Thursday, October 23, 2008

A trip around the golf world ...

Just some thoughts while contemplating the changes in the FedEx Cup qualifying system for the 2009 PGA Tour season.

The first thought I have about the FedEx points system is that it might be a moot point. The European PGA Tour has stolen some of the PGA Tour’s thunder with their Race to Dubai. The Euros (with help from the Dubai sheiks) have doubled up on the FedEx Cup by posting a $20 million bonus at the end. By the way, instead of the intricate points system trying to be employed on these shores, the Euros are relying on their Order of Merit (that’s money list). Gee, what a novel idea, but isn’t it too simple?

There’s an unwritten rule in professional golf. If you put $20 million on the table, they will come. The first player of note who said he’d adjust his schedule to attempt to qualify for Dubai was Phil Mickelson. Of course he said something about enhancing his career by becoming more of an international player. Right, and if someone would put up $30 million for a series on the moon, he’d play to enhance his career by becoming more of an intergalactic player.

The problem with being the first to admit he’s succumbed to the golden glow is you take the first hit. There will be others and you can count on it. The system works in favor of the players. The four WGC events count to the 12 event minimum as do the four majors. That leaves four appearances. Since the 2009 season begins in less than a month, look for some PGA Tour players to get a head start in the early part of the European schedule. Many of the Americans travel to Scotland to play the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond the week prior to the British Open, so in effect the PGA Tour members who could challenge in Dubai won’t have to alter their schedule that much. It should be interesting.


This week in the first two rounds of PGA Tour Q-School First Stage competition, Miami’s Erik Compton opened with a disappointing 76 and a 75. Maybe the scores aren’t great, but the effort is out of this world.

Five months ago, Compton underwent heart transplant surgery—his second. He has the spirit of a champion, maybe now he has the heart, or at least one that will last. Hopefully, Compton will be able to recharge his professional career which included a stint on the Nationwide Tour following a successful campaign on the Canadian Tour. Compton turned professional following a successful collegiate career at Georgia.

Will Compton finally realize his dream of making it to the PGA Tour? The odds say no, but I don’t think he reads the morning line. He’s a 28-year old golfer with his third heart. He’s been defying the odds since his first transplant at age 12. How can you tell him no.


This past year was supposedly going to be Annika Sorenstam’s “Retirement Tour.” Now, one of the greatest woman players of all time is hedging her bet. Sorenstam, who will marry in January, had planned to put her clubs into mothballs following a tournament in China. Now, she says she might just go into hiatus.

Her plans as far as marrying and starting a family remain in tact, but now she says that depending how she feels and her situations work out, she may consider a return. Normally, this corner would have untoward remarks about waffling like this. However, given the class and dignity she has brought to the game, we can only wish her the best.

Bartender, a glass of European red wine, perhaps an Italian vintage if you will. It appears I might be spending some time on the continent over the next year.

See you on the first tee,


Wednesday, October 15, 2008


It’s Wednesday Oct. 15, 2008. In a Madrid hospital, Seve Ballesteros is recovering from brain surgery to remove a tumor. You can count on two things on following a surgical procedure. The doctor never says anything other than surgery was successful and he/she never issues a specific time line for recovery.

Realizing this, we can only hope for a complete and speedy recovery for one of the most charismatic golfers of all time. Personally, I fondly remember the day Ballesteros was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Praise for how he won his first British Open championship by hitting a tournament-saving shot from a parking lot, how he almost singlehandedly raised the European Tour from the ashes, how he resurrected the Ryder Cup flowed like fine Spanish wine. I remember that day, but moreover I remember a day, or moreover a week in 1983.

It was March of ’83 and the place was the Sea Turtle Inn in Jacksonville Beach, Fla. It was Tuesday morning and I’d arrived at the hotel the previous evening after driving from 18 miles north of Boston over the weekend. Being that this was the first Tournament Players Championship that I covered, I was placed in the media hotel as far away from the course as possible.

That explained why I was there. I never found out why Seve was staying there. Regardless, as I entered the lobby that morning, the first person I recognized was Seve. He was pacing the lobby waiting for a courtesy car to pick him up and take him to the course. (This was before the players were issued cars to transport themselves). Since I was headed to the course, I introduced myself to the Spaniard and offered him a lift. With a perceptible sigh of relief, he accepted.

Due to traffic, it was a solid 30-minute ride to the TPC Sawgrass. During the ride, I found Seve to be humorous, charming and apparently a great guy. Then something happened. As I turned the corner to head up the road to the clubhouse, it felt as if the temperature in the car had dropped 20-degrees. I pulled up to the front of the clubhouse and as soon as I stopped, Seve bolted from the car. There wasn’t a “thanks for the ride” or even an acknowledgment that I was alive. He just got out and almost ran into the clubhouse. Okay, my ego didn’t demand any acknowledgment, but I thought it strange.

The next morning brought a close duplicate. I saw him in the lobby, offered a ride, was entertained on the ride and then it happened again. The guy who’d been in my car disappeared and was replaced by an iceberg. This time I asked what was up.

“I’m in my office now,” he said. “I wouldn’t come in the press room while you’re writing and bother you. I expect the same.”

I’d dealt with many professional athletes prior to that day and some of them more famous than Seve, but I’d never seen that level of intensity that could be turned on as quickly before or since. Since then, I’ve seen the jovial Seve and I’ve seen the other as well. To be honest, I prefer the former. I can say this. I’ve never seen an athlete who brings more to the table as far as determination to win.

Having said that should he bring that level of determination to his recovery program, he’ll be up and around in no time.

Bartender, a couple of tall, cool glasses of sangria for Seve and myself as I toast his health. Salud mi amigo, salud!

See you on the first tee,


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The value if The President's Cup

If you’ve ever wondered just how important assistant captains are in international matches, or how high the esteem is that the players on the PGA Tour hold for the Presidents Cup, Fred Couples has given you the answer to both questions.

All you ever have to know is that he named Michael Jordan as one of his assistant captains in next year’s President Cup joining Jay Haas. Michael Jordan? What happened? Was Brett Favre booked for that weekend? Did Manny Ramirez throw you over?

This is just the type of leadership that the US team doesn’t need and it’s the type of buzz that the Presidents Cup (better known as Ryder Cup Lite in this corner) certainly doesn’t need. The tremendous show that was the 2008 Ryder Cup did little to enhance interest in the second rate competition. Let’s face it, it’s tough enough to get the players to show up at the Ryder Cup and then to ask them to come back a year later for an event with less history and tradition is courting disaster.

Okay, there was a Presidents Cup in 2007. Who won? Where was it played? What do you remember most about the 2007 Presidents Cup?

The US won because they always win the Presidents Cup because any foreign devil that is eligible for the Ryder Cup can’t play in the Presidents Cup. That leaves a hand full of Aussies, a South African or two and maybe a Central or South American or three. Be sure to invite Mike Weir or Steve Ames from north of the border and round it off with the best Japan has to offer and you have a Presidents Cup team.

The 2007 Presidents Cup was played at the Royal Montreal Golf Club in Canada. As for what was the most memorable moment, there were only two to pick from. There was Woody Austin falling into the water while trying to hit a shot and there was Mike Weir pleasing the home crowd by beating Tiger Woods in a singles match. Trust me on this. Weir doesn’t beat Woods in a Ryder Cup match and no one would have even chuckled at Austin if he fell overboard at Valhalla last month.

The Presidents Cup is what it is, a nice little exhibition. Until it stands the test of time it will be little more than a way for the PGA Tour to throw a bone to their non-European members and make even more money for their coffers. Having said that, why do they have to stunt the growth by making a retired superstar who totes a single-digit handicap feel like one of the boys?


From the file of improbable stats come these beauties. This past season Tiger Woods won $5,775,000 in just six events. During his entire career, Jack Nicklaus won a TOTAL of $5,734,031. What does Anthony Kim, Brandt Jobe and Paul Goydos have in common. They all have won more money in their careers than Nicklaus. Finally, what do Tom Pernice, Jr., Kirk Triplett and Billy Andrade have in common? They’ve all won more than twice the money the Golden Bear won.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Will the economy crisis affect the Tours?

With financial institutions falling by the wayside on a daily basis, the entire country is in an upheaval. I realize this isn’t a political blog and we can all be thankful for that. However, this is a golf blog and mention of failing financial institutions is apropos in this instance.

A quick look at the PGA Tour schedule reveals 10 tournaments that have financial institutions as title sponsors. This number doesn’t include those that are sponsors on a lesser level. In a cliché, “Houston we have a problem.”

This number also doesn’t include the Champions and Nationwide tours who have a couple of title sponsors apiece. In fact, Bank of America that has sponsored a Champions Tour event in Massachusetts and is the longest running tournament (under different titles) on the elder bracket having been on the schedule since year one. They bailed out before this year’s event.

A quick look at the LPGA and the Duramed Futures schedules showed that they also have two financial title sponsors each. While we bet that in the past, they were disappointed that they only had two title sponsors from the financial community; today they must be breathing a sigh of relief.

The truth is title sponsorship carries an awesome fiduciary responsibility that far surpasses the purse. First and foremost, the title sponsor is most often responsible for the TV time. This means they either must fill the commercial time with their own commercials, or make sure the time is sold. In the past, this meant filling the weekend slots. Now, with The Golf Channel and others broadcasting the first two rounds, the financial responsibility has grown exponentially.

While the nuts and bolts of the bailout bill are being hammered out in Congress, you can be sure the midnight oil is being burned in Ponte Vedra and Daytona, Florida. It would be a shock if any of the financial institutions will have the nerve to retain sponsorship of a golf tournament. I think they’ll go the way of Ford, who sponsored the Players Championship on the Champions Tour as well as Doral on the PGA Tour. Not only did they drop those sponsorships, they pulled the plug on a very lucrative deal with Phil Mickelson when they started closing plants and laying off workers.

The cold hard facts are that these financial institutions will have a difficult time justifying these tremendous expenditures. If you couple that with a failing economy it’s obvious that the professional tours have a definite problem. Don’t be surprised if tournament schedules are a bit shorter next year.

The one thing the PGA Tours have going for them in this instance (and I hate to say it) is Commissioner Tim Finchem. If you find yourself in a political turmoil, you need a politician to get you out of it. Enter Timmie. In a past life, Finchem was a lobbyist on Capitol Hill. These skills alone may come in handy in preserving the schedule. However, I seriously wonder if he’ll be able to maintain the purse structure. It should be interesting.


Last weekend was the Tour Championship and the coronation of Vijay Singh as the King of the FedEx Cup and no one except Singh and his accountant and probably his caddie cared. Next year, there will be another version and another system. Maybe they’ll finally get it right if that is at all possible, but I really doubt it. The FedEx Cup was meant to mimic the NASCAR Race to the Chase. Thus far, it’s been nothing short of a monument to greed. It’s tough to justify a $10 million payoff with a faulty product. I would be shocked if FedEx renews the contract.

Unfortunately for the Tour, the FedEx contract expires the same time the current TV contract expires. Those could be dark days for the Tour.

Bartender, make my next one pure H2O straight from the tap. Times being as tough as they are, it’s time to tighten the purse strings you know.

See you on the first tee,