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New Tour Championship presents new set of problems

By Rex HoggardSeptember 18, 2018, 5:51 pm

ATLANTA – Tuesday’s housekeeping tidied up two problems, but left the potential for more messes.

After 11 years of equal parts trial and error, the PGA Tour unveiled what is essentially the final piece of a complicated and far-reaching overhaul of the FedExCup on Tuesday at East Lake, a sweeping change that will dramatically alter how the season-long champion is crowned.

Gone will be the complicated projections and confusion that inevitably settled in each Sunday at the Tour Championship as countless scenarios unfolded. It’ll be replaced next season by a strokes-based scoring system that will be determined by a player’s position on the points list entering the finale.

“It's as simple as it can get,” said Andy Pazder, the Tour’s chief of operations.

Following the BMW Championship, the second of three playoff events, the points leader will begin the Tour Championship at 10 under par. The next four players on the points list will start at 8 under through 5 under, respectively, while Nos. 6-10 will start at 4 under par with the total regressing by one stroke every five players. Those ranked 26th through 30th start at even par.

From there, it’s winner take all.

Fans will no longer have to test their math skills to follow along, with the FedExCup champion decided between the ropes and not on an Excel spreadsheet.

“It's that simple,” said Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, doubling down on the day’s buzzword. “We have no doubt it will create a compelling, dramatic conclusion for the Tour’s ultimate prize.”

The new system will also end the days of the crowded trophy presentation. Last year, Xander Schauffele won the Tour Championship, and Justin Thomas claimed the FedExCup, which amounted to a $10 million consolation prize at the time.

Along with the Tour’s move to end the season before Labor Day weekend, so as to avoid annual conflicts with the NFL and college football, the circuit has now addressed every major sticking point when it comes to the playoffs. But as is normally the case, it may have created an entirely new set issues.

The Tour has traded confusing math for what could be potentially embarrassing math by creating what is essentially a handicap tournament. Instead of countless projections to digest, fans and media will spend their Tour Championship Sunday now crunching the numbers to determine who should have won the finale without pre-weighted scoring.

If use the new format to relitigate some past outcomes, the player with the lowest score for the week at East Lake would not have won the Tour Championship outright on three occasions.

Last year, for example, Thomas would have won with a 19 under total, thanks to his 10-under start, and Schauffele would have finished tied for fourth place.

In 2011, a dramatic playoff between Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan, with Haas winning the event and FedExCup, would have been erased by Luke Donald, who would have began the week at 6 under par and cruised to a three-stroke victory.

A year earlier, Jim Furyk’s cup-clinching performance would have been in doubt with a tie for first place at 11 under with Donald, who was runner-up at East Lake in 2010.

Other than from Donald, who has $20 million reasons to support the change, the new format is certain to lead to an avalanche of criticism. The golf public may be able to understand the new system but that doesn’t mean it likes the idea of the 30th guy on the points list spotting the points leader more than a stroke a side for the week.

Nor does it sit particularly well that a victory at the Tour Championship will count as an official Tour triumph and come with a three-year exemption. That's a year more than you get for winning, say, the BMW Championship, which doesn’t use handicaps.

There’s also the issue of what the Official World Golf Ranking will make of the professional game’s only “net” tournament.

“We're in conversations with the world ranking governing board on the best manner in which to allocate world ranking points to the Tour Championship, and that will happen,” Pazder explained. “We have not reached a conclusion.”

That sounds like code that the OWGR folks aren’t crazy about this idea. And they aren’t alone.

Pazder presented the concept to the player advisory council in May, and he entered that meeting with a healthy amount of concern on many fronts, most notably how the Tour Championship format change could impact a player’s finish on the lucrative season-ending point list.

At the 2016 Tour Championship, Jason Day withdrew after the first round with an injury. The Australian had started the week fourth on the points list and dropped just two spots to sixth, earning an $800,000 bonus. Had the new system been in place, Day would have plummeted to 30th place on the final points list, a difference of $625,000.

“One of the things that we thought might cause some scrutiny or maybe even derail this whole thing is that issue,” Pazder said. “To the PAC’s credit, they quickly realized that’s great. What’s wrong with having greater consequences all the way through the final round.”

In his opening comments on Tuesday, Monahan called the launch of the FedExCup in 2007 a “calculated risk,” and the new format change certainly qualifies as a bold next step. What remains to be seen is if this most recent housekeeping is a step in the right direction.

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Caddies drop lawsuit; Tour increases healthcare stipend

By Rex HoggardOctober 18, 2018, 3:33 pm

After nearly four years of litigation, a group of PGA Tour caddies have dropped their lawsuit against the circuit.

The lawsuit, which was filed in California in early 2015, centered on the bibs caddies wear during tournaments and ongoing attempts by the caddies to improve their healthcare and retirement options.

The caddies lost their class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court and an appeal this year.

Separately, the Association of Professional Tour Caddies, which was not involved in the lawsuit but represents the caddies to the Tour, began negotiating with the circuit last year.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the APTC.

In January 2017, Jay Monahan took over as commissioner of the Tour and began working with the APTC to find a solution to the healthcare issue. Sajtinac said the Tour has agreed to increase the stipend it gives caddies for healthcare beginning next year.

“It took a year and a half, but it turned out to be a good result,” Sajtinac said. “Our goal is to close that window for the guys because healthcare is such a massive chunk of our income.”

The Tour did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the agreement or the end to the lawsuit.

Caddies have received a stipend from the Tour for healthcare for some time, and although Sajtinac wouldn’t give the exact increase, he said it was over 300 percent. Along with the APTC’s ability to now negotiate healthcare plans as a group, the new stipend should dramatically reduce healthcare costs for caddies.

“It’s been really good,” said Sajtinac, who did add that there are currently no talks with the Tour to created a retirement program for caddies. “Everybody is really excited about this.”

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PGA Tour Latinoamerica moving season finale to Doral

By Nick MentaOctober 18, 2018, 2:36 pm

PGA Tour Latinoamérica announced Wednesday that it will play its season finale, the Latinoamérica Tour Championship-Shell Championship, at Trump National Doral from Nov. 29-Dec. 2.

The limited-field event will feature the top 60 players on the circuit's money list competing on Doral's Golden Palm Course.

“We are very happy that we will continue playing the Latinoamérica Tour Championship-Shell Championship in South Florida, and Doral is a tremendous community that we know will open its arms to our players and this tournament,” PGA Tour Latinoamérica president Jack Warfield said in a statement.

The PGA Tour ended its more than 50-year relationship with Doral and the resort's Blue Monster course back in 2016, when Cadillac's title sponsorship of the World Golf Championship lapsed as then-candidate Donald Trump was mounting his bid for the presidency.

“We continue to stand by our earlier statement, and the statement of other golf organizations, that Mr. Trump's comments are inconsistent with our strong commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment in the game of golf,” then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in December 2015, referring to Trump's campaign rhetoric concerning Mexicans and Muslims.

The event was moved to Mexico City in 2017 and renamed the WGC-Mexico Championship.

The Latinoamérica Tour Championship was staged the last two years at Melreese Country Club in Miami, where David Beckham is currently attempting to build a stadium for his Major League Soccer expansion club, Inter Miami.

PGA Tour Latinoamérica's release states that the move to Doral "keeps the event in this part of the Sunshine State and allows the tournament to maintain its ties to The First Tee of Miami as a charitable recipient and sponsor." Melreese, the city's only public golf course, is home to the First Tee of Miami, which naturally opposes Beckham's efforts to close the facility and repurpose the land.

A November referendum will ask voters to decide if the city should negotiate a no-bid lease with Beckham's ownership group, which seeks to create a $1 billion dollar complex comprising of the proposed stadium, youth soccer fields, a park, commercial and retail space, and a hotel.

Im wins Player and Rookie of the Year awards

By Nick MentaOctober 18, 2018, 1:22 pm

Sungjae Im on Thursday was named the Tour's 2018 Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.

Im won twice on the this year, taking the season opener in January, The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, and the season finale in August, the WinCo Foods Portland Open, to become the first player in history lead the circuit's money list wire-to-wire.

Im is the first Korean-born player to win the Web's POY award and, at 20 years old, its youngest recipient.

In a player vote, Im bested Anders Albertson, Sam Burns, Kramer Hickok and Martin Trainer, 2018's only other two-time winner, for POY honors, and Burns, Hickock, Trainer and Cameron Champ for ROY honors.

“My first year on the Tour was an incredibly happy time for me,” Im said, “and it’s pretty surreal that I was able to win the first and last tournament of the season. I honestly thought I would spend about two to three years on the Tour before making it to the PGA Tour, so I’m happy to have achieved my goal so soon. I’m grateful to have earned the Player of the Year honors and I hope to finish the remainder of the PGA Tour season on a good note.”

In his first PGA Tour start, Im tied for fourth at the Safeway Open, earning $241,280, a little less than half of the $534,326 he amassed in 25 starts as the Web's regular-season money winner.

Playing this week's CJ Cup in his native South Korea, Im opened with a 1-over 73 Thursday.

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Former DJ advisor found guilty in embezzlement case

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 18, 2018, 12:38 pm

A federal jury has found Nathan Hardwick, a former advisor to Dustin Johnson, guilty of embezzling $26 million in funds from his now-bankrupt real estate closing firm, Morris Hardwick Schneider.

Per, citing, a 12-person jury convicted Hardwick of "one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 21 counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements to federally insured banks."

As for where exactly the money went, The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, once again citing, has the details:

"The alleged spending included $18.47 million on gambling, private jet travel and women from 2011 through August 2014. The prosecution submitted two binders of documentation as evidence that Hardwick spent $4.39 million on “female social companions,” including one testifying witness who claimed to have met him through"

"Other alleged expenditures described in testimony include more than $7 million at casinos, more than $3 million with a bookie, $680,000 for a luxury condo at The St. Regis Atlanta, $273,000 on a diamond ring, $186,000 on a deposit for a party on a private island, and $635,000 on a trip to the 2014 British Open for golfing buddies that included a customized jet and round at St. Andrews."

Johnson in 2014 sued Morris Hardwick Schneider over a $3 million loan he believed to be an investment. Instead, Johnson argued, the money was going to make up for shortages created by Hardwick's embezzlement. Johnson later amended his suit to argue that Hardwick, who previously served on the board of the Dustin Johnson Foundation, was being used as a "pawn" by the firm's other partners. 

That suit was settled in 2016 for $2 million.