U.S. needs the right process to find the right man

By Rex HoggardSeptember 29, 2014, 5:30 pm

GLENEAGLES, Scotland – Tom Watson was the wrong guy for the job.

Old Tom was out of touch, outcoached and now out of excuses, but it isn’t Watson who should suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. As bad as Sunday’s 16 ½ to 11 ½ loss was – and it was – he was offered a job he was not qualified for.

While there is plenty of blame to go around, including the 12 Americans who failed to win a single full point in eight foursomes matches, the criticism for another U.S. collapse begins and ends with PGA of America president Ted Bishop.

It was Bishop who concocted the plan to give the 65-year-old a second turn as captain some two decades after leading the U.S. team to victory for the last time on foreign soil. It was a blueprint that was born on a flight home in 2011 as Bishop read Four Days in July, the tale of Watson’s near miss at the 2009 Open Championship.

“Our journey actually started on this Ryder Cup back in November of 2011,” said Bishop earlier this month.

According to various sources, the normal captain’s selection process, which is decided by the three-member PGA executive committee, was circumvented by a fast-track approach led by Bishop.

While hindsight can be a dangerous ally, and it’s easy now to see the flaws in Bishop’s thinking, the seeds of discontent were planted well before Sunday’s fait accompli at Gleneagles. A quiet chorus of concern began weeks ago as Watson’s captain’s picks approached.

Following his final round at the Deutsche Bank Championship Phil Mickelson was asked if Watson had reached out to him for any advice for the impending picks.


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“I haven’t, no. Maybe … I’ll check,” smiled Mickelson as he made a show of scrolling through the messages on his phone. “No.”

At best, Watson was tightlipped throughout the decision-making process. At worst, he was insular.

Consider that Brendon Todd, the hottest American player for much of the summer with a victory (Byron Nelson Championship) and four other top-10 finishes, acknowledged at the PGA Championship that he had had no communication with Watson regarding his status as a potential pick.

Lefty will suffer a disproportionate share of criticism for speaking out following the U.S. team’s eighth loss in its last 10 Ryder Cup outings when he was asked what has gone wrong for the American effort since those glory days at Valhalla in 2008.

“There were two things that allowed us to play our best I think that Paul Azinger (the 2008 captain) did,” Mickelson said. “One was he got everybody invested in the process. … The other thing that Paul did really well was he had a great game plan for us.

“We use that same process in the Presidents Cup and we do really well. Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula.”

Moments later Watson went on the defensive in an awkward exchange saying, “You know, it takes 12 players to win. It's not pods. It's 12 players.”

Perhaps Mickelson should have kept the team room laundry locked behind closed doors, but as an agent of change it’s hard to imagine a more powerful pulpit from which to make a difference.

The American Ryder Cup system is broken; the alternative is to believe that this European squad is five points better than the U.S. side. Five points.

Captains can make a difference, just ask any player who has been a part of a winning team.

“Few captains, if any, have had as big an impact on the team and on the result as (Azinger) did,” Mahan said at the PGA Championship. “I think he was worth a point, point and a half that week.”

In Watson’s defense, John Wooden is perhaps the best coach of any team in the history of sports, but even his greatness would be ill equipped to lead a group of current NBA players.

That doesn’t tarnish his legacy; it just places him on the wrong side of the generational divide.

If Bishop’s failed experiment has produced anything worth salvaging it is a willingness to think outside of the box when it comes to future captains. No more should the powers calling the shots in South Florida be bound by the unwritten criteria that captains must be former major champions or that repeat performances are strictly verboten.

Early last year the European Tour brass gathered in a tony hotel in Abu Dhabi to decide the Continent’s 2014 captain. It was uncomfortable, political and feelings were hurt, but in the end that committee – which consists of former captains, current players and various administrators – delivered the captain the players wanted – Paul McGinley.

That was clear as Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington gathered in the back of the room to cheer as McGinley was named captain.

“The committee is 100 percent behind this captain and that was obvious early in the meeting,” said Thomas Bjorn, the tournament committee chairman who would play his way onto this year’s team, at the time. “We listen to our players.”

If the U.S. team wants to know what the European’s mysterious “template” is they should start with the captain’s selection process. Decisions made behind closed doors by a frighteningly few number of executives is not the answer.

If the PGA is serious about change they should copy the European system and create a committee. Include the current PGA president, a few former captains and, most importantly, players who are likely to qualify for the team.

McGinley’s Europe rolled to victory because they bought into his detailed plan of no complacency, no give. They did that because they bought into McGinley.

Watson was the wrong guy for the job. Finding the right guy is the only way to stop America’s slide into Ryder Cup irrelevancy.

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LPGA faces dilemma relating to ANA date

By Randall MellApril 23, 2018, 5:00 pm

While the new Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship promises to bolster the overall women’s game, it has created a challenge to the LPGA’s first major championship of the year.

Should the LPGA move the ANA Inspiration to new dates?

Or stay put and go up against the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship?

It’s a complex question, with no easy fix.

“I don’t know that keeping the date we are in is a good long-term decision, but I won’t make a switch out of that date without reviewing all the variables, and thinking about it long term, not just one year,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan told GolfChannel.com.

Whan said his staff is studying options and expects to review them with All Nippon Airways (ANA) sometime over the next two weeks.

Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley announced during the Masters, almost three weeks ago, that the club’s new women’s amateur championship will be played over three rounds, with the final round being played at Augusta National on the Saturday before the Masters. That’s the same week as the ANA Inspiration.

If the ANA Inspiration keeps its dates, it would compete with the Augusta National Women’s Amateur over the ANA’s first three rounds. It would compete for media attention and for some of the top amateurs who have become an integral part of the ANA.

The ANA Junior Inspiration is played the weekend before the women’s first major, with LPGA legends occupying an important role in the event. LPGA legends play alongside juniors in the final round and also attend the ANA Junior Dinner. There’s a mentorship philosophy woven into the entire amateur element of the ANA.

The ANA Junior winner and six other elite amateurs get invites to play the ANA Inspiration.

Switching the ANA dates isn’t the no-brainer some fans might think.

Swapping with the LPGA’s Kia Classic the week before means the possibility ANA loses the highly appealing 20 hours of live TV tournament coverage it receives in its current dates. It also means LPGA pros would get just one full-field event to qualify for the year’s first major. Any swap of earlier March dates puts the LPGA up against formidable PGA Tour Florida swing dates, including The Players, with its expected move back to March.

A swap of dates to mid-March with the LPGA’s Bank of Hope Founders Cup next year would mean LPGA pros wouldn’t get a single full-field event to qualify for the ANA. (The Women’s Australian Open is co-sanctioned with a shared field). Plus, a swap with the Founders Cup would create major logistical issues for Founders Cup and Wildfire Marriott resort officials hosting that event.

Moving to the week after the Masters is equally difficult, with the ANA then competing against the immensely popular Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which featured Beyonce as its headliner this year. Plus, there would be weather and volunteer issues.

“There are a lot of partners involved in a decision relating to a date change,” Whan said. “It’s not just Mission Hills, IMG and ANA and the volunteer and operations groups.

“And, most importantly, it would come down to where we could find a TV window that is at least equivalent to what we have today. Those options are limited.”

While an ANA date switch might be ideal long term, when the LPGA has more time to revamp its entire schedule, to better prepare a lead-in to the ANA, it’s a problem for 2019.

“Staying in the current date is a legitimate alternative,” Whan said. “Because we know we get a great golf course and fan support, and we get a schedule that makes sense in terms of players being able to play their way into the event.”

Still, the ANA dates remain under study.

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Levy boosts chances of playing in home Ryder Cup

By Will GrayApril 23, 2018, 4:24 pm

France's Alexander Levy took a big step toward qualifying for a spot at this year's Ryder Cup in his native country with his win at the European Tour's Trophee Hassan II.

Levy's one-shot victory was his third in as many years, and the fifth of his European Tour career. It lifted him to ninth in the latest European Points standings for the Ryder Cup, with the top four players automatically qualifying for a spot on the team in Paris.

Levy, 27, is likely France's best hope to have some representation on the roster in October. His win lifted him to No. 47 in the world rankings, while the next highest-ranked Frenchman (Victor Dubuisson) is currently 122nd.

Levy also ranks 15th on the World Points list, where the top four players not otherwise qualified on the European Points list will join the team, rounded out by four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn. Here's a look at the latest standings:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Jon Rahm

4. Ross Fisher

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5. Matthew Fitzpatrick

World Points

1. Rory McIlroy

2. Tommy Fleetwood

3. Sergio Garcia

4. Alex Noren

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5. Ian Poulter

On the American side of things, the top 14 in the U.S. points race remained unchanged following the Valero Texas Open, while tournament winner Andrew Landry jumped from 48th to 15th. Here's a look at the current standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship earning automatic spots on the team:

1. Patrick Reed

2. Justin Thomas

3. Dustin Johnson

4. Jordan Spieth

5. Bubba Watson

6. Rickie Fowler

7. Brooks Koepka

8. Phil Mickelson

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9. Matt Kuchar

10. Brian Harman

11. Kevin Kisner

29. Tiger Woods

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Descending into golf's depths, and trying to dig out

By Brandel ChambleeApril 23, 2018, 3:05 pm

Watching Alvaro Quiros finish second this past week in Morocco, I was reminded of just how rare it is for player to come back from the depths of golf hell.

Quiros, a player of immense ability, hype and length, won the Dubai World Championship – his sixth win in four years – to close out 2011 and then went down the rabbit hole of trying to change his golf swing. He would miss 11 cuts in 2012 and either miss the cut or withdraw in another 41 European Tour events over the next four years. Because he hadn’t won a major championship, his epic backwards slide in the world rankings (435th prior to this past week) mostly went unnoticed – but it was far from unusual.

Ian Baker-Finch won the 1991 Open Championship, but just three years later, when he played 20 events on the PGA Tour and missed 14 cuts, he no longer looked anything like a recent major champion. In 1995, he played in 18 events and either missed the cut, withdrew or was disqualified from every one of them. In 1996, he missed the cut in all 11 events he entered on the PGA Tour; and in 1997, he shot 92 in the first round of The Open, withdrew from the championship and stopped playing professional golf.

Like Quiros, Baker-Finch’s downfall came after his biggest win, when he finally thought he had the time, because of the 10-year exemption he received, to change his golf swing.

David Duval won the 2001 Open Championship and just two years later he shot 83-78 in the same event and missed the cut, which was one 16 events he either missed the cut or withdrew from that year. In 2005, he missed 18 cuts in 19 starts. Duval’s competitive demise may well have been precipitated by injuries and an existential malaise after winning golf’s oldest championship, but it was accompanied by queries far and wide as to how to correct his swing and thinking, just like Baker-Finch before him and Quiros thereafter.

These desperate searches for help, like the indelible ink stains on dyer’s hands, are the one common thread amongst those who suffer from the absolute negation of their technical and then creative abilities. Those who take as indisputable the theories of others are, in the deepest sense, wounding their own intuition. They are controverting the evidence of their own senses in such a way that is comforting to the insecure player, but tragic to the artist. To quote Carl Jung: “Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.”

As I write this, PGA Tour winners Steven Bowditch (1,885th in the world) and Smylie Kaufman (337th) are in similar downward spirals in their careers and no doubt are desperate for, and susceptible to any suggestion.

One player they can look to who made it back from the frantic madness that accompanies losing one’s game, is Henrik Stenson. He put his trust in one man, Pete Cowen, even though while working with Pete he missed 14 cuts in 2002, followed by 15 missed cuts in 2003, and 11 in 2004. What Stenson did not do was panic and run from teacher to teacher, from shrink to shrink, as the missed cuts piled up.

Stenson, with Cowen’s help, slowly built one of the most reliable swings in the history of the game. A swing that regularly leads events in fairways found and greens hit in regulation. A swing that authored the lowest score ever shot in major championship history. A swing that is a far cry from the OB-launching swipes he was taking in late-2001 and 2002.

Given the soul-eating depths of where he came from, a place from which few have dug themselves out of, I watch Stenson play golf with a far greater admiration than I otherwise would, and similarly was pulling for Quiros in Morocco. The same way I am pulling for Bowditch and Kaufman to find their games again.

Bernhard and Jason Langer at the 2017 PNC Father/Son Challenge Getty Images

Langer skipping Senior PGA for son's HS graduation

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 23, 2018, 2:53 pm

Defending champion Bernhard Langer will miss this year’s Senior PGA Championship to attend his son’s high school graduation.

Langer made the announcement Monday, during Senior PGA media day at Harbor Shores in Michigan. The event will be held May 24-27.

“I won’t be able to defend my title this year because my son graduates from high school that very same weekend,” he said. “Family comes first in my life, so I have to be there to celebrate.”

Langer said that his son, Jason, will play golf for the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. Langer and his family live in South Florida.

Langer won last year’s event at Trump National outside Washington, D.C. The 60-year-old has no wins but three runners-up in eight senior starts this season.