What an exciting week of golf this week on the PGA Tour! The action and atmosphere from the Tampa area was as electric as the power generated by the power plant in nearby Apollo Beach. Let’s take a look at what happened this week during the Valspar Championship held at the Innisbrook Golf Resort on the Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Florida. Some of the names that we saw through the course of the week on the leaderboard made it feel like a serious throwback. Bob Estes, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk to name a few.
I think the place that I want to start right off of the bat is with the obvious. Tiger Woods! This was the first time that he’s played in the Valspar Championship (formerly Tampa Bay Classic and Transitions Championship) and the “Tiger Effect” was very much noticeable. The galleries massive and the air electric. There was something about this tournament that again felt different. I thought that golf was fine without Tiger but there is no doubt it’s better with a healthy, competitive Tiger Woods. I said on social media that I like this iteration of Tiger he seems like he’s enjoying golf and more importantly life. He doesn’t seem like an untouchable cyborg and this week was further proof that he’s “back”. Everything about him looks healthy and it looks like the surgeries are holding up nicely… after all they must be to handle a clubhead speed of 129 mph. I really like his swing and how his overall game looks. It’s inevitable that he’ll be holding a trophy again on a Sunday evening in the not-so distant future. Funny thing though… people are questioning his play on the 72nd hole. No matter how you look at it… it’s all a process. You knew he wanted to win and he did what he (and caddie Joe LaCava) thought what was best.
Speaking of wanting to win. I just want to talk about Canadian Corey Conners for a minute. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t rooting for my fellow Canuck to win this week. This might be the first time that you’ve heard of him but I will almost guarantee this won’t be the last time. The 26 year-old from Listowel, Ontario has what it takes to make it and win. You almost have to like his action which features a silky smooth tempo and swing. His demeanour is calm and cool like an old veteran of the Tour. golf fans won’t remember him from this tournament because nobody ever remembers who the 54-hole leader of a tournament was. But there was Conners a relative unknown in contention coming into Sunday. The names pursuing him were impressive. Champions like Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, and yes… Tiger Woods. His day started off tough carding a bogey on the first hole of the day and unfortunately he was never able to rebound from it. He would bogey the third and eventually double bogey the 13th hole in what would be the “death-blow”. Those bogey’s all made worse by not carding a single birdie. But as sure as the sun will rise in the east Conners will rise again.
Paul Casey. Our 2018 Valspar Championship Champion. It’s been a long time since he was victorious on the PGA Tour and continues a “sort-of trend” started by Michelle Wie and Phil Mickelson a week ago. At 40, Casey was last a champion on the PGA Tour in 2009. Casey was in good form all week and I can’t even imagine how he felt sitting there for what seemed an eternity as the clubhouse leader. I admit I thought that the scoring would be low Sunday… for those teeing off earlier in the day. The conditions were relatively benign with little to no wind. There was a chance of thunderstorms for the afternoon which of course meant the possibility of higher winds coming in off of the Gulf of Mexico in the afternoon. As great as his swing and ball-striking were it was the 21 putts that he made for the round (lowest putts in a round total in his career) that fueled the victory. Casey would end carding an impressive -6 (65) on the final day to win the Valspar Championship. Championships are won and lost on the greens.
Much can be said of appearance fees. Many a tournament have used them as initiative to bring golfers to play in events. Events that top players would otherwise balk at playing in. I have no doubt that appearance fees were used to a much lesser extent through the history of golf. What exactly was $4000 worth in 1932 compared to 2017? This topic is a bit random but what would make me write another editorial about love for the game and appearance fees?
Before I continue I feel that I must state the obvious. Everything is about money for nearly everyone nowadays. Especially for athletes playing professional sports around the world. Whether it’s the NHL, MLB, NFL, NBA or any of the Premier Futbol leagues in Europe it’s business first. After all, all of these athletes have to pay agents for their services and of course their expensive toys. Often I’ve wondered if Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, Joe Montana or Pele kept playing their sports professionally out of sheer love for their game? A game in which their parents once paid for them to play in order to participate. Or did they continue playing in order just to keep the fat paychecks rolling in? Of course, they were all inspired to keep playing at least partly due to their competitive desire.
Golf… a game that seems much maligned these days. A game where so much focus has been directed towards “growing the game”. A game where there’s a drive to develop new fans from the younger generation of golfer. Maybe American kids look towards a Rickie (Fowler) Lexi (Thompson) or Jordan (Spieth) to emulate. In some country’s where golf isn’t as prevalent like Bangladesh maybe by going to an event and watching Siddikur Rahman and young boy or girl would want to play golf and who knows maybe find an education through playing the game. In Australia there are a slew of golfers to choose from that may capture the imagination of young golfers to be… maybe it’s Jason Day or Adam Scott.
For any young Australian golfers out there looking to the latter as inspiration to play golf seriously they’ll be disappointed this year. Adam Scott… the sweet swinging Australian decided to withdraw from the Emirates Australian Open this week. Not because of an unbeatable affliction like “CSS” (Chronic Shanks Syndrome) or an injured wrist, back or in-grown toenail. Nope! How about because of his issue with an appearance fee ([ardon me while I sarcastically applaud Adam’s decision). Scott, who in 2015 had an estimated worth of about $40 million skipped out on his National Championship because he didn’t receive enough money in appearance fees! His first time missing the event in a decade. Really Adam? Not enough of an appearance fee? Sure his nose might be out of joint because Spieth was set to make $1 million before striking a golf ball. If Spieth is receiving that kind of money it makes me wonder what the fee was going to be for Scott… a native son? No doubt it was more money than I have seen or will ever see in my bank account. I think that it’s shameful and disgusting that he or anyone would skip a tournament because they never received enough money just to show up.
As I pause my writing and think to myself for a second I wonder even further. If Spieth didn’t get an appearance fee as compensation would he play? We all know that the likes of Tiger, Phil and Rory have received huge appearance fees for showing up at tournaments in the past. Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia have each received an estimated $1.5 million in appearance fees for playing the Hong Kong Open. Combined the fees are worth more than the purse itself (such is the case with Spieth).
Have the appearance fees gotten out of hand? Maybe. But as long as the sponsors are willing to shell it out and the players have coffers to line they’ll gladly collect the fees. I would! But it makes you wonder in retrospect too. If the sponsors weren’t willing to cough up the “dineros” would the golfers be playing in the events? A game that “we” pay to play and through buying equipment from their respective equipment sponsors indirectly help pay their endorsement deals. Golf seems so much like the other professional sports leagues doesn’t it? It’s “us” the fans buying tickets and merchandise that line their wallets and support their families.
For guys and gals out there playing events on the various worldwide professional tours it’s fine for you to withdraw. Nobody with a soul would dispute sitting out an event because of illness, injury, or a family emergency. But sitting out of a tournament because you didn’t receive enough “thanks for being here money”? Quit being such petulent primadona spoiled brats. You truly forget what this game is all about. £ove for the game? #whatever
The week in golf hasn’t even really started and yet it’s already been an exciting week. Let’s take a quick look at recent happenings.
This week has been a pretty eventful one so far in the world of golf. The guys on the PGA Tour are getting set to play in their unofficial “Fifth Major” as play is a couple of days away in Ponte Vedra, Florida home of TPC Sawgrass and it’s famed Stadium Course. A golf course that has a pesky little Par 3 that can be the site of some serious carnage. A hole where championships can be won (and lost) and where the hazards of gulls lurking make us think of that incident involving Steve Lowery back in 1998. The field is always star-studded as it should be. This is simply “their” championship and to be blunt I think that “The Player’s” is more of a tougher exercise of golf than the last major of the year… The PGA Championship.
When looking at the field it’s really difficult to look up and down at the roster and pick out a clear-cut favourite. It really is difficult to not look at a guy like Dustin Johnson and not make him a pick. Making that pick is quite easy. You could look at our most recent champion at The Masters (Sergio Garcia) and pick him. After all he won it in 2008… in front of a relatively hostile crowd as far as I can recollect. Former #1 in the Official World Golf Rankings and defending champion Jason Day is a guy who hasn’t played all that well this year (ranked 104 in FedEx) but you just never know when he will come through and win a tournament. Ironically enough all of these players have something in common. Who knows… maybe another former #1 has the mettle to win this week. Rory McIlroy. Now the burning question does he have the mettle or metals? The perfect pun and segue.
TaylorMade Golf announced today that it has signed the 28 year-old from North Ireland. On the heels of the announcement in January when the brand announced the signing of Tiger Woods at the PGA Show. Now the “Golf Goliath” has reportedly spent $100 million to make the signing. With the signing McIlroy will be playing 13 TaylorMade clubs and play the TaylorMade Golf TP5X golf balls. Is it totally shocking that Rory went this route? I would say no…. not really after all he had put the 2016 M2 driver and fairway wood into play last year. As of this week he will be playing the 2017 M2 driver, M2 Tour fairway wood, a set of “Rors Proto” MB irons, and Milled Grind wedges. For a little while there was some thought that he would choose Callaway Golf since he had been testing the Great Big Bertha Epic Sub Zero driver and prototype Apex MB irons. I speculated that maybe PXG would be a brand in his wheelhouse seeing that Nike Golf was out of the golf equipment business and that Bob Parsons has really deep pockets with even longer arms. But TaylorMade it is. Much like when he left Titleist for Nike was there maybe just a little influence from Tiger?
As exciting as that news is for the golfing world I am far more excited some other news that surfaced this past week. To sum it up… John Daly. Over what seems the last lifetime has there been a more lamented golfer than Daly? In a word no. Say what you will about Tiger Woods and his microscope but the fact is that if Tiger has been under a microscope than Daly has been under the Hubble Space Telescope. Golf fans have been very unkind with their views of him. People had written him off because of his drinking, gambling, smoking and everything else that is perceived as unhealthy by society. People wrote his golf game off throwing around words like “embarrassment” for his blow-ups on certain holes in tournaments or the video of him on YouTube golfing with no shirt on. For those that took part all I have to say to them is that it must be nice to be so perfect. I never gave up on JD and I have always been a fan of his. I was really excited to meet him this past January and it was one of my personal highlights from the PGA Show. There is no doubt that the talent was still there I mean to have a swing like his and hit a ball the way that he does how do you dispute it? A talent like his simply does not disappear. I have often said that I am looking forward to turning 50 from a golf standpoint. More to the point I have said in jest that turning 50 is like “golf’s vasectomy”. It’s a new lease on life and when JD turned 50… you knew that he was going to win on PGA Tour Champions. This weekend that was exactly what he did. Powered by a Titleist Pro V1x golf ball, PING i200 irons, TaylorMade Milled Grind wedges, PING Crossover and G (Utility and Fairway Wood respectively) and the Vertical Groove driver all shafted with Nventix Nunchuk shafts. Daly would win the Insperity Invitational in Texas for his first victory in 13 years. The class and love that John showed as he knelt down and kissed “Arnie’s Umbrella” logo was a moment that will be forever etched into my mind. The celebration was one for the ages and so well-deserved. To that end… John all that I can say is… Welcome Back!!! #perseverance