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Ridley's Augusta legacy may lie in the course

By Rex HoggardOctober 18, 2017, 2:00 pm

Fred Ridley began his tenure as chairman of Augusta National Golf Club this week, replacing Billy Payne who announced he was stepping down from the position in August.

That change in title, however, didn’t alter his enthusiasm on his way to work. That has never changed.

“When I drove down Magnolia Lane as my first day as chairman of the club, I promise you that I did so with the same excitement and anticipation that I had over 41 years ago,” said Ridley, who first visited Augusta National as the 1975 U.S. Amateur champion and had been invited to play the ’76 Masters.

There are those who correctly contend that Augusta National’s chairman is among the most influential people in golf, and Ridley conceded that there’s no on-the-job training that can prepare someone for such a prominent gig, although having Payne as his predecessor will certainly help.

Payne’s 11-year tenure was defined by substantial change, from his business savvy to his ambitious infrastructure projects that included construction of a new tournament range, media center, tournament office and high-end hospitality.


Photo gallery: Fred Ridley through the years


They say nothing really changes at Augusta National, and officials work hard to maintain that notion, but Payne’s time as chairman was nothing short of an extreme makeover.

Ridley will continue to oversee that expansion and talked at length on Tuesday about the club’s continued commitment to growing the game, which has always been a central tenet at Augusta National, but it took on renewed urgency under Payne.

“I don't really know exactly what might come of that, I will tell you that we have several ideas that are being discussed,” Ridley said. “There's nothing definite, no commitments, but I think you'll see in the coming months, that we will be doing other things because I think there is a lot more to be done.”

Where Ridley may forge a new path, however, is on the competitive front.

A lawyer by trade and former USGA president, Ridley has spent the last 11 years as chairman of the Masters competitions committee. He was also an accomplished amateur who played college golf at the University of Florida and the kind of person those who gather under the sprawling oak behind the Augusta National clubhouse call a “golf guy.”

Where Payne was a businessman who skillfully coaxed the club into the new millennium, albeit at a genteel pace, Ridley seems poised to leave a different mark, a mark that could resonate well beyond the gates of Augusta National.

Ridley was asked on Tuesday in his first give-and-take with the golf media as chairman his thoughts on possible changes to the storied course and his answer was equal parts reserved and resounding.

“Some of the most significant changes occurred back in the late 1990s, early 2000s under Hootie Johnson's chairmanship, and I think that time has proven that those were very wise decisions,” he said. “I will tell you that we will take whatever action, whatever course of action is necessary to protect the integrity of Augusta National.”

There’s been speculation in recent months following news that the club had purchased a parcel of land from Augusta Country Club that officials could lengthen the 13th hole, and the rerouting of Berckmans Road could also allow for changes to the course.

While Augusta National, more so than any other course, has been able to withstand the test of time and increased driving distances, the club may be approaching another tipping point, particularly at the celebrated par-5 13th that is regularly played as a two-shot hole even by players who are considered middle-of-the-pack on the modern distance scale.

There are precedents on this front in Ridley’s past. At the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, then-chairman of the USGA’s championship committee Ridley converted the second hole from a par 5 to a par 4.

“I've noticed a lot of the players have commented that, really, records are kept in scores, not necessarily in relation to par,” Ridley said at the time. “I would agree with that. The U.S. Open record of 272 is 8 under par, and I believe Ben Hogan's record of 276 was also 8 under par. We [the USGA] recognize scores.”

Ridley, then the USGA vice president, oversaw a similar adjustment to the ninth hole at Olympia Fields at the ’03 U.S. Open; but it seems wildly unlikely Augusta National would convert the backend of Amen Corner to a par 4 simply to protect par.

There is another, more intriguing option. It’s possible Ridley could take a much more dramatic step to mitigate distance gains and introduce a limited-distance tournament golf ball for the Masters.

“The USGA and the R&A now have a more concentrated effort about that issue,” Payne said in April when asked about a possible “tournament” golf ball. “We have great confidence in their ability to forge a solution. But, of course, as you would imagine, we always reserve the right to do whatever we have to do to preserve the integrity of our golf course. I don't think that will ever happen.”

But that’s not to say it couldn’t happen, particularly with a new chairman who spent decades helping craft and create those same USGA policies, and someone who understands the issue better than anyone.

It remains to be seen what kind of chairman Ridley will become, but if his history is any indication his tenure could be just as profoundly groundbreaking as Payne’s, but for much different reasons.

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'The Golf Club 2019' adds Elvy to commentary team

By Nick MentaJuly 19, 2018, 4:45 pm

“The Golf Club 2019” is adding a new name to its commentary team.

Broadcaster Luke Elvy will join returning announcer and HB Studios developer John McCarthy for the title's third installment.

Golf fans will recognize Elvy from his recent work with CBS in addition to his time with Sky Sports, FOX Sports, TNT, PGA Tour Live and PGA Tour Radio.

A 25-year media veteran from Australia, he now works in the United States and lives with his family in Canada.

"Ian Baker-Finch was my right-hand man on Australian televison," Elvy told GolfChannel.com in an interview at the Quicken Loans National. "And Finchy said to me, 'What are you doing here? You should be with me in the States.’ He introduced me to a few people over here and that's how the transition has happened over the last five or six years."

Elvy didn't have any prior relationship with HB Studios, who reached out to him via his management at CAA. As for why he got the job, he pseudo-jokes: "They heard the accent, and said, 'We like that. That works for us. Let's go.' That's literally how it happened."

He participated in two separate recording sessions over three days, first at his home back in February and then at the HB Studios shortly after The Players Championship. He teased his involvement when the game was announced in May.

Although he doesn't describe himself as a "gamer," Elvy lauded the game's immediate playability, even for a novice.

“It’s exactly how you’d want golf to be,” he said.

"The Golf Club 2019" will be the first in the HB series to feature PGA Tour branding. The Tour had previously licensed its video game rights to EA Sports.

In addition to a career mode that will take players from the Web.com Tour all the way through the FedExCup Playoffs, "The Golf Club 2019" will also feature at launch replicas of six TPC courses played annually on Tour – TPC Summerlin (Shriners Hospitals for Children Open), TPC Scottsdale's Stadium Course (Waste Management Phoenix Open), TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course (The Players Championship), TPC Southwind (FedEx St. Jude Classic/WGC-FedEx St. Jude Championship), TPC Deere Run (John Deere Classic), and TPC Boston (Dell Technologies Championship).

“I played nine holes at Scottsdale,” Elvy added. “It’s a very close comparison. Visually, it’s very realistic."

The Golf Club 2019 is due out this August on PlayStation 4, XBOX One, and PC.

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Expired visa, helicopter, odd clubs all part of Vegas' journey

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 3:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jhonattan Vegas thought someone was playing a practical joke on him.

Or maybe he was stuck in the middle of a horror movie.

Scheduled to leave for The Open a week ago, he didn’t arrive at Carnoustie until a little more than an hour before his first-round tee time Thursday.

“Even if somebody tried to do that on purpose,” he said, “you couldn’t really do it.”

The problem was an expired visa.

Vegas said that he must have gotten confused by the transposed date on the visa – “Guessing I’ve been living in America too long” – and assumed that he was cleared to travel.

No problem, he was told. He’d have a new visa in 24 hours.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Except the consulate in New York didn’t respond to his application the next day, keeping him in limbo through the weekend. Then, on Monday, he was told that he’d applied for the wrong visa. UPS got shut down in New York and his visa never left, so Vegas waited in vain for seven hours in front of the consulate in Houston. He finally secured his visa on Wednesday morning, boarded a flight from Houston to Toronto, and then flew to Glasgow, the final leg of a 14-hour journey.

His agent arranged a helicopter ride from Glasgow to Carnoustie to ensure that he could make his 10:31 a.m. (local) tee time.

One more issue? His clubs never made it. They were left back in Toronto.

His caddie, Ruben Yorio, scrambled to put together a new bag, with a mismatched set of woods, irons, wedges and putter.

“Luckily the (equipment) vans are still here,” Vegas said. “Otherwise I probably would have played with members’ clubs today.”

He hit about 20 balls on the range – “Luckily they were going forward” – but Carnoustie is one of the most challenging links in the world, and Vegas was working off of two hours’ sleep and without his own custom-built clubs. He shot 76 but, hey, at least he tried.

“It was fun,” he said, “even though the journey was frustrating.”

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'Brain fart' leads to Spieth's late collapse

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The closing stretch at Carnoustie has famously ruined many a solid round, so Jordan Spieth’s misadventures on Thursday should not have been a complete surprise, but the truth is the defending champion’s miscues were very much self-inflicted.

Spieth was cruising along at 3 under par, just two shots off the early lead, when he made a combination of errors at the par-4 15th hole. He hit the wrong club off the tee (4-iron) and the wrong club for his approach (6-iron) on his way to a double bogey-6.

“The problem was on the second shot, I should have hit enough club to reach the front of the green, and even if it goes 20 yards over the green, it's an easy up-and-down,” Spieth said. “I just had a brain fart, and I missed it into the location where the only pot bunker where I could actually get in trouble, and it plugged deep into it. It was a really, really poor decision on the second shot, and that cost me.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Spieth continued to compound his problems with a sloppy bogey at the 16th hole, and a drive that sailed left at 18 found the Barry Burn en route to a closing bogey and a 1-over 72.

The miscues were more mental, a lack of execution, than they were an example of how difficult the closing stretch at Carnoustie can be, and that’s not good enough for Spieth.

“That's what I would consider as a significant advantage for me is recognizing where the misses are,” said Spieth, who was tied for 68th when he completed his round. “It felt like a missed opportunity.”

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Perez: R&A does it right, 'not like the USGA'

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Pat Perez didn’t even attempt to hide his frustration with the USGA at last month’s U.S. Open, and after an opening-round 69 at The Open, he took the opportunity to double down on his displeasure.

“They (the R&A) do it right, not like the USGA,” Perez said of the setup at Carnoustie. “They've got the opposite [philosophy] here. I told them, you guys have it right, let the course get baked, but you've got the greens receptive. They're not going to run and be out of control. They could have easily had the greens just like the fairway, but they didn't. The course is just set up perfect.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Concerns at Shinnecock Hills reached a crescendo on Saturday when the scoring average ballooned to 75.3 and only three players broke the par of 70. Of particular concern for many players, including Perez, were some of the hole locations, given how fast and firm the greens were.

“The U.S. Open could have been like this more if they wanted to. They could have made the greens a bit more receptive,” Perez said. “These greens are really flat compared to Shinnecock. So that was kind of the problem there is they let it get out of control and they made the greens too hard.”