And the Champion Golfer of the Year is…

If you’re a golf fan like me, this weekend’s final two rounds of The Open Championship (aka The British Open) promise to have something in store for just about everyone.

Like a challenging venue?  Scotland’s famed Carnoustie golf links have given the world’s best golfers fits for decades.  The winner at this normally windswept golf course near the North Sea usually struggles to complete the tournament with an under-par score.  Patience is a virtue here.

How about legendary winners at Carnoustie?  Padraig Harrington took home the Claret Jug here in 2007.  Before that, winners include Paul Lawrie (1999 – more on him in a moment), Tom Watson in 1975 (his first of five Claret Jug victories), Gary Player (1968), and Ben “The Wee Mon” Hogan in 1953 in his first and only trip overseas for this major championship.

Want a fantastic finish?   Remember Jean Van deVelde?  No, he didn’t win, but his 1999 struggles on the 72nd hole with a three stroke lead made for one of the most unforgettable final holes in major championship history.  Needing only a double-bogey 6 to win, the Frenchman hit his golf ball into the weeds, the stands, and the greenside watery grave called the Barry Burn as he rolled in a gutsy 10 foot putt just to make a triple bogey 7 and ultimately lose in a playoff to Paul Lawrie.

As the players tee-off for this weekend’s final 36 holes, you should have no trouble finding a golfer to root for.

Can Jordan Spieth keep the ball in play off the tee and find the magic again with his putter to repeat as the winner?  If you like past champions, Zach Johnson is right there near the top of the leaderboard.  So is Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland.

Tiger and Phil?  They both start the weekend six shots back of the leaders (Kevin Kisner and Zach Johnson).  No doubt the golf fans at Carnoustie will be pulling for one of these legends this weekend.

If you like rooting for a deserving golfer to win their first major, look no further than Matt Kuchar (last year’s runner-up) and Rickie Fowler.  Both players are only a few shots behind the leaders starting Saturday’s third round.

How about a local favorite?  Tommy Fleetwood of Great Britain has a growing legion of golf fans with his pleasant personality and flowing locks.  He is only one shot back after 36 holes.

The big bombers pretty much bombed out at Carnoustie.  The current #1 ranked golfer, Dustin Johnson, #2 Justin Thomas, and #13 Bubba Watson learned the hard way that Carnoustie is crafted to harshly punish errant tee shots.

Those numerous bunkers around this golf course are deep and quite menacing.  In many cases, the only way out is hitting the ball backwards the same way it came in.  No wonder some of the pros call this course “Carnastie”!

For me, I enjoy watching golf being played in Scotland’s cooler weather (highs in the 60’s expected) while most of us fry in the heat of midsummer.

Grab a hot beverage and get up early to enjoy “Breakfast at the British Open” as the action gets underway six hours ahead of us in Scotland.

This year’s “Champion Golfer of the Year” will have defeated a truly star-studded field to earn the coveted Claret Jug.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Masters’ champ Patrick Reed swats away all challengers

Like King Kong perched atop the Empire State Building, it seemed like an endless parade of professional golf’s biggest stars were lined-up to try to bring down the leader, Patrick Reed, during Sunday’s thrilling finish at the 2018 Masters.

Reed, like King Kong, stood strong atop his leaderboard, beat his chest a few times, and then swatted away all would-be challengers as he grabbed a coveted green jacket by winning the Masters tournament for his first professional major championship.

Hours before the overnight leader and U.S. Ryder Cup hero teed off in Augusta, a conga line of Patrick Reed’s doubters came forward from within the golf media.

As I watched The Golf Channel’s Sunday pregame show prior to CBS’s live coverage, host Rich Lerner asked a trio of former professional golfers whether they thought Patrick Reed had “the right stuff” to win his first major title Sunday afternoon.  Both journeyman Brandel Chamblee and former British Open winner, Justin Leonard, said that Reed would not be able to sustain his lead.  Chamblee even trotted out a graphic of professional golfers who had blown a 3-shot lead entering the fourth and final round of the Masters.

Only David Duval, a former World #1 golfer and winner of the 2001 British Open, said that Reed’s mental toughness in Ryder Cup play would be on display again on Sunday at the Masters and carry him to victory.

The Golf Channel and CBS continued to hype viewers with their hopes that Sunday would be the rightful time for Rory McIlroy (paired with Reed in the final twosome) to win the Masters for the first time and become only the sixth player to win all four of golf’s major championships (joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Tiger Woods).

The front nine on-air “Rory Rooting Section” of CBS commentators Ian Baker Finch and 3-time Masters winner, Nick Faldo, became even more annoying as McIlroy quickly moved within one shot of Patrick Reed’s lead in the first two holes.  It was like they seemingly couldn’t wait for Reed to fade and get out of Rory’s way.

But then, just like during his legendary 2014 Ryder Cup singles victory over McIlroy at Hazeltine, Minnesota, Patrick Reed, who became dubbed “Captain America” during that Ryder Cup for his gritty style and fierce competitive nature and 3-1-1 record, found his putting stroke and rhythm again.

By the end of the front nine, McIlroy found himself five shots behind Reed.  He looked dejected and all but defeated heading into the final nine holes.

One down for Reed.  Who’s next?

Sunday’s final round at Augusta National found former Masters’ champion, Jordan Spieth, on fire.  Spieth started the day nine shots behind Reed.

He posted a sterling five-under par 31 on the front nine.  Spieth converted birdie after birdie and briefly tied Reed on the back nine at 14-under par.  Then, Jordan hooked his tee shot into the trees on the 18th hole, settled for a bogey, and dropped a shot to finish at 13-under par.

American Rickie Fowler and his playing partner from Spain, Jon Rahm, then made their own charges on Sunday afternoon before falling just shy of catching Reed.

Rahm found the pond on his second shot into the 15th green (the same pond that defending champion and fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia repeatedly hit en route to an unbelievable 13 during Thursday’s first round).  Rahm’s dunked ball led to a bogey and effectively ended his chances.

Rickie Fowler, a crowd favorite who was also seeking his first major championship, never faltered down the stretch and posted a birdie on the 18th hole to move to 14-under and narrow Reed’s lead to a single shot with one hole to go.

“Captain America” responded to the pressure again by smoothly driving down the middle on the 18th hole, hitting his second shot into the middle of the green, and calmly rolling in an uphill 3-foot putt for par to seal the one shot victory and grab his first green jacket.

Patrick Reed has always carried an air of cockiness about him.  Many tour players and golf fans don’t care for his sometimes aloof attitude on the golf course.

However, if you look at Patrick Reed’s golf game, he has to maintain a steely composure to grind out victories on tour.

He doesn’t possess a high torque fast golf swing capable of hitting 340 yard drives off the tee like McIlroy (at least until he throws his back out).

He doesn’t putt with the gifted golden touch of Jordan Spieth.

He doesn’t consistently hit laser iron shots into the greens like Rickie Fowler does, either.

But Patrick Reed has one thing that most other professional players don’t have.  Guts.  Abundant quantities of internal fortitude.

Don’t mess with golf’s new King Kong when he is holding onto the final round lead and the odds and media naysayers are stacked against him.  The more detractors, the merrier.

Patrick Reed deftly swatted away all comers on Sunday afternoon and earned his 2018 Masters title.

No mo S.H.O.? Say it ain’t so, Houston!

Thursday will begin the first round of what may be the final four rounds of men’s professional golf in Houston, Texas after a 72-year run in Space City.  If you want to see Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, and Rickie Fowler playing in the PGA tour event in Houston, you better hustle out to this year’s 2018 Houston Open.  Some are even saying that there might not be a PGA stop in H-town beginning next season.

The Houston Open began in 1946 and was won, appropriately, by a Texan named Byron Nelson. Other notable winners in the Bayou City include Arnold Palmer (twice), Gary Player, Curtis Strange (three times), Payne Stewart, Hal Sutton, and Fred Couples.

For the past 24 years, Shell Oil Company has sponsored Houston’s PGA tournament under the banner of the Shell Houston Open (SHO).

However, 2017’s event marked the final year of Shell’s corporate generosity.  Over the years, the Shell Houston Open has raised millions of dollars for Houston area charities while giving players a final opportunity for a Masters’ tune-up in the week preceding golf’s first major event.

Though your intrepid writer has yet to uncover an official reason why Shell dropped their sponsorship, it is quite possible that several years of relatively low oil prices and lagging corporate profits made it hard for the company to justify the hefty annual financial commitment required to sponsor the tournament.

One source indicated that a primary corporate sponsor will be required to commit spending a minimum of $5 million annually to have their name attached to a PGA tour event.  Despite SwampSwami’s personal attendance at several SHO events and faithful purchases of Shell gasoline over the years, it is probably difficult for the corporate marketing gurus at Shell to confirm that gasoline and other brand names have continued to receive a noticeable increase in sales, market share and corporate goodwill resulting from the company’s steep annual financial outlays with Houston’s PGA golf stop.

Unfortunately for the city of Houston and its golf fans, another corporate sponsor has yet to emerge in the ensuing year to pick up the tab for this event.  In addition to last summer’s massive floods from Hurricane Harvey, the past twelve months have remained tough for Houston’s energy business as oil, natural gas, and corporate stock prices kept slip-sliding away.

Timing is everything.  Even in the nation’s fourth largest city, the PGA and the executives running the Houston Open have been unable to land another title sponsor willing to sign a multi-year contract to sponsor the golf tournament..

The word is already circulating that the PGA is already looking to move the Valero San Antonio Open into Houston’s slot in the golf line-up beginning next season.  Ouch.  It’s bad enough that the Alamo City’s NBA Spurs have bested the Rockets in the basketball playoffs several times over the past 20 years, now Houston’s I-10 rival may be taking the city’s coveted pre-Masters spot on the PGA tour beginning in 2019.

Personally, I have to believe there is more to this story than what little we have heard and read on the surface (politics, anyone?).

For the PGA tour, though, the loss of Houston’s major corporate sponsor and, ultimately, a signature annual golf event in a major metropolitan area should be seen as an extremely loud wake-up call for the sport.

Professional golf needs to make a number changes (fewer tournaments, lower purses, and how about a shot clock to speed-up the game?) ASAP, or Houston won’t be the last PGA stop saying “B-bye” to the tour soon.

 

 

Rickie Fowler’s Fan Club has a new member

While many sports fans were watching hours of pregame hype prior to Sunday’s Super Bowl telecast, I clicked over to CBS to watch the PGA Tour’s most entertaining annual event in Phoenix.  The Waste Management Phoenix Open features the only hole on the professional golf tour which is entirely encircled with grandstands filled with fans – the par three 16th hole.

The desert golf patrons literally go wild in Phoenix and show-up in droves to support this event, which coincides with the Super Bowl every season.  Over 216,000 fans showed up – and that was just for Saturday’s third round!

The 16th hole at the TPC of Scottsdale is the pro golfer’s equivalent of walking into the Roman Coliseum to face the lions.  With about 20,000 fans jammed into the stands and enjoying a day of adult beverages, the professional golfer steps onto the tee knowing full well that the crowd will either wildly applaud or boo his tee shot and even his putting.  Most of the golfers love the atmosphere, while others simply skip the week to avoid the intense atmosphere and pressure.

Generally, the “good guys” of golf show up for this event.  Phil Mickelson and John Rahm both attended Arizona State and the locals go crazy rooting for them.  The ever-smiling Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson, and Brandt Snedeker are annual fan favorites, too.

But this year, the orange clad golfer from Oklahoma State University became even more beloved by Arizona’s golf fans and the national television audience.

Rickie Fowler took the lead in the early rounds of this tournament.  The 29-year old Fowler, no stranger to the winner’s circle, has already claimed four PGA tour wins during his brief career.  Fowler has also participated on three Ryder Cup teams and in two President’s Cups.

This weekend, though, Rickie Fowler wore a special Puma golf cap for the fans and television cameras which showed a small picture attached to the front of his golf cap.  The picture turned out to be a seven year old Phoenix boy who had befriended Fowler back in 2013.

Griffin Connell passed away about a week before this year’s golf tournament in Phoenix. Griffin had endured several surgeries attempting to help with a rare airway disorder.  Rickie Fowler and Griffin traded emails and text messages over the past few years.  Fowler was obviously touched by his #1 fan.

“He could care less if I played well or bad, he was always supporting us. Obviously he wanted to see me play well. (He) just kind of humbles you, grounds you a bit, and makes you realize that there’s a lot bigger things than just playing golf.”

After contending for the first three rounds, Rickie Fowler faded on Sunday’s final round with a two over-par 73 and finished tied for 11th place.  If his #1 fan would have been around, Fowler would have been consoled by a hug and a smile regardless.

Don’t worry about this past weekend, Rickie.  Maybe this will be the year where you will finally claim your first major golf championship.

Your rapidly growing fan club and I will certainly be pulling for you!

 

Koepka’s Kakewalk – a US Open snoozer

The 2017 US Open golf tournament at Erin Hills in Wisconsin is now over.  After a final round 5-under par 67, Brooks Koepka grabbed the tournament title with a record-tying 72-hole score of 16-under par.  Koepka’s winning tally tied Rory McIlroy’s 16-under total recorded in 2011.

That’s the good news.  Good night, everyone!

The bad news (especially for Fox Sports) was that Sunday’s final day of golf action lacked any significant drama for television.  No doubt, Brooks Koepka was a deserving US Open champion who played consistently well on Sunday.  He was machine-like in hitting fairways and greens en route to carding a final round of 5-under par 67 and pulled away to a 4-shot final margin.  The biggest news was that most of the other US golfers failed to muster an Arnold Palmer-like charge to challenge Koepka down the stretch.

Rickie Fowler, ranked #9 in the world and still seeking his first major win, was on the cusp of making a run after the front nine.  However, Fowler bogeyed two holes early in the back nine and faded into a tie for fifth place with a closing round of even-par 72.

Then there was Justin Thomas.  Ranked #13 coming into Sunday, Thomas was in the day’s final pairing and just one shot off the lead going into the final round.  He spent much of the front nine getting acquainted with the knee-high fescue rough of Erin Hills.  He went 3-over par in his first five holes and was never a factor after that.  Thomas shot a closing 75 and finished tied for ninth place.

The only scintilla of drama in the final round was provided by a plucky left-hander who led the tournament after 54-holes.  No, not Phil Mickelson!  Brian Harmon, doing his best Phil-the-Thrill imitation on the front nine, calmly rolled in a number of clutch putts early Sunday to stay near the top of the leaderboard.  On the back nine, though, Harmon dropped shots for bogies on holes #12 and 13 just as Koepka was adding three consecutive birdies to coast to victory.  Between Mickelson’s record-setting six runner-up finishes and Harmon’s second place finish on Sunday, a left-handed golfer has yet to win the coveted US Open.

The beautiful, long, but treeless golf layout of Erin Hills in Wisconsin was hindered in the first three rounds by rain-softened greens and a lack of wind.  The players peppered the relatively-benign course with a record number of under-par rounds.  The 36-hole cut of 1-over par tied the US Open record for the lowest score making the cut.

As the final round dawned, though, the long-awaited Wisconsin winds were finally blowing over 20 mph early Sunday, and the early golfers’ scores began to rise.  However, like much of this week, the afternoon winds faded back to a Sunday breeze as the leaders took to the course.  No wind = no drama!

Though the rolling Wisconsin landscape was gorgeous, the greens were in perfect shape, and the Badger state crowds were loud and supportive, the United States Golf Association apparently forgot that Wisconsin in the month of June is generally not very windy.  Since this layout was designed for the wind to be the primary foil of the professional golfers, somebody apparently forgot to tell Mother Nature to please make a much-needed adjustment.  For the golfers who landed their drives into the generously-wide (by US Open standards) fairways, Erin Hills simply played far too easily for the new breed of professional golfer.

I believe Erin Hills should get another chance to host the US Open down the line.  Next time, though, let’s hope that the fairway landing zones will be significantly narrower with additional bunkers strategically placed to discourage 350-yard monster drives from the modern-day bionic “Bombs Away!” brand of golfers.