squad that he hopes can end the International losing skid in the biennial matches.

"The U.S. team is a well-oiled team. They play Ryder Cups together, they obviously play very well in the Presidents Cups against us, so they're a very mature team," Els said. "We are going to be a young team, inexperienced. But that doesn't scare me because I know the course very well down in Melbourne, I've played it many, many times. I feel I have a very good game plan to play the golf course strategy-wise and I'm going to share that with my players."