2017 Year In Review: 40-31

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40 SHOT CLOCK

Slow play stinks. It’s one of the two biggest reasons, the other being highly prohibitive cost, that keeps people away from playing the game. It isn’t just the recreational game either, as every week on the pro tours, you’ll see someone who is taking way longer to hit shots than the rules actually allow, and to be honest, you can’t even blame the players. They’re playing for a ton of money each week, and if the rules aren’t going to be enforced, they’re going to take their time. I’d do the same thing, and I’ve always said that the way to actually pick up the pace is actually pretty simple: enforce the rules, and the guys will play faster.

Well, the European Tour is doing just that in 2018. From June 7th to 10th, the European Tour will play the Shot Clock Masters in Austria, using the official policy that the tour has in place to monitor slow play. This means that each player in the field will receive 50 seconds to hit their shot if they are the first to play in their group, with 40 seconds allotted for each subsequent player. One shot penalties will be handed out for each infraction, and they will be given red cards (!!!!) on the leaderboard. They actually did a small amount of testing on this at the GolfSixes event in 2017, and American Paul Peterson got dinged for not hitting the ball in the allotted time.

I’m fascinated by this development, and how exactly the European Tour is going to go about implementing it. Here are some questions that I have about it:

  • Are they going to have a cart and a clock ride with each group like they did in the video above?
  • They have to have a countdown clock on the broadcast as well, right?
  • Are they going to publish the average times for each player? Because that would be awesome.
  • How are they going to deal with the inevitable complaint that someone actually did hit in the required time, but that someone didn’t start the clock at the right time?
  • If this is successful, how long will it take to implement tour wide?
  • How closely is Jay Monahan watching the tournament that week?

That’s just off the top of my head! I love this, and you have to give the European Tour credit for trying to do something like this. It’s fun, it’s useful and it shouldn’t get in the way of the spirit of the game. Thumbs up all around.

39 SPIETH

One of the things that I always talk about is how Tiger ruined our expectations for the best players in the world. At his peak, he was so good and made it look so easy that I feel like it doesn’t allow us to properly appreciate the greatness of players like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.

This became especially obvious in Spieth’s case earlier this year when he won the Travelers in a playoff against Daniel Berger, where we saw the now infamous Greller chest bump and rake toss after an incredible bunker hole out.

That win gave Speith his tenth victory on the PGA Tour before the age of 24, making him just the second player since World War II to accomplish that feat. I’m pretty sure you know who the other guy was.

Now, that’s not to say that what Spieth is doing is exactly the same as what Tiger did because as Justin Ray and Kyle Porter pointed out, Tiger did it in significantly fewer starts. Having said that, you can also make an argument that the competition is stiffer now than it was then. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who accomplished this in a more impressive fashion. Again, only him and Tiger since World War II have been able to win this much, this early.

The fact is that this tournament was another example of Spieth’s greatness on display, and it feels like we’re not doing a good enough job at appreciating how good he has been and continues to be. It’s hard to remember, but on that day at the Travelers, Spieth didn’t really have it. There was a seven shot swing between his Thursday 63 and his Sunday 70, and it honestly felt like so much more than that.

He was pretty bad in just about every aspect of the game, and somehow still managed to score decently well. Sure, it helped that he somehow avoided water on two holes on the back nine with terrible drives and his tee shot in the playoff should have been so much worse, but he managed to pull through all of that and come away with the victory. That, more than anything, is the Tiger comparison of winning when you don’t really have your ‘A’ game. I know that we all know how good he is, but I’m not sure that we all appreciate how significant he is already at this stage of his career. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us in 2018.

38 ADIDAS

The long rumoured sale of TaylorMade by Adidas finally happened in May, as the apparel company announced that they had sold the golf equipment manufacturer to KPS Capital Partners for a total of $425 million. The sale also included the Adams Golf and Ashworth Golf brands.

I don’t think this will really have much of an impact on the day-to-day operations of TaylorMade, at least not right away. They continued to spend money, inking Rory McIlroy to a lucrative deal the day before this announcement was made, and their stable of players remains strong with Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Justin Rose, Jon Rahm, Rory and Tiger all on board, amongst others. The sale is important though, as it finally put to bed the endless rumours about financial trouble and the general uncertainty around the company as a whole.

ESPN’s Darren Rovell pointed out that Adidas Golf brought in $1.7 billion in revenue in 2012, but just four years later, that total had dropped to roughly $500 million. Even with the stable of athletes that they have, it’s hard to see that figure rising significantly in the coming years, so it definitely made sense for Adidas to get out now. It’s worth noting that much like Nike, Adidas has said they will continue to make apparel for players, but they are out of the manufacturing business.

Going forward, it’s going to be interesting to see what, if anything, KPS does with the brand. With their roster of players, they have some of the most important names in the game that I’m sure other companies would love to get their hands on, so this could be something to keep an eye on in the coming months and years.

37 DISTANCE

A few days ago, I asked my father how much further he hits the golf ball now compared to his time as a 20-year old. His response?

“I’m at least a full club, maybe a club and a half further now.”

My father is 60 years old, with a bad knee and two shoulders that are worse. There’s no doubting that the ball goes further now than it ever has. Whether you believe that to be because of the ball, the equipment, the players being stronger than ever, some combination of all of them, or something else entirely, it’s impossible to deny that the ball now travels further than ever before. That goes for people like you and me, and for the best players in the world.

According the R&A and USGA back in February though, this was nothing to worry about as the jump in distance was minimal in their minds. This, of course, is insane and their report does an excellent job at cherry picking data to suit their argument, as all they seemingly want to do is punt this further and further down the line. Will Gray wrote an excellent piece for Golf Channel on this when the report was released, basically explaining that the governing bodies aren’t fooling anyone.

Why does this matter? Well, as Will and many others have pointed out, this is simply not sustainable and it doesn’t seem like we’re far away from 8,000 yard courses being the norm, and where does it stop after that? The added cost is going to be immense, and most places won’t even be able to take it on, which leads to a whole other host of issues.

So, where do we go from here? Well, USGA executive director Mike Davis actually floated the idea of a variable distance golf ball in March, which seemed to get the thumbs up from some players. Martin Slumbers from the R&A talked about bifurcation, Tiger chimed in on the need to fix the ball, and Jack mentioned it again as well. Lastly, as per usual, Geoff Ogilvy was a massive voice of reason:

I don’t think anyone knows where this is ultimately going to go, and I’m personally confused as to how they could have released that report and then had people like Davis and Slumbers essentially contradict it right after, but all of this conversation has to be a starting point for change, right? We all know the ball goes too far, and it seems like the people who have the ability to address it know that it goes too far as well. Let’s hope we hear more about this over the next few months.

(I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that Geoff Shackelford did a fantastic job in collecting a lot of this info over the year, and is an invaluable resource on this and many other topics. Thanks, Geoff!)

36 RULES

While the governing bodies were busy burying their heads in the sand on the distance issue, they actually managed to announce something positive in February. Over 100 changes were announced, and Golf.com did a really good job breaking down the most important ones, three of which I touched on back in March:

  • No penalty for accidental movement of your ball on the green: Basically put in place after the DJ debacle last year at Oakmont where the USGA basically knew that they made a mistake but kept putting their foot in it afterwards by denying it. Between their interview on FOX with Shane Bacon in the immediate aftermath, and the conversation they had on Golf Channel where Brandel Chamblee rightly lit them up, it was pretty obvious they didn’t have much of a leg to stand on and had to make a change.
  • Reducing lost ball search time from five to three minutes: Anything that speeds up play is a good move.
  • Players can repair spike marks on the green: This one makes a lot of sense with the whole “let’s make the game easier to understand” idea. Try explaining to someone who is trying to get into golf that they can repair a mark on the green made by a ball, but not by your spikes. They wouldn’t understand why, and that’s probably because it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Funny enough, I also wrote this in that same post back in March:

These new rules are currently in their proposal phase, and if they get approved, won’t officially be implemented until January 1st, 2019. I totally understand the USGA and R&A wanting to give people ample time to voice their thoughts on the changes, but 22 months seems like an incredible amount of wasted time. If they were so set on starting it at the beginning of the year, wouldn’t January 1st of 2018 been sufficient? On top of that, I can guarantee you that something will come up in the next 22 months that should be changed, like the DJ rule, but won’t be because it didn’t get into this round of updates.

Less than a month later, the Lexi Thompson coin incident happened, but earlier this month, they actually announced that they are fixing that one for 2018! This one is actually the biggest change from a professional standpoint, so I’m happy that they’re getting this one in for January, but why aren’t the other ones done? I get that this one is more of a professional change that doesn’t require a ton of commenting, but still.

I like the changes, honestly. But, unsurprisingly, golf needs to move faster here and get them implemented.

35 OPEN

After the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open, the USGA had to be hoping for an event with less on course drama, and they got it, but there was plenty to talk about in the lead up and there were definitely thoughts that it wouldn’t be the smoothest of tournaments. Trump Bedminster was the host for the event, and given the political climate in 2017, there was bound to be some level of distraction.

It started with the report that the USGA had talked about attempting to move the tournament as Trump was beginning his presidential campaign, with Trump allegedly threatening a lawsuit if Bedminster was removed as host. Trump supporters and detractors clashed at the course, and Trump himself showed up at the event on the weekend, marking the first time that a sitting U.S. President had attended the tournament. It could have gone much worse, but ratings were the lowest the tournament had seen since 1996, and Trump’s appearance had some talking about how he was more of the story than the actual tournament itself.

It’s a shame, too, as there was quite a bit to enjoy about the actual tournament. Sung-hyun Park, owner of some of the most effortless power on any tour, won her first LPGA Tour event after an incredibly successful run on the Korean Tour. It was an incredible season for Park, who won the LPGA’s Rookie of the Year award and shared Player of the Year honours with So-yeon Ryu, making her the first player to win both awards in the same year since Nancy Lopez in 1978.

However, the story of the week may not have been Trump or Park. Hye-jin Choi finished in solo second as a 17-year old amateur, ending up two shots back of Park’s winning total. Had Choi won the tournament, she would have been only the second amateur to win the event, as France’s Catherine Lacoste was the last to accomplish the feat back in 1967.

All in all, it was a pretty eventful week at Bedminster, with a deserving champion and (thankfully) less controversy than many expected.

34 DAY

Jason Day ended 2016 as the number one ranked player in the world. Over the previous 24 months, Day won eight times thanks to an incredible amount of distance, and the best putting season we’ve seen on the PGA Tour in the strokes gained era. On some level, there was bound to be a little bit of regression. There’s no doubting that Day is an incredibly gifted player, but expecting to continue hitting putts at the clip Day did in both 2015 and 2016 was simply unrealistic. If you remember, it seemed like Day was dropping 25 foot putts like they were regular three footers in pretty much every single round over those two years.

So, yeah, regression should have been expected, but Day’s performance in 2017 was more than that. Much like Adam Scott, Day’s performance wasn’t awful and is another example of how thin the margin of error is in this game at the highest levels. Statistically, he was fine, but was a little more than a stroke worse per round in 2017 compared to 2016. That doesn’t sound like much, but ask yourself: how much of Day’s 2017 performance do you actually remember? There really isn’t a whole lot to go on.

Part of that was related to the constant back pain Day faces, which has apparently been so bad at times, that Day has trouble walking. He also had to pull out of the WGC-Mexico Championship with an illness, which has also been an ongoing theme for Day over the last few years. Unfortunately, 2017 was also a very difficult year for Day off of the golf course, as he walked off the course at the Dell Match Play after six holes against Pat Perez, later explaining that his mother was suffering from lung cancer and was going in for surgery two days later. Day’s press conference was very heartfelt and tough to watch. He would later go on to say that he didn’t want to play golf after he found out about the diagnosis.

On top of that, a few weeks ago, Day’s wife Ellie announced that she had suffered a miscarriage in November. It has been a tough year for the Day family to say the least. On the course, Day also decided it was time to split with longtime caddie Colin Swatton, who had been with him since Day turned pro in 2006. Swatton has continued to stay on in a coaching role, but Day was one of many high profile players to let a caddie go in 2017.

The good news for Day is that his play turned around towards the end of the year. He finished his year with nine consecutive top-25 finishes, and while his world ranking is the lowest it has been in over four years, it is a sign that things could be ready to start going in his favour again. It’s hard to say how much of Day’s on course struggles in 2017 were because of off-course issues, but it’s fair to assume that they played a part and it’s very, very easy to see him having a much better 2018.

33 FOWLER

Earlier in the year, I compared Rickie Fowler to John Wall. My theory on that was that much like Wall, everyone is keenly aware of how good Fowler is, but because people expect so much out of them, they tend to nitpick and suggest that they aren’t living up to expectations. In Wall’s case, this kind of criticism is likely to continue until he gets the Wizards to at least the conference finals. For Fowler, that criticism is going to live on until he wins a major championship.

Is the criticism valid? Personally, I think we tend to put a little too much emphasis on the majors because of two reasons:

  • There’s only four of them each year, so good players will miss out on them all the time.
  • There’s probably 10-15 tournaments each year these days where the best players in the world play against each other thanks to the schedule. We decided years ago that these four were the biggest tournaments in the world, so even though a WGC has the same (or better) field quality, it doesn’t get looked at in the same light, even though you can make an argument that it should.

I get that Fowler is a hot topic. He was the guy that everyone desperately wanted to be the American Rory before players like Spieth and JT came along, and to date, he hasn’t been that guy, but the resume is pretty stout and he added to it in 2017. He won the Honda Classic back in February, putting in an impressive performance in really tough conditions on Sunday to win by four shots. It was clear that he didn’t have his best stuff that day, but despite the opinions of Johnny Miller, I came away thinking even more bullishly about Fowler and his play.

Then, he went undefeated at the Presidents Cup and won the Hero with a ridiculous Sunday 61 to blow the doors off of Charley Hoffman. At the end of it all, Fowler finished 2017 with three runner-ups, seven other top-10’s and just five finishes outside of the top-25 all year in 23 worldwide starts. On top of that, when you look at Fowler’s schedule, it’s another reminder that he tees it up every week against the best players in the biggest events. The only tournaments you can point to, maybe, as being “easier” are Memphis and Mayakoba, and even then, that’s not how I would classify them.

My point on Fowler is that at the end of 2017, Fowler is going to be ranked inside the top-12 in the OWGR for the fourth consecutive year. He was able to do that because in 2017, he did what he always does: he won a couple of times and he played really well all year in the biggest tournaments against the best players. No, he doesn’t have a major championship win yet, but there is no reason why he can’t and won’t win one. Even though I don’t think he needs one to validate anything, I think he gets that major in 2018.

32 SI WOO

2017 was a bizarre year for Si Woo Kim. He started the year at Kapalua thanks to his win at the Wyndham in 2016, and he finished tied for 30th, which meant that he only beat one player in the field. He then went on to miss the cut or withdraw in eight of his eleven starts, with his best stroke play finish being a T49 at Bay Hill before posting a T22 at the Valero. He was ranked 73rd in the world, and not part of the conversation in any way.

Then he went out and won the Players. I always say that all of the players at this level are so good that we really shouldn’t be surprised when any of them go out and win, but I can honestly say that Kim was nowhere near my radar that week, and I don’t know what to do with this. Kim is a supremely gifted ball striker, and someone who has every talent in the world to be a force on the PGA Tour. With that Players win, he joined some super rare company as well.

The problem is that he very clearly has some lingering back issues that have the potential to derail his career. I don’t know how much of his struggles in 2017 can be attributed to that or other factors, but in the sixteen starts Kim made after his Players win, he posted one top-10, missed five cuts and withdrew twice. He also went 1-2 in the Presidents Cup for the International side, and seemed to enjoy himself at Liberty National in the underdog role.

I like Kim. He’s clearly a very talented player, and on top of that, he’s got some fight in him. In 30 starts in 2017, Kim missed the cut or withdrew in half of them, and that’s not indicative of his talent. I really hope we get to see the good side of him in 2018.

31 FEDEX

The FedEx Cup, and the playoffs by extension, have become a massive part of the PGA Tour schedule since it was first introduced in 2007. Tweaks have been made here and there and even though I don’t think it’s a perfect system, it does a pretty good job at this point of identifying the correct winner at the end of the year.

If FedEx decided to walk away from this deal, I don’t think the PGA Tour would have much trouble finding someone else to be the title sponsor, but it had to be good news in Ponte Vedra that FedEx wanted to renew. They did so back in May, extending their partnership for another ten years to 2027. This is a big deal for a few reasons:

  • Even though the PGA Tour would have been able to find a sponsor, would that new sponsor be willing to commit as much money as FedEx had done over the past ten years?
  • If you read the piece linked above, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan says that he expects “the Cup and the payout to increase significantly”. He didn’t share specifics, but presumably that means either the tournament purses are going up, or the $10 million bonus is going up. Maybe it means both are going to go up. Like I said above, it’s easy to envision a scenario where a different company takes over and wants to slash the budget, but it sounds like FedEx is upping it.
  • Selfishly, I don’t want to get used to a new name. The Valspar Cup just doesn’t do it for me.

This is high on the list because the amount of money in the game obviously matters. It’s good to see a company like FedEx commit to the sponsorship, as if they didn’t, things could have looked a whole lot different for the PGA Tour going forward.

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