Played golf the other day with a good friend who brought along a gentleman I had never met. After the usual exchange of pleasant inanities my friend mentioned I wrote about golf and the new guy said without any prompting, “Well, I can’t see all this new equipment. Why they just don’t go back to persimmon drivers and a wound ball like the old Titleist Professional.” Continue reading
Previously I reported Michael Breed’s proposal players missing the cut in PGA Tour events should be paid. His thinking is these 80 or so players still have expenses, their presence has contributed entertainment value and therefore deserve compensation. Continue reading
If I understand his premise correctly Breed feels these players have expenses and by their presence they contribute to the entertainment value of the tournament. Continue reading
USGA has again taken a position that gives the impression they like embarrassing themselves and enforcing the feeling of many the organization is irrelevant to golf in the real world.
The latest is the announcement by the USGA (and R&A) citing they “are proposing regulations regarding the use of green-reading materials, reaffirming the need for a player to read greens based on their own judgment, skill and ability. Continue reading
It was interesting the revamped PGA Tour schedule for the 2018-2019 season received so little play by the press and social media due no doubt to the buzz concerning the prospect of a head to head match between Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. After all they are the “needle movers” for sports fans and certainly for diehard golf fans but at this writing no deal has been firmed up.
During the week we also were treated to coverage and comment, in and out of the legitimate press, of Lefty’s two-shot penalty at the Greenbrier plus the USGA ruling Bryson DeChambeau’s drawing compass was out of bounds.
However, should you define golf news by the impact on fans the PGA Tour announcement of a shortened 2018-2019 tournament schedule was the most important. As PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan put it in the press release, “It’s been our stated objective for several years to create better sequencing of our tournaments that golf fans around the world can engage in from start to finish. And by concluding at the end of August, the FedExCup Playoffs no longer have the challenge of sharing the stage with college and professional football. This will enhance the visibility of the FedExCup Playoffs and overall fan engagement with the PGA TOUR and the game as a whole.”
How fewer tournaments help “the game as a whole” is not clear but the I’m sure quibbling is beneath us.
The first eight tournaments of the split schedule take place prior to the hiatus from Thanksgiving to New Years as they did this season, but the significant fact is these events are now a bigger part of the year. With the new schedule having three fewer tournaments you can expect more of the big names more of time rather than just the WGC-HSBC in Shanghai and one of the other two in the Asian swing. This could be good news particularly for two well thought of event, one in Las Vegas (Shriners Hospitals for Children) and the other in Georgia (RSM Classic).
Accomplishing the goal of having the Tour Championship before Labor Day when football takes over meant one of the year-end FedExCup playoff events would have to go. Sacrificed for the good of the game (or at least to beat out the NFL) was the Dell Technologies Championship at the TPC Boston which has fans in New England more than a little unhappy.
Previously we knew about The Players Championship (Ponte Vedra Beach) moving from May to March and in 2019 the date is preceded by the Arnold Palmer Invitational (Bay Hill) followed by the Valspar Championship in Tampa. Combined with the Honda Classic the week before Arnie’s tournament there’s a reborn Florida swing.
The other major move was also by a major, the PGA Championship, which went from being the final major of the year in August to being put in The Player Championship’s old slot in May. The season’s majors then will be spread from the Masters April 11 – 14 to the PGA May 16 – 19 to the U.S. Open June 13 – 16 and finishing with the British Open July 18 – 21. That’s five weeks between the Masters and the PGA, four weeks from the PGA to the U.S. Open and four from the U.S. Open to the British Open.
Add in The Players, three WGC championships from January to July and “must-play” events such as the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial, the AT&T Byron Nelson and the…well you get the idea. Many if not most players rarely play more than three tournaments in a row, so the new Tour schedule could result in two situations. First, they may find it difficult to fit in some time off and secondly some very good tournaments may have a problem attracting players in the top 50. The Valspar tucked in between The Players and the WGC-Dell Technology Match Play is obviously on that list as is the RBC Canadian falling the week between the Memorial and the U.S. Open.
It’s ironic the Tour’s slogan was changed because if it was still “These guys are good” it might be more appropriate to say, “These guys are busy.”
The idea of doing something to hasten the sloth-like pace of professional and college golf, not to mention that four-ball ahead of you last Saturday, has been kicked around for some time. Golf’s pace of play has been criticized for as long as I have been playing but no one has really done anything practical at the elite level until the European Tour’s commissioner Keith Pelley decided enough was enough.
Thus, was born the Shot Clock Masters which until this year was known as the Austrian Open. Let’s not discuss how the name of Bobby Jones’s major was usurped again but look at the results of this experiment in rationality.
First the background. Commissioner Pelley (who also inaugurated the innovative GolfSixes event) made the decision to attack slow-play head-on by placing every player on the clock every shot. Unfortunately, because it took place the week before the U.S. Open and it was in Austria, this unique and revolutionary event gained only passing notice. After all there was all the hype leading up to Shinnecock and then Dustin Johnson’s impressive six stroke win in Memphis capped by a walk-off eagle on the 72nd hole.
Each group in the Shot Clock Masters for each round was accompanied by a golf cart on which a large digital shot clock was mounted. Players had 50 seconds to hit if they were first to play an approach shot and for par-3s or putts. That was shortened to 40 seconds for par-4 and par-5 tee shots plus when they were second (or third) to play on putts and approaches. If the player went over the allotted time there was no grace period, appeal or looking the other way. What he got was a one stroke added to his score.
The digital display was easy to see and the operator (the Euro Tour called them “referees”) said “time” when the clock started so everyone knew what was happening.
The question of course is what were the results?
Average time for the four rounds of the Austrian Open in 2017 was 4 hours and 40 minutes and for the Shot Clock Masters it was 25 minutes less. The average time for the final round on the European Tour is 3 hours and 57 minutes but at the Shot Clock Masters it was 3 hours and 26 minutes.
Do you see a trend?
Shot Clock players interviewed were enthusiastic (there were only four penalties meted out in four days), event officials were happy as were European Tour officials but so far, I have seen no comment from the PGA Tour nor the USGA.
Lost in all the noise though was something that turns the tables on those who say the pros play slowly because it’s their livelihood and they are playing for a lot of money. The average score for the entire Shot Clock Masters was more than one stroke less than the average for the past eight years of the Austrian Open on the same course.
It’s true the top players were missing from the Shot Clock Masters, either playing in Memphis or preparing for the U.S. Open but even so to cut off one-half hour from the previous average time AND have the field score lower is significant.
The PGA Tour has a pace problem with some of its players and the Tour seems to be stonewalling—a lot of discussion and few penalties. The USGA has conveniently avoided the issue resorting to inane PSAs such as the laughable “While We’re Young,” figuring out how to set up courses for the U.S. Open to embarrass contestants and rationalizing not disqualifying Phil Mickelson when lesser names would have been shown the path to the parking lot.
The problem with slow play, whether on the tours or at your club, is we don’t shine the spotlight on the offenders to embarrass them and then impose consequences.
Tackling the cause of slow play is recognizing it is not so much a problem inherent in the game but the lack of respect with players having a “me-only” attitude.
Observers are applauding the European Tour’s renaming the 2018 Austrian Open as the Shot Clock Masters. Putting aside a potential piracy issue around borrowing the Masters Tournament’s name, the whole idea of professionals being on a shot clock is intriguing. Unfortunately it doesn’t address the real world problem of slow play.
By way of background, on every tour and at every amateur tournament there are strong pace of play policy statements but, at least on the PGA Tour, penalties are almost unknown. The most recent was a one stroke penalty handed out to Brian Campbell and Miguel Angel Carballo during the 2017 Zurich Classic but the previous penalized infraction was in 1995.
The European Tour it seems is going to be more aggressive in changing the ways of snail’s-pace toursters and willing to try something new. At their GolfSixes team event in May (an innovative format of team six hole matches) a shot clock was tested and most players accepted it enthusiastically.
During the Shot Clock Masters an official will accompany each group and time players. Fifty seconds will be allowed for the player whose turn it is to hit first while others in the group will have 40 seconds. If a player takes longer he will get a red card, just like in soccer, and more significantly a one stroke penalty. In case of real trouble each player will get two “time outs” giving him double the time. It remains to be seen what will happen in an instance as when Jordan Spieth during the final round of the Open took 26 minutes for his second shot on the thirteenth hole from Royal Birkdale’s driving range.
The Shot Clock Master will be interesting if for no other reason than to see what will be the ruling if one of the big name stars goes over the allowable time deciding on whether it’s a two-iron or three-iron from the rough around a tree over water to a shallow green. But let’s face it, some tour guys are fast and some are slow. Players and officials know who they are.
You and I know the real problem is not with the professionals nor even elite amateurs, it’s that group of guys ahead of you Saturday morning.
There has been lots of research done and opinion voiced about pace of play ranging from less skilled players taking shot after shot without getting closer to the pin to the difficulty of course set up not to mention the distance between a green and the next tee. Some opinions are even based on a combination of ignorance and prejudice and usually have to do with ladies on the course. Or, my personal favorite perfecting illustrating the idiocy of some course managements, seven minute tee times. There are a couple courses in my area that do this and I won’t play there.
These and other supposed reasons all miss the real cause of slow play, a lack of respect for others.
If offending players respected those being tortured back in the fairway they would simply pick up and move ahead a hole or two. It’s not a privilege to watch the complete circling of every putt twice or going to the bag for multiple club changes. The attitude demonstrated has nothing to do with, “I paid my money and I’m going to play the whole course,” and everything to do with the deep seated knowledge they deserve to play at any pace because they are more important than the guys leaning on their drivers back on the tee.
Unfortunately there probably isn’t any way to get the message across to the worst offenders not even the “While We’re Young” PSAs by Clint Eastwood and Arnold Palmer. Too bad because though the course is not the only situation where the “me-only” attitude can be seen, as far as golf is concerned it is surely killing the game slowly.
It could be called the PGA Tour’s version of the member-guest. The Zurich Classic of New Orleans came up with the idea of changing the format of their tournament to attract more of the top players and boost fan interest. And it seems to have worked though of course we will know better come Sunday.
The top 80 eligible players committing to play picked a partner for foursomes play on Thursday and Saturday and four-ball on Friday and Sunday.
At courses especially here in the United States, foursomes is probably better known as alternate shot and four-ball as the more common name best-ball. In most everyone’s opinion an exciting and refreshing change from the usual 72-hole medal-play events week after week.
Though world number one Dustin Johnson is still recovering from a fall just before the Masters’ some really interesting partnerships were put together and talk about “Dream Teams.” How about Jason Day/Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson/J.B. Holmes, Jimmy Walker/Sean O’Hair, Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson, Jason Duffner/Patton Kizzire or Jordan Spieth/Ryan Palmer?
Should be a lot of fun to watch.
Each partner chosen must have PGA Tour status or receive a sponsor’s exemption and after play on Friday there will be a cut to the low 35 teams and ties. The playoff, should one be needed after 72 holes, will be sudden-death in a four-ball format.
The Zurich Classic is the first team event on Tour since the 1981 Walt Disney World National Team Championship won by Vance Heafner and Mike Holland played over three of the courses at Walt Disney World.
The Zurich Classic of New Orleans will award FedExCup points and official money plus the winning team will each receive credit as an official victory, a two year Tour exemption and be eligible for the elite Invitational fields, including the Tournament of Champions and THE PLAYERS Championship.
FedExCup points and prize money will be proportioned to teams making the cut based on combining every two positions with each team member receiving half. The winning team will split first and second place FedExCup points (500 for first and 300 for second for 800 total points, or 400 for each player). Official prize money will be distributed the same way.
The playoffs were exciting, at times even compelling and I want Spieth’s putting stroke for Christmas. However now the season is a wrap I’d like to make a plea to all those broadcast commentators, golf analysts, foot soldiers and tower-sitters to cooperate.
Cease, stop and quit using the clichés and hackneyed words and phrases that cause listeners to hit the mute button. Heck, if Augusta National can ban any mention of prize money, turn golf fans into patrons and forbid references to bikini-waxed greens we should be able to get golf’s talking heads to find another way of describing what’s transpiring on the screen.
At the top of the list is. “He’s got plenty of green to work with.” Couldn’t it once be described as having enough room to land the ball on the green and let it roll to the pin?
But then there’s the phrase particular to the playoffs, “He controls his own destiny.” Well, depending on your philosophy of life this may or may not be true, but the use in a golf context is way overdone. Kudos though to the golf Channel’s Steve Sands who had the unenviable task of explaining the unexplainable FedEx cup points system during the playoffs. He spoke “controls his own destiny” only a few times though certainly ample opportunity was there to have been unlistenable, a contrast with the unprofessional repetition by Dan Hicks.
“That shot’s right in his wheelhouse.” Ok, I get it but how about, “This shot fits his natural swing” for a while.
Thankfully, “He’s got no chance” is no longer heard and truth be told the late Bob Rosburg the 1959 PGA Champion and ABC commentator for more than 30 years did say it on occasion…but only when it was true.
Johnny Miller’s “green light special” needs no comment—just stop it and the same with “chunk-and-run.”
A “ball-strikers” golf course. That has always mystified me since golf is a game of striking the ball so does it mean the course in question is particularly suitable to those players who hit the ball accurately? I thought all courses were. Maybe someone could ask Peter Kostis since he seems to be in love with the words.
Let’s say Player A is 5 under par and Player B is 2 under par with a birdie putt. Often heard is “He needs this putt to get within 2.” Now to me that doesn’t make sense since to be within 2, would be only one stroke back not 2 so what do they mean? I don’t know and aren’t sure they do either.
Finally, can someone please tell touring pros the use of the royal “we” is ridiculously pretentious. The only possible comment is, “We are not amused.”
Competition for tee times—no, not the frantic calling for an early Saturday slot, once an every week chore. That frustrating ritual is long gone due in part to the number of golfers shrinking something like 16 percent in the last 10 years and roughly 60 million fewer rounds annually.
The competition I’m talking about is the one between companies whose business is selling tee times, so-called third party sellers, usually over the Internet because let’s face it nobody “calls” for a tee time now days.
With 80 percent of golfers playing at public-access courses, selling tee times is big business and GolfNow has been the undisputed leader with reportedly 2 million golfers using them to book rounds at over 6,000 courses. Competition to GolfNow has been from several similar but smaller services online or call centers, often metro or regional, and individual course web sites.
Recently however there’s a new face on the block, a partnership between the PGA Tour and EZLinks called TeeOff.com. EZLinks, a long time supplier of computer services, has an existing tee time service selling times at 1,400 facilities spread across 22 countries used by 1 million players and just purchased GolfSwitch which also has a tee time service.
GolfNow has had a huge head start and made some key acquisitions but being owned by the Golf Channel obviously gives them the built-in advantage when it comes to visibility plus a ready-made conduit for advertising. And to keep your scorecard straight, the Golf Channel is owned by NBC Universal which is a division of Comcast Communications (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NASDAQ:CMCSK).
Two questions need to be asked however. Why is the Tour getting into an already competitive business head to head with one of its broadcast partners and is this whole idea of third party tee times good for golfers and golf courses?
The primary source of revenue for third party vendors is something few outside the industry know about, bartered tee times. In addition to allowing a vendor access to sell tee times at an agreed upon price and splitting the revenue, the course provides the vendor so-called “bartered tee times” for which they do not charge. The third party seller then sells the bartered times and keeps the revenue thus creating a profitable revenue stream which is the heart of their business model.
This may be what the Tour is hoping to develop or there may be a multi-media strategy behind the TeeTimes.com move but one thing is true. The history of a business competing with its customers seldom produces good results for either and while these may be special circumstances it will be interesting to watch.
Third party vendors give golfers the benefit of making a tee time, sometimes at a discount, using a cell phone but GolfNow nor TeeTimes.com are needed if the course has a tee time app or booking page on their web site. So is there any reason for courses to use any third party vendor?
J.J. Keegan, Managing Principle of Golf Convergence an acknowledged leader in golf operations consulting, responded, “The simple answer is that an efficiently managed golf customer that proper builds and segments their database does not need the service of a third party distribution company for its core marketing efforts. At the right price point and ensuring that the third party agrees with the NGCOA [National Golf Course Owners Association] practice standards to include rate integrity, participation does make sense for the sole purpose of stealing your competitor’s customers.”
If courses continue to barter tee times the agreement with third party vendors may be costing them revenue and profits beyond any potential benefit.
Using GolfNow as an example Keegan pointed out, “Third party distribution companies, like Golf Channel, have no customers. They are merely channeling golfers from the worst operators to the best while making $120 million by doing so for themselves. A byproduct of their service is that they are effectively lowering the average daily rate the poor operators generate. Hence, they have the unbridled support of the leading managing companies because they understand the third party game and are leveraging it to their advantage. That, in combination with the financial incentives that some management companies are receiving from the third party distribution companies, is why this predatory practice on the unsophisticated will continue.”
Courses are in middle of the competition between GolfNow, Teetimes.com and other third party vendors. They must choose whether to use one at all and if so which one or sign up with more than one. And because of third party discounting of bartered times, all the while they are faced with loss of control of their only product. It all seems like the punch line to that old joke.
How do you make a million running a golf course?…Start with ten million.
Somewhat surprisingly and especially relevant is, according to Keegan, as high as 70% of barter times are sold during a golf course’s peak period and obviously these are times the course would generate sales at their best rate. Call centers are booking less than 15% of the rounds but offering their times in direct competition to sales efforts by the course.
Again going back to Keegan’s comments, “What started as a proposition to help you sell ‘off-peak’ inventory has morphed into a practice that is selling your peak times at a significant discount, on tee times that historically golf courses have sold them. It is my suspicion that these firms are liquidating up to 10% of your tee times via barter. Call centers, who promise to build you customer database, are probably booking less rounds than you think, yet offering their barter specials in direct competition to your own tee times.”
“Is that wrong? Capitalism creates and capitalism destroys. It is just part of life.”
We will keep following this story, survival of the fittest, which so greatly impacts the financial health of the courses we play.
“Golf nuts,” such as myself, watch lots of televised golf often to the consternation of our spouses. We thrill at the skill (and sometimes the luck) of the “best players in the world.”
Booming drivers. Spinning wedge shots. Curling putts. Each draws us to see Phil or Tiger or our favorite.
It’s the last of those three exhibitions of golfing prowess however that’s pushing me towards forsaking golf on television.
Not that I actually have, after all I’m still a golf nut, but the coverage of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Match Play has put putting on my mind. It seems putting is all they show particularly when recapping earlier matches. If a putt was shown on the tube you can go to the bank it is going in.
To be fair a couple of factors tend to dictate the seemingly unbalanced coverage of putting. First, over the first three days with 32 matches daily and several “feature matches” putting was easy to use as both a way to check in on the match status and give TV time to a greater number of players.
Second, to show a putt takes maybe 30 to 40 seconds but a full shot requires camera time for the setup, address, swing and hang time, not to mention roll out, spin on the green or the examination of a non-fairway lie. Since hang time on say a drive is six to seven seconds all by itself the total time for full shots certainly makes it more coverage-efficient to show putts.
Since around 40 percent of the shots by pros are putts one could expect a fair number to be shown plus of course, it’s the outcome of a putt that determines win, lose or draw in match play or the final total in medal play.
We all understand that. Still, giving putting more air time has another unwelcome facet. How many fist pumps, grimaces, stares skyward and mouthed but unvoiced expletives can one endure?
To back up my rant I counted the number of putts and the number of full shots televised during four different segments of the Match Play…and then gave up. In one segment the putts exceeded full shots by four and the in others putts and full shots were virtually neck and neck.
For me then, it was the perception of “all they show is putting” that got me fired up. It’s certainly not the reality.
So I guess it’s like Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella often said, “Nevermind.”
Now if they could just do something about the irrelevant prattle by certain commentators…but that’s grist for another column.
To a greater or lesser degree, we all kid ourselves. We often can’t see the reality of a situation. Instead we believe a mixture of what is and what we would like it be as the truth. We see it all the while in golf—on and off the course. Who of us hasn’t tried an impossible shot from an impossible lie in an impossible position?
Take a situation burned into my memory, the qualifying tournament for a spot in the field at the US Senior Open…after a pulled tee shot into the scrub under a stand of Spanish moss-draped oaks the ball came to nestled amongst fallen oak leaves leaving almost no shot. Being unable to see that simple piece of reality when the smart shot was a punch back to the fairway, I casually took a 2-iron out and attempted a low 200-yard hook around and under the closest oak. The ball was hit solidly and just as solidly hit the oak trunk before zinging its way out of bounds.
Ok I thought what rotten luck, as I took a drop as proscribed by the Rules of Golf, retained the 2-iron and again hit the ball a mile over the boundary fence thanks to contact with the same tree trunk not a foot from the previous impact.
Needless to say my attempt at qualifying went over the fence with the second ball…Tin Cup has nothing on me.
So how does this apply to the most recent situation Tiger Woods has to deal with…deactivating glutes?
As soon as he cited that as the reason for withdrawing from the Farmers Insurance Open last week it had all the characteristics of an excuse…not a reason, not reality. And unfortunately it exhibited that same personality trait he has so often shown us in the past. He was kidding himself about what had really gone on.
Or put another way if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, chances are it’s a duck.
There’s no doubt in my mind his back “tightened up” after the weather delay and being a fellow sufferer I sympathize but what tipped me over into the excuse-not-reason camp was the already sorry state of Woods’ game plus the fact as far as I know not a single other player opted out of the tournament after going through similar delays.
Woods doesn’t need another swing coach he needs to find within himself the solution to his sometimes seemingly apathetic and certainly often pathetic play not looking outside blaming others nor circumstances nor his gluteus maximus.
The game needs Tiger Woods. Let’s hope he can get his game back and return to the Tour but not as he seems have been doing all his life—with an ignorance of reality accompanied with an arrogance that now days is certainly unfounded.
Images courtesy Nike Golf