As cris de coeur go, Premier Golf League’s opening salvo sounded less passionate than petulant. The proposed rival circuit to the PGA Tour sent its first tweet on Friday, one that included an audacious appeal to individualism given that it is partly financed by a regime that dismembers free thinkers.
“Nobody owns golf,” the message read. “Golf is owned by everyone who enjoys it, watches it, and thinks about it – in other words, you. #PGL”
As an implicit call to arms against the reign of King Jay of Ponte Vedra, it fell flat. But that idea of ownership – not of the game, but of the players –explains why the League’s CEO, Andrew Gardiner, has finally moved into the open to speak publicly. He was on a salvage operation after Rory McIlroy holed the entire concept below the waterline earlier in the week.
It’s the capricious nature of sport that for all of Phil Mickelson’s high achievements his career is still largely defined by the one championship that got away a half-dozen times.
The U.S. Open was the first major tournament Mickelson ever contested, finishing low amateur at Medinah 30 years ago. He has made 28 starts in all and the results read like an EKG, spiking with each of those six runner-up finishes, five of which would meet anyone’s threshold for heartbreak. So the possibility that his Open career might flatline with last year’s mundane T-52 at Pebble Beach seems a cruel jest.
To a jaundiced observer, golf debates must have all the obvious relevance of a couple of tweedy academics bickering over the best translation of Beowulf between draws on their pipes. No debate is more fractious than that surrounding distance, which has for years rumbled along like a freight train in the night. During that time friendships have been sundered, garments rended, pearls clutched and block buttons exhausted. To casual fans it must seem like golf esoterica; to those who care, it’s golf in extremis, an existential argument on the very future of the sport.
Ours is a game of byzantine conventions, so it’s unsurprising that many drive-by spectators believe it hasn’t evolved in years, that it remains the domain of those who prefer the way things used to be, regardless of what those things are. The reality is that golf, like an aging Hollywood actress, shows marked change if you know where to look. Only now have we reached a moment when its wheezy statutes begin to catch up.
There was an outbreak of the Corona-virus on Saturday at TPC Scottsdale, though no experts from the Centers for Disease Control were needed to determine its origin. This is an annual epidemic — fueled by barley, hops and yeast — that transforms normally prudent citizens into drooling cretins and the normally staid PGA Tour into a rollicking party.
The festivities begin at 7 a.m. when the gates open to a stampede that rivals any Walmart on Black Friday. But instead of dashing for discounted flat screen televisions, this excited crowd sprints to grab a coveted spot at the 16th hole, and it’s the most thrilling competitive charge you’ll see on a golf course this side of a Sunday afternoon in Augusta, Georgia.
Each year, Saturdays at the Waste Management Phoenix Open dawn with buoyant spirits. And each year it ends in a sorry mess of tipsy antics and failed bladder control.
Triangulation is an indispensable strategy in politics and commerce, deftly positioning oneself as an alternative both above and between the stale, established options. Just such an approach is evident in Premier Golf League, which aspires to be a new global tour for golf’s superstars.
Every promise of what this hypothetical tour will deliver — elite fields, colossal prize money, fresh formats, elevated viewing options, even tax revenue — carries a none-too-subtle subtext that both players and fans are ill-served in these areas by existing Tours and their broadcast partners. There’s an element of truth in this, but a different triangulated analysis lays bare a troublesome reality for any new tour: without players, there is no money; without money, there are no players; without both, there is no broadcast deal. And six years after the idea for this new tour first emerged, all it has produced is more name changes than Zsa Zsa Gabor’s wedding registry.
This ought to have been an outstanding week for Miller Brady. The PGA Tour Champions, of which Brady is president, began its season in Hawaii with more fanfare than usual thanks to the debut of Hall of Famer Ernie Els. Nor is Els the only major winner who will slather on the Bengay and saddle up for the senior circuit in 2020. Jim Furyk and Mike Weir both turn 50 on May 12, with Rich Beem following in August.
Yet for all the promise this year holds for Brady, it presents a problem too: Phil Mickelson.
By now, PGA Tour executives must feel a gloomy kinship with those anonymous White House officials who regularly insist the President is taking a mature approach on an issue, only to wake to another inflammatory tweet storm from the toilet. For no matter how meticulously the Tour has sought to douse the Patrick Reed conflagration, Reed himself only provides more kindling.
A number of truths became apparent when Golfweek revealed that Reed has engaged a lawyer in an effort to silence Brandel Chamblee, the most prominent critic of his alleged cheating at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas last month.
Patriotism is the intrinsic creed of American sport. You don’t become known as Captain America unless you have exhibited the holy trinity of traits: a fiery will to win, a bulletproof confidence, and an eagerness to wrap yourself in the flag. You need to back it up with results, obviously, but our stubborn veneration of these attributes also helps annul any less admirable character quirks a winner might possess.
For example, an unscrupulous reputation earned as a sallow young man is forgotten if a major victory brings global prestige. It’s simply assumed you’ll rise to the responsibilities expected, like honor, integrity, professionalism, diplomacy. You’re representing America, after all.
And if you’re congenitally incapable of living up to the ideals Captain America embodies? If you are the sickly man and not the superhero? Just keep winning. It’s the serum that transforms feeble into fearsome. You can even stray out of bounds — hey, we’re all human! — and you’ll be forgiven, as long as the ledger shows positive numbers. Rewrite the rulebook in pursuit of victory. Push beyond arcane conventions. Be confident, brazen even. If you nudge beyond accepted norms and you’re famous, they just let you keep doing it.
It’s difficult to imagine two more discordant places than Sea Island and Ridgeland, which are separated by so much more than the two-hour drive on I-95. The Georgia barrier island is home to the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic, to one of golf’s most upscale resorts, and to many of its finest players. Ridgeland is … well, not.
While Sea Island did its part for charity at this week’s Tour stop, which has raised more than $13 million since 2010, Ridgeland — seat of South Carolina’s Jasper County, one of the poorest in the nation — is where you’ll find a new kind of golf philanthropy.
Located behind a wooden gate along a two-lane road in the woods, Congaree isn’t a golf club in the conventional sense. There is a course — actually, one of the best that Tom Fazio ever signed his name to — but that is almost incidental. At Congaree, golf is the route, not the destination.
Many moons ago, I walked with Padraig Harrington during a practice round at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course. As he nipped a series of exquisite, one-bounce-and-check wedges, Harrington talked about the relativity of talent in golf. “You know,” he remarked, “the scratch player at your club is an awful lot closer to being you than he is to being me.”
Harrington wasn’t referencing the skill required to win major championships— at the time he was still four years from winning his first — nor even the talent needed to play on the PGA Tour. His point was more basic than that, putting in brutally realistic context the level of performance necessary to have even a faint hope of earning a living in the professional ranks.
That long-ago conversation came to mind this weekend as I waded through a Twitter thread initiated by Denis Pugh, the coach of Francesco Molinari. Pugh worked with Colin Montgomerie at his peak and with Seve Ballesteros. He is one of the more thoughtful men in golf and brooks no B.S. from any quarter, two traits that are assets everywhere except on social media.
Courses are the currency of golf, yet the reality is that most of them are of no value.
To be fair, every course is loved by someone. They anchor communities, commerce, childhood memories, friendships. But from the standpoint of architectural merit, most are products of the Xerox school of golf course design, exhibiting only a faded sameness that you’ve seen previously, and in sharper focus.
Great golf courses are living works of art, so it’s fitting that notions of what constitutes greatness are as subjective as in any other art-form. What is loved by me, may be loathed by thee. Courses – and opinions thereof – are the one thing all golfers share, and the best of them are reminders that the real charm of this game has nothing to do with the PGA Tour or its stars. It lies in the land we walk (or, more often these days, drive).
The 148th Open Championship was foreshadowed with ample focus on what divides the people of this island —politics, religion, reactions to Rickie Fowler’s wardrobe — so it was only appropriate that a man who embodies many of the traits that unite them should emerge as Champion Golfer of the Year.
Only his exquisite command of a golf ball distinguishes Shane Lowry from any Irishman you’d get from central casting. He is a dry wit, is fond of a pint, is colorful with his language, is devoted to his family and is a stranger to the gym. He looks like a man more likely to be guarding the Claret Jug than having his name engraved on it, but he’s undeniably a man you’d want to be drinking from it with.
When Darren Clarke steps to the tee at Royal Portrush at 6:35 a.m. Thursday morning and gets the 148th Open Championship underway, he will become the first Northern Irishman to fire a shot here and have it universally welcomed.
That observation may be trite, but whistling past the graveyard is a common personality trait among those of us who grew up in Northern Ireland during what we euphemistically called ‘the Troubles.’ And Thursday will be just the latest in a series of days that once seemed so improbable as to be barely worth the dream.
The familiar rap against golf is that expressions of diversity in our game are limited to wearing unconventional shades of khaki, that it’s a buttoned-up, hidebound world that stubbornly remains the preserve of white, male, affluent, conservative, Christian, heterosexual, country club Republicans with woeful fashion sense.
Admittedly, you can throw a pebble on the PGA Tour and hit someone who ticks all of those boxes — and you wouldn’t have to aim carefully — but like all stereotypes it fails to fully reflect a more nuanced reality. A visit to most golf facilities will reveal people separated by race, gender and umpteen other differences but united by a passion for the game. Golf also has diversity not so readily apparent to the naked eye.
In golf there are moments that define a player’s career, then moments that define his character.
Ernie Els has been favored with an abundance of the former. Like the U.S. Open at Oakmont a quarter-century ago, when he emerged as champion after 92 holes, needing extra innings on top of an 18-hole playoff. Or the four-way shootout at Muirfield in ’02, when he claimed the Open Championship. There were a couple other majors, 19 victories in all on the PGA Tour, more than 70 worldwide.
Only Phil Mickelson can challenge Els for the right to be called the second greatest golfer of the last 25 years.
There were major disappointments, too. A handful of nearlys at the Masters, a few at the PGA Championship, a gutting playoff loss to Todd Hamilton at Royal Troon in the ’04 Open. That one hurt. Legends aren’t supposed to lose to guys named Todd who bunt hybrids.
But one moment stands out as the measure of Theodore Ernest Els. It came three years ago at Augusta National, when his Masters ended after about 15 minutes, on the very first hole of the tournament. He six-putted from six feet.