Wednesday, November 26, 2008

PGA Tour tries, again, for dramatic finish

Now that the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoffs have been reconfigured again, we know something for certain -- but that's been the problem all along.

Unlike the first two seasons of the FedEx Cup playoffs where the winner had been determined before the Tour Championship was played, the 2009 version of the playoffs guarantees no player, not even Tiger Woods, will be able to have locked up the big playoff check before the end of the Tour Championship, which will be played Sept. 24-27 in Atlanta.

Sounds like an improvement.

The FedEx Cup has fizzled in its first two years because Tiger and Vijay Singh have bleached the drama out of the four-event playoff by locking down the overall championship before it could build to a big finish. They've done it by playing spectacular golf but, in the process, they undercut the idea of a dramatic finish at East Lake before the PGA Tour fades beneath football's glaring light.

Under the new twist, it won't be possible to win the $10-million bonus before getting to East Lake. At least that's the idea.

The new format announced by the PGA Tour on Tuesday includes a handful of changes. Among the most significant:

-- The season-long points race won't end until after the third playoff event. Previously, it ended prior to the playoffs with players being seeded for the final four events. Next year, season points will accumulate through The Barclays, the Deutsche Bank Championship and the BMW Championship. After the BMW, only the top 30 will advance to the Tour Championship but only after the points have been reset.

-- Only the top 125 in points will advance to the playoffs, a reduction from the 144 who advanced the first two years. The top 100 will qualify for the second event and the top 70 will reach the BMW.

The FedEx Cup hasn't suffered because of bad golf. In fact, it has had some great shows, including the Singh-Sergio Garcia playoff this year and Camilo Villegas' double-shot finish this year.

The playoffs won't ever attract March Madness-like attention and they haven't come close to doing for golf what the Chase has done for NASCAR. But they keep working to make the system better. They seem to be on the right track.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Gaston CC plays persimmon for a day

Have you ever wondered how you'd play if you if had to go back to the equipment that was considered state of the art back in the 1960s and '70s?

What if you had to trade in your 460cc driver for a persimmon-headed model with a head that looked about as big as a tennis ball?

The members at Gaston Country Club got a taste of it Saturday.

As part of the club's 50th anniversary celebration, members played with persimmon drivers, old-school irons and balata golf balls.

They played golf with the stuff that made Jack and Arnie famous.

And it made them appreciate the advances in golf club technology.

"Absolutely," said Walter Gray.

The long drive contest was won by a 257-yard poke by a young player who can usually hit a 3-wood that far.

That's how things have changed, in case you've forgotten.

Just finding the equipment was a challenge. An e-mail campaign rustled up enough sets of vintage irons that every foursome had a set.

Gray played with a set of 1961 Wilson Staff Dynapower Fluid Feel irons with the original grips and shafts. They're available on e-bay for $20 if you're interested.

They bought 30 dozen Titleist balls with balata covers they found on the internet and no one was in a hurry to start playing those again any time soon.

"Those balls would fall out of the sky like a shot duck," Gray said.

It was, Gray said, fun for a day.

On Sunday, though, everyone went back to their modern equipment.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Erik Compton: A golf story with heart

The most emotionally compelling story in golf this year doesn't end with someone holding a trophy.

It ended, at least for the moment, last Saturday when 28-year-old Erik Compton (right, in a file photo) missed advancing to the finals of PGA Tour qualifying school by one shot.

It was probably the three-putt par from 20 feet on the 16th hole that did Compton in during the final round of the second-stage qualifier where he finished tied for 22nd, knowing only the top 20 finishers (and ties) would advance.

Still, the achievement far outweighs the disappointment.

That's because on May 20, Compton underwent a 14-hour heart transplant that saved his life.

It was his second transplant, his first coming when he was 12 years old, and six months later Compton was chasing a spot on the PGA Tour. His is a remarkable and inspiring story. A former All-American at Georgia, Compton was bitterly disappointed when he talked to reporters after his near miss finish in Florida last Saturday.

His life could have changed had he reached the finals of tour school. He admitted to thinking about health insurance and family matters and other things while he was playing and how could he not? The pressure, he said, was too much.

But Compton is alive and playing golf, looking forward to his wife giving birth to their first child in February.

The disappointment will fade. His life, thankfully, will go on.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wachovia Championship: An awkward leftover

It will be strange next spring to have the Wachovia Championship played at Quail Hollow when Wachovia, at least as Charlotte and the rest of the country has known it, no longer exists.

The word awkward comes to mind.

There's still so much smoke swirling around the Wachovia/Wells Fargo merger that it will take time for everything to be sorted out. Certainly, there are more important matters to be considered than the name of a golf tournament.

However, the announcement last week that the Wachovia name will remain raises questions.

Is it as simple as not having enough time to redo the branding of the event that led to the decision to keep the name as it has been through the first six years of the tournament?

Or does it suggest that perhaps Wells Fargo isn't sold on taking over the title sponsor role of the tournament?

I don't know.

It would seem an ideal way to become a part of the community where there are plenty of bruised feelings.

My guess is if Wells Fargo were to choose not to continue in Wachovia's role, the tournament could find another sponsor. There's another big bank in Charlotte that might be interested if it were asked. Again, I don't know but it would seem a logical question if sponsorship became an issue.

I do know a handful of naming options were considered before the decision was made to stick with the Wachovia Championship. And the decision to keep the name of an essentially defunct brand hasn't been popular with many associated with the event.

The tournament itself should be fine. The organization that runs it -- Champions For Education -- is committed to keeping it among the elite events on the PGA Tour. The top players will be here again next spring and in future years. The quality won't suffer.

Golf tournaments change names all the time. It's the nature of sports marketing these days.

This one seemed immune to that happening. Ultimately, though, it wasn't.

The Wachovia Championship name will live for one more year.

Beyond that, who knows?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Love's place in golf Hall probably secured

Davis Love III probably secured his place in the World Golf Hall of Fame Sunday when he won his 20th career PGA Tour event.

He’ll get my vote next year.

Love (right, with Mickey) was likely to get in anyway but winning a 20th time – at age 44 after a two-year winless stretch – reinforced the quality of his career and provided another milestone for anyone who wants to quibble about numbers.

When Love was in Kannapolis recently, he talked about his desire to end this year on a high in hopes it would springboard him into 2009. That’s what he’s done.

Now he gets to play the Mercedes Championship at Kapalua, where he’s typically played well, and he has a realistic chance of playing his way onto the Presidents Cup team next year.

Tiger pitches Asheville course he's designing

Tiger Woods, who has already spent a significant amount of time at High Carolina near Asheville, put the sales pitch on approximately 1,000 people who stopped by to see him Saturday at The Cliffs community where he is designing his first American golf course.

Woods, who said he still isn’t sure when he’ll return to competitive golf after knee surgery in June, unveiled the layout of the new course, which is scheduled to begin construction next year.

The course will play 7,500 yards from the back tees but Woods has designed six sets of tees to accommodate players of different skill levels. He has also made an effort to design the greens so that players will have the option of running shots into the putting surfaces rather than having forced carries.

Walking will be encouraged at High Carolina, where Woods has reportedly hiked the property extensively, even after his surgery. The course is expected to open in the fall of 2010.

'Two Gloves' closes strong

It was nice to see Tommy ‘Two Gloves’ Gainey finish second Sunday at Disney World after a disappointing season.

Gainey didn’t win enough money to keep his tour card for next year but he exempted himself into the final stage of qualifying school where he may be able to play his way back onto the big tour. If not, he’ll be able to play the Nationwide Tour.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

On Daly, Augusta, Quail Hollow ...

Catching up on a few things in the golf world:

- John Daly said this week that the fact he spent 24 hours in a Winston-Salem jail last week sobering up "wasn't that big of a deal."

Daly was found outside a Winston-Salem Hooters restaurant at 2 a.m., after the restaurant had closed. Daly admitted in a wire-service story that he was drunk, but he had planned to go back to his bus to sleep. He said when he was found, he was asleep with his eyes open and slow to wake up. That led to a 911 call.

With no place to go, Daly was taken to the Forsyth County facility where he had a day to sober up.

What a waste.

- Augusta National announced this week a few minor changes to the golf course. Nothing dramatic was adjusted with most of the work being done to some tees and rebuilding a few greens to put heating and cooling systems underneath.

The first tee was adjusted, adding a few yards to the front and taking a few yards off the back to alleviate some spectator congestion in the area. The hole will now measure 10 yards shorter at 445 yards.

Additional yardage was also added to the front of the seventh and 15th tees, which leads to the thought that perhaps the course will play a bit shorter and, hopefully, easier in April.

-- Still no verdict on the name of the Wachovia Championship for next year. There's a chance it will keep the Wachovia Championship name for 2009, but it seems more likely to become the Wells Fargo Championship. It would be nice if Quail Hollow were in the name, but that seems unlikely.

- It will be worth watching how many PGA Tour players point their schedule toward the European Tour to take advantage of the super big bucks available in the Road to Dubai sweepstakes that's been created. Phil Mickelson says he intends to become a member of the European Tour in the future but won't this year. The tour requires a player to tee it up 12 times but the four majors and three World Golf Championship events get you more than halfway there.

The $10-million prize that will be available in Dubai has turned the heads of several top players.

- I knew the so-called Fall Finish wouldn't get much attention, but it's been almost invisible. It ends this week, but to most people it never really started.

Honestly, how much golf have you watched since the Ryder Cup?