Hope and Heritage

By Rex HoggardApril 14, 2010, 11:40 pm
2007 Verizon HeritageHILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – It’s less than three hours as the crow flies from Augusta National to Harbour Town Golf Links, but as Stewart Cink decompressed on Wednesday in the warm Lowcountry sun the two poles in the golf universe might as well be Venus and Mars.

“It's always one of my favorites, if not my very favorite tournament of the year,” Stewart Cink said. “It's like the anti-Augusta – flat, everything is very small and closed in, whereas Augusta is so large and rolling hills. Everything here is the opposite. When you come here the intensity seems to melt away.”

Augusta National has Magnolia Lane. Harbour Town has Lighthouse Road. One gives you goose bumps, the other is a cure for road rage. Augusta National has pimento cheese sandwiches. Harbour Town has shrimp and cheese grits. One is nasty, the other is shrimp and cheese grits. Augusta National has green jackets. Harbour Town has tartan. One is every kid’s dream, the other is every fashion guru’s worst nightmare.

You get the idea. For 42 years the Heritage has scratched an itch and filled a niche like no other stop on the Tour circus. Simply put, it’s a reason to go to work. A boutique stop on an idyllic slice of Lowcountry coast played on a quirky course that defies the Tour norm. All of which makes the next sentence difficult to pen. The Heritage’s days may be numbered.

Late last year Verizon, the title sponsor since 2006 when Verizon Business purchased MCI, pulled the corporate plug after this week’s cocktail party, and despite the best efforts of tournament director Steve Wilmot, a cozy home and a unique slot on the schedule, no one in corporate America has come buying.

“We have a unique product and a special event, a lot of things on our side but it’s a difficult economy,” Wilmot said.

Last month Wilmot said he’d pieced together enough zeroes, between $7 million and $8 million, to assure the tournament’s existence through 2011 but the Tour seems lukewarm to stopgap measures. Even the South Carolina legislature got into the act, earmarking a $10 million loan to keep the event going through next year.

“It’s there, but we don’t want to use it,” said Wilmot, torn between a tournament he loves and the complexities of a political process that hasn’t been very kind to tournament golf in recent years.

There is no deadline for a new sponsor. Wilmot points out that officials at Torrey Pines received a last-minute reprieve from Farmers Insurance this year a week before the event, but he plans to meet with the Tour after this week to discuss his options.

Although Rick George, the Tour’s executive vice president and chief of operations, stood by Wilmot earlier this week to meet with the press and pledged the full weight of the circuit’s selling machine to run down a new title, the word around Harbour Town is that without a long-term corporate deal Heritage’s April home is too attractive to settle for a patchwork solution.

Simply put, find a sponsor or find yourself the Champions Tour’s newest stop. As difficult as it may be to see a storm approaching on a sun-splashed spring day Wilmot & Co. know rough waters are coming. The Buick Open was played for the last time last year. The Milwaukee stop became a footnote in 2009. Seems the modern Tour has little use for charm when cash is king.

“You don’t get a smile at every event,” said Boo Weekley, the circuit’s quintessential son of the south and a two-time winner at Harbour Town. “This week and next week in New Orleans . . . they were put together. You’ve got the camaraderie of the south. To me it’s about playing the game. It’s not about how much money you can make.”

Bless his deep-fried heart, but it is likely Weekley is in the minority in this respect. Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has been clear on this, there will be no retreat in purses. Not on his watch. All of which means the cruel combination of a bear economy and a Draconian business model could cost the circuit one of the most-looked-forward-to stops of the year.

It is a concerning testament to today’s Tour that an event with 42 years of tradition, a list of winners that was plucked straight from the World Golf Hall of Fame, a golf course that rewards precision over power and one of the most compelling television snapshots this side of Pebble Beach’s 18th hole seems in need of a standing “10” count.

As Yankee great Yogi Berra once mused, it’s getting late early for the Heritage, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile what is best for the circuit’s bottom line with what is best for the Tour.

“To me it kind of stinks the Tour won’t help them out,” Weekley said. “How come they can’t come in and say, we’re gonna help you do this?”

Good question. Now, please pass the shrimp and cheese grits.

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Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.

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Playoff streaks in jeopardy for Garcia, Haas

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:12 pm

Since the advent of the FedExCup in 2007, only 13 players have managed to make the playoffs each and every year. But two of the PGA Tour's stalwarts head into the regular-season finale with work to do in order to remain a part of that select fraternity.

Sergio Garcia has rarely had to sweat the top-125 bubble, but the Spaniard enters this week's Wyndham Championship 131st in the current standings. Left with even more work to do is former FedExCup winner Bill Haas, who starts the week in Greensboro 150th.

Garcia got off to a strong start in the spring, sandwiching a pair of top-10 finishes in WGC events around a fourth-place showing at the Valspar Championship. But quality results largely dried up after Garcia missed the cut at the Masters; he has made only two cuts in 10 Tour starts since April, including early exits in all four majors.

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Garcia has some history at Sedgefield Country Club, having won this event in 2012 to break a lengthy U.S. victory drought. He also finished fourth in 2009 but hasn't played the Donald Ross layout since a T-29 finish as the defending champ in 2013.

It's been a difficult year for Haas both on and off the course, as the veteran was involved as a passenger in a car accident on the eve of the Genesis Open that killed the driver. He returned to action three weeks later in Tampa, and he tied for seventh at the RBC Heritage in April. But that remains his lone top-10 finish of the season. Haas has missed 11 cuts including three in a row.

While the bubble will be a fluid target this week at Sedgefield, Garcia likely needs at least a top-20 finish to move into the top 125 while Haas will likely need to finish inside the top 5.

One of the 13 playoff streaks is assured of ending next week, as Luke Donald has missed most of the year with a back injury. Other players to qualify for every Tour postseason include Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Charles Howell III, Charley Hoffman and Ryan Moore.

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Airlines lose two sets of Olesen's clubs in 10 days

By Grill Room TeamAugust 15, 2018, 7:50 pm

Commercial airlines losing the golf clubs of a professional golfer is not exactly a groundbreaking story. It happens.

But European Tour pro Thorbjorn Olesen is on quite the roll, losing two sets of clubs and five suitcases in the span of 10 days.

Olesen, the reigning Italian Open champ, claimed his primary set of golf clubs were lost last week. Having little faith they'd be found before this week's Nordea Masters, he decided to bring his backup set for the event in Sweden.

A veteran move by the 28-year-old, unless, of course, those clubs were lost too. And wouldn't you know it:

After pestering the airlines with some A+ GIFs, Olesen was reunited with at least one of his sets and was back in action on Wednesday.

He also still plans on giving his golf bag away to some lucky follower, provided it's not lost again in transit. Something he's no longer taking for granted.

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Podcast: Brandel compares Tiger and Hogan's comebacks

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 15, 2018, 6:48 pm

Tiger Woods on Sunday at Bellerive recorded his seventh runner-up finish in a major and his first in nine years.

A favorite guest of the Golf Channel Podcast, Brandel Chamblee joins host Will Gray to compare and contrast Tiger's return to competitive golf with that of Ben Hogan and Babe Didrikson Zaharias in the 1950s.

Chamblee also discusses Brooks Koepka's major dominance, Bellerive as a major venue, Tiger and Phil as Ryder Cup locks, and who else might be in line to receive Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn's remaining captain's picks.

Finally, Brandel shares what it was it was like to qualify for the Senior Open Championship and compete for a major title on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Listen here: