GOLF WRITER // GENERAL EDITORIAL SPECIALIST
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Golf News & Views

Frequent commentary on current golf events on the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship, PGA Championship, Ryder Cup, trends in golf in general, this week on tour, golf products, and latest golf news.

What's in a name? Tour stops such as the Travelers have gone by many

This week, CliffSchrock.com will be blogging from The Travelers Championship in Cromwell, CT:

Newcomers to watching the pro golf tour may benefit from the fact they aren’t familiar with all the tour titles that veteran observers have cycled through.

Take this week’s PGA Tour event near Hartford for instance. The tournament is on its eighth name, the Travelers Championship. This year is the 51st playing of the Insurance City event with a name other than its original, which was, well, the Insurance City Open. It was the ICO for 15 years, then the Greater Hartford Open Invitational (six), Sammy Davis Jr. Greater Hartford Open (12), Canon Sammy Davis Jr. Greater Hartford Open (four), Canon Greater Hartford Open (14), Greater Hartford Open (one), Buick Championship (three) and now the 11th year as the Travelers, with its adorable red umbrella logo.

The Insurance City Open was born at a time when most tour events simply went by the town where the event was being held. Made a lot of sense and local civic groups did all the grunt work to run the tournament. But when tour purses went through the roof, corporate money was needed to help foot the bills, so in came sponsors who wanted some bang for the buck, and one of the main methods was getting title sponsorship.

The San Diego Open was another tournament born at a time when the town name was used. If you’re old enough to know it when it started with that moniker in 1952, you are now on the 13th name for the tour stop. It’s been the Farmers Insurance Open since 2010, so recent golf fans have only had to recall one name to associate the tour with San Diego.

The years when tour events were known by their location—Los Angeles, San Diego, Dallas, Colonial—are long gone, swallowed up by the corporate titles. Traditionalists can bemoan it—and still call a tour event the L.A. Open if they want—but the old titles aren’t coming back. According to the PGA Tour media guide, of the non-major tour events on this year’s schedule, the San Diego/Farmers Insurance Open leads with the most titles at 13. Next are the Shell Houston Open and Valero Texas Open with 11 each, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans with 10 and the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, FedEx St. Jude Classic, the BMW Championship, the Tour Championship and the RBC Heritage with nine each. The tour event with the longest span using its current name is the Honda Classic, so named since 1984. Yet it’s on its sixth name since starting in 1972 as Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary Classic.

The only tour events using their original name? Well, it’s a a couple of newcomers: The Greenbrier Classic since 2010 and the Barbasol Championship since 2015.

Cliff Schrock
One of the things I like best about The Memorial is--yes!--a print product

Jason Dufner’s 35-foot miracle par putt on 18 may have put a great exclamation point on the ending of The Memorial Tournament Sunday after two rain delays, but every year the Jack Nicklaus-led event in Ohio begins with a ceremony that honors the year’s honoree.

A big part of the yearly honoree atmosphere is the tournament program. In a print world sadly gone flat, it may seem odd to highlight a paper product, but in the history of the PGA Tour, The Memorial program has been one of the finest produced, and it’s all because of the history it lovingly chronicles.

A gallery of previous honorees, illustrated by Tony Ravielli, surround honoree Patty Berg on the 1988 Memorial program cover.

A gallery of previous honorees, illustrated by Tony Ravielli, surround honoree Patty Berg on the 1988 Memorial program cover.

Most tournament programs are designed to do little more than ballyhoo the sponsors and tournament staff, reveal a two-page spread image of the course, with a hole-by-hole breakdown to follow.

At The Memorial, since writing about the honoree allows the magazine producers to present plenty of golf history, the program has more heft than most, both in weight and scope. This year’s program, with honoree Greg Norman on the cover, came in at 224 pages, which indicates another major reason for a tournament program: to sell ads and make money for the tournament. Program staff do such a nice job on the program because they treat it more as an annual magazine, guaranteeing it will have substance.  (You can read more about the magazine at: https://thememorialtournament.com/the-memorial/magazine/)

My unscientific recall about the best nonmajor tournament programs over the last several decades would include the Bob Hope Classic, the Bing Crosby Pebble Beach Clambake, the Heritage, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and on the senior tour the Legends of Golf and the defunct Vintage Invitational. Sorry to use the old names of a few but I do so to show how the best programs were the best because legends such as Hope, Crosby, and Palmer could be featured on the cover, or in the case of the Crosby, you had Pebble Beach and the Monterey courses to beautify a cover.

For several years, The Memorial program cover benefited from the artwork of Tony Ravielli, a legendary illustrator who did some of the classic work on Hogan, Nelson, Nicklaus, Watson, and in Golf Digest among others.

The end result is that The Memorial program is a keepsake worth collecting and revisiting long after the tournament is done. If you can put a full set together, it’s like having an encyclopedia set containing bios on golf’s greats, plus a history of the tournament itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cliff Schrock
T.P. Mulrooney makes Smilow Cancer Hospital's Cancer Survivors Day a laughing matter

The entertainer strode onto the modest-sized auditorium stage, dressed in what to these color-challenged eyes looked like a familiar symbol of victory at one of the world’s greatest golf events, the Masters.

Surely that wasn’t a green jacket worn by comedian T.P. Mulrooney, who had come to entertain those assembled for the popular Yale Cancer Center & Smilow Cancer Hospital Cancer Survivor Day in Orange, Conn., last Thursday. No, my wife, Mary, would say later, it was more of a gray-green shade. Sure enough, it wasn’t quite the shade of the Masters champion’s garment spoils, but Mulrooney could have worn paisley, plaid or polyester and still would have symbolized triumph. It was simply his presence there in flesh and blood that was evidence of a victory he shared with many in the audience.

T.P. Mulrooney delivers a funny line at Cancer Survivors Day. (  All Mulrooney Photos    : Kate Eisemann Pictures  )

T.P. Mulrooney delivers a funny line at Cancer Survivors Day. (All Mulrooney Photos: Kate Eisemann Pictures)

The survivor of Stage IV throat cancer, Mulrooney was there to activate the crowd’s funny bone, to be sure, but like those who share his perseverance and fight over cancer, he was there to show a winner’s spoils: a new, healthy life saved from despair.

As I listened to Mulrooney rev up his dialogue--comedians are a combination ham and show-off--the thought struck me how much pleasure cancer survivors get from being a bit of a show-off, but they’re entitled that bit of narcissism when it means showing off your healthy self and your survival. I know the feeling. I survived Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. God, using my brother and donor, Jeff, and the most extraordinary oncologist, Dr. Stuart Seropian, with the staff at Yale Hospital got me through a bone-marrow transplant in 2002. I haven’t stopped showing off since. I’ll be age "15" on August 8, my stem-cell day.

The Cancer Survivors Day celebrates those who have made it through the misery of diagnosis, treatment and after-care, and the caregivers who were and still are supportive of this great miracle.

Following remarks by Charles Fuchs, the director of the Yale Cancer Center, and Tara Sanft, the director of Smilow Cancer Hospital/Survivorship Program, T.P. Mulrooney took the evening’s audience members to a place cancer had kept them from going: the freedom to laugh without being inhibited by the pain and worry that are a cancer victim’s constant companions. His night-club type show had everyone laughing—there aren’t many things better than hearing a spouse and/or a caregiver laughing with gusto. The travails of a caregiver can be a harsh burden too.

Mulrooney is a seamless joke and story teller, who works with the ebb and flow of laughs as he hears them returned to him after the punch line. He started stand-up comedy while a journalism student at Maryland, leading to exposure on Comedy Central, HBO, Showtime and clubs in New York and D.C. He kids, perhaps seriously, that his mother wanted him to be a priest, “no life and no money, but I still became a comedian.” Encouraging advice from comics such as Jackie Mason and Billy Crystal helped. When Mulrooney added golf to the routine, he took the role of the common-man golfer and became The Golf Comic, delivering quips on Golf Channel, Sports Illustrated, and at hundreds of corporate and charity events, including at the Ryder Cup, Players Championship, U.S. Open and the Masters. A sampler from May 4:

T.P. appreciates a stay at a plush hotel, but he’s used to a La Quinta Inn, which he says is Spanish for “behind Denny’s.”

Golf magazines don’t do him any good because all the tips come from really good players. “Like this one, ‘Fred Couples on how to sink those par-4 birdie putts.’ All the good golfers don’t know our games. I know how to sink the par-4 birdie putts. Rule No. 1, make sure it’s your third shot. You don’t sink many birdie putts when you’re on the green in 7. A lot of my birdie putts come from 240 yards out. I don’t think Fred is using a 3-wood on his birdie putts. Club selection may be my problem.”

 “Nongolfers think golfers are all crazy because we talk to the ball.”

“A good golf shot for a bad player is one that doesn’t require a public apology.”

His tale of traveling to Ireland included characters named Declan, Murphy, Sheehan, Riley, Kelly, Tommy, Rooney and O’Brien. Not a Jones in the bunch.

Undoubtedly, while most cancer survivors would likely say there was nothing funny about their journey with cancer, the evening laugh-track concluded with a reminder that humor can be found, and be important for, a cancer patient.

Mulrooney described the radiation masks that made him look like a combination of Hannibal Lector and Johnny Bench, and observed how “chemo clarified life’s purpose: don’t throw up,” and, “there’s no crying in cancer, it’s all about hope.”

There are many origins on the Internet to the phrase “laughter is the best medicine.” As profound as that is, none of us survivors could have laughed our cancer away, we needed a place like Yale New Haven Hospital/Smilow Cancer Hospital to give us the right treatment.

From an evening out with my wife/caregiver, chuckling with T.P. Mulrooney, my takeaway was a bigger appreciation for the saying, “He who laughs last, laughs best.”


The event allowed attendees a chance to mingle and mix with various Smilow support groups and specialty programs with their services on display, including:

Survivorship Clinic at Smilow/Support Groups;

Smilow Screening & Prevention Program;

Smilow Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program;

Palliative Care Program at Smilow;

Onco-Cardiology Program at Smilow;

Integrative Medicine at Smilow;

Lilly Oncology;

Closer to Free Bike Ride at Smilow Cancer Hospital;

Dana Romanello- author of “Cancer Changes Some Things, But Not Everything”

Cliff Schrock
The days of viewer call-ins could finally be numbered

A casual observer assessing the pace at which the Rules of Golf have evolved and been clarified ever since the first set in 1744 would likely call it glacial.  And that would be true, except, in actual fact, the pace has picked up in recent years, kind of matching the way glaciers are melting faster due to global warming. The Rules of Golf are being tweaked at a faster rate, it’s just that it can’t be fast enough in regards to the absurdity of TV viewers being able to affect rulings.

The announcement on Tuesday from the USGA and Royal & Ancient in the wake of the controversial Lexi Thompson ruling at the ANA Inspiration in early April should have been made decades ago, when television viewers interjecting themselves into golf events from afar first started. At the 1982 Doral Open, for instance, Andy Bean was accused by a viewer of breaking Rule 13-2, but it was determined he had not. At Doral in 1991, Paul Azinger was nailed by a Colorado viewer who called in to say ’Zinger had broken Rule 13-4c and he was ultimately disqualified. Those are just two examples of several over the years.

The Rules of Golf are supposed to make game governance fair. The game itself is based on players being impartial monitors of themselves and others. But there is nothing fair about only the players being televised being held to higher standards than those away from the camera. The PGA Tour struggled with this aspect, and for awhile had an official watching TV to check for rules violations, but the policy was rescinded and players were left to police themselves.

I don’t doubt that back when the phenomenon of viewers calling in began, those who did so thought they were being the game’s protector and were upholding its integrity. I’m sure some thought they were vicariously part of the tour for that moment. But society—and sports—are more sophisticated now, and so are the ways and reasons people watch events. As I noted in my post on the Thompson incident on April 3, to allow someone to call in with a potential rules violation and not be checked for their motive is absurd. There is no vetting process done on a caller’s background, no reason sought for their close monitoring of a golfer, and, no point-blank question: Were they calling in to deliberately try to affect the outcome? If they are checked out like that, we’ve never had the process explained.

Specifically, in Thompson’s case, was the caller someone who wanted one of the chasing players to have a chance to win once Thompson went from two ahead to two behind? To be honest, to guard against such a nefarious goal, I think it would be better to have a rule ignored than to allow someone with an ulterior motive to get their way and decide a tournament outcome. From the beginning of these calls, there should have been a transparency to the viewer’s background, such as their name, location, and other bio details. All of it should have been released for the record, rather than have them hide behind the “TV viewer calls in/emails rules infraction” phrase we’d see written in post-mortems. For sure, with such a procedure in place, anyone with a dark motive would likely have stayed away from getting involved rather than risk public exposure.

Give the USGA and R&A credit for fairly quick action in making it effective immediately that a new Decision to the Rules of Golf—Dec. 34-3/10—will hopefully put an end to horrific endings as we saw at the ANA. The USGA release on the action states:

“New Decision 34-3/10 implements two standards for Rules committees to limit the use of video: 1) when video reveals evidence that could not reasonably be seen with the ‘naked eye,’ and 2) when players use their ‘reasonable judgment’ to determine a specific location when applying the Rules.

“The first standard states, ‘the use of video technology can make it possible to identify things that could not be seen with the naked eye.’ An example includes a player who unknowingly touches a few grains of sand in taking a backswing with a club in a bunker when making a stroke.

“If the committee concludes that such facts could not reasonably have been seen with the naked eye and the player was not otherwise aware of the potential breach, the player will be deemed not to have breached the Rules, even when video technology shows otherwise. This is an extension of the provision on ball-at-rest-moved cases, which was introduced in 2014.

“The second standard applies when a player determines a spot, point, position, line, area, distance or other location in applying the Rules, and recognizes that a player should not be held to the degree of precision that can sometimes be provided by video technology. Examples include determining the nearest point of relief or replacing a lifted ball.

“So long as the player does what can reasonably be expected under the circumstances to make an accurate determination, the player’s reasonable judgment will be accepted, even if later shown to be inaccurate by the use of video evidence.

“Both of these standards have been extensively discussed as part of the Rules modernization initiative.  The USGA and The R&A have decided to enact this Decision immediately because of the many difficult issues arising from video review in televised golf.”

Bravo, and well done! Now it is up to the five organizations that were charged with forming policy on viewer call-ins (PGA Tour, European Tour, LPGA Tour, Ladies European Tour and the PGA of America) to do their thing with regulations. Let’s hope it’s faster than a glacier melting. And let’s hope that their regulations say that until every shot by every player can be seen on video, it’s not acceptable for a select group of players in front of the cameras to bear the brunt of these call-ins.

Cliff Schrock
Which route will Sergio take after a major victory?

Beyond the career-vindicating aspect of yet another stunning Masters Tournament finish more than a week ago, what Sergio Garcia’s first major championship victory did was get us to ask the question: Will the result be career-altering as well?

Garcia’s Masters title also flips him from one conversation list to another. After being a mainstay on the “best players to never win a major” list for several years, Garcia has validated his special talent with the victory and puts himself on track for being a World Golf Hall of Famer. Now he becomes part of a discussion of “how elite can he become in golf history?” Which road will he go down among those taken by Ben Hogan, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh or Lou Graham?

Based on what other players did after winning their first major around the same age Garcia did at 37, there are a few routes his career can take, among them:

The Ben Hogan Route: The great Texan was 34 when he won his first major—the age by which Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson had won their final major—and the floodgates opened. Hogan finished with nine.

The Phil Mickelson Route: For years, Mickelson had to contend with Woods’ dominance, but he finally got his first major at nearly age 34, and to date has five total. He’ll be 47 in June.

The Vijay Singh Route: Singh is 54 now. He won his first major at 35 and is likely done with a total of three. Nick Price performed similarly, winning No. 1 at 35 and ending with three. Larry Nelson won his first at 34 and finished with three.

The Lou Graham Route: When he beat John Mahaffey in a playoff to win the 1975 U.S. Open, Graham was 37 but he never won another major. This has been a popular road; several golfers won at age 37 or older and never won another big one, including: Jerry Barber (age 45), Tommy Bolt (42), Darren Clarke (42), Roberto De Vicenzo (44), Bob Goalby (39), Todd Hamilton (38), Tom Kite (42), Tom Lehman (37) and Kel Nagle (39). Henrik Stenson won the Open last year at 40, but common sense says he will win again. Tommy Aaron and Stewart Cink were 36 and Gay Brewer and Orville Moody were 35 when they won their lone major.

Not mentioned yet, with the age of their first major, are Padraig Harrington (35), Angel Cabrera (37), Craig Wood (39), Mark O’Meara (41), Ted Ray (35) and Jock Hutchison (36). Harrington, who will be 46 in August, was nearly 36 when he won his first major in 2007; he tacked on two more quickly the following year. All the others won two majors.

Garcia’s breakthrough didn’t have the feel of a career culmination as it did for players such as Kite and Clarke. Their majors were crowning achievements and validation of standout careers. Others, such as Graham and Hamilton, were surprises. No one questions that everyone above continued to try and win majors, but success ranged from Hogan to just the lone-major winners.

Now that Garcia has climbed the mountain, the feeling is he's going to want to linger around and enjoy the view from every angle before descending. His talent would indicate he’ll be on the Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh routes, winning multiple majors when he’s done. His driving, iron play and short game are on a level that should guarantee that. Perhaps most importantly, he’s playing with composure and maturity we’ve not seen from him. His impending marriage, and all the components of wedded life, could enhance that and give him stability on the course for the rest of his playing prime.

The boyish enthusiasm that so captured the golf world when Garcia first emerged, and then disappeared under some petulant behavior, may now come full circle. And if it does, look for Garcia to take the route less traveled, the route the winners of multiple majors take.

Cliff Schrock
Arnie was the original Heritage hero

I’ve never been to Hilton Head Island, but when the PGA Tour goes there the week after the Masters, it becomes one of my favorite back-to-back weeks of golf to watch. Harbour Town is a nice counterbalance to the West Coast stops earlier in the year and gives viewers a beautiful respite after the drama at Augusta. The tight, short layout and small greens give the pros all they can handle and usually a great finish.

Watching the Heritage is also a reminder each year of Arnold Palmer, not that it’s the only time I think of him. But the RBC Heritage Classic is a relatively new tour event compared to the rest of them, and Palmer was its first winner.

Arnie, who was the trailblazer for many golf milestones, such as being the first player to earn $1 million in career tour earnings, was proficient at winning a tour event’s inaugural event. After the first 36 holes of this week's Heritage, Sam Saunders, Palmer’s grandson, was three shots off the lead. What a great and appropriate place it would be for his first tour victory.

First Heritage winner Palmer, with the unfinished lighthouse in the background.

First Heritage winner Palmer, with the unfinished lighthouse in the background.

The debut of the Heritage Classic in 1969 was held shortly after Pete Dye designed Harbour Town Golf Links, with assistance from Jack Nicklaus. We are used to the Heritage being held the week after the Masters, as it is this week for its 49th playing, but the ’69 inaugural event was held on Thanksgiving week, Nov. 27-30. Palmer, then 40, had been winless for 14 months when he put together rounds of 68-71-70-74—283 to win by three shots. Winning at Harbour Town was so new that in a photo of Palmer being given the winner's plaque from tournament chairman Charles Fraser the still-under-construction lighthouse can be seen in the background.

Palmer felt like he had won his first tour event all over again: “I think this is one of my most important wins, almost like the first one. I wanted to win this one as much as I would a U.S. Open or Masters, or any other tournament.”

Palmer was the inaugural winner in several tour events among his 62 victories. Of the tournaments on the current tour schedule, Nicklaus won the first playing of three: The Players (1974), WGC-Bridgestone Invitational (1976, known as the World Series of Golf), and The Northern Trust (The Barclays) (1967, as Westchester Classic). Palmer is next with two: the RBC Heritage and CareerBuilder Challenge (the Palm Springs Golf Classic when he won in 1960).

But A.P. won the first playing of five other tour events no longer on the schedule, including the 1968 Kemper Open, the 1963 Whitemarsh Open (Philadelphia) and the 1963 Cleveland Open. With the 1969 Diplomat Classic and 1958 Pepsi Golf Championship only being held for one year, Palmer was both the first and last winner in those events.

 

Cliff Schrock
The proper sequence of events and timing propelled Sergio to Masters win

Every time a major tournament ends as Sunday’s did at the Masters, it’s a reinforcement of all the beliefs and sayings about redemption and good fortune golfers have believed in ever since some unknown tragedy-scarred golfer finally won a big one way back when.

Golfers have never been able to help themselves after adverse moments, and Sergio Garcia had been no different over the years when things didn’t go his way. They complain and moan about all the bad breaks, but hardly recognize the good ones. Garcia had delivered some amazing quotes that could be summed up that golf, basically, was against him winning a big one.

When something positive happens and is appreciated, golfers believe it’s because “the stars aligned,” or “a blind squirrel finds a nut at least once,” or the “bad breaks even out with the good ones eventually.”

I believe all that is true. There is a crazy, mystical force that is at work in sports, as in life in general, too. For Garcia, it took 74 majors but finally the stars aligned and the right mixture of good and bad events took place in the proper sequence for him to win. Even if you’re not a Sergio fan, you still needed to recognize that forces beyond his control played a part in his winning just as they played a part in all his near misses. When he missed his birdie putt on 18 at the end of regulation—when the entire focus of the golf world was on that one moment—it looked like the right mix of events was still screwed up against him, similar to the missed par and birdie putts on Carnoustie’s 18th on the last day in the 2007 Open Championship. That’s just one of the chances he had that fell flat.  

I’m also of the belief—reinforced by recent events in my life—that things happen for a reason. As it relates to Garcia and the moments that didn’t work for him as he hunted for his first major win, other sayings ring true: it just wasn’t his time, and it wasn’t meant to be. Nothing was further from the truth on Sunday.

How else do you explain that he won on the same week his caddie had the bib number 89, which was the number Danny Willett’s caddie had last year and the number Jack Nicklaus’ had when he won his last major in 1986? Now it’s the bib number for Garcia’s first.

Or that Sergio won on what would have been the 60th birthday of his Spanish idol Seve Ballesteros?

Or that the shot Garcia hit on 15 Sunday that hit the stick was a mild deflection, not the violent type that Rory McIlroy had on 18 Friday that resulted in a bogey? Who can forget the deflection on 15 Tiger Woods had in the 2013 Masters that hurtled the ball into the pond? Rather than that outcome, Garcia got a gentle bounce to keep an eagle putt in play, which he made, by the way, for the first eagle he’d had in his previous 452 holes at the Masters. And that was the first time the eventual champion had eagled 15 en route to winning since 1994 when Jose Maria Olazabal, a fellow Spaniard, did it.

Or that Garcia said he felt a calmness he’d never felt in the final round of a major before?

For the elite golfers with the right skill set to win a major, given a favorable sequence of events at the right time, victory will come in a major. It’s not a for-sure concept, I'll grant. The alignment of stars didn’t happen for Harry Cooper or Colin Montgomerie in the majors, and not yet so far for Lee Westwood. But Garcia now joins players such as Tom Kite and Darren Clarke who won in their late 30s and beyond. All that happened previously is forgotten, golf balanced out in the end for them.

There is a mystical side to sports, no doubt. The UConn women beat Mississippi State by 60 points in the 2016 NCAA tournament. This year, the teams were tied at the end of regulation to go into overtime. The tie score: 60. With an omen like that, it’s no wonder MSU pulled off the biggest upset in the tournament.

My favorite mystery of golf: After a round full of miscues, how the last shot is usually spectacular and “brings you back for another round.”

Cliff Schrock
Golf writers dole out yearly honors at Augusta

It may be April 2017, but that’s still not too late to honor what took place in 2016. That’s what the Golf Writers Association of America did last night in its 45th Annual ISPS HANDA Awards Dinner, presented by the PGA of America, the PGA TOUR and USGA. Held at the Savannah Rapids Pavilion in Augusta, the dinner has been traditionally conducted on the eve of the Masters to honor the players of the year on the PGA, LPGA and Champions tours, which were Dustin Johnson, Ariya Jutanugarn and Bernhard Langer. (Johnson was unable to attend due to the back injury he suffered in the afternoon.) This was Langer’s third POY honor, but the first for the other two.

Beyond the on-course awards, the GWAA has a unique set of honors that mainly deal with character. This year’s tributes went to former PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem (William D. Richardson Award for outstanding contributions to golf), Gene Sauers (Ben Hogan Award for someone who overcame a serious illness or physical handicap), and Ben Crenshaw and Stewart Cink (cowinners of the ASAP Sports/Jim Murray Award given for the positive aspects of the working relationship between athletes and journalists).

Also awarded was the Charlie Bartlett Award to Peter Jacobsen for outstanding contributions given for the betterment of society. And Larry Dorman was given the PGA of America Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism.

Listing the names of Sauers and Jacobsen bring to mind encounters with them that were indicative of the awards they received. I did a Tour Tip with Sauers for Golf Digest in the 1990s when he played the regular tour, and he impressed me with his earnestness, and his quiet nature, which were indicators of his future ability to fight off a skin disease called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.

As for the loquacious Jacobsen, he often donated his time to D.A. Weibring at his charity event held for the Illinois State University golf team, and I saw how the happy-go-lucky nature Jake shows on golf broadcasts and his comedy bits are real and tangible parts of his personality. One year he stood on a par-3 tee as pro-am groups came through, hitting a tee shot for each foursome, and in-between groups he would listen to Jethro Tull music blaring from a souped-up golf cart, balancing himself on one leg and mimicking playing the flute, a la Ian Anderson. It was a classic image of the fun-loving Jacobsen.

Cliff Schrock
UConn women, Thompson losses: Taking the next step to get back to even

This past weekend’s sports schedule was its usual robust self, and then some. The Major League Baseball season opened, the men’s and women’s Final Four took place, and the NHL and NBA seasons continued their regular-season conclusion.

But for those of us living in Connecticut, the main focus of the sports world was the UConn women losing in the Final Four semifinal to Mississippi State in Dallas, thus ending the team’s record 111-game win streak and halting the march toward a fifth straight national title.

The game ended in overtime past midnight Friday, with MSU making one last remarkable bucket at the buzzer, so we were into April Fool’s Day on the East Coast, but no one was laughing at the tie-in. As I’ve gotten older, I like to see new winners as often as possible, but when an athlete or team is close to continuing an excellence that could be of immortal impact, you kind of like to see it continue.

UConn was seven short of matching the all-time NCAA winning streak of any sport, and the fifth title would have added to their record. But it’s likely every non-UConn fan out there was hoping for an upset just to take a breather from Geno Auriemma’s team, so there was no national remorse that the big, bad Huskies were eclipsed for the first time since 2014.

As harsh as that loss was for UConn supporters, another came along on Sunday afternoon that in some respects was more brutal for the fans of the person it affected, Lexi Thompson, and for the sport in general. The four-stroke penalty she had to absorb on the 12th hole of her final round at the ANA Inspiration, the result of a television viewer calling in what they felt was a bad replacement of the ball by Thompson on the putting green during Saturday’s round, sent her reeling emotionally. Despite a heroic effort to get the two-stroke edge back that she held before the penalty, she could only get into a playoff, which she lost on the first hole.

The popular adage about wins and losses is that you learn more from losing than winning. I think the legitimacy of that depends on who is involved and the manner of losing.

Taking the UConn women first, all season long their coach wasn’t convinced that their lack of leadership experience wouldn’t come back to haunt them at some point. But they kept passing every test, until the Final Four semi, when all their faults came out in force, mainly in the form of indecision in the face of tough defense. They made errors on offense that no one had seen from them all year.

Given that four of the five starters are back next year, that two talented transfers will be eligible, and a crazy good freshmen class is coming in, losing this weekend will be a motivational force like none other. When talent meets off-the-chart motivation, the result could be monstrously good. The Lady Huskies will have laserlike focus, which started the minute after they lost.

As for Lexi Thompson, she’s been a great golf talent from a young age, and at just 22, was not ready for the emotional hit the penalty gave her. I thought it was great she was concerned that there would be the impression she tried to cheat or mismark on purpose to get an edge. She didn’t want any doubt cast on her character.

But then for the rest of the round, she about overcame this stunning and misguided ruling but couldn’t get all the way back. Her immediate response as a player belied her young years, and was akin to how we have seen Dustin Johnson respond to rules incidents, most notably at last year’s U.S. Open. He continues unruffled and composed after disasters, which seems to be the best way forward in adversity. That’s what Thompson did, keeping her game in shape while undoubtedly churning inside. Her emotions did show when all was said and done, but to stand around after the playoff and sign autographs and pose for photos indicated she has what it takes to put this behind her and excel. She will undoubtedly think about this penalty every time she marks the ball for the foreseeable future until it becomes just a bad memory people bring up every so often.

I’m a believer in the Tom Watson Rule of Getting Back to Even. He feels for every down moment, he wants to have an up one to “get back to even.” That has worked for Dustin Johnson, and it will work for Thompson, too. Something good will come along to put her back to even.

In the meantime, the insanity of rules officials allowing people sitting at their home to dictate how major championships are decided has to stop. We hear how officials say they want to use as much evidence at their disposal as possible to make decisions, but until every single golfer in a championship is having every single shot filmed or viewable on videotape, then the equity that rules-makers say is so important to the game will not be achieved. To view every shot made is not feasible, so at-home-rules-makers should not be either. How is it fair for equal rules observance if just the leaders are being critiqued when a player who may have remarked laterally a half-inch or so off back in the pack away from cameras isn’t penalized?

This is an unanswerable question because it’s not fair to those under the microscope. And at the least, a penalty of this nature from a round completed a day earlier should not be thrown into the competitive mix the next day. When things of this nature occur, it makes golf look dumb, stupid and out of date with nongolfers, the people the game is trying to attract.

To have some obscure person deciding the outcome of a championship from their living room is about as backward as the game can get. Let’s have their identity brought out so they can be asked what is their motivation. Are they someone wanting another competitor to win so they try to muck up the leaderboard? If the putt had been 30 feet instead of a couple, or if the putt had been missed, would the caller still have dialed up? These home viewers should not be allowed to be a clandestine, shadowy element of the game. Put them through a vetting process to determine their intent. Did just one person make a call? Allowing this to happen puts the game on edge of having false claims made about rules incidents.

Tournament committees can make decisions they see fit to provide an outcome that is prudent and equitable. Thompson had no recourse, no appeal process she could go through to reduce the penalty. The committee could have done that for her and slapped two strokes on her. When a cherry-picked TV moment is allowed to enter the proceedings, then golf isn’t made to look prudent or equitable.

Cliff Schrock
Local Rules: The fun part of the rules

No two golf courses are the same, and the differences are usually due to unusual geographic features. To allow for these unique traits, Local Rules are adopted at a course so the game can be played fairly. Here's an example: “When shots miss the fairway and rough at Sky Mountain Golf Course in Hurricane, Utah, they often land on volcanic rock. A Local Rule allows golfers to carry and use a 15th club—a ‘rock club’—to avoid damaging their regular clubs.” The April issue of Golf Digest, on the newsstand, features a column on similar Local Rules; it’s also the magazine’s Masters preview issue, featuring a cover story on Phil Mickelson’s driver secrets and an excerpt from Tom Callahan’s new bio on Arnold Palmer.

Cliff Schrock
The bright side of the Pung golf legacy

To label Jackie Pung one of the most heart-rending figures in golf history is hopefully the proper way of categorizing someone who is best known for a scorecard error that overwhelmed all the good play and excellent golf deeds she achieved.

Her infamous scorecard error in the 1957 U.S. Women’s Open at Winged Foot, where she was disqualified for signing for a score lower than what she actually shot, cost her the victory. It ruined what had been an incredible finish. Pung, playing the 18th hole tied with Betsy Rawls, made a 40-foot putt to win by a stroke. But Pung’s playing partner, Betty Jameson, had put Pung down for a 5 on the fourth hole when she actually had 6. In looking over her card after 18, Pung signed for the correct overall total but incorrect hole scores.

Pung was DQ’d and Rawls declared the winner. As time went on, Pung’s notorious error became all she was known for in the timeline of golf history, reducing her to a sad, mournful rules victim, which the march of time did nothing to change. Pung in teary disgrace in black-and-white photos was a must in any accounting of golf's bleakest competitive moments. In fact, however, all who personally witnessed the conclusion were devastated by the calamity. Winged Foot members and USGA officials took a collection for Pung that totaled more than $3,000, a generous consolation gift.

In a happy ending to the life of Jacqueline (Jackie) Liwai Pung, who died on March 15, age 95, in her home state of Hawaii, golf history will show she was far from the symbol of a nasty rules incident. She was named the top woman golfer of all-time from Hawaii in 2005 in a story I compiled for Golf Digest. She won the 1952 U.S. Women’s Amateur and five LPGA Tour events. She was a golf prodigy, first playing golf at age 6 and winning three straight Hawaiian Women’s Amateur titles from 1937-1939 as a teenager; she won it again in 1948. After the Women’s Amateur victory, she joined the LPGA in 1953, the first Hawaiian player to do so. Her tour career also included 14 second-place finishes, and her engaging personality and long-ball ability made her a favorite with fans.

Prior to the 1957 debacle, Pung had another near-miss in the Women’s Open in 1953, and Rawls was involved in that one, too, beating Pung in a playoff.

Pung preferred home life in Hawaii to the tour, and she quit the tour in 1964 and became the first woman director of golf at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, and later had that title at Waikoloa Village Golf Course. She was awarded the 1967 LPGA Teaching Professional of the Year. She ultimately is recognized for having lived an ambassadorial life in Hawaii and was inducted into the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame in 1988, a much happier picture.

 

Cliff Schrock
You've got to love the Round-Robin

When some of the upsets started coming in during Wednesday's WGC Dell Technologies Match Play first-round play, the flashbacks to the dangers of match play may have terrorized fans initially. That splendid golfer-versus-golfer format that provides so much drama has long been a TV golf nightmare for the unavoidable dread it brings of knocking out star players. It has always been a match-play drawback on the pro tour, and is the reason match-play events have come and gone for much of tour history.

But--sigh of relief--the WGC Match Play is using a round-robin format, whereby 16 groups of four players will go through three days of match play, with each player in a group playing the other three in 18-hole matches one day at a time. The 16 top players after that will then continue on Saturday.

That type of format means the higher-ranked players who fell on Wednesday--Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Brandt Snedeker, Emilio Grillo, Francesco Molinari, Jimmy Walker, Danny Willett, Matthew Fitzpatrick and J.B. Holmes--lived to fight another two days. It also meant they started digging a hole for themselves and couldn't afford any more misteps or they really would be out after Friday. If a player loses their first two matches, Friday's match will purely be to play well enough to get out of town with at least one win.

On Thursday, the higher-seeded players still didn't show their full dominance, going 15-15-2. Spieth, McIlroy, Snedeker, Walker and Fitzpatrick got even at 1-1, but Holmes is 0-1-1 and Grillo, Molinari and Willett are 0-2.

Cliff Schrock
Arnie tributes given varied and often

One can imagine that the items on a checklist to honor Arnie at the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard last week and over the weekend were pretty much all marked off.

Statue of A.P. in his corkscrew finish, check.

Grandson Sam Saunders, his mother Amy, and family and friends fully supportive, check.

Driving-range tribute of sequenced shots by several players, check.

Golf cart with A.P.'s bag of clubs by 16 tee/18 fairway, check.

Golf bag and balls on driving range, check.

Red cardigan put on the winner Sunday, check.

Photos of his desk as he left it, Masters yardage book and Arnie-themed golf shoes worn by players, check.

Nonstop references to The King on TV, Twitter and other social-media, check.

A tight finish with an emotionally satisfying human-interest champion in Marc Leishman, check.

The tributes flowed as smoothly as a pour out of a Ketel One Vodka bottle. By the end of the week, however, some were questioning if the constant tribute references and the types of them were getting a little "creepy," to use one word. The inference was that all the visuals showing places where Arnold would normally be but wasn’t were overdone. To me, it reminded me of the Alastair Sim "Scrooge" movie version (the best) where toward the end Scrooge is led by the Ghost of the Future to places he would normally be or hearing discussions of someone’sdemise and wondering if it all had to do with him but he wasn’t there in physical form.

That was a story of redemption and we know it’s all a dream, Scrooge will live on after his reformation. Arnie will live on, too, but in memory and spirit and in the written and visual record that we can be thankful is mammoth in size.

Arnie was my first golf hero, but I was starting to feel the constant references to what the week symbolized were perhaps lessening the effect by their overwhelming nature. There was so much you started getting numb to it all.

But ultimately, I feel everyone should give family, organizers, players and the media a pass on any negative reaction to how strong the tributes were this first year. Going forward, in the slow march of time, the annual Bay Hill tribute will be more subtle, less overpowering, and will feel just right. That’s just a byproduct of the slow passage of years. As long as golf is played, Arnold Palmer will be synonymous with the sport. It's better to hear that too often than not enough.

Cliff Schrock
A good reason to celebrate Bobby Jones

In a post last week I voiced concern about the potential for the legacy of Arnold Palmer to slowly fade into the background of the golf world. That doesn’t seem remotely possible during this week of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where tributes and remembrances of the golf icon are being issued constantly in respect to his death last September.

Bobby Jones did a special Masters memory piece for the April 1960 Golf Digest.

Bobby Jones did a special Masters memory piece for the April 1960 Golf Digest.

But complacency, sloppy or deliberate misinformation, and the march of time can make anyone’s legacy foggy. I’d say it’s the passage of time that is most harmful to our golfing legends. In my 30 years as a golf journalist, we have gone from regularly bringing Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen, and Snead-Hogan-Nelson into discussions about how they fit in with today’s game to they barely get a mention, lost among modern-day techno talk and fascination with how equipment has turned today’s player into super-human distance producers. If the golf population under 30 could pass a test on the feats of the aforementioned golf heroes it would be a welcome surprise.

Which brings us to the chance to celebrate the man who at one time was renowned in the sporting world as much as Babe Ruth. March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, is the birthday of Bobby Jones. He was born 115 years ago, became a golfing prodigy, won 13 majors total, including the Grand Slam in 1930, then retired at age 28 to move onto creating the Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Tournament in the early 1930s. In a few weeks he will receive plenty of attention as the Masters is played, and those who fight hard to preserve the game’s history will be glad he gets an annual push back into the golf conscience.

Whether Jones is the greatest golfer of all-time isn’t debated as much as it once was. Jack Nicklaus now firmly gets that label from most quarters by virtue of leading the major championship race, but equipment advances, particularly the ball, make it hard to compare players of different eras anyway. What we can do, with certainty, is proclaim golfers the best of their time in history—that’s all a player can do—and Jones is unquestionably the best of his.

So, Happy 115th Birthday Bobby Jones. May your memory and that of the many legends prior to the current crop of players remain focal points of the overall golf picture.

 

Cliff Schrock
Comparing the news from two markets

In a tweak to the overused “tale of two cities” lead sentence, we had an example last week of a tale of two markets and how a big one and a small one utilize the news of commitments the best they can.

Players joining a tournament field is a big deal, and the right kind of big names can give a market the competitive edge it needs for a successful event, so getting the word out the minute a commitment is made is key PR.

We start with the major market. Much was made last week about the players who hadn’t committed to the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard. Among those not coming from the top 25 in the world are No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Russell Knox, and Jimmy Walker. Just 14 of the top 25 are playing. But still in the field from the top 10 are defender Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Henrik Stenson, and Rickie Fowler.

A big market like Orlando doesn’t have to be 25 for 25 to succeed; the support for Arnie’s event can withstand a group of big names passing, but it still has a decent list of marquee players.

On the other hand, The Travelers Championship near Hartford, a tournament venue since the 1950s, doesn’t have the population base of Orlando to withstand a mediocre field. Yet the community supports the event incredibly well and the hometown feel is palpable. When you walk the fairways at TPC River Highlands during tournament week, the feeling is one of gratitude for the event and steadfastness that the event has a presence on tour. But key names are always welcome, and last Friday it was announced defender Russell Knox and two-time winner Bubba Watson will join previous commitment and first-timer Rory McIlroy in the June tournament. Nathan Grube, in getting to make a tournament director’s favorite comment, said, “We’re thrilled that fans throughout the region will have the opportunity to see one of golf’s brightest stars. It’s always our goal to bring the best players in the world, like Rory, to Connecticut. He has accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time, and we are all looking forward to seeing Rory in June.”

Two markets: One dealing with missing stars who are “dissing” Arnold Palmer, and the other extolling the key players who are coming. Each in their own way will do just fine.

List of Masters favorites: It is less than four weeks from the end of the Masters on April 9, but Sunday’s conclusion of the Valspar Championship didn’t really do much to shake up my list of top contenders from last week. I like this lineup, in no particular order yet: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Gary Woodland, Jordan Spieth, Brandt Snedeker, Jimmy Walker, Daniel Berger, with Phil Mickelson as the oldest contender and Jon Rahm and Thomas Pieters as the likely best rookie contenders. Henrik Stenson is looking better to be on his game, and Sunday winner Adam Hadwin and fellow Canadian Graham DeLaet are likely to fill the role of “surprise, outside contenders."

Cliff Schrock
My favorite Ken Bowden book

On the different levels of influence of people who have been instrumental in Jack Nicklaus’ career, there is  Barbara and family members way at the top, and on a level right below would be Ken Bowden, who died Sunday at age 86.

As a golf literary figure, Bowden ranks as one of the greats but someone who was involved in books you’ve likely seen but not noticed his name because Jack was the main attraction. The pair worked together on a dozen books, among them Golf My Way in 1974 and at the back end of their work together, the bio My Story and instruction book My Golden Lessons.

3 versions of the Aultman-Bowden "masters of golf" book

3 versions of the Aultman-Bowden "masters of golf" book

But Bowden, American-born to British parents but who grew up in Australia and England, was a collaborator with the late John Jacobs on the classic Practical Golf. And he also teamed up with Sam Snead. Longtime periodical readers will recall he was editor of Golf World-UK and for a few years in the early 1970s led the Golf Digest editorial team.

Nicklaus spoke highly of his friend in an extended tweet: “The Nicklaus family, along with the golf world, lost a great friend Sunday with the passing of my longtime biographer Ken Bowden. … Beyond writing all my instructional contributions, Kenny was a close adviser and a confidante. He was a very good player, very good writer, and, most important, a very good friend. Barbara and I will miss Kenny and his friendship, and our hearts and prayers go out to his wife Jean.”

For all of his good work with the Bear, however, the Bowden book that is my favorite--and is one of the most underrated golf books ever--was done with a Golf Digest colleague, Dick Aultman. They came out with The Methods of Golf's Masters in 1975 by publisher Coward, McLaun and Geoghegan, and numerous revisions since with the title The Methods of Golf’s Masters or The Masters of Golf. The book, which also utilized legendary artist Tony Ravielli, analyzed the swings of around 20 golf greats. You would give your golf library an upgrade by getting the latest copy, which is likely in paperback.

The last time I got to connect with Bowden was when he came to the Golf Digest office to talk about, among other things, another possible edition of the book. His enthusiasm was infectious, even for a book he’d already done several times. It was the sign of a man in love with his subject and in love with golf writing.

Cliff Schrock
Everybody likes fresh starts

A fresh start...

That’s what this time of year, the approaching spring, means to millions of golfers anxious to get out into warmer weather and test all the off-season swing theories they’ve studied.

It’s what players who have switched equipment, such as Rory McIlroy with new Callaway clubs, are seeking.

It’s what Michelle Wie almost had at this weekend’s HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore, and what Inbee Park did get. Wie tied for fourth, her first top-five finish since 2014 on the LPGA Tour.

It’s what the Rules of Golf will get when the incredible overhaul that had been perculating for so long and announced last week is implemented.

And it’s what this website means to me personally as I unveil it the week of March 6. I developed it to provide golf readers with a dose of what I enjoy most: looks at golf history while keeping an eye on the present and future to see how they all mix together.

There won’t be anything complicated, just observations, opinion, bits of news, a daily historical bit, all adding up to what hopefully is a celebration of the greatest game of all.

MASTERS THINKING: We’re less than five weeks away from the end of the Masters on April 9. So it’s a good time for a Masters weekly countdown of favorites. I like this lineup, in no particular order yet: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Gary Woodland, Jordan Spieth, Brandt Snedeker, Jimmy Walker, and Daniel Berger, with Phil Mickelson as the oldest contender and Jon Rahm and Thomas Pieters as the likely best rookie contenders.

CATCH UP ON READING: If you’re still stuck indoors, here are some reading options by two authors that will get your spirits uplifted until you can get onto the course. A two-volume golf set of P.G. Wodehouse’s “The Clicking of Cuthbert” and “The Heart of a Goof” were released toward the end of last year from Overlook Press for $37.50.  And Dan Jenkins’ new novel, “Stick a Fork in Me,” published in January by Tyrus Books ($16.99), is not one of his golf efforts, although there is a golf-obsessed character. This one’s about another arena he’s good at skewering: college athletics and political correctness.

 

Cliff Schrock