Monday, September 28, 2009

PGA Tour finally gets its playoff payoff

It may be impossible to get the FedEx Cup playoffs exactly right because, as seemingly everyone including me has pointed out, golf isn't a playoff sport.

Still, the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and television had to be pleased with the way things played out this year. Sure, Tiger would have been happier to have won the Tour Championship but he still picked up $10 million for being the best player through the year and, particularly, through the playoffs.

Mickelson admitted he didn't deserve to win the FedEx Cup because he played so poorly during the first three playoff events. Winning the last one, Mickelson said, shouldn't offset what he didn't do in the first three.

Woods was the best through the playoffs despite running hot and cold on the greens. He hit the ball well at East Lake but couldn't get the ball in the hole, especially on Sunday. By the time he finally made a couple in the final round, it was too late.

At various stages of the final round, as many as six players still had a chance to win the $10-million FedEx Cup bonus. Every hole, the permutations changed. It was too complicated to keep up with but it was still fun trying.

There was even a time when it looked possible that Tiger and Steve Stricker might share the FedEx Cup, which would require a $10-million playoff. Now that would have been fun.

It's an imperfect system but a better one than the two previous models. I'm guessing there won't be any significant tweaks for next year. Making sure the top five in points can win the FedEx Cup by winning the Tour Championship added a necessary element of uncertainty, unlike the previous two years when Woods and Vijay Singh had already essentially locked down the cup before landing in Atlanta.

It's probably unlikely they'll change the week off next year either. Though it would be better for the playoffs to play two events, take a week off then play the final two, it's more likely to remain three on, one off, then the Tour Championship.

That's because the Ryder Cup in Wales will follow immediately after the Tour Championship. Tiger, Phil and the other top players would prefer to make the Ryder Cup a second straight week, not a third straight week.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Playing crazy eights at the Tour Championship

I'm not one of those who takes pleasure in watching PGA Tour players chop it around like Murray the bartender on the golf course.

If I want to see double bogeys, I can play golf myself.

Let me see them work magic. Let them hole bunker shots, and hit 180-yard 7-irons. Let them make more putts in a day than most of us make in a month.

But it does a heart good to see them make an eight once in a while.

Eights have been in vogue recently on the tour. You may rememeber Padraig Harrington making an eight to end his duel with Tiger Woods in the WGC-American Express Championship last month.

Here at East Lake, Phil Mickelson made a snowman on Thursday when his otherworldly short game look third worldly. Lefty bladed a bunker shot over the green, bladed his pitch shot back over the green into the same bunker, he left the next one in the sand and made an eight the way the rest of us make them.

On Friday, Stewart Cink was tied for the lead until he started hitting big, ugly hooks off the 1oth tee. Cink roped one driver out of bounds, teed up another, and did the same thing. Nothing if not persistent, Cink hit a third driver and it turned left but not far enough to fly the green fence along the property line.

By the time he was finished, Cink had made an eight and fallen four shots behind the leaders.

It didn't take long for someone to call him Ocho-Cink-O. Wish I could take credit for it but I can't. But I can pass it along.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The real success of The First Tee of Charlotte

There were many impressive things about the fund-raising dinner for The First Tee of Charlotte held Tuesday night at the Quail Hollow Club.

There were more than 250 guests, many thousands of dollars were raised through silent and live auctions (the featured item was a trip to play Pebble Beach and Cypress Point with accommodations at the Lodge at Pebble Beach, which drew a winning bid well into five figures) and author Jim Dodson supplied just the right touch of humor and insight with his after-dinner talk.

But the most impressive part of the evening was the three young people who are examples of what The First Tee can do. Arissa McNeal, a 15-year old North Mecklenburg High student, 15-year old Sameer Aery from Ardrey Kell High and 17-year old Stephen Graddick from Olympic High, allowed the guests to put names and faces to the Charlotte program.

McNeal, Aery and Graddick have been in The First Tee program for several years and they're examples of how the program is about more than golf. It uses golf as a framework and a foundation but it's more about life skills. The First Tee program is founded on nine core values including honesty, sportsmanship and integrity and it's touching and helping young people here and around the country.

It has not been an easy road for The First Tee of Charlotte to get rolling but moving into its new building at Revolution Golf Course this summer helped push it over the the top. It has momentum, support and Tuesday night it gave dinner guests a look at the good work it's doing.

Executive director Vincent King and director of programs Brandi Edwards have worked with hundreds of young people, introducing them to golf while teaching them fundamentals of life.

Tuesday night at Quail Hollow, The First Tee of Charlotte showed what it can do.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bad time for a bye week

Between the college football games on Saturday and another NFL Sunday, could you sense the excitement building for the Tour Championship this weekend?

Didn't think so.

Taking a one-week break after the first three events of the FedEx Cup playoffs and before the 30-player money grab/trophy chase at East Lake this weekend may have seemed like a good idea in theory. But it killed whatever modest momentum the playoff series had generated.

If there's goinig to be a break during the FedEx Cup playoffs, it needs to come after the first two events, not the third one. That may create practical scheduling problems but if the goal is to generate as much interest as possible in the playoffs, this isn't the way to do it.

This isn't the Super Bowl, much as the PGA Tour might like it to be.

When Tiger won the BMW Championship, he did what he does like no one else -- shouldered the PGA Tour into the weekend news cycle and video loop on a big football weekend. Tiger makes the world away from golf pay attention.

If he's in contention this week at East Lake -- a pretty good bet -- the interest meter will spike as it always does. First, though, it will require recapturing some of the attention that dissipated during the week off.

The good news is the PGA Tour keeps working to make the FedEx Cup playoffs better. Adjusting future weeks should be among the tweaks for next year, if possible.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tiger wins, Snedeker really loses

It's possible that Tiger Woods can have a win, two seconds and a tie for 11th in the PGA Tour's four playoff events and still not win the FedEx Cup this year.

That's the, uh, beauty of the FedEx Cup playoffs which are taking this week off to allowed all those tired golfers to rest before the 30 still standing head to Atlanta for the Tour Championsnhip next week.

For all Tiger has done this year -- six wins including his dominating performance in the BMW Championship over the weekend -- the playoff scenario makes only one promise:

If any of the players ranked in the top five wins the Tour Championship -- that's Tiger, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson and Heath Slocum -- they win the FedEx Cup. That means Furyk, who hasn't won in two years, would be the champion if he wins at East Lake.

That's the way playoffs work, even in golf where the points system is like heiroglyphics.

Tiger said he's okay with it. What's he going to say, "Hey, I've won six times, carried the tour again and you're telling me I can finish second or third at Atlanta and still not win?"

There's a difference in winning the FedEx Cup and being player of the year. Tiger's the player of the year regardless of whether he wins the FedEx Cup.

Do the playoffs work?

Well, some people are still paying attention to golf right now, which is an improvement. It helps that Tiger is playing every weekend in the same way that it helps to have oxygen to breathe.

The most compelling story at the BMW Championship beyond Tiger's performance was Brandt Snedeker's 72nd hole meltdown. If you haven't heard, he needed to make a bogey on the final hole to qualify for the Tour Championship. He didn't do it.

Snedeker kept batting the ball around the hole until he'd four-putted himself out of the Tour Championship.

Besides the embarrassment, it cost Snedeker more than $350,000 when you add in the money he lost at the BMW plus the guaranteed money for making the Tour Championship and the hit he took in the final points standings.

"I just showed you why 3-footers that mean something are a lot longer than they look," Snedeker told reporters at Cog Hill.

"I just started thinking about the wrong things, man; I didn't concentrate over the bogey putt and I was thinking about all the stuff the Tour Championship comes with, and I did everything you're not supposed to do. I'm sure Doc [Bob] Rotella and I will have a nice long talk tonight and he'll tell me everything I did wrong and we'll learn from it."

Tough lesson to learn.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Arnie

Arnold Palmer turned 80 today.

Golf should declare his birthday a national holiday. Everybody smiles, hitches their pants with their wrists, makes eye contact with others, whips at the ball like a man pulling a vine from a tree, tries a shot they shouldn't, wears an alpaca cardigan with the sleeves pushed up like back in the day and, at the end, everyone raises a glass to the King.

There never has been and never will be anyone like Arnie.

Phil Mickelson comes the closest these days but even Lefty will admit he's no Arnie.

Arnie, at least since he introduced golf to the television age, has always been bigger than the game. He'd argue that out of respect for the game but he remains, even in the glare of Tiger Woods' brilliance, the defining figure in golf over the last half-century.

Age has robbed him of his game but not of his presence. He's still the conscience of golf when he holds court.

He proved that superstars can be accessible. No one may have loved the attention any more than Palmer but he set an example every professional athlete -- regardless of the sport -- should be required to study.

Peter Jacobsen has often told the story of signing autographs alongside Palmer one day when Arnie noticed Jacobsen's scribbled signature. Palmer scolded him, telling Jacobsen that if people were willing to wait for his autograph, the golfer should be respectful enough to sign it so it could be read. You can read both of their autographs now.

I'd love to be there in the Bay Hill clubhouse when Arnie gently reminds a guest to remove their hat while indoors. Society should listen.

Arnie turned 80 today and he may have trouble shooting his age now but it's a happy day anyway. He's still around and he's still the King.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Christina Kim -- like you've never seen her

After her hard to miss performance during the Solheim Cup, there is word that the flamboyant Christina Kim will appear semi-nude in an upcoming edition of ‘ESPN, The Magazine.’

Hey, if Ian Poulter can pose on a magazine cover wearing nothing but a strategically placed golf bag, why can't Christina Kim show a little skin?

Kim is one of three LPGA players – Anna Grezbien and Sandra Gal are the others – who will be featured in the magazine, which is devoting an issue to athlete’s bodies.

The good news is the magazine considers female golfers athletes, which is a small victory for golf.

The LPGA Tour, which hasn't had its happiest season, was briefed on the photo shoot in advance and gave its blessing.

Somewhere Jan Stephenson is smiling.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Aces - times two

Holes-in-one are strange things.

That comes from a guy who's never made one -- but I've only been playing golf for 45 years.

This week, Arthur McDonald made two aces in the same round at Raintree Country Club's North Course. Now that's a good day.

McDonald has been a fixture around Charlotte golf for years, caddying at Carolina Golf Club, learning to play at Revolution and working at Raintree for years. He obviously learned something along the way.

Playing with friends this week, McDonald aced the par-3 fifth hole then, a couple of hours later, holed it on the 17th hole.

Good for him. Doubly good, in fact.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Tega Cay and the LPGA Tour? Maybe

It will be interesting to see if organizers and the LPGA Tour can complete the deal to bring a women’s professional golf tournament to Tega Cay beginning next year.

Talking to the local organizers, they’re bullish about their ability to make this happen though they admit there are still sponsorship issues to finalize. That’s a serious challenge in any business right now, doubly so for a golf tournament.

Would an LPGA Tour event work at Tega Cay in the fall? Maybe.

It would have to get most of the top players, something that didn’t always happen for the Fieldcrest Cannon Classic at the Peninsula Club in the ’90s. It would need Paula Creamer, Suzann Petterssen, Lorena Ochoa and Natalie Gulbis, among others, to play.

Getting Michelle Wie is the ticket but she’s still planning on attending college in the fall which could knock her out of playing here.

It was surprising to hear Tega Cay as the host course if only because it hadn’t been mentioned before when there has been talk of a possible LPGA Tour event coming here. Tega Cay has 27 holes and a large clubhouse facility, which helps.

If it all comes together, it would be a nice addition to the local golf calendar at an ideal time to play golf in this area. Putting it together is the hard part.