Zurich's team format a success among players

By Ryan LavnerMay 2, 2017, 3:50 pm

AVONDALE, La. – During yet another weather delay at TPC Louisiana, tournament director Steve Worthy passed through the clubhouse to solicit feedback from the players who had showed up for the first team event on the PGA Tour since 1981.

The response was surprising, especially for a guy with nearly 30 years of experience running tournaments.

“I haven’t had anybody say anything negative,” he said Sunday. “I had emails from guys who missed the cut who said that it was so much fun and they can’t wait to get back next year.”

Nothing negative? From PGA Tour players?

“I would say that’s probably a first,” he said with a smile.

Monday’s finale was the culmination of five months of planning and promotion as the Zurich Classic, one of a handful of overlooked stops on the Tour schedule, underwent a dramatic restoration. It was a trial run for future events, not just in New Orleans (where the team format is under contract through 2019) but also around the country, and it proved an unqualified success long before the heavens opened and Cam Smith and Jonas Blixt strapped on their WWE-style championship belts.

Though 72-hole stroke play is the purest form of the game and often produces the most deserving champion, it was revealing that seven of the top 11 players in the world, and 13 of the top 25, came to the Crescent City for an event that annually struggles to attract the big names who don’t have financial ties to the tournament (such as Zurich ambassadors Jason Day, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose).

The implication was clear: They all wanted to try something new.



“It does get a little lackadaisical out here week to week,” John Peterson said. “We do the same thing all week every week, and it gets a little old. That’s why this was so welcome. We all love team golf. I loved college golf – it was my favorite time of my life. This is about as close as it can get to that.”

Two days each of alternate shot and fourballs offered a much-needed break from the monotony of 72-hole stroke play. With no world-ranking points at stake – even more of an incentive to play, some said, because the start didn’t count against their divisor – players seemed more at ease, competing mostly for the cash, FedEx Cup boost, and personal and team pride.

“Would I want to do it every week? Probably not,” Jason Dufner said. “But a couple of weeks a year, I think it’s good for the game, and I think it’s good for us. It makes it a little bit more relaxed atmosphere. You get to have a week with a friend where we’re not trying to beat each other and we’re trying to be a team.”

Even though some of the pre-tournament favorites missed the cut (Day-Fowler; Rose-Henrik Stenson; Thomas Pieters-Daniel Berger), the early exits didn’t sting quite as badly. “A problem shared is a problem halved,” smirked Rose.

The most popular question last week was how the teams were formed, an interesting study in both psychology and relationship-building. Most were pals who shared college, state or country allegiances. Some had grown close while traveling the Tour. And a few were just plain random. Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown, the tournament runners-up, were such obvious partners that no formal request was even made.

“There was an assumption,” Kisner said. “I just asked him if he committed yet.”

The good ol’ boys didn’t exactly overflow with team spirit, but they were so desperate to contend that they “sneaky practiced” together the previous week at Palmetto. Next year should involve even more preparation, with Worthy mentioning the possibility of adding walk-up music, team names and uniforms.

Despite some initial concern that scores and tempers could spike in the uncomfortable alternate-shot format, the average for Rounds 1 and 3 was a shade under par (71.907) on the modest, nondescript layout. (TPC Louisiana is under contract through at least 2019, but there are rumblings locally that the event could – and should – move to the recently redesigned Bayou Oaks, which aspires to join Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines as one of the country’s premier public-access courses.)

Not surprisingly, better-ball play produced more fireworks, with the team of Retief Goosen-Tyrone Van Aswegen making a run at 59 on Friday, and several teams pushing into double digits under par on Sunday, including Kisner and Brown’s closing 12-under 60.

Kelly Kraft also took it deep in the final round, combining with Kevin Tway to fire a 61. Afterward, Kraft raved about the experience, describing his third-place finish, with a partner, as even more rewarding than his runner-up showing earlier this year at Pebble Beach.

“That’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a golf tournament, playing with one of my best friends and having someone to celebrate with you, not just you and your caddie out there,” Kraft said. “I hope they keep this tournament around. It was really fun.”

More than a dozen players took to Twitter to share their enthusiasm and support for the event and its format change.

And it wasn’t just the Tour types who were interested, either. TV ratings for the first round were the best for the event since at least 2007, and an estimated 25,000 fans were on the grounds Saturday – by far the most in the dozen years that the tournament has been held at TPC Louisiana.

“When we announced the format change, we had hoped for good things,” said Worthy, CEO of the Fore!Kids Foundation. “I certainly thought we’d see a boost in the field and spectator attendance and interest. And while I had high expectations, this has certainly exceeded that. It’s been great to hear all the good things from the most important people, which is the players and our spectators.”

All of the good vibes have sparked an obvious question: Should the Tour introduce even more alternative formats?

Commissioner Jay Monahan has already floated the idea of a mixed team event at the Tournament of Champions to start the year. This week, the European Tour will debut GolfSixes, with six-hole matches between two-man teams. Even an event with a limited set of clubs could be a fun twist in the fall.

After the success of the Zurich, Worthy said, “I certainly think there would be more interest in exploring other opportunities.”

Of course, having too many outside-the-box tournaments appears gimmicky and could damage the Tour’s brand. After all, a player’s livelihood is at stake, and it shouldn’t necessarily be determined by whether he can hit a 6-iron through a hula hoop while blindfolded.

“Just once or twice a year, because it adds something different,” Fowler said. “You don’t want to have too many – then it doesn’t have a unique-kind-of-week feel to it.”

Striking that balance is the upcoming challenge for Monahan and Co. But if Worthy’s informal survey was any indication, the commissioner should have the full support of an enthusiastic member base.

“‘Fun’ is probably the word that I heard the most this week,” Worthy said.

Refreshing, isn’t it?

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U.S. captures Junior Ryder Cup

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 26, 2018, 12:29 am

The U.S. defeated Europe, 12 ½ to 11 ½, in the Junior Ryder Cup at Golf Disneyland at Disneyland Paris.

Rachel Heck, 16, of Memphis, Tenn., clinched the winning half-point on the 18th hole with a 12-foot birdie putt that halved her match with Annabell Fuller, 16, of England.

"It was the most incredible experience of my life," said Heck, a Stanford commit who last week made the cut in her second LPGA major, the Evian Masters.

Michael Thorbjornsen, 16, of Wellesley, Mass., the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, drove the green on the 315-yard 18th hole, the ball stopping within 5 feet of the pin. His eagle putt completed 2-up win over 15-year-old Spaniard David Puig and ensured that the U.S. would retain the Junior Ryder Cup, as the defending champion needs only a tie (12 points) to maintain possession of the trophy.

Singles results

Match 1 - Lucy Li (USA) def. Amanda Linner (EUR), 4 and 3

Match 2 — Rasmus Hojgaard (EUR) def. William Moll (USA), 1 up

Match 3 —  Ingrid Lindblad (EUR) halved Rose Zhang (USA)

Match 4 – Nicolai Hojgaard (USA) def. Canon Claycomb (USA), 4 and 2

Match 5 — Yealimi Noh (USA) def. Emma Spitz (EUR), 3 and 2

Match 6 —  Ricky Castillo (USA) def. Eduard Rousaud Sabate (EUR), 3 and 1

Match 7 – Emilie Alba-Paltrinieri (EUR) def. Erica Shepherd (USA), 2 up

Match 8 — Michael Thorbjornsen (USA) def. David Puig (EUR), 2 up

Match 9 – Alessia Nobilio (EUR) def. Alexa Pano (USA), 2 and 1

Match 10 —  Robin Tiger Williams (EUR) def. Cole Ponich (USA), 2 and 1

Match 11 – Annabell Fuller (EUR) halved Rachel Heck (USA)

Match 12 — Conor Gough (EUR) def. Akshay Bhatia (USA), 1 up

 

TOUR Championship Final Round Becomes Most-Watched FedExCup Playoffs Telecast Ever and Most-Watched PGA TOUR Telecast of 2018

By Golf Channel Public RelationsSeptember 25, 2018, 6:48 pm

ORLANDO, Fla., (Sept. 25, 2018) – NBC Sports Group’s final round coverage of the TOUR Championship on Sunday (3:00-6:19 p.m. ET) garnered a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 7.8 million average viewers, as Tiger Woods claimed his 80th career victory, and his first in five years. The telecast’s TAD was up 212% vs. 2017 (2.5m). Television viewership posted 7.18 million average viewers, up 192% YOY (2.46m) and a 4.45 U.S. household rating, up 178% vs. 2017 (1.60). It also becomes the most-watched telecast in the history of the FedExCup Playoffs (2007-2018) and the most-watched PGA TOUR telecast in 2018 (excludes majors).

Coverage peaked from 5:45-6 p.m. ET with 10.84 million average viewers as Woods finished his TOUR Championship-winning round and Justin Rose sealed his season-long victory as the FedExCup champion. The peak viewership number trails only the Masters (16.84m) and PGA Championship (12.39m) in 2018. The extended coverage window (1:30-6:19 p.m. ET) drew 5.89 million average viewers and a 3.69 U.S. household rating to become the most-watched and highest-rated TOUR Championship telecast on record (1991-2018).

Sunday’s final round saw 18.4 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports Digital platforms (+561% year-over-year), and becomes NBC Sports’ most-streamed Sunday round (excluding majors) on record (2013-’18).

Sunday’s lead-in coverage on Golf Channel (11:54 a.m.-1:25 p.m. ET) also garnered a Total Audience Delivery of 829K average viewers and posted a .56 U.S. household rating, becoming the most-watched and highest rated lead-in telecast of the TOUR Championship ever (2007-2018). Golf Channel was the No. 2 Sports Network during this window and No. 7 out of all Nielsen-rated cable networks during that span.

 This week, NBC Sports Group will offer weeklong coverage of the biennial Ryder Cup from Le Golf National outside of Paris. Live From the Ryder Cup continues all week on Golf Channel, surrounding nearly 30 hours of NBC Sports’ Emmy-nominated live event coverage, spanning from Friday morning’s opening tee shot just after 2 a.m. ET through the clinching point on Sunday. The United States will look to retain the Ryder Cup after defeating Europe in 2016 (17-11), and aim to win for the first time on European soil in 25 years, since 1993.

 

-NBC Sports Group-

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Tiger Woods names his Mount Rushmore of golf

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 25, 2018, 6:29 pm
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Mickelson savoring his (likely) last road game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 25, 2018, 3:49 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Phil Mickelson lingered behind as his foursome made its way to the ninth tee during Tuesday’s practice round.

He needed the extra practice, no doubt. He’s one of just six players on the U.S. Ryder Cup team with even a modicum of knowledge about Le Golf National, but the likely reason for Lefty’s leisurely tempo was more personal.

The 2019 Ryder Cup will likely be Mickelson’s last road game as a player.

He’ll be 52 when the U.S. team pegs it up at the 2022 matches in Rome. Although there’s been players who have participated in the biennial event into their golden years – most notably Raymond Floyd who was 51 when he played the ’93 matches – given Mickelson’s play in recent years and the influx of younger players the odds are against him.

“I am aware this is most likely the last one on European soil and my last opportunity to be part of a team that would be victorious here, and that would mean a lot to me personally,” Mickelson said on Tuesday.

It’s understandable that Mickelson would want to linger a little longer in the spotlight of golf’s most intense event.

For the first time in his Ryder Cup career Mickelson needed to be a captain's pick, and he didn’t exactly roar into Paris, finishing 30th out of 30 players at last week’s Tour Championship. He’s also four months removed from his last top-10 finish on the PGA Tour.


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Although he’s reluctant to admit it for Mickelson Le Golf National looks every bit a swansong for the most accomplished U.S. Ryder Cup player of his generation.

In 11 starts at the Ryder Cup, Mickelson has a 26-16-13 record. Perhaps more telling is his 7-3-1 mark since 2012 and he holds the U.S. record for most matches played (45) and is third on the all-time list for most points won (21.5), just two shy of the record held by Billy Casper.

Mickelson’s record will always be defined by what he’s done at the Masters and not done at the U.S. Open, but his status as an anchor for two generations of American teams may never be matched.

For this U.S. team - which is trying to win a road Ryder Cup for the first time since 1993 - Lefty is wearing many hats.

“You know Phil and you know he's always trying to find a way to poke fun, trying to mess with someone,” Furyk said. “He's telling a story. Sometimes you're not sure if they are true or not. Sometimes there's little bits of pieces in each of those, but he provides some humor, provides some levity.”

But there is another side to Mickelson’s appeal in the team room. Although he’s never held the title of vice captain he’s served as a de facto member of the management for some time.

“At the right times, he understands when a team needs a kick in the butt or they need an arm around their shoulder, and he's been good in that atmosphere,” Furyk said. “He's a good speaker and good motivator, and he's been able to take some young players under his wing at times and really get a lot out of them from a partner standpoint.”

In recent years Mickelson has become something of a mentor for young players, first at the ’08 matches with Anthony Kim and again in ’12 with Keegan Bradley.

His role as a team leader in the twilight of his career can’t be overstated and will undoubtedly continue this week if Tuesday’s practice groupings are any indication, with Lefty playing with rookie Bryson DeChambeau.

As DeChambeau was finishing his press conference on Tuesday he was asked about the dynamic in the U.S. team room.

“We're going to try and do our absolute best to get the cup back,” he said.

“Keep the cup,” Lefty shouted from the back of the room, noting that the U.S. won the last Ryder Cup.

It was so Mickelson not to miss a teaching moment or a chance to send a subtle jab delivered with a wry smile.

Mickelson will also be remembered for his role in what has turned out to be an American Ryder Cup resurgence.

“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 that helped us play our best,” Mickelson said in the Scottish gloom at the ’14 matches. “Nobody here was in any decision.”

If Mickelson doesn’t step to the microphone in ’14 at Gleneagles in the wake of another U.S. loss and, honestly, break some china there probably wouldn’t have been a task force. Davis Love III likely wouldn’t have gotten a second turn as captain in ’16 and the U.S. is probably still mired in a victory drought.

Lefty’s Ryder Cup career is far from over. The early line is that he’ll take his turn as captain in 2024 at Bethpage Black – the People’s Champion riding in to become the People’s Captain.

Before he moves on to a new role, however, he’ll savor this week and an opportunity to win his first road game. If he wants to hang back and relish the moment so be it.