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5 things we learned: Sentry Tournament of Champions

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Professional golf returned to television this weekend, in the guise of a 33-player event in Hawaii. The field was reduced from 34 when Kevin Na withdrew immediately prior to the tournament’s start. By week’s end, the contenders were reduced to two, and they gave us a conclusion to remember. In fact, if the 2019 is anything like the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, it will be memorable, exciting and worthwhile. We learned five important things this week at the rolling, tumbling, par-73 layout crafted by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and we feel obligated to share them with you.

1. You have to wonder the Team USA captains overlooked X.

Furyk and company selected Tony Finau over Xander Schauffele for the US Ryder Cup side last fall. Would one switch have made any difference? Doubtful. However, up to that point, Schauffele had more wins than the Utahn Finau (2 to 1), yet was passed over. Since then, Schauffele has won two important events, and Finau has zero. It’s safe to say that the top brass was seduced by the words of peers and the length of Finau. Europe does what it always does at home; it reduced the length of the golf course, forcing Team USA to fit drives, rather than bomb them. Schauffele, at 5 feet 10 inches in height, is as much a fitter as a bomber, and is money when in contention. That’s very valuable when it comes to international team play (unless your name is Tiger Woods, who neither fits drives nor plays particularly well in against Europe or the Rest of the World.) Oh, and if Woods (the 2019 US Presidents Cup captain) makes the same mistake as his Ryder Cup captain did, shame on him.

2. Schauffele low-key shot 11-under par to gut Gary

Ignore what Brandel Chamblee says on television; he speaks out of both sides of his mouth. On one hand, he says that Woodland didn’t play aggressively enough, and that’s why he lost. He then invokes Jack Nicklaus as a guy who knew how to win, with or without a lead. Well, Nicklaus was never aggressive, at least more than he needed to be. Neither of these approaches would have helped the rest of the field. Schauffele chipped in for one eagle, holed a wedge for another, and made putt after putt, set up by stellar iron play The winner navigated the final 17 holes, after an ugly, opening bogey, in 12 below par. Shazaam!

3. Woodland sure looks like a different competitor for 2o19, despite the outcome

In post-round interviews, Gary Woodland intimated that Sunday night would be difficult, but Monday would dawn with a clarity, an awareness of how well he played. The Kansan took a 3-shot lead into round 4 and shot 5-below par. He was steady all week (67-67-68-68) on the par-73 Plantation course at Kapalua, Woodland was the only golfer to play four rounds in the 60s to open 2019, and was the best player of the week. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t the best player on Sunday, and he was overtaken by lightning in a bottle.

4. Bryson DeChambeau’s intellect will ride shotgun with his competitive talent all year

When asked how the 2019 rules changes will impact tournament outcomes, the litany of tour professionals answer with opinion at best. Not DeChambeau. He ended 2018 explaining the difference of COR (coefficient of restitution) as related not to club faces, but to flagsticks. Tour sticks, made of fiberglass, would absorb more shock and let balls that hit them drop. USGA shafts, on the other end, are metal, and don’t offer quite the forgiveness. Conclusion: Tour sticks=flag in; USGA sticks=flag tended. DeChambeau then went out and proved his point, making a wave of putts with the stick in, from all sorts of distances. Truth be told, it adds a different element to the game. Instead of the power lip-out, we might have the catastrophic carom. Stay tuned for more of DeChambeau’s fact-based research on golf in general, and his impending 6th tour title.

5. Does Kapalua spotlight the vast gulf between them and us, better than any other course?

I don’t have friends with the good fortune of having played the Plantation course, but I remember playing Chambers Bay, the year of its US Open. I played well, but I felt soooo small. Kapalua is a thrill ride for the touring pro, as each competes for speed slots, offering the jackpot of turning 400+ yard holes into driveable ones. Remember Dustin Johnson’s near-ace at No. 12 last year? If not, have a look below. How many tee decks would the average-distance golfer have to advance, to take advantage of those same, course secrets? My guess is two or three. Golf will always be the one game that allows all participants to hit the shots that the best practitioners execute. What continues to change is the scope of the field on which those shots are hit. Here’s to long drives and laser approach shots, followed by flagstick-rattling putts in 2019!

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. DaveJ

    Jan 8, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    Why would you mention Finau in the Schauffele snub section? Finau played quite well in the Ryder Cup and was a great Captain’s Pick. Mickelson and Tiger were garbage and should be the only targets mentioned.

  2. Ty Webb

    Jan 8, 2019 at 10:17 am

    A+ for Monday morning quarterbacking on the RC captain’s pick. Could not be done any better.

  3. Kris

    Jan 7, 2019 at 10:20 am

    Ron, I am lucky enough to have played there once. It and Glen Abbey are the 2 pga courses I’ve played. I bet I could play a dozen times (and would happily if free lol) and not figure out all the landing areas they find and where to play from. I lost many balls on drives I thought looked great but was just the wrong line. Hit the middle of 18th bloody fw and lost a ball.

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Detroit Golf City

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Woodward Avenue is a major thoroughfare in downtown Detroit. From it, you can see two very unique golf courses, close in proximity but miles apart in every other way.

The first course, the Detroit Golf Club,  is a lush 36-hole Donald Ross design. Privately owned and operated, DGC is set to host the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic this week. This will be the PGA Tour’s first regular event in Michigan since the Buick Open ended in 2009 and the first regular tour event ever for the city of Detroit.

The second course, Palmer Park, is city owned and currently closed. The grass is overgrown, but you can see the bones of a once proud 18-hole municipal track, winding through the 296 acres of the larger public park space of the same name. Originally opened in 1927, the Palmer Park golf course has always been a piece of inner-city Detroit’s fabric. But now it sits empty.

Niall Hay, the Chairman of the First Tee of Greater Detroit, is working hard for these two courses to help each other, and at the same time, help thousands of underprivileged kids in Detroit learn the great game of golf and all the positive things it can bring to their lives.

The First Tee of Greater Detroit was one of the program’s very first chapters. It began in 1997 as a partnership with the LPGA, the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America, PGA Tour and the USGA with a simple goal to get more kids playing golf. It started as a way to bring affordable golf to communities that needed it. Detroit was an obvious choice, but eventually, like so many other things in Detroit, the economic recession caught up to it.

“During the economic meltdown, the chapter just went away for a variety of reasons. Mostly funding,” said Hay.

But in 2012, Hay, a former member of the Ohio State golf team, decided to look into exactly what went wrong with the First Tee program in Detroit. First, he met with past chairmen and former board members. They all gave the same story. The program just died a slow death as the funding dried up. Members of the board moved on to different things. But they all said it was a great organization and one of them suggested that Hay start it back up. “I was looking to potentially join a board, not found one,” Hay said with a chuckle. But it was him or no one. So he did it.

A small group in the city of Ann Arbor was already working with the First Tee on getting a chapter started for Washtenaw County, but funding was proving, yet again, to be an issue. So Hay and others had to wait for that to be resolved before they could obtain a letter of intent for a chapter in Detroit from The First Tee. But he was certain that his community needed the program in place.

“If we were going to do this,” Hay said,  “we need to do it in the city of Detroit, in the inner city and impacting underprivileged kids in the city and not in suburbs or other areas. We wanted to stay in downtown Detroit where there is the most need.”

The first steps were to form a foundation, gain 401(c)(3) non-profit tax status from the IRS and then form a diverse and talented board. This took some time. Then, they needed to find the money to fund it. This took more time. But Detroit is a strong community and several local businesses were willing to partner to get things back up and running. And in June of 2015, the First Tee of Greater Detroit began with its first green grass program.

Today, the program is as strong as ever, with over 500 students in the spring, summer and fall programs, which all act like a sort of camp for youth development and some golf. Additionally, the First Tee of Greater Detroit partners with local public schools to train its PE teachers to teach First Tee curriculum, the nine core values and related golf activities. Over 13,000 additional kids are reached in the National School Program.

For the first three years of The First Tee Detroit’s rebirth, the green grass program took place at Palmer Park.

“Back then, Palmer Park was a really rundown course. We focused our programming on the front nine, and some of the drier areas on the back,” Hay said. The course had issues with flooding and wasn’t in the best condition, but it was home. A place to play and practice regularly. But after a few years, the city put out a request for proposal, seeking additional management help for its public golf courses. “The First Tee was hoping to pull Palmer Park from the RFP and have the First Tee chapter raise money to make it a high quality 9 hole golf course,” Hay said. “It got pulled from the RFP, they signed with Signet, who put their money into the other three city courses and the Palmer Park course never reopened.”

“So now, the children of First Tee Greater Detroit are spread around a bit. They practice and play some at Rackham, one of the other public courses in Detroit. Some at Maple Lane. There are classes and clinics all around the city. “We do not have a home course or facility now but we have more traction with people. The more the First Tee gets bigger and bigger, the more we would love a home base.”

And with the PGA Tour’s new four-year deal with sponsor Quicken Loans and the Detroit Golf Club, golf interest in Detroit is getting a shot in the arm. More and more kids are signing up with the First Tee Program. And this is just the beginning. PGA Tour events across the tournament schedule are associated with their local First Tee Chapter. Most sites have youth experience areas where the First Tee Experience is promoted and encourages. The core values of the program are on display at tour events and children and their parents alike are exposed to a way to get involved with youth golf. The First Tee of Greater Detroit will have a tent at the Rocket Mortgage Classic adjacent to the Kids Zone.

And just as important, the PGA Tour events donate a percentage of their revenue with the First Tee Chapters. Detroit will be no different in that regard. And some chapters make hundreds of thousands of dollars from these tournaments. “We are one of the primary beneficiaries of the tournament,” Hay said. “The tournament itself will share some of the revenue with local charities. The First Tee of Detroit is one of the charities that will thankfully receive funding from the Rocket Mortgage Giving Fund.”

“It’s a game changer for us,” Hay said about the PGA Tour’s newest stop in Detroit. “It could take us to the next level. Our Board has never been more engaged. We have already seen a huge spike in interest. We have seen 40 to 50 percent more inquiries and kids signing up. Kids want to play and more volunteers are signing up to teach.” In fact, Summer and Fall registration is going on right now and the excitement continues to build.

The First Tee of Greater Detroit has experienced a rebirth. The City of Detroit has experienced a rebirth. And now, as thousands of golf fans drive down Woodward Avenue to watch the best players on the planet compete in the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club, they might also look towards Palmer Park and see the spirit of golf sitting idly by, waiting for someone to give it a chance.

Funding, of course, is yet again the issue. But with the right investor(s), Palmer Park could experience a rebirth of its own. And that would not only help reinvigorate the heart of the city, but also the hundreds and soon to be thousands of kids who are discovering the game of golf with the First Tee Greater Detroit. The Rocket Mortgage event is a great start. Hopefully, this is just the beginning for Detroit golf.

“We’ve got hundreds of acres in the middle of the city where you could put in a really cool nine-hole course and short game area. It would be a great story for Detroit. And it would be great for our community and for these kids.”

If you are interested in helping by giving a donation, you can participate by doing so here.

 

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Tour Rundown

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Thank goodness for the Women’s PGA! Instead of post-Men’s US Open doldrums, we had a return to wondrous Hazeltine (sorry, Dave Hill) for yet another major event, the Women’s PGA championship. This one came down to the finish tape; more on it later. Two shortish hitters in a long-ball world captured other events, while a home-town hero grabbed a third. And, as I finish typing this, they’re finishing up in Wichita, thanks to a rain delay. It’s on to another episode of Tour Rundown. Grab your snacks and a comfy chair, and enjoy the show

Women’s PGA to not-so-green Green at Hazeltine (yes, they rhyme!)

Am I the only one who noticed that each of Hannah Green’s final 3 drives just missed a divot hole, despite finding the nuclear center of each fairway? Golf, she is not fair. Fortunately for the young Aussie, the ball spun her way this day. Green led this PGA Championship from beginning to end. She endured the questions of everyone from fans to media, to possibly herself. As playing partners Ariya Jutanugarn and Lizette Salas failed to mount a viable challenge, Green’s attention turned to others on the move. Sung Hyun Park made a late run at holding onto the title she won last year, at Kemper Lakes. Park played a marvelous tune of 68, marred by a solitary off-key note, a bogey at the 12th. The defender ultimately finished one agonizing stroke behind the winner. Mel Reid also played marvelously. With 66 on the day, thanks to 8 birdies and 2 bogeys, she moved all the way to a tie for 3rd spot. It was Green who stood the tallest, who made the putts, especially that nervy 5-feet job on the final green. She was not perfect on day four, with birdies matching bogeys at the count of three. When things looked like they might go south, after consecutive bogeys at 11 and 12, Green corrected her path. Her first LPGA tour win, her first major title, a fine way to say Hello to the world.

Travelers Championship is Reavie’s 2nd tour triumph in a decade

Chez Reavie put on a Saturday show, blowing past the leader and everyone else, with a back-nine 28. He then had a front-row seat as hometown hero Keegan Bradley tried to put the same move on him. Although Reavie wasn’t making mistakes, Bradley was making every putt in site. With six birdies on the day, the gap had narrowed to one shot as the two stood on the 17th tee. An unpredictable dance partner, with rough and sand left, and massive water right, it’s not for the faint of heart. Bradley blinked, with a drive into the sand. If there’s one thing Reavie does, it’s hit fairways with maniacal accuracy and consistency. He did not disappoint, and followed up the tee ball with a dagger to the frontish hole location. His birdie, combined with Bradley’s double bogey, turned the tide in nearly an instant, making the walk up 18 a tranquil affair. Reavie tapped in for -17 and a 4-shot win over Bradley and 36-hole leader Zack Sucher. 11 years after winning the Canadian Open, Reavie hoisted victor’s silver for a 2nd, satisfying time.

BMW International Open~Forza Italia! Pavan secures 2nd Euro Title

If there was a tournament ever, whose purpose was to encourage caution over calamity, this was it. Long-hitting golfers like Matthew Fitzpatrick, Matt Wallace, and Mathias Schwab chose daring lines, fired, and fell back toward calamity. In stark contrast, Italy’s Andrea Pavan eschewed the risky play, time and again. Electing to lay short of hazards, Pavan holed a putt of abbreviated length on the 2nd playoff hole. This birdie allowed him to edge past Fitzpatrick, with whom he tied in regulation play at -15, and collect his 2nd European Tour title.

The day began brightly for England. Jordan Smith held the 3rd-round lead, but he would lose momentum early. Then came Fitzpatrick, who found 15-under with a 72nd-hole birdie. Next to try for glory was Wallace, who hit the worst drive ever under the siren’s pressure, going farther left than Marx, ending in watery demise. Pavan had finished 40 minutes prior to the final grouping, and he went about his business, warming up, then executing to near-perfection in the playoff. Indeed, the long hitters take fans to places they will never know, but the crafty archers show all of us the proper manner and method.

Wichita Open continues into 5th day

We weren’t kidding in the opening paragraph. First came the rains, then came the 5-way tie for top spot. Erik Compton, the overnight leader, birdied the 18th to join Kevin Dougherty, Henrik Norlander, Bryan Bigley and Sebastian Cappelen at 15-under par. The quintet arrived there on different trains, but there they were, joined together for an evening playoff. Cappelen went lowest, with 65 on Sunday. Compton signed for a 3rd-consecutive 67, while the other 3 golfers tacked 66s on the leaderboard. With time for a single playoff hole, organizers were certainly hoping for a walk-off ace, to settle the matter. They didn’t get that result, but birdies from Norlander and Bigley sent 60% of the fivesome home. As the ink dries on this web report, Norlander and Bigley prepare to play the 4th hole for all the cookies. Fortunately for all, the waters have receded.

American Family title goes to Madison’s finest

Madison folks would have been happy with a winner from Edgerton, but they absolutely adore a winner from Madison. In the most glorious example of how home-state and home-town golf people make an event happen, the Wisconsin Love Fest American Family went overtime on Sunday. 2 of the 3 participants were Badger state representatives. Steve Stricker had a wee putt to win in regulation, but missed. He bowed out with bogey on the first extra hole. Retief Goosen (not from Wisconsin) had a wee putt to win on the event’s final hole, too, but missed. He went two holes longer than Stricker, but ultimately succumbed to the intimidation of the goateed warrior, Jerry Kelly. With a barbaric yawp the likes of which we won’t hear soon, if ever, Kelly drained a birdie putt on the driveable 15th hole, and collected his 4th Champions Tour title. Kelly’s yawp was guttural, unexpected, jolting. It was such an event that television played it over and over, from different angles. The win propelled Kelly to 2nd spot on the season-long points list, but more importantly, it earned him a hug from mom when the dust had settled.

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Tearful Michelle Wie suggests career may be coming to an end after opening round of 84 at Women’s PGA Championship

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Various ailments to Michelle Wie’s right hand and wrist has forced the 29-year-old out of action for most of 2019, and after posting a round of 12-over-par in the opening round of this week’s Women’s KPMG PGA Championship, Wie suggested that her days on Tour may be coming to an end.

Wie, who has arthritis in both wrists and underwent surgery on her right wrist back in November, made six bogeys, two double-bogeys and a quadruple-bogey on her way to an opening 84. After her round, an emotional Wie broke down in tears after stating

“I’m not entirely sure how much more I have left in me. So even on the bad days, I’m just like trying to take time to enjoy it. But it’s tough, I just love being out here.”

The 29-year-old began her tournament on the back nine, and according to GolfWeek’s Beth Ann Nichols, began applying an ice pack to her wrist as early as the 11th hole.

Wie is set to tee off for her second round on Friday 2.44 PM CT.

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