There is much to welcome in the announcement that the purse for this year’s U.S. Women’s Open will increase to $10 million, not least that it’s a rare example of riches being promised professional golfers from sources other than a murderous regime. After years of golf’s great and good proving themselves content to sign expressions of noble sentiment about investing in the women’s game, they are finally signing checks.
The U.S. Women’s Open prize fund is almost doubling from $5.5 million, with a commitment to further raise it to $12 million within five years. The R&A has said the purse for the 2022 AIG Women’s Open will be at least $6.8 million, more than twice what it was just four years ago. And Chevron will boost prize money by 60 percent when it debuts in April as title sponsor of the LPGA’s first major, still fondly known as the Dinah Shore, though it’s had more name changes than Zsa Zsa Gabor (Google her, kids).
But Friday’s blockbuster reveal by the USGA’s CEO, Mike Whan, has implications beyond the bank account of the last-standing lady who leaves Pine Needles with $1.8 million in June. Not least for Whan’s organization itself.
For someone who just a few years ago was perilously proximate to a federal insider trading prosecution, Phil Mickelson has developed a commendable interest in regulatory processes.
This week he’s been in a Twitter snit about a new rule announced by the game’s governing bodies that would reduce the maximum length of a club from 48 inches to 46. That’s about 1.5 inches shorter than Mickelson’s typical gamer driver and shorter still than one he used to win a sixth major championship in May.
“Stupid is as stupid does,” he acerbically tweeted, echoing a well-worn adage from Forrest Gump’s momma. “Really though, are the amateurs trying their best to govern the professional game the stupid ones? Or the professionals for letting them?”
Who among us can’t empathize with an aging stag shorn of shaft length as he tries to keep up with the young bucks? But note how Mickelson repeatedly disparages the governing body’s staff as stupid people doing stupid things. You’d be forgiven for assuming it must have been the USGA’s CEO, Mike Whan, who was taken for $500,000 by a mobbed-up Michigan bookie, or that it was his secretary who hit a moving ball in a U.S. Open then tried to brazen it out as clever strategy.
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.
The most popular punching bag in golf finally said “no mas.”
Mike Davis has announced that he’ll no longer oversee golf course setup at U.S. Opens to better focus on his role as CEO of the U.S. Golf Association. It’s a development sure to disorient those accustomed to j’accusing Davis for every shortcoming – real or imagined – at the national open.
You can learn a lot about how a president governs by watching his golf game. Bill Clinton, for example, had a reputation for cheating. George W. Bush rushed along, blind to the bigger picture. Gerald Ford was endearingly hapless. And then there’s President Donald J. Trump.
I played with him just once, on August 20, 2010, and it was quite an experience. At the time, I worked at Golf Magazine and had been invited to join the editor in chief and a corporate executive at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Back then, Trump was overly solicitous of golf media, eager to influence their course ranking lists to include his properties. The character I saw and heard over those few hours has since become a familiar part of public life.
Several things tend to happen when an athlete becomes the first man in his sport to publicly acknowledge he’s gay. Progressives cheer, pearl-clutchers jeer and reaction to the announcement is rapidly conflated with its lasting impact.
So it was last week when Tadd Fujikawa came out in a deeply personal Instagram post, making him the first golfer with even a whiff of name recognition to do so.
The number that best defines John Daly’s career depends largely upon whom you ask. His many fans might offer “302” – Daly’s average driving distance in 1997, when he became the first man on the PGA Tour to break that now quaint 300-yard barrier. Or “5,” for his Tour wins, a meager tally given his enormous talent. Perhaps even “2,” for the major victories that place him in rarified company.
For me, the telling number is “48.” That’s how many times Daly has withdrawn from PGA Tour-sanctioned events during his uneven career.
It’s now “49” after his sulky exit from last week’s U.S. Senior Open. That figure omits the eight DQ’s he’s racked up, or his consistently dominating performance in the strokes gained half-hearted effort category.
This week’s port of call on the PGA Tour showcases what golf needs more of, as surely as last week’s stop represented what it has too much of.
The Zurich Classic went to a two-man team format in 2017, becoming the first team event on Tour since 1981. The innovations continue this week as each team selects first-tee walk-up music on the weekend. Assuming Kevin Na doesn’t need an entire symphony before actually hitting the ball, this further enhances the cool vibe in New Orleans.
Two years have passed since anchored putting was banned, but the USGA’s wording of the rule is still causing some consternation on the PGA Tour Champions. The two most dominant players in 2017—Bernhard Langer (below) and Scott McCarron—finished 1st and 2nd in Putting Average. Both use a long putter and a controversial method, that rules officials have declared legal. I wrote about the issue for Golfweek. You can read it here.
On the final Sunday of the U.S. Open, I joined a roundtable with Gary Williams, Geoff Shackelford and Mark Rolfing on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive to debate whether the national Open has an identity crisis. You can watch the segment here.