The Numbers Are In And No One Can See Them: Players Vote Rory Their 2019 Player Of The Year

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Despite getting smoked by Brooks Koepka in the 2019 majors, the PGA Tour’s player vote for Player Of The Year went to Rory McIlroy.

It’s the first time since 1991 that the players differed from the PGA of America’s POY, which is based on a points system. Brooks Koepka won that award by six points over McIlroy.

As I wrote for Golfweek, without knowing how many players voted or how close it was, the award lacks credibility compared to other sports leagues or even other POY awards in golf. It’s too bad, too, as McIlroy had a super year and the case for him to be right there with Koepka is a strong one—until you use the majors as a tiebreaker.

Speaking of majors, you know, the four events on the calendar not owned by the PGA Tour and which always supersede all tour events in magnitude, 2013 was the last time a player won the award without winning a major. Tiger Woods posted five victories that year and two top-6’s in majors.

McIlroy’s best finish in the 2019 majors? A T8 at the PGA. He was 21 strokes worse than Koepka in the three majors he did make the cut in, though he never really contended at any point in the Grand Slam events.

Joel Beall at GolfDigest.com had similar issues with the Tour’s lack of transparency and even the sense that a media conference call ended as soon as the questions about process started.

Or, apparently, privately release them either. Given the election's concealment, the Associated Press' Doug Ferguson asked McIlroy during Wednesday's media conference call if he knew how close the race had finished. "I inquired," McIlroy said, "and they are keeping tight-lipped on that." The call, just seven questions deep, was ended.

Golf.com’s Jessica Marksbury rounded up the Twitter reaction to the news and naturally, there was surprise and some outrage.

And finally, there was the scene of Commissioner Monahan showing up at the Bear’s Club with McIlroy’s trophies, social media helpers, a satellite truck and heaven knows what else for a surprise photo-op with the awards’ namesake, Jack Nicklaus. There is even a photo with McIlroy and the Commish hoisting the FedExCup, cup.

Would Brooks Koepka and his landmark major season—18 strokes better than the next player—have gotten the same attention had players voted for him event without “landmark victories” in the Players and Tour Championship? The overall effort seems desperate to validate a high-priced sponsorship. Too bad that was the only transparent thing about this award.


Wrapping Up Last Season Before Next Season Starts (Thursday): 2018 v. 2019 PGA Tour Ratings Comparison

Robopz calls him/herself “anonymous 3rd-tier 4th estate type” but did some nice work trying to compare 2018 PGA Tour ratings vs. 2019. While the overall number was slightly down and a few events took steep plunges due to date change or a Tiger presence, overall a flat number these days is good news.

While golf is expensive to broadcast and the demographic isn’t as gullible and hooked on its phones as the coveted M’s, it still delivers a lot to sponsors, fans and beats airing informercials (I would hope).

Anyway, give him/her a follow here as you’ll find some other fun stats and info. You can click on the images to see them better:

The Bob Hope Classic Saved Again: AmEx To Take On Sponsorship

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What fantastic news and a great get by Camp PVB to land a bluechip sponsor for the desert and one of the PGA Tour’s founding events.

Just maybe, now, a way can be figured out to make more top players turn up and tee it up for a tournament that meant so much to building the PGA Tour into what it is. (For starters, a Monday prime time finish on the national holiday and away from NFL playoff games would do wonders.)

Larry Bohannan with the exclusive details for the Desert Sun, including this obvious but still important point:

-Worldwide recognition: American Express will do more with the tournament than just advertise during tournament week. Expect to see ads during other PGA Tour events and even other sporting events mentioning that American Express is the title sponsor in the desert.

A former sponsor of WGC events, it’s an impressive restoration of a sponsorship partnership lost and as Bohannan notes and longtime readers will recall from a few years back (the AmEx TV’s!), it’s a sponsor that has shown great creativity in imagining ways people can enjoy a sports experience.


New Driver Testing An Upgrade, Except In The Dreaded Transparency Department

We know the PGA Tour does a lot of things well, transparency when it comes to player violations isn’t one of those. While Commissioner Jay Monahan moved the organization into the 21st century with some improved clarity on who fails drug testing, the public still may be in the dark on a number of fronts about about player fines and suspensions related to things like slow play, club tosses, recreational drug use and courtesy cars abandoned in airport loading zones.

And now drivers failing improved and more regular testing.

Golfweek’s David Dusek rightly praises the tour for upping their game in conjunction with the USGA. And focusing on catching clubs and manufacturers possibly flirting with the rules is absolutely the correct priority. However, that’s where things shift to a protectionist mindset that doesn’t seem to actually discourage cheating.

In a letter sent to players and manufacturers this week that Golfweek obtained, the tour said, “While this testing program will test the clubs in use by players on the PGA TOUR out of necessity, it is important to note that the focus of the program is not on the individual player but rather on ensuring conformity level of each club model and type throughout the season.”

That’s fine for a player’s organization to protect their own, and I’d guess 99.9% of the time players are not aware they have a juiced club because of wear and tear changing the club’s dynamics.

However, without any transparency, what’s the punishment for a clubmaker to obey the rules when all of this is kept behind closed doors free of the public shaming necessary in place of any fine system? Because Dusek writes:

There have been whispers in locker rooms and parking lots that this player’s driver is too hot and this company’s drivers are dangerously close to being non-conforming. Random testing should stop the suspicion and spare players the embarrassment and humiliation that Schauffele must have felt in July.

Random driver testing is easy, quick and long overdue. Golf may be a gentlemen’s game, but even gentlemen want to know that the playing field is level.

That includes the public and other stakeholders, no?

To put it another way: the reaction to 2019’s Xander Schauffele episode seems to be a search for a way to prevent player embarrassment, not from reigning in clubs that cross the line, whether intentional or not. Isn’t the first priority to protect skill and the competition, not egos?

CT Creep Crackdown! PGA Tour Buttons Up Driver Testing Protocols

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Xander Schauffele and friends wanted a lot more testing and less transparency after having his Callaway fail a random R&A driver test.

While all players will not be tested at all majors, the PGA Tour did announce a very detailed and seemingly logical random testing system that should ensure any drivers exhibiting “CT Creep” are found and prosecuted. The USGA’s Equipment Standards Team will do the heavy lifting and players can now expect their gamer and any backups to be randomly tested at some point.

From David Dusek’s Golfweek report quoting the PGA Tour’s notice to players, which danced around the idea of hot drivers (aka cheating) by focusing on the CT creep possibility:

“Recently, we have become aware that drivers in play on the PGA Tour may be exhibiting a trait whereby through normal use, the clubface ‘creeps’ beyond the allowed CT limit under the Rules, despite having conformed to the CT limit when new,” the letter notes. “When such a situation occurs, in accordance with the USGA’s Notice to Manufacturers dated October 11, 2017 the club is deemed to have become damaged into a non-conforming state and may no longer be used in competition.”

The story goes on to explain the process of testing and how names will be drawn. There is also a Golfweek exclusive video featuring the USGA’s John Spitzer showing how their test works.

Remind Me Again: Why Did The PGA Tour Give Up On Labor Day?

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Since the new schedule was announced, I’ve long moaned about the lack of a Labor Day Monday finish as a strange abandonment of a solid day for sports watching. Networks generally concede the day to travelers and vacationers trying to get back home, and yet the ratings tell a slightly different story.

Reader KD reminded me of this odd abandonment today, writing:

So let me get this straight the PGA Tour thinks its a better idea to end its Fed Ex Playoffs the week before Labor Day? I am looking at the TV offerings on the east coast this afternoon on the major channels---they include a strong man competition, some non-descript Indy Car race and X Games. Granted the US Open is being shown on ESPN but it is being contested by a couple of lesser known players.

Yep, the offerings are slim and Monday has networks showing their usual weekday shows when in the recent past, the Dell Technologies (formerly the Deutsche Bank Championship) was finishing on Labor Day Monday. The day’s primary competition come from Flushing Meadows and Louisville, where Notre Dame is visiting at 8 pm ET.

The ratings from the last two Dell’s:

2017: 1.8 for Saturday’s third round, 2.2. for Sunday’s final round

2018: 1.8 for Saturday, 2.3 for Sunday

The 2019 Tour Championship played one week ago drew a 2.9 overnight and 1.5 for Saturday’s rain-suspended round. All broadcasts were on NBC.

While the ratings were higher for this year’s tour finale played a week prior to Labor Day, it’s easy to picture this year’s format, stars and promotion drawing a similar rating on Labor Day Monday (and a higher rating if played on the west coast).

Buying an extra week would make players happier after a pretty compacted finish following The Open.

And yes, Labor Day weekend in Atlanta means competing with other things, and the combination of sponsors and proud partners need to be on board (a big if). But reclaiming the last free Monday of summer still seems worth exploring in the next television contract.

I’l leave the last word to reader KD:

Even if they stay in Atlanta how can they not play on the last holiday weekend of the summer when many people will be home tomorrow either sending their kids off to the first day of school or preparing to start the work week. Is Atlanta that small of a sporting city that they cannot handle two major sporting events on the same weekend (happens here all the time here in New York).

They can own the "end of summer" by just pushing things back one week and starting the Fall Season a week later.

Tour Championship Down From Tiger's Historic Win, Up Over 2017 But No Comparison To August PGA Championships

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The 2019 Tour Championship moved up the schedule a month to avoid the NFL and college football, while the PGA Championship moved to May.

In year one of the revamped schedule, both events lost ground in the ratings chase.

May’s 2019 PGA at Bethpage drew a 3.9 and was down 36%.

The 2019 Tour Championship’s final round 2.9 overnight was down substantially from last year’s Tiger Woods return to glory (5.1 overnight), but up from 2017, reports SBD’s Austin Karp. The Tour Championship was played in late September last year against NFL football.

While the 2019 Tour Championship was played a little later than a typical August PGA Championship, it’s worth noting that PGA’s in August drew some big numbers in recent years:

2018: 6.1

2017: 3.6 and lowest since 2008

2016 3.4 but still one of the bigger golf ratings of the year

2015 5.1 at Whistling Straits

Going back later, you’ll find plenty of 6’s, 7’s and 8’s for PGA Nielsen numbers and there is certainly the chance a PGA in May will have some big years.

But in year one of the new schedule, the PGA lost a lot of eyeballs—but kept audience sizes similar to the Players it replaced—and the Tour Championship/PGA Tour Playoffs essentially held it’s own against late summer Tour broadcasts of the past.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s Tour Championship suspension of play meant the Little League World Series’ USA final (2.1) easily beat the golf (1.5), while Sunday’s championship game drew a 2.0 to the Tour Championship’s 2.9 while going head to head.

Questions Abound After Tour Championship Lightning Strikes

Saturday’s unfortunate Tweet from the Tour Championship’s @playofffinale account

Saturday’s unfortunate Tweet from the Tour Championship’s @playofffinale account

A pair of lightning strikes at East Lake left six people injured from flying debris, darkening the mood for Sunday’s Tour Championship and FedExCup conclusion. 

Dan Kilbridge with the details from Golfweek and this quote from U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland summing up the reaction of many:

“It’s frustrating that they didn’t move tee times up,” Gary Woodland said. “You saw the weather, you saw it was 80 percent (chance) at 4 o’clock. I’m sure with 30 players they thought they could get it in. But obviously now wish they would have moved them up. Now you just hope people are OK.”

The PGA Tour’s official statement:

At 4:17 p.m., the third round of the TOUR Championship was suspended due to inclement weather in the area. At 4:45 p.m., there were two lightning strikes at East Lake Golf Club; a tree near the range/15 green/16 tee was hit, and debris from that strike injured four people.

EMT tended to those fans and two others immediately and transported them from the property via ambulance for further medical attention. Our latest report is that their injuries do not appear to be life-threatening.

Due to these circumstances, the third round has been suspended for the day and play will resume on Sunday at 8 a.m. ET.

The safety of our fans, players and partners is of the utmost importance. We will provide further updates as they become available.

As we have seen since a spectator was killed at the 1991 U.S. Open, golf has largely taken an abundance of caution by moving up tee times, or moving people off of courses well in advance of possible storms.

Unfortunately in this case, poor weather was forecast all week for Saturday afternoon. Yet, the 1 pm start of round did not budge even after play was delayed 80 minutes on Friday.

Hhere was the Monday long range forecast from Dark Sky putting the possibility of Saturday precipitation—and therefore in the south in August, electricity—at 90%.

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Next is Saturday’s forecast at 8:19 pm ET/5:19 pm PT Friday, the same as it had been for days. This displays the Saturday window where the chance for thunderstorms were in the 60 to 80% range.  Leaders vying for a $15 million first prize and what has been billed as one of golf’s most important championships, were set to begin at 3:30 pm ET even as the forecast called for likely storms with electricity. (The Apple weather app allowing anyone to slide on over to see the next 24 hours (area circled).)

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Had a revised tee time window accounted for the forecasts and moved up to 8 am—still a civilized hour in golf—the last group would have teed off at 10:30 am. On a four-hour pace, they would have been finished by 2:30 before the forecasted ugly stuff. While NBC’s third round telecast would have been on tape, it’s something that has occurred many times in recent years in the interest of fan and player safety, and getting a tournament played by Sunday.

In the case of this championship where a $15 million first place check is on the line, leaders would have played a continuous third round. Now they restart at 8 am after play was wisely called once the strikes occurred and fans were injured.

Even as the day progressed, it was apparent storms were coming. Here is a National Weather Service future cast captured at 12:20 ET showing what conditions would look like at 2:30 pm ET close to East Lake, with projections of the activity popping up all over the area and when moving, to the north.

Play was called at 4:17 pm ET and lightning struck East Lake less than 30 minutes later.

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If anyone is ever to feel safe attending a PGA Tour event again, the organization will likely need to expedite and couple its slow play policy deliberations with an enhanced, more detailed weather warning system. While the current system in place has worked well since the awful events in 1991 at Hazeltine (a USGA event), something went terribly wrong Saturday when times were not even moved up some to allow for plenty of time to vacate the course.

Just a few questions that likely will need to be addressed by the PGA Tour:

—What will instigate the moving of tee times in the future? The Tour’s Tyler Dennis is quoted as saying in this ESPN.com story by Bob Harig, "And so we have a lot of scenarios throughout the year where we look at it, and there's a very high degree of certainty that there will be storms coming. And there's a lot of other days when we look at it and we see, as it was today -- I believe it was a 50 to 60% chance of storms from 3 to 6 this afternoon -- and we just have to evaluate it and make our best decision when we make the schedule. Obviously when it comes down to suspension of play, we don't leave any room for error there. Safety is a huge priority for us.''

An error was made and it would seem that as a data-driven organization these days, they may need to set a forecast number for tee time shifts. 50% and up seems like a no-brainer.

—Will more time be allowed to evacuate. A half hour ahead of when storms are projected, may not be enough.

—Can this event return to the south In August? The notion of electricity in the air came as a surprise to no one in the region or maybe the country. East Lake always envisioned itself as hosting fall events, but now moving to August, is this date sustainable given weather patters in Atlanta in August? As Mark Russell said Saturday, "I think if we did that every time we had a possibility of thunderstorms in the Southeast, we'd do that basically every time we played golf.''

—Were any outside forces part of the decision to not move tee times and expose the tournament to a situation like Saturday’s? Finally, the most sensitive of all questions.

Having seen how the names mentioned above work along with the talented rules staff and meteorologists, and knowing how much they consider safety, I’m struggling (as are many) with the idea that the traditional decision makers went the route they did. It seems entirely plausible that the circumstances around this event—first year under new format, big boost in prize money, determination to sell this as a significant championship—somehow might have influenced the decision to keep tee times in place to show live golf as late as possible.

A forceful statement from Commissioner Jay Monahan will be needed to assure fans, players and partners that this was simply a mistake, bad luck or a terribly unfortunate event, with strong pledges made to update or strengthen weather policies.

Live Under Par Files: PGA Tour Tries To Get Fan Vote Using Cancer-Stricken Child, Commenters Recoil

In a Twitter poll showdown, the PGA Tour’s Twitter account inexplicably pitted a cancer-stricken child’s visit to the Northern Trust against Shane Lowry’s Open win.

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Twitter users were aghast at the poll and even as the reactions poured in, the PGA Tour left this appallingly tasteless Tweet up.

A sampling should an adult see this and order the post taken down:

PGA Tour Vows To Tackle Slow Play By "Leveraging Our ShotLink Technology To Assist Us"

If there was any doubt about the gravity of pushback received at PGA Tour headquarters over Bryson DeChambeau’s slow play boondoggle, look no further than the operation’s first significant comments on slow play in decades.

After Commissioners Tim Finchem and Jay Monahan have both done their best Heisman pose to slow play questions for two decades now, they issued quotes from the Tour’s Chief of Operations Tyler Dennis in a house-organ piece by “Staff” as The Northern Trust played out.

Not often you get a major change in position from a sports organization in the middle of a playoff game, but that’s what occurred Sunday as Patrick Reed was en route (and on the clock) to winning the 2019 playoffs’ first leg.

Let’s get to the story and then assess what this says of the Tour culture after.

Staff writes:

The TOUR’s current pace-of-play policy only addresses players whose groups have fallen out of position. The TOUR is now exploring whether to expand its policy to also address players whose groups are in position, but who take an excessive amount of time to hit a shot.

“We know that the individual habits of players when they are preparing to hit a shot can quickly become a focal point in today’s world, and our players and fans are very passionate about this issue,” said Tyler Dennis, the PGA TOUR’s Chief of Operations. “We have leveraged our ShotLink technology to provide every player with a pace of play report that they can access which breaks down the varying parts of their game and gives feedback on the amount of time on average that the player takes to hit a particular shot.

“We are currently in the process of reviewing this aspect of pace of play and asking ourselves, ‘Is there a better way to do it?’ We think technology definitely plays a key role in all of this and we are thinking about new and innovative ways to use it to address these situations.”

Publishing those numbers would clean up the problem via simple exposure of slow pokes and incentivizing to not be at the bottom of the list.

Those numbers have been compiled for thirteen years, yet only now the Tour is looking at using them to make meaningful change.

I’ve wrote a column in 2010—2010!—suggesting that a sponsor wanting to be associated speed could put up a bonus pool purse and it’d be watched a lot more closely than Wyndham Rewards chase, that I can assure you. The data and ShotLink 2.0 technology has only made the information more accurate since.

The story took on an Onionesque tone when it went to this comedy:

“We have learned over the years that pace has a lot of factors that play into it, and it’s actually quite complicated,” he added. “The overall time to play a round is affected by things like the number of players on the course, tee time intervals, amount of daylight, course set-up and the weather. Some of these are things we can influence, and some are not.”

The amount of fans and media following a group also can impact the pace of play, said Justin Rose.

“The crowds are a lot bigger here and a lot more vocal and there's a lot more movement and distraction, I think which obviously creates the atmosphere that we want to play in front of,” Rose said. “You can't have it both ways. You can't have it fun and rowdy out here and yet expect guys to hit shots on a clock through situations where the environment isn't ready for them to play.”

This generally impacts one player and one player only. But a fine try to soften the blow of the DeChambeau debacle which was at least explained in detail. Then touted the best players in the world, in a limited field event, playing in 4:51 with people carrying their clubs, volunteers finding lost balls and playing lights-out great golf.

DeChambeau’s group still played in 4:51 on Friday. That was just one minute slower than in Round 1 and consistent with other groups in the second round.

The TOUR has seen positive results from increasing the intervals between tee times this year. “We are seeing great improvements to the flow and in particular to the speed with which we can recover following an issue with a group that results in a momentary slow-down in pace,” Dennis said.

Of course, the issue is not these understandable bits of logjamming, but the pure selfishness of some entitled by a lack of significant penalty strokes or bank account-damaging fines.

And there was one more plug for ShotLink…

“We are really focused at the moment on leveraging our ShotLink technology to assist us with these factors,” Dennis said. “This year, we have rolled out version 2.0 of an application which allows the officials to monitor every group in real-time, from their positions out on the course, and respond more quickly when a group is getting behind.”

The PGA Tour referees, the best in the business when it comes to knowing the players, knowing how to time, understanding complications and keeping an eye on pace, do not need ShotLink to assess a slow player. They need the backing of the players and Commissioners to dish out a few penalties to those who everyone knows are taking too long to hit golf shots, with a workable policy that lets them target repeat offenders.

As for what the Tour’s method of breaking news, keep in mind that Dennis was not made available to press at the Northern Trust or in a conference call, and no statement was sent to media as is the case with things like failed drug tests, quotes about the passing of legends or other significant PGA Tour news.

But as the social media firestorm and ensuing player backlash proved in forcing this policy “review”—mainstream media was not the cause—slow play is the sport’s biggest perception and business matter and has been for decades.

PGA Tour Exec: "It’s not an easy thing to consider leaving Comcast, but it’s also not an insurmountable one.”

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On top of the original July 29 story by John Ourand and John Lombardo detailing the possible ways a new PGA Tour television/digital deal may play out, a second and more pointed column from Ourand appeared on August 5th. I’m presuming the quotes from this were in the original interview, though the tone of this column is decidedly more incumbent-friendly than the original piece.

Ourand predicts that it will take “a significant bid to convince the tour to turn away from” the Golf Channel, NBC and parent company Comcast.

But it’s the quote from the PGA Tour exec in charge of shaping the new deal that will interest (or concern) fans and viewers.

“It’s not simple,” Rick Anderson, the PGA Tour’s executive vice president of global media, told SBJ golf writer John Lombardo and me recently. “Comcast has built an entire multibillion-dollar linear channel with our programming. They are phenomenal in terms of their production of golf, and they have a strength of position in the game. Changing that and walking away from that and leaving them will not be easy. It would be the hardest path. It would be a lot easier to talk about doing a renewal instead of going to the market … It’s not an easy thing to consider leaving Comcast, but it’s also not an insurmountable one.”

Phenomenal but not insurmountably so.

As for the viewer appetite to stream golf, Anderson believes the audience wants more digital streaming, even if means watching a guy take over two minutes to hit a six foot putt and paying for the privilege.

“The digital platform is as big an opportunity as the linear channel,” Anderson said. “We know that our opportunity extends beyond the current business model of cable and a linear channel. We can build a real digital platform that has content that people will pay for and in a different way than any other sport can do.”

Anderson said the tour’s available package has more than enough content, particularly Thursday through Sunday with the PGA Tour, LPGA, PGA Tour Champions and Korn Ferry tours.

“The landscape that I see with those big deals is definitely a linear channel, but then an extremely robust digital platform where you really could almost literally go and watch golf on a 24-7 basis,” Anderson said.

I continue to have a hard time seeing more than friends and family paying significant chunks of change for a more robust PGA Tour Live on top of all other streaming or cable subscriptions.

Maybe the folks doing this negotiation will be inspired by Disney’s brilliant, trend-bucking bundle announced last week and pricing of its new combined Disney/ESPN+/Hulu and give golf fans the chance to buy a one-stop place for all of this content at a fair price.

Golf And Gambling Hecklers: “It’s something that probably needs to be addressed, but I don’t know how you address it"

In light of Ian Poulter’s latest heckling incident last week, Brian Wacker at GolfDigest.com revisits a topic many of us have not been able to wrap heads around: how does golf intend to deal with sports gambling interference.

No sport can so easily be disrupted by a simple sound, with gambling outcomes potentially impacted as legalization spreads in the U.S.

Many will point to the lack of a high-profile incident in the UK with legal gambling, but several factors in the U.S. seem to make it more likely an issue: the coarsening of the culture, the ability of a huge audience to live-bet via mobile phones, and the PGA Tour’s “live under par” culture promoted to make golf tournaments louder and more interactive.

So far, the PGA Tour has not outlined any plans to confront these situations when the day comes, but as Wacker’s story notes, players are thinking about it. Including the U.S. Open champion:

“I played with [Poulter] in the [FedEx Cup] Playoffs last year, and he’s dealt with it for a long time and he’d had enough,” Gary Woodland said. “Enough is enough. From the fantasy standpoint, it’s huge. I see it on social media. I get blasted all the time from guys betting on me.

“It’s something that probably needs to be addressed, but I don’t know how you address it,” Woodland said. “It’s only going to get bigger and bigger. Social media, you don’t have to look at it [if you’re a player]. Hopefully out here [with spectators], we can police it better.”

Sergio's Star Power Protecting Him From A Much-Needed Suspension For On Course Antics?

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That’s what Golfweek’s Alistair Tait alleges of the kid-glove treatment for the pouting, golf course vandalizing Spaniard and possible future Ryder Cup captain following his latest pitiful on-course display.

Truth is, he can do almost anything he wants and not get a two-week ban. No way the European or PGA Tours are going to take serious action, especially the European Tour. The Euro circuit won’t want to alienate one of its biggest stars.

If true, that’s an amazing statement about where we are in the game: stars can behave badly before our eyes because they are star.

Then again, in February he vandalized greens mid-tournament and only got disqualified, so after that boondoggle, it’s no small wonder he continues to get a pass from the European Tour and PGA Tour for bad behavior.

SBD: AT&T May Be Willing To Flip Headline News Or TruTV Into A Golf Network As Part Of PGA Tour Bid

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That and other nuggets appear in John Ourand’s first significant Sports Business Daily story on the upcoming PGA Tour television rights chase.

The headline grabber: WarnerMedia, a subsidiary of AT&T looking to expand its sports offerings on their HBO Max app and on its various channels, is willing to create a new golf channel.

Given that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson is on the PGA Tour Policy Board with oversight of the next TV contract, common sense says his company would seem to have an inside track if it bids. Then again, his company has received one of the worst dates on the PGA Tour just weeks after the Masters and the week prior to the PGA Championship. Tony Romo was the major draw this year.

In recent months, AT&T has been dealing with debt-reduction as its primary focus though that appears to not be a major issue.

It was WarnerMedia that most recently was responsible for 2018’s The Match as a test case for sports gambling, synergy and golf. Reviews were mixed, with a massive pay-per-view payment disaster, live drones that didn’t work and a sense that the intersection of golf gambling and television has a ways to go.

Ourand writes of other negotiation notes:

During its initial conversations with media companies, the PGA Tour has made it clear that it wants to control its own linear TV channel. NBC execs have discussed letting the Tour take an ownership stake in the NBC-owned Golf Channel, which has carried the Tour’s cable TV rights exclusively for the past 13 years. WarnerMedia owns channels like HLN (Headline News), which has distribution in 86.3 million U.S. homes, or truTV, which is in 84.1 million homes. Those two would be the most likely channels to be flipped if the company follows through on its initial plan.

And this on the timing, which sounds as if it’s on a fast track to be decided sooner than later.

Even though two years remain on its current U.S. deals, the PGA Tour will invite media companies to deliver formal pitches in the coming weeks. The Tour already has held informal talks with the incumbent networks, as well as others like Amazon, ESPN, Fox and WarnerMedia. The Tour hopes to have a new media-rights deal in place by the end of the year.

Thanksgiving, Christmas Beware! PGA Tour Up To 49 Events In 2019-20

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Last I checked there are 52 weeks a year so only a few more events are needed to finally go year-round with PGA Tour events, apparently working under the belief that more is more.

The new schedule does not list silly season stops at the Hero and Shark Shootout, but I believe with those added there go two more weeks away from the player/staff point of view. At some point Christmas week may be on the table!

The major headline from Monday’s release involves a rare off-week during the Olympic men’s golf, a big improvement over Rio 2016 when the John Deere Classic was contested at the same time. We discussed this positive on Morning Drive just moments after the schedule’s release.

Other elements of note:

—The Arnold Palmer Invitational retains the date prior to The Players.

—The Genesis Open leaves 93 years of “open” status to become The Genesis Invitational.

—The new Rocket Mortgage in Detroit moves to late May, creating four events between the PGA Championship and U.S. Open.

For Immediate Release:

PGA TOUR announces expanded schedule of 49 events for 2019-20 Season

Opening segment features two new events along with a return of
A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier and Houston Open to the schedule

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA – The PGA TOUR today announced an expanded 2019-20 Season schedule of 49 FedExCup tournaments, featuring a dramatically changed opening segment and several late-season adjustments to accommodate the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The schedule reflects a net increase of three tournaments over the current season. Eleven of the 46 Regular Season events will be conducted in the opening portion of the schedule between September-November. This segment includes two new tournaments in The ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP in Japan and the Bermuda Championship, plus the return of A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier and the Houston Open following one-year absences due to their transition from 2018 mid-season dates.

Later in the season, the TOUR will have an open week during the men’s Olympic competition (week of July 27-August 2) before resuming with the Wyndham Championship and three FedExCup Playoffs events. Several changes also have been made leading up to the Olympics, most notably: the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit moving one month earlier to late May; and the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and Barracuda Championship shifting from late July to the first week of the month, exchanging dates with the 3M Open in Blaine, Minnesota.

“After a very successful first year with our new schedule, we are thrilled to expand the number of events to 49 while maintaining a great flow from start-to-finish, allowing our fans to better engage and follow the TOUR throughout the season,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan. “For the second year, we’re excited about kicking off the Season of Championships with THE PLAYERS in March, bookended by the FedExCup Playoffs in August, and the return of the Olympics in that window. As for the early-season portion of the schedule, our players grasp the importance of a strong start in the Race for the FedExCup and this has translated into growth and momentum for the events played in the fall.”

With the PGA TOUR season now ending in August at the TOUR Championship, the 2019-20 season will open the week of September 9-15 with A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier. The Sanderson Farms Championship follows with its first-ever standalone date (September 16-22), before the TOUR moves on to the Safeway Open, Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and Houston Open.

The TOUR then embarks on a three-tournament Asian swing, beginning October 14-20 with THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES at Jeju Island, Korea. The ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP debuts at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba Prefecture October 21-27, followed by the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China, the week of October 28-November 3, which also marks the debut of the Bermuda Championship at Port Royal Golf Club in Southampton.

Following a week off, the TOUR continues the 2019 segment at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Playa del Carmen, Mexico (November 11-17) before concluding with The RSM Classic. While that marks the end of FedExCup competition until the first week of January 2020, the 13thPresidents Cup returns to The Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia the week of December 9-15. It was there that the International Team claimed its lone victory over the U.S. Team in 1998.

Once the TOUR resumes in January in Hawaii, the scheduling sequence remains unchanged from the current season until the Rocket Mortgage Classic’s move from the last week of June to May 25-31. The next four weeks remain the same before the move of the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and Barracuda Championship to June-29-July 5 and the 3M Open to July 20-26, the week before the Olympic competition.

Following the Olympic Games, the Regular Season wraps up at the Wyndham Championship (August 3-9), where not only the FedExCup Playoffs field will be finalized, but the added drama of the season-long Wyndham Rewards Top 10 will be determined. Introduced this season, the $10 million competition caps the Regular Season by rewarding the 10 leaders in FedExCup points, with $2 million going to the winner.  

Due to the off week for the Olympics, the FedExCup Playoffs will begin one week later and conclude the final week of August: THE NORTHERN TRUST August 10-16; BMW Championship August 17-23; and the TOUR Championship August 24-30.

The FedExCup Playoffs wrap up the Season of Championships, which begins with THE PLAYERS Championship (March 9-15) and continues through the Masters Tournament (April 6-12); PGA Championship (May 11-17); U.S. Open (June 15-21); and The Open Championship (July 13-19).

Several new or familiar venues are included during this stretch, beginning with the PGA Championship visiting TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, the U.S. Open returning to Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York, and The Open Championship going to Royal St. George’s Golf Club in Sandwich, England.

Additionally, THE NORTHERN TRUST will be held for the first time in the Boston market at TPC Boston in Norton, Massachusetts, while the BMW Championship will visit Olympia Fields Country Club in suburban Chicago.

Too Soon To Wonder If The New Major Season Is Too Condensed?

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That’s the question posed by Eamon Lynch for Golfweek as we are 250 days from the next major. But one thing we can all agree on: the fall schedule is anchored by a team event in December this year.

The Fall schedule ought to be more than an opportunity for journeymen to get a head start on FedEx Cup points before the stars return from vacation at Kapalua in January, but it lacks an anchor event. The Tour created this barren expanse on the calendar to protect the FedEx Cup playoffs — which is fair enough, since that’s where the bankroll is — and could remedy it by moving the Players Championship to the Fall. It won’t happen, of course. Even being the biggest event of the early wraparound season would still be seen as diminishing the Players, and ratings might suffer against the pigskin. So the highlight of our Fall will be a broadcast from Royal Melbourne in the middle of the night after all, this one the Presidents Cup.

A few have questioned this publicly and quite a few more privately for a variety of reasons. Players are not seeing the wisdom in the tighter major window and have played less around the majors. With some high profile defections at the WGC FedEx St. Jude and an even bigger no-show rate for the Wyndham Championship (you know, to help your playoff position), cracks have appeared in the new schedule concept. Namely: it’s weakening the very “product” it was meant to strengthen.

I think we need a little more time to mull the question as the only meaningful reversal will come after a new TV deal starts and the various majors have considered how the schedule plays out. The 2019-20 schedule is due out any day now and 20-21 won’t change much either.

But my initial take as a supporter of the new schedule’s tighter structure? The majors are stronger for it despite what players may legitimately think is too short of a window. The surrounding professional events on all tours have been weakened instead of strengthened as players conserve energy, and the PGA Tour Playoffs arrive too close on the heals of the majors. Given that the entire thing was built around avoiding football season and making the PGA Tour playoffs a bigger deal, the early reactions may force a re-thinking or even a scrapping of the wraparound schedule concept entirely.

Wyndham Rewards Chase Ends A Week Early Because No One (With A Chance To Win) Is Playing The Wyndham

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We’ve heard all year about the excitement of the Wyndham Rewards chase—a $10 million bonus pool to make players add the Wyndham Championship to their schedule—but it’s all over. That’s partially the fault of winner Brooks Koepka, and also because it was not a well-conceived bonus pool.

As Rex Hoggard reports here for GolfChannel.com, only Paul Casey from the top 10 receiving the bonus money is playing this week’s Wyndham, with the rest passing up the event. The pool was added presumably to incentivize players to tee it up at the Wyndham and reward season long play. It managed the latter but doesn’t do this week’s event much good, or make that $10 million investment exactly sing.

Here’s what was promised when announced last fall:

The bonus program will provide additional drama to the Regular Season finale and also place a greater premium on full-season performance, thus elevating the significance of each tournament on the schedule.

"The Wyndham Championship plays a pivotal role in the regular season as it's the last chance players have to secure a spot in the FedExCup Playoffs," said Eliot Hamlisch, vice president and leader of the Wyndham Rewards program. "In joining with the PGA TOUR to introduce the Wyndham Rewards Top 10, we're not only elevating the significance of our own tournament, but also placing a premium on great golf all season long. What's more, as the world's most generous rewards program, we couldn't think of a more fitting way to recognize the PGA TOUR's best of the best than by saying, 'You've earned this.' "

You’ve earned it, and you don’t have to play the Wyndham to cash the check!

PGA Tour Enlists DraftKings For Daily Fantasy Gaming Help

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After years of pretty uninspired efforts to jumpstart fantasy league play, the PGA Tour has wisely joined forces with the real pros at this business, DraftKings. Looks like a very smart move if they can pry loose more than a dozen balls or some old headcovers for prizes.

For Immediate Release and now is time to take the “engagement” over/under? It’s 3:

DraftKings named “Official Daily Fantasy Game” of the PGA TOUR

“PGA TOUR DraftKings Fantasy Golf” becomes TOUR’s first daily fantasy sports partner 

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA, AND BOSTON – The PGA TOUR and DraftKings Inc. announced a new multi-year content and marketing relationship today that designates DraftKings as the first-ever “Official Daily Fantasy Game of the PGA TOUR.” 

“We are excited to partner with DraftKings, an industry leader in innovation and fan engagement, in this groundbreaking step for the PGA TOUR,” said Luis Goicouria, PGA TOUR Senior Vice President Media. “The partnership with DraftKings provides the TOUR with a unique opportunity to innovate in a new industry and to further engage our fans.”

DraftKings will activate the partnership by branding its daily fantasy golf contests as “PGA TOUR DraftKings Fantasy Golf.”

Nice, an activation and a branding in the same sentence.

By playing these contests, fans will have the opportunity to win cash prizes as well as an array of PGA TOUR prizes in the future. The offerings include Classic contests where fans choose six players each week on the PGA TOUR for their fantasy team all while staying under the designated salary cap.

Does this mean PGA Tour pros and their agents will be complaining to Tour headquarters when they perceive a slight when the designated salary suggests they are, uh, a great value?

Showdown contests are also available, which requires players to compile a team of six while staying under the designated salary cap for a single round of a tournament. Players have the option to compete with other PGA TOUR fans or in private, fully customizable contests with friends and colleagues.

As part of the new relationship, PGA TOUR DraftKings Fantasy Golf players will have the ability to receive real-time video highlights for players in their respective lineups. Other elements of this partnership will create expanded Draft Fantasy Sports specific content offerings, as well as allow for brand integration into both the PGA TOUR and DraftKings platforms. Lastly, the PGA TOUR and DraftKings will collaborate on a variety of real-time product enhancements via the PGA TOUR’s proprietary ShotLink powered by CDW data feed. 

“Golf continues to grow in popularity among DFS players globally at DraftKings and is our fourth-largest sport in terms of engagement, out of 15 total offerings.” said Ezra Kucharz, chief business officer of DraftKings. “Our partnership with the PGA TOUR signals a mutual commitment to excellence in customer experience along with a new era in golf fandom and engagement.”

Life Under Par: PGA Tour Issues Take Down Threat To Funnyman Instagram Influencer Bob Menery

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I’m at a loss to understand why a Matthew Wolff winning putt put into the Menery mode was worthy of a takedown notice, but the under-par living Instagram influencer was ordered to take down his exuberant post.

He’s already posted a replacement thanks to an under-par living spectator.

Gary Trock presents the almost-full story of Menery and the takedown message his received via Twitter.

He was shocked Monday when the golf organization sent him a direct message that read, "We will issue a takedown on this video by this evening if we don't hear back from you."

The video in question had to do with pro golfer Matthew Wolff sinking a 26-foot eagle putt to win the 3M Open tournament last weekend.

Menery thinks the PGA may not appreciate his use of comedic vulgarity in his videos, but believes the "world is shifting" and people just want an outlet to laugh, which he provides.

He also points out that he does not monetize any of his videos from the PGA, and believes he played a big part in getting "kids to be interested in the game of golf."

Surely there is more to the story from the Tour’s perspective—maybe player or broadcast partner complaints—but that part of this story is uncertain. But what is certain? The idea of Living Under Par, the Tour’s silly slogan cooked up by marketing executives seeking authenticity and younger audiences, has never sounded more insincere.

Will AT&T's Debt Slashing Ways Preclude A Lucrative PGA Tour Bid?

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That’s the question on some minds as the PGA Tour nears the end of its current television contracts in 2021 and looks to potentially line up suitors for both broadcast and cable rights.

AT&T, with golf-loving CEO Randall Stephenson, who also sits on the PGA Tour Policy Board, is believed to have an interest in a major investment, even potentially turning a current channel acquired from Time Warner into a standalone sports or golf network.

But Nabila Ahmed, Eben Novy-Williams and Scott Moritz write for Bloomberg, a sale of its regional sports networks appears all about reducing debt after $180 billion in acquisitions of DirecTV and Time Warner.

A sale of the regional sports networks -- known as must-see content for avid fans -- highlights AT&T’s ongoing struggle to fix a debt-heavy balance sheet. The company, which has to spend money on a number of priorities, including an expansion of its 5G wireless network, has been financially handcuffed after amassing more than $180 billion in debt with the acquisitions of DirecTV and Time Warner Inc.

Despite a steady decline in TV subscribers, AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson has said the company’s top priority this year is to reduce debt. As part of that plan, he has been raising cash by selling holdings, including its stake in Hulu and its New York offices. The two deals fetched $3.6 billion in proceeds.