Walker Cup needs new selection process

By Ryan LavnerAugust 21, 2017, 11:29 pm

LOS ANGELES – About the same time Doc Redman shocked the crowd at Riviera with his eagle-birdie-birdie finish at the U.S. Amateur, the USGA’s International Team Selection Committee was orchestrating how it would handle its own stunner.

Set to unveil the 10-man U.S. Walker Cup roster in a press release at noon Monday, the USGA instead moved up the announcement a day earlier, so it could appear at the end of the Fox telecast. Good thing, because a larger audience witnessed how broken the system really is.

The selection process for any team competition, at any level, always generates controversy, but rarely is the oversight this egregious.

Snubbed for one of the coveted 10 spots was Sam Burns. Like several players who were under consideration, the 21-year-old received a brief phone call Sunday night from USGA president Diana Murphy during which he was informed that he did not make the squad. That was the extent of the conversation. No explanation was given for the decision, nor did the USGA wish to elaborate Monday, saying that they were “private conversations.”

But even U.S. captain Spider Miller, who does not have a vote in how the final roster is constructed, seemed caught off guard. Standing on the 10th green at Riviera, after Redman won the U.S. Am and earned a spot on the team, Miller said Team USA wasn’t finalized until “just recently – probably hours ago.”

“There were literally 16 or 17 players you could have thrown a dart at,” Miller said. “I’m sad that there were several players who played well enough but they were only able to pick 10. It’s very unfortunate. It’s sad.”

And it also confounds.

Though it operates with the secrecy of a special-ops unit, the committee does not make these decisions lightly. But Burns’ situation was a reminder of the ramifications, both financial and professional, and why it’s imperative that the USGA makes a few necessary changes.


Photos: History of the Walker Cup


By almost any metric, Burns should have been a lock for the U.S. team. Three months ago, the LSU sophomore earned the Nicklaus Award, given to the top college player. Drawing significant interest from sponsors and tournament directors, he could have turned pro in June but opted instead to wait until after the Walker Cup in September. It should not have been a risk, but that decision proved costly: Last month he played the Barbasol Championship, an opposite-field event on the PGA Tour, and tied for sixth. Because he was an amateur, however, he forfeited a $113,000 payday and sacrificed other playing opportunities.

Burns was the Division I player of the year. He remained amateur through the summer. He starred in a Tour event. It’s unclear what else he could have done to show the committee how much making the team meant to him, save for getting an American flag tattoo.

In previous Walker Cup years, the committee has named a handful of players before the Western Amateur, then filled out the rest of the squad after the U.S. Amateur. Burns surely would have been a strong candidate for one of the first few spots, but Miller lobbied to announce the team all at one time, not only to avoid the perception of two tiers but to keep players motivated heading into the two biggest amateur events on the schedule.

Burns was eliminated in the Round of 64 at the U.S. Am – two rounds earlier than newly named Walker Cuppers Will Zalatoris (Round of 16), the same round as Maverick McNealy and one round late than Scottie Scheffler, who missed the 36-hole qualifying cut and doesn’t have a top-20 since earning low-amateur honors at the U.S. Open.

Conduct a blind-résumé test among those four players, and it’s hard to fathom how Burns was the one left off.

Asked for clarification, John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s managing director of rules and governance, said in an email Monday that it would be a “disservice to our process and to all our players to discuss specific deliberations.”

“The USGA and our ITS Committee understands that there are differing opinions on who should be selected for the Walker Cup team,” Bodenhamer said. “This is not unlike the other selection processes in golf and in other sports. Making these selections is never an easy task, as there are also so many fine players and outstanding young men to consider. That was certainly the case this time.”

Though “shocked” by the committee’s decision, Burns struck the proper tone afterward. He thanked the USGA for its consideration – he will serve as the first alternate at Los Angeles Country Club – but also added: “Never been more motivated.”

Burns’ situation immediately recalled fellow LSU Tiger John Peterson’s snub six years ago. Peterson had won the Jones Cup and NCAA Championship and was ranked No. 6 in the world in the summer of 2011, but he was passed over in favor of Blayne Barber. The USGA never explained that decision, either, but there apparently were some questions about whether Peterson’s brash personality would jell with the rest of the team. (Never mind that these players have competed against each other for years and, as grown men, should be able to get along during a two-day competition.)

Not surprisingly, Peterson weighed in Sunday, tweeting: “Unbelievable @USGA. You leave a kid that has a top 6 in a pga tour event off the walker cup. Not to mention he’s the best player in college.”

Even more salient was this: “How r u going 2 keep the next generation of great college players from turning pro if u constantly prove it’s 100% politics @WalkerCup #2011.”

Also left off this year’s team were mid-amateur Scott Harvey, Dawson Armstrong, Sean Crocker and Dylan Meyer, who has struggled to find his form this summer but, at No. 4 in the world, was the highest-ranked player passed over.

A member of the losing 2015 Walker Cup team, Harvey said the USGA has “let down an entire demographic” by selecting only one mid-am to the team. Four years ago, in another shortsighted decision, the USGA decided that two of the 10 team members must be 25 years or older. It was billed as a grow-the-game initiative and a way to promote the spirit of the friendly competition with Great Britain and Ireland – except Team GB&I didn’t follow suit, and the Americans essentially sabotaged their own roster by failing to pick the 10 best players, regardless of age. The U.S. split the past two Walker Cups, but the mid-ams went 3-8 over those two events and the Americans were routed by a record margin two years ago at Royal Lytham.

The USGA wisely backtracked on the two mid-am rule – albeit 19 months into a 24-month process – and selected only one deserving candidate this year: Stewart Hagestad, the 26-year-old financial analyst who won the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur and made the cut at this year’s Masters. The race for the 10 spots was too tight for another automatic handout, but Harvey still expressed his disappointment in being passed over (“The message @USGA has sent to Mid Ams this year isn’t very positive”) in a series of ill-advised tweets, since at age 39, he’ll be under consideration for the next several cup teams.

No tweaks to the Walker Cup selection process will eliminate all of the handwringing and complaining, of course, but the solution to the USGA’s transparency problem is not complicated.

When making roster decisions, Bodenhamer said that the committee prefers a “holistic approach” that takes into account performance (including in USGA events), world ranking, character, sportsmanship, team chemistry, and how a player will represent his country and the USGA in competition.

Bodenhamer said that the committee does not operate from an points list – but perhaps it should, since the current model is too subjective.

Create an algorithm that spits out point values for finishes in amateur and PGA Tour events, with heavier weighting in Walker Cup years.

Make that points list public, so players know where they stand and fans can follow along, thus creating interest all year.

Put the top 7 points-earners on the team.

Leave three picks to the committee – a committee that must now include the sitting captain, since for the past two cups, Miller has attended 15 events a year, and talked with the players and their parents, but does not have a deciding vote.

And then, once the team is finalized, stand up and be accountable.

Answer questions.

Explain why Player A was picked over Player B.

Because with so much at stake, they deserve more than a 30-second phone call.

Getty Images

Twitter spat turns into fundraising opportunity

By Rex HoggardMay 25, 2018, 6:30 pm

Country music star Jake Owen, along with Brandt Snedeker, has turned a spat on Twitter into a fundraising campaign that will support Snedeker’s foundation.

On Thursday, Owen was criticized during the opening round of the Web.com Tour’s Nashville Golf Open, which benefits the Snedeker Foundation, for his poor play after opening with an 86.

In response, Snedeker and country singer Chris Young pledged $5,000 for every birdie that Owen makes on Friday in a campaign called NGO Birdies for Kids

Although Owen, who is playing the event on a sponsor exemption, doesn’t tee off for Round 2 in Nashville until 2 p.m. (CT), the campaign has already generated interest, with NBC Sports/Golf Channel analyst Peter Jacobsen along with Web.com Tour player Zac Blair both pledging $100 for every birdie Owen makes.

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Noren so impressed by Rory: 'I'm about to quit golf'

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 5:33 pm

Alex Noren won the BMW PGA Championship last year, one of his nine career European Tour victories.

He opened his title defense at Wentworth Club in 68-69 and is tied for fourth through two rounds. Unfortunately, he's five back of leader Rory McIlroy. And after playing the first two days alongside McIlroy, Noren, currently ranked 19th in the world, doesn't seem to like his chances of back-to-back wins.

McIlroy opened in 67 and then shot a bogey-free 65 in second round, which included pars on the pair of par-5 finishing holes. Noren walked away left in awe.

"That's the best round I've ever seen," Noren said. "I'm about to quit golf, I think."

Check out the full interview below:

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Bubba gets to drive dream car: K.I.T.T. from 'Knight Rider'

By Grill Room TeamMay 25, 2018, 4:42 pm

Bubba Watson is a known car aficionado.

He purchased the original General Lee from the 1980’s TV show “Dukes of Hazzard” – later saying he was going to paint over the Confederate flag on the vehicle’s roof.

He also auctioned off his 1939 Cadillac LaSalle C-Hawk custom roadster and raised $410,000 for Birdies for the Brave.

He showed off images of his off-road Jeep two years ago.

And he even bought a car dealership near his hometown of Milton, Fla.

While recently appearing on the TV show “Jay Leno’s Garage,” the former “Tonight Show” host surprised Watson with another one of his dream cars: K.I.T.T.

The 1982 Pontiac Trans Am was made famous in the ‘80s action show “Knight Rider.”

Though, Bubba didn’t get to keep this one, he did get to drive it.

Bubba Watson gets behind the wheel of his dream car—the KITT from Knight Rider from CNBC.

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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 GolfChannel.com, 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.