Even with Tiger, the public can only consume so much golf.
I think all golf fans would agree by proclamation that the PGA Tour season is too long. So what is the Tour doing to address this problem? That's right. They're lengthening the season. Just what the public was clamoring for — an endless Tour! It's like hell, with wedges and hybrids.
Starting in 2013, the Fall Series events will count toward the 2014 FedExCup points standings, meaning that the 2014 golf season will run from early October 2013 until late September 2014, with the 2015 season presumably starting the week following the 2014 Tour Championship.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but that is insane.
While technically, this change adds no new events to the schedule, it's a futile attempt to add meaning and drama where none exist. It further saturates a sports marketplace that barely had room for golf to begin with.
You thought baseball season was long; wait until you enjoy 365 days of FedExCup drama. This thing will make the siege of Leningrad seem brief and to the point.
Golf needs contraction, not expansion. With that in mind, I propose the following schedule, one that would enhance the fan experience, boost ratings by winnowing the excess and keep the spotlight where it belongs: on the best events.
We'll start in March, when spring is approaching and people are actually thinking about golf. We'll end it on Labor Day Weekend, reaching a crescendo just in time to clear the stage for football.
Here it is: 20 meaningful tournaments, one manageable schedule.
March Hyundai Tournament of Champions—We'll leave Hawaii on the schedule. Spectacular scenery, nice reward for the previous year's winners.
Northern Trust Open—Riviera's historic enough to keep. We'll dump Pebble Beach; the pro-am is just too gimmicky.
Accenture Match Play—Coincinding with March Madness, we keep the Tour's version of bracketology.
Bay Hill—It's Arnold. Enough said.
April WGC-Cadillac—Like Riviera, Doral's worth keeping.
The Masters—No comment necessary.
Wells-Fargo—Quail Hollow has earned its stripes.
May Byron Nelson—Only to keep Lord Byron's name alive for future generations of players and fans. We'd do the same for Colonial if it had Hogan's name on it.
The Players—We'll let the Tour keep its biggest tournament.
The Memorial—It's Jack; see Arnold above.
June U.S. Open—It's a major. We'll put some space around it.
WGC-Bridgestone—The WGC events assemble the best fields. We move this one to June to clear August for the playoffs.
July AT&T National—Celebrates the 4th in the nation's capital.
The British Open—Golf's oldest tournament would grow in stature with a shorter schedule.
Canadian Open—We'll throw America's Hat a bone.
August PGA Championship—It's a major, so make it the kickoff to the playoffs.
Barclays, Deutsche Bank and BMW—The playoffs take us through the dog days.
September The Tour Championship—Finish it on Labor Day, create some tradition, and clear the stage. Football's here.
Luke Donald and Others Say It's Time to Pick Up the Pace
The United States Golf Association and the PGA of America are fighting an uphill battle against slow play. They say five-hour rounds of golf are killing the game. People are quitting because they don’t have the time necessary to play. The two organizations have come up with all sorts of ideas to speed up play: 12-hole courses and the “Tee it Forward” program, promoting amateur hackers to move up a set of tees to make the game easier, more enjoyable and ultimately quicker to play.
Unfortunately, all their efforts are eroding thanks to the nonchalant attitude of the PGA Tour, both by the players and the administration. It’s too bad that many everyday amateurs mimic what they see on TV because what they’re seeing isn’t good for golf.
There are a handful of notorious offenders when it comes to slow play on Tour, notably Ben Crane and Kevin Na. Tour officials regularly warn players that they are moving slowly and to pick up the pace, but there are no repercussions. Too bad they haven’t backed up their message with consequences. A slow play penalty hasn’t been handed out in years.
The LPGA Tour seems to be taking a more proactive approach. Unfortunately, that tour bungled its opportunity as well. Morgan Pressel was penalized for slow play during a semifinal match against Azahara Munoz in the Sybase Match Play Championship in Gladstone, N.J., in May. The penalty halted her momentum and turned a potential three-up lead in match play into a slim 1-up advantage that eventually was lost. Both players had been warned on the ninth hole about slow play, but only Pressel was slapped with the consequences.
So where do we go from here? Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee cites "golf courses built for home sales, over coaching and tolerance for dawdling in youth" for imbedding the tendency toward slow play. But isn’t it time we all take the blame and do something about it? Slow play should have no place in golf, no matter what level.
"It's not that hard, be ready when it's your turn," Luke Donald tweeted earlier this year. "Slow play is killing our sport."
Athlon's 2012 Preview Predicted Big Things for Simpson
For some casual fans, it may seem like Webb Simpson came out of nowhere. For Athlon and Brandel Chamblee, though, Simpson's breakthrough is not that surprising. Here's what we had to say about Simpson in our 2012 preview back in February, when we ranked him No. 12 among our 20 players to watch in the 2012 majors.
Born: Aug. 8, 1985, Raleigh, N.C. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 2|2011 Wins (Worldwide): 2| 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $6,347,353 | World Ranking: 8
Brandel Chamblee's Take:
One of the biggest surprises of 2011 was the play of Webb Simpson and his improvements over his first two years on Tour. Webb gained yardage and improved every other aspect of his game, as evidenced by his being ranked No. 1 in the All Around category on Tour. Not surprisingly, he also won twice. His 110 putts at the U.S Open represented the lowest total in the field, and at the British Open he had 111, a number that was bettered by only two players.
His combination of length and accuracy with all clubs, his ability to get out of the rough and his knack for putting fast greens well make him a player to watch in every event, and in particular at the majors in 2012.
Major Championship Résumé
Masters - DNP
U.S. Open - T14
British Open - T16
PGA Championship - Cut
Best Career Finishes:
Masters - n/a
U.S. Open - T14 (2011)
British Open - T16 (2011)
PGA Championship - Cut (2011)
Top-10 Finishes: 0
Top-25 Finishes: 2
Missed Cuts: 1
Webb Simpson is our national champion, and contrary to the naysayers who'll claim he backed into it, a 68-68 weekend on one of the toughest golf courses in U.S. Open history is the definition of earning it.
Simpson, who was six shots off the lead when Saturday dawned, was the only player to break par in both of the final two rounds on his way to posting a 1-over 281, although he had to sweat out a birdie putt on 18 by Graeme McDowell before claiming his third career PGA Tour win and first major championship. The 26-year-old Simpson was playing in only his second U.S. Open, and at a tournament where par is gold, it took a delicate par save on 18 to seal the win. Simpson chipped to four feet from a gnarly greenside lie, then coaxed in a ticklish slider to close his 68.
McDowell and playing partner Jim Furyk both had plenty of golf left to play when Simpson posted his number, and while McDowell was able to get close with a birdie at 17 and a makeable birdie look at 18, Furyk squandered what might prove to be his last best chance to win a second major, failing to make a birdie during his final-round 74 and bogeying three of his final six holes.
And thus ends Northern Ireland's two-year stranglehold on America's championship; McDowell won at Pebble Beach two years ago, and Rory McIlroy dominated at Congressional in 2011.
Some proclaimed that the tournament was over after Tiger Woods' 69-70 start gave him a share of the 36-hole lead. Thankfully, I wasn't one of them — but I thought it. Unfortunately, Tiger's comeback remains a work in progress. His 75-73 weekend is one of the bitterest disappointments of his career, but Olympic Club's fearsome sextet of opening holes deserve much of the credit. Tiger bogeyed three of the first six on Saturday on his way to a crushing 75, and he played the opening six holes at 6-over on Sunday. For the tournament, the field was more than 1,000 strokes over par on holes 1-6. Brutal.
Jim Furyk is in position to win his second U.S. Open crown.
He may be boring, but never, ever go to sleep on Jim Furyk. Especially at a U.S. Open.
Furyk put himself in great position to win his second U.S. Open championship with another steady, occasionally spectacular round at the Olympic Club. After offsetting two bogeys with two birdies during an even-par opening-round 70, Furyk did himself one better, knocking home three birdies with only two bogeys for a second-round 69 while the rest of the field was leaking oil like the Deepwater Horizon. If slow and steady win the race, consider Furyk a contender; they don't come much steadier.
Shockingly, the 2010 FedExCup champion is looking for his first top-10 finish in a major since the 2009 Masters, a string of 12 majors. Contending when the lights are brightest has historically been the norm for Furyk, who has 17 other top 10s in majors in addition to his U.S. Open win. A second Open would give him 17 career wins on the PGA Tour and likely punch his ticket for the Hall of Fame. Not bad for a guy whose swing defies convention — description, even.
Furyk won the 2003 Open at Olympia Fields by three shots, dominating the weekend in posting 8-under. No one will approach those numbers this year at a daunting Olympic track that is chewing up the world's best players and spitting them out like sunflower shells. Among the casualties was defending champion Rory McIlroy, who looked as if his mind was somewhere else (perhaps on girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki) as he limped around Olympic with rounds of 77 and 73.
Also missing the cut: World No. 1 Luke Donald, who continues to shrink from the big moments in majors and posted a disappointing 79-72.
Here's a factoid for you: Sectional qualifier Casey Martin, he of the congenital illness, high-profile court case and cart usage, beat both the World No. 1 (Donald) and World No. 2 (McIlroy). Martin finished Friday's round at 9-over. Funny game, golf.
Tiger's hobbled win at Torrey Pines was epic from start to finish, but his birdie on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate was a career-defining moment.
Tiger Woods, 2000
2 of 6
Tiger dismantled Pebble Beach, beating the world's best by 15 shots in the greatest performance of his career — or anyone else's for that matter.
Payne Stewart, 1999
3 of 6
This moment was so iconic, they made a statue out of it that stands today at Pinehurst near the 18th green. Four months after Stewart's greatest triumph, he was dead, the victim of a tragic lear jet accident.
Corey Pavin, 1995
4 of 6
Pavin's heroic 4-wood to the 72nd hole clinched his U.S. Open win over Greg Norman, the only major of Pavin's career but one of countless heartbreaks for Norman.
Tom Watson, 1982
5 of 6
Watson snatched the 1982 Open at Pebble Beach away from Jack Nicklaus with this improbable chip-in at 17 from gnarly rough. A contender for the greatest shot in major championship history,
520 yards, par 4
This dogleg right played as a par 5 at the club's previous U.S. Opens. Any drive of more than 280 yards will hit a slope and carom closer to the green. If players miss the fairway, they may be forced to lay up away from the cross bunkers 50 yards short of the green. A greens renovation in 2008 switched the putting surfaces from poa annua to bent grass.
Did You Know? This hole was the first in U.S. Open history where a player used a golf cart. Casey Martin, who won a landmark court decision against the PGA Tour to use a cart because of a physical disability in his legs, ultimately finished tied for 23rd in 1998.
2 of 19
428 yards, par 4
A new tee lengthens the hole by 34 yards from the 1998 U.S. Open. The fairway, 34 yards wide, was moved to the left roughly seven paces, making it more difficult to hit with driver. The approach to a narrow elevated green surrounded by three bunkers is one of the toughest on the course.
3 of 19
247 yards, par 3
From a new tee 24 yards longer than in 1998, players will attempt to land a downhill iron or hybrid shot in front of a green that runs away from them. Five bunkers guard the edges. The Golden Gate Bridge is visible from the tee.
4 of 19
438 yards, par 4
The fairway slopes left to right on this dogleg left. A draw from a right-handed player using a wood, hybrid or iron should hold the fairway. A driver could end up into the tree line. Those who miss right could end up in the intermediate cut of rough, which will double in size for the tournament. Two bunkers shouldn't be much of a factor on the approach to a fairly flat green.
5 of 19
498 yards, par 4
A new tee lengthens this hole by 41 yards. It plays the opposite of the previous hole by making a dogleg right with a fairway sloping right to left. The fairway narrows as it turns the corner. The approach shot generally plays shorter being slightly downhill and downwind. Avoiding the two greenside bunkers is imperative.
Do You Remember? Lee Janzen’s final-round fortunes in the 1998 U.S. Open turned here when a ball he thought was lost in the trees dislodged and fell harmlessly into the rough as he was walking back to re-tee. After a layup, Janzen missed the green on his third but chipped in for par to start his run toward his second U.S. Open title in six years.
6 of 19
490 yards, par 4
This hole, which features the only fairway bunker on the course, has changed significantly. It's 53 yards longer, and that left fairway bunker was carved deeper and moved five paces to the right, jutting into the fairway. Three bunkers surround the putting surface.
7 of 19
294 yards, par 4
Most everybody will have a go at this drivable uphill par 4. Five bunkers and U.S. Open rough will make getting up and down for birdie on a two-tiered green a challenge. "I expect a lot of birdies," says Olympic Club head professional Chris Stein. "You might even see an eagle or two."
8 of 19
200 yards, par 3
The new green, cut farther up the hillside between three bunkers, has been reconfigured and moved to the right to create an entirely new look 63 yards longer than the former par-3 eighth. The angular green slopes away from players. A back pin location will require a draw to escape intruding Cypress trees.
9 of 19
449 yard, par 4
Playing 16 yards longer than in 1998, this downhill hole features a fairway that has been shifted left to create a dogleg right. That fairway slopes right to left, creating some side-hill lies. Players should be able to avoid the four greenside bunkers with a short iron in hand, but keeping the shot below the hole will be critical on a green moving hard back to front. Shots that miss the back left of the green will funnel into a collection area.
10 of 19
424 yards, par 4
Most players will hit less than driver off the tee to keep from going through a fairway moved seven yards to the right on this dogleg right. The fairway is a narrow 27 yards. The green remains one of the flattest on the course, with bunkers on the left and front right, and has the potential to give up some birdies.
11 of 19
430 yards, par 4
This straightaway hole plays into the wind. A fairway moved to the left provides a better angle on the approach to the green but brings the trees into play off the tee. Two bunkers on the left and one front right guard a two-tier green.
12 of 19
451 yards, par 4
The tee shot, lengthened by 35 yards with a new tee, must travel through a tunnel of trees and forces players to shape the ball to hit the fairway. Finding two deep front bunkers or a closely mowed collection area behind the green could be costly misses.
13 of 19
199 yards, par 3
A new tee makes this iron shot to a narrow green about 13 yards longer. Players might be better off in the right bunker or the front bunker than the big swale on the left that feeds down to a collection area and a canal. The branches of a large cypress tree can knock down shots pushed right.
14 of 19
419 yards, par 4
The fairway of this dogleg left has moved substantially left toward the tree line and the canal, forcing players to choose between banging a driver to the bottom of the hill or throttling back with an iron or fairway wood. Two large bunkers (and a smaller one) protect the front of the green.
15 of 19
154 yards, par 3
The shortest par 3 on the course could end up being a birdie hole, although four bunkers are threatening. The putting surface is now smaller and flatter. Balls that plug into the face of the deep front bunker could bring double bogey into play.
16 of 19
664 yards, par 5
The longest hole in U.S. Open history, this monster will require driver because of a new tee 55 yards farther back. A second new tee plays 625 yards. A third tee at 570 yards could be used for variety. The shape of the sweeping dogleg left will likely require a layup. An approach that misses an elevated green and two front bunkers will enter a collection area long and left that drops roughly 10 feet below the putting surface.
Did You Know? Arnold Palmer, who led the tournament by seven shots with nine holes to play, made a double bogey here during a final-round meltdown and ultimately lost a Monday playoff to Billy Casper at the 1966 U.S. Open.
17 of 19
505 yards, par 5
This former par 4 for the 1998 U.S. Open becomes a risk-reward par 5 playing uphill and into the wind. The fairway slopes severely left to right, so right-handed players will attempt to draw their tee shots into the hill to hold the fairway. The approach demands precision to avoid four bunkers. Missing long and right will leave a devilish pitch or putt from a collection area well below the elevated green.
Do You Remember? After three straight final round birdies, Scott Simpson hit a magnificent 70-foot bunker shot to within six feet of the hole to set up a clutch par save, allowing him to hold off Tom Watson by a shot for the 1987 U.S. Open title.
18 of 19
355 yards, par 4
The atmosphere at this iconic finishing hole should be electric with several thousand spectators watching from the natural amphitheater on the hillside. Players will likely hit iron or wood to find a fairway just 21 yards wide. The approach must stay below the hole and out of the four greenside bunkers (Members say three of those bunkers spell out the phrase "I-O-U"). Careening slopes on the smallest green on the course set up a nerve-wracking finish.
Did You Know? Jack Fleck, a little-known pro from Iowa, stared down Ben Hogan to win the 1955 U.S. Open at Olympic. First, he birdied 18 to get into a playoff. In the playoff, Hogan hooked his drive on 18 off the tee, resulting in double bogey, as Fleck made par to win.
Rory McIlroy—Let's start with the defending champion. Yes, he's been hit or miss this year, and no one has successfully defended a U.S. Open title since Curtis Strange in 1989. But the kid has all the necessary talent and poise, and his recent work paid off with a contending performance in Memphis that was derailed by one swing. He'll put up a credible title defense.
Tiger Woods—We might as well stipulate that Tiger's the favorite heading into this year's Open. When we last saw him, he was giving us glimpses of vintage Tiger, winning the Memorial with what Jack Nicklaus called possibly the greatest shot he had ever seen. Woods renews his pursuit of Nicklaus' 18 majors in the same state where he won his last, the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Tiger will be eager to outshine his playing partners in rounds 1 and 2 — Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson.
Phil Mickelson—Speaking of Lefty, if we based this solely on desire, the tournament's over before it starts. Mickelson wants this tournament more than any other, having posted a record five runner-up finishes at our national championship. We're tempted to think this tournament owes him one, but he was last seen withdrawing from the Memorial citing fatigue, a somewhat troubling red flag. Tiger seems to bring out the best in him, so he could find himself in contention heading to the weekend.
Lee Westwood—The consensus Best Player Without a Major, Westwood has a remarkable seven top-3 finishes in majors since 2008, including a T3 at the Open last year. He also had a T7 at the Open in 1998, proving that he knows his way around Olympic. He's coming off one of the most dominant performances of his career, a five-shot win on the European Tour. It just might be his time.
Luke Donald—No. 1 in the world but unloved and unappreciated, Donald could silence his doubters once and for all at Olympic. Doesn't seem likely, though — he's never posted a top 10 at a U.S. Open, and his lack of length would seem to rule him out at a monster track like Olympic. Still, he's likely to keep it in the fairway, and he's a good enough putter to hang around.
Dustin Johnson—You might think it's premature to include DJ on this list so soon after a prolonged injury absence. But he was so good on a tough track in Memphis, and he's so crazy long off the tee, that it wouldn't surprise us to see him on the leaderboard on Sunday. But winning's another matter; he's got some mental hurdles to clear after coming agonizingly close in other majors.
Matt Kuchar—Kooch had a T3 at The Masters, and he finished T14 in the 1998 U.S. Open at Olympic as an amateur. His ballstriking is as good as anyone's; he's third in scoring on Tour and 10th in greens in regulation. If he can get some putts to drop, he'll contend.
Bubba Watson—A Bubba Slam? Is it conceivable? Not really, but neither was a Watson win at Augusta (Bubba, not Tom). He'll show up at Olympic, pink driver in tow, ready to attack one of the toughest tracks in major championship history and steal some of the spotlight from playing partners Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. If nothing else, it'll be entertaining.