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GolfWRX Morning 9: Quiet on the first tee? | Ryder Cup highlights | Tony Ro-no

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1. Sitting Mickelson
Live updates are outside the scope of this newsletter, but as highly perishable as the news may be, but looking ahead to the rest of the week, Rory McIlroy is playing exceedingly poor golf. Jordan Spieth is playing superbly, as is Paul Casey. The rest of the combatants are availing themselves as expected, Fleetwood/Molinari, perhaps a bit better, as Tommy’s two late birdies salvaged a point in the morning session for the Euros.
  • Interesting, though, as Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard notes, “The subtext to Friday’s opening four-ball session at the Ryder Cup isn’t who will play the morning matches, it’s who is not playing.”
  • “For Europe, captain Thomas Bjorn decided to sit Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia, the final three serving as anchors of the Continent’s team for over a decade.”
  • “For the United States, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson will watch the Day 1 morning session from the sidelines.”
  • “Sitting Mickelson – who has played the week’s first session every match since 1995 when he was a rookie – is particularly interesting considering he has an 8-8-2 record in four-ball play (compared to a 5-7-4 foursomes record) and is likely playing his final overseas Ryder Cup.”
2. Highlights
If you’re in the mood for highlights from the 3-1 U.S. victory in the morning four-ball session, check out this piece on GolfWRX.
3. All quiet on the first tee?
Potentially worthless information, but interesting, given the literal build up of the area around the first tee (which holds 7,000 fans), and the figurative ratcheting of excitement. Subjectively, the crowd seems more subdued than expected, but that will assuredly change.
  • Golf Channel’s Ryan Lavner…”Eager fans streamed through the gates at 6:30 a.m. local time and headed toward the massive stands behind the first tee. Built to seat more than 6,800 – easily the largest in tournament history – it’s an impressive structure that gave the Ryder Cup an even grander feel. But the late-arriving fans, either because of too many reserved corporate areas or heavy traffic in the area, didn’t even completely fill up the grandstand by the time the first fourball made its way to the tee.”
  • “In fact, the entire hour lead-in was surprisingly flat. The first loud cheer came at 7:37 a.m. – about a half hour before the first ball was in the air – as Ian Poulter ambled down the path to the left of the tee. He waved to the crowd, then apparently decided to join them – a few minutes later, he reappeared at the top of the grandstand, flinging hats and taking selfies as electronic dance music pumped through the speakers.”
4. More tales of first tee nerves
ESPN’s Tom Hamilton with a roundup of player remarks on the difficulty of the opening tee shot at the Ryder Cup.
  • Ian Poulter…“I’ve tried to explain to a number of people through the years what that tee shot means and what the feeling is in your body when you’re walking down. And as a player that’s played in multiple majors now, it’s different [from those]. Walking to the first tee at Augusta, walking to the first tee at St. Andrews, walking to the first tee in The Ryder Cup is that different. That’s very hard to explain.”
  • Justin Rose…”You never get comfortable with it. I don’t think you can ever really walk on to that first tee Friday and go, ‘yeah, this feels good,’ or ‘this feels normal’. “You feel alive. I think José Maria Olazábal gave us a little memento one year, and it says, ‘All men die but not all men live.’ I think what he meant by that is feeling that adrenaline, that emotion, I think that is what it’s all about.
5. A course fit for a king
Entertaining stuff from John Leicester at the AP looking at the history of Le Golf National.
  • “Although this won’t be uppermost on the players’ minds as they negotiate the artificial hills and lakes, the venue can quite literally claim to be fit for a king: It’s built, Chesneau said, on land that used to feed France’s royals before they lost their heads to the guillotine in the French revolution.”
  • “When queen Marie Antoinette, who was put to death in 1793, used to hanker for cake, the wheat for her flour may very well have been harvested from around here. The erstwhile fields now peppered with golf holes and lush greens served the nearby Chateau de Versailles , where King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, his wife, lived before the revolution of 1789 forced them to Paris…Left of the fairway on No. 14 is a squat stone tower that dates back to that time; one of what used to be 12 gateways to the cereal fields that supplied the royal household.”
6. Further commentary on the Tiger Effect
A few morsels from an AP Report…”The immediate beneficiary is the NBC Sports Group, which has this weekend’s Ryder Cup on Golf Channel and NBC. It also had last weekend’s Tour Championship and saw a ratings increase of 178 percent. Sunday’s final round had a 4.45 Nielsen rating. The round also had 18.4 million minutes streamed across NBC’s digital platforms according to the network.”
  • “Fox is hoping that the Tiger Effect will be at its best in June, when the U.S. Open returns to Pebble Beach. With the tournament being on the West Coast, that means most of the coverage will be in prime time in the Eastern and Central time zones.”
  • “The 2015 U.S. Open, which was the last time it was held out West, averaged 3.5 million viewers. By comparison, last year’s coverage on Fox and Fox Sports 1 averaged 2.85 million viewers, which was an improvement from 2017 (2.67 million) when Woods did not compete.”
7. U.S. Mid-Am
Meanwhile, at the Mid-Am…sorry, Boner.
  • AP Report...”Kevin O’Connell won an all-North Carolina final in the U.S. Mid-Amateur, beating Brett Boner 4 and 3 on Thursday at Charlotte Country Club for a likely Masters invitation.”
  • “O’Connell, a 30-year-old former golf equipment representative from Cary, also earned spots in the U.S. Open next year at Pebble Beach and the next two U.S. Amateurs.”
  • “You will be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan of the game than me and I certainly understand the importance of the USGA, and how great their championships are,” O’Connell said. “To be the champion right now is probably what I am most proud of and focused on. Just simply being a champion. All the stuff that comes along with it, I think that will hit me a little big later on.”
8. Ro-no
Tony Romo, as you know, advanced through Web.com pre-qualifying. Now, he’s having a tougher time in the real deal.
  • AP Report…”Tony Romo was 11 over par for 27 holes Thursday in the first stage of the Web.com Tour’s Qualifying Tournament.”
  • ‘The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback opened with an 8-over 79 at Firewheel at Garland Bridges, and had a 3-over 39 on the Masters Nine. He was 74th in the 76-player field, with the top 22 and ties advancing to the second stage.”
  • “I’ve felt pressure with playing (tournament golf) before, but I just didn’t play well today,” Romo said. “Off the tee I struggled and made everything very difficult. I made way too many high numbers. Like anything in golf, you have to go back and see what the reasons were and then subtly work on them.”
Best of luck with the subtle work!
9. A message from the GOAT
Staying with the quarterback theme, Tom Brady posted the below to Instagram.
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Winner of the 2019 Charles Schwab Challenge to receive a 1973 Dodge Challenger Restomod

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Under new sponsorship, the 2019 Charles Schwab Challenge which takes place at Colonial Country Club in Ft. Worth, will have a special prize on offer for its champion – a fully restored and customized 1973 Dodge Challenger.

The vehicle pays homage to the year which Schwab Corporation was founded and is equipped with tartan fabric seats and custom glacier blue paint. The car will serve as a complement to the Leonard Trophy and tartan jacket awarded each year at the tournament.

Charles Schwab worked in collaboration with Steve Strope of Pure Vision on the restoration process, and the car will be on display at Colonial throughout the tournament until it is presented to the winner on May 26.

The tournament runs from May 23-26. In 2018, Justin Rose won the event by three strokes.

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Honma EVP John Kawaja on marketing, tour strategy, working with Justin Rose, and putting a rumor to bed

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John Kawaja, executive vice president at Honma golf, spoke with our Johnny Wunder in the latest edition of the Gear Dive.

The industry veteran touched on a number of topics under the marketing and tour strategy umbrellas, including plenty about staffer Justin Rose. And while the entire podcast is well worth your time, we understand that some WRXers are more textually inclined.

So, as we often do, here are a few highlights from the ‘cast.

On working with Justin Rose

Kawaja: Mark [King] and I have worked with Justin for many, many years…he’s a consummate professional. He is by far and away the best brand ambassador one could have when it comes to playing great golf, being a great spokesman for your brand and really knowing equipment, which is helpful for a company [that is]…trying to get better every day…”

What was a bit surprising, to be honest, is how quickly we were able to switch out the No. 1 player in the world to Honma equipment…we’ve got 11 clubs in his bag, including a driver that has a Honma shaft…that’s probably the biggest surprise…People were saying, “he’ll probably never play their driver.” And I’m not sure there are many people on the planet that would have bet he was going to play a Honma driver with a Honma shaft.

With Justin, everything is always in the pursuit of getting better. We’ve got a 47-degree wedge and a 52-degree wedge. We a 56-degree wedge in his bag for most of the year, but the 60-degree wedge, we’re working on. He has a certain feel and a sensation…all these guys have fantastic feel, but I think Justin is the most extraordinary I’ve worked with…so, we’re working on the wedges We’re working on CGs and bounce and grind and grooves and groove spacing…but until we can make something that’s better than what he’s got in his bag, we don’t expect him to change what he’s playing.

He’s really happy with the irons. He’s delighted with his long iron…that is a prototype of a set that we’re introducing in June called the Tour World X iron…fairway woods, we actually haven’t even started…we’ve just been focused on other parts of his bag. We don’t want to force him to feel like he needs to have 13 clubs in his bag…and we’re never going to touch a putter. But we’ve just started to work on fairway woods. Next time I see him, we’ve got some product for him to hit.

On the company’s approach to professional tours and what’s next

Kawaja: We wanted to start with Justin and…establish ourselves with the No. 1 player in the world…he’ll be the face on tour of our brand for the foreseeable future. Anybody that Justin has played with this year, we’ve heard from, because they’ve noticed what Justin has seen. We’ve worked with tour players–some of the non-contracted guys, some of the guys that are curious…We’re not in any rush.

We’re never going to have the tour presence that a Callaway, or a Titleist, or a TaylorMade have…but we do intend to grow our presence…we do want to have a few more players…we’re going to look for players that have global reach, and we’re going to look for younger players. Younger players are always riskier, but we’re looking at kids that are making the transition from collegiate golf to professional golf…we think that we’ll grow our tour presence next year…but one or two.

On the importance of a tour presence

Kawaja: I think it’s extremely important. It always has been. You could always correlate No. 1 on tour with No. 1 in the marketplace in literally every single category. That, I think, says enough. Golfers are, we may all be different, but I think there’s one thing in the psychology of a guy that calls himself a golfer…there’s a gene we all share, and that’s the aspiration to hit one like a tour player.

They’re the best influencers. It doesn’t matter social media followings or whatever…if you’re watching golf and following golf, they have an influence on the bags, on the apparel, on the look of most golfers.

On dealing with rumors in general and the suggestion Honma’s TW 747 driver is too hot in particular

Kawaja: Well, [the rumor] is simply not true. …Our core message is about the beauty of our products and not performance, so it’s kind of ironic people are worried our drivers are illegal. We’ve been making the highest-quality golf equipment for 60 years. We know what we’re doing. We’re not a startup.

I think I understand where it comes from. We’ve been working with several PGA Tour players. Universally, they’re seeing faster ball speeds with Honma. Not incremental gains, but two, three, four miles per hour…One of the big four equipment companies…they’ve seen these results…and unfortunately, that rumor started. And I don’t know how it started, but it’s hard to believe. It’s not true. And frankly, it’s bush league.

On the competitiveness of the tour environment

Kawaja: It is a competitive environment. I remember when we were over at the other place, we talked every day about what our competitors were doing, and we tried to beat the crap out of them every day…We’re kind of new out there. I think the people that are out there every week, there’s a kinship among the tour reps who are working with players and working the range every week…we show up, we’ve got the No. 1 player, we start to work with guys, guys are curious…it’s competitive…

I’m a competitive guy by nature from a business perspective and from a previous life [Kawaja is a two-time curling world-champion for Canada]…and we welcome the opportunity to work with more tour players and show them what we’ve got.

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Morning 9: Tour in better position for Tigermania 2.0? | Economics of hiring club caddies | Wie injury update

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By Ben Alberstadt (ben.alberstadt@golfwrx.com)

April 24, 2019

Good Wednesday morning, golf fans.  
1. Tour better positioned for Tigermania 2.0?
The eminent Doug Ferguson at the AP talked to tournament organizers about the potential return of Tigermania…
  • “Still to be determined is whether that presents the problem of a generation ago when the PGA Tour schedule was largely divided between the tournaments Woods played and those he didn’t.”
  • “…Even if the new Minnesota event doesn’t get Woods, it already has an All-Star lineup.”
  • “The Travelers Championship never had much of a chance of getting him because the tournament Woods hosted in Washington was the following week. It created its own identity through building strong relationships with young stars and since has attracted some of the best – Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas – with Koepka, Day and Francesco Molinari expected this year.”
  • “The stock question for every tournament – “Is Tiger playing?” – does not seem as make-or-break as it once did.”
2. Wie to take time away
Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols…
“Wie has withdrawn from this week’s Hugel-Air Premia LA Open at Wilshire Country Club. She has been replaced in the field by former USC player Muni He.”
“Had an encouraging visit with my doctor,” Wie wrote in her social media statement, “however we both think it’s in my best interest to take some time away to allow my body to heal properly and get stronger. Health is my top priority right now and hopefully I can get back to being pain-free real soon.”
3. Woods’ Hero to wrap Saturday
AP report…”Woods announced Tuesday that his Hero World Challenge will return to the Bahamas in December and end on Saturday (Dec. 7) instead of Sunday to give him and some of the players a little extra time to get to Australia for the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.”
  • “The matches start Thursday, Dec. 12. Even leaving the Bahamas on Saturday, a charter would not arrive until Monday morning. This will be the latest the Presidents Cup has ever been played. The first time it was held in Melbourne — 1998, the only International victory — the event ended on Dec. 12.”
4. Most intriguing Zurich Classic teams
Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine offers his perspective on the most compelling duos joining forces for the team event.
  • “Jason Day and Adam Scott…The All-Aussie pairing has plenty of star power and name recognition. But this one will be interesting to watch considering Day’s health in recent months. He withdrew from Bay Hill with a back injury and then was seen getting worked on by a trainer just one hole into his Masters. However, Day did tie for fifth in Augusta, and if he can avoid any setbacks, his putting will pair nicely with Zurich debutant Scott in foursomes. This duo won the 2013 World Cup, so they know how to get the job done together.”
  • “Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia…Team Zurich was all smiles in the press tent on Tuesday. Asked when the first time they met was, Fleetwood asked for clarification: “When we first kissed?” Jokes aside, this pairing should produce as both players are stellar ballstrikers. Fleetwood hasn’t missed a cut since last summer’s French Open and he’s got two top 5s in the past two months. Garcia has four top 10s this year, though he’s also dealt with quite a bit of controversy. Maybe Fleetwood’s soothing personality will bring out the best in Garcia.”

 

5. An unusual partnership
Mike McAllister at PGATour.com…
  • “Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer. The young, intense Spanish star and the laid-back veteran from Texas”
  • “Why are they playing together this week at TPC Avondale?
  • “The simple answer is that they each needed a partner. For the first two years after the Zurich became the PGA TOUR’s only FedExCup team event, Palmer played with fellow Texan Jordan Spieth. Last year, in Rahm’s first start here, he played with close friend Wesley Bryan.”
  • “Spieth is sitting out this year, while Bryan is recovering from surgery on a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Had Bryan been healthy, he and Rahm would’ve been together this week. But since he isn’t …”
6. ‘The Voice of Golf’ is not going quietly: The life and complicated times of Peter Kessler
Masterful, singular work from Alan Shipnuck turning the one-man show that is Peter Kessler 2.0 into, well, a play…
He begins…
  • “PROLOGUE….The living room of a tidy light green house on Lake Winnah, in Orlando. Sitting on a couch is PETER KESSLER, 67. He is watching a golf tournament on a large TV. From his mannerisms and the look in his icy blue eyes it is clear that Kessler is frustrated by the coverage. He leaps off the couch and hurls the remote control against the wall.”
  • “KESSLER, yelling at the TV: These people don’t know anything about storytelling. They don’t know anything about developing characters, about moving them around on the stage. They think this is journalism. It’s not. It’s supposed to be theater!”
7. Average age of PGA Tour winners
Geoff Shackelford runs the numbers for 2019 on the heels of C.T. Pan’s RBC Heritage win…
  • “Careers are derailed or extreme pressures are inflicted simply to push players who might attract a more favorable advertising demographic. Yet the names are piling up of talented players given bad advice, while the average age for PGA Tour winners this year reminds us that golf-at least the winning variety for males-is often best produced in your thirties, not your twenties.”
  • “Following Pan’s win, the 2018-19 PGA Tour average age of winners is 33.08…If you take the schedule since Kapalua, when the field quality and course difficulty ratcheted up several notches, the average age of winners is 34.1.”
8. Undercover tour pro
This time, the unknown player for pay discusses the economics of hiring club caddies (are you listening, Matt Kuchar?)
  • “It’s an eight-second conversation to say, “$1,500 for the week, 5 percent of a made cut, 7 percent of a top 10, 10 percent for a win, you’ll get a check at the end of the week”-which, by the way, is the most common deal out here. And I’ve never heard of a caddie walking away because an offer was too low. The pro holds all the power to do the right thing. Or not.”
  • “I was floored when I heard about Matt Kuchar paying the local caddie five grand after he won $1.29 million in Mexico. I’ve been out to dinner with Matt and know him as a witty, stand-up guy. I’m not going to skewer him further, because the media already has (rightly, prompting Kuchar to up the pay to $50,000), but I will add how little sense it made from a tax perspective. Kooch could’ve given the caddie $129,000 and written it off as a business expense. Instead of changing the lives of that man’s family, a much bigger chunk will go to the government.”
9. Zurich Classic walk-up songs
Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo…
  • Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine, in introducing the full list of tunes, writes…”Teams will walk out to music of their choice before they tee off in Saturday’s third round at TPC Louisiana. For the most part, the genres are diverse – though fans will hear a few songs multiple times, most notably Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” which was picked by at least four teams.”
  • “Ah, and “Baby Shark” will get a few plays, well.”

 

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