Despite the fact that the golf season ended for all intensive purposes at the Tour Championship in September, the last month has been packed with golf news. Here is a recap.
1. Tiger Woods’ return to competitive golf
At the Frys.com open in October, Woods tee’d it up for the first time since crashing and burning at the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club. Claiming he could finally train and practice the way he wanted to, this was his chance to play in a fall series event for the first time and test his game. The results were mixed. Woods finished at 7-under in a tie for 30th at the event and was never in contention. Despite his claims of playing 45 or more holes and hitting 500 to 1000 golf balls per day, Woods’ game still appeared to be shaky. He followed birdie streaks with double bogies, his putter looked balky, he needed two out of a bunker, his chips weren’t as tight as we have come to expect and it still seems like Tiger could tee off with a driver from a pier and miss the ocean. The birdie putts from 5-20 feet, which used to be almost routine for Woods, just aren’t falling anymore. If Woods wants to contend in tournaments and improve on his world ranking (58th!), then his flatstick work and short game will have to improve. More on Woods later.
2. Rory McIlroy dumps his agent, Chubby Chandler
Golf’s new apparent golden boy and the “ilroy” half of “Wozzilroy”, Rory McIlroy, decided to part ways with his agent, Chubby Chandler, who also represents Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Charl Schwartzel and Ernie Els, among others. McIlroy has cited winning as his reason for the split, but I have another theory. I think McIlroy wants to become the next huge star in golf, and to accomplish that he must become a household name in the United States. The ceiling for professional golfers and endorsement earnings is astronomically high (see list of highest paid American athletes), and McIlroy thinks he can get a slice of the (extremely large) pie. Chandler’s plan for McIlroy was to keep him playing a limited American schedule and retaining his European Tour card. I believe McIlroy is going to switch to the US PGA Tour because he feels his exposure can be greatly improved. McIlroy has also claimed in the past that he prefers the target-style golf courses in the United States as opposed to the links style found in the UK. Will McIlroy become a phenomenon like Tiger and Phil Mickelson? Time will tell, but McIlroy already has a famous girlfriend in Caroline Wosniacki, and if there is one thing this country loves it’s celebrity romances.
3. USGA and R&A amend rules of golf
The USGA and the R&A decided to make a few rule changes this year, the most notable being a change to the rule of a ball moving at address, rule 18-2b. In the past, if a player addressed the ball and grounded his or her club and the ball moved, the player was assessed a penalty. According to the USGA, “A new exception is added which exonerates the player from penalty if their ball moves after it has been addressed when it is known or virtually certain that they did not cause the ball to move.” This could include a gust of wind moving the ball or other acts of nature. The new rule would have been very useful at the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews, where play had to be suspended because the wind was moving balls on the green and causing penalties. Next rule to examine? The belly putter…more to come on those in a future post.
4. Stevie Williams: open mouth, insert foot
Steve Williams has never been known for his careful choice of words. From calling Phil Mickelson a “prick” earlier in his career, to declaring his win with Adam Scott as the “best of my career,” it seems like Williams has more verbal diarrhea than Joe Biden and John Mayer put together. But his comment after the HSBC Champions WGC event took the cake. After receiving a tongue-in-cheek award at a private function for his celebration after the Bridgestone Invitational, Williams claimed that it was his intention to “Shove it up that black ass—-.” Unfortunately, you just can’t say this kind of thing and not expect it to make national headlines. I am against our hypersensitive PC culture, but the problem with this comment is there is no need for the qualifier “black.” We know Tiger is black. Willaims wouldn’t say it was his intention to shove it up that white ass—- if he were talking about a white player. Fortunately, Woods took the high road in his reaction and has already defended Williams as being not racist, but you can bet it adds a little bit more competitive fire to a man that has to want to win more than anyone on earth by now.
These were some of the big stories in golf over the last month and a half or so, but the fun doesn’t stop there. The Australian Open begins this week at The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney, and there are some big names in the field, including Woods, who will make his first start since the Frys.com open. Then the next week, the President’s Cup will be held at Royal Melbourne GC and should be a great event, especially with all of the trash talking by captains Fred Couples and Greg Norman.
Until next time, tee ’em high and let ’em fly.