`Tiger & Phil’ is an important addition to golf history


At first I felt bad for Bob Harig, a friend of mine who authored the recently-released `Tiger & Phil: Golf’s Most Fascinating Rivalry.’ Bob and I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and, while I’m a little older, we became friends over the past few decades while covering the pro golf scene for our various media outlets.

Publishing deadlines can sometimes be tricky, and those affecting Bob meant that he couldn’t include the latest big events in the lives of the two great golfers – Tiger’s dramatic return to last April’s Masters, where he survived the 36-hole cut  after a long layoff while he recovered from an auto accident, and Phil’s controversial stance involving the imminent arrival of Greg Norman’s Saudi-backed golf tour.

Upon further reflection, though, I came to realize that lack of attention to those newsworthy matters doesn’t much matter.  There’ll be a lot more to cover in the careers of both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and Harig had better start thinking about a sequel.

The bottom line is that `Tiger & Phil’ (St. Martin’s Press) stands by itself in being an important addition to golf history.

I’ll gently take issue with calling this one “golf’s most fascinating rivalry.’ Having written about the sport for well over 50 years, I still lean a bit more towards Nelson vs. Hogan and/or Nicklaus vs. Palmer. Those seemed more intense, personal matchups than Woods vs. Mickelson.

These are different times, though, and Harig has nicely blended the careers of Woods and Mickelson into a very comprehensive, even-handed report that begins when both were amateurs and captures the highs and lows in their days as professionals.

I was on site for a lot of those highs and lows, so that made the book all the more intriguing to me.  I loved the recounting of Mickelson’s frustrations in winning his first major championship after 46 misses, especially the story of the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Payne Stewart won that title, and Phil was the runner-up with the birth of his first-born child as a ffbackdrop. Then there was his collapse on the final hole of the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, which handed the title to Geoff Ogilvy.

As for Tiger, his flops in competition were few and far between, making his run of victories seem all the more staggering. The 2008 U.S. Open win in a playoff with Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines was perhaps the most dramatic of them all, but his story isn’t done.  Right or wrong, Woods’ numerous battles after off-course issues make him front page news every time he decides to make a comeback.

Their personalities and backgrounds are different.  So are their playing records with the exception of Ryder Cup play.  Both were less than spectacular in those matches, a fact that has always puzzled me.

In short, while the exploits of both Woods and Mickelson have been covered extensively by media over the years, Harig’s version of combining their careers into one book was a great idea.  Still, there’ll be more to tell — and Harig may be one to do it the best.



Rick Reilly’s latest book is another winner

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book report, but Rick Reilly’s “So Help Me Golf’’ (Hachette Books) certainly merits one. It goes on sale May 10, but I was accorded a sneak preview.

A great writing talent, that Rick Reilly.  I’ve met some of those gifted types and read many more of them over the years.  I got to know Rick a bit when we both reported on the PGA Tour’s Memorial tournament in the 1990s, and we played some informal rounds of golf while the event was going on.

I’ve read a few of Rick’s nine previous books, my favorite being “Commander in Cheat,’’ an analysis of Donald Trump’s involvement in golf.  “So Help Me Golf’’ is much different than that one. It’s one of those rare books that you can read briefly, put it down for a day or so and then pick up reading without missing a beat.  It’s filled with short but very readable segments on such celebrities as Bryson DeChambeau, blind entertainer Tom Sullivan, basketball legend Michael Jordan and golf personalities  Jordan Spieth, Joel Dahmen, Sophie Popov, Erik Compton and Mike Keiser.

At least those were the segments that were most memorable to me. They were presented in an unusual setting, Reilly tying the book into his own family matters – most notably a difficult relationship with his father. The paperback version is 258 pages, all filled with interesting vignettes.  Some might already be familiar to you, others not.  All benefit from the Reilly touch.

Scott Gneiser knows what it’s like to caddie in the Masters


Every year when April rolls around the world’s best golfers turn their attention to the Masters.  That’s true for their caddies, too.

Scott Gneiser, a Chicago area resident for 22 years, should know. He’s in his 33rd year as a tour caddie and estimates that he’s worked 15 Masters.

“Everybody circles that on their calendar,’’ said Gneiser, who carried for 2001 PGA champion David Toms in most of his visits to Augusta.  He’s also been a Masters bag-toter for Andy North and Bill Haas and had stints on the bag for such prominent players as Jeff Sluman, Brent Geiberger and Anthony Kim.

Oh yes, he’s also caddied for his son Billy in the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open. The Masters, though, still triggers a ton of memories.

“I started as a caddie in 1989 for a friend of mine from Michigan,’’ said Gneiser.  “He didn’t make the tour the next year so I was going to go back to a resort (Sugar Loaf) where I had been working.’’

Then Andy North, a two-time U.S. Open champion, asked him to be his caddie for the 1990 season. Gneiser wasn’t so sure he wanted to do that until he saw North’s tournament schedule.  It included the Masters.

“So, l said `I’m in,’’’ said Gneiser. “It was so exciting. Andy was winding down his career at that time, but he was such a great story-teller. Andy was pretty special.’’

First of the Masters memories was the Par-3 Contest, which was a bit different than it is now. Family members of the players are used instead of tour caddies now.

“Andy asked that I not walk over before we were to tee off,’’ said Gneiser.  “He walked me behind Butler Cabin to those nine holes.  It was a slice of heaven back there. When it was time to tee off it was so loud.  Back then the tickets for practice rounds were unlimited, and they jammed people in there. They also had beer stands, which they’ve since taken away.  It was a huge party with wall-to-wall people. You could hardly move back there during the Par-3 Contest.’’

The Par-3 was even more special when he carried for Toms, who wound up winning it, albeit reluctantly.

“He gets to the last hole 4- or 5-under par and his name is at the top of the leaderboard,’’ said Gneiser.  “He asked me what he should do – hit it in the water? — because nobody has ever won the Par-3 Contest and gone on to win the tournament. David was playing pretty well at the time.’’

Gneiser convinced Toms to go for the win because he’d get his name on a board of champions and also pick up some crystal.

“David gets up there, quick-hits it and his ball rolls to four inches from the hole,’’ Gneiser recalled.  The victory was assured, but those good shots didn’t carry over to that Masters tournament. Toms, though, had some good moments at Augusta, tying for sixth in 1998 and tying for eighth in 2003.

“My biggest bummer was that I was never in contention down to the end,’’ said Gneiser.  “I had a bunch of top 10s but nothing like on Sundays with the big nerves going.’’

Haas did provide him a glimpse of what front-running was like at Augusta. Haas grabbed the first-round lead  In Gneiser’s second tournament carrying his bag but didn’t stay in contention.

Gneiser’s arrival at the Masters came a few years after Augusta National’s membership allowed tour caddies to work the tournament.  Only Augusta caddies were allowed before that.

“The old caddies weren’t happy that we were there, and you could feel for them,’’ said Gneiser.  “We were frowned upon for being there, but one guy stood up for us – Herman Mitchell, Lee Trevino’s caddie.’’

The caddie atmosphere eventually improved, and there was a big upgrade when the old caddie hut was replaced by a modern one that offered food all day.  Even some players and club members visited after that.

“I loved going to the Masters, but it was one of the toughest tournaments to work as far as clubbing your player goes,’’ said Gneiser.  “If you missed by even two inches on those greens it could mean a bogey.  It seemed like Augusta was a place you’d go to get fired.  That’s how intense it was out there.’’

There was also the need for extra planning at Augusta.  Usually the caddies rented houses and stayed together, but Gneiser shared a place with Toms on one occasion.

In the midst of those Masters experiences Gneiser met Jane Mikita, daughter of hockey great Stan Mikita.  They were married in 2001 and have three sons, all of them into golf.  Charlie plays at Carthage College in Wisconsin and Billy at DePaul.  Tommy is finishing up high school.  The family plays most of its golf at Cog Hill or Carriage Greens, which is near their Darien home.

Gneiser and Toms took a couple breaks — “He fired me once, and I fired him once’’ – but continued as a team for the last five years on PGA Tour Champions, the 50-and-over circuit. That’s meant a reduced workload, a good thing with Gneiser turning 57 this year.

“It’s a little easier there.  You get carts for pro-ams and the tournaments are usually only three rounds,’’ he said. “The Champions season is also only 22-23 weeks, and on the regular tour it was 30 weeks plus.’’

Still, Gneiser wouldn’t rule out a return to Augusta.

“I’d have to get in pretty good shape to walk around that place,’’ he said.  “But when you say Augusta and the Masters you get a different feel. The energy level is up.  It’s a very hilly golf course, and it’s always a long week so you have to pace yourself.  Still, I’d love to go back and do it again.  You never know.’’



Historic Disney World Golf celebrates a 50-year milestone

The Champions Pavilion showcases 42 years of PGA Tour golf played at Disney World.


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida – The date was October 1, 1971. The world of travel changed a lot that day. It’s when Disney World opened its gates.

The popular tourist destination has welcomed visitors from all ages, backgrounds and countries for 50 years now – and that huge contingent also includes golfers.  Opening Day for the Magic Kingdom was the day that two of its golf courses – the Magnolia and Palm – also opened.

Joe Lee designed both of those courses, and they’re still going strong. So is Oak Trail, the nine-holer that uses the same pro shop as the two original layouts, and nearby Lake Buena Vista, the third 18-holer that opened 10 years after the Magnolia and Palm. Lake Buena Vista is also a Lee design.

The story of how these courses came into being, and the events held there, merits a recalling as the resort is in the midst of a year-long “World’s Most Magical Celebration’’ and the golf arm is proclaiming itself “the Happiest Place on Turf.’’

Alex Forsyth, the director of sales and marketing for Walt Disney World Golf, said the 50-year celebrations will carry all the way through 2022 and even into the start of 2023 but a big part of the golf festivities will come over the next few weeks when he says “a major announcement about future development’’ will be made.

Forsyth wouldn’t go into details about that but did admit that “there are no plans at present to get back on the PGA Tour.’’

Been there, done that.

Mickey Mouse lives on forever in this bunker on the Magnolia course.

The Disney courses hosted events on the PGA Tour for 42 consecutive years, from 1971 to 2012. Most were at the tail end of a year and drew the top players and big crowds. Then the FedEx Cup Playoffs were incorporated into the PGA Tour schedule, creating a big climax to each season, and the Disney tournament became an early event in the following year’s schedule.

“In the first events of a new season there were not big names,’’ said Forsyth, “and without big names there weren’t big crowds. We relinquished our spot on the PGA Tour calendar, and that’s worked out well for us.’’

The resort’s attention shifted from big money tournaments to recreational players, and that has proved a good thing for all concerned.  The glory days of tournament play, though, are fondly remembered.

Golf very much remains a part of the Disney experience, as does its golf history. Credit the late Arnold Palmer for much of that. Palmer’s role in the development of Disney World Golf started before the first tee shots were hit on the Magnolia and Palm courses and evolved into his firm, Arnold Palmer Golf Management, operating the Disney golf properties long after his death. The resort and APGM signed a 20-year agreement in 2011.

Palmer and Disney World arrived in the Orlando area at roughly the same time.  Palmer was making plans to purchase  the Bay Hill Club the same year that Disney World opened. Palmer, who didn’t complete the purchase until 1975, had big plans of his own for Bay Hill, but he was willing to meet with Sandy Quinn , the resort’s director of marketing prior to the grand opening.  Quinn was assigned the task of getting a PGA Tour event on the new courses, and Palmer was willing to help.

His interest in the resort didn’t start with golf, though.  It started with a ride on the Monorail, but he brought some friends together and the World Disney World Golf Classic was held for the first time in December of 1971. Jack Nicklaus won the tournament the first three years. The format was switched to a team event from 1974-81 and then reverted back to its original format until its farewell in 2012.

Two of the most memorable events in tournament golf at Disney World are remembered in signage — Jack Nicklaus’ three victories and the eight holes-in-one at Magnolia’s third hole in the 2002 tournament.

The tournament grew with the times, changing sponsors and titles along the way.  Nicklaus’ winning prize was $30,000 in 1971, and Charlie Beljan – the winner of the final tournament in 2012 — earned $846,000. Tiger Woods won titles in 1996 and 1999.  Other champions included Larry Nelson, Payne Stewart, Davis Love III, Vijay Singh  David Duval, Lanny Wadkins, Ben Crenshaw and Luke Donald.

Magnolia, longest of the Disney courses at 7,516 yards from the tips with 97 bunkers and water on 11 of its 18 holes, was the layout most in the spotlight when the PGA Tour visited simply because the final round was always played there.  TV coverage was basically a weekend thing back then, so the cameras weren’t at Palm, which was also used for early rounds in all 42 stagings of the tournament, and Lake Buena Vista, which was used 17 times.

The tournament’s rich history is chronicled at the Champions Pavilion beside the first tee of the Magnolia. That course was also used for the Senior PGA Championship, and it had some well-known winners, too. Charlie Sifford, Pete Cooper, Julius Boros, Joe Jimenez and Jack Fleck won at Magnolia from 1975-79.

When the PGA Tour stop completed its 42-year run it was the longest-running tournament on the circuit’s calendar. Lake Buena Vista also has a notable historic reference; it was the site of the HealthSouth Classic from 1996-97 and that tournament was the first event on the Ladies PGA Tour to be broadcast live on The Golf Channel. Karrie Webb and Michelle McGann won those tournaments at Lake Buena Vista. Pat Bradley won her title at Eagle Pines, a Pete Dye design that closed in 2007.

Back to Palmer.  He competed many times in Disney’s PGA Tour stop but never won. Even with the PGA Tour event established at Disney World, he wanted an event at Bay Hill and convinced the circuit to move the Florida Citrus Classic from another Orlando course, Rio Pinar, to Bay Hill in 1979. Now called the Arnold Palmer Invitational, It’s had been held 44 consecutive years there.

Palmer’s design company also renovated Disney’s Palm Course, a six-month project in 2013 climaxed by the course winning Renovation of the Year honors that year.

Disney World’s fourth course, and only nine-holer, has an interesting history as well.  It started as a six-hole course in 1982, called Wee Links. The course was built in conjunction with the PGA Tour as a base for affordable junior golf. The course had artificial tees and greens, a unique concept at that time.

Wee Links consisted of the present holes 1-4 and 8-9.  It expanded to nine holes when Florida-based designer Ron Garl built three holes, all much stronger than the other six, in 1991.

Who knows what the PGA’s Florida Swing will produce in the next two weeks?


Scottie Scheffler may have been the only player still smiling after the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

ORLANDO, FL. – The PGA Tour’s annual Florida Swing reached the midway point on Sunday with the circuit rarely seeing tounaments unfold the way they did last two weeks.

Daniel Berger appeared a wire-to-wire winner at last week’s Honda Classic until a surprise storm hampered play in the last three holes. Berger blew a five-stroke lead and Straka became the first Austrian to win on the PGA Tour.

Sunday’s second stop in the Sunshine State, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, was much more unusual than that.   University of Florida product Billy Horschel and Talor Gooch started the final round at Bay Hill tied for the lead at 7-under-par. Still, Scottie Scheffler’s 5-under 283 was good enough to win.

In summary, the scoring wasn’t good and the players were largely critical of the course setup, but the crowds were bigger than ever — though somewhat unruly in the final hours of play.

It makes you wonder what the second half of the Florida Swing will offer the next two weeks.  The Players Championship tees off on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra with some notable players missing and the Valspar Championship follows the next week on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbour.

One thing is certain: the Valspar — thanks to its connection to a paint manufacturer — will remain the most colorful tournament on the PGA Tour. That probably won’t brighten how the players felt about Bay Hill in the aftermath of the API.

“The course was set up harder today (Sunday) that it was yesterday.  That surprised me a little,’’ said Scheffler, who called the course “a total break-down.’’

And he was the guy who won.

“It was so challenging, a real grind. I like to challenge hard golf courses,’’  said Scheffler.

Apparently so does his 86-year old grandmother.  She walked all 18 holes with Scheffler on Sunday. The victory boosted Scheffler to No. 5 in the Official World Golf Rankings and he now tops the FedEx Cup standings as well. The API was his second win of the year.  He also won the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

The key to the Bay Hill win was two great scrambling pars at Nos. 15 and 16.

“It was not a comfortable position, having to hit to 50 feet and try to two-putt,’’ said Scheffler. “I trusted myself and played conservative the last two holes, and pars were good enough.’’

Gary Woodland went from ecstacy to agony in the final round of the API. At No. 16 (left) he holed a 40-foot putt for eagle to take sole possession of the lead. On the next hole he lost it when  he left his second shot in a bunker (right) and took a double bogey.

Even with beautiful weather all week Bay Hill proved a monster with thicker-than-usual rough and slicker-than-usual greens for the API field.  The lead got away from Horschel and Gooch in a hurry. Horschel shot 40 on the front nine and Gooch was worse, making  two double bogeys and four bogeys en route to a 43.

Even after his early blowup Horschel still had a chance to win.  Had he made birdie on his final hole he would have forced a playoff with Scheffler. Others had a chance, too. England’s Tyrrell Hatton, who won the tournament in 2020 despite a 73-74 weekend finish, was on the brink of bouncing back from a third-round 78 this time.  He was the clubhouse leader much of the day after posting a 68 on Sunday.

Hatton wound up in a tie for second with Horschel and Norway’s Viktor Hovland. They were one stroke behind Scheffler, whose par 72 on Sunday wasn’t exactly spectacular.

Most disappointed of all the near-missers was former U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland. He took sole possession of the lead after rolling in a 40-foot eagle putt at No. 16.  Then he left a shot in a bunker, leading to a double bogey at the par-3 seventeenth and made bogey at No. 18 when he needed a birdie to get into a playoff.

As if the drama wasn’t enough, there was a strange situation off the course.  Bryson DeChambeau, the defending champion who has been battling injuries, made a late entry to the field and then promptly withdrew the same day.  Jason Day, another former API champion, was also a late withdrawal after his mother passed away following a long battle with cancer.

This week’s Players Championship will have some highly noticeable absentees as well.  Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, both exempt into the field, won’t play. It’ll be the first time since 1994 that both will miss the same tournament. DeChambeau decided to take another week off and Rickie Fowler, the popular past champion, didn’t qualify.  He’ll miss The Players for the first time since 2009.

It was wall-to-wall spectators all over the course on the last day of the API at Bay Hill.



It figures to be Zach Johnson vs. Luke Donald in the next Ryder Cup

Zach Johnson (left) and Luke Donald will create a good captain’s matchup in the Ryder Cup.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL. – Neither Zach Johnson nor Luke Donald looked threatening during Thursday’s first round of the PGA Tour’s traditional Florida Swing.

The veterans teed off within 20 minutes of each other, Donald starting his round off No. 1 and Johnson off No. 10 at the Honda Classic – the first of four straight tournaments in Florida.  Johnson finished at 4-over-par 76 and Donald at 2-over 74 and were far back of the leaders.

Their competitiveness figures to change very soon, however, though not as players.  Johnson and Donald loom to be opposing captains in the next Ryder Cup matches, to be played in 2023 at Marco Simone in Italy.

If the matchup materializes it’ll pit the most popular player over the years at Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour stop against a Northwestern alum who has remained involved in the Chicago golf scene through his philanthropic and design efforts.

Johnson’s selection as the U.S. captain will become official on Monday at a press conference at PGA of America headquarters here, the day after the Honda finishes its 72-hole run at PGA National. It won’t come as a surprise. Clair Peterson, long-time tournament director and now executive director of the John Deere Classic – Illinois’ lone annual PGA Tour event – congratulated Johnson via Facebook on Thursday and fans at the Honda Classic did the same as Johnson played his first round.

Leading the U.S. won’t be easy.  The American side will be trying to end a 30-year stretch without a win on European soil, the last one coming in 1993 at the Belfry in England. Johnson will also have a tough act to follow.  A U.S. squad captained by Steve Stricker handed Europe its worst beating with a 19-9 romp at Whistling Straights in Wisconsin in September. That was only the fourth U.S. win in the last 13 Ryder Cups.

Stricker was part of a six-man committee named to pick the next U.S. captain — three PGA Tour players and three PGA of America executives.

Currently battling health problems that have kept him out of tournament play the last three months, Stricker was a long-time U.S. vice captain before becoming the head man, and Johnson was a vice captain at the last two Ryder Cups after playing on five Ryder Cup teams.

A two-time Masters champion, Johnson has long been involved in the operation of the John Deere Classic, a fixture for 50 years in the Quad Cities area. The Iowa native has been a member of the tournament board almost as long as he’s been playing the tour, and he won the JDC in 2012.

Europe has yet to announce its next Ryder Cup captain but Donald has loomed as the likely choice since Lee Westwood, preferring to focus on his playing career, withdrew as a candidate. Padraig Harrington was the captain of the European side at Whisting Straits and is on a five-member committee to pick his successor.

Harrington gave Donald a resounding endorsement in January.  So did Graeme McDowell, who served along with Donald as Harrington’s vice captains.

While he hasn’t won a major title Donald’s playing record stands up to Johnson’s.  Donald spent 56 weeks holding the No. 1 spot on the Official World Golf Rankings and, in 2011, became the first player to win money titles on both the PGA and European PGA tours in the same year.

After Monday’s big announcement the PGA’s Florida Swing continues with the Arnold Palmer Invitational, at Bay Hill in Orlando; The Players Championship, in Ponte Vedra; and the Valspar Championship, at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbour.





Zero Friction’s new golf cart is a big hit at the PGA Show

Zero Friction president John Iacono introduced a three-in-one golf bag at the PGA Merchandise Show.

ORLANDO, FL. – The biggest show in golf wrapped up on Friday at the Orange County Convention Center, and the 69th PGA Merchandise Show was a bit different than the previous 68 stagings. The pandemic forced cancelation of the show in 2021 and the two-year hiatus took its toll

Normally the show has about 1,000 brands showing their products for three days at the OCCC. This year there were only about 600. The event’s Demo Day — an outdoor attraction at Orange County National the day before the OCCC opens its doors — had only a sparse crowd this time, in part because of cold, rainy weather.

While most all of the major equipment manufacturers were absent, the show was by no means a downer.  Zero Friction, the Oak Brook Terrace-based company that was a big hit at the show two years ago, didn’t miss a beat with the big companies gone.

“I was extremely disappointed to not see the large brands, the ones who consider themselves to be the leaders of the industry, to take this opportunity to back out,’’ said John Iacono, the Zero Friction president.  “I don’t think you’re a leader of much of anything if you’re not on the front lines. Here it’s the rest of the industry – the small brands like ours. Everybody had difficulties keeping their businesses going during the pandemic. The bigger brands, who profited heavily in this industry, didn’t take time to have a smaller presence here, and I feel that’s sad. It’s a sore eye for the golf industry when the leaders aren’t leading at all.’’

How the show, which has been closed to the public but still drew 40,000 industry members annually, will change in 2023 remains to be seen but Iacono is optimistic about his own company’s growth.

Zero Friction started as a manufacturer of wooden tees in 2006 and expanded to other golf products in 2012.  Both its line of tees and gloves were recipients of Industry Honors by the International Network of Golf at the 2020 show, and since then the company opened sales offices in Charlotte, N.C.; Kansas City and London added its own distribution center in Melrose Park.

With many of its products produced overseas, a quality control director based in Indonesia was added to the staff. The gloves are now sold in 26 countries, and Iacono believes that the newest model of tees will be a big hit.  This model has a divot repair tool built in.

“A tee product that can be used to repair a green that can be put in every player’s hand – that’s a must have,’’ said Iacono.

The company’s newest product, the Wheel Pro golf bag, was one of the biggest hits of this year’s show.  It’s a three-in-one bag.  It starts as a push bag.  If you want to walk and carry, you pop the wheels off. If you want to ride you stick it in your cart.  That’s one versatile golf bag, and it carries a retail price of $349.

In May Iacono plans to introduce a completely recycled golf ball called the Eagle Z. The covers of old golf balls will be scraped off, recycled and put on the cores of the old balls. Ball prices figure to be soaring because of problems obtaining surlyn, a key ingredient.

“The pandemic gave us an opportunity to structure differently for long-term growth,’’ said Iacono.  “We’ll grow as long as we produce interesting new products that show technological advancement and are priced fairly.’’

PGA Show, LPGA tourneys give Florida the real start to golf season

Madelene Sagstrom (left) and the Korda sisters — Nelly (left) and Jessica — will be prime time players when the LPGA opens its season with three tournaments in Florida.

Dismiss the fact that the PGA Tour has played tournaments in Hawaii the last two weeks. The 2022 golf season really starts this week. That’s when the golf spotlight shifts to Florida and will stay there for a while.

The PGA Merchandise Show returns after taking a year off because of pandemic concerns and the LPGA – after concluding 2021 with two stops in the Sunshine State – gets back in action with its first three tournaments of the new year in Florida.

The PGA Tour returns to the mainland with the Farmers Insurance Open in California and PGA Tour Champions has its Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, but those events don’t match the glut of activity the women are planning around the Merchandise Show.

First event is this week’s LPGA’s 2022 debut, the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions.  In addition to the new title sponsor the tourney has a new venue, Lake Nona on the outskirts of Orlando.    It’ll be a four-day 72-hole battle of players who have won on the circuit in the last two years and there’ll be a celebrity competition mixed in.  Play begins on Thursday.

As soon as the last putt drops at Lake Nona on Sunday the scene shifts to nearby Orange County National for a scaled down version of the Demo Day that traditionally preceded the big show at the Orange County Convention Center.  Most the major club manufacturers won’t be at the show this time, but there’ll be an array of golf-related companies on hand. It won’t be quite the traditional New Year’s celebration when golf diehards gather, but it’ll be as close to a return to normalcy as we can get for now.

It won’t be easy for the LPGA’s tournament offerings to match last year’s, either.

The 2021 season started with Jessica Korda winning the Tournament of Champions and her sister Nelly winning the first regular season event, the Gainbridge Championship then played at Lake Nona. That was only the second time sisters won back-to-back events on the LPGA Tour, the first being in 2000 when Lake Nona member Annika Sorenstam and her sister Charlotta  pulled off the feat.

This year’s T of C has a new site and a $1.5 million purse for the 72-hole no-cut tournament.  The field includes six of the top 10 in the women’s world rankings and also features Japan’s Nasa Hataoka, who calls Lake Nona “my member course’’ because she practices there throughout the season; and Michelle Wie West.

This year the Gainbridge moves back to Boca Rio, in Boca Raton, with Nelly going in as the defending champion in a 120-player field with $2 million in prize money on the line from Jan. 27-30.  She’s coming off a spectacular year and the Gainbridge win started it all.  It came in late February of 2021 and was her fourth professional win but the first with her parents, both Florida residents, on hand.

Nelly went on to win four more titles in 2021 including the Olympic gold medal  en route to claiming the No. 1 world ranking.  Her sister will be the defending champion at the Tournament of Champions.

Though Nelly is the defender at Boca Rio, Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom feels like one, too.  She won the 2020 Gainbridge tournament there.  It was her first win as a pro.

“I’m biased about this place,’’ said Sagstrom, who now lives in Orlando and will also be in the field at Lake Nona. “On Friday (of her win in 2020) I shot 62 – my lowest round by three shots.’’

Adding to that, she did it with the father of her boyfriend working as an emergency caddie when her usual bag-toter couldn’t get to the tournament on time. Her game slipped a bit after the tour shut down play a month later.

“Before the pandemic I was on a role, but then we were out for five months and I lost my rhythm for a while,’’ she said, “but I did finish second in a major (T2 at British Open) and got it back.’’

The Gainbridge field also includes Delray Beach resident Lexi Thompson, who will be making her 2022 debut.  She didn’t qualify for the Tournament of Champions.  The field also includes Brooke Henderson, the popular Canadian player; New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and Korea’s Inbee Park, who is coming off a lengthy layoff from competition.

After that the LPGA concludes its run of Florida tourney to start the season at the Feb. 3-5 Drive On Championship at the Crown Colony course  Ft. Myers.



This author made the ultimate American golf trip


If you’re a golfer you’ve got to envy Tom Coyne. Lots of author types – me included to some extent – have been more than willing to write about their golf travels in some form or another. Coyne has done it much better than most. He’s a globe-trotting golfer with lots of stories to tell.

Coyne wrote two books based on his visits to hundreds of courses overseas.  There were called “A Course Called Ireland’’ and “A Course Called Scotland.’’ An Philadelphia-based writer, I found it odd  that he attacked courses overseas before exploring the great American golf scene closer to home, but he made up for that with his just-released “A Course Called America’’ (Avid Reader Press).

This is the most readable in-depth book on golf travel that I’ve ever encountered.   Coyne’s passion for golf is obvious, and he’s gone the extra mile – or many miles – to do the job right.

His plan was to play courses in all 50 states, and he did that over a series of trips that took him to 295 courses.  He played 5,182 holes over 301 rounds and covered (mostly walking) 1,748,777 yards.  In every stop he provides historical tidbits while mixing in his own encounters with a wide range of people along the way. It’s by no means limited to an analysis of the courses he visited. That approach has been tried by many golf fanatics before him and doesn’t make for very interesting reading.

Coyne tells his stories in 383 pages and then wraps it up by listing all the courses he played and naming his top 10 in several categories. Naturally I want to take issue with him on some of that, though I’ve played only 19 of the 80 he cited for special mention. Coyne’s a better golfer than I ever was, but resort golf is my thing, too, so I’m happy to note that I played seven of his top 10 in that category. His favorite resort destination was Gamble Sands, in Washington.  I’ll have to find a way to get to that one.

We did agree on Nos. 2-4 – Oregon’s Bandon Dunes and Bandon Trails and Wisconsin’s Mammoth Dunes. We also both liked Florida’s Streamsong Red, Michigan’s Black course on The Loop layout and Arcadia Bluffs and Mississippi’s Old Waverly.

We’re both fans of short courses, and he had a surprise third pick in that category – Evanston’s Canal Shores. We shared enthusiasm for The Cradle, in North Carolina; Palm Beach Par Three, in Florida; and Top of the Rock, in Missouri.

As far as Best Golf States are concerned, we have big differences.  Coyne doesn’t include Florida or Illinois in his top 10.  New York is Coyne’s No. 1 – really??? – and Minnesota is No. 10 – he’s got to be kidding!

Anyway, a fun read that is full of interesting background information. It’ll challenge the knowledge of even the most avid golf historians.




Aviv’s oxygen therapy could become a big boost for golfers

With golf carts dominating street parking lots The Villages is clearly a hotbed for the sport and an ideal place to introduce an innovative new method designed to make players better.

THE VILLAGES, Florida – Golf is huge in The Villages, a fast-growing vibrant over-55 adult community in Central Florida.  That’s obvious.  Golf carts are everywhere, and not just at the courses.

Golf carts of all sizes and colors fill the area’s parking lots as well as those at the 12 championship and 40 executive courses and the three golf academies. Not all the golf carts are driven by golfers, either, but they are entrenched in The Villages’ lifestyle.

This year, though, the most significant offering for golfers might not involve the courses or the golf carts.  The Aviv Golf Performance Program was introduced four months ago, and it involves much more than hitting quality golf shots. It’s for people who are very serious about their long-range health as well as their golf improvement.

The program’s time requirements are demanding, and its $56,500 price for a 12-week program includes a personalized medical team and sophisticated equipment but doesn’t include lodging or meals.  You need to be on site because the program is built around Aviv’s proprietary hyperbaric oxygen therapy protocol, and its treatments run two hours a day, five days a week. More than anything the therapy treatments set the Aviv program apart from other golf performance offerings, but there’s more to it than that.

Aviv Clinics also include a personal protocol of neuro-cognitive therapy, physiological training and nutritional coaching in addition to golf coaching.  As far as the U.S. goes, the Aviv program is offered only in The Villages. The program, based off 12 years of research done by Dr. Shai Efrati in Israel, was taken to Dubai just after its arrival in Florida. That’s where golf specific instruction was incorporated.

Here’s one of the dives, where the hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatments are administered.

More facilities are scheduled to be added in 2023, but the golf component at those has not been determined.

“Our target population is healthy individuals in the 40-45 range who started seeing a slip in their golf games,’’ said Aaron Tribby, Aviv’s head of physical performance in Florida.  “But we see a lot of other clients who have other problems.  The youngest we’ve had here is 20, the oldest 95.’’

Victims of strokes and brain injuries have benefitted from the hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatments, and they’re also designed to reverse biological aging. Dave Globig, the chief executive officer of the Aviv Clinics in The Villages, and physician Mohammed Elamir both thought the program sounded too good to be true when they were invited to see it in operation in Israel but they became believers.

“At first I was very skeptical,’’ said Globig, who had worked in the health care industry for 25 years. “But I was intrigued.  Our program is still very cutting edge, and taking it is almost a full-time job. Most of our clients are battling the aging process.  They’re afraid of dementia, of losing their physical capacity.  That’s why they come to us. For aging people, what’s their No. 1 sport? Golf.’’

Elamir, the son of a neurologist, was a general practitioner looking for new opportunities.  He found the Aviv program a help in his father’s recovery from a small stroke and now oversees the oxygen therapy aspect.

Aviv’s logo — and a depiction of the brain — adorns the welcoming area at the clinic in The Villages.

Smokers are not allowed in that program, and the inclusion of golf was not taken lightly.

Aviv made a major commitment to the sport as sponsor of November’s Aviv Dubai Championships, which concluded the season for what is now called the DP World Tour. (That’s the rebranded name for what had been the European PGA Tour). DP World had been Aviv’s business partner in Dubai and got Aviv its first title sponsorship in golf.

Aviv’s golf program begins with a week of testing that includes blood work, nutrition, a cognitive and genetic evaluation, brain scan and physiology and strength exams. Then the hyperbaric oxygen therapy sessions begin for each client, and they’re supplemented by appointments with 50-60 staffers specializing in other areas of need.

Each client has a personalized treatment program. Golf sessions are included in that, and the golf professionals meet with Aviv staffers on a regular basis to analyze the needs and progress of each client.

With pandemic protocols in place Dr. Mohammed Elamir explains how the Aviv Golf Performance Program works in conjunction with the medical components.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and many of the other treatment programs, are conducted at the Central Florida Aviv clinic – a floor in the Center for Advanced Healthcare, It’s a complex that includes the Brownwood Hotel & Spa, a Wolfgang Puck restaurant and offices for other  providers in the healthcare field.

The oxygen therapy is administered in “dives’’ – rooms that have chambers (also called suites) for about 12 clients.  In the two-hour sessions the clients receive oxygen for 20 minutes, then are off for five minutes, and that routine is repeated until the two hours are up.  Clients wear oxygen masks (not the masks worn by so many to combat Covid in these pandemic times)  and they engage in cognitive exercises on a tablet during the process. Elamir says they only experience a popping of the ears for the first 10 minutes. Then he likens the experience to taking a ride in a small airplane.

The reward is stem cell, blood vessel and neurological growth that optimizes brain performance and improves overall health. Aviv’s leadership claims that – in conjunction with the other treatments and coaching – will translate into better golf scores as well as better overall health.

Cognitive benefits are said to be improved hand/eye coordination, increased focus and attention and better mental clarity and patience. Physical benefits are enhanced swing quality, faster recovery after a round and improved strength, mobility and stability.

“One of the biggest challenges we have in health care is that it’s so fragmented,’’ said Globig.  “Can you find a similar program (for golf development)? I’m sure you could, but they won’t have the clinical elements involved, and the foundation to go with it.’’