Going Through the Alphabet in 2007

By Sports NetworkDecember 28, 2007, 5:00 pm
We're looking back at 2007, and also looking forward to 2008, with an alphabetical rundown of the biggest stories in golf. Enjoy.
A is for ... Australians. There are seven Aussies inside the top 50 in the world rankings, second only to 15 Americans. They won five tournaments on the PGA and European Tours' 2007 schedules, and they have probably the most promising newcomer in golf: Nationwide Tour grad Nick Flanagan.
B is for ... Balls. The most important part of a golfer's equipment, according to Phil Mickelson's latest commercial, because 'we need them to do so many different things.' (Hey, not every letter is going to be a home run.)
C is for ... Commissioners. They're becoming more recognizable, outspoken and important on a yearly basis. Consider the PGA's Tim Finchem and the LPGA's Carolyn Bivens and their involvement in the soon-to-be implemented drug- testing policies for golfers.
D is for ... Dubai. Already a player in the golfing world, this emirate in the Middle East is where Tiger Woods has chosen to build his first golf course. It will also be the site of the world's richest golf tournament, the $10 million Dubai World Championship, on the European Tour's 2009 schedule. The European Tour's Order of Merit will be renamed The Race to Dubai, an overseas answer to the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup.
E is for ... Europeans. They finally won another major championship -- Padraig Harrington at the British Open -- and will be going for another win at the Ryder Cup in 2008.
F is for ... FedEx Cup. The PGA Tour's Policy Board voted to make several changes to the FedEx Cup beginning in 2008, including the addition of an off- week following the third playoff event, the BMW Championship. The winner will no longer have to wait until his 40s to collect the $10 million payout (a maximum of $1 million will be deferred).
G is for ... Golf Channel. 2007 marked the first season of the Golf Channel's 15-year commitment as the PGA Tour's home on cable television. Rocky at the beginning, the coverage grew steadier by the week.
H is for ... Hybrids. The clubs are affecting decisions golfers make on the course in every round, professionals and amateurs alike. More than half of the pros now carry at least one in their bag.
I is for ... Inside. It is becoming more and more important to be 'inside' certain designations in golf, especially when they pertain to money lists and rankings. Inside the top 144 on the FedEx Cup points list will get you a mathematical shot at winning $10 million, the biggest prize on the PGA Tour. Making the 32-player field at the ADT Championship will give you a chance to win the biggest paycheck on the LPGA Tour, $1 million. Inside a certain number on the money list means you don't have to grind your way through Q-school.
J is for ... Jack Nicklaus. Relevant as ever in the world of golf, Nicklaus led the United States to another win at the Presidents Cup while keeping a team full of American stars looser than John Daly at a wedding reception. Even Woody Austin. His name is still mentioned every time Tiger Woods wins another major, and then there's this: He should be the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain. That's a fact.
K is for ... Koreans. There are 32 players from South Korea inside the top 100 on the women's world rankings, including 15 in the top 50 and six in the top 20. Their relevance in the women's game can be traced to the impact of Se Ri Pak, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame this year as a 30-year- old. Pak joined the LPGA Tour full-time in 1998 and won two majors in her first season. When she claimed her 24th title at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic in July, there were around 50 more Korean players competing on the LPGA Tour than there were during her rookie season.
L is for ... LPGA Tour. Dominated for so many years by Annika Sorenstam, the tour now has a new No. 1 in Lorena Ochoa and a host of burgeoning stars like Suzann Pettersen, Morgan Pressel, Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis who are helping to drive prize purses up. Women's golf is alive and well, and you should be paying attention.
M is for ... Majors. Before Tiger Woods won the PGA Championship in August, each of the seven major winners on the PGA and LPGA Tours had been first- timers: Morgan Pressel, Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr and Lorena Ochoa on the LPGA Tour; and Zach Johnson, Angel Cabrera and Padraig Harrington on the PGA Tour. Among them, the wins for Kerr, Ochoa and Harrington stood out as long- overdue.
N is for ... Nationwide Tour. The graduating class of 2006 produced mixed results on the PGA Tour this season. Two players claimed their first PGA Tour wins: Boo Weekley and Brandt Snedeker, who both finished in the top 25 on the money list. Eighteen Nationwide Tour grads posted top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour in '07, but they combined for only 39 of them. Twenty-one came from Weekley, Snedeker, Ken Duke and Jeff Quinney.
O is for ... Ochoa, Lorena. The new force in women's golf, Ochoa grabbed the No. 1 ranking from Annika Sorenstam early in the season, then vindicated her position with an eight-win season that included her first major championship at the Women's British Open. On the way, the Mexican star became the first player in LPGA Tour history to pass the $3 million plateau in single-season earnings. Then she broke the $4 million barrier. She has won 14 times since April 2006.
P is for ... Performance-enhancing drugs. Every major golf tour in the world will implement a drug-testing policy in 2008 with the hopes of proving that their sport is clean. And it probably is -- for the most part. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't demand assurance that the players we watch on a weekly basis are competing fairly, which is why the drug-testing policies are a good thing for the sport. (Don't be surprised, however, if a positive test comes from someplace like one of the many developmental tours. Those are the players who would be looking for an edge.)
Q is for ... Q-school. The last two winners at PGA Tour Q-school -- George McNeill and J.B. Holmes -- both won the next season on tour. The 2004 champion, Brian Davis, joined McNeill in winning more than $1 million this season.
R is for ... Ryder Cup. The U.S. team has lost each of the last three Ryder Cups by a combined 21 points, including the last two by nine points apiece. The Europeans, while mostly absent from the winner's circle in major championships over the last eight years, play better as a team than the Americans (see the 'J' entry for our proposed solution). This year's Ryder Cup will be played on American soil at Valhalla in Louisville, Kentucky, where Tiger Woods won the 2000 PGA Championship.
S is for ... Sorenstam, Annika. When Sorenstam lost a three-way playoff for the last two spots in the second-round cut at the season-ending ADT Championship, her streak of 12 consecutive years with at least one win on the LPGA Tour came to an end. Next season will be one of the most critical of her career: Either she bounces back and challenges Lorena Ochoa for her old No. 1 ranking, or she recedes a little more into the shadows. Competitive as she is, that latter possibility may not be the worst thing for the recently engaged- again Sorenstam, who could be nearing a point in her career when she decides to concentrate on starting a family of her own. Although if there is one female athlete who could have kids and win golf tournaments at the same time, wouldn't that be Sorenstam?
T is for ... Time off. It became increasingly rarer to see stars like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson play tournaments near the end of the season, which is one of the reasons the PGA Tour created the FedEx Cup. A funny thing happened when they got their time off anyway. After many players -- especially Mickelson -- went public with their disdain for playing four weeks in a row during this year's playoffs, the PGA Tour's Policy Board inserted a week off into the schedule for next year. It's good to be one of the kings.
U is for ... Universality. The top of the men's world rankings, while dominated by Americans, also features players from South Africa, Australia, Ireland, England, Fiji, Korea, Spain, Argentina, Sweden, Canada, Japan, Denmark, Wales, etc. Asians and Americans feature prominently in the women's rankings, but the No. 1 player is from Mexico, and there are also top-50 players from Australia, Sweden, Norway, Scotland, Brazil and Paraguay.
V is for ... Vibe-Hastrup, Mads. A European Tour staple from Denmark with our favorite name in golf. (Sports Network golf office joke: 'Who's your favorite Vibe-Hastrup?' Maybe you have to be here to appreciate it.)
W is for ... Woods, Tiger. My friend was on Jupiter Island for Thanksgiving, staying at a house down the street from the property Woods purchased for $38 million last year. The compound doesn't have an address. It has something like 12 addresses. In one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the country, Woods is the top dog. Sound familiar?
X is for ... X factor. The biggest X factor in golf? Physical fitness. When Tiger Woods hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy at the PGA Championship in August, it was early evening in Tulsa and still more than 100 degrees. Woods was sweating along with the rest of them, but it was clear that his tip-top shape gave him an advantage during a sultry four days at Southern Hills. Lorena Ochoa climbs mountains in her free time, and is one of the fittest golfers of either gender.
Y is for ... Youth. As in: where are the good, young American players?
Z is for ... Shane Zywiec. The last golfer in our alphabetical player database here at the Sports Network, Zywiec played two rounds on the Nationwide Tour last year. We're guessing he's played caboose in every yearbook he's ever appeared in, so he should be used to this by now.
Getty Images

Norman to pose in ESPN's 'Body Issue'

By Grill Room TeamJune 19, 2018, 2:05 pm

Professional golfers have, from time to time, appeared in ESPN's "Body Issue," which features athletes strategically posed in the nude. The list includes: Belen Mozo, Carly Booth, Gary Player, Camilo Villegas, Sandra Gal, Christina Kim, Anna Grzebien, Suzann Pettersen and Sadena Parks.

And now, Greg Norman.

Modesty has never been an issue for Norman, who has an affinity for posing without a shirt (and sometimes without pants) on his Instagram account.

He joins a list of athletes, in this year's edition, ranging from professional wrestlers (Charlotte Flair) to Olympians (Adam Rippon) to WNBA stars (Sue Bird). Click here for a full list of the athletes to appear.


Getty Images

DJ listed as betting favorite for The Open

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 2:00 pm

With the U.S. Open officially in the books, oddsmakers quickly turned their attention to the season's third major.

Minutes after Brooks Koepka holed the winning putt to successfully defend his title at Shinnecock Hills, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook published its first set of odds for The Open. Jordan Spieth, who opened at 14/1, will defend his title as the tournament shifts to Carnoustie in Scotland for the first time since 2007, when Padraig Harrington defeated Sergio Garcia in a playoff.

Joining Spieth at 14/1 is 2014 Open champion Rory McIlroy, but they're both listed behind world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Johnson, who was a runner-up at the 2011 Open at Royal St. George's and just finished third at the U.S. Open, opened as a 12/1 betting favorite. Koepka, now a two-time major winner, is listed at 20/1 alongside U.S. Open runner-up Tommy Fleetwood.

Here's a look at the first edition of odds, with The Open just five weeks away:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

14/1: Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy

16/1: Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas

20/1: Brooks Koepka, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama

40/1: Phil Mickelson, Branden Grace, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Marc Leishman

50/1: Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Tyrrell Hatton

60/1: Matt Kuchar, Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Ian Poulter, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick

80/1: Tony Finau, Zach Johnson, Thomas Pieters, Daniel Berger, Xander Schauffele, Bubba Watson, Shane Lowry

100/1: Charl Schwartzel, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker

Getty Images

Golf Channel, Loch Lomond Partner on Claret Jug Tour Ahead of 147TH Open

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJune 18, 2018, 9:35 pm

Award-Winning Independent Scotcb Whisky Sponsoring Tour to Select U.S. Cities; Will Include Special Tastings and Opportunities for Fans to Engage with Golf’s Most Storied Trophy

Golf Channel and Loch Lomond Group are partnering on a promotional tour with the Claret Jug – golf’s most iconic trophy, first awarded in 1873 to the winner of The Open – to select U.S. cities in advance of the 147TH Open at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. Loch Lomond Whisky’s sponsorship of the tour further enhances the brand’s existing five-year partnership with the R&A as the official spirit of The Open, initially announced in February.

“We are proud to partner with Golf Channel to support this tour of golf’s most iconic trophy,” said Colin Matthews, CEO of Loch Lomond Group. “Whisky and golf are two of Scotland’s greatest gifts to the world, and following the news of our recent partnership with the R&A for The Open, being a part of the Claret Jug tour was a perfect fit for Loch Lomond Group to further showcase our commitment to the game.”

“The Loch Lomond Group could not be a more natural fit to sponsor the Claret Jug tour,” said Tom Knapp, senior vice president of golf sponsorship, NBC Sports Group. “Much like the storied history that accompanies the Claret Jug, Loch Lomond’s Scottish roots trace back centuries ago, and their aspirations to align with golf’s most celebrated traditions will resonate with a broad range of consumers in addition to golf fans and whisky enthusiasts.”

The tour kicks off today in Austin, Texas, and will culminate on Wednesday, July 11 at the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe one week prior to The Open. Those wishing to engage with the Claret Jug will have an opportunity at one of several tour stops being staged at Topgolf locations in select cities. The tour will feature a custom, authentic Scottish pub where consumers (of age) can sample Loch Lomond’s portfolio of whiskies in the spirit of golf’s original championship and the Claret Jug. The Claret Jug also will make special pop-up visits to select GolfNow course partners located within some of the designated tour markets.

(All Times Local)

Monday, June 18                    Austin, Texas              (Topgolf, 5:30-8:30 p.m.)

Tuesday, June 19                    Houston                      (Topgolf, 5-8 p.m.)

Wednesday, June 20               Jacksonville, Fla.        (Topgolf, 6-9 p.m.)

Monday, June 25                    Orlando, Fla.               (Topgolf, 6-9 p.m.)

Wednesday, July 4                 Washington D.C.        (Topgolf, 5:30-8:30 p.m. – Ashburn, Va.)

Monday, July 9                       Edison, N.J.                (Topgolf, Time TBA)

Wednesday, July 11               Lake Tahoe, Nev.       American Century Championship (On Course)

Fans interacting with the Claret Jug and Loch Lomond during the course of the tour are encouraged to share their experience using the hashtag, #ClaretJug on social media, and tag @TheOpen and @LochLomondMalts on Twitter and Instagram.

NBC Sports Group is the exclusive U.S. television home of the 147TH Open from Carnoustie, with nearly 50 live hours of tournament coverage, Thursday-Sunday, July 19-22. The Claret Jug is presented each July to the winner of The Open, with the winner also being given the title of “Champion Golfer of the Year” until the following year’s event is staged. The Claret Jug is one of the most storied trophies in all of sports; first presented to the 1873 winner of The Open, Tom Kidd. Each year, the winner’s name is engraved on to the trophy, forever etched into the history of golf’s original championship. It is customary for the Champion Golfer of the Year to drink a favorite alcoholic beverage from the Claret Jug in celebration of the victory.

Getty Images

USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.

After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

“When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

“They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”

By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

“I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

“They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”

But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

“To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

“I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”

But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

“It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.