Here’s to the Winners!

This weekend found the sports world with a myriad of “feel good” stories.  Though your intrepid SwampSwami normally saves some stories for his end-of-week “Sweep-the-SwampCast” podcast, it’s time to break-out some good ol’ hot chocolate this Monday morning to salute some terrific sports stories from this weekend.

College basketball had three very compelling games played over the weekend.  On Saturday, the men’s semi-final #1 in the NCAA Final Four’s early game featured a nail-biter between the Auburn Tigers and the Virginia Cavaliers.

After Virginia led most of the game, Auburn’s outside shooters found their stroke in the massive domed stadium in Minneapolis and took the lead over Virginia with a minute to go.  The Cavaliers, who lost to the #16 seeded team UMBC in the first round last year, were looking like they were heading home again late Saturday afternoon.

Then, “That Guy!” saved the day.  As in UVa‘s Kyle Guy.  As a result, Virginia is playing for the school’s first national championship in tonight’s finale with Texas Tech.    

The junior guard for the Cavaliers literally saved his team from going home on Saturday with a clutch three-point shot from the corner with less than ten seconds left.  Then, with the game on the line, Kyle Guy drained three straight free throws with less than one second remaining to help Virginia edge Auburn 63-62 in a classic Final Four thriller. 

Here’s what you didn’t know about “That Guy!”  Kyle Guy, the young man with ice water running through his veins on Saturday, has been very public about suffering from anxiety and panic attacks while attending the University of Virginia. 

Guy moderated a panel on mental health for UVa athletes earlier this year and accepted an invitation to participate in a similar panel at this year’s Final Four in Minneapolis.  

He said, “That’s why I was transparent about it and came out about it. Being able to use that to help other people is what I always wanted to do here. Using basketball as a vehicle to do that has been tremendous.”

Weekend Good Story #2 – The Texas Tech Red Raiders shocked everyone except themselves in defeating #2 seed, Michigan State, by a score of 61-51 in the nightcap game on Saturday. 

Texas Tech’s coach, Chris Beard, was an assistant for a man named Bobby Knight when the legendary coach came to Lubbock.  Beard honed his coaching skills under Coach Knight and hit the road in search of head coaching success. 

Beard coached a semi-professional basketball team in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  He also coached a few small college teams at McMurry University, Angelo State, and then at the University of Arkansas – Little Rock. 

While spending just one season at UALR, Beard’s Trojans went 30-5 to get into the NCAA tournament, beat #5 seed Purdue, and, all of a sudden, Beard himself became one of the nation’s hottest coaching prospects. 

He landed at Texas Tech in 2016 and the Red Raiders are playing Virginia tonight with a chance to win their first national championship in men’s basketball. 

Weekend Good Story #3 – In the NCAA Women’s national championship game on Sunday afternoon, the Baylor Lady Bears prevailed (pardon the pun, “Bearly”) by one point over Notre Dame to win their third national championship under Coach Kim Mulkey. 

Though Baylor led most of the way, Notre Dame refused to go away and hit shot after shot to whittle a 17-point second half deficit and take the lead coming down the stretch.   Baylor lost one of its key players to an injury in the second half as Notre Dame closed the gap.

Then, Baylor’s Chloe Jackson, a transfer player from LSU, had the game of her life and scored a driving lay-up with 3.9 seconds left to give “da Bears” the national championship trophy to take back to Waco.   She scored a season high 26 points when her team needed her the most.

Weekend Good Story #4 – On Saturday, the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur golf tournament was held.  In resurrecting golfing memories of a charging Arnold Palmer back in the 1960’s, Jennifer Kupcho drilled a clutch fairway wood onto the green on the par-5 13th hole to claim an eagle 3 and pull away from challenger Maria Fassi and win the trophy.

Kupcho and Palmer have something in common.  She attends Wake Forest University, where Arnold Palmer played collegiate golf and has a statue on campus.  Kupcho also drained a final birdie putt on the 18th green to seal the win – just like Arnie did back in 1960!  Great job, Jennifer!

Weekend Feel-Good Story #5 – Then there’s the story of PGA golfer, Corey Conners.  Last week, he wasn’t invited to be in the starting field for the Valero-Texas Open in San Antonio.  Conners is 27 years of age and had yet to win on the PGA tour.

So, like many others, Corey Conners teed-it up with the other PGA Monday qualifiers hoping to grab a spot in Thursday’s starting field.  He finished in a tie with six other golfers for the final place in the field and then had to win the six-man playoff to claim the final place in the PGA event.

Conners’ great golf continued during the first three rounds last week, and he found himself in the final group for Sunday’s fourth round.  After taking the outright lead on Sunday with four birdies on the first five holes, Corey Conners’ chances took a serious dive when he bogeyed holes #6, 7, 8, and 9 to fall back out of the lead with nine holes to play. Ouch!

Instead of giving-up, Conners made the turn, corrected course, made three consecutive birdies to start the final nine holes, and won his first PGA tournament by two strokes on Sunday.

The last PGA player to qualify on Monday and win a PGA Tour event the same week was Arjun Atwal in 2010 at the Wyndham Championship. Conners is just the fifth player in PGA tour history to accomplish such a rare feat. 

Plus, he and his wife can now celebrate the victory with a visit to Augusta National in Georgia this week.  In addition to winning over $1.3 million on Sunday, Corey Conners also earned a trip to play in The Masters’ elite field this Thursday!

The moral of these stories?  If you’re having a tough day on Monday, just remember to keep your head-up and keep on keeping-on!  Your chance for personal victory could be coming very soon!

Arnie’s advice for Phil? Stay focused!

Phil Mickelson won the extended Monday morning finish of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with a three shot victory.   The tournament was suspended Sunday night due to darkness after a rare hail storm littered the scenic Pacific seaside golf course for about two hours during the final round.

With the victory, Mickelson claimed his 44th professional career title which ranks Lefty in ninth place on the PGA all-time victory list. 

The leader in career PGA wins is Sam Snead with 82.  Tiger Woods is two behind with 80.  Jack Nicklaus is third with 73, then Ben Hogan (64), Arnold Palmer (62), Byron Nelson (52), Billy Casper (51), and Walter Hagen (45).   

I was surprised to learn that Phil has been on tour for 29 years.  For PGA players with at least one professional win, only Sam Snead and Raymond Floyd (30 seasons) have played longer on the big tour. 

One way or another, Sunday, June 16, 2019 will be a huge day for Phil Mickelson. 

In addition to turning 49 years old on that Sunday, it is also Father’s Day and the final round of the US Open golf championship.  

With three Masters’ green jackets and one win each at the British Open and PGA Championship, the US Open is the only professional golf major championship which has evaded Phil Mickelson’s trophy case.  He has finished second in this event a record six times during his golfing career.

With a “Happy Birthday/Father’s Day” win this June at the US Open, Mick would become the sixth professional golfer to win the career “Grand Slam”.  He would join Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Ben Hogan, and Gene Sarazen in this elite golf club.

Now, let’s add a little more pressure.

With Phil Mickelson’s win on Monday at Pebble Beach Golf Links, it marked his fifth career win at one of the most beloved golf layouts in the world.

In June, the US Open will be played at…drum roll…the very same Pebble Beach. 

Phil Mickelson was born in southern California and still resides in the San Diego area.  Even if Tiger Woods is in the mix this June at the US Open, Phil’s boisterous fans should dominate the grounds of Pebble Beach that weekend. 

While it is great to have the majority of the crowd in your corner, it can put additional pressure on a golfer, too. 

I am reading Arnold Palmer’s book “A Golfer’s Life”.  Palmer was at the top of his professional popularity when the 1962 US Open was contested at Oakmont Country Club near his western Pennsylvania hometown of Latrobe. 

Palmer, like Phil Mickelson, was a huge crowd favorite, and “Arnie’s Army” really wanted their favorite golfer to take down a young upstart named Jack Nicklaus that week.

Arnie said that Nicklaus’ concentration (especially while the pro-Palmer western Pennsylvania golf fans were quite rude to Jack) was the best he had ever seen on a golf course.  The final round ended in a tie, and Arnold Palmer’s playoff loss to Nicklaus at Oakmont the following day was one of his biggest professional disappointments. 

In the book, Arnold Palmer said that he later asked Jack Nicklaus to travel with him in hopes of finding out the secret of Nicklaus’ amazing ability to concentrate and focus on the golf course.

Arnie, like Phil Mickelson, was known for his “go-for-broke” playing style.  Just like most average golfers who spend a lot of time hacking out of the rough, the trees, and the bunkers, Arnold Palmer and Phil Mickelson uniquely bond with those players by their ability to recover from occasional errant shots.

Also like Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson doesn’t shy away from his adoring golf fans and generally has a smile or wave for his legions of followers.  Mickelson’s fans call themselves “Phil Phanatics”, and they will be lining the fairways and greens of Pebble Beach en masse this June.

Palmer mentions in his book that his biggest professional defeats came when he would lose his own concentration on the golf course while Arnie’s beloved “Army” was prone to congratulate him a wee bit too early in the last round prior to the final putt being made on the 72nd hole.

Arnold Palmer mentioned in his book that his tough father (Deke Palmer – whom he called “Pap”) would tell his son to “Never quit, never look up, and, most of all, never lose your focus until you’ve completed your round”.

Phil Mickelson would be wise to head those thoughts this summer as he attempts to win his first US Open on a golf course where he has seen great professional success and with legions of fans ready to pat him on the back before the tournament ends.

It’s only four months until the US Open in mid-June.  This is going to be fun!  

Bring back The Skins Game!

As the golf world prepares for Thanksgiving weekend’s $20 pay-per-view event between Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, I wondered whatever happened to another made-for-television golf event called “The Skins Game”.

For twenty-five years between 1983 and 2008, the PGA (and, sometimes, LPGA) tour would feature four of the game’s most prominent players in an 18-hole challenge match.  Each hole had a certain prize money value with the largest amounts coming during the final few holes.

To win a hole, one golfer had to make the lowest score.  In the event of a tie, the prize money would be added to the next hole, etc. until one golfer won the “skin”.

The early years featured one or more of golf’s legendary players like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Lee Trevino competing against “young guns” such as Tom Watson, Curtis Strange, Fuzzy Zoeller, and Payne Stewart (to name a few).  Even Annika Sorenstam of the LPGA made an appearance in “The Skins Game”.

Fred Couples, though, became known as “Mr. Skins” as he won the event five times and more than $3.5 million in prize money.

The success of the show was the chemistry between the golfers.  You could expect one or more players needling the others (Lee Trevino and Fuzzy Zoeller come to mind) to help inject a little humor to loosen-up the more serious players such as Nicklaus, Strange, and, later, even Tiger Woods.

The exposure helped to humanize professional golfers as the players would wear microphones so viewers could keep up with the banter.  For golf fans, it usually made for a fun afternoon during the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas season when golf traditionally has faded from the sports landscape.

So, why did “The Skins Game” end?

One source said that the series ended after losing a title sponsor prior to the 2009 event.

One writer theorized that the lack of star-power hurts the game as golfers had become even more serious, too stiff, and that the beloved legends of the game were too old to make for a competitive entry.

Perhaps.

The annual event was also played on new venue (mostly in California) every year, so there was no continuity with both the players and the course/venue from year to year, too.

Personally, I believe that the increasing amount of professional and college football competition during the Thanksgiving weekend dealt “The Skins Game” a decisive blow. There are college and professional football games being played from noon until late at night on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.

More competition begets fewer viewers which likely meant lower television ratings and, the true reason The Skins Game doesn’t exist, less network sponsorship money due to a lower public interest.

That’s too bad, because professional golf could use a shot of excitement to help boost the game and help change the perception (though still mostly correct) that most professional golfers are overly-serious mechanical cyborgs devoid of a personality.

For every talented but “vanilla” golfer such as Brooks Koepka or Dustin Johnson, there are affable golfers such as Matt Kuchar or Brandt Snedeker to help loosen things up during a competition like “The Skins Game.”

Since the PGA Tour’s leading names all make plenty of money these days, maybe each player’s winnings in my “new” Skins Game event could be donated to each golfer’s favorite charity or charities with a guaranteed minimum dollar amount going to the participant’s charities to help take some of the golf pressure off.

Maybe then we might see more fun happening between the players in addition to some great golf being played.

It’s still hard to believe that “The Skins Game” has been gone from television for the past ten years.

Next weekend, golf fans will be asked to ante-up their own $20 personal skin if they want to watch Tiger and Phil play a match against each other.

Caveat emptor!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tiger Woods – Golf’s newest Pied Piper

Sunday’s 18th hole at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta at the 2018 Tour Championship was an incredible sight to behold.

It wasn’t simply the thousands of fans in the stands and along the sides of the fairway cheering for the champion coming down the fairway.  This time, they actually broke through the ropes and came running DOWN the fairway to get a closer look at the winner.

Tiger Woods.

It was at times emotional and other times a bit scary to watch.  Tiger’s fans were just as happy as he was in breaking a five year winning drought.  The excitement surrounding the PGA Tour’s biggest star return to the winner’s circle was incredible to behold Sunday.

Tiger was literally surrounded by thousands of adoring fans on his final walk up the fairway toward the final green.  Local officials were relieved that nothing other than an expression of support came from the crowd’s mad dash to surround their hero’s march to victory.

It has happened in golf a few times before but not very often.  I can remember Arnold Palmer marching through the galleries up to the 18th hole at The Masters in Augusta.  Same for Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson at the final hole of the Open Championship, too.

Tiger’s victory at the Tour Championship on Sunday marked a miraculous exclamation point on his 2018 surprising return to golf’s upper echelon.  The number of physical injuries (back and knee surgeries) added to the weight of self-inflicted mental anguish (an embarrassing and messy divorce along with a 2017 citation for driving while under the influence prescription pain killers) has turned golf’s most arrogant personality into a more sympathetic and, dare I say, likable personality in 2018.

At the PGA’s season finale, the golf world received a much needed shot of adrenaline with Woods’ two stroke victory Sunday.

NBC isn’t complaining.  Television ratings for the final round were up an astounding 206% from last year’s finale with a 5.21 overnight score.

The “Tiger Effect” is a proven winner for televised golf.  Just in time for this weekend’s Ryder Cup in France, too!

Golf’s newest Pied Piper has returned.  For the PGA Tour and NBC’s Ryder Cup coverage, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

 

The biggest winner on Sunday? Golf!

Wow, what a weekend of golf!  Seriously.  The PGA Championship, the final major of the 2018 men’s golf season, has now ended but not without injecting some much needed pizzazz back into the game.

Tiger Woods?  You betcha.

The television ratings?  Even more so!

Nearly lost in the Tiger Woods final round frenzy in St. Louis was the relatively quiet and steady play of the eventual winner, Brooks Koepka.

All he has done this summer is win two of the last three major tournaments!  Koepka’s 2018 Wannamaker Trophy for Sunday’s win should fit nicely between his two consecutive wins at the US Open in 2017 and 2018.

Koepka, whose buff looks are more in keeping with that of a clean-up hitter for your favorite major league baseball team, “kept-ka” (ha ha) pounding his drives down the middle of the fairway and leaving relatively easy shots into the greens at Bellerive Country Club all weekend long.  Impressively, he continued putting golf’s pedal to the metal even while that guy named Tiger Woods was doing his best impression of Jack Nicklaus during the final round of the 1986 Masters.

The crowds in St. Louis were enthusiastic and huge, and those legions of fans pulling for Woods were every bit as loud and supportive as Jack’s pack during his miraculous victory in Augusta 32 years ago.  Tiger’s iron play was spectacular as he drilled one shot after another within a few feet of the pin as the Missouri winds temporarily laid down for the Sunday afternoon showdown.

Tiger Woods has still never won a major golf tournament when trailing at the start of a final round, but Sunday’s sizzling 64 and eventual second place finish was certainly his best effort in the past ten years.  Woods whipped the crowd into a frenzy as he put together a charge on Sunday afternoon that Arnold Palmer would have been proud of.

Like Palmer, Woods was erratic off the tee most of the day.  In fact, he was 0-for-Front Nine in hitting the fairways.  But when you only need ten putts to navigate the first nine holes, good things will happen as Tiger cobbled together an opening three-under par 32 to close-in on the leader with nine more to go.

Meanwhile, Sunday’s final round leader continued playing as if he might have been wearing a set of Bose noise-cancelling earbuds.  Brooks Koepka never backed down as he blasted howitzers off the tee and dropped short irons into the greens all day to finish with a not-too-shabby 66 to earn his two-shot victory.

Woods delivered enough of the drama and excitement to juice the fans watching on television, too.  CBS Sports’ television ratings for Sunday’s final round were up nearly 70% from last year’s same event and posted a sterling 6.1 overnight mark.

Koepka’s win brought him nearly $2 million in prize money as he has likely locked-up “Player of the Year” honors for 2018 with two major wins this season.

Tiger Woods’ stellar play in the past month at the British Open and PGA Championship should earn him a Captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup team in September.

And, with Woods on the Ryder Cup team, NBC is now salivating about having a US golf contingent featuring golf’s newest young heroes like Koepka and one very stealthy Tiger on the loose who appears to be hungry to bag a few victories on the golf course again.

At least for this summer, golf is back!

 

 

 

Dear Phil and Tiger – It’s just a bad idea

Comes the news today that two of golf’s biggest winners are (maybe) planning on playing a high stakes golf match for $10 million.  Of their own money?

There are a lot of unanswered questions tonight as to why Phil Mickelson (winner of 43 professional events and 5 majors) wants to square off with Tiger Woods (winner of 79 tournaments including 14 majors).  Exactly why would two of the most successful players in PGA Tour history want to face-off in front of a national television audience for $10 million?

The story apparently began when Phil and Tiger rekindled their long-term oft-times icy and always dicey friendship at this year’s Masters tournament in April.  Both players are from California with Mickelson (now 47) about six years older than Tiger.  Phil was a junior golf, college, and amateur sensation.  Tiger one-upped him at nearly every turn several years later.

Over the years, these two golf icons seem to have always held a mutual (but begrudging) respect for each other, but neither has been particularly fond of the other one.

The duo’s relationship is quite unlike that of fan favorite Arnold Palmer with his younger prodigy, Jack Nicklaus.  In the 1960’s, Arnie’s Army initially despised Big Jack, but Palmer quickly grew to respect Nicklaus as their personal friendship blossomed while the two (along with Gary Player) helped grow interest in the game of golf by leaps and bounds.  Competitive to the end, these golfers were also very respectful of each other and seemed to have the best interests of the tour in mind during their playing heyday.

For the past twenty years, Phil and Tiger have done their share to give golf another jolt of fan interest and, importantly, better paydays for the players.  Like Arnie, Phil Mickelson has generally been considered the more friendly and approachable star.  Woods, like Nicklaus, has seemed more content on destroying the competition for the majority of his career.

Though every bit as competitive as The Big Three of the 60’s and 70’s, Mickelson and Woods seem to be drawn to high risk ventures.  Phil remains scarred by an insider trading scandal from a few years ago.  Tiger remains scarred by, well, you know that story all too well.

Both players are fading in their respective careers.  While Phil gained a victory this year (the WGC-Mexico) for the first time since his brilliant 2013 British Open victory, Tiger Woods remains winless since 2013 during his most recent comeback attempt following a variety of surgeries and personal issues.

But, really.  $10 million of your own money?

“It’s a ridiculous amount of money,” Mickelson says. “No matter how much money you have, this amount will take both of us out of our comfort zone.”

Woods added, “I’m definitely not against that. We’ll play for whatever makes him uncomfortable.”

In its current form, I think this is a horrible idea.  Both players will look like a couple of spoiled rich kids if this plays out the way we are currently being led to believe.  Both players’ personal mistakes will be magnified in the build-up to this match, too.  Both will look as greedy and selfish as it seems to the rest of us.

If you guys insist on doing this, here’s a better idea.

Put up $1 million each of your own money.  Get some sponsors to put the other $8 million into the pot to bring the total to $10 million.  The winner will donate the $8 million of sponsors’ money to a variety of the winner’s favorite charities plus the winner donates his own $1 million to the charity of his choice.  The loser will take his own $1 million and donate it to his charity of choice.

I think playing for charities will make these two players even more nervous than playing for their own already bloated wallets.

In my opinion, playing the match for personal cash and satisfaction will bring dishonor to both players, tarnish the game itself, and encourage high stakes gambling.  I think it would also be a really bad example to any kids who may have looked-up to these two golf stars (especially their own kids).

Amy Mickelson may already have a divorce attorney on speed dial.  Tiger’s ex probably should have her attorney verify that Woods’ child support checks are still good to cash if he loses.

Guys, seriously.  As this currently appears, the event will be an incredibly selfish clash of golfing egos.

In the name of Arnold Palmer, it might be best just to forget the whole thing.

 

Will “Phil’s thrill” kill his Ryder Cup chances?

If you didn’t see highlights from the third round of this year’s US Open men’s golf championship, the most controversial moment of the day came from a golfer who shot an 81 and was near the bottom of the field.

Phil Mickelson, of course!

In case you didn’t see the event which sent the golf world into an old-school twitter, Phil Mickelson (obviously frustrated by the incredibly difficult pin positions and green speeds at Shinnecock Hills on Saturday) missed a relatively short putt which ran past the 13th hole and was clearly picking up steam, heading down a hill, and back into the fairway.  After the ball edged its way past the hole, Phil jogged toward the steamrolling ball, outstretched his arms, and putted the ball back toward the hole!

He was charged with a two stroke penalty, but, in the eyes of golf purists, he committed a sin of unpardonable magnitude.  Why, he had disrespected the game itself!

GASP!

Curtis Strange, a two-time US Open champion working the tournament for Fox Sports, commented, “I’ve never seen anything like that from a world-class player.”

Paul Azinger, a former PGA champion, added, “That’s the most out-of-character I’ve ever seen Phil Mickelson.”

Worldwide opinion was even more openly angry.  One British golf writer called Phil a “chump” and “silly a$$” for his disrespectful golf behavior.

What in the name of Arnold Palmer was Phil thinking at the moment?

Phil’s playing partner, the lovable Brit, Andrew “Beef” Johnston, posted his own thoughts via the new-fangled Twitter:

After the round, Mickelson didn’t help himself by digging a deeper hole of shame as he spouted off a variety of excuses about his boorish (for Phil) on-course behavior.

As a serious golfer myself and a USGA member since 1994 (according to my bag tag), I thought Phil had simply given up on his chances at this point and made a bone-headed (but temporarily quite funny) mistake. Mickelson’s frustrations with his inability to win the US Open (and complete the career Grand Slam of major championships) are legendary.  I think he temporarily lost his cool as he saw yet another US Open slipping away from him – literally right down the 13th green.

In my opinion, Phil should have apologized profusely for his brief lapse of golf etiquette and (my opinion) voluntarily withdrawn as his punishment.

Ultimately, Mickelson played in Sunday’s final round, shot a respectable one-under par 69, and finished tied for 48th place.

According to the latest Ryder Cup rankings, Phil Mickelson is currently ranked in the eighth position and would have the final guaranteed spot onto the 2018 US team, which will compete against the Europeans this September in France.

Mickelson has played on an incredible eleven consecutive US Ryder Cup teams going back to 1995.  That’s more than Jack Nicklaus (6), Arnold Palmer (6), and Tiger Woods (7).

But, what happens if Phil slips a few spots over the next few months and is no longer an automatic qualifier in 2018?

I think it is entirely possible that, due to the public relations fallout over Phil Mickelson’s US Open gaffe, the US Ryder Cup team captain, Jim Furyk, may think hard before naming Phil as one of the four “Captain’s picks” for this year’s squad.  Furyk may not want to deal with the heat.

Though Phil Mickelson owns a British Open title and, prior to this weekend, was generally beloved by most golf fans, his brief lapse during Saturday’s third round of the US Open will make him an easy target for heckling by Euro golf fans during Ryder Cup week.

Phil has no one to blame but himself, and he should be prepared to accept the consequences should his Ryder Cup streak come to an end this September.

 

 

 

 

 

The Players’ greatest player was woefully underpaid

The Players Championship teed off today at the TPC Sawgrass course just south of Jacksonville, Florida.  The tournament features every single one of the world’s top fifty players among the 144-player field.  This is a rare treat for fans as injuries, travel issues, and personal issues usually cause a few of the top golfers to miss a top event like this.

The golfers chasing the Players Championship trophy will not be competing for chump change, either.

This year’s winner will pocket an incredible $1.85 million from a total purse of $10.5 million.

Talented young golfers like Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Thomas are reaping the benefits of playing in the Tiger Woods era of golf.  Riding Tiger’s wave of popularity over the past twenty years, golf’s television ratings also skyrocketed.

As a result of the increased money paid by advertisers for this prized demographic (men and women with significant disposable income to spend on advertised products and services), the networks began to pay big bucks for the television rights.  Tournament payouts eventually followed suit, and paydays for golfers on the PGA tour soared.

Today’s golfers (young and old) owe a debt of gratitude to the charisma of the late Arnold Palmer and, later, to Tiger Woods for helping mold golf into a more marketable television commodity.

Financially speaking, today’s golfers really do make significantly more money today than golfers toiling during the previous era dominated by Arnie, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, and other Hall-of-Famers from the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s.

Take Jack Nicklaus, for instance.  Nicklaus is the only three-time winner of the Players Championship tournament (now in its 44th year).

Golf’s greatest major champion won this event in 1974 and received $50,000 from a total purse of $250,000.  Based on the US government’s really nifty CPI inflation calculator, Jack’s 1974 win would be worth $268,000 today.

In fact, Big Jack won the Players Championship again in 1976 and pocketed $60,000 from the purse of $300,000.  It would be worth $270,373 today.

Nicklaus’ third win of this event in 1978 earned him another $60,000 first place check from the $300,000 payout.  That would be worth $240,524 today.

In today’s dollars, Jack Nicklaus won this event three times in the 1970’s and earned an inflation adjusted $778,000.

In contrast, this year’s winner of the Players Championship will pocket Jack’s total earnings from three wins plus another cool $1.1 million!

This adds significant credibility to the laments heard from the tour’s older golfers who preached that they had to compete hard every week to win, place or show on the golf course just to make any significant money on the professional golf tour.

By contrast, every one of the top ten finishers in the 2017 Players Championship earned more than Jack Nicklaus did in any victory during the 1970’s.

Count your blessings along with your dollars, PGA Tour members.

You are truly living in the golden age.

 

*If you want to have a few minutes of nerdy good clean fun, try using this calculator to see how much money you made in your early working years versus today.

https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

 

 

 

 

Arnie’s Tourney – final round rallies fit for the King!

Golf legend and one of my heroes, Arnold Palmer, passed away in late 2016.  Palmer was known for his incredible ability to rally during the final round to win many of his 62 career PGA tournaments (fifth best all-time).  The memory of Arnie walloping a drive off the tee, his classically-unorthodox corkscrew finish, and then watching him purposefully stride down the fairway (all while hitching up his pants as he walked) in search of another final round birdie is what many golf fans remember when thinking about the sport’s charismatic “King”.

Sunday’s final round of The Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida was filled with final round rallies from some of golf’s current stars.  A few rallied and faltered (like Arnie sometimes did) until one of the competitors channeled his inner Arnold Palmer to close his round with a slam dunk birdie on the final hole to win for the first time in 18 months.

No, his name wasn’t Tiger Woods.

Rory McIlroy blitzed Bay Hill with a scorching eight under par 64 to grab the win on Sunday.

Rory had a few Palmer-like challengers, though, as this horse race had several leaders jockeying for position coming down the home stretch.

Tiger Woods?  Yes, Tiger (an eight-time winner of this event) gave his best imitation of a vintage Arnold Palmer charge as he reeled off a series of back nine birdies get within one shot of the lead with just three holes to play.  Alas, his alter ego (aka Tiger-in-the-Woods) emerged again on the 16th hole as Woods inexplicably abandoned his conservative 2-iron/3-wood tee shots in favor reaching for his unreliable driver.  Cries of “Fore Left!” came from the tee box as Tiger’s ball hooked out-of-bounds.  The bogey cost Woods a chance to win the tournament, but he has now finished in the top 10 for two consecutive weeks on the PGA tour.

The most surprising Arnie imitator on Sunday came from the young man with the quirky golf clubs and quirky swing who is a quickly becoming one of the tour’s newest stars.  Bryson DeChambeau, whose irons are all of the same length and who putts with a very uncomfortable looking (but effective) straight-armed style, found himself in the heavy rough after his tee shot on the par-5 16th hole.

During Sunday’s coverage by NBC, Bryson gave a moving tribute to Arnold Palmer by describing and showing the personal letter which he received from The King himself after collecting his first PGA tour win in 2016.  A tearful DeChambeau said that the letter came just two weeks before Palmer’s passing and will forever serve as a reminder of just how generous and kind-spirited that Arnie-the-man was.

Knowing that Rory McIlroy was up ahead making birdies, DeChambeau somehow blasted an iron out of the rough, miraculously landed his ball on the green in two, and then eased the golf ball into the cup for an eagle to move just one shot out of the lead.  It was almost as if Arnold Palmer guided that ball into the hole.

Up ahead, though, it was Rory McIlroy who answered his challengers once again.  He flew his second shot onto the 18th green and then rolled in a long putt for his eighth birdie of the day to seal the victory.

After the round, Rory offered-up a toast to Arnold Palmer.

“To be able to win his event, I wish I walked up that hill and got a handshake from him, but I’m so happy to be winning that trophy.”

Ironically, McIlroy’s last PGA tour win came on the same day Palmer passed away in September, 2016.

In the past few weeks, McIlroy and Phil Mickelson have both returned to the winner’s circle.  Meanwhile, Tiger Woods is officially lurking again, while young stars like Bryson DeChambeau are giving golf fans hope that this year’s Masters in three weeks might be something really special.

Somehow, I can picture 4-time Masters winner Arnold Palmer giving that comment a big thumbs up!

Moving the PGA Championship to May makes perfect $en$e

Golf’s final major championship is moving from the dog days of summer and into the middle of May in two years.  Earlier this week, the PGA announced that its annual men’s golf championship (which will begin on Thursday in Charlotte, NC) will be shifted away from the second week of August and into May beginning in 2019.  To accomplish this, the tour will shift “The Players’ Championship” in Florida from May back to a March date.

This move makes a lot of sense in many ways.  The August heat removes a lot of terrific golf course venues in both the South and Midwest regions from consideration as late summer temperatures average into the 90’s.  In 2007’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, the August temperatures soared above 100 degrees to scorch the fans and the players alike.  Since then, the PGA has sought venues generally north of the Mason-Dixon Line (New Jersey and Wisconsin the past two years, for example).

Let’s face it.  By August, many golf fans are also turning their attention toward the start of the NFL preseason and/or the stretch run of the Major League Baseball season.  Plus, many families are scrambling to squeeze a little more summer vacation in August prior to the start of another school year.  And don’t forget, college football is right around the corner in about three weeks, too.  Golf?  Most sports fans aren’t thinking about golf or likely care about watching another golf championship being played in the middle of August.

The numbers prove it.  That’s the real reason why the PGA is wise to make this move.  Money talks, and the PGA’s ratings have been sinking faster than the stock price of former retail giant, Sears, the past few years.

Calling golf’s television ratings dismal is being nice.  Disastrous is more like it.  The final round television ratings for this year’s US Open in June (won by a bland relative newcomer, Brooks Koepka) were the second lowest ever, slightly ahead of the 2014 snooze fest won by another android-like golfer named Martin Kaymer.  Sure, Koepka and Kaymer played great golf and deserved to win their respective US Open trophies, but both players could use a shot-in-the-arm of Arnold Palmer charisma or Phil Mickelson’s enthusiasm by at least acknowledging the fans’ appreciation when sinking a putt or hitting a great shot.

With Tiger Woods’ potential return to the game fading fast, Phil closing in on eligibility to play on the Champions Tour, and a surplus of personality-devoid robo-golfers taking the stage, televised golf is in trouble.  By moving one of its four premier events to the middle of spring when the only real competition is the NBA’s never-ending playoffs, the PGA Tour has made a smart business decision.  The television ratings in May should, hopefully, top those in August.

Next up – time to end the PGA’s golf season (FedEx Cup) by early September and, like other major sports, simply go away for a few months to give both the fans and players a chance to get some R&R.