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A decade of playoffs: From cash grab to competition

By Rex HoggardAugust 22, 2017, 7:59 pm

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – In the decade since the PGA Tour introduced the concept of a postseason to professional golf, the idea has meant many things to many different players.

For Tiger Woods, a two-time winner of the season-long race in 2007 and ’09, the FedExCup was little more than a device to remind all of his dominance; while for the likes of Billy Horschel, the lottery winner in ’14, it was an 11th-hour surge that turned a decent season into something truly special.

As the FedExCup has evolved, so has the motivation to play the postseason. A curious experiment in ’07 when the Tour launched the concept, it has slowly been transformed from a cash grab into a compelling competition.

“I'm going to approach the first two events trying to obviously win but looking to kind of crescendo into East Lake and peak there and consider East Lake a major at this point as far as our preparation goes,” Jordan Spieth said on his way out of town two weeks ago at the PGA Championship.


The Northern Trust: Articles, video and photos

FedExCup standings entering the playoffs


Although there is always a push to make the regular season a bigger part of the playoff picture, for the likes of Spieth, who won the FedExCup in ’15, this really boils down to the four postseason stops, or to drill down even deeper, the final stop in Atlanta.

Just twice in the history of the playoffs has the winner at the Tour Championship not taken home the season-ending double, in ’08 when Vijay Singh only had to remain upright for four days at East Lake to win it all and in ’09 when Woods won the $10 million jackpot but lost to Phil Mickelson at the finale.

What little history there is here is rather clear - the regular season and the first three postseason stops serve a purpose, but it’s the Tour Championship that ultimately decides the outcome and smart guys like Spieth have figured that out.

“You can come in with different kinds of starting points from the regular season but you've got to have at least a pretty solid season in the back,” said Henrik Stenson, who won the cup in ’13 and finished runner-up to Spieth in ’15. “Then you have to play well in the first three playoff events to make sure that you're inside the top 30, and most of the guys who have won it I'm sure have been within the top 5.”

Only Horschel and Bill Haas in ’11 have played their way to the cup from outside that magic top 5, both by winning the finale.

But if the various postseason strategies have evolved, so has the playoff’s position of importance.

When Woods won the inaugural race in ’07 much was made of the fact that he didn’t kiss the cup the way he would the claret jug or Wanamaker Trophy in victory. Although it was likely just an inadvertent oversight on Woods’ part, the symbolic lack of love was a metaphor for the postseason’s place among the game’s biggest events.

Spieth’s commitment to treating the Tour Championship like a major is a sign of how that outlook has evolved, much like this week’s field at the playoff opener in New York is a snapshot of the cup’s growing status.

While five players are skipping The Northern Trust, those no-shows are largely due to injury, like Brandt Snedeker, or family priorities, such as Adam Scott who returned home to Australia to be with his wife for the birth of the couple’s second child.

The top 5 on the points list – Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas, Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler – are all in the field this week even though mathematically they are all assured a start next month at East Lake.

Some of that is positioning and the desire to arrive at the Tour Championship inside the top 5 on the points list, which assures the cup with a victory at the finale, but there’s also something to be said for playing an event because it’s important.

The playoff stops aren’t majors. They aren’t World Golf Championships, but they do resonate more now than they did a decade ago and this goes well beyond a potential financial windfall when you consider that Matsuyama has already collected more than $8 million in earnings.

Or maybe the best example of the playoffs' evolving stature can be found in the nuances of competition. No player has ever won the FedExCup in back-to-back seasons, “Because Jordan Spieth made 50-foot bombs when he shouldn't have. Next question,” cracked Stenson, who came in second in the season-long race to Spieth in ’15.

It was a joke, but a punch line laced with enough truth to make a point. For Stenson – whose name is already etched into the FedExCup, not to mention the claret jug, and probably doesn’t need another $10 million payday – that loss two years ago still stings. The season-long race is important because they players say it is.

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Bifurcate to make game easier for amateurs

By Phil BlackmarMay 24, 2018, 1:01 pm

In January of 2017, Golf Digest ran a story about the average driving distance of amateurs. If you missed the article (click here to read it), the numbers may surprise you. It conveniently breaks down the results, both by handicap and by age, to provide a more detailed view of what golf is really like for the majority of players.

I recently ran across the post again and couldn’t help myself; hence this article. The average driving distance on the PGA Tour is around 295 yards, with the leader in the 320-plus range. Per the article, low handicap players top the list at 250 yards, while the 10-19 handicapper – average player – drives it around 215. That’s a big difference.

Bifurcation, the hotbed topic which ignites division among golfers at a level nearly on par with our nation’s current political weather, keeps banging at my door. Frank Nobilo recently said something to the effect that “the average player has never been further removed from the professional game.” I agree.

The most common argument against splitting the rules is that golf is one game – where amateurs and professionals, alike, play the same game. But, do they really?

The “regular” tees on many courses today have been stretched to around 6,500 yards, while the PGA Tour average is over 7,400. Most courses keep greens soft and running around 10 on a stimpmeter (I know, you’re course prides itself on 14’s) while the average on Tour is 12 1/2. Even with the Tour’s comparative lack of rough, it’s still deeper and more penal than most courses opt for, day in and day out.



Tour players also compete under the watchful eye of a staff keen on strict adherence to the rules, while a large percentage of average players are unfamiliar with many of the rules (Me, too; they keep changing). One other thing: Tour players have to count every shot they hit, finish every hole and there are no gimmes nor mulligans.

Add the distance pros hit the ball and it’s easy to see they play a different game. If you disagree, take the time to play a “Tour” course from the tournament tees right after a competition and see what you can shoot.

Putting that argument aside, it occurred to me that I’ve been looking at this from the wrong angle. My reasons for bifurcation have had more to do with protecting my view of the integrity of the game rather than what would be best for the average player.

The guys on the PGA Tour and Web.com Tour (LPGA and PGA Tour Champions, too) can really, really play. Last week, I watched a 36-year-old unknown player who had never won on either tour shoot 27 (with a bogey on the front-nine, par 35) in route to a 60. Then he came back two days later with a 28 on the same nine. He won on the Web.com Tour.

Science has unlocked many of the mysteries of the game. Club and ball technology have prompted a benefit for athleticism like never before. Biomechanics, video, launch monitors and force plates have combined to create a huge pool of players with very good swings. Did I mention that they can really play?

However, taking advantage of all this technology requires hours in the gym every day, hours on the range every day, hours on the course every day, and hours in the laboratory on a consistent basis. How many amateur players have the time and money to do all this? That’s right, not most. That’s why the median 10-19 handicap player averages 215 off the tee. They just don’t receive nearly as much benefit from today’s technological advancements as does the touring pro.

So, instead of penalizing the professional player for working hard and taking advantage of all that is available today, my argument has shifted to wanting bifurcation in order to make the game easier, less costly and quicker for the average player.

My idea for the average player begins with distance; the game is too darn long. Think about it: If a player gives up 80 yards off the tee and 45 yards on a 7-iron (180-135), it makes sense that this player should play from 7,400 – ((80 X 14) + (45 X 14) + (4 X 50)) = 5,450 yards to relate to the tour game. Even for the player who averages 250 off the tee and 160 with a 7-iron, the same reasoning yields a 6,400-yard course, give or take a little. But I’m not stopping there, equipment rules need to be relaxed as well.

For instance, the allowable trampoline effect for amateurs should be increased with a focus to fit slower club-head speeds. The limit on the size of the club head needs to be removed and larger grooves for more control and spin should be allowed. Ball limits should be relaxed so the player with lower club-head speed gets more benefit from new ball technologies.

Courses also need to quit watering so much, which would yield a more natural look as opposed to playing in the botanical gardens. This will allow the ball to run out more, effectively shorten the course and open up more options for how to play a shot or hole. Running the ball up on a green or down a fairway needs to return to the game. Rough needs to be eliminated; it’s supposed to be a game rewarding angles not just penalizing off the mark shots. It would also be great to see tree branches trimmed up, when possible, to allow for windows of opportunity and artistry instead of simply creating pitch-out masters.

There will always be the faction that consider themselves purists, which is great. Let major amateur championships stick to the stricter set of rules.

Wait, you could even go as far as to make it a different game altogether and give it a different name, flog for example. That way you don’t need different sets of rules for the same game; each game can have its own set of rules. Tennis is seeing a shift to include pickle ball, maybe golf embraces flog. You could go to the flog course instead of the golf course.

You could even have the USFA, United States Flogging Association, established for the advancement and preservation of flogging, tasked with protecting the game’s original vision of a fun, cheap game which plays quick and embraces imagination and artistry. I think you would be surprised how much you would like flog.

Anyone care to go flogging Saturday?

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LPGA Korean event gets sponsor, new venue

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 24, 2018, 12:21 pm

BMW Group Korea will be the title sponsor of the LPGA’s new South Korean event scheduled for next year. 

The event will be played at LPGA International Busan in the port city of Busan in October of 2019. It’s the first LPGA golf facility to be opened outside the United States, with the golf course scheduled to be ready for play in the summer of next year. The LPGA announced in a news conference in Busan in March that the course would host a new event with the title sponsor to be named at a later date.

BMW Group Korea will give South Korea two LPGA events in the fall Asian swing. The KEB Hana Bank Championship is played in Incheon in October.

The Busan event will feature a $2 million purse with a first-place check of $300,000.

Formerly Asiad Country Club, LPGA International Busan is a renovation being managed by Rees Jones. The golf facility’s opening will mark the first of several projects the LPGA plans in the region, including the opening of an LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Center and the establishment of an LPGA regional qualifying school.

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Arizona caps an improbable journey with a title

By Ryan LavnerMay 24, 2018, 3:49 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Five hours before the final match at the NCAA Women’s Championship, Arizona coach Laura Ianello sat cross-legged on a couch in the Holiday Inn lobby and broke down four times in a half-hour interview.

It’s been that kind of exhausting season.

From poor play to stunning midseason defections to a stroke-play collapse, Ianello has felt uneasy for months. She has felt like she was losing control. Felt like her carefully crafted roster was coming apart.

So to even have a chance to win a NCAA title?

“I know what this team has gone through,” she said, beginning to tear up, “and you don’t get these opportunities all the time. So I want it for them. This could be so life-changing for so many of them.”

A moment that seemed impossible six months ago became reality Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Arizona continued its magical run through the match-play bracket and knocked off top-ranked Alabama to capture its third NCAA title, with junior Haley Moore – who first rose to fame by making the cut at an LPGA major as a 16-year-old – rolling in a 4-footer to earn the clinching point in extra holes.

All throughout nationals Arizona was fueled by momentum and adrenaline, but this was no Cinderella squad. The Wildcats were ranked ninth in the country. They won twice this spring. They had four medalists. They were one of the longest-hitting teams in the country.

But even before a miracle end to NCAA stroke play, Arizona needed some help just to get here.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring


On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, texted Ianello that she was turning pro. It may have been a gift to her parents, for their years of sacrifice, but it was a lump of coal in Ianello’s stocking.

“I was absolutely heartbroken,” she said. “It was devastating.”

Even more bad news arrived a few weeks later, when junior Gigi Stoll told Ianello that she was unhappy, homesick and wanted to return to Portland, Ore. Just like that, a promising season had gone off the rails.

Ianello offered her a full release, but Stoll looked around, found no other suitors and decided to remain with the team – as long as she signed a contract of expected behavior.

“It was the most exhausting two months of my life,” Ianello said. “We care so much about these freakin’ girls, and we’re like, Come on, this is just a small, little picture of your life, so you don’t realize what you’re possibly giving up. It’s so hard to see that sometimes.”

Stoll eventually bought in, but the rest of the team was blindsided by Quihuis’ decision.

“We became even more motivated to prove we were a great team,” said junior Bianca Pagdanganan.

It also helped that Yu-Sang Hou joined the squad in January. The morale immediately improved, not least because the players now could poke fun at Hou; on her fourth day on campus she nearly burned down the dorm when she forgot to add water to her mac-and-cheese.

Early on Ianello and assistant Derek Radley organized a team retreat at a hotel in Tucson. There the players created Oprah-inspired vision boards and completed exercises blindfolded and delivered 60-second speeches to break down barriers. At the end of the session, they created T-shirts that they donned all spring. They splashed “The Great Eight” on the front, put the state of Arizona and each player’s country of origin on the sleeves, and on the back printed their names and a slogan: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

“I can’t think of anything else that better embodies this team,” Radley said.

This spring, they rallied together and finished no worse than fourth in a tournament. Through three rounds of stroke play here at the NCAA Championship, they used their distance advantage and sat third in the standings. Then they shot 17 over par in the final round, tumbling outside the top-8 cut line.

They were down to their final chance on the 72nd hole, needing an eagle to tie, as Pagdanganan lined up her 30-footer. She dramatically drained the putt, then gathered her teammates on the range.

“This means we were meant to be in the top 8,” she said. Less than an hour later, they beat Baylor in the team playoff to earn the last match-play berth.

Ianello was so amped up from the frenetic finish that she slept only three hours on Monday night, but they continued to roll and knocked off top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals, beating a pair of Player of the Year contenders, Lilia Vu and Patty Tavatanakit, in the process. In the afternoon semifinals, they jumped all over Stanford and won easily.

It was a cute story, the last team into the match-play field reaching the final match, but a stiffer challenge awaited the Wildcats Wednesday.

Alabama was the top-ranked team in the country. The Tide were a whopping 110 under par for the season, boasting three first-team All-Americans who were so dominant in their first two matches that they trailed for only two of the 99 holes they played.

Ianello already seemed to be bracing for the result on the eve of the final match.

“Win or lose,” she said, “this has been a hell of a ride.”

But their wild ride continued Wednesday, as Hou won four holes in a row to start the back nine and defeat Alabama’s best player, Lauren Stephenson, who had the best single-season scoring average (69.5) in Division I history.

Then sophomore Sandra Nordaas – the main beneficiary after Quihuis left at the midway point of the season – held on for a 1-up victory over Angelica Moresco.

And so Arizona’s national-title hopes hinged on the success of its most mercurial player, Moore. In the anchor match against Lakareber Abe, Moore jumped out to a 2-up lead at the turn but lost the first three holes on the back nine.

By the time Radley sped back to help Moore, in the 12th fairway, she was frazzled.

“But seeing me,” Radley said, “I saw a sense of calm wash over her.”

Moore played solidly for the rest of the back nine and took a 1-up lead into the home hole. She didn’t flinch when Abe hit one of the shots of the entire championship – a smoked 3-wood to 12 feet to set up a two-putt birdie and force extras – and then gave herself 4 feet for the win on the first playoff hole. She sank the putt and within seconds was mobbed by her teammates.

In the giddy aftermath, Ianello could barely speak. She wandered around the green in a daze, looking for someone, anyone, to hug.

The most trying year of her career had somehow ended in a title.

“At some moments, it felt impossible,” she said. “But I underestimated these young women a little bit.”

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Pac-12 continues to dominate women's golf

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 24, 2018, 3:04 am

Arizona's women's golf championship marked the fourth consecutive year in‌ which the women's Division I national title was won by a Pac-12 team. All four championships were won by different schools (Stanford, 2015; Washington, 2016; Arizona State, 2017; Arizona, 2018). The Pac-12 is the only conference to win four straight golf championships (men or women) with four different schools.

Here are some other statistical notes from the just-concluded NCAA Div. I Women's Golf Championship:

• This is the second time that Arizona has won the national title the year after rival Arizona State won it. The last time was 1996.

• Arizona now has three women's golf national championships. The previous two came in 1996 and 2000.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage


• Arizona is only the sixth school to win three or more Div. I women's golf championships, joining Arizona State (8), Duke (6), San Jose State (3), UCLA (3) and USC (3).

• Arizona's Haley Moore, who earned the clinching point on the 19th hole of her match with Alabama's Lakareber Abe, was the only Arizona player to win all three of her matches this week.

• Alabama's Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight also went 3-0. Gillman did not trail in any match.

• Since the match-play format was instituted in 2015, Arizona is the lowest seed (8) to claim the national title. The seeds claiming the national championship were Stanford (4) in 2015; Washington (4) in 2016; and Arizona State (3) in 2017.