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Tour hopes '9 & 9' format benefits pros, ams

By Rex HoggardJanuary 31, 2018, 4:00 pm

James Hahn paused midway through his pro-am round last week at the Farmers Insurance Open to take inventory.

“There were four amateurs, four caddies, two walking scorers, there was a wife and a daughter,” Hahn noticed. “We counted at one point there were 13 people in the fairway while we were playing and everyone is asking the same question over and over. It wears on you more mentally than physically.”

Make no mistake, Hahn and the vast majority of PGA Tour players understand and appreciate the importance of the pro-am, which is at once the circuit’s greatest asset and obligation.

The funds generated by pro-am competitions allow tournaments to operate and provide for charities, but the commitment, which last week stretched nearly six hours, is unique to golf and can wear on even the most engaging player.

“There’s no other sport where you have to do a six- or seven-hour requirement the day before a competition,” Kevin Streelman said. “LeBron [James] doesn’t have to do a seven-hour dinner the night before his basketball games.”

With this in mind, the Tour will unveil a new concept this week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open that will allow professionals the option to share their pro-am commitment with another player.

Under the “9 & 9" format, players this week at TPC Scottsdale can choose to play nine holes of the pro-am before being replaced by a second pro to finish the round.

Waste Management Phoenix Open: Articles, photos and videos

The format was tried last year at the FedEx St. Jude Classic and the reviews were universally positive.

Robert Garrigus participated in last year’s dry run in Memphis, playing the first nine with a group of amateurs before being replaced by Jonas Blixt.

“I played nine holes and said, ‘Everybody have a good one,’ and went and ate BBQ,” Garrigus smiled. “It was perfect.”

The new format is being rolled out to just a handful of events. According to last month’s Greensheet, an internal memo sent to players, the Waste Management Phoenix Open is one of seven events that will use the 9 & 9 option. The list also includes the Houston Open, AT&T Byron Nelson, FedEx St. Jude Classic, John Deere Classic, RBC Canadian Open and Barbasol Championship.

The most impressive part of the new format is it benefits the players, who still have the option to play 18-hole pro-am rounds if they choose, and the amateurs, who now will get to play with two professionals.

“I think it’s fair for the players and for the amateurs. It gives them a better opportunity to have two nice experiences,” Streelman said. “If one [player], perhaps, isn’t so great, maybe your second one is. If you can play with two PGA Tour players it makes for a better experience.”

It’s worth noting that although players will have the option at these seven events to reduce their pro-am commitment, it’s likely some would still want to go the entire 18 holes to prepare for the tournament, particularly for younger players who may not know the golf course.

“I still see myself playing 18 [holes] a few times,” Charles Howell III said. “But it would be nice to have nine holes if you’re tired, summer time when it’s hot, but I still think some guys will play 18. It’s still a good practice round.”

Despite widespread support from the players and positive feedback from the amateurs who played in last year’s event in Memphis, the Tour is allowing individual tournaments to decide if they want to use the new format.

“I wouldn’t say it’s fully pushed through yet,” said Streelman, one of four player directors on the Tour’s policy board. “It’s kind of up to tournaments and this is our first full-field event and we’re just kind of feeling it out.”

Given the historic and financial importance of the pro-am to the Tour, the circuit’s prudence is understandable. But like the new Strength of Field requirement – which was introduced last year in an attempt to compel players to mix up their schedules and add events they haven’t played in recent years – the 9 & 9 format checks all the right boxes.

Players benefit by having the option to focus on their games and conserve energy on the eve of the first round, and amateur partners now get two professionals essentially for the price of one and avoid what can often be a relatively quiet few hours.

“You can only tell so many jokes and tell everybody they suck as much as you possibly can,” Garrigus said. “I keep it real. I like to go out and have fun, but sometimes you get lulls. Nine holes is the best thing you can do.”

Change normally comes slow for the Tour, particularly when dealing with a crucial part of a tournament’s business model, but on this the circuit has delivered a rare makeover that can be celebrated by everyone involved.

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Cut Line: USGA readies for Shinnecock 'mulligan'

By Rex HoggardMay 25, 2018, 3:26 pm

In this week’s Memorial weekend edition, the European team adheres to the Ryder Cup secret formula, the USGA readies for the ultimate mulligan at next month’s U.S. Open and a bizarre finish at the Florida Mid-Am mystifies the Rules of Golf.

Made Cut

Cart golf. When the U.S. side announced the creation of a Ryder Cup task force following the American loss at Gleneagles in 2014, some Europeans privately – and publicly – snickered.

The idea that the secret sauce could be found in a meeting room did stretch the bounds of reason, yet two years later the U.S. team emerged as winners at Hazeltine National and suddenly the idea of a task force, which is now called a committee, didn’t seem so silly.

To Europe’s credit, they’ve always accomplished this cohesion organically, pulling together their collective knowledge with surprising ease, like this week when European captain Thomas Bjorn rounded out his vice captain crew.

Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald (a group that has a combined 47-40-13 record in the matches) were all given golf cart keys and will join Robert Karlsson as vice captains this year in Paris.

Perhaps it took the Americans a little longer to figure out, but Bjorn knows it’s continuity that wins Ryder Cups.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

The USGA’s mulligan. The U.S. Open is less than a month away and with it one of the most anticipated returns in recent major championship history.

The last time the national championship was played at Shinnecock Hills was in 2004 and things didn’t go well, particularly on Sunday when play had to be stopped to water some greens that officials deemed had become unplayable. This week USGA executive director Mike Davis was asked about the association’s last trip to the Hamptons and, to his credit, he didn’t attempt to reinvent history.

“Looking back at 2004, and at parts of that magnificent day with Retief (Goosen) and Phil Mickelson coming down to the end, there are parts that we learned from,” Davis said. “I’m happy we got a mulligan this time. We probably made a bogey last time, maybe a double bogey.”

Put another way, players headed to next month’s championship should look forward to what promises to be a Bounce Back Open.

Tweet of the week:

Homa joined a chorus of comments following Aaron Wise’s victory on Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson, which included an awkward moment when his girlfriend, Reagan Trussell, backed away as Wise was going in for a kiss.

“No hard feelings at all,” Wise clarified this week. “We love each other a ton and we're great. It was a funny moment that I think we'll always be able to look back at, but that's all it really was.”

Missed Cut

Strength of field. The European Tour gathers this week in England for the circuit’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and like the PGA Tour’s marquee stop, The Players, the event appears headed for a new spot on the calendar next year.

As the PGA Tour inches closer to announcing the 2018-19 schedule, which will feature countless new twists and turns including the PGA Championship’s move to May and The Players shift back to March, it also seems likely the makeover will impact the European Tour schedule.

Although the BMW PGA currently draws a solid field, with this week’s event sporting a higher strength of field than the Fort Worth Invitational on the PGA Tour, it’s likely officials won’t want to play the event a week after the PGA Championship (which is scheduled for May 16-19 next year).

In fact, it’s been rumored that the European Tour could move all eight of its Rolex Series events, which are billed as “unmissable sporting occasions,” out of the FedExCup season window, which will end on Aug. 25 next year.

Although the focus has been on how the new PGA Tour schedule will impact the U.S. sports calendar, the impact of the dramatic makeover stretches will beyond the Lower 48.

Rules of engagement. For a game that at times seems to struggle with too much small print and antiquated rules, it’s hard to understand how things played out earlier this month at the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship.

In a story first reported by, Jeff Golden claimed he was assaulted on May 13 by Brandon Hibbs – the caddie for his opponent, Marc Dull, in the championship’s final match. Golden told police that Hibbs struck him because of a rules dispute earlier in the round. Hibbs denied any involvement, and police found no evidence of an attack.

The incident occurred during a weather delay and Golden conceded the match to Dull after the altercation, although he wrote in a post on Twitter this week that he was disappointed with the Florida State Golf Association’s decision to accept his concession.

“The FSGA has one job, and that’s to follow the Rules of Golf,” Golden wrote. “Unfortunately, there’s no rule for an inebriated ‘ex-caddie’ punching a player in a match-play rain delay with no witnesses.”

Because of the conflicting statements, it’s still not clear what exactly happened that day at Coral Creek Club, but the No. 1 rule in golf – protecting the competition and the competitors – seems to have fallen well short.

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Watch: Pieters snaps club ... around his neck

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 1:19 pm

After opening in 3-over 75, Thomas Pieters was in no mood for more poor play on Friday.

Unfortunately for Pieters, he bogeyed two of his first three holes in the second round of the BMW PGA Championship and then didn't like his second shot at the par-5 fourth.

Someone - or some thing - had to pay, and an innocent iron bore the brunt of Pieters' anger.

Pieters made par on the hole, but at 5 over for the tournament, he was five shots off the cut line.

It's not the first time a club has faced Pieters' wrath. 

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Woods would 'love' to see Tour allow shorts

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 12:59 pm

Players on the European Tour are allowed to wear shorts during practices and pro-ams.

The PGA of America permitted players to show some leg while prepping for last year’s PGA Championship.

Tiger Woods would like to see the PGA Tour follow suit.

"I would love it," he said Thursday in a Facebook Live with Bridgestone Golf. "We play in some of the hottest climates on the planet. We usually travel with the sun, and a lot of our events are played in the summer, and then on top of that when we have the winter months here a lot of the guys go down to South Africa and Australia where it's summer down there.

"It would be nice to wear shorts. Even with my little chicken legs, I still would like to wear shorts."

Caddies are currently allowed to wear shorts on Tour, during events.

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Feasting again: McIlroy shoots 65 to lead BMW PGA

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 12:04 pm

Updated at 9:42 a.m. ET

Rory McIlroy made seven birdies and no bogeys on Friday for a 7-under 65 and the second-round lead at the BMW PGA Championship.

After opening in 67, McIlroy was among the early groups out on Day 2 at Wentworth Club. He made three birdies and no bogeys on the par-35 front nine on Friday, and then went on a run after the turn.

McIlroy made four consecutive birdies, beginning at the par-5 12th. That got him to 12 under, overall, and gave him a clear advantage over the field. With two closing par-5s, a very low number was in sight. But, as he did on Day 1, McIlroy finished par-par.

"I've made four pars there [on 17 and 18] when I really should be making at least two birdies, but I played the other par-5s well," McIlroy said. "It all balances itself out."

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

McIlroy has made 14 birdies and two bogeys through two rounds. At 12 under, he has a three-stroke lead over Sam Horsfield.

"The work has paid off, to some degree," McIlroy said of his practice with swing coach Michael Bannon. "I still feel like I'm hitting some loose shots out there. But, for the most part, it's been really good. If I can keep these swing thoughts and keep going in the right direction, hopefully this is the type of golf I'll be able to produce."

This event has been feast or famine for McIlroy. He won here in 2014, but has three missed cuts in his other three starts. This week, however, he’ll be around for the weekend and is in position for his first European Tour victory since the 2016 Irish Open and his second worldwide victory of the year (Arnold Palmer Invitational).

"I have the confidence that I'm playing well and I can go out and try to just replicate what I did the day before," McIlroy said about his weekend approach with the lead. "On the first tee box tomorrow I'll be thinking about what I did today. Trying to just keep the same thoughts, make the same swings. I went a couple better today than I did yesterday. I'm not sure I'll keep that progression going but something similiar tomorrow would be nice."