Roundup 2016: Year In Review Stories And A Few Thoughts

I've been taking in and enjoying the year-end golf summaries, mostly to shield myself from news that makes me want to have John Oliver's '16 tribute on a running loop. As is always the golf media custom, various writers emptied their notebooks and recalled moments that resonated long after they packed up their laptops. While taking in their thoughts I drew a few conclusions, which, if you'll indulge, I'll share before throwing a few good year-end links your way.

2016 lived up to its billing: a stellar-but-bloated schedule, plenty of sensational tournament venues and a continued refinement of course architectural tastes skewing toward the natural. But the sadness of Arnold Palmer's passing, which I'm not sure we got to completely take in quietly, just reinforced the sense that there is too much golf and it all went on way too long.

In spite of the pitiful WD's by Spieth, McIlroy and friends, The Olympics exceeded expectations while The Open Championship will go down as a classic (John Huggan and Dave Shedloski have put together a truncated oral history of Troon 2016).

For Golfweek's Alistair Tait, those were the two biggest takeaways in his eyes and he offers two anecdotes from each.

The women's side keeps producing young talent but now even Lydia Ko is showing signs of impatience that either could propel her to another level, or rapidly add her to a list of almost-legend status. This overall impatience by and for the youth to take center stage should be a more disconcerting sign for golf given how much damage it's done in tennis, but the desperation to ride some under 25-year-old coattails ignores that the average age of the men's major winners in 2016 was..34.

On a grander entertainment scale, fewer players and even fewer fans are clamoring for tournament officials to humiliate players via course setup to compensate for inadequacies in their own golf games. Woohoo! Yes, we still have too many green speed fiascos to mask the distance issue, but we also have fewer four-inch rough weeks and grind-it-out bogey-fests.

This increased clamoring for player-produced drama leads to a more positive energy when we tune in to watch golf. The effect has to seep down to the everyday game, no? 

Consider the incredible outrage over the USGA's difficult-to-rationalize handling of Dustin Johnson and how quickly the public response produced a local rule introduction that will restore some sanity (though it still won't slow down greens). A less cynical, more sensible golfing public should take a bow.

The sport saw minor inroads on the pace-of-play plague and with the greatest single roadblock to progress just a few hours from retirement (woohoo 2!), we may see real reform in 2017. I sense an overall shift in values for the sport: golf is no longer seen by its followers as a sport of inevitable punishment separated by bursts of fun.  It is now expected to be one that aspires to be a lifestyle activity that is fun, sensible and responsible to be part of. Progress!

Obviously this is generational and the infusion of many "millennial" values has meshed nicely with the "artisanal" trends that had already begun to reimagine design and experiential elements that inspire our passion for the sport. However, I can't help but think of 2016 without thinking of the incessant desperation the sport has shown in trying to appeal to a new generation while ignoring an aging demographic that loves the sport. In trying so pathetically to be cool to the kids the sport so often comes off as pathetic to the kids. If there's one thing we know about millennials, it's that we don't know what they really like. But they have shown a love for pursuits with soul, timelessness and some backbone. Golf should act more comfortable in its shoes.

Ultimately the genius of golf is that it can be played and loved by people of all generations. Probably never a huge audience, but one that spans generations. So perhaps the potential for Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to duel one more time with a nice mix of young guns and veteran sticks joining the fight, a microcosm of this cross-generational meeting of minds will calm some of this desperation to get younger or die.

On that note...

If you need your memory refreshed, here are GolfChannel.com's newsmakers, with of course, that passing of Arnold Palmer in the top spot. We lost many others in '16 as Cliff Schrock notes at GolfDigest.com, but it was Palmer's death that will forever define the year.

Randall Mell steps back from the raw emotion of the initial coverage to consider what Palmer's passing means to the game. Brandel Chamblee also weighed in with this piece.

Jeff Babineau covered many topics in his year-end Golfweek.com thoughts, including Palmer's funeral. And GolfChannel.com's Mercer Baggs left the service feeling upbeat, thanks in part to the eulogy by Sam Saunders.

Doug Ferguson uses up his notes that weren't technically newsworthy, just entertaining. And while this Wayne Gretzky item is the best, the theme here is Palmer and he included this one:

The day after the U.S. Open, Arnold Palmer drove his cart to the back entrance of his office in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

It had been a rough year. Palmer declined to a do his news conference or a TV interview at Bay Hill, instead taping an interview for the NBC telecast. For the first time, he did not hit a ceremonial tee shot at the start of the Masters the following month.

But he was sharp on this day. Dustin Johnson had won the U.S. Open, but only after playing the final seven holes not knowing if the USGA was going to penalize him one shot for his ball moving on the fifth green.

"What did you think of the Open?" Palmer said.

"Interesting," came the fence-sitting reply.

Palmer grinned and, as always, got straight to the point.

"The USGA really (messed) this one up, didn't they?" he said.

Beth Ann Baldry filed her favorite memories from a year on the road covering amateur and women's golf, with the NCAA's in Eugene still resonating strongly. For Mell, Se Ri Pak's emotional retirement cameo was the memory he won't soon forget.

Off the course, the equipment and business side proved fascinating, with more news soon on the way for 2017. David Dusek at Golfweek.com summed it up this way:

Where would you start in a year that included Jordan Spieth cracking the face of his driver on the eve of the Masters, Adidas announcing that it wants to sell TaylorMade, Adams and Ashworth and the USGA and R&A reporting that they don’t feel driving distance is a problem in professional golf?

Which brings us back to the proverbial question that inspired the start of this website 13 years ago and saw it morph into a blog 11 years ago. Will 2017 be the year anything is done? Probably not. But I'm encouraged enough by too many other big picture trends to never rule out some action. Shoot, we might even see a slow play penalty on the West Coast swing. Strap, it's going to be a wild year ahead.

Until then, Happy New Year,
Geoff

How Pete Cowen Helped Henrik Stenson Get His Game Back

One of the many things lost in the haze of the magnificent Stenson-Mickelson battle for the ages at Troon was Henrik's bizarre career arc.

It's easy to forget that he hit rock bottom many years ago, but with the help of instructor Pete Cowen, Stenson built a swing that led to one of the great performances in major history.

Bob Harig files this super profile of the Cowen/Stenson partnership for ESPN.com.

"He couldn't hit the world, let alone the fairway,'' said Pete Cowen, Stenson's longtime instructor. "And it could be with every club in his bag. He could hit 5-irons out of bounds, 7-irons out of bounds. There are three important things, and they are to start the ball on line, and have the correct flight and spin. Henrik couldn't start it on line, and then you have no idea where it is going to finish.''

Stenson turned pro in 1998 and found some early success on the European Tour. But at the European Open -- at the K Club in Ireland -- his game, his ego and his confidence took a hit 15 years ago, one from which it is amazing he recovered.

Playing in July 2001 with Miguel Angel Jimenez and Sandy Lyle, Stenson came to the 13th hole and hit a massive slice that would not have been so alarming if he had not hit a massive hook on the same hole a day prior. Stenson had no idea where the ball was going, and was so spooked by his lack of form that he withdrew.

"After nine holes, I told the guys they'd be better off without me,'' Stenson recalled. "The balls were all over the place.''

Two months prior, Stenson had won the Benson & Hedges International tournament, but now he wondered if he'd ever be able to compete again.

The Open In The UK: 3 Million Fewer Viewers, Pricing Out Some?

While the move to NBC actually expanded the number of homes for The Open, the shift from BBC to Sky Sports in the UK was expected to mean a drop in audience size.

John Westerby
in The Times wrote about a variety of topics, including the Sky ratings. The drop is pretty staggering.

Peak viewing figures on Sunday were around 1.2 million, compared with the 4.7 who watched Johnson's victory on the BBC on the extra day at St. Andrews last year. The highlights package on BBC2 on Sunday attracted about 1.5 million viewers.

On Monday in Glasgow, I had a random chat with a 22-year-old fan who was raving about the final round drama. I asked why he didn't go and it was cost related. He was genuinely dejected by the lost opportunity. When returning my car, the representative also raved about the final round and said his father attended, sitting on 18 all day. I asked why he didn't go. Again, cost was cited.

This year's Open did include free entry for those under 16 and special pricing for those 16-21. There was also the camping village to appeal to the festival-goer mindset. But the £80 entry fee, coupled with £15 for parking, is cost prohibitive for many and probably explains the small crowds Thursday through Saturday.

Given the R&A's desire to be accessible to more young people, the combination of millions not seeing the golf and plenty more feeling like they're unable to afford the event, can't be positives for The Open.

Prestwick: "The whole place has the patina of legend about it."

Before the focus turns away from the west coast of Scotland and the epic 145th Open, I hope we can also remember the importance of Prestwick Golf Club and all that it means to the game. Daydreaming a bit while walking around the clubhouse with club historian Andrew Lockhead, one an easily imagine what that first gathering of professionals was like, capped off by Tom Morris hitting the opening shot. But what strikes most is how, based on the documentation and formality of the proceedings, how those involved knew they were on to something historic.

The Guardian's Paul Weaver took the full tour as well, and captures the essence of this great clubs, which maintains an amazing reverece for its history without the attitude that could come with having such a vital place in golf.

The Archive Room, with pencilled-in scores from the 1860s, tells tales of terrible traumas outside. Darwin added: “Holes and bunkers that can bring down great men with so terrible a crash deserve great names and in these Prestwick is rich; the Slough of Despond, Purgatory, the Goose Dubs, Lion’s Den, the Pill Box, the Precentor’s Desk and Sandy Neuk.” It feels friendlier in the clubhouse.

“I am obviously biased,” says Goodwin, “but I think Prestwick is unquestionably the best golf club in the world. The whole ethos is to have fun, and lots of it.” 

Thanks to Lockhead and secretary Ken Goodwin, I was able to see the magnificent club archives where all of the key old scorecards from the Opens at Prestwick are lovingly bound into a permanent volume, while each important letter related to The Open is still in the club's possession. (We discussed on Morning Drive earlier in the week.)

Check out the actual scorecard from Young Tom Morris' 3 on the then 578-yard first hole:

Detailed look at the face of the belt, from an exact replica on display at The Open this week.

While the initial contest was for the Champion Belt and was essentially an invitational open to those with ties to ten or so clubs, it was the realization that the "world" needed to be part of "Open" competition that proves so mesmerizing to see put on paper. It makes the branding emphasis on open take on greater meaning.


As for Prestwick's architecture, the course retains its playing charm and design fascination, an astounding notion given how so many courses do not age well. The appreciation heard last week for its merits is heartening and offers more evidence that a greater awareness for design is in the game. Just like North Berwick's recent renaissance, Prestwick no longer is getting tagged with a negative "quirky" or "bizarre" labels. Instead, the overall walkability, memorability, variety and at times, audacity of the holes appeals to a broader golf audience than 20 years ago. The fun word is getting throw about too, and never in that demeaning way suggesting the course is too "easy."

The Himalayas remains such a thrill to play, and a great reminder that blind can be exhilarating. What I can't figure out: why the blindness is better received in 2016 than even 2006? Is it the awareness before arriving at Prestwick that has people prepared?  Or just the overall desire to have a sense of a natural adventure that has been re-introduced by more lay-of-the-land courses? Either way...



And the 17th/Alps remains as bizarrely nutty as ever. How did they play this with a baffing spoon!?


Prestwick's place in the game is as vital as the Old Course is today. It was the birthplace of professional golf and a testing ground for golf architecture both manmade and natural. Because of its place through golf history as a joyous locale for the game--continued on by today's club--Prestwick should always be one of your first stops for a Scotland golf pilgrimage.

Furthermore, many clubs with a trace of the history Prestwick enjoys could learn from the way this grand place in the game proudly shares itself with the world for all to come and see and play. Every professional golfer should pay a visit out of respect for those who gave birth to their pastime.

The State Of The Rota And Where Turnberry Fits

These are issues I delved into in this week's Golf World after Troon successful hosts another Open.

With Muirfield's current suspended status leaving the R&A with nine choices, I point out that avoiding Turnberry because of Donald Trump (and after recent improvements) would be a mistake for the rota.

Troon? Very fine venue and every dozen years, is just right for The Open. Shoot, 12 years from now the R&A media hotel suggestion, the Adams Family House, may even have internet and fire extinguishers attached to the walls!

More disconcerting is a likely return to Royal St. George's in 2020 without some restoration and softening of bad modern era tweaks (when the superior Deal/Royal Cinque Ports is available). Throw in possible pouting over The Donald's comments, eliminating Turnberry from the rota, and the R&A will suddenly have a much weaker rota if they avoid Turnberry (and have Muirfield on the outside looking in).

Here is the column.

A more extensive Turnberry review is in the works.

NBC's First Open Off To Solid Ratings Start

Sports Media Watch breaks down some of the numbers and the real eye opener may be Saturday's third round out-rating the U.S. Open's, which was in the evening presumably when there would be more eyeballs. But who knows! Maybe golfers like their televised play early and June summer evening golf.

From SMW's report:

The 2.75 is the highest for third round coverage of the British Open since 2013 (3.1). The last time third round coverage aired on a broadcast network — ABC in 2009 — it earned a 2.4 overnight.

Of note, Saturday’s telecast scored a higher overnight than the third round of the U.S. Open on FOX (2.5). Keep in mind the U.S. Open aired in a later timeslot (11 AM-8 PM, versus 9 AM-2:30 PM).

Phil On The Difference Between A USGA And R&A Setup

While we gradually wrap our heads around a historic Open Championship and I slowly collect some good reads, I didn't want to let Phil Mickelson's comments about the Royal Troon setup pass by without a little copy and pasting for future reference.

This was at the tale end of his post-65 final round press conference at Troon.

Q. For those who don't follow golf as closely as others might, can you explain the difference between how the USGA sets up a course for the U.S. Open and how the R&A sets up a course for the British Open? And do you prefer one over the other?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think that R&A sets the golf course up to be as fair as possible and to try to kind of identify who the best player is regardless of what the score is given the conditions and so forth. Sometimes it's 20-under. Sometimes people don't want that many under par. But the fact is if somebody plays some incredible golf, that's what it should do. You shouldn't have to mess with the course too much to try to control the score.

The USGA has it in their mind that the score needs to be par, so no matter what lines they have to cross to get there, that's got to be the standard, and it kind of disregards and doesn't take into account the difference in talent level and abilities that the players of today now have.

Q. Prefer one over the other?

PHIL MICKELSON: I prefer this one, yeah. I think that it's much more fair. I think we all enjoy it. But I'm also biased because I've won this one and I haven't won the other one, so I've got that working against me.

I wrote about Troon and the R&A's performance for the week in Golf World.

Shirtless Henrik Stenson To Us: "I'm a little hot"

Arguably the most surreal element to Henrik Stenson's 20-under-par Open Championship win was his calm, cool demeanor and unusual (for him) fluid pace of play.

No moment was more bizarre than the 17th when Stenson arrived at the tee, fresh off a key birdie from the native rough left of the green to maintain his two stroke lead. As fast as he'd walked up to the tee, Stenson immediately walked back down the tight-mow walkway toward the New York Post's Mark Cannizzaro and myself who were standing against the large scoreboard pondering the drama that had unfolded.

"Shield me," Stenson said to us as he had just finished taking off the shirt, revealing his abs to the crowd, and leaving him with just his under armor.

Stenson asked if he could moved behind us with the scoreboard as his backside shield, with only us and a day-glo clad policeman as his fronting shield, and then bared chest as he took off his undershirt while we awkwardly looked forward.

"I'm a little hot," he joked, a nice duel reference to the temperature and his ninth birdie of the day.

Indeed he was.

A few pictures and Tweets:


Me, pretending this was situation normal, while Cannizzarro is doing the more extensive reporting as Stenson takes off his shirt:

 

 

 

 

Stenson Wins The 2016 Open: Great Or Greatest Duel?

Great duel or greatest duel?

Because of the names involved at Turnberry and the way things went back and forth, it will be hard for any duel to ever surpass Nicklaus and Watson in 1977. (BTW, epic moment on The Open radio when one of the commentators asked if there had ever been a duel like this...that was quickly explained away).

Woods and May at Valhalla was special in its own way, especially considering the David v. Goliath quality. And no doubt there are so many past duels that will be dug up and shared. (Another benefit of such a compelling finish.)

However, given the quality of the play by Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson, cases will be made that this was (A) in the conversation for all-time great major final rounds since Stenson was facing down his rival, and (B) the scoring separation was unprecedented.

A couple of Tweeted stats from Golf Channel's Justin Ray put the latter notion into perspective.

Being out on the course for the last portion it was almost a surreal exhibition of skill and class. Both players showed no signs of nerve and both played remarkably fast (but never rushed). It all happens so fast and both Mickelson and Stenson made the moment look so easy, putting what we saw into perspective can be tricky.

I'm going to write up a few things for my various publications but would love to hear your thoughts...

In Praise Of Slow Greens Files: Saturday At Royal Troon

Dave Shedloski talked to a few players after Saturday's Open Championship third round when the R&A decided not to mow greens, leaving them at 9.5 on the Stimpmeter. Players were notified by text of the speed figure and plan to not mow.

First, we should commend the R&A for taking the cautious approach, learning from last year's St. Andrews no-play day fiasco. Woohoo!

The bigger question involves speed and the belief that faster surfaces are a greater test of skill. We know that speed is used to protect courses and certainly a reading of 14 will make players defensive. And slower to get around.

Saturday at Troon the scoring average was 73.370 and yet, twosomes got around in 3:30 generally because every 2 footer did not need to be marked.

Two players lead who are not known for their ability to make a lot of putts of late, yet they seem to be putting well. But you also don't sense there is an overemphasis on putting.

Yet this was an interesting take from the various comments Shedloski reports.

“If they were 10, you wouldn’t have to think about it [the pace]. You would be surprised,” he said.

“You would just be thinking about hitting a good putt. But once you get down to that sort of 9.5, even over an 8-footer you have to say to yourself, ‘Don’t forget to hit it.’ That’s not a good thought to have if you’re trying to hole a putt.”

Or, is it? After all, it's a putting stroke and act of skill to stroke it in a solid way that gets it to the hole, no?

Isn't that a more skillful act than merely starting it on a line?

Poll: Who Will Win The 2016 Open Championship?

As John Huggan notes, Henrik Stenson is trying to shed a label as one of the best (arguably the best) player not to have won a major.

As I note at GolfDigest.com as well, Phil Mickelson was upbeat during a 1-under-par 70, with very specific swing work to button up with Andrew Getson for the finale at Royal Troon.

Mickelson said it is not a match play situation for him, but it is essentially a two-man race starting at 2:35 pm.

Before I enter the Internet and 21st century dead zone that is an R&A's handpicked media hotel, who do you like?

Who will win the 2016 Open Championship?
pollcode.com free polls

Spieth: I'd Be Getting Positive Questions If Not For 2015

Jordan Spieth's logic seems perfectly reasonable: he gets negative questions about his 2016 game given that it's no where near his 2015 game. But given that he hasn't posted an under par score since the first round of the Masters and is skipping the Olympics for undisclosed health reasons, I'm not entirely sure the positive questions would be flowing, either.

The full clip after Spieth's 72 at Royal Troon leaving him at +5 for The Open.

2016 Open Championship Third Round This, That & Clippings

It's a bleak forecast for the players, a potentially captivating one for us watching the 145th Open Championship's third round at Royal Troon.

Your third round tee times.

The leaderboard.

For American audiences, your Golf Channel/NBC telecast times.

TheOpen.com also features live coverage.

Friday's Birdies and Bogeys.

John Huggan says 36-hole leader Phil Mickelson was “drookit” after a wet 18-holes over Royal Troon.

Michael Bamberger feels a Mickelson win would be epic in further defining his sensational career.

The 36 holes he has played at Troon, completed in a mere 132 shots, is just the latest. Like Fred Couples before him, he will be a factor at Augusta, at least now and again, for the next 10 years or more. Why? Because he is what he has always been, a golfer with a unique skill set and outsized desire. The thrill of competition just means too much too him. Tiger Woods burned out. Surely, his fade is rooted in an uncooperative body.

Ryan Lavner on the third round setup adjustments.

After the setup staff reviewed the course and forecast early Saturday morning, certain hole locations and tees were also moved before the 81 players began their day at Royal Troon.

The greens were rolling at about 9 1/2 on the Stimpmeter.

Here was the weather update greeting us at our work stations today, suggesting the R&A has no desire for a play stoppage should the wind kick up.

Lavner also explains what Mickelson did with Dave Pelz to make himself a better links player.

Jim McCabe ponders the luck of the draw and Steve Stricker says players have to resist the urge to throw themselves a pity party.

There were 52 games sent out Friday, and of the 26 players in red numbers heading to the weekend, 22 of them had earlier tee times on Friday. The only players who played late and finished under par were Patrick Reed (74), Byeong Hun An (70) and Rory McIlroy (71), all at 2 under, and Rickie Fowler (72) at 1 under.

Rory McIlroy also got the wrong side of the draw but he’s not getting down about his luck. Paul Weaver reports for The Guardian.

Jason Day
played a miraculous round in the afternoon wave to get to +1 and hopes there is more of it Saturday, if he can dry his stuff out. Mark Tallentire reports.

Billy Horschel
found a way to move the needle for the first time in ages. Alex Myers reports.

I wrote about Matthew Southgate for GolfDigest.com. What an inspirational story.

Jaime Diaz on short par-3s after watching some golf at the Postage Stamp.

I wrote for GolfDigest.com about how the double-breasted's from the R&A (of all groups) are doing quality grow-the-game work by presenting a fun, relaxed Spectator Village which also accomplishes the goal of giving some exposure to their corporate partners.

And finally, Phil Mickelson's binder clip/hat adjustment is drawing plenty of scrutiny, reports Alex Myers.

2016 Open Championship Second Round This, That & Clippings

The rain has come and the players going out early in round two finally experienced inclement conditions (as expected). Phil Mickelson managed his way around until a bogey at 12, but he nearly aced the Postage Stamp.

A few notes as you watch the Golf Channel telecast in the States.

Your second round tee times.

The leaderboard.

For American audiences, your Golf Channel/NBC telecast times.

TheOpen.com also features live coverage.

Thursday's Birdies and Bogies.

Players are wearing ribbons in honor of the victims from the Nice tragedy, Ryan Herrington reports.

Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker
and Zach Johnson are sharing a house and having a jolly time at The Open. Steve Hennessy explains. For a UK take, Jonathan Liew of the Telegraph reports.

Alex Myers walks out to the Postage Stamp to take in the wee hole. You forget how far out this course goes before turning back to the clubhouse.

The Railway hole was a beast in round one, my take for GolfDigest.com and Richard Bath's look for the Telegraph.

The Postage Stamp didn't play favorites either. Ryan Lavner with the lowdown on the struggles there.

Which reminds me, The Open's app is a must download for featured 6-7-8th hole coverage. If you're on site or coming this weekend, it will even map you through the course to get to a preferred spot or group.

Jim McCabe looks at the early dominance of Americans and says we should not be surprised given the history here.

The latest odds have Phil 15/8.

Stinger! 63 Again: Mickelson's Heartbreaker At Troon

There really wasn't a 62 in the air for Phil Mickelson until the birdie putt on 17 went in, and as I noted for GolfDigest.com based on my observations from the course, even Mickelson wasn't thinking it until late. But once he did, the heartbreak of such a lipout was evident.

Tiger still thinks about his putt at Southern Hills in 2008 and Phil will remember this one for the rest of his life. And 62 remains safe, as does the legacy of the Golf Gods.

That said, it's still a 63 in The Open, the last tournament Phil has won since 2013.

Where does it rank on the list of 28 previous 63's? Jaime Diaz, who wrote a definitive piece recently on 63s, says this one makes the top 5

After the round, Ernie Els lamented the missed chance at history but spoke of his pleasure in watching it unfold. Alex Myers reports.