Monday Scramble: Winning again and back, again

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 6, 2017, 5:30 pm

Hideki Matsuyama has déjà vu, Tiger Woods withdraws, Sergio Garcia looks happy, the Phoenix Open sets a record and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble: 

The big question after Woods announced that he’d begin the year with four starts in five weeks was how his surgically repaired back would hold up after all of the swings, travel and practice with limited recovery time.

Well, we now have our answer. He didn’t even last until round No. 4.

The lower-back spasms that knocked Woods out of the Dubai Desert Classic might in fact be a minor issue; his agent, Mark Steinberg, suggested that next week’s Genesis Open at Riviera is still in play. But what’s more troubling is that he did seemingly everything right over the past 17 months – taking off all of last year, working on his swing, rehabbing – and still wound up on the sidelines. Again.

Another setback has led to more retirement talk, but only Woods knows for sure the state of his body and mind. Now it’s just a matter of how much more he can endure. 

1. All that changed at the Waste Management Phoenix Open was Matsuyama’s challenger. 

A year ago, the Japanese star birdied the 72nd hole and won on the fourth playoff hole to defeat Rickie Fowler. This time, Matsuyama’s birdie putt on the final hole came up an inch short, but he knocked out Webb Simpson with a birdie on – you guessed it – the fourth playoff hole.

Matsuyama's world has changed dramatically over the past 12 months. Up to No. 5 in the world, he has five titles in his past nine worldwide starts. 

“It’s been a good run,” he said. “I’m going to ride it as long as I can.”    

2. It’s ironic that Matsuyama seems to thrive at TPC Scottsdale.

The king of the one-handed follow-through, Matsuyama is often distracted and annoyed by crowd noise. On several occasions last week, he glared at spectators who either (a) snapped photos near the tee box, (b) moved behind him, or (c) yelled something during his deliberate downswing. It comes with the territory at the Phoenix Open – it's the only event on the Tour schedule that players prepare to be harassed on the course. 

Somehow, Matsuyama claimed his second title and finished in the top 4 for the fourth consecutive year. Maybe he's mentally tougher than we give him credit for.

Webb Simpson

3. Welcome back, Webb Simpson.

Down on his game and “lost” on the greens, the former U.S. Open champion said he met with Billy Harmon after the CareerBuilder and straightened out his putting. 

Entering the week, he was 189th in strokes gained-putting, a continuation of his struggles post-anchoring ban. But when his putter is hot, Simpson tends to play well, and on the weekend he shot rounds of 65-64 (including birdies on three of his last four holes Sunday) to join Matsuyama at 17-under 264. He scared the hole on two putts in overtime before bowing out with a par on the fourth extra hole. 

“I have found a method that’s been working,” Simpson said. “I hope it works for a long time. But I know that this game is a fickle game, and things happen.” 

4. Caddie Paul Tesori also deserves credit for an assist.

After all, it was Tesori who noticed that Simpson was swaying away from the ball on his backswing instead of loading onto his right side. 

Simpson needed only 30 balls Friday to see significant improvement, and then he played his last 45 holes in 15 under par.  

5. All of the playoff drama overshadowed Byeong-Hun An’s back-nine collapse.

Staked to a three-shot lead at one point, the former U.S. Amateur champion made several poor decisions and came home in 40. He finished sixth, three shots back. 

“It’s not like it’s the last event of the year or last event for the rest of my life,” he said. “I just can’t wait to come back next year. It will be great.” 

6. With all of the focus on the game’s youth movement, the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic was a throwback, with the final group all 37 or older. Garcia, 37, walked away with the trophy, but in pursuit were Henrik Stenson, 40, and Ian Poulter, 41.

They’ve combined for 35 career European Tour titles. 

7. Jon Rahm might be the future of Spanish golf, but Garcia showed last week that his best golf might still be ahead of him. 

Ranking in the top 3 in the field in total driving and greens in regulation, Garcia won in wire-to-wire fashion in Dubai, holding off Stenson on the final day. Garcia has now won a pro event in 15 different countries. 

8. Happy people play great golf. That's been especially true for Garcia.

Recently engaged, he reflected Sunday on his career that has been filled with plenty of highs and lows. 

“I’ve been very open with you guys,” he said. “When things are going well off the golf course, it’s much easier to feel comfortable on a golf course, because there’s no worries. There’s no worries outside and you can concentrate on what you’re doing out there on the course.”

And right now, there are no worries for Garcia, which is good news entering major season. 

Only Ed Dudley (24) has more major top-10s without a win than Garcia (22). That long-awaited Grand Slam title could cement the Spaniard as one of the greatest players of his generation. 

9. It’s fair to ask: What happened in the seven weeks between Woods’ event in the Bahamas and his start at Torrey Pines?

Did he hit the weight room too hard? Did he suffer a physical setback?

At the Hero, Woods showed off a new lithe frame. His uninhibited swing had speed and freedom. Even longtime critics conceded that there were reasons for optimism. 

At Torrey, the slimmed-down Woods was gone. His arms and chest were noticeably bigger. And, frankly, he walked like he was trying to avoid land mines. Maybe it was the cold morning temperatures, but he swung slowly (6 mph slower than 2013) and tentatively, especially early. 

It wasn’t cold in Dubai, and yet Woods’ swing and gait were labored. He claimed that he wasn’t in pain during a birdie-free 77. It was difficult to believe him. 

10. Another question: Why was Woods even in Dubai? 

He made $34 million last year without playing an official round. Did he really need the reported $2 million appearance fee that badly? He said the reps were important, that he wanted to get his game ready for the Masters. So how would the desert golf in Dubai help him any more than the nearby Phoenix Open?

Much was made of the commercial flight that Woods took from California to Dubai, but he was in a first-class suite, not seat 29E, and didn’t have a layover.

That he even subjected himself to the 16-hour flight was the mistake.

11. If you’ve grown leery of these so-called Tiger Comebacks, there’s a reason. 

Since the beginning of 2014, Woods has now missed the cut or withdrawn in 11 official events. Over that span, he has played on Sunday only nine times. 

12. The USGA said at its annual meeting that the newly proposed Rules of Golf – a few potential changes were leaked last month – will be made public sometime in March, with a six-month comment period to follow. 

The blue blazers have promised that the new rulebook will “fundamentally change the understanding of the rules” and that every rule was “on the table.”

Executive director Mike Davis even stressed the need for technology in today’s times, saying: “How come we can’t have an instance where someone can [take their phone and] say, ‘Siri, I hit my ball into a water hazard. What are my options?”

Probably because the game already takes long enough as it is? 

Steven Bowditch was arrested early Friday morning and charged with extreme DUI. He was reportedly found asleep at the wheel of a white pickup truck and registered a .204% on a breathalyzer test.

Bowditch, 33, could face jail time, a fine and even a PGA Tour suspension.

On Friday night, after shooting 74 at the Phoenix Open, he apologized on Twitter:

This is sad news. Bowditch overcame clinical depression to become a two-time PGA Tour winner. He is a likable character with a self-deprecating sense of humor. 

He has fallen on hard times of late, and since June he has missed 15 of 17 cuts. Here’s hoping Bowditch gets the help he needs.  

Biggest Show on Bermuda: Phoenix. Last week the Wasted Open drew 655,434 fans, the most in tournament history. There has been a push to make tournament golf more fun, with walkup music, nighttime attractions and fan-friendly zones. But it’s no small feat to get 200,000-plus people to roll through the gates on a Saturday.

Smart Take: Dottie Pepper. Weighing in on the state of Tiger’s health, Pepper relayed a story about tennis great Michael Chang. They played golf together toward the end of Pepper’s career, and she asked Chang when he knew it was time to retire. “He told me when he spent more time in rehab than he did getting better at this progression, he knew it was his time. Is it that time for Tiger? I think we’re getting close.” 

Why We Love Phil: Driver from the rough. Asked to explain his bizarre club choice, Mickelson said: “The only play was to pitch out, but that’s not really, you know, what I like to do.”

Welcome Back?: Diana Murphy. Murphy has been re-elected to a second one-year term as USGA president. Based on the comments left on the USGA’s official Twitter account, the news wasn't well-received. 

A Pro Sooner than Later: Curtis Luck. The reigning U.S. Amateur champion signed with IMG and plans to turn pro after the Masters, thus forfeiting exemptions into the second and third majors of the year. The Australian's thinking: He can still qualify for the summer opens on his own. 

Next College Star: Braden Thornberry. A three-time winner this season, the Ole Miss sophomore led from start to finish at the Jones Cup, one of the most loaded fields on the amateur schedule. Better believe Walker Cup captain Spider Miller took notice.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. The 23-year-old, who torched the Hawaii swing to become the Hottest Player in Golf, took two weeks off, shot rounds of 69-73, missed the cut by one in Phoenix and surrendered that unofficial HPIG title to Matsuyama. Sigh. 

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Club apologizes for calling cops on black women members

By Associated PressApril 23, 2018, 11:07 pm

YORK, Pa. - A golf club in Pennsylvania has apologized for calling police on a group of black women after the co-owner and his father said they were playing too slowly and refused requests to leave the course.

“I felt we were discriminated against,” one of the women, Myneca Ojo, told the York Daily Record. “It was a horrific experience.”

Sandra Thompson and four friends met up Saturday to play a round of golf at the Grandview Golf Club, where they are all members, she told the newspaper.

At the second hole, a white man whose son co-owns the club came up to them twice to complain that they weren’t keeping up with the pace of play. Thompson, an attorney and the head of the York chapter of the NAACP, told the newspaper it was untrue.

On the same hole, another member of the group, Sandra Harrison, said she spoke with a Grandview golf pro, who said they were fine since they were keeping pace with the group ahead of them.

Despite that, the women skipped the third hole to avoid any other issues, she said.

It’s part of golf etiquette that slow-moving players let groups behind them play through if they are holding things up, and often golf courses have personnel who monitor the pace of play, letting golfers know when they are taking too long.

The five are part of a larger group of local women known as Sisters in the Fairway. The group has been around for at least a decade, and all of its members are experienced players who have golfed all over the county and world, Thompson said. They’re very familiar with golf etiquette, she said.

After the ninth hole, where it is customary to take a break before continuing on the next nine holes, three of the group decided to leave because they were so shaken up by the earlier treatment, the women told the paper.

Thompson said the man from the second hole, identified as former York County Commissioner Steve Chronister, his son, club co-owner Jordan Chronister and several other white, male employees approached the remaining two women and said they took too long of a break and they needed to leave the course.

The women argued they took an appropriate break, and that the men behind them were still on their beer break and not ready to tee off, as seen in a video Thompson gave the newspaper. The women were told that the police had been called, and so they waited.

Northern York County Regional Police arrived, conducted interviews and left without charging anyone.

“We were called there for an issue, the issue did not warrant any charges,” Northern York County Regional Police Chief Mark Bentzel said. “All parties left and we left as well.”

A phone listing for Steve Chronister rang busy on Monday. He told the York Daily Record he didn’t have time to comment on Sunday.

Jordan Chronister’s wife and co-owner of the club, JJ Chronister, said Sunday she called the women personally to apologize.

“We sincerely apologize to the women for making them feel uncomfortable here at Grandview, that is not our intention in any way,” she told the newspaper. “We want all of our members to feel valued and that they can come out here and have a great time, play golf and enjoy the experience.”

She said she hopes to meet with them to discuss how the club can use what happened as a learning experience and do better in the future.

Thompson said she’s not sure a meeting is what needs to happen.

“There needs to be something more substantial to understand they don’t treat people in this manner,” she said.

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Randall's Rant: Augusta has the power to strengthen LPGA

By Randall MellApril 23, 2018, 9:57 pm

Augusta National Golf Club is turning women’s golf upside down.

If you care about the LPGA, that should be your hope, anyway.

Your hope should be that the investment made in the new Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship announced at the Masters three weeks ago will eventually filter up the women’s ranks.

While the new amateur event comes with significant challenges for the women’s tour - with its first major (the ANA Inspiration) in a tough spot the same week as the Augusta National Women’s Amateur - there is LPGA seed money being planted in Georgia

There’s an investment that may grow the women’s game beyond fueling new interest among girls.

“I just hope corporations start recognizing the value of investing in the women’s game, the way Augusta National does,” two-time major champion Cristie Kerr said. “There are so many corporate sponsors in the men’s game who don’t invest a single dollar in the women’s game. Obviously, that’s their prerogative, but we have a lot of value as a tour.”

And there’s your hope.

Augusta National is a collection of power brokers, CEOs and leaders now invested in growing the women’s game.

They’re taking a special interest in watching these young female amateurs emerge, and it’s only natural to expect they’ll become emotionally invested in where these young players go.

And a lot of these young players will go on to the LPGA.

The LPGA is thriving under commissioner Mike Whan’s leadership, with Whan seeing opportunities where others didn’t. He saw Asian interest in the tour as an asset, not the liability so many thought a decade ago.

The LPGA had withered to 23 events in 2011 with $40 million in total prize money. This year, it's up to 34 events with a tour-record $68 million in prize money. Whan did that with a lot of Asian backing.

Of the 10 tour events the LPGA has staged so far this year, including this week’s tournament in San Francisco, nine have Asian-based title sponsors. Even the LPGA’s domestic events are thriving on Asian money. 

All six of the U.S. events staged so far this year have Asian-based title sponsors. You have to move into May and next week’s Volunteers of America Texas Classic before finding an American corporate title sponsor of an American LPGA event.

That starts changing with summer approaching, but overall there will be 17 Asian-based companies or organizations as title sponsors of LPGA events this year, with 14 American-based entities sponsoring or owning events.

Whan says that’s a good thing.

“The diversity of sponsorship on the LPGA makes us a stronger business,” Whan said. “Since I’ve been in office, we’ve worked through recessions in different parts of the world. None of those recessions were crippling to our overall schedule, because we have so many sponsors on board, from so many different places.”

Whan says American corporate interest is growing considerably, with more American marketing partners joining the LPGA this year. The next steps players would like to see are increased purses and endorsement opportunities for women.

The winning two-man team at the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic this week will take home a combined $2,073,000. This week’s LPGA Mediheal Championship features a $1.5 million purse for the entire field.

“The income gap in golf is as much a concern to me as the corporate income gap is to working women,” 12-time LPGA winner Stacy Lewis wrote in an essay earlier this year for the World Economic Forum.

U.S. Solheim Cup captain and LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster started wearing a San Francisco Giants cap this year with no endorsement deals on her bag or shirt. She has become more outspoken about the lack of corporate support for all female golf pros.

“I'm going to say it right now, and I probably shouldn't say it, but I just don't understand how all these companies get away with supporting PGA Tour events and not supporting the LPGA,” Inkster said at the last Solheim Cup. “It makes me a little upset, because I think we've got a great product. We deserve our due.”

With Augusta National investing in young amateur women, it may only be a matter of time until corporate America significantly steps up support. The game’s greatest power brokers appear ready to grow with the young women they will begin investing in next year. That should be the hope for anyone who cares about the LPGA.

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Report: Tour close to finalizing Detroit tournament

By Will GrayApril 23, 2018, 7:07 pm

With the final pieces of the 2019 schedule falling into place, the PGA Tour appears on the verge of returning to Michigan for the first time in nearly a decade.

According to a Detroit News report, the Tour is "believed to be close" to an agreement to bring a tournament to the Motor City beginning in 2019, reportedly likely to take place at Detroit Golf Club near downtown.

While the specifics remain undisclosed, the prime candidate for such a move appears to be The National. The Washington, D.C.-area event, which benefits Tiger Woods' TGR Foundation, was sponsored by Detroit-based Quicken Loans from 2014-2017. This year the tournament will be conducted at TPC Potomac without a title sponsor.

According to a Detroit News report in September, Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert was open to continuing his company's sponsorship of the event if it shifted to Detroit.

In addition to The National, the only other current PGA Tour event without a title sponsor is the Houston Open. On Monday Charles Schwab was introduced as the new title sponsor of the Fort Worth Invitational beginning in 2019.

The PGA Tour has not held an event in the state of Michigan since 2009, the final year of the now-defunct Buick Open at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club. While the final details of a revamped schedule have yet to be announced, the Tour is expected to unveil its itinerary for the 2018-19 season at The Players next month.

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Inbee Park quietly reclaims world No. 1

By Randall MellApril 23, 2018, 6:44 pm

Inbee Park moved back to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings in about as ho-hum fashion as you’ll ever see a player take the top spot.

It isn’t that she doesn’t care about the top ranking. It just wasn’t a priority in her return to golf this year, after missing big portions of the last two years with injuries.

With an Olympic gold medal and seven major championship titles, the LPGA Hall of Famer isn’t done trying to top the scoreboards that matter most to her.

“To be honest, I never really think about being No. 1 again,” Park said early last week, before tying for second at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open. “If it comes to me, great. If not, it doesn't matter.”

It came to her for the fourth time in her career.

Park, 29, reigned at No. 1 for 59 weeks in her longest run on top, back in the 2013 and ’14 seasons.

Oddly, this run to No. 1 almost comes as a surprise to Park, who didn’t need long to get back to the top spot after returning to the tour. She won the Bank of Hope Founders Cup last month in her second after missing seven months with a back injury.

Park last lost the No. 1 ranking in October of 2015, doing so to Lydia Ko.

In six starts this year, Park has finished T-3 or better four times. She leads the tour in scoring average (69.13) and is second in greens in regulation (77.5 percent).

Just wait until her putter heats up.

Yeah, Park’s not very satisfied with her putting. She’s one of the greatest putters who ever played the women’s game, but she has been frustrated with the inconsistency of her stroke much of this season. Of course, her standards are high. She ranks second in putts per greens in regulation so far this year.

On Sunday, this is how Park summed up her putting in 2018: “Some days, I’ve been really good. Some days, I’ve been really bad.”

Park has led the LPGA in putts per GIR in five of the last 10 years. She switched from her preferred mallet-style putter to a blade earlier this season and won with a Toulon Madison blade at the Founders Cup last month. She was back with an Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball mallet this past week. That’s the putter she used to win the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro two years ago. She used an Odyssey Sabertooth winged mallet in her 2013 run of three consecutive major championship victories.