(Editor's note: Brandel Chamblee's five best things to happen to golf in the past 50 years will be posted in this space Monday.) I have this vision of golf in the near future: My kids are playing a three-hole course in 15 minutes with their caps on backwards, YouTubing every swing, tweeting every thought and partially paralyzed by swing-tip apps they just downloaded. Such is the nature of our over-caffeinated, increasingly distracted youth, as well as some of the proposals to counter the decay of the number of people who are playing golf today. Indeed, the governing bodies are desperate to grow the game. Well intentioned as they are, when I hear these “grow the game” proposals I can’t help but think that golf may not be for everyone. Perhaps it’s just too expensive and hard, but other trends in the game have hurt its growth, too. This got me thinking about the worst things that have happened to golf in the past 50 years – events or ideas or people that have made the game less compelling by making it more complicated, more expensive, more time-consuming. Here, then, are my five worst things to happen to golf in the past 50 years: 5. Overly complicated instruction. “The Golfing Machine,” a book written by Homer Kelley and published in 1969, breaks the swing down into numerous components, each of which has three to 10 variables, resulting in an almost endless number of possible combinations. So complicated is this book that it comes with instructions on how to read it, and prospective students are encouraged to seek out “AIs” – authorized instructors of Kelley’s method. Kelley, who died in 1983, seems to have been a well meaning and well educated man, but his book achieved cult status and unfortunately spawned copycat books and teachers both “authorized” and not who want to make the game so complicated that they alone are the ones with the answers. 4. The Stimpmeter. It’s a device used to measure the speed of greens, which seems harmless enough, but it has led to an addiction to slicker greens. The double-digit speeds of some of these greens are incompatible with many of the well thought-out green complexes of architects old and revered, subjecting their work to redesigns, which inevitably miss the original point – fun. Greens committees put pressure on golf course architects to stress the grasses by mowing them to whisker height so they can brag about their course’s green speeds, oblivious to the fact that putting on such slippery surfaces inevitably slows play to a glacial pace. 3. The rule against anchored strokes. An effort to quash an unsightly professional trend, this is another blow to the declining base of this game. Golf is supposed to be a game for a lifetime, and the anchored putter was a port in the storm of fraying nerves caused by aging. The USGA and R&A, both of which have done so much good, stood silent on this issue for 40-plus years and then stood insolent to the petitions of many. Bifurcation is a stupid word for what would have been a smart move, to provide for the differences between the professionals and the 50 million others who play at a vastly lower level. 2. Slow play. It gets blamed for declining participation numbers more than the changing social dynamic of women working more and men playing less. The combination of these two factors has assured that golf, at least in this country, will never experience the growth it saw in the 1960s. Tour players, whose influence on slow play is said to be the root from which this ugly tree has grown, are not the problem. Events have conspired against them – an industry-wide conspiracy, actually. Because of technology, players are longer and far less accurate, so they take more time to size up shots. Holes have reached absurd distances, which take longer to walk, and greens have reached insane speeds, which take longer to putt. Distances from greens to tees are often longer than the holes themselves, which take more time to navigate. Again, bifurcation would have taken care of most of these issues, but combined there is no chance Tour players will move appreciably faster in the future. Because what we see is what we do, the rest of us won’t be speeding up, either. 1. Losing Tony Lema and Payne Stewart. The deaths of Lema in 1966 and Stewart in 1999, both as the result of aircraft accidents, robbed golf of two of its most engaging champions in the primes of their lives. Lema was just 32 and had from 1963-66 finished in the top 10 in 50 percent of the tournaments he entered, including a 5-shot victory over Jack Nicklaus in the 1964 Open Championship at St. Andrews. By the time of his death, Lema had become second only to Arnold Palmer in popularity. Stewart made the putt of his life to win the 1999 U.S. Open, his third major title. But what he did afterward said more about who he was than that putt. Taking Phil Mickelson’s face in both hands, Stewart tried to ease the pain of the loss by reminding him of the larger picture of impending parenthood. When Grantland Rice wrote: “For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks – not that you won or lost – but how you played the game,” he was writing of men like Tony and Payne. Coming Monday: Brandel's five best things to happen to golf in the past 50 years.
As far as season openers go, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy gave fans plenty of reasons for optimism in Abu Dhabi. Sure, a case could be made that they both left the desert lamenting their mental mistakes – Phil the double-hit in the final round that led to a triple bogey, Rory the two-shot penalty Saturday for taking an improper drop. But even though they finished a shot behind surprise winner Pablo Larrazabal, the biggest takeaway from Abu Dhabi was the play of two of golf’s biggest stars. Considering their 2014 objectives, it was an auspicious start. Of course, Mickelson enters every year bubbling with enthusiasm, effusing about his new equipment, believing that, yes, this will be his best year yet. And who knows? At age 44, with the prospect of the career grand slam looming, it just might. But even more encouraging than Lefty’s runner-up finish or his new driver was the fact that he traveled nearly 8,500 miles, showed relatively little rust and gave himself a chance to win in the first start of arguably his most important year ever. Supposedly, his 2014 season begins and ends at Pinehurst, where all of his U.S. Open heartache began 15 years ago. The thinking goes that it would then leave his other starts to serve as measuring sticks for his game, with one very green-jacketed exception. If that’s true, if Mickelson’s first few months are just one big preview for the U.S. Open, it sure didn’t seem like it in Abu Dhabi. He could have collected the fat appearance check, mailed it in for 72 holes, and headed back to San Diego for next week’s domestic debut at home. Instead, he showed his trademark resiliency, erasing a no-birdie opener to shoot 63 on Day 3, rebounding from a double-hit on 13 to post three birdies in his last five holes, showing more than enough over four days to make you believe that he’ll soon pick up a victory on the West Coast swing. “We’re all along for the ride,” a laughing Mickelson told The National. “We’re up, we’re down. We see where it goes.” Over the past year McIlroy’s ride has been even bumpier, which made his week even more promising. Indeed, his T-2 stands in stark contrast to a year ago, when he arrived with much fanfare, looked utterly lost with his new sticks and missed the cut in a fitting opener for the lost year. These days, Rory is smiling again. (Well, except when he’s penalized.) The saunter has returned, as has the confidence and aggressiveness on the course. Of course, he may have been too easygoing, which led to a crippling penalty for an improper drop on Saturday. He groused about the “stupid rules” in golf, but really he can chalk this up to a brain-dead moment. It was an obvious violation that could have been avoided. Even after a final-round 68 he still seemed miffed by the penalty. “I can’t describe how frustrating it is, and I feel like I’m standing here and I should be 15 under par for the tournament and winning by one. But that’s the way it goes,” he said. “I played the least shots of anyone this week. I can count it as a moral victory more than anything else.” Now, perhaps, he has a little extra fire, but at least he doesn’t feel as though he squandered his last opportunity for a while. Dating to last October, the world No. 7 has finished 11th or better in seven of his last eight starts, including his drought-busting victory at the Australian Open. “I feel good about my game,” he said. “I feel like I’m back to the place that I want to be.” Rest assured, he’s not the only one who left Abu Dhabi feeling that way.
(Editor’s note: Golf Channel turns 20 years old on Jan. 17. In recognition, we are looking back at golf over the last two decades with a series of articles and photo galleries throughout the week.) You’ve known me for long enough, so let’s break bread and reminisce on the week of Golf Channel’s 20th anniversary. A few years ago I sat around a table at a Houston steakhouse with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Gary Player for a show called “Legendary Conversation.” It’s a good assignment, if you like golf, which I do. Anyway, at one point I wanted to understand what made Jack so good. “You’ve won nine majors, Gary,” I said. “And, Arnold, you won seven; Lee, you won six. You guys were among the greatest to have ever played this game.” They all had a slight smile, because legends never mind when you repeat their record. “So how do you explain …” and now Trevino knows where I’m headed with this and without saying a word he starts pointing toward the ceiling, toward the sky. “How do you explain Jack winning 18 majors?” I finished the question – and I really emphasized the number 18. Trevino, still thrusting his index finger to the roof, says, “He hit the high ball, hit it so high and could land it so soft, see that’s how you win 18 majors.” Tiger Woods looked like he’d win 25 majors. Sunday afternoon at the 2001 Masters, he was on the verge of four in a row. The atmosphere was electric, with a long morning buildup to Tiger’s mid-afternoon tee time. When word spread that he was about to come out of the clubhouse, two lines formed from the door all the way to the ropes just before the practice putting green. 20 Years of Golf: Articles and photo galleries Tiger’s mom, Tida, was standing to one side near the patio. You could not miss her. Tiger would walk out, get a good luck hug from Mom and then make history, right? Tiger popped from the doorway. He walked right by his mother. He saw nothing and no one but the task ahead. And then he won his fourth consecutive major. I started at Golf Channel just as Tiger won his first major title, the 1997 Masters. It was a great period because not only would we cover Tiger’s rise but the game’s all-time giants were still around, men like Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen. I encountered Sarazen in Naples, Fla., in 1999 at a charity event hosted by Ken Venturi. It was Monday after Doral. Jim Nantz was introducing players. Through it all, Sarazen sat silently on the first tee box under an umbrella, dressed to the nines with his plus-fours, sport coat and tie, a straw hat and a cane. He was 97. Eventually, Nantz brought up Ernie Els. Keep in mind that the day before, Els made double bogey on the final hole to kick away the tournament. Always gracious, Els said in his familiar accent, “What a great honor it is to be here in the company of such a great man like Mr. Sarazen.” And then Nantz moved towards Sarazen and said, “Mr. Sarazen, how about that, isn’t that wonderful?” Sarazen, one hand holding the cane, still seated, took the microphone with a shaky hand. He looked up from under his hat toward Els and said, “Ernie Els. Huh, first time in my life I’ve seen a man blow a chip shot for 500,000 dollars.” The place exploded in shocked laughter. Sarazen passed just a couple months later. Through the years, we brought back more than features and highlights from our travels. There were ribald tales, wrong turns, equipment malfunctions and bizarre interviews – and we spilled it all in the old newsroom after a late “Golf Central,” usually with a stray putter in hand. Scott Van Pelt and I did some of our best work in that setting, with an audience of only three or four, imitating the likes of Richard Pryor, Vin Scully and Keith Jackson. John Feyko, one of our longtime cameramen and our resident Don Rickles, always called Van Pelt and me “13 feet of stupid,” since Scotty’s 6’7” and I’m almost 6’5”. Feyko understood the basic principle of good reporting: Get it right. He did. Van Pelt came through the door as an entry-level producer and Kelly Tilghman through the library. I jumped from radio in Dallas and we were fortunate to be carried along in those early days by consummate pros like Brian Hammons, Jennifer Mills, Kraig Kann and Mike Ritz. They were the originals and the network grew on the sturdy foundation they built. A few years into my stint, I took one of my sons to the local ice skating rink in Orlando where I ran into our co-founder, Joe Gibbs. Making small talk, I’d mentioned that my wife and I were considering moving out of our apartment and into a house, but that I was unsure of my future at Golf Channel. As a father would to a son, he turned to me and with a knowing smile said, “Buy that house.” I owe Mr. Gibbs, and of course Arnold Palmer, a good deal. We also owe much to the players. At the 2006 Ryder Cup in Ireland, I stood outside the U.S. team room moments after another embarrassing defeat, looking to snag a few post-match interviews. Jim Fuyrk stormed in my direction. This wasn’t the time for a smile and a “Hey, Jim!” They’d just been obliterated. He was hot, that was plain to see. So I did what I’d so often done through the years, just slightly tilted the Golf Channel microphone - with the big G on it – toward him, subtly letting him know that it was time for me to do my job. Furyk stopped in his tracks, turned to me and angrily said, “I’ll do the interview as long as you don’t ask me any stupid, f*****’ questions like they just asked me over there,” pointing toward the green where he’d just been surrounded by press. “Fair enough,” I said. “How do you explain what happened this week?” He replied, “That’s better.” And then he calmly told me that the Americans play tight and there was no good explanation for it. The larger point here,though, is that through the years we’ve only had to tilt our mic flag in the direction of the players for them to stop and give us a few minutes. They’ve been generous with their time from “Golf Talk Live” to “Feherty” to “Playing Lessons with the Pros” to “Live From,” “Golf Central” and “Morning Drive.” More than the announcers, the players are the face of our network, and we’re grateful for their immense talent and their time after they’ve put it on display. Lastly, and you’ll forgive me for getting schmaltzy, we’re grateful to you, our audience. You read about golf, watch golf, play golf, dream golf, love golf and need golf. Every now and then, in an airport or restaurant or at a tournament, someone will point to me and exclaim, “Hey, Golf Channel guy!” And then we’ll talk golf. That’s what we do. That’s what we love to do.
CHONBURI, Thailand - Amy Yang of South Korea had 10 birdies and an eagle in 31 holes on Saturday after Round 3 of LPGA Thailand was suspended because of bad light. With five holes left, Yang was 17 under and had a four-shot advantage over 2011 US Women's Open champion Ryu So Yeon, whose completed third-round 68 gave her the clubhouse lead at 13-under 203. The tournament was already behind schedule after rain and unplayable course conditions saw the unfinished second round postponed to Saturday at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course. The 2015 champion and 11th-ranked Yang was among five players to start their second round in the morning, including second-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn. Yang had six birdies and a bogey for a second-round 67 and overall 11-under 133 and heads into the third round with a one-shot lead over Jutanugarn (68) and Chinese Shanshan Feng (67). In less than an hour, Yang went back for the third round and had two birdies - and an eagle on the seventh - for 15 under after eight holes. Play was stopped again because of lightning for more than an hour and Yang sank more birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 on resumption before bad light caused a suspension. Jutanugarn is 10 under overall with five holes to complete. Feng is also 10 under with four holes left from the third round. Play resumes at 7 a.m. local time on Sunday.
NORTON, Mass. - PGA champion Justin Thomas made three long birdies on a long, wet TPC Boston for a tournament-best 63, giving him a share of the lead with Marc Leishman going into a Labor Day finish in the Dell Technologies Championship. Leishman also played bogey-free Sunday and had three straight birdies on the back nine for a 65. They were at 12-under 201 with no room for error on a leaderboard that was packed with some of golf's best players. Paul Casey, who played in the final group last year at TPC Boston, shot 67 and was one shot behind. Jordan Spieth birdied his last two holes and was among those two shots back. Not to be forgotten was Dustin Johnson, who birdied four of his last five holes and was three behind.
Pat Perez and his wife are ready to celebrate, #SB2K guys hit the college scene, Tour stars vacation all over the place and Sylvester Stallone's model daughter jumps into your dream foursome. All that and more in this week's edition of The Social. After going years without exactly setting the world on fire, Tiger's social media accounts have become must-watch internet television. As the golf world goes nuts for any little hint that he may be on his way back to competitive golf following several back surgeries that wiped out much of the last few years, Woods dropped a big one on us Sunday – full swing with a driver, and in his traditional red shirt, no less. It was hard to think he wasn't nearing a return after watching that, and Big Cat went ahead and made it official on Monday, confirming that doctors had given him the go-ahead to resume all golf activities. What's more? Woods' former coach, Hank Haney, thinks this swing looks like one the 14-time major champ could return to the winner's circle with. It's go time! Hope it works out a little better for Tiger than it did for the Mandelbaums. The latest chapter in the feel-good story of Perez's career resurgence unfolded over the weekend in Malaysia, as the outspoken 41-year-old won the CIMB Classic – his second PGA Tour win in less than a year. In typical Perez fashion, it didn't take long after the final putt dropped for him to offer up the quote of the week: “I’m not going to change anything,” he said. “I’m still not going to work out. I’ll still have a bad diet and I’m going to enjoy myself. And he's in luck, because his wife, Ashley, immediately took to social media to echo that sentiment, captioning a few pictures of the couple with, "Get those party boots on for when you get home!" Check out more photos of the couple here. Pat Perez just picking up wins left and right. And from the looks of his Instagram feed, he knows it: But while Perez's celebration will have to wait, back-to-back European Tour winner Tyrell Hatton got his victory party going shortly after wrapping up the Italian Open on Sunday, wasting no time getting to the nearest ... Burger King? Burger King may want you to have it your way, but Hatton's way, with a new $1.96 million in the bank, looks pretty delicious. While Justin Thomas was off "working" in Malaysia, trying to win the CIMB Classic for the third straight year, the other three members of the #SB2K squad were taking some time off and supporting the football teams of the schools where they played their college golf. Of course, "supporting" means different things to different people. Jordan Spieth helped his Texas Longhorns with the coin toss and watched from the sidelines during the annual Red River Showdown with Oklahoma: Rickie Fowler helped lead a parade through town and then pumped up the crowd at the pep rally while serving as the homecoming grand marshal for the Oklahoma State Cowboys: And Smyle Kaufman, well Smylie passed out Natural Light swag to fans and watched LSU from not-exactly on the field. Which, if we're being honest, sounds way more fun than being put to work all weekend. Smylie Kaufman - perennial MVP of the spring break bros. With just a couple months left in the calendar year, it's time to start thinking about how to use those vacation days ... even for those living amongst us who play professional golf and are on sort of a lifelong perm-vacation. Hence the sudden influx of PGA Tour stars to Italy over the past week or so. The McIlroys, Horschels, Walkers and Donalds have all been busy posting photos of their trips to Italy, because, well ... it's Italy. Something about this professional golf thing correlating directly to incredible looking vacations. We'll have our investigative team dig into it. Move over, Lamest Person in Your Current Dream Foursome - you've been replaced. Sylvester Stallone took to Instagram last week to show off his daughter Sistine's golf swing, and let's just say if this modeling thing doesn't work out for her, she could have a solid back-up plan in golf. Update: This modeling thing is going to work out just fine. Once upon a time, Sergio Garcia was just a kid trying to live up to some gigantic expectations as a professional golfer. He was reminded of those times last week at the Italian Open, when he was grouped with Austin Connelly 18 years after meeting him for the first time. Whether he remembered or not, Connelly's mom did, obviously. That's what moms do. The photo probably meant a little extra to Garcia, 37, in light of recent events. Sergio and his new bride, Angela, recently announced they are expecting a baby next March. So it could be a new Garcia on the other end of this re-created photo with his/her favorite golfer a couple of decades from now. After all, time is a flat circle ... or something like that. Nothing gets past this guy, especially sarcasm.
DALLAS – Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Wise continues to prove himself to be a quick learner. Wise went from unheralded prospect to NCAA individual champ seemingly in the blink of an eye while at the University of Oregon. After eschewing his final two years of eligibility in Eugene, he won in Canada on the Mackenzie Tour in his third start as a professional. He continued a quick learning curve with a win last year on the Web.com Tour to propel him to the big leagues, and he didn’t flinch while going toe-to-toe with Jason Day two weeks ago, even though the result didn’t go his way. Faced with another opportunity to take down a top-ranked Aussie, Wise made sure he got the job done Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson – even though it took until dark. With mid-day rains turning a firm and fast layout into a birdie barrage, Wise seamlessly switched gears and put his first PGA Tour title on ice in impressive fashion with a bogey-free 65. Deadlocked with Marc Leishman to start the day, Wise made six birdies in his first 10 holes and coasted to a three-shot win as the leaders barely beat the setting sun to avoid an anticlimactic Monday finish at Trinity Forest Golf Club. Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos As it turned out, the hardest part of the day was enduring the four-hour weather delay alongside his mother, Karla, as his afternoon tee time turned into a twilight affair. “She was talking to me in the hotel about what a win could mean, what a second could mean, kind of taking me through all that,” Wise said. “I was like, I’ve got to calm down. I can’t just sit here. I said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I kind of made her leave the room.” Wise displayed some jitters right out of the gates, with a nervy three-putt par on the opening hole. But with several players going on birdie runs to turn what seemed like a two-man race into a much more wide-open affair, Wise went on a tear of his own with four birdies in a row on Nos. 7-10. That gave him a window over Leishman and the rest of the chase pack, and he never looked back. “I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said. “These greens out here are really tricky, and for me to roll those putts in on 8 and 9 really kind of separated things.” Leishman had held at least a share of the lead after each round, and the 34-year-old veteran was looking for his third win in the last 14 months. But a bogey on No. 10 coincided with a Wise birdie to boost the rookie’s advantage from two shots to four, and Leishman never got closer than three shots the rest of the way. “He holed putts he needed to hole, and I didn’t,” Leishman said. “Hit a couple loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him, and didn’t. And that’s probably the difference in the end.” Instead of sitting next to a trophy in Dallas, Wise could have been closing out his senior season next week with an NCAA appearance at Karsten Creek. But the roots of his quick climb trace back to the Master of the Amateurs in Australia in December 2015, a tournament he won and one that gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the best in the world. He returned to Eugene and promptly told his coach, Casey Martin, that he planned to turn pro in the spring. The same dogged confidence that drove that decision has been the guiding force behind a whirlwind ascent through every rung of the professional ladder. “I just have a lot of belief in myself. I didn’t come from a lot. A lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t get to travel a bunch when I played junior golf,” Wise said. “Kind of all along it’s been very, very few moments to shine and I have had to take advantage of them.” Despite that belief, even Wise admits that he’s “shocked” to turn only his second real chance to contend at this level into a maiden victory. But fueled by the memories of a close call two weeks ago, he put the lessons learned at Quail Hollow to quick use while taking the next step in an increasingly promising career arc. “It was awesome, everything I dreamed of,” Wise said. “To walk up 18, knowing I kind of had it locked up, was pretty cool.”
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The People’s Open is giving the people what they want. Well, almost. Phil Mickelson’s record-setting week ended early, as Lefty exited stage left after shooting 68-75 to miss the cut Friday at TPC Scottsdale. The 30-time Waste Management Phoenix Open participant – and three-time champion – had Gene Littler’s WMPO record of 107 rounds played in his sights, too, but that will have to wait, as Mickelson is now stuck on 106 for another year. The party must go on, however, and luckily for fans in the Arizona desert, there is still plenty of star power to get them through until Super Bowl kickoff. Headlining the weekend show are buddies Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas, who are not only sharing a rental home this week but also occupying the top two spots on the leaderboard. Fowler, at 13 under, is one shot clear of Thomas and two ahead of Branden Grace, who made sure his Phoenix Open debut was memorable on Friday with a hole-in-one on the seventh hole. Fowler has twice finished runner-up at this event, which is both a positive and a negative. The positive is that he excels on this TPC Scottsdale layout. The negative is that he just hasn’t been able to finish the deal, previously entering the weekend here in the top 5 on four occasions and failing to win each time. Just last year, he shot 73 in the final round to finish T-11. But on the back nine Friday, Fowler looked as good as he ever has. He knocked five approach shots to within 11 feet. Even a pair of misses inside of 7 feet, at Nos. 13 and 14, couldn’t deter Fowler, who actually missed six putts inside of 10 feet in Round 2, from finishing his second-round, 6-under 65 with four straight birdies. “Rick, when he's playing like this, at a course that he loves like this, he's going to be tough to beat,” Thomas said. Thomas’ ballstriking has been equally impressive this week as he’s opened with rounds of 64-66. Though for Thomas, his biggest key has been limiting mistakes. A year ago, Thomas double-bogeyed the 16th hole twice and tripled the 15th hole once while finishing a disappointing T-17. Through 36 holes this week, Thomas has made 13 birdies to just one bogey. Your browser does not support iframes. Full-field scores from the Waste Management Phoenix Open Waste Management Phoenix Open: Articles, photos and videos “Getting to play with your buddies, those are the people that you want to lose to the least,” Fowler said. “… Definitely I don't want to have him out in front of me.” While there’s been plenty of offense from the roomies, Bubba Watson began his tournament playing defense, though it had nothing to do with a title. The former Scottsdale resident initially wasn’t a fan of the 2014 redesign of TPC Scottsdale, saying back then that the only reason he was playing the event was because of his sponsors. Watson has seemed to have since changed his tune. “I lived here for nine years, so no matter what people say I actually love Scottsdale very much,” Watson said Thursday. A day later, he added a 67 to his opening 66 to move just three back. Watson tied for second in his first WMPO start after the redesign but has since failed to finish better than T-40 in his past three tries. But a new driver, new colored golf ball, new putter and new Bryson DeChambeau-taught putting approach could get Watson back on track in the desert. “My putting has never been in the top 100 on the Tour,” said Watson, who actually was ranked inside the top 100 in strokes gained: putting once, but only once, in the past 10 seasons, “so it's not going to affect me much by trying something new.” If three of the game’s most recognizable stars aren’t enough to satisfy the appetite, another fan favorite – and two-time winner this season on Tour – Matt Kuchar is sitting T-5 at 10 under and ready to bring a wide smile to the party. But wait, there’s more on the VIP list: Defending champion Gary Woodland and Arizona State alum Jon Rahm at 7 under, Webb Simpson at 6 under and two-time WMPO winner Hideki Matsuyama at 5 under. “The way I'm driving the golf ball I think I have a really good chance,” said Woodland, who ranks third in strokes gained off the tee this week. Oh, and speaking of the long ball, don’t sleep on amateur Matthew Wolff. The Oklahoma State sophomore has the swing, ball speed and swagger to grab anyone’s attention. And after a 67-70 start in his Tour debut, Wolff is 5 under, fourth in the field in driving distance and T-2 in driving accuracy. He even has bragging rights over his college coach, Alan Bratton, who Monday-qualified into the Phoenix Open as an amateur for his first Tour start before missing the cut. “If you ask him, he always tells me I’m miles better than he was,” Wolff said. “But yeah, it’s a cool experience and to make the cut makes it even better.” Can the young phenom chase down proven Tour winners, though? “It’s not going to be easy,” Wolff said. “… Obviously, it’s my first start so we’ll see what happens, but for now I have that confidence in myself, and the people around me instill that in me, so I’m going to go out there and give it everything I have.” If excitement is what you want, the final 36 holes at TPC Scottsdale should deliver. Even without the Phoenix area’s most beloved left-handed son, the Phoenix Open still has plenty of stars left to put on a show.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Joaquin Niemann was an 18-year-old amateur when he arrived in West Virginia two years ago and tied for 29th in the only PGA Tour event he played outside of the U.S. Open. In 2018, he improved to a tie for fifth at the tournament. Now he has a chance to become the first player from Chile to win on tour. Niemann shot a 2-under 68 on Saturday to take a two-stroke lead in A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier. The 20-year-old Niemann was 15 under with a round left in the season-opening event at the Old White TPC. ''I just feel like I'm almost a member here,'' Niemann said. ''I just like being out here. Always when you play on a course that you know already it helps a lot. I think this is the course I have played more on tour.'' Niemann had a bogey and three birdies, including a 4-foot putt on the par-5 17th. ''I'm just really happy the way I've been playing,'' Niemann said. ''This course is really good for me.'' No third-round leader has gone on to win the tournament. Nate Lashley, Richy Werenski and Robby Shelton were tied for second at 13 under. Lashley and Werenski shot 65, and Shelton had a 70. Adam Long and Scotty Scheffler were 12 under. Long shot 70, and Scheffler had a 71. A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier: Full-field scores | Full coverage Lashley's story is well known by now. In 2004 his parents and girlfriend were killed in a plane crash in Wyoming. After resuming his career in the PGA Tour's minor leagues, he won his first tour title at the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit in June after slipping into the field as an alternate. ''My mentality is I'm definitely a lot more relaxed,'' Lashley said. ''I'm just playing, just trying to take that as experience, the way I played in Detroit. You know, I really just kind of kept to myself that week and really just focused and tried to block everything else out. I feel like I've done a good job of that so far.'' Lashley made bogeys after finding the rough on the par-4 11th and the greenside bunker on the par-3 15th. He chipped in for eagle from 36 feet at No. 17. His tee shot on the 179-yard 18th came as thunderstorms arrived in the area and play was suspended for about 50 minutes. Upon returning, Lashley three-putted from 70 feet. Werensky finished No. 126 in the FedEx Cup standings last season, one spot from qualifying for the playoffs. He got his PGA Tour card back for this season in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals. Werensky said that he didn't get discouraged after missing the playoffs. Heading into the Korn Ferry Finals, ''I had like a, I don't want to say an epiphany, but just like, 'Hey, man just chill out. Relax. I know I'm good enough.'' Shelton was tied for the lead with Niemann and Scheffler after the second round. Shelton was 2 over for the day until making birdies at the par-5 12th and par-4 14th. He hopes to use his two wins on the Korn Ferry Tour last season to help stay calm Sunday. ''You got to be super patient,'' he said. ''I mean, it's hard to do, but hopefully I can manage my nerves tomorrow.'' Kevin Chappell couldn't capitalize on the 11-under 59 he shot Friday, the 11th sub-60 round in tour history. He had a 73 on Saturday and was eight strokes behind Niemann.
During a rambling podcast last weekend, Andy Gardiner, the man behind the curtain of the Premier Golf League, lifted the veil – however slightly – on what had been until a few weeks ago an urban legend. Rumors of a global tour offering vast amounts of money had persisted for years until reports began to surface last month, outlining the 18-event schedule and team concept. Among the topics Gardiner covered in the Rick Shiels Golf Show was one telling comment that the league’s chief executive officer expects a decision from players regarding the new league in a “handful of weeks.” An informal poll of the game’s top players last week at the WGC-Mexico Championship suggests Gardiner’s prediction of a tipping point among players is correct. Rory McIlroy, who became the first to take a stance on the PGL when he announced in Mexico that he was “out,” estimated that players are currently split on the concept, and that also seems correct. Among those polled, about half were with McIlroy. “It depends what you want in life. If you look at it, a blank piece of paper, 18 events a year, a bunch of cash, it’s a great life and if you’re playing well and you’re one of the best players in the world you’ll have a great time. You’re not playing a lot and you’re playing for a lot of money,” said world No. 12 Tommy Fleetwood. “I’d say it’s not for me. I want to play majors. I want to play on the Tour. Rory made a fantastic point. He likes being able to do what he wants and make his own schedule.” Koepka on PGL: Everyone will play where the best are Billy Horschel was of the same mindset. “I think Rory is right. I just think the PGA Tour offers so many more opportunities for players,” he said. But Horschel, a new member of the PGA Tour's Player Advisory Council, also added a third element to the current dynamic. Even those who have no interest in jumping ship, the PGL concept has sparked a conversation about the direction of the Tour. “I have no desire [to play on the PGL]. What [Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] has done is great. He understands that the Tour in its current form isn’t viable in the future,” Horschel said. “Changes are going to have to be made. What changes? I don’t know. The business model is great, it’s what we do with the players and the product. We may have to make some tweaks to the product to continue to be able to garner the money that we want.” Although Horschel declined to go into specifics, many of the game’s elite seem drawn to the idea of fewer events (there are 49 tournaments on the current Tour schedule) and fewer players in each event (120-player fields appear to be the consensus). Some have also discussed a Tour-driven appearance fee program to compensate the game’s stars, a concept that has always been rejected by the Tour. What exactly that Utopian Tour would look like remains to be seen, but Gardiner and his PGL concept, which he said started as “a flight of fancy,” has struck a nerve. Golf Central PGL CEO: 'Only happens if everybody wants it' BY Brentley Romine — February 21, 2020 at 5:08 PM Premier Golf League CEO Andrew Gardiner appeared in a podcast Friday in which he discussed details of the proposed world tour. There are also those who appear to be on the other side of the PGL divide. Those like Phil Mickelson, who said he is “intrigued” by the PGL and even played in a pro-am earlier this year in Saudi Arabia with Gardiner, who was described as a London financier, and others associated with the new league. No one has officially announced a loyalty to the PGL, but there are those who are, at the least, interested in seeing how the process plays out. “No, I don’t [have a decision], but that’s not because I’m a fence sitter," said world No. 6 Adam Scott. "I do really believe that a world-type tour is the future, absolutely. But it’s not easy to just put that together. There are a lot of obstacles that need to be overcome, like getting the support of the players for a start. “Selfishly, for me there is some appeal. I might have the opportunity to park myself up in Australia for a little bit, if I’m being selfish. From the bits I like it seems like they are offering an offseason. That’s very limited at the moment the way we play our schedule. There are bits I like, for sure.” Others, such as world No. 18 Louis Oosthuizen, are still waiting to have a full understanding of what the PGL is proposing. “If someone speaks to me about it, it’s probably just a matter of seeing what it is, but it’s going to be difficult to not do what I’ve been doing my whole career between the European Tour and PGA Tour. Honestly, I have no idea,” Oosthuizen said. “I can’t see it happening if the top guys don’t play. No one really knows exactly what’s going on.” World No. 5 Dustin Johnson said the concept “sounds interesting” and third-ranked Brooks Koepka didn’t exactly draw a hard line when he was asked about the PGL on Wednesday at the Honda Classic. “I'm just gonna play where the best players play. ... I want to play against the best,” Koepka said, before adding, “I know you’re going to write this the wrong way, but it doesn’t matter if somebody gave me $200 million tomorrow. It’s not going to change my life.” The PGL has polarized the top players in a way that hasn’t happened in decades, but the one thing everyone, including Gardiner, can agree on is that this issue is quickly reaching a tipping point, whatever that might be. “It’s out there now more than it’s ever been out there before. There’s been murmurs for years, but now it’s out there and the Premier Golf League has put themselves in a position where it’s going to happen or it’s going to not happen,” Scott said. “It’s going to happen or it’s going to not happen in the next few weeks, at least in getting the players support.”