New commish Pelley trendsetting on European Tour

By Rex HoggardFebruary 3, 2016, 5:17 pm

Popularity is a science of diminishing returns. Ask, for example, 20 people in your office their thoughts on a given co-worker and it’s inevitable that someone will have something negative to say, no matter how popular said co-worker may be.

Keith Pelley, however, appears to be the mathematical exception to that rule, at least if an unofficial poll of players, coaches, caddies and managers two weeks ago during the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is any indication.

Pelley was named the European Tour’s new chief executive officer last April and in less than a year the Canadian has shaken the circuit in all the right ways.

“It’s impressive how much energy he has and the ideas he’s brought to the table,” said Chubby Chandler, the founder of International Sports Management, one of Europe’s most influential agencies.

Late last year, Pelley spearheaded a move to reduce the minimum number of starts required for European Tour membership from 13 (including the World Golf Championships and majors) to five (excluding the World Golf Championship and majors).

With the exception of Paul Casey – who correctly contends that for a top player who is exempt into the WGCs and majors the minimum number really didn’t change – the move was widely applauded.

Pelley followed with a sweeping overhaul of the tour’s pace of play policy that was unveiled two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi. A telling part of his popularity is why Pelley put the bull’s-eye on five hour-plus rounds.

“I told you we were going to tackle the challenge. As I’ve said all along, this is a member’s organization and I tried to solicit as much feedback as I could from the members,” Pelley recently said. “We continue to work with our players and the R&A in other ways in making our game quicker.”

The new commish wants to trim 15 minutes off the average tour round in Europe because, well, that’s what his members want.

The same could be said for Pelley’s push to allow players to wear shorts during practice and pro-am rounds.

“I asked the question, why don’t we wear shorts? And no one could give me an answer why not,” Pelley said. “It puts our players first and our fans first, as well.”

It was a similar motivation that prompted Pelley to dig in last year when the PGA Tour unveiled it’s 2016 schedule with the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a co-sanctioned event, penciled in the same week as the French Open in July. To protect the French Open and organizers at Le Golf National, which will host the 2018 Ryder Cup, Pelley removed the Bridgestone from the European schedule and offered players double Ryder Cup points to play the French Open.

But it’s more than the recent transatlantic tiff that suggests the divide between the two tours has never been so vast, and much of that is the byproduct of Pelley’s leadership style.

Pelley is a player’s commissioner. Particularly when compared to Tim Finchem, who at times throughout his career has appeared to be more concerned with protecting the PGA Tour brand than the individuals who play under that shield.

“Hearing player feedback is something I take very serious,” Pelley said.

The new European chief leads by consensus but make no mistake he wants to lead, whether that’s with a progressive style of management or via a bottom line that more closely aligns his circuit with the PGA Tour.

Pelley explained to The Guardian last year his desire to challenge the status of the PGA Tour and the lucrative purses that set the standard in professional golf: “[The BMW PGA Championship] is €5 million [about $5.5 million]. The other event, in the U.S. that week, is $6.7 million,” he said. “That’s unacceptable. Wentworth needs to be $8 million - $10 million.”

Closing that cash gap depends largely on Pelley’s ability to convince sponsors his product is comparable to that in the United States on a more regular basis.

On just seven occasions last year the European Tour enjoyed a stronger field, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking, than the same week’s PGA Tour stop, starting with Abu Dhabi.

The European Tour had a higher total rating at the BMW PGA Championship (played opposite the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial), Irish Open (AT&T Byron Nelson Championship), Scottish Open (John Deere Classic) and the circuit’s final two playoff events (BMW Masters and DP World Tour Championship).

The point is, the European side rarely enjoys center stage – one could argue the Continent is the main attraction every four years at the Ryder Cup as well, but that’s a column for another day – and Pelley has made it a point to give his tour more chances to compete.

Those calling the shots in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., have noticed Pelley’s outside-the-box approach, starting with his move to allow players to wear shorts.

“They asked where we were going with it,” European Tour chief rules official John Paramor said in Abu Dhabi.

Pelley has also broken with the PGA Tour when it comes to player fines, which in the U.S. are strictly confidential with the exception of violations of the circuit’s policy regarding performance-enhancing drugs.

“We have nothing to hide,” Pelley said. “It is not only a penalty from a monetary perspective, you won’t want to see, and your peers won’t want to see someone be fined. Nobody likes to be highlighted for slow play and I think this is a deterrent for that.”

The European circuit has another chance to take the spotlight from the PGA Tour this week with the Dubai Desert Classic, which will include world No. 2 Rory McIlroy and No. 6 Henrik Stenson. Last year, the Waste Management Phoenix Open narrowly clipped Dubai in the world ranking math, 394 total points to 330.

Despite the differences and divergent paths taken by each tour, it’s probably not an all-out turf war that concerns PGA Tour officials – the circuit is far too entrenched for that –as much as it is the emerging perception that Pelley and Co. are becoming the game’s trendsetters.

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Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 23, 2018, 2:00 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.

Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?

The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.

“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.

Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.

“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”

Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.

“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”

After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.

And the Wildcats better rest up.

Alabama looks unstoppable.

“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”

Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.

After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.

They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.

Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.

“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”

They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.

“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”

That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.

The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.

“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.

It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”

Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.

They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.

Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.

“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”

Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.

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Pairings, tee times set for championship match

By Jay CoffinMay 23, 2018, 1:02 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.

“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”

Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.

Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.

Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.

“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.

Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)

3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)

3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)

3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)

3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)

4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)

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Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 11:49 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.

Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.

Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.

Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.

Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.

“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.

Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:30 pm

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live finals action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


TV Times (all times ET):

4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)