ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – It’s time to reflect on Jack Nicklaus’ greatness, time to trade professionalism for a more relaxed look on the European Tour, and time to realize the solution to slow play isn’t going to be pretty.
Contrived excitement. Officials at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship never hesitated, sending world No. 1 Jordan Spieth, No. 3 Rory McIlroy and No. 6 Rickie Fowler out together for Rounds 1 and 2 this week.
Say what you will about this type of forced showdown, considering how rarely the game’s top players get grouped together – Spieth and McIlroy have never played together on the weekend at a PGA Tour event – it’s an intriguing chance to see the headliners go head-to-head.
“We were saying walking off the last green there, we wish that we could play this group all the time,” Spieth said following the opening round. “It's very rare to get it, so we're soaking it in. It's fun feeding off each other.”
We all agree it would be a much better pairing on, say Masters Sunday to see Spieth, McIlroy, Fowler, etc. together, but this early in the golf season we’ll take what we can get.
Golden years. They say once you reach a certain age you stop counting birthdays, but when you’ve won 18 majors and are widely considered the best player of all time it’s hard to fly under the radar.
Jack Nicklaus turned 76 on Thursday, a milestone that was celebrated far and wide on social media and an opportunity to revisit some of the Golden Bear’s greatest moments.
And what does a legend do on his birthday?
“I don’t ever play golf, but I’m going to go play on my birthday,” Nicklaus said on “Morning Drive.”
No word on whether Nicklaus broke his age on Thursday, but we would like to think he did.
Tweet of the week: @TigerWoods “Happy Birthday Jack, 76 years young and could probably shoot your age anytime you wanted to.”
There was no shortage of social media shoutouts to Nicklaus on Thursday, but from one GOAT to another seems like a winner.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Pace setters. When European Tour CEO Keith Pelley declared war on slow play many figured it was little more than an empty promise. Slow play, after all, has been public enemy No. 1 for decades and yet nothing meaningful has been done to speed things up.
Pelley’s answer was a new, albeit complicated “monitoring” system announced this week in Abu Dhabi that is aimed at singling out the game’s slowpokes.
Although the new plan may end up being an encouraging first step in practice, on Thursday it was the cause of considerable handwringing when Spieth was assessed a monitoring penalty after taking too long to hit his birdie putt on the eighth hole.
Spieth was guilty of violating the new policy. The European Tour, however, is equally guilty of not properly explaining the rule to those with a need to know.
Short answers. Slow play wasn’t the only bold move made by Pelley and Co. this week.
The tour announced a new rule that will allow players to wear shorts during practice and pro-am rounds, a move that was quickly embraced by players.
“Isn’t this great,” beamed Ernie Els, who showed up for a practice round on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi wearing blue shorts.
In fact, reaction from players and fans was so positive it led some to ask if it was something the PGA Tour should consider?
“I think it's awesome. It will be something that I would love to see on the PGA Tour, as well. Guys seem to all love it over here,” Spieth said. “I've not heard one person, one tour player complain about it. And most of the guys that are really talking highly of it are the older guys oddly enough.”
It will be interesting to see who listens when the world No. 1 talks.
Musical chairs. For those who keep track of such things, the last few days have been a hectic time for PGA Tour sponsors. First Barclays WD’d from the first FedEx Cup playoff event and was replaced by Northern Trust, which was then replaced by Hyundai at the annual Los Angeles-area tournament.
The empty chair, however, is now the Tournament of Champions in Maui.
While it seems likely the Tour will find a replacement for the winners-only event, it is a bit of a kick that the folks at Kapalua are left searching after one of the most successful events in a decade. This year’s field included six of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking and the world No. 1 (Spieth) for the first time since 2005.
It seems no good deed goes unpunished.
Transatlantic tiff. Chalk it up to a scheduling anomaly, the byproduct of golf’s return to the Olympic Games and an exceedingly crowded summer tournament schedule, but that doesn’t make things any easier for those who have to walk the delicate transatlantic line.
This year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played the same week as the French Open, a marquee event on the European Tour held at the site of the 2018 Ryder Cup outside of Paris.
Pelley decided to protect an important partner because of the conflict, removing the Bridgestone from the European Tour schedule and making the French Open count as two starts for his members with double the Ryder Cup points.
While Pelley’s move is perfectly understandable it makes many of his top players endure a tough choice, like Martin Kaymer who said he’s still not sure which event he will play the first week of July.
Henrik Stenson conjured up a slightly different solution.
“No Bridgestone for me, No French Open,” Stenson said this week. “Because of the clash with the French Open I decided not to make anyone happy or mad. I’m just not playing.”