For now, PGA still last shot for golf's big shots

By Ryan LavnerAugust 9, 2017, 6:20 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Better savor this while we can, a PGA Championship that stays true to its identity as golf’s final major.

That won’t be true in two years, after one of the sport’s worst-kept secrets was made public: Beginning in 2019, the PGA will slide from its traditional August date to the third week in May.

The benefits look good on a PowerPoint presentation – ending the season before football begins, opening up venues around the country and offering five consecutive months of big-time tournaments – but there’s no doubt that the PGA’s core identity will change.

That’s a shame, because this week offers a reminder of precisely what makes this tournament unique. It’s the final opportunity to bag a major before eight months of reflection and excruciating buildup.

For Rory McIlroy, that means one last shot to reaffirm his status as golf’s alpha dog.

For Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, it’s one last shot to redeem a lost major season.

And for Jordan Spieth, well, it’s one last shot to make this a historic year.

This week he has a chance to – all together now – become the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam, and at 24, he’d be the youngest to accomplish the feat.

Listening to Spieth, though, you’d never know what’s at stake. Perhaps in an effort to deflect attention, he opined that he isn’t the favorite this week – your serve, Rory – nor is he burdened by the possibilities in front of him.

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Become the youngest to win all four majors? Nope, not a “burning desire.”

Check off the Grand Slam on his career to-do list? Eh, there’s plenty of time – this is his first of 30 PGAs.

Already with a major this year, Spieth is approaching this week with the casualness of a Panthers preseason game.

“I’m free-rolling,” he said, “and it feels good. I’m as free and relaxed at a major as I think I’ve ever felt.”

Must be nice, because the scrutiny of McIlroy has rarely been this intense.

What could have been a monster season has been reduced to a “transitional” year after a rib injury, a wedding, an equipment change and a caddie split. And yet here we are, at Quail Hollow, in a major that seems like his destiny ever since it was announced in 2010. In seven career trips around this place, McIlroy has two wins, a playoff loss and three other finishes inside the top 10.

“Once you go back to a place where you do have great memories,” he said, “all that starts to come flooding back to you and it makes you feel good about yourself.”

On Wednesday, McIlroy carried drives 365 yards (with only 7 feet of curve!) and cracked 3-woods three bills off the deck, rendering the range useless. Historically, Quail Hollow has been the launching pad for some of the best driving performances of his career, but all of that firepower will be of little use if he can’t control his wedges.

Last week at Firestone, he pounded driver all over the lot and had 35 approach shots from inside 125 yards. He played those holes in – gulp – 4 under par. From 125-150 yards, McIlroy would rank dead last in proximity to the hole this season if he had enough rounds to qualify.

This week, he has added a 3-iron but eliminated one of his wedges, a curious move, because it leaves a six-degree gap (48, 54 and 60) that will require even more precision with his shorter clubs.

Now three years removed from his last major title – and with his chief rival, Spieth, claiming three in that span – there is a sense of urgency for McIlroy to reassert his authority, even if the former Boy Wonder continues to stress patience.

“I don’t want to be in the mindset this week of wanting to make any type of statement or go out and prove myself. I’m past that point,” he said. “I’ve proven myself over the last nine years of my career.”

So have Johnson and Day, but unlike in previous years they’ve fallen flat in the majors in 2017.

Running off three titles in a row, and playing the best golf of his life, Johnson entered the Masters as the prohibitive favorite. Then he slipped on a set of stairs, injuring his back, defusing his explosive driver and leading to a string of middling results, a rarity for one of the game’s most consistent performers. Now, though, he says that his body feels good. And so does his swing. And so, most importantly, does his driver.

“I feel it’s close to when I was playing really well before Augusta,” Johnson said, but failing to snag major No. 2, or at least contend, would be a disappointment for a player who this spring appeared on the verge of utter domination.

Day, meanwhile, admitted that he’s still searching, that he’s growing increasingly impatient with the “plateau” in his game that has dropped his world ranking from No. 1 to No. 7 in the past six months. His slide is most noticeable in the big events: He has posted 10 major top-10s since 2013, but this year hasn’t finished better than 22nd.

“You’re not panicking or anything,” he said, “you’re just wondering why. You’re up at night thinking, OK, what do I need to do to get back to that winning form?”

Day posed that question to Phil Mickelson Tuesday night at the PGA Champions Dinner. Mickelson explained that the key to busting out of a slump is to keep practicing and stay disciplined, because players at this level are usually one small tweak away.

“You just never know what’s around the corner,” Day said.

Well, what we do know is that after this week, there isn’t a career-defining event for the next eight months. That’s the subtle beauty of the PGA. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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Lauren Thompson and a giant 'gator eating a turtle

By Grill Room TeamApril 19, 2018, 4:53 pm

Really, the headline says it all.

"Morning Drive" co-host Lauren Thompson was playing the Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes on Thursday in Orlando, Fla., when her threesome turned into a foursome, with the appearance of a giant alligator. Techincally, it was a fivesome, as the 'gator had a turtle in its mouth.

Hey, it's a slow news week for Grill Room.

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Sources confirm Charles Schwab to sponsor Colonial event

By Rex HoggardApril 19, 2018, 2:42 pm

Multiple sources have confirmed to that officials at Colonial are poised to announce a new sponsorship agreement with Charles Schwab Corporation.

Tournament officials scrambled this year after Dean & DeLuca ended its sponsorship of the event just two years into a six-year agreement, pulling together an assortment of local sponsors and renaming the event the Fort Worth Invitational.

Colonial’s status on the PGA Tour schedule became even more uncertain when the PGA Championship announced it would move from August to May, beginning in 2019 as part of a major overhaul of the circuit’s schedule.

According to the Dallas News, and confirmed by multiple sources at the club, officials plan to announce the new long-term agreement with Charles Schwab on Monday that will begin in 2019.

News of a long-term sponsorship deal would also suggest the event will remain in May in 2019 and beyond. The Tour has indicated it plans to announce the ’19 schedule at next month’s Players Championship.

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PNC Extends Title Sponsorship of PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Golf Channel Public RelationsApril 19, 2018, 1:00 pm

ORLANDO, Fla., April 19, 2018 – IMG and NBC Sports today announced that The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. has extended its contract as title sponsor of the PNC Father/Son Challenge, the tournament that pairs the games’ legends alongside their sons, daughters and grandchildren.

PNC’s multi-year extension as title sponsor keeps the PGA Tour Challenge Event in Orlando reflecting the bank’s commitment to Central Florida. PNC has served as title sponsor of the tournament since 2012. The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes will continue to play host to the PNC Father/Son Challenge. The 2018 PNC Father/Son Challenge will take place Friday-Sunday, Dec. 14-16, with television coverage on Golf Channel and NBC.

“The PNC Father/Son Challenge long ago became one of my family’s favorite golf tournaments,” said 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus. “I have had the pleasure of playing with my sons, and last year, partnering with my 15-year-old grandson GT was a thrill. I am delighted the event—a uniquely special one to us fathers and grandfathers, and perhaps to the many fans out there watching from home or outside the ropes—will continue for many years to come.”

“After our victory in 2016, I said that this win was as good as anything I have done in my career,” said former World No. 1 and major champion David Duval, who alongside his stepson Nick Karavites captured the 2016 title. “I felt blessed to have Nick inside the ropes with me and to have our family surrounding us all week. That’s what makes the PNC Father/Son Challenge so special, and I’m pleased to hear that PNC has extended its support of the event. This golf tournament means so much to all of us who are lucky enough to have the opportunity to play in this event.”

The tournament also holds three events in qualifier markets per year. This year they will be in Dallas, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

“The PNC Father/Son Challenge allows fans to see golf’s legends playing the game they love alongside those they love most,” said Alastair Johnston, vice chairman, IMG. “We are grateful for PNC’s ongoing support of this unique tournament and we look forward to returning to Orlando to celebrate golf and family for many years to come.”

Community support is a key aspect of the tournament and PNC’s sponsorship. PNC is committed to donating $150,000 annually to local non-profits over the life of its sponsorship. Across six previous years of title sponsorship, PNC has already donated $900,000 to Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation and the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children to support the “Healthy Families Orange” program. Over the years, PNC has also had the opportunity through this tournament to co-host events for local women in business, to put on clinics and provide free access to the tournament for active military, and even provide a service dog for a local veteran.

"PNC's long-standing sponsorship of the Father/Son Challenge reflects the philanthropic values we share with the PGA Tour and the golf community, as well as our focus on strong relationships,” said Bill Demchak, chairman, president and chief executive officer of The PNC Financial Services Group. “As PNC Bank continues to expand its footprint, the PNC Father/Son tournament helps us gain visibility with new audiences and to strengthen the relationships we enjoy today with more than 8 million retail, wealth, and corporate and institutional banking customers across the country.”

“NBC Sports is extremely proud of our heritage as co-founder for the Father/Son Challenge, one of golf’s most special events that closes out the calendar year on the golf schedule,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports. “Our relationship with PNC Bank elevates this event each year as a must-attend and must-see event for players and fans alike, and we look forward to our continued relationship with PNC Bank for years to come.”

Past winners of the PNC Father/Son Challenge include some of the biggest names in golf including Raymond Floyd (1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001), Jack Nicklaus (1999), Bernhard Langer (2005-06, 2014), Davis Love III (2012) and David Duval (2016).  Masters champion Angel Cabrera and his son, Angel Cabrera Jr. captured the 2017 title.

To qualify for the PNC Father/Son Challenge, participants must have won either a major championship or THE PLAYERS Championship in their career. The professional’s partner must not currently hold a Tour card, and while the majority of partners in the history of the event have been the sons of the golf legends, the family-themed tournament has seen daughters, grandsons and one father – Justin Leonard’s dad, Larry – participate over the years.

The PNC Father/Son Challenge is operated in partnership by IMG and NBC Sports.

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Fire damages National Golf Links of America clubhouse

By Will GrayApril 19, 2018, 12:55 pm

A fire broke out Wednesday at National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y., causing "extensive damage" to a portion of the historic course's clubhouse.

According to a report, an initial call was made to the Southampton police department about a fire on the roof of the clubhouse at 11:34 a.m. With the club's gates too narrow to fit a fire truck through, more than 100 firefighters from various departments helped douse the flames by transporting water up a hill to the east side of the clubhouse.

The fire was reportedly extinguished by 2:30 p.m., with no injuries requiring medical attention. According to a Golf Digest report, the club was undergoing construction on its outdoor eating area known as "the Birdcage" and that most of the club's historical documents reside on the opposite end of the clubhouse from where the fire broke out and was contained.

Opened in 1911, National Golf Links of America was designed by C.B. MacDonald and hosted the inaugural Walker Cup in 1922. The biennial matches returned in 2013 to NGLA, which is often rated among the top courses in the U.S. and sits adjacent to Shinnecock Hills, site of this summer's U.S. Open.