The 18: Smith and Blixt win the Zurich

The 18 is a look at eighteen stories from the previous week or so in the world of golf, and they will usually be on stories that I didn’t dedicate a full post towards. Expect a combination of thoughts, GIFs, images and anything else that caught my eye from the past seven days. Some will be longer thoughts, and others will be no more than a line or two. 

The 18 will (hopefully) run every Tuesday. You can catch up on previous versions of The 18 right here.

1. If you had looked at the list of teams for the Zurich Classic prior to the event starting, Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith probably would have been one of those teams that didn’t really generate much of a reaction. Blixt was a two-time PGA Tour champion coming into the week, but hadn’t won since 2013 and Smith is a good, young player but aside from this moment at Chambers Bay a few years ago, I can’t say that I remember anything super specific about his career.

It’s always good to see players like Blixt and Smith come through because it’s a reminder of just how deep the fields are at the highest levels. Granted, it was a team format, but going out and shooting 67-62-68-64 is super impressive, especially when you consider that it didn’t come from the big name players who entered. The playoff to win against Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown wasn’t the most electric thanks to some missed putts, but it wasn’t light on drama. Full highlights of the playoff below:

The particulars:

  • Both Smith and Blixt are exempt on the PGA Tour for the next two years.
  • The prize money of $2,044,800 is evenly split between the two.
  • Blixt jumps from 153rd to 40th in the FedEx Cup, while Smith moves from 67th to 20th.
  • However, no world ranking points were given out for the event, so despite the fact that they won this event, both players actually dropped in the OWGR.

2. Again, even though it was team best ball on Sunday, the heater that Kisner and Brown were on was simply amazing.

3. We’ve all heard broadcasters say when a tournament runs late that the TV cameras make the course look so much brighter than it actually is, and there might not be any better proof of that than what we saw late on Sunday night. Take a look at the difference in the two videos below. First, we have the PGA Tour’s account sending out video of Kisner’s chip in using the CBS feed:

Doesn’t look too dark, right? Well, the PGA Tour’s Charlie Kane was on the grounds and took video from behind the green and you can see the difference.

4. For the most part, I think the team format ended up working from an entertainment standpoint last week and as per usual at this event, it was unfortunate that the weather didn’t cooperate. The one change I would make is that alternate shot really isn’t the most entertaining way to watch, and I’d like to see them use some kind of a scramble format just to change it up.

However, there are some logistical issues with how this was handled. The idea that Smith and Blixt aren’t going to get OWGR points for this win doesn’t sit well with me. I get that they’re exempt and that trying to come up with a ranking system for something like this is going to be tough, but the fact is that these kinds of alternate events aren’t going away, and the players should be rewarded for their quality play in some capacity. This needs to be addressed at some point, and it should be soon.

5. The big elephant in the room though has to do with how players got into the event, and how FedEx points were given out. Andy at the Fried Egg touched on this perfectly in his newsletter yesterday:

6. So, it turns out that Ian Poulter is getting to keep his PGA Tour card after all thanks to some help from Brian Gay. Gay noticed that the way the PGA Tour awarded FedEx Cup points changed, and players like him and Poulter were adversely affected on their medical extensions. So, the PGA Tour discussed it and agreed that the points for this season should be looked at with last season’s formula, which gave Poulter and Gay their cards back for the rest of the season.

Poulter’s obviously a divisive player and many of you reading this are probably not big fans of his, but this feels like one of those scenarios where the PGA Tour did the right thing and actually used common sense. It does give both players new life here, which is great, but they’re still going to have to play well the rest of the way to keep their cards for next season and obviously that’s far from a guarantee. There are some pretty great details in that piece linked above by Alan Shipnuck as well, especially with how Poulter found out about the whole thing, and it’s worth reading.

7. So, the PGA Tour decided on Thursday to issue their first slow play penalty since the Clinton administration to Brian Campbell and Miguel Angel Carballo. I’m sure that Campbell and Carballo were over their times, but it seems like an odd place for the PGA Tour to start enforcing slow play rules, especially considering the conditions and the new format that likely caused some issues. Not to mention that players like Ben Crane, Jason Day and Andrew Loupe, along with many others, are frequent offenders of the rule and are never penalized.

On that point, Ben Coley wrote a tremendous piece on this for Sporting Life that you should read.

8. I meant to write a larger piece about this, but got sidetracked with other responsibilities, so I suggest reading Kyle Porter’s take on the new rules that the USGA and R&A are putting in place for video evidence and viewer call-ins. Much like Kyle, I really don’t think they’re actually going far enough with this stuff, and it just has the potential to cause more problems down the line.

9. What actually made me laugh about the whole thing was that after the blowback from the Lexi incident, which this change probably doesn’t solve anyway, the governing bodies have decided that this change is effective immediately. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy that they’re trying to be faster with their changes, but it kinda reinforces the idea that waiting until 2019 for the full set of changes to be implemented is ridiculous.

Fully understand that you can’t just make sweeping changes and expect people to adapt immediately, but I’m still waiting for someone to properly explain to me why nearly two years is required for the full list of changes to be adopted.

10. I thought this collection of quotes in Golf World from Mike Davis was interesting in giving background to his story, but it got super intriguing to me when he started talking about the distance debate. We all know that the governing bodies haven’t exactly been interested in fixing the fact that the ball simply goes too far these days, which is why it was at least a little bit of a shock to me to see Davis say this:

“When I look back at the USGA over the decades, my biggest regret would be what has happened with distance. It’s been the thing, probably more than any, that has been the most harmful to the game.”

That’s a pretty stunning statement given their previous head in the sand attitude towards the distance issue. I’m not sure I agree with Davis’ assertion that there might not be much they can do at this point, but I do agree that the public might not support changes that make the game harder. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but at the very least, I think it’s a positive step that someone in a position of power is actually admitting that there’s a distance issue in the game right now and that we need to look at figuring out a way to stop it.

11. Good effort (I guess?) by Steve Stricker to ask the USGA for an exemption into the U.S. Open at Erin Hills this year, but there was no chance that was ever going to happen. As good of a player as Stricker has been in his career, the USGA wasn’t going to grant him an exemption. He’s not a big enough name, like Tiger will be when he needs one, or a former champion like Retief Goosen was when he got one last year.

The good thing for Stricker is that he’s still a good enough player that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him there anyway. His last few years, with a limited schedule, is one of the most under-appreciated things in all of golf. I have no idea how he continues to play as well as he does.

12. In the wake of Haru Nomura’s win over Christie Kerr in the LPGA’s Texas Shootout, it’s worth reminding everyone who puts on tournaments that having a diverse set of playoff holes in the plans, is something that you absolutely need. Not only does it actually challenge the players in different ways, but it also actually makes the tournament more entertaining for the spectators on the course and the viewers at home.

Constantly going back and playing the same hole again and again should be avoided at all costs.

13. The LPGA is also trying something different with the last spot in the field for the ShopRite LPGA Classic, by letting fans vote to decide who gets in.

I’m of two minds on this: first, it’s a sponsor’s exemption and the sponsor can do whatever they want with their selections. If this is the way they’ve decided to go about it, that’s fine and this is far from the first time that an exemption won’t be going to the most “deserving” of players, so getting outraged about this one feels off base. You also can’t blame the players for taking part in the poll because players who aren’t in a tournament, will always try to get in them if they can. On the other side, it’s also pretty obvious why these four players were selected and that doesn’t feel like it’s the most positive message to send either, especially if you believe that coverage of women’s golf tends to focus on everything that isn’t actually about the golf.

I’m not worked up about it one way or the other, but from the reaction I’ve seen online, it feels like most people believe this isn’t the right way to handle it.

14. #TourSauce of the week comes from Scott Hend:

…and Alexander Levy, who also ended up winning on the European Tour last week.

15. So, did you like seeing something different at the Zurich? Well, you’re in luck because the European Tour is also doing something off the board this week with the GolfSixes event held in London. You can read all about it right here.

16. I haven’t said anything about this publicly yet, but with the ESPN layoffs last week, it’s a tough time for anyone in the media. Obviously, ESPN is far from the first company to lay people off, media or otherwise, but it’s a really bad sign when a company as large as ESPN feels the need to layoff the amount of quality contributors like they did. I’m not going to get into specifics on each individual person that got dropped or those who are still there, but this feels like a good time to remind people that if you value something and you have the means to do so, supporting it is what needs to be done.

James Mirtle wrote about this yesterday for the Athletic, a startup based in Toronto, Chicago and Cleveland and I couldn’t agree more with what he said.

17. Just terrible news from John Senden that he’ll be taking time off from the PGA Tour as his son was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Obviously want to wish him and his family nothing but the best.

18. Your random GIF of the week is John Daly playing in the 1993 Masters with that full swing, luscious hair and a terrible shirt.

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