2016 Year In Review: Part Six
50. Jordan Spieth’s early season schedule
In previous posts, I’ve talked about how there really isn’t much of an offseason anymore, and part of that is because golf at the professional level is more global than ever before. Most of the focus on the men’s game will always go to either the PGA or European Tour, but the Official World Golf Rankings are powered by nineteen different professional tours from all the world, and those tournaments are always looking for star power, even if they have to pay an appearance fee. Along these lines, one of the big talking points early in 2016 was the schedule of Jordan Spieth, who from the end of 2015 and into the first few months of 2016 played tournaments in South Korea, China, Australia, Bahamas, Hawaii and Abu Dhabi, which led to Spieth talking about how he was getting tired. The following week, Spieth played in the 2016 Singapore Open, an event co-sanctioned by the Asian and Japanese Tours where he was reported to have received an appearance fee greater than the total purse of the tournament.
It was going to be an incredibly tall task for Spieth to live up to his ridiculous 2015 season, and while 2016 was still a very good year that produced three wins, Spieth clearly wasn’t thrilled and has decided to cut it back in 2017. It’ll probably end up being a good thing for Spieth going forward and the fact is that this is something that he needed to figure out on his own. Back in 2013, Rory McIlroy played a one-on-one match against Tiger Woods at Mission Hills and both players were mic’d up for the day. Tiger was fighting through a cold at the time, and once you got past that and all of his casual swearing, the two had a lot of interesting conversations on the course and one of the things that Tiger talked about was all of the travel he did when he was younger. Rory still splits time between two tours, but Tiger made a point of telling him that figuring out his optimal travel schedule to avoid burnout was a big factor in keeping himself healthy and mentally prepared in his early days, and when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.
Being a global player is a great thing, but there is a limit to how far you can push yourself and still be able to peak for the biggest tournaments played each year. I don’t think Spieth will stop playing internationally, and at the very least, it’s clear that he loves going down to Australia but a scaled back schedule seems like the best way for Spieth to achieve his goals as a player.
49. Wes Bryan dominates the Web.com Tour
Coming into 2016, the Bryan Brothers were known almost entirely from their appearances on Big Break and as trick shot artists, and while that obviously takes a high level of talent, it’s not the sort of thing that translates to making birdies in real tournaments.
So, I was skeptical about Wes Bryan’s prospects when he earned his Web.com Tour card at Q-School, but as it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Bryan dominated the Web.com Tour in 2016, finishing first on the money list and winning three times, which gave him an immediate exemption on the PGA Tour, as anyone who wins three times on the Web.com Tour in a year gets automatically promoted. Bryan became just the eleventh player to earn that battlefield promotion since the rule was enacted in 1997, and in his first start on the PGA Tour, he posted a T8 finish at the John Deere Classic. He’s not the type of player that’s going to blow you away with Dustin Johnson level power, but he’s a good iron player and a fantastic putter that seems to make from just about everywhere when he gets on the surface.
While he’s going to have to keep playing well to retain his PGA Tour playing privileges, it’s clear that he’s more than just a trick shot artist and he’s someone that’s definitely worth keeping an eye on as we head towards 2017.
48. CBS struggles
Broadcasting a live golf tournament is not easy. Unlike every other sport, it is actually impossible to show all of the action in a given round because of the amount of players spread out on an incredibly large piece of land and no matter what broadcaster you talk about, there’s going to be an element of tape delayed shots and players who go MIA for long periods of time just because there’s so much to show. These are completely unavoidable. Having said that, CBS, who has been broadcasting golf since the 1950’s, completely lost the plot in 2016 and it didn’t even matter what tournament we were watching. Here’s what I wrote about the coverage CBS put together for the Masters, the most watched tournament that CBS does every year, and arguably the biggest tournament on the golfing calendar:
Everyone was jacked up about the possibility of a Rory-Jordan duel on Saturday, and apparently so was CBS because they were pretty much the only players shown for the vast majority of the broadcast, at least until Rory started to struggle and then he was booted too.
As Tron Carter pointed out, I think the first time that we saw the tee shot on 13 on Saturday was when the final group got there, which is completely unacceptable. There were too many shots shown on delay instead of live, likely because they were recapping last year’s tournament, which I’m pretty sure we all remember pretty well to begin with.
Sunday was better, likely because of the lack of a superstar duel in the final group and the Spieth implosion, but there were still too many instances of “this was earlier…” instead of showing things live. You’d hear the famous Augusta roars all over the course and knew that something happened, but it would take forever to see what caused them, and what made it worse was that they were teased on the air! When Spieth was losing control on 12 and Willett was assured of the lead, Ian Baker-Finch mentioned that Willett was going to have a three shot lead, and Verne Lundqvist said something to the effect of “Well, not quite. We’re going to show you something in a minute.” That something was Lee Westwood holing out for eagle from off of the 15th green, and we knew it because the leaderboard on Masters.com updated and their Twitter account sent out the video. Don’t get me started on the Jim Nantz interview with Smylie Kaufman on Saturday or how the cameras couldn’t give Willett some peace when he was on Facetime with his wife. The broadcast sorely missed David Feherty, too.
Instead of the weekend at the Masters, it felt like the second round of the Zurich Classic and it’s not good enough.
It’s not just me who felt this way, either. Martin Kaufmann at Golfweek crushed CBS for their Masters coverage, and Tron Carter, the czar of all things CBS bashing, posted this incredible intervention on them back in February. The tape delayed coverage is a huge problem, as is the 30-minute gap from Golf Channel to their coverage on the weekends, both of which are things that I can’t see changing any time soon and even though I enjoy Dottie Pepper, the loss of David Feherty to NBC was a massive blow that they couldn’t overcome. I’m hopeful that something will change in 2017 because CBS has a long history of great golf coverage and because they handle so many important events, but at this point, I won’t be holding my breath.
47. No Laying Up is kind of a big deal
If you follow golf online, you’d have to be living under a rock to not know the No Laying Up crew. Since joining Twitter in February of 2013 and launching their website, they have provided a fresh look at golf that you just don’t see out of traditional outlets and in 2016, NLU exploded from a small shop who created #TourSauce to a group of some of the most connected people in the sport. They’ve got some incredible merchandise in their pro shop, they’ve started to break news about big name players, and as of this writing, their Twitter account sits at over 66,000 followers with some of the most influential people in the game following along. But, it’s not just that those people are paying attention: they’re actually joining in the conversation as well.
The first NLU podcast of 2016 featured no one of real importance, but as the year went on, the names got bigger and bigger. Players like Max Homa, Justin Thomas and Charles Howell III (twice!) jumped on to talk with Soly, as did industry pros like Chad Coleman, Shane Bacon and Amanda Balionis, but it was the run at the end of the year that was truly impressive as Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Bones made appearances to talk shop. The best part about these conversations is that the cliched answers are non-existent and it makes for an honest chat that for whatever reason, we just don’t see or hear very often when these guys talk with the traditional media. The idea of an independent site gaining this amount of access to people at the highest level of the game is pretty crazy, but it’s a testament to the kind of quality work that they’ve been producing over the years, and it feels like they’re just getting started.
46. Adidas puts TaylorMade up for sale
Over the last few years, there have been rumours about Adidas putting TaylorMade up for sale but nothing ever came of it. Adidas has owned TaylorMade since 1997 when they made a deal to acquire the Salomon Group, but in May of this year, Adidas officially put their golf business on the market with the following statement from Adidas CEO Herbert Hainer.
“TaylorMade is a very viable business. However, we decided that now is the time to focus even more on our core strength in the athletic footwear and apparel market. With its leadership position in the industry and the turnaround plan gaining traction, which is clearly reflected in the top- and bottom-line improvements recorded in Q1 as well as recent market share gains, I am convinced that TaylorMade offers attractive growth opportunities in the future. At the same time, the planned divestiture will allow us to reduce complexity and focus our efforts on those areas of our business that offer the highest return and where we can have the biggest impact in reaching our consumers and winning their loyalty for the Adidas and Reebok brands.”
No one has purchased TM as of this writing, but you’d think with a stable of players that includes Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, they’d be an attractive option and back in September, one very interesting name was reported as being interested in the company.
That…that would be something. Even if it’s not Tiger who ends up being involved in the purchase, this is a major story to watch in 2017.
45. USGA’s Mike Davis: “Some of the rules right now are simply too difficult”
Since I started this blog, I think I’ve written more about the ridiculousness of the Rules of the Golf than any other topic, and it seems like the USGA’s Mike Davis agrees. In November, Davis attended the PGA of America’s annual meeting and said that the USGA has drafted a simplified version of the rules because the current ones are too difficult. For me, it’s not so much that the rules are too difficult as much as it’s about the fact that there’s just so many of them that it’s way too easy to be confused when you’re on the golf course. Throw in the fact that a lot of rules can be contradicted by others, and it’s no surprise that the USGA sells a 231-page rule book on their website.
After getting absolutely destroyed by pretty much everyone with a brain at Oakmont, they’ve decided to change the ‘Dustin Johnson rule’ so players won’t be penalized for a ball accidentally moving on a green, so that’s a good start but there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done on this front. It would be a very good thing for the sport if a simplified version of the rules were presented by the USGA in 2017, so let’s hope that it actually comes together.
44. Phil Mickelson’s Ryder Cup
To understand what the 2016 Ryder Cup meant to Phil Mickelson and his legacy, you really have to go back to the 2014 matches at Gleneagles. Europe soundly took care of the Americans, and before heading home to the United States, Mickelson decided to throw American captain Tom Watson under every Scottish bus he could find. He indirectly ripped into Watson on the course in an interview with Golf Channel’s Steve Sands, and continued it in the post-event press conference, suggesting that unlike the winning 2008 team, no players had been involved in any decision making over the last three events and it was Mickelson’s contention that this played a big part in their recent struggles.
When Mickelson speaks, he does it with a purpose in mind, and this time, it was clearly to force the hand of the PGA of America to change some things in their process. It was after this tense press conference that Mickelson and others got involved with the Ryder Cup Task Force in an attempt to bring the cup back to the United States, and this is why he needed to have a good week at Hazeltine. If Mickelson had a bad week that led to another loss for the Americans after everything that happened at Gleneagles, he would have been ripped to shreds, and thankfully for him, Mickelson did have a good week at Hazeltine.
Mind you, it wasn’t without controversy, as Mickelson decided to rip into 2004 captain Hal Sutton for some of his decisions and lack of preparation at Oakland Hills. He later apologized for his comments, but once he focused on playing actual golf, he was great with a 2-1-1 record that included a halve with Sergio Garcia on Sunday where both players posted 63. Despite the fact that he hasn’t won a tournament since 2013, Mickelson clearly still has game and there’s no question that he wants to be playing on these teams for the foreseeable future. I’m not as confident as he is that he’ll be able to play on many more of them, but if he doesn’t, he went out on top with a great performance.
43. Golf Twitter is pretty great
If you’re reading this post, I’m going to go on the assumption that you follow me on Twitter. During tournaments, you can find me hanging out there talking about whatever is going on and for better or worse, I can’t really imagine following golf now without it. There are so many great accounts to follow and they all keep you informed with what’s going on in the game, but in 2016, there was a definite uptick in quality from a few “official” accounts that are worth mentioning.
- The PGA Tour account is great for posting video and GIFs immediately after something happens. They’re actually so good at it that they’re part of the reason why you don’t see me tweeting out as much #content as I used to, and when tournaments aren’t going on, they still have some of the best stuff out there.
- The PGA Tour also plays a part in the fantastic Skratch account, which is helmed by DJ Piehowski. I already talked about how great their ‘Adventures in Golf’ documentary series was in a previous post, and their creativity when it comes to video is very impressive. Some of my favourites from the last few months are below.
- Lastly, the European Tour account, headed up by Jamie Kennedy might actually be the best league Twitter account in all of sports. They share a ton of unique content, from articles and stats to incredible video that really allow their followers to get to know their players in a much more meaningful and fun way. The header image for this section of the interview Rory did with their young reporter, Billy, is probably my favourite video of the year. Just some incredible stuff.
42. Zurich Classic becomes a team event
One of the biggest complaints about the golf calendar is that there’s just too much of the same every week. For as much as people like myself love watching golf, seeing the same stroke play format week in and week out can get a little boring, which is part of the reason why match play events are so much fun to watch. This is especially true for some of the “smaller” events on the PGA Tour like the Zurich Classic, which is typically placed around a lot of bigger tournaments, so naturally, the field isn’t going to be the best and it just won’t generate the interest or attention that it probably should. However, the PGA Tour announced in November that the Zurich Classic will now be a team event, and I have to say, I’m pretty pumped to see how it all works out.
The format is as follows: 72-hole stroke play, featuring alternate shot in the first and third rounds, and best ball for the second and fourth rounds. The field will feature 80 teams of two players each, with a cut after the second round to the top 35 teams plus ties, with FedEx Cup points and prize money awarded to all who make the cut. Some big name players have already committed to playing too, with Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson teaming up, as well as Jason Day and Rickie Fowler with more expected over the next few months.
At the very least, this should make for a nice little change in the schedule and some extra eyeballs on a tournament that doesn’t always get a ton of attention.
41. PXG makes a splash with big signings
For the longest time, the golf equipment industry has been dominated by the same companies. Callaway, TaylorMade and Titleist are the clear top dogs, with other companies like Nike, Cleveland, Srixon, Mizuno and others in a secondary tier, but in 2016, the professional level of the game saw a shakeup thanks to Bob Parsons and his company, PXG. Over the last twelve months, PXG was able to snag big name tour pros like Charl Schwartzel, Billy Horschel, Zach Johnson and Ryan Moore, and is rumoured to have stolen Lydia Ko away from Callaway.
I have a hard time believing that they’ll be able to have wide mass market appeal with how expensive their gear is, but at the professional level, there’s no doubt that they are now a major player in an industry that hasn’t seen one in a very long time.
Part seven of the 2016 Year In Review will examine stories 40-31.