Tuesday, August 31, 2010

'This is a big deal:' Charlotte to host major in 2017

Saying "Charlotte deserves this. Quail Hollow deserves it," PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka officially announced today that Quail Hollow Club will host the 2017 PGA Championship.

The Wells Fargo Championship will continue through 2014, but club president Johnny Harris said there have been no discussions about extending the PGA Tour event
though it remains a possibility.

Gov. Bev Perdue and Mayor Anthony Foxx were among the political leaders who attended the announcement.

"This is a big deal in North Carolina," Perdue said.

Said Tiger Woods, the world's top-ranked golfer: "Quail Hollow is an outstanding golf course that has the qualities to host a major. This is Charlotte's first major, and the people there, and in the surrounding areas, understand and appreciate great golf."

- Ron Green Jr.

Monday, August 30, 2010

If The PGA Comes To Quail What About...?

When it becomes official on Tuesday that Quail Hollow will host a future PGA Championship -- most likely in 2017 -- it will answer one question but raise others. Among the question that remain are:

-- What happens to the Wells Fargo Championship?

If Wells Fargo or another corporation wants to keep the tournament going beyond 2014 when the current contract expires, that could happen. But first a sponsor must agree to extend the tournament and that's not likely to happen until after the next round of television negotiations between the PGA Tour and the networks are complete.

The 2014 expiration date is as long as any tour event is locked in right now so the Charlotte event isn't staring at a deadline that other events don't have. Some aren't locked in that long. Greensboro was thrilled last week to announce an extension with Wyndham to 2012.

If the PGA Tour event were to continue, it would have to move at least one year (2017) because of the grass situation. They'll play a full bermuda grass golf course in August for the PGA. They play on overseeded rye in May for the tour event. They can't get the bermuda grown in early enough to play it in May and they can't kill out the rye and get the bermuda in well enough to be ready in August. The solution: Play elsewhere at least one year.

-- What about the greens?

When Phil Mickelson complained about the greens this year, he got the attention of many people. Course architect Tom Fazio has been on site and there are some changes in the works. There will be gentle changes to a couple of greens for next year but more dramatic changes likely down the line.

-- Will Quail stick with bentgrass greens?

Maybe the question is will any course around here stick with bentgrass greens much longer given the way the heat has tortured them this summer. Quail, like other courses, will look at other grasses including the new strains of bermuda. The club has the luxury of growing different grasses on practice greens to see how it does. Right now, getting the disease-plagued greens back in good shape is the priority at Quail Hollow.

-- How will a PGA Championship be different from the Wells Fargo Championship?

There will be more infrastructure, which means more corporate suites, a significnatly expanded merchandise area and, generally, more of just about everything. The PGA of America logo will be prominently displayed, a difference from the understated style of the tour event at Quail Hollow.

There won't be any questions about whether the top players will be at Quail Hollow. The PGA Championship annually has the strongest field of the four majors.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Here's Hoping The Heritage Is Just Getting Started

The official announcement today that the Heritage Classic will be played in 2011 is excellent news.

It doesn't draw the strongest field on tour but it has become, to use Davis Love III's words, an iconic event on the PGA Tour with its images of the lighthouse, Calibogue Sound and the Harbour Town Golf Links. Losing the Heritage would have been a huge loss for the PGA Tour.

There's still the significant issue of securing a title sponsor for 2012 and beyond, an effort that is ongoing, but locking down the 2011 date buys time to do that. Will a company decide it's worth the investment? Hopefully, but these are different times, in case you hadn't noticed.

The Heritage won't immediately follow the Masters next year but it will fall on Easter week, which should help the attendance while making getting a restaurant reservation even more difficult. In 2012, assuming the tournament continues, it will move back to the week after the Masters where it's a perfect fit.

It will be played the same week at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf Champions Tour event in Savannah, Ga., next year, awkward bit of scheduling with two big events within a one-hour drive of each other. It's even closer if you're going by boat.

If you've ever attended the Heritage, you know why it's special. It's small, relaxed and the way a golf tournament should be. It's a pleasure to watch golf there. The crowds are good but it's never hard to see the action. The setting is superb and it falls at the perfect time for the island, the tour and the players.

It's been played 42 straight years at Harbour Town. I hope that's just the beginning.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Welcome To The Future: Cell Phones At Tour Events

A few thousand fans were gathered around the 18th green Sunday afternoon at Sedgefield Country Club as Arjun Atwal prepared to knock in the six-foot putt that won him the Wyndham Championship and something interesting happened.

Not a single cell phone rang.

Last week was the first official test of allowing cell phones -- or mobile devices as the signs on site called them -- into a PGA Tour event and it came off just fine. The silent buttons worked.

Cell phones ring at every PGA Tour event whether they've been allowed in or not. Fans bring them in and use them. By saying it was okay -- and using concession areas as acceptable places to take and make calls -- the Wyndham Championship took a gamble that phones wouldn't interrupt play.

They didn't.

That doesn't mean it won't happen at future events but it didn't happen last week.

My guess is the tour will give it another try somewhere this fall and, perhaps as early as next year, allow cell phones into events.

I'm enough of a traditionalist that the idea initially bothered me but I know we live in a different time. I carry my cell phone with me most places I go just in case I need it. Even on the golf course, though not always.

As Mark Brazil, the Wyndham tournament director and one of the people who promoted the idea, said, just because one person doesn't want cell phones at a golf tournament doesn't mean they should tell others they can't have them if they're not disrupting play.

Talking to several players about it last week, none seem bothered by allowing the phones in. They figure fans are bringing them anyway because they see -- and occasionally -- hear them. Times have changed. The tour has to change with them.

Tell a potential spectator he can't have his phone with him for the five or six hours he's going to watch a golf tournament and you're going to lose some spectators. That's not in anyone's best interest these days.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Will Tour Reshuffle Leave Hilton Head Out In 2011?

One question has been answered about the 2011 version of the PGA Tour's annual stop on Hilton Head Island -- it won't be played in its traditional spot the week after the Masters.

A second question remains: Will it be played at all?

Multiple outlets have confirmed that in 2011 the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio will be played the week after the Masters, taking the spot that has belonged to the event played at Harbour Town for years. If the Hilton Head event isn't the week after Augusta, when will it be played?

There are indications it will be played two weeks after the Masters -- April 18-24 -- if the PGA Tour and local organizers can finalize a deal to assure the tournament can continue. It has been without a title sponsor since Verizon announced it would end its agreement with the tournament after the 2010 event.

Simon Fraser, chairman of the Heritage Classic Foundation, was quoted recently saying the organization has secured enough money to assure the event will be played next year but he wouldn't say when. Tournament director Steve Wilmot was unavailable for comment late Thursday.

Next year, the calendar allows for three events between the Masters and the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, one more than in recent years. That means that San Antonio and New Orleans will fill two spots but the middle one remains undetermined.

It has led to speculation that the Wyndham Championship, being played in Greensboro this week, could work its way into the mid-April spot if the Hilton Head tournament does not continue. Wyndham Worldwide announced this week it has extended its title sponsorship of the Greensboro event through 2012.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The PGA: Memorable For All The Wrong Reasons

I know Dustin Johnson did it to himself. The rules, strange as golf rules can be, were handed to him before the PGA Championship began and he didn't bother to read them. That doesn't make him different from most of the pros who tee it up week to week but it led to his awful gaffe Sunday at Whistling Straits.

The local rules were reportedly even taped to mirrors in the locker room to remind players to pay attention because Whistling Straits -- one wildly different place -- has more bunkers than can be counted and and everyone was forewarned.

But the way the PGA Championship ended was a mess and there was plenty of blame to pass around. Johnson is the guy who suffers the most though he deserves credit for taking questions and explaining what happened, no matter how embarrassed and angry and frustrated he must have felt. He could have skulked away but he didn't and, in the weird way sports works, he has thousands more fans today than he did two days ago.

But there's something about Whistling Straits that seems just too contrived for my taste. It's beautiful to look at but it strikes me as borderline goofy. It's the only place where I've covered a golf tournament and they handed out medical reports detailing how many spectators were injured trying to watch the action while climbing the manmade dunes.

It has a terrible finishing hole and the bunkering is over the top. Hundreds of them are on the course for effect, not actually considered to be play. That's why most of the bunkers aren't manicured and why Johnson didn't realize he was in a bunker on Sunday afternoon, since it had been filled with spectators moments earlier.

Here's another question: If you're going to have a rules official walking with the final group, shouldn't that person be there to advise a player if he's in a hazard? Especially at Whistling Straits, where no one's quite sure where the bunkers end and the rest of the course begins?

Johnson would have been wise to ask, obviously, but he didn't.

There was nothing wrong with what the PGA of America did in penalizing Johnson two strokes for grounding his club in a hazard. They followed the rules.

But the whole thing felt like a mess. The week started with the ugly Corey Pavin-Jim Grey episode and it ended with Martin Kaymer winning a tournament that will be remembered for what happened to Dustin Johnson.

It gave Whistling Straits a little piece of golf history. But not the kind anyone or any place can feel good about.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Harris "Optimistic" Quail Will Land A PGA

Quail Hollow Club president Johnny Harris said Saturday that he is optimistic that the club can soon finalize an agreement with the PGA of America to host a future PGA Championship though no agreement has been reached.

"We continue to have active discussions and we're optimistic but nothing has been consummated," Harris said.

The club has had a long-standing interest in hosting a major championship and the 2017 PGA Championship is the next available open date on the event's schedule. Quail Hollow would also be open to hosting the Ryder Cup matches though the next open date on American soil is in 2024.

Harris and others from Quail Hollow visited Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis., on Thursday, site of this year's PGA Championship.

PGA of America officials have visited Quail Hollow to study its viability as host of a major championship and were satisfied it could handle the infrastructure necessary for a major.

A future PGA Championship would not necessarily mean the end of the annual Wells Fargo Championship. The PGA Tour event is under contract through 2014 and Harris said the club would be open to keeping its annual tour stop while adding a major championship.

"They are not mutually exclusive," Harris said.

If Quail Hollow were to land a PGA Championship, it would be played in August and would necessitate moving the Wells Fargo Championship for one year if the PGA Tour event continues beyond 2014.

Harris said Quail Hollow has had discussions with other major golf organizations about future events but declined to specify them.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Talking Golf With Mark Rolfing

Mark Rolfing is in town this week, hosting The Golf Channel's coverage of the U.S. Women's Amateur at Charlotte Country Club. Rolfing said it's his first visit to Charlotte.

This is Rolfing's 25th year in television, having become one of the most familiar faces and voices on NBC's coverage of The Players, The U.S. Open and the Ryder Cup, along with his work with The Golf Channel.

We talked for a few minutes earlier this week about a variety of golf-related subjects. Here are Rolfing's thoughts on a variety of subjects:

On his foundation, the Mark and Debi Rolfing Charitable Foundation, taking over management of the SBS Championship, the season-opening PGA Tour event in Hawaii, where he lives:
MR: "The event was in trouble and I stepped in to help out with the foundation I have. The ship was going down. We needed a plan for it.

"What we want to is create an all-star concept for the first event of the year. Golf doesn't have an all-star game. The way it's been, the PGA Tour season starts all of a sudden on a Thursday.

"We want to do things starting the Sunday before and through the Wednesday before the tournament starts to make it like an All-Star game in other sports. I can see having a long-drive contest, maybe some kind of all-star 'Big Break' competition and I've always thought about having the pros play with their caddies in a little event."

On Tiger Woods' struggles this year: MR: "Just when you think things may be returning to normal, they always seem to take a different turn. In a lot of ways, it's been good to have more attention on other players but the general public and the casual golf fan still want to see Tiger and see him play well. It's reflected in the (television) ratings."

On Phil Mickelson:
MR: "I've always looked at him as a mad scientist kind of guy. He loves to concoct things out of what would appear to be nothing whether it's with the shots he hits or the things he does in every day life. He's a curious George type of guy."

With a new television deal to be negotiated in the coming months, there has been talk about enhancing telecasts by perhaps doing on-course interviews with players. What do you think?
MR: "I'm not a fan of on-course interviews because the players never say anything worthwhile. The best audio going right now is between the player and their caddie. At NBC, we really try not to talk over that.

"I don't see on-course interviews being a big part of telecasts."

On his 'Global Golf Adventure' television specials, the latest of which will air Sunday, Sept. 5 at 2:30 on NBC:
MR: "It's the first golf travel show on network television and it's been successful beyond my expectations. We did the first one in Hawaii, then went to Bermuda then to Wales.

"This one will be different. It's at Pebble Beach and I'll be reliving the final round of the U.S. Open, which to me was one of the strangest days I've ever seen. I'm looking at it through the eyes of Graeme McDowell. I sat down with him in Akron and had him to go back in time to that day. It's sort of a chronology of what happened that day."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Five Picks -- Not Tiger Or Phil -- To Win The PGA

Trying to pick a winner of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits which is more of a target-style course than it initially appears, is pure guesswork. But figuring neither Tiger Woods nor Phil Mickelson drive it straight enough, here are five picks to win the PGA Championship:
1. Steve Stricker: He’s due to win a major and how perfect would it be if it came in his home state of Wisconsin?
2. Hunter Mahan: Winning the WGC event last week was a huge step for him. Maybe a major is next.
3. Sean O’Hair: Like Mahan – and maybe soon Tiger Woods – he’s playing well with help from teacher Sean Foley.
4. Rory McIlroy: He caught a bad break with the weather or he’d have won the British Open.
5. Justin Leonard: Had a chance to win the 2004 PGA at Whistling Straits.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Can Tiger Afford To Sit Out The Ryder Cup?

Tiger Woods was right Sunday when he said he shouldn't be picked to be part of the U.S. Ryder Cup team if he's going to play like he did at Firestone last week -- where he couldn't have won the club championship the way he chopped it around there.

But can Tiger afford to take a pass on the Ryder Cup?

He looked at Firestone like a man disgusted with his game and disengaged from the competitive chase. Through all the years, he's never given up but he essentially surrendered Saturday afternoon when he basically walked from one lousy pitch shot to another on the 18th hole. Hard to blame him. If you play golf, you've been there.

Tiger said his game is not far from where it was in the late '90s when he was rebuilding his swing. Right now, it looks like I did in junior high shop class -- with a bunch of pieces but not sure how to fit them together.

Unless he surprises all of us, himself included, Tiger isn't likely to be a factor at the PGA Championship this week, which means he won't earn one of the eight automatic spots on the Ryder Cup team. That leaves it to captain Corey Pavin and Woods to decide if he'll be in Wales this fall.

I've always contended he belonged because he's Tiger and his game could come rushing back. Even with a dull edge, he's intimidating and imposing. But right now he looks lost and it's reasonable to ask if he should be picked for the team.

Given the bruises to his image already, can Woods turn down the chance to represent his country without being criticized for it? He's never been a big fan of the Ryder Cup, at least that's the feeling he gives off, but Woods understands what it means. You want a fifth major? It's the Ryder Cup.

For a change, Woods needs the Ryder Cup. It won't be all about him in Wales. It will be about playing with Steve Stricker and being in the team room. It's about the spirit of the thing and looking at Woods these days, it's apparent he needs something to change his spirit.

Friday, August 06, 2010

On Second Thought...

Okay, maybe this isn't the week Tiger Woods wins again.

He's slapping it around Firestone this week like he doesn't know where he's going -- that's because he apparently doesn't know where it's going -- and there's no sign of it coming back quickly.

His game is a mess. He used to turn 74 into 70. Now he turns 74 into 74.

Given all that's happened the past 10 months, every week now is a referendum on his golf game. He's not winning many votes and he's not winning any tournaments.

And he's wearing a white belt.

Who is this guy?

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Is This The Week Tiger Finally Wins Again?

If you want to get into numbers crunching regarding Tiger Woods' there are plenty to crunch.

How about this one that Woods wasn't aware of until asked about it Wednesday: He's won 12 of 17 tournaments he's played after the British Open since 2006. I know, that's really parsing it but, still, 12 out of 17 is pretty good from the foul line and insane in golf tournaments.

Then there are these statistical factoids unearthed by another reporter:

In 2008, Woods made 93.5 percent of his putts between five and 15 feet. That's beyond outrageous if you didn't know. This year, he's making 44.3 percent. That's as average as a burger and fries.

Here's another one from the same study of Tiger's fall to mortaldom: On shots from 100 to 125 yards, Woods has fallen from first on tour (in accuracy) to 192nd. No wonder he hasn't won.

Here it is August and Tiger ranks 111th in FedEx Cup points, which means he may not qualify for more than one playoff event if he doesn't get his swoosh in gear. He's ninth in Ryder Cup points and only eight automatically make the team (oooh, I wonder if Corey Pavin will pick him) and he's 80th on the money list (where he makes his spending money).

All of that leads us to this week, the World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, where Tiger (pardon another stat) has won seven of the last 10 times he's teed it up. But, as we all know, this year is different.

Since he showed up that Monday morning at Augusta National, we've been waiting to see the old Tiger and, except for Saturday afternoon at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, he's gone missing. He's been there in body, but perhaps not in mind and spirit.

This week at Firestone figures to be the week we get a proper read on where Woods and his golf game are. He admits he's putted like a 12-handicap at the same time he's finally figured out how to drive it in the fairway again.

His practice time has been gnawed away by other responsiblities. His kids. Perhaps his lawyers.

Tiger's return to his former glory is now in question.

This is his time of year. He says he feels his game coming together. This week he's playing Firestone. Next week, the PGA Championship.

He's been through longer winless spells as a pro. But not one quite like this one.

Will it end soon? Even Tiger probably wonders.

Monday, August 02, 2010

59: It's Not Such A Private Club These Days

A few bunker shots while wondering who'll be the next player to shoot 59 this summer:

-- There was a time when I could name every Super Bowl winner in order but as the years went by and the list got longer, I couldn't remember them all.

The same thing may be happening with the list of PGA Tour players who have broken 60 in competition. It was easy when it was just Al Geiberger. Then came Chip Beck. Then David Duval. Then no one for a long time.

This summer Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby have done it. It's not that easy but there has been a remarkable run of really low scores this year. There was Trevor Murphy's 56 and the 57 by Bobby Wyatt last week in Alabama.

It's easy to say it's because the balls and the equipment are too good for the courses being played today. But the equipment hasn't changed appreciably in the last couple of years -- the ball still desperately needs to be rolled back -- and they weren't posting these numbers last year.

Give the best players firm fairways and soft greens and, unless the course is 8,000 yards long, they're going to treat it like an all-you-can-eat buffet. It was fun to watch players making buckets of birdies at the Greenbrier and you knew someone was going to flirt with 50-something. Sure enough, J.B. Holmes flirted with it and Appleby knocked it down, a nice win for a guy whose game had gone on walkabout a couple of years ago.

-- Consider this for a moment: Yani Tseng is 21 years old and she's already won three of the four major championships in women's professional golf. She picked up her second major Sunday at the Ricoh Women's British Open, changing the seemingly ever-changing question of who the best player in women's golf is.

Right now, she wins the argument regardless of what the world rankings say.

-- Trevor Banks of Lancaster, S.C., won the Carolina Am Sunday at Carolina Lakes Golf Club in Indian Land by four strokes over Jacob Eggers of Vilas. Both players earned exemptions into the pre-qualifying tournament for the Wyndham Championship next week in Greensboro.

-- Charlotte's Chris Brady was eliminated from The Golf Channel's 'Big Break Sandals Resort' last week. She made it through the first five rounds of competition.

-- Tiger Woods has won seven of 10 times he's played the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. If he's going to win this year, this week's World Golf Championship would seem to be the place he'd do it. But he was the favorite at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews this year and we saw how those turned out.