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Day latest player to throw caddie for a loop

By Will GraySeptember 13, 2017, 9:28 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Two years ago, Jason Day showed up to the BMW Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club at the height of his powers.

The Aussie was fresh off his breakthrough major victory at the PGA Championship, and he had already bagged a playoff event. By the time the week was over, Day had waxed another elite field and left Chicago with the world No. 1 ranking for the first time in his career.

Times, they are a changin’.

With the top ranking long gone, Day turned heads and raised eyebrows Wednesday when he announced that he had parted with caddie Col Swatton, becoming just the latest top-tier pro to look for a spark with a fresh – and familiar – face on the bag.

As far as player-caddie relationships go, the bond between Day and Swatton seemed borderline inseparable. Swatton’s role was multi-dimensional; he was part caddie, part coach and part father figure after taking Day under his wing as a youth. One need only reflect on the embrace the two men shared on the final green at Whistling Straits to know how close they have grown.

Indeed, the Aussie confirmed that Swatton will continue to serve as his swing coach despite the split. But when it came to life inside the ropes, he felt the need for change.

“The chemistry between me and Col just slowly (changed) over time,” Day said Wednesday. “It’s more my fault really because he’s out there trying to do the best job he can and, unfortunately, sometimes it just doesn’t work out no matter how hard he works.”

Day explained that he made the decision to change course during the bye last week. In any other year it might go down as the biggest player-caddie news of the season, but 2017 has become a year marked by looper transition.

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Current FedExCup Playoff points standings

After all, it was only three months ago that Phil Mickelson took on his brother, Tim, as a caddie after he and Jim “Bones” Mackay mutually agreed to end their 25-year partnership, while last month Rory McIlroy swapped out longtime caddie J.P. Fitzgerald for friend Harry Diamond, who remains on the bag after initially being afforded a two-event trial run.

While McIlroy eschewed the notion that he had “sacked” Fitzgerald, Day was candid about the one-way nature of his decision. According to Day, Swatton was “a little bit shocked and disappointed” upon hearing the news, an understandable reaction given the depth of their partnership.

But the caddie has always been an easily-accessed avenue for change, and Day was certainly in need of a course correction. Only eight months ago, he started the year ranked No. 1 and spoke at the SBS Tournament of Champions of his desire to remain there for the foreseeable future.

“It’s great to see that you finished No. 1 at the end of the year. But I’d like to go a full year, not just go half a year, and get finish at No. 1,” Day said at Kapalua. “Obviously the goals are to win majors and win as much as I can, but win majors and try and stay No. 1 for the whole year.”

Both parts of that equation have eluded the 29-year-old. He has not won anywhere in the world since the 2016 Players Championship, and he returns to Conway Farms ranked No. 9 in the world – his lowest ranking since June 2015.

Day appeared to have a shot to turn his season around at last month’s PGA Championship, but a catastrophic blunder on the final hole of the third round abruptly ended his title hopes.

It was an instance where he tried to play the hero shot, opting against a chip-out and going instead for what he described as a “rope hook” off pine straw with a tree obstructing his follow-through. The shot bounded off a branch, bounced backwards and led to a quadruple bogey.

It was a questionable decision in the heat of the moment, one that seemed even more surprising given the stakes. While Day denied that it had any connection to his decision to split with Swatton, the sequence will now go down in hindsight alongside the mis-club that cost McIlroy during the third round of The Open in his final event with Fitzgerald.

“People are going to blow it out more than it really is,” Day said. “He’s still my coach and there’s nothing between the PGA or anything that comes to mind that anyone thinks.”

While the root cause remains nebulous, the decision left no doubt that Day is ready to turn the page in search of a return to form. He has tapped his former roommate, Luke Reardon, for this week and next should he advance to the Tour Championship. But his long-range caddie plans remain up in the air.

“I’m going to kind of just see how the rest of the year goes with whoever is on the bag, see if I can actually get something going,” Day said. “If that doesn’t work out, if I don’t like the way I work with these guys, then maybe a bag shift for next year.”

Stripped to its core, golf remains a uniquely individual sport. There are no teammates upon which to rely, no opponent whose performance can alter a given outcome. It is a battle waged with the hands and between the ears, largely without outside influence.

Those stakes make the role of the caddie all the more important, serving as the lone outside perspective and sounding board for a player’s decision-making and mental approach. Never has that importance been more evident than this year, as one top player after the next has pinpointed it as a possible agent of change.

Now Day has added his name to the list, another world No. 1 with hopes of finding a spark with a familiar face by his side. The decision wasn’t entirely a shock in the wake of similar moves from Mickelson and McIlroy, but it showed once again that no bond between player and caddie is indispensable – even those whose depths reach far beyond the golf course.

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Punch Shot: Hits and misses from FedExCup changes

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 18, 2018, 6:42 pm senior writer Randall Mell and staff writer Will Gray examine the recently announced changes to the FedExCup and Tour Championship, and weigh in on the pros and cons.

GRAY: We've got some more changes for 2019 to digest, both with the FedExCup and how the Tour Championship will be determined. No more points reset, no more scenarios ... but, instead, a staggered start at East Lake with the top seed beginning the tournament at 10 under. What's your biggest takeaway from all of these changes?

MELL: Love it and hate it. I love that there's definitive clarity to the FedExCup finish, that the winner doesn't need a slide rule or calculator to know he's over a putt to win. I love going to a traditional leaderboard to determine who wins the Cup. I hate that the Tour Championship was sacrificed at the altar of the FedExCup. It's no longer a tournament in the traditional sense.

GRAY: Fair points on both sides. This is certainly going to take some getting used to, and it goes against a lot of the underlying principles of individual and team sports. No other league determines its overall champion by offering a head start. But I do think that once play begins, it'll be a lot easier to keep track of everything – especially for the casual fan.

MELL: Yes, that's the great upside. Fans didn't really tune in to the Tour Championship to see who would win the FedExCup. Not really. They tuned in to see the best players in the world playing to win the tournament. Now, it's all about the FedExCup. The Tour fixed that. Still, there's a big problem. The Tour hasn't solved its "playoffs" problem. These still aren't playoffs. Choosing to sell the FedExCup as "The Playoffs" continues to complicate golf's postseason. It's why people who don't like today's news hate hearing a guy is going to start the Tour Championship with a 10-shot lead on some of the field. If fans can get their heads around the fact that the Tour Championship isn't really a tournament anymore, that it's the FedEx Cup "finale," they could embrace it. But they think of it as the Super Bowl finish to the PGA Tour playoffs. It ain't that.

GRAY: It's certainly contrived, but I have no problem with getting a little creative to cap a champion in a way that ensures some drama. My biggest issue in all of this might just be counting this as an official victory. How can a player add this to his resume, and potentially use it as a tally down the road in a Hall of Fame discussion, if his raw 72-hole score isn't the lowest even among the smallest field of the year?

MELL: I agree. I don't see it as a tournament anymore, but a "finale," a finish to the FedExCup series. If they have to credit it as a victory, they ought to give credit for one-and-a-half wins, because it's harder to win the FedExCup than it is to win a PGA Tour tournament. And it isn't like the winner of the finale won't know what he's putting for in the end. There will be more pressure to close out than anything outside a major.

GRAY: And perhaps that's a scenario that the Tour had originally envisioned, especially now that it will all play out before football crowds the sports calendar. But given the significant changes afoot, do you see this as a net positive? It will certainly make for a more streamlined product on the final day of the season.

MELL: Yes, and I was half-kidding about one-and-a-half wins, because closing out is easier if you're spotted a lead, harder if you're trying to catch a guy who was spotted a lead. There will be fans who are offended by the lead players will be given at the Tour Championship, but I like the clarity. I like it better than the confusion we've endured at the end of every FedExCup finish. It's not perfect, for sure, but I think it's a lot better.

GRAY: Well let's look at the bottom of the barrel. If you're the No. 30 seed at East Lake, I think it's easier to pull off an epic comeback under the new rules. Currently Patton Kizzire would need to win AND have Bryson DeChambeau finish almost last, among other things. That's a big element out of his control. But with a staggered start, he could control it all himself with one amazing week at the right time. Plus, keep in mind that only a handful of players will start more than four shots ahead of Nos. 26-30. So I think it's doable and could create some fun storylines. Agree?

MELL: Yes, as controversy and second-guessing always do. The only way to make it fair from start to finish is to use cumulative scoring all the way through, from the first FedExCup "playoff" event through the Tour Championship, but it would make for some boring finishes with runaway victories. There has to be some reset to make the Tour Championship meaningful, if not totally fair.

GRAY: A promising idea, but good luck keeping track of all those moving parts during the third round of the BMW. To me, it still feels like the best way to settle things and still retain a "playoff" element would be a 32-man match-play bracket, or perhaps 36 holes of stroke play before trimming to eight (or 16) for match play. It's the game's ultimate drama! But, alas, I fear that ship has now sailed.

MELL: Match play? Now you're talking playoffs! True playoffs! But that ship's beyond the horizon. Ain't coming back. We know how exciting the start of match play is, but how ponderous a dull finals matchup can be.

GRAY: I suppose the ghosts of Andrew Magee and Kevin Sutherland still linger. But with the top 30 players from the season, would there really be that many possible duds for the final? Oh, well. Let's look at this new $10 million bonus for the top 10 players at the end of the regular season. Incentive for some guys to sprint to the finish line and maybe add the season-ending Wyndham Championship, or simply an example of the rich getting richer?

MELL: The Tour must be counting on that "integrity fee" from legalized gambling being a real gold rush ... I've lost track of what incentive means on Tour. They're playing a game with which I'm not familiar. The rich ain't getting poorer.

GRAY: With the bonus pool doubling to $70 million (including the Wyndham bonus), there will be multiple players banking in excess of $10 million in a single season when it's all said and done. Good luck explaining that to players 20 years ago, let alone 50. But I digress. Let's leave with this ... if you could tweak only one aspect of the new setup, what would it be?

MELL: It's your idea, but it's more than a tweak. It's finding that ship beyond the horizon and bringing it back to port. It's a match-play finish at the Tour Championship. With that, it truly becomes FedEx Cup Playoffs. It's a pipe dream, for the reasons I mentioned above, but it's a true and right and fair path to a playoff champion.

GRAY: Happy to bring you aboard Team Match Play, even though it seems less likely to come to pass. Maybe one year we can stage an alternate match-play event in Atlanta among 32 writers where we all play for $70 instead of $70 million. Until then, get ready to do some extra math next year at East Lake.

MELL: OK, I'll start saving up!

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Only one trophy being handed out at next year's Tour Champ.

By Rex HoggardSeptember 18, 2018, 6:14 pm

ATLANTA – Lost in Tuesday’s announcement that the PGA Tour will dramatically overhaul how the FedExCup champion will be crowned was exactly what this means for the Tour Championship.

The top 30 on the playoff points list will continue to advance to the finale at East Lake with the field handicapped based on their position on that list, with the points leader beginning the week at 10 under par, No. 2 on the list at 8 under, No. 3 at 7 under and so on.

This will essentially make the Tour Championship a FedExCup shootout, a notion commissioner Jay Monahan seemed to confirm when asked if officials still planned to award two trophies on Sunday, the FedExCup and the trophy for winning the Tour Championship.

Current FedExCup standings

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“There will be one trophy handed out on Sunday, and that will be the FedExCup trophy,” Monahan said. “But Calamity Jane [a replica of the putter used by Bobby Jones that is awarded the winner at East Lake] is a rich part of this club. We're going to find the right way to perpetuate the Calamity Jane.”

There will also not be a specific purse for the finale – although a player will be compensated for his finish in the FedExCup, with an increase of the total bonus pool to $60 million – and it’s unclear exactly what the role of Coca-Cola and Southern Company, the event’s longtime sponsors, will be starting next year.

“I don't want to put words in their mouth, but when we had the conversation, they immediately supported this idea and this concept, and in fact, are committed to us for a long time to come,” Monahan said.

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Golf Films' "Famous 5" details how five Europeans reinvigorated the Ryder Cup

By Golf Channel Public RelationsSeptember 18, 2018, 6:05 pm

Premiering Monday, Sept. 24 at 9 p.m. ET on Golf Channel, Film Details How Ballesteros, Faldo, Langer, Lyle & Woosnam Helped Establish Competitive Spirit Synonymous with Modern-Day Ryder Cup

“Seve came in [the team room] and said ‘We must celebrate, we must celebrate! This is a victory for us, we can do this!’” – Nick Faldo on the ‘83 loss (14½-13½) 

VIDEO: Famous 5 Trailer

In anticipation of the biennial Ryder Cup next week outside of Paris, Golf Channel will showcase its latest Golf Films project, Famous 5, outlining how five European golfers – born within 11 months of one another – collectively helped revitalize the international competition and redefine the professional golf landscape. The film will premiere on Monday, Sept. 24 at 9 p.m. ET to kick off NBC Sports Group’s Ryder Cup week programming.

The five(Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam) each were adorned with their own unique personality and style of play, but together, in many ways were responsible for injecting much-needed relevance into the (at the time) overwhelmingly one-sided Ryder Cup. The film will examine how – after a 1977 rule began allowing players from throughout continental Europe – they would go on to collectively help erase a more than 50-year drought of losing to the United States.

Famous 5 provides a unique look at Ryder Cup history from a European perspective,” said Molly Solomon, Golf Channel executive producer. “The film highlights how these influential stars helped elevate the Ryder Cup to become one of sports’ preeminent spectacles.”

Famous 5 will detail how each found the game of golf, with footage of their childhood surroundings and insight from those whom experienced first-hand the beginning stages of what would amount to World Golf Hall of Fame careers, led by 16 major championships and a No. 1 ranking in the world (for all but Lyle). Included are a visit to Welwyn Garden City Golf Club in England where Faldo took up the game; a conversation with Ballesteros’ brother in Pedrena, Spain and with Langer’s brother in Anhauser, Germany; a trip to Lyle’s childhood bedroom in England overlooking the 18th green at Hawkstone Park golf course; and a journey to the cowshed in Wales where Woosnam honed his game.

Despite a common pride for their modest, yet unique origins in both life and golf, in many ways the fact that they weren’t all from the same place was overshadowed by their stature as the nucleus of a European professional golf insurgence indelibly bound together to reverse the Ryder Cup narrative. Ballesteros breaking through to win The Open in 1979 and the Masters in 1980 was a monumental step in the right direction. It also signaled to Faldo and Langer – both of whom were keeping pace with and at times beating Ballesteros on the European Tour – that they too could compete with the world’s best players.

In addition to the five, Tony Jacklin is remembered as another principal figure in both the film and in rectifying the European’s fate. After suffering yet another lopsided defeat in the 1981 Ryder Cup (despite Faldo, Langer and Lyle’s presence) when Jacklin and Ballesteros were unceremoniously left off the roster, former European Tour executive director Ken Schofield turned to Jacklin (just six months prior to the 1983 competition) to serve as captain. Jacklin only agreed after earning assurances from Schofield of first-class support, and in the process also convinced Ballesteros to re-join the team.

“Americans were flying on Concorde (airplane). We’re flying in the back of the bus on British Airways not knowing who is buying the drinks. We couldn’t take our caddies with us. We didn’t have a team room. We were wearing anything anybody would give us. There was no structure.” – Tony Jacklin on the European Ryder Cup experience prior to 1983

The result was a one-point loss to the United States – one that Ballesteros implored should be celebrated – and it offered the confidence that propelled Europe’s success in the coming years. When they won the 1985 Ryder Cup at The Belfry with (for the first time) each of the Famous 5 on the team, it was Europe’s first victory in the competition since 1957, the year that commenced the 11-month span in which all five were born. From 1977-2008 (with 1999 the lone exception), at least one member of the Famous 5 contributed to the European Ryder Cup team, either as a player, captain, or vice captain. Their influence led to the Europeans capturing three straight Ryder Cups in the 1980s, and inspired the subsequent European teams to win eight of the next 13 meetings to-date.

Famous 5 is being produced by Golf Films, led by 13-time Emmy Award-winning coordinating producer Israel DeHerrera, who has served as the lead producer for several award-winning projects, including the three-part Arnie (2014) and Jack (2017) films on Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Other critically acclaimed Golf Films productions include Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys (2018), executive produced by Rickie Fowler; the Emmy-nominated Payne (2014), on the late Payne Stewart; Go Down Swinging (2018), reliving the unforgettable conclusion to the 1999 Open; Summer of ’76 (2017), recounting the 1976 Open at Royal Birkdale; Arnie & Me (2015), a follow-up, fourth installment of Arnie; ’86 (2016), a chronicle of Nicklaus’ final major championship win at the 1986 Masters that aired to coincide with the 30th anniversary of his iconic win; and Ben Crenshaw: A Walk Through Augusta (2015), on the two-time Masters champion’s special relationship with the tournament.

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New Tour Championship presents new set of problems

By Rex HoggardSeptember 18, 2018, 5:51 pm

ATLANTA – Tuesday’s housekeeping tidied up two problems, but left the potential for more messes.

After 11 years of equal parts trial and error, the PGA Tour unveiled what is essentially the final piece of a complicated and far-reaching overhaul of the FedExCup on Tuesday at East Lake, a sweeping change that will dramatically alter how the season-long champion is crowned.

Gone will be the complicated projections and confusion that inevitably settled in each Sunday at the Tour Championship as countless scenarios unfolded. It’ll be replaced next season by a strokes-based scoring system that will be determined by a player’s position on the points list entering the finale.

“It's as simple as it can get,” said Andy Pazder, the Tour’s chief of operations.

Following the BMW Championship, the second of three playoff events, the points leader will begin the Tour Championship at 10 under par. The next four players on the points list will start at 8 under through 5 under, respectively, while Nos. 6-10 will start at 4 under par with the total regressing by one stroke every five players. Those ranked 26th through 30th start at even par.

From there, it’s winner take all.

Fans will no longer have to test their math skills to follow along, with the FedExCup champion decided between the ropes and not on an Excel spreadsheet.

“It's that simple,” said Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, doubling down on the day’s buzzword. “We have no doubt it will create a compelling, dramatic conclusion for the Tour’s ultimate prize.”

The new system will also end the days of the crowded trophy presentation. Last year, Xander Schauffele won the Tour Championship, and Justin Thomas claimed the FedExCup, which amounted to a $10 million consolation prize at the time.

Along with the Tour’s move to end the season before Labor Day weekend, so as to avoid annual conflicts with the NFL and college football, the circuit has now addressed every major sticking point when it comes to the playoffs. But as is normally the case, it may have created an entirely new set issues.

The Tour has traded confusing math for what could be potentially embarrassing math by creating what is essentially a handicap tournament. Instead of countless projections to digest, fans and media will spend their Tour Championship Sunday now crunching the numbers to determine who should have won the finale without pre-weighted scoring.

If use the new format to relitigate some past outcomes, the player with the lowest score for the week at East Lake would not have won the Tour Championship outright on three occasions.

Last year, for example, Thomas would have won with a 19 under total, thanks to his 10-under start, and Schauffele would have finished tied for fourth place.

In 2011, a dramatic playoff between Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan, with Haas winning the event and FedExCup, would have been erased by Luke Donald, who would have began the week at 6 under par and cruised to a three-stroke victory.

A year earlier, Jim Furyk’s cup-clinching performance would have been in doubt with a tie for first place at 11 under with Donald, who was runner-up at East Lake in 2010.

Other than from Donald, who has $20 million reasons to support the change, the new format is certain to lead to an avalanche of criticism. The golf public may be able to understand the new system but that doesn’t mean it likes the idea of the 30th guy on the points list spotting the points leader more than a stroke a side for the week.

Nor does it sit particularly well that a victory at the Tour Championship will count as an official Tour triumph and come with a three-year exemption. That's a year more than you get for winning, say, the BMW Championship, which doesn’t use handicaps.

There’s also the issue of what the Official World Golf Ranking will make of the professional game’s only “net” tournament.

“We're in conversations with the world ranking governing board on the best manner in which to allocate world ranking points to the Tour Championship, and that will happen,” Pazder explained. “We have not reached a conclusion.”

That sounds like code that the OWGR folks aren’t crazy about this idea. And they aren’t alone.

Pazder presented the concept to the player advisory council in May, and he entered that meeting with a healthy amount of concern on many fronts, most notably how the Tour Championship format change could impact a player’s finish on the lucrative season-ending point list.

At the 2016 Tour Championship, Jason Day withdrew after the first round with an injury. The Australian had started the week fourth on the points list and dropped just two spots to sixth, earning an $800,000 bonus. Had the new system been in place, Day would have plummeted to 30th place on the final points list, a difference of $625,000.

“One of the things that we thought might cause some scrutiny or maybe even derail this whole thing is that issue,” Pazder said. “To the PAC’s credit, they quickly realized that’s great. What’s wrong with having greater consequences all the way through the final round.”

In his opening comments on Tuesday, Monahan called the launch of the FedExCup in 2007 a “calculated risk,” and the new format change certainly qualifies as a bold next step. What remains to be seen is if this most recent housekeeping is a step in the right direction.