Cut Line: PGA Tour removes fun, but keeps secrecy

By Rex HoggardJanuary 16, 2015, 6:10 pm

With the lines blurred between split-calendar schedules and overlapping seasons it’s encouraging to see the world’s top players back in action this week in Abu Dhabi and Hawaii. To mark the occasion, consider this the “opening day” edition of Cut Line.

Made Cut

Now boarding. What in the world was written on that boarding pass?

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy revealed this week that, like previous seasons, he penned his objectives for 2015 on the back of his boarding pass en route to his season debut in Abu Dhabi.

Whatever it was that McIlroy wrote it seemed to work following opening rounds of 67-66 to move within two strokes of the lead along with his first hole-in-one in competition as a professional on Friday.

“I haven’t kept those boarding cards – once I don’t need them anymore, they are just discarded. It’s funny: The numbers of the seats have gradually gotten less and less … 13B, 12A, it’s been nice. And yes, this one in my back pocket is 1A. One day I won’t need a boarding pass – that’s the ultimate,” McIlroy smiled.

Interestingly, Cut Line has a similar tradition, although for the last 20 years we’ve had vastly different objectives. Our goal is to actually see what seat 1A looks like.

Latin flair. This week’s Latin America Amateur Championship is the kickoff to what promises to be an eventful time for golf in the region leading up to next year’s Olympic Games in Brazil.

The winner of this week’s event in Argentina will receive an invitation to play in the Masters and the reach of Augusta National was evident when club chairman Billy Payne arrived in his green jacket.

Inevitably, the conversation turned to this year’s Masters and Payne, along with R&A chairman Wilson Sibbett, were asked when Tiger Woods would win major No. 15? Predictably, Sibbett suggested the former world No. 1’s history on the Old Course, which will host the Open Championship this year, would make St. Andrews the obvious choice.

Payne had another idea.

“Well, we happen to be the next major that's competed, so I'll vote for the Masters,” he smiled.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Casey in point. In an interview with GolfChannel.com last year, Paul Casey became emotional when asked what the Ryder Cup meant to the Englishman.

It’s a sign of the times that Casey announced this week he had given up his European Tour membership, and with it his chance to play the Ryder Cup.

“It's a very tough decision. For as long as I've been professional I've been a member of the European Tour,” Casey said on Thursday at the Sony Open.

“I've been trying to play both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, and some years I've done it brilliantly, and other years I've failed miserably ... not being in the top 50 (in the Official World Golf Ranking) is really difficult to play both tours.”

When practicality trumps passion there’s something wrong with the system.

Tweet of the week:

 

Still locking down that 1st alternate spot, but just got some great advice from Tonya Harding on how to best deal with the situation.

— Steve Wheatcroft (@wheatiePGA) January 14, 2015

 

Wheatcroft would land a spot in the Sony Open, and open with a 2-under 68, and, thankfully, no professionals were injured in the making of this item.

Missed Cut

NFL (No Fun League). In what we can only assume is a continuing effort to rid the circuit of all frivolity, the PGA Tour announced this past week that players were no longer allowed to throw items into the crowd adjacent TPC Scottsdale’s raucous 16th hole at the upcoming Waste Management Phoenix Open.

“For fan safety reasons, players and caddies are prohibited from throwing, kicking, or otherwise propelling items into the crowd on the 16th hole,” the Tour-issued notice read.

While we have to assume running with scissors is already verboten by Tour regs, there are some other “risky” traditions the Tour should consider outlawing, including the caddie contest on Wednesday at TPC Sawgrass’ 17th hole (have you seen some of these caddie’s swings?), the firing of the canon to begin the week at the RBC Heritage (that is unless the defending champion is experienced with that kind of firepower, like, say ... Boo Weekley) and the famous milkshakes at the Memorial (the Buckeye option is estimated to have 1 gagillion calories).

The Tour nixed the caddie races at TPC Scottsdale’s 16th hole a few years ago, but if the suits in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., are serious about replacing the delirium with decorum they may want to consider toning down the sale of adult beverages.

Just a thought.

Need to know. National security secrets aren’t guarded as closely as many elements of the Tour’s anti-doping program.

This fact was magnified this week when the circuit announced that Web.com Tour player Bhavik Patel had been suspended for a year for violating the Tour’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

“In an effort to overcome an injury, I made a lapse of judgment. I regret my decision but have learned from the experience and look forward to returning to competition,” Patel said in a statement.

What seems certain is that Patel is the first bona fide player to run afoul of the anti-doping policy. Although Doug Barron was the first player suspend for violating the program in 2009 he was later granted a therapeutic use exemption for at least one of the substances that caused his suspension.

What we don’t know is what substance caused Patel’s violation. Unlike most other major sports leagues, and the World Anti-Doping Agency, the Tour doesn’t release that information.

The circuit’s original anti-doping manual called for the release of the substance that caused the violation, but the Tour removed that provision from the policy the next year.

When it comes to testing the Tour values secrecy over sunshine.

JENNIFER PODIS / The Palm Beach Post

RIP Lou King and his history-making hats

By Al TaysOctober 23, 2018, 1:50 pm

A moment of silence, please, for Lou King, who died Saturday in Iowa City at age 93. If you’re wearing a hat, do NOT take it off, especially if it bears some company’s name or logo. Lou used to get mad when professional golfers would take off their hats – at least the professional golfers he was paying to wear said hats. His company’s hats.

Amana.

Every golfer who gets paid to wear some non-golf company’s name or logo on his hat – we’ll expand it to anywhere on his clothing – owes Lou King a debt of gratitude. We’re talking to you, Phil Mickelson, with your KPMG visors. And you, Bernhard Langer, with that Mercedes logo on your shirts. And you, John Daly, with – well, with seemingly everything, everywhere.

In Lou King’s long, illustrious career in golf, his employers included the Ben Hogan Company, MacGregor Golf and the PGA of America (for which he served as executive director). But it was during his tenure at the Iowa-based appliance maker Amana that he had the most lasting impact on the game. His idea was simplicity itself: Give Amana exposure in person, on television and in newspapers and magazines by paying pros to wear hats with the company’s logo.

Amana paid pros $50 per tournament – “dirt cheap,” King told me when I profiled him in The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post in 1999. And it was well targeted advertising, too, aimed at affluent people who play golf. “Those are the people who buy major appliances,” King said.

Many of golf’s powers-that-be were less than amused, however. Tournament winners were frequently directed to doff their headgear for post-round television interviews. That made King see red. “If you’re going to take your hat off,” he would complain to any of his client pros who did, “why am I paying you?”

It was practically a moot point, though, as TV directors schemed to keep the controversial caps out of the camera’s frame.

Legendary CBS golf producer Frank Chirkinian was particularly galled by King’s hat strategy. Burned into his memory was the first pro he saw wearing an Amana hat on one of his broadcasts: Larry Ziegler, in a late-1960s Masters.

When I interviewed him for my 1999 article on King, Chirkinian, who died in 2011, said he refused to show Ziegler because “I was all of a sudden quite incensed that he was wearing this identification representing Amana, and I felt that I had to do something to protect the integrity of our sponsorship.”

By 1999, however, most of those involved in network broadcasts of golf tournaments had ceased trying to stem the tide of corporate logos. “You really don’t think about it anymore,” said Jack Graham, current Golf Channel and former ABC Sports producer. “It’s become so much an accepted practice.”

Still standing guard on the wall, however, was NBC’s golf producer, Tommy Roy. “We do think about it still,” Roy said at the time. But last week, when I asked Roy the same question I had asked him in 1999, he chuckled. “No,” he said, “we haven’t worried about that in years.”

The networks’ vigilance during the 1960s sometimes bordered on the absurd. Graham told me in 1999 that former ABC Sports president Dennis Swanson insisted on wiping out hat logos on still pictures of players that were used on ABC’s golf broadcasts. “I understood what Dennis was saying,” Graham said, “but at the end of the day I said ‘Look, you see them eight gazillion times on the golf course with their logos on. I think we make them look foolish with a hat that has nothing on it.’”

There was concern in some quarters that the Amana logos would spawn competitors, with players starting to look like NASCAR drivers. Some would say that has already come to pass. A photo of Daly, who admittedly is an extreme case, taken at this year’s Constellation Senior Players Championship reveals no fewer than six sponsor logos on his golf shirt – one on each side of his collar, one on each sleeve and one on each breast.

King would not have approved. “If it gets to be bad taste to where they start to look like some of these race cars, I think it’s bad,” he told me. “I personally don’t think it’s right for a player to have three or four different logos on their golf shirt.”

Times change, though. The PGA Tour’s regulations on logos read in part: “As a guideline, no more than four different sponsor logos should appear on a player’s clothing and headwear.”

King spread the Amana hat gospel to more than just professional golfers. A former starting quarterback for the University of Iowa, he later became friends with legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. King and Bryant would occasionally play together in golf outings and charity tournaments, and King would always make sure to give Bryant a pristine white golf hat with the Amana logo.

King was also friends with former Minnesota Vikings coach Jerry Burns, and provided Amana stocking caps for the team to use when the temperatures plummeted. “For three years we had terrific logo recognition in pro football,” King said.

The question of which pro was the first to be paid to wear an Amana hat is somewhat muddled. King paid eventual winner Bob Goalby to wear an Amana hat in the 1968 Masters (that featured the infamous Roberto De Vicenzo scorecard gaffe), but Amana’s official program of paying pros didn’t begin until later that year, when King saw Julius Boros put on an Amana hat (that he had gotten when he played in the company’s yearly pro-am) in the Texas heat of the 1968 PGA Championship in San Antonio. That convinced King that a widespread program would be worth the investment, and the rest is hat history, logo lore.

So tip your hat – just don’t take it off – to Lou King, a man ahead of his time.

Getty Images

Golf Channel adds Matt Farrell as GM of Alternative Golf & Exec. Director of World Long Drive Association

By Golf Channel Public RelationsOctober 23, 2018, 1:20 pm

Farrell’s New Role Follows Past Decade Spent as CMO of USA Swimming

Matt Farrell, CMO of USA Swimming, has joined Golf Channel as General Manager of Alternative Golf and Executive Director for the World Long Drive Association. Farrell is a 20-year veteran of sports and entertainment marketing spanning roles with USA Swimming, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Warner Brothers. The announcement was made today by Tom Knapp, Golf Channel executive vice president, partnerships and programming.

“Golf Channel is committed to the growth of the game by engaging new and different fans in our coverage of all aspects of the game,” said Knapp. “Alternative competitions like World Long Drive expand golf’s reach, and Matt’s proven track record of elevating sports, both through grassroots efforts, digital extensions and high-profile media opportunities will further fuel our efforts. Matt has a terrific reputation within the Olympic community, where he is known as an effective and strategic partner amongst colleagues across sport governing bodies and sponsors.”

“From the first time I experienced a WLD event, I immediately saw the progressive vision and promising future of long drive as a sport and unique avenue for golf to connect with younger, athletic-minded sports fans,” Farrell said. “And thanks to the investments of NBC Sports, the competitors, sponsors, and event hosts the past few years, we have an incredible foundation to expand upon with a global, long-term strategic plan. For me personally, I look forward to combining my background in commercial development, organizational leadership and digital content at USA Swimming and the U.S. Olympic Committee with Golf Channel’s entrepreneurial enthusiasm to grow the sport of golf in non-traditional ways.”

In the newly created role, Farrell will lead all domestic and international business elements for Golf Channel’s owned and operated alternative golf franchises, led by the World Long Drive Association, which has aired on Golf Channel since 2013. For these franchises, Farrell will oversee event sponsorships, marketing, communications, operations, player relations and TV/digital media extensions. Farrell will lead teams focused on further development of additional alternative golf competitions, events and franchises. Farrell will report to Knapp and his official start date is December 3.

Since making a commitment to add World Long Drive to its business portfolio in 2015, Golf Channel has elevated the sport to feature five televised live competitions in 2018, culminating in the Volvik World Long Drive Championship in primetime, and adding the women’s division to televised events for the past two years. Previously, World Long Drive’s exposure was limited to a single, tape-delayed presentation of the men’s world championship on ESPN2. Despite a history as a sport dating back to 1976, Golf Channel’s support drove World Long Drive to be named a 2018 finalist for a “Breakthrough Sports League of the Year” by the annual Cynopsis Sports industry awards. The broader sports industry also has taken notice, including ESPN proclaiming that long drive has “recently started to enter the mainstream of golf;” Men’s Journal noting “with the sport’s ascendant profile and ever-growing prestige,” fans should “buckle up for more high-octane action;” Golf Digest saying the WLD atmosphere is “on the upswing, gaining traction;” and Golf.com claiming it is “an eye-opening experience”.

Matt Farrell Professional Background:

  • USA Swimming, Chief Marketing Officer since 2008, previously Managing Director of Business Development since 2005.
    • USA Swimming is a National Governing Body with 400,000 members and the No. 1 Olympic swimming country in the world.
    • Under his leadership, delivered highest corporate partner revenue in organization’s history, including corporate partners such as BMW, Marriott, MilkPEP, Arena, TYR, Blue Diamond and Chobani, in addition to long-term partnership renewals with Speedo and Phillips 66.
    • Farrell developed partnerships with Disney and Discovery Education, as well as a diversity and inclusion partnership with Sigma Gamma Rho, an African-American sorority.
    • Signature programs created by Farrell include USA Swimming Productions digital video department, SwimToday youth participation campaign, USA Swimming House VIP hospitality experience, and annual SwimBiz conference focused on elevating the swimming industry’s business potential, sponsorship opportunities and social media influence.
    • Previous professional experience includes serving as Associate Director, Internet Marketing at the U.S. Olympic Committee from 2000-2005, and Director of Internet Marketing, Warner Home Video for Warner Bros. from 1999-2000. Additionally, Farrell served previously at the U.S. Olympic Committee as Manager of Online Projects from 1997-1999 and Communications Coordinator at USA Swimming 1993-1997, after starting his career in the Purdue University’s Sports Information Office from 1992-1993.
    • Farrell additionally has served on the boards for Adaptive Adventures (2013-16) and USA Ultimate (2010-12).
    • Farrell graduated from the University of Arkansas with a BA in Broadcast Journalism.
    • Farrell, a life-long golfer, will be relocating to Golf Channel’s World Headquarters in Orlando, Fla.
    • Farrell is married to Michelle Dusserre, 1984 Olympic silver medalist in gymnastics, who currently works in international sports consulting. They have two daughters – Abby and Zoe. Abby is currently at the University of Illinois and competes on the wheelchair basketball team; while Zoe competes in soccer, swimming and playing in the marching band.
Getty Images

Randall's Rant: Tales of the lost and found

By Randall MellOctober 23, 2018, 12:28 pm

Give me a player who lost his way.

Give me a player who lost his motivation, or his confidence, or maybe just his hard-fought momentum, or, better yet, a player who lost all of the above.

Give me a man or woman like that as a winner on a tour Sunday, because there’s inspiration for all of us in those kind of stories.

This wicked, mysterious game comes with the dreary certainty that eventually we’re all going to have to make our way out of some deep patch of woods.

That’s what made this past week so special.

We hit the trifecta.

We didn’t just get one winner who came out triumphant after feeling lost this year. We got three of them.

We got Brooks Koepka winning the CJ Cup @Nine Bridges in South Korea, Danielle Kang winning the Buick LPGA Shanghai and Sergio Garcia winning the Andalucia Valderrama Masters in Spain.

If you’re a golf fan needing an offseason as much as the players do, maybe you were tempted to take the week off and just gorge on high school, college and NFL football. Koepka, Kang and Garcia made that hard to do. They had compelling stories to tell, or to keep telling.

Koepka, 28, ascended to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time with Sunday’s victory. Yes, it comes after he won his second and third majors this year and after he was named PGA Tour player of the year, but it also comes in a year that began with such a troubling start.

Koepka’s success is more remarkable when you remember he missed the Masters with a wrist injury. You can’t fully appreciate where he is now without reminding yourself he missed four months early in the year with a torn tendon in his left wrist, and that he spent two months in a soft cast and didn’t touch a club for 91 days.

“You go from playing some of the best golf I’ve probably ever played to being at the lowest point professionally that I’ve been,” Koepka said on the eve of the U.S. Open back in June. “It wasn’t anything I’d wish upon anyone.”

Six months ago, who would have believed he would seize the No. 1 ranking by fall? Six years ago, who would have believed it possible with Koepka beginning his pro career in Europe’s minor leagues? He’s the first European Challenge Tour player to win three majors.

“It’s unbelievable,” Koepka said. “Look where I started. My first pro start was in Switzerland. I don’t think I could have said six years later I’d be No. 1.”

And then there’s Kang.

Last year, the two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur winner broke through to win her first LPGA title, making it a major at the KPMG Women’s PGA.

By late this summer, Kang’s confidence was gone.

Kang, 26, said she was struggling with the yips over full shots and over putts in a run of missing five cuts in six starts. While she began working out her issues going to Butch Harmon a month ago, she was still wrestling with demons just a week ago. She said she needed “four minutes” to take the club back over a shot at the KEB Hana Bank Championship.

“I was able to get over a lot of anxiety I was feeling when I was trying to hit a golf ball,” Kang said. “I just kept trusting my golf game.”

Kang was a bit of a mess early on Sunday in Shanghai, until her caddie handed her a wedge going to the back nine and told her to smash her golf bag with it, to exorcise her demon anger.

“I thank him for that,” she said.

And there’s Garcia, who broke through to win the Masters a year ago but looked as if he might not be worthy of a spot on the European Ryder Cup team last month. He missed eight of 11 PGA Tour cuts leading up to the Ryder Cup, including the cuts at all four majors, but he flipped a switch going to Paris. He returned to his former brilliance going 3-1 to help the Euros win.

Garcia, 38, carried his Ryder Cup momentum to Spain.

“To be able to win here at Valderrama three times in a row is a dream come true,” Garcia said.

Yes, but give me players who know what nightmares are. Watching them find their way out makes for terrific golf theater. It makes football’s shadow a little less formidable this time of year.

Getty Images

Stock Watch: LPGA raises some Q-uestions

By Ryan LavnerOctober 23, 2018, 11:42 am

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Brooks (+9%): Golf’s new king looks built to last, with a powerful game, a rock-solid stroke and a chip on his shoulder the size of his South Florida mansion. As long as Koepka stays healthy, the game’s preeminent big-game hunter will continue to eat.

Danielle Kang (+7%): Two weeks ago her mind was so cluttered that she needed four minutes to pull the trigger on a shot. Battling chip and full-swing yips, she kept the demons at bay to earn an LPGA title even more satisfying than her major breakthrough.

Paul Azinger (+5%): Tabbed to replace the inimitable Johnny Miller in the NBC booth, Azinger was the best and the most logical choice for the job. He’s a sharp observer of the game who won’t be afraid to let it rip, when necessary.

Sergio Garcia (+4%): Whenever the Ryder Cup inevitably returns to Valderrama, even if he’s 65 years old, Garcia deserves at least some consideration for a captain’s pick. His record there is stupid-good: 14 appearances, three wins, seven top-3s, 13 top-10s.

Gary Woodland (+3%): He’s 37 under par across the first two events of the season, with no wins to show for it. Tough sport!


FALLING

Ian Poulter (-1%): Playing in the final group with Koepka in Korea, Poulter threw up a 1-under 71 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 22 – and nearly tumbled out of the top 10.

Slow-play penalties (-2%): Good thing the PGA Tour Champions rules officials finally cracked down on slow play at the senior level – by picking on Corey Pavin and not notorious slowpoke Bernhard Langer, who just so happens to be No. 2 in the points standings.

LPGA Q Series (-4%): The LPGA’s new version of Q-School gets underway this week, and the women’s college golf coaches are not happy about it: The top 5 players from last season’s individual rankings (Jennifer Kupcho, Maria Fassi, Patty Tavatanakit, Lilia Vu, Lauren Stephenson) automatically earned a spot in the final stage, guaranteeing at least some Symetra status and likely a full LPGA card, if they finish inside the top 45. The LPGA is cherry-picking the best from the college ranks, even if they’re not yet ready to make the jump.

World No. 1 parity (-5%): This was just the second time since the world rankings debuted that four players reached No. 1. That trend doesn’t seem like it’ll end in 2019, either – especially with Tiger Woods once again eyeing the top spot.