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Morning 9: A check on golf participation | USGA downsizing | Bubba + CBD | What makes a good agent?

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

May 2, 2019

Good Thursday morning, golf fans.
1. Golf participation…
Golfweek’s Roxanna Scott frames National Golf Day appropriately and en route to conveying the essentials from the industry’s annual day of self-reflection…
  • “Tiger Woods wasn’t in Washington for National Golf Day, but there was plenty of talk about the impact his fifth Masters victory has on the industry. According to the latest Golf Industry Report released by the National Golf Foundation, 74 million people watched or read about golf without playing in 2018, an increase of about 12 percent year over year. Part of the growth is “attributable to Woods,” the NGF says.”
  • “When you go beyond the hard-core golf enthusiast and you’re trying to capture the casual masses, it is Tiger. It is only Tiger,” says Patrick Rishe, director of the Sports Business Program at Washington University in St. Louis, when asked about the impact of Woods’ latest win at Augusta National.”
  • “It’s no secret that golf faces tough challenges – as demonstrated in the continued trend of course closures in the U.S. (198.5 18-hole equivalent courses closed last year while 12.5 of the same type of courses opened) and the competition the sport faces in trying to attract busy adults and teens who don’t have free time or the resources to play.”
  • “But a Tiger resurgence changes the conversation around the state of the game, sports economists say.”
2. USGA downsizing?
Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard with the details of the governing body’s restructuring effort…
  • “The association confirmed Wednesday that 63 of its employees, roughly 15 percent of its workforce, were offered “voluntary retirement incentive” plans. According to a USGA spokesperson, the plan was offered to employees who were part of the association’s benefit plan which closed to new participants in 2008 and who were 55 or older.”
  • “As the USGA continues to evolve its organizational structure in an effort to drive greater impact and sustain a strong financial future, we have offered a voluntary retirement incentive plan to a segment of our staff,” the USGA said in a statement provided to GolfChannel.com. “It provides eligible employees with enhanced pension and retiree health benefits, with no obligation to participate.”
3. Leona likes the moonlight
BBC Sport report…”Ireland’s Leona Maguire carded a course record eight-under-par-64 in the first professional day-night tournament.”
  • The Dubai Moonlight Classic on the Ladies European Tour is being held on a Nick Faldo-designed Emirates Golf Club course featuring floodlights.
  • Each of the 56 players play at least nine holes of one of their opening two rounds in the 54-hole tournament under the new eco-friendly LED lights.
  • “Maguire sank a 25-foot birdie on the 18th under the lights to lead by two.”
  • “It seems like night golf suits me. I can’t really complain,” said world number 237 Maguire, who made nine birdies and one bogey.
4. PGA Professional Champ
Meanwhile, the PGA’s finest teed it up in the PGA Professional Championship with Bethpage berths on the line…
  • AP Report…”Alex Beach seized control with three straight birdies on the front nine and closed with a 3-under 69 to hold off Danny Balin and win the PGA Professional Championship on Wednesday.
  • “They were among 20 club pros who earned spots in the PGA Championship in two weeks at Bethpage Black.”
  • “Beach, an assistant pro at Westchester Country Club in New York, had a one-shot lead when he hit his approach from the left rough over the trees to a back pin, stopping it 7 feet away for birdie on the 15th hole. He closed with three solid pars at Belfair Country Club to finish at 10-under 277.”
5. What makes a good agent?
…protection, and of course, not starting fires are key, says Shane Ryan, using Carly Booth/her management as prism…
“In fact, that word encompasses a wide range of action, but a basic rule-so basic that it practically goes without saying-is that an agent can’t commit an unforced error. It can be difficult enough steering a client away from the various pitfalls that emerge when an athlete gains fame, money, and a huge platform, but to bring negative press onto your player through no (or little) fault of their own is a cardinal sin.”
“That’s what made the Booth case so interesting-without knowing the exact process that went into her controversial social media post, I would guess that the words were written by someone else, edited by someone else, and that if she vetted the statement at all, that vetting was perfunctory. At the very least, the geopolitical subject matter fell outside the wheelhouse of what a professional golfer can reasonably be expected to know. It is an agent’s job to anticipate criticism from events and messages that might seem innocuous, and when the agent is the one creating that negative fallout, it’s a problem.”
6. Bubba + CBD
Golf Digest’s Joel Beall writes…
  • Andy Levinson, executive director of the PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program, told Golf Digest’s Brittany Romano that his department has seen an increase of inquiries regarding its legality on the PGA Tour.
  • “CBD in its pure form is not prohibited,” Levinson told Golf Digest. “But the use of CBD in any of its currently available forms would be at a player’s own risk.” According to the advocacy group Marijuana Moment, the PGA Tour issued a warning to its players in early April that “CBD products (like all supplements) pose a risk to athletes because they have limited government regulation and may contain THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis that is prohibited.”
  • “Nevertheless, a number of players, including Scott Piercy and Champions member Scott McCarron, have endorsed or invested in CBD-related companies. On Wednesday, Bubba Watson became the highest-profile player to officially sign with a CBD company, announcing an endorsement with cbdMD.”
7. McIlroy making swing fixes…
Sean Martin at PGATour.com reports…
  • “The changes to McIlroy’s address have allowed him to “neutralize” his ball flight, i.e. curve it less. By getting more hinge in his hips, McIlroy was able to steepen his shoulder turn. That kept the club from getting too far behind him on the backswing.”
  • “I was relying a lot on timing,” he said. “I was relying a lot on upper-body rotation, sort of out of sync a little bit. … I was coming up out of my posture and falling back on my heels.”
  • “During some of his most successful seasons, McIlroy said his head dropped slightly during the backswing and rose at impact. The opposite had been happening recently.”
8. Balloons for back pain relief?
A stuff.co.nz report on one of J-Day’s tactics for back pain relief…
  • “I was explaining the other day that I was blowing into balloons,” Day said Wednesday after playing in the Wells Fargo’s pro-am. “Which is crazy, because I haven’t really trained at all this year because I’ve been so sore.”
  • Day, 31, who seems kind of embarrassed about the balloon therapy, explains that doing so helps get his rib cage, hips and shoulders aligned, thus alleviating pressure on his back. It’s a process that takes 20-to-30 minutes, twice a day.
  • “Blowing into balloons, that’s as far as I go,” he said of the therapy. “Long story short, I try to keep my rib cage down. My rib cage gets up and then it blocks my mid back and then I can’t really turn. So I get it from somewhere else and that’s why my back flares up.
9. Checking on Bethpage…
Golfweek’s David Dusek on the conditions at Bethpage ahead of the PGA in two weeks…
  • “At 8:30 Wednesday morning, the temperature at Bethpage State Park was 51 degrees and golfers were playing on the Green and Red Courses under cloudy skies. A chilly breeze fluttered the flags and water droplets clung to the blades of grass beside the fairways.”
  • “Surprisingly, the Black Course had been open to the public for two weeks before shutting down last Sunday.”
  • According to Scott Reid, the PGA of America’s 2019 PGA Championship director, if the Black Course needed extra work or conditions were not ideal, course superintendent Andy Wilson and other tournament officials could have kept it closed to the public until after the tournament, but a mild winter allowed them to keep things on schedule.”

Full piece.

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Morning 9: Will Captain Woods pick Tiger? | Would new Tour Champ format have altered past outcomes? | Pelley on slow play

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By Ben Alberstadt (ben.alberstadt@golfwrx.com; @benalberstadt on Instagram)

August 20, 2019

Good Tuesday morning, golf fans.
1. Captain Tiger’s expectations 
AP report…”Tiger Woods wants the eight players who made his Presidents Cup team and four more under consideration as captain’s picks to play tournaments and stay sharp over the next three months leading to the December matches Down Under.”
  • “…Woods said he told prospective Presidents Cup players at a meeting two weeks ago how important it was to be committed to the team and to the event.”
  • “And that means playing and being prepared,” he said during a conference call Monday evening. “The only time we have ever lost the Cup was in Australia, and quite frankly, some of the guys didn’t play or practice that much. It was our offseason, and we got beat pretty badly.”
2. …but will TW pick himself? 
ESPN’s Bob Harig with Woods‘ remarks on the matter…
“Woods said Monday that although the final decision remains his, he won’t participate as a player unless that is what all involved want. And even then, he might not.”
  • “My job as the captain is to put together the best team possible,” Woods said during a conference call Monday to discuss the eight players who automatically qualified for the team following the BMW Championship. “Trying to put together the best 12 guys. We’ll be going through the whole process of having communication with the top eight guys and vice captains.
  • “That is something that we’ll certainly talk about. Ultimately it’ll be my call. But I want to have all of their opinions before that decision is made.”

Full piece.

3. How Tiger will remember 2019…
Golf Channel’s Will Gray…
“The rest of the tournaments I didn’t really play as well as I wanted to,” Woods said. “But at the end of the day, I’m the one with the green jacket.”
  • “It was a perfect encapsulation of the dichotomy that ruled Woods’ 2019 campaign. For most of the year, he was mediocre and sometimes worse – this, despite coming off a season that saw him capture the Tour Championship and come within a whisker of winning the FedExCup. The good rounds were sporadic, the bad ones were more plentiful, and the few decent results usually stemmed from a palatable final round that began with Woods well out of contention.”
  • “In fact, there was only one tournament all year where Woods even finished within eight shots of the winner. But that’s also the only one most people will remember.”

Full piece.

4. What if…
Golf Digest’s Ryan Herrington on what the past FedEx Cup finales would have looked like with the current seeding…
  • “What if, however, the system that begins this week had been in place the previous 12 years of the FedEx Cup? How might history be different?”
  • “As it turns out, not all that much. And that’s the way the tour officials wanted it, having run thousands of computer simulations to try and approximate as best they could the point differential in play under the old system.”
  • “We went back all 12 years, took the top 30 in the FedEx Cup list entering East Lake and applied the adjusted strokes to the players scores at the Tour Championship to determine who would have won if the new format was used retroactively.”
  • “Nine times the actual FedEx Cup winner also would have won in the new strokes-based system, and a 10th time the winner (Jim Furyk in 2010) would have been in a sudden-death playoff for the title.”
5. Steph Curry bankrolls Howard golf
Our Gianni Magliocco…”NBA star and avid golfer Stephen Curry has donated a seven-figure sum to Howard University in a move that will see men’s and women’s golf teams at the school for at least the next six years.”
  • “As the Washington Post reported on Monday, this will be the first time the school will compete at the Division I level in the sport, and the university plans to have the teams ready to compete for the 2020/21 academic year.”
  • “Curry’s donation was partly inspired by Howard senior and golfer Otis Ferguson IV, and speaking on bringing golf back to Howard, the 31-year-old stated”
  • “Golf is a sport that has changed my life in ways that are less tangible, but just as impactful. It’s a discipline that challenges your mental wherewithal from patience to focus, and is impossible to truly master, so when you hear about these passionate student athletes who have the talent but don’t have a fair shot at the game, it’s tough. I feel really honored to play a small role in the rich history of Howard University.”
6. U.S. Am ratings…
Per Geoff Shackelford…”According to Sports Business Daily, the 2019 BMW Championship drew a 1.9 Saturday audience and a 2.4 for Sunday’s final round on NBC, well up over non-Tiger-contending Wyndham Championship’s previously played in this schedule spot.  The 2018 Wyndham drew a 1.9.”
“The slide in US Amateur interest and visibility continued with a .4 Saturday and a .3 for Sunday’s finale on Fox going head-to-head with most of the BMW final round. Talk about an event screaming out for a change in its Monday to Sunday format to avoid being an afterthought.”
7. Do away with the Tour Championship name? 
Randall Mell says it no longer applies…
  • “The Tour Championship isn’t really a “tournament” anymore.”
  • “They’re hosting something bigger and better at East Lake in Atlanta this week, something completely different.”
  • “They’re hosting the FedExCup Finale.”
  • “Really, the PGA Tour ought to rename this week’s event exactly that, because keeping “Tour Championship” shackles fans to conventions that offend traditional sensibilities. You don’t, after all, start a tournament with a lead of seven or more shots on two-thirds of the field, the way Justin Thomas will.”

Full piece.

8. Ogletree’s tough love short game lesson
Golf Digest’s Ryan Herrington on the discussion between Georgia Tech’s coach and the eventual U.S. Am winner…
  • “The tough-love conversation between Ogletree and Heppler had become the stuff of legend in the Georgia Tech camp. They were at Blaze Pizza in Atlanta last November, and Heppler let Ogletree know he had the game tee-to-green to be a successful tour pro, but the reason he had yet to win a college event was that he just wasn’t good enough around the greens.”
  • “Ogletree played the equivalent of six under par for 35 holes en route to the title. So Ogletree did something about it, working with Jeff Patton on technique in the sand. Meanwhile, teammate Noah Norton helped him with some putting drills. Ogletree put in time daily at the short-game area. And in the spring semester, he saw his stroke average drop 1½ shots without hitting his driver or irons any different.”
  • If perseverance in part characterizes Ogletree’s golf development, it certainly describes how he claimed the Havemeyer Trophy on Sunday. The day started with promise; Ogletree shot the equivalent of a 67 on Pinehurst No. 4 during the morning 18 (for the first time in U.S. Amateur history the 36-hole final was contested over two courses). The problem? Augenstein, a rising senior at Vanderbilt, shot a 65, and held a 2-up lead.”

Full piece.

9. Euro Tour chief on slow play
Keith Pelley penned an op-ed of sorts for EuropeanTour.com, that reads in part…
“Slow players, on the other hand, have become increasingly prevalent and problematic in our game in recent years, to the extent that we risk fans, both core and casual, switching off if we don’t do something about it.”
  • “The European Tour has been at the forefront of the assault on slow play for the last four years. We have the most aggressive monitoring policy in our sport, and we have issued shot penalties, but the past four months showed us finally that the time had arrived when players were willing to take a tough stance and we applauded that.”
  • “Slow play became a critical issue because our players wanted it to be.  That moment was the door opening and the mandate we were given at May’s tournament committee meeting empowered our operations and rules team to present stronger, more robust recommendations”
  • “We took a formal proposal back to the next Tournament Committee meeting at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open last month and following some fine tuning over the past six weeks, we yesterday publicly announced a four-point plan focusing on regulation, education, innovation and field size reduction where appropriate.”

 

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European Tour announces 4-point plan in a bid to tackle slow play

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On Monday, the European Tour announced a four-point plan aimed at tackling the issue of slow play in the game.

The plan, which will come into effect this November, will focus on four areas—regulation, education, innovation and field sizes.

Of those four areas, notable updates include that players will now only have to breach the time allowances twice in a round to incur a one-stroke penalty, and players who are put on the clock at least 15 times next season will now be fined £26,000 compared to the £9,000 fine they currently face.

In their statement, the European Tour said

“When players are out of position and either being monitored or timed, a one-shot penalty will be incurred after two bad times – currently a player would be ‘monitored’ and if he breaches the time allowance (50 seconds for first to play, 40 seconds for second or third to play) he will then be ‘officially timed’ and would then have to breach twice more before being given a one-shot penalty. Players will, however, have the option to request one time extension per round, giving an additional 40 seconds to hit a shot on this request.”

The Tour will also look to reduce the number of players in the field at events where possible, while rules officials are set to be proactive regarding targeting slow players on the course.

Speaking on the four-point plan, Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of the European Tour, stated

“We are already at the forefront of pace of play management in the professional game, but after being mandated by our Tournament Committee to be even firmer in dealing with this issue, the time was right to take these additional steps.

I believe the plan we are implementing for the 2020 season will bring about meaningful change that will make golf even more enjoyable for the players and our fans, whether they are at the course in person or watching on television.”

To retain their European Tour card, each member will have to pass an interactive online rules test, while a trial pace of play timing system will be implemented at the Tour’s flagship event at Wentworth next month where there will also be larger gaps between start times over the weekend’s rounds.

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Tour Rundown: How the pros (and amateur) got it done this weekend

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The Presidents Cup automatic-qualifying chase came to an end on Sunday. While students returned to schools across the country, and football teams played their 2nd preseason games. 8 USA golfers and 8 World professionals were named to their respective teams. Each captain has f our at-large selections to make. For team USA, the unfortunately-underperforming Rickie Fowler may have two weeks for more Farmer’s Insurance commercials, as he finds himself in the #11 slot. Only Tiger Woods’ beneficence will save him from an early vacation. Xander Schauffele left nothing to chance this time around. After being ignored for a Ryder Cup captain’s pick last year, he made the PCup team on merit this year. The World team still has a load of Aussies (3 at last count) but has the presence of golfers from Taipei, Mexico, China, South Africa and Japan. This year’s competition at Royal Melbourne has the potential to be quite memorable, assuming that the qualifiers don’t lose their edge over the next four months.

As for individual competition this week, we had lots of it. Playoff events on two tours, a male US Amateur champion to go with last week’s female winner, and a terrific story of rags to riches on the Champions tour. Seize the day and enjoy this week’s Tour Rundown.

BMW Classic

You had to chuckle a bit this week as another of the game’s vaunted hollows caved to the expansive skill of the modern golf professional. Medinah #3 has long been held as a bastion of defense, but this week, well, they ate it up. Hideki Matsuyama shot 63 on Friday for a course record, then did it again on Sunday. Not only did he not win (he had 73 on Saturday) but his course record lasted all of 24 hours. Matsuyama did finish 3rd at -20, 2 shots behind Patrick Cantlay. The fellow who broke Matsuyama’s fresh course record was someone for whom 2018-19 has been relatively quite: Justin Thomas. So quiet, that is had been 53 weeks since his last victory. Thomas blistered Medinah Tres with 8 birdies and 2 eagles on Saturday, moving oh-so-close to the hallowed, sacred 59. In the spirit of generosity, he made bogey at the 6th (after opening with 5 birdies) to not completely eviscerate Matsuyama’s record (and Medinah’s spirit.) Of course, JT would open Sunday with a bogey, to give just a bit of hope to the chasers. He had 2 birdies on the outward nine, steadying the ship but certainly not assuring himself of anything. After making 6 at the par-5 10th (twice as many strokes as he needed 24 hours earlier) Thomas was once again forced to dig deep. In the past, he has been unable to follow up super-low rounds with the needed performance, but he was up to it on this day. The Kentucky lad made 4 birdies over the closing 8 holes to hold off Cantlay by 3.

Nationwide Championship

Scottie Scheffler knew that he was headed to the PGA Tour after this year’s FedEx Cup playoffs. The Korn Ferry Tour playoffs would offer him an opportunity to better his standing, and he accomplished that task during week one of the finals. Scheffler, 3rd place during the regular season, vaulted into 1st on the strength of his 2-shot win over the Killer Bs (Brendan Todd, Beau Hossler and Ben Taylor.) Scheffler played like a seasoned vet, despite his 23 years of age. Scheffler made just 4 bogies during his final three rounds of 68-67-67 at the Ohio State University’s Scarlet course. That miser’s touch separated him from his chasers and gave him his 2nd win of the season. 25 PGA Tour cards were awarded during the regular season, and 25 more will be delivered at the Korn Ferry tour championship on September 2nd. If nerve-wracking putts are your flavor, stay tuned over the next fortnight.

Real Czech Masters

Thomas Pieters reminds you of every great range superstar. His swing exudes control and power, and you can’t help wondering how he doesn’t contend every week. That’s the mystery of golf, but Pieters reminded us why he has played Ryder Cup golf for Europe with a win this week in the Czech Republic. The tall Belgian sat 2 back of Edoardo Molinari after 36 holes, then took charge with a 66 on Saturday. On his heels was the young Spaniard, Adrian Arnaus, who posted middle 65s to stand one back on Saturday evening. The final round was half-shootout, half-stumble. Defending champion Andrea Pavan came out of the woods with 8 birdies over the first 15 holes. On a day when he needed perfection and 10 birdies, Pavan closed with 1 bogey and 0 birdies to tie Sam Horsfield for 3rd spot. Arnaus had three bogies on the day, and 2 of them came on the heels of birdie and eagle. The opposite of bounce-back, Arnaus gave Pieters breathing room with those mistakes. Closing with birdies at 16 and 18, Arnaus reached 18 below par, to put pressure on the leader. Pieters was 4-under on the day through 12 holes, and needed only to avoid disaster over the closing stretch. He stumbled with a bogey of his own at the 16th, but finished with pars to claim his 4th Euro title, 2nd at the Czech Masters, and 1st since 2016.

Dick’s Sporting Goods Open

Sometimes, the right person wins. Doug Barron epitomizes journeyman; he had to Monday-qualify to get in this week, and even has an are-you-kidding suspension on his record … for testosterone supplements. He’s not a big guy, and has low testosterone. He’s not Fred Couples, nor Langer, nor McCarron. Today, however, he is the Dick’s Sporting Goods champion. Barron and Miguel Angel Jimenez began the week with 65s, and Barron never let up. He followed with 68 on Saturday, and came home in 66 on Sunday, for a 2-shot victory. Understand that he had one of the game’s great personalities, and top golfers, on his heels on Sunday. Fred Couples turned in a tremendous 63 to finish at 15-under par, 2 clear of 3rd-place Woody Austin. Couples had the luck of the sleepy on his side: he dunked his tee shot on the par-3 14th hole, took his penalty drop, then chipped in for 3. Staying at the birdie-par timeshare in round 3, Couples had 9 of each to put serious pressure on Barron. How did the unlikely winner respond? Nearly identical to Freddie. Barron had 0 bogies on the day, and only 1 the entire week. The title elevated him 50 spots on the Schwab Cup money list, giving him an opportunity to move into the season-ending, playoff chase over the next 8 events.

U.S. Amateur rests in Ogletree’s arms

Andy Ogletree and John Augenstein were a perfect match in the U.S. Amateur final at Pinehurst. Ogletree was the 18th-ranked golfer in on-site qualifying, while Augenstein was #20. Both have had distinguished careers in college (Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt, respectively) and both were named yesterday to the USA side for the upcoming Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool, in England. In a most unique final, the morning 18 was played on the #4 course, while the afternoon round took place on the #2 layout. During the AM, 10 holes were won by the golfers, while 8 were halved. Augenstein stood 2-up after 18, but Ogletree delivered a warning bell with a birdie at the last. Ogletree returned to the course in identical form, making birdie on the 2nd hole to close within one hole. Augenstein remained in command, as most holes were halved until the 29th. At that juncture, Ogletree seized command with 3 wins in the next 4 holes, moving from 2 down to 1 up. A par at the par-3 17th hole, the 35th of the day, gave the Georgia Tech golfer a 2 up lead with 1 to play, making him this year’s national amateur champion.

In other news, the USGA added 7 golfers to its Walker Cup side. The one surprising move was the naming of Ricky Castillo, #9 in WAGR rankings and winner of 2 matches at Pinehurst, as 2nd alternate. The USGA decided that Steven Fisk and Alex Smalley, both ranked lower than Castillo, were better bets for success. Fortunately for the California kid, he is 18 and should have an opportunity to make both the 2021 and 2023 squads.

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