Anthony Kim isn’t ready to compete on the LIV circuit — yet

 

For the record, I’d rather play golf than watch it.  If I need to just watch, I’d rather do it live at the course.  If I can’t do that I’d have to settle for TV or the  Internet.  The latter is what I had to do to see Anthony Kim ‘s return to professional golf at the LIV Golf League’s tournament in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last week.

There was no way I was going to miss this one, though. Curiosity got the better of me. In 56 years reporting on all kinds of golf I had never heard a story as intriguing as that of Kim, a promising young star until Achilles tendon surgery on his left leg sidelined him.

The initial surgery was performed in June of 2013 and he had subsequent problems with his rotator cuff, labrum, spine and hand, and they required six more surgeries in a four-year period.

Until LIV’s stop in Jeddah Kim had not played in a tournament since the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship on the PGA Tour. He could have played sooner, via a Major Medical Exemption, but he didn’t. There’s more to Kim’s story.  Kim admitted that, and said he’d tell it “at the proper time.’’

Anyway, Kim decided to retire after all those surgeries, and that lasted for 12 years.  Now 38, Kim admitted his comeback was “a long time coming…I’m very grateful for all the highs, lows and lessons learned from the first part of my career.  I want to compete with the best players in the world, and I’m on a mission to prove to myself that I can win again.’’

Well, maybe he can and maybe he can’t. His first tournament back created a lot of interest, but his play wasn’t encouraging.

On the first day at tournament site Royal Greens he shot a 76, a round that included a topped second shot (LIV commissioner Greg Norman said a drone distracted him) and an ugly shank.  He was dead last after Round 1 and another 76 in Round 2 left him 12 shots behind his nearest rival. The good part at that point? Well, he settled down after a bad start to finish with 11 straight pars. He improved to 74 in the third round but wound up at 16 over par for the tournament while champion Joaquin Niemann was at 17-under.

After the first round Kim said he “played better than the score.’’  There was no comment after the second, but he put a somewhat positive spin to his play over the 54 holes overall.

“Obviously it was a rough week,’’ said Kim, “but I’m excited to play professional golf again and blessed to have this opportunity. I was doing a lot of things well, though I know the scores don’t reflect that.’’

No argument there, but I’m still not giving up on Kim.  Here’s why:

Kim was more than just a good young player after he turned pro.  After playing for Team USA and the University of Okahoma, he helped the U.S. win the Ryder Cup in 2008 after winning three times on the PGA Tour that season.

In 2010 he tied for third at the Masters, finishing behind only present LIV players Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood.  His most eye-opening performance came in the 2009 Masters when he set a tournament record with 11 birdies in Round 2.

Norman was unrelenting in coaxing Kim into a comeback on his circuit. Convinced that Kim could move the needle for a new tour, Norman made initial contact two years ago to see if Kim might be interested – and it took a while (as well as some talks with PGA Tour personnel) for him to decide he was.

“LIV Golf was launched to create new opportunities for players and fans that drive this sport forward in exciting ways and, when I think of Anthony Kim, I can’t think of a more perfect fit for what we’re trying to do,’’ said Norman. “His talent is undeniable.’’

Well, it wasn’t “undeniable’’ at Jeddah, and Hong Kong is the next stop. As a “wild card,’’ Kim can play in the rest of this year’s tournaments and is assured a check in each one without the added pressure of letting a team down. He’s got a few months to prove that his skills are still good enough to compete at a high level.

The less-than-ideal start shouldn’t be surprising, and didn’t leave him downtrodden.  That’s a good thing.

“I look at being in contention at some time this year,’’ he said.  “Everything with LIV has been first class, and I look forward to representing them well.’’

I hope he can. If his play is only slightly reminiscent of what it had been, his would be a feel-good story — and the world can always use another one of those.

 

 

 

 

LET brings a unique team event to Florida’s Feather Sound

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is presenting sponsor of the Aramco Team Series.

In these times of turmoil for professional golf tours it was almost shocking to learn about the upcoming Aramco Team Series. Its first event of 2024 is coming up fast — March 7-10 at Feather Sound Country Club in Clearwater, FL.

Imagine an event that is part of the Ladies European Tour (LET) hosting an event on American soil.  Then consider that the $1 million purse is being put up by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia – the same group that is funding the controversial LIV Tour in its ongoing battle with the PGA Tour. And The Golf Channel is to provide TV coverage, a rarity for that network to cover an event with LIV connections.

PIF is the presenting sponsor of the entire series and, while best known for its LIV involvement, it also bankrolled the $5 million Aramco Saudi Ladies International, an LET event won by Thailand’s Patty Tavatanakit two weeks ago in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Riyadh is the home base of the Saudi Golf Federation.

While it’s an LET event, the Aramco field at Feather Sound also includes American LPGA stars Brittany Lincicome, Lexi Thompson and Megan Khang. Aramco is a global integrated energy and chemicals company that says it is partnering with the Saudi Federation “as part of the company’s efforts in female empowerment.’’

Lincicome was featured at the tourney’s kickoff press conference. She’ll be playing in the Aramco Series for the first time on a course that is just three miles from her home.  She knows the Feather Sound layout well.

“It’s just a beautiful place.  I love going there,’’ she said.  “Just to have other Tour players see this course is going to be a real treat, because they’re going to love it.’’

Feather Sound was able to get its course ready for tournament play in a hurry. (Joy Sarver Photos)

The tourney got a late start on the promotion end because of delays in lining up a site.  Feather Sound was officially notified of its selection only five weeks ago but was still close to being ready to welcome spectators over a week before the start of play.

Feather Sound’s original course was a Joe Lee design that opened in 1976 and was renovated by Kipp Schulties in 2022.

The Aramco Series has an unusual format.  It consists of five team events with an individual competition included in each one.  There’ll be a player draft in which designated captains are determined off the Rolex World Golf Rankings. They’ll pick one teammate off the LET entry list, get another determined randomly by LET staffers and a third from amateurs chosen by Aramco personnel.

Teams and individuals will compete together over the first two rounds and only individuals will battle on the final day. The prize money will be split, with $500,000 awarded off the team competition and $500,000 off individual play. The professional field will be cut after 36 holes to the low 60 and ties.

LPGA star Brittany Lincicome, who lives near Feather Sound, was featured at Media Day.

The unusual format is no problem for Lincicome, who was recently named an assistant captain for the U.S. Solheim Cup team.

“A team component is something different,’’ she said. “We’re always evolving in the game of golf, and to have the team competition with amateurs and then going into singles – why not?’’

That Aramco Team Series is the only LET event in the United States this year, but it was held for two years in New York and Trump International, in West Palm Beach, hosted last year when Spain’s Carlota Ciganda was the champion. Ciganda will compete at Feather Sound as will England’s Bronte Law, winner of the Lalla Meryem Cup – last week’s third stop of the LET season in Morocco.

Officially named Aramco Team Series-Tampa, this year’s schedule also has events in Seoul, South Korea, May 9-11; London July 2-5, Asia Oct. 4-6 and Riyadh Oct. 31-Nov. 3. All have $1 million purses put up by PIF.

They’re all part of LET’s 46th season, one which includes 31 events held in 20 countries.

Feather Sound got all spruced up for the arrival of the LET’s unique team event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida Swing will give the PGA Tour a refreshing change

Tournament director Tracy West is excited about the next Valspar Championshp, which tees off on the Coppehead course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, FL., on  March 21. (Joy Sarver Photos)

PALM HARBOR, FL. – The first two months of the PGA Tour season were marred by unusually bad weather in California and an overly exuberant crowd in Phoenix.  Now – as soon as the last putt drops at the Mexico Open — it’s time to welcome the Florida Swing.

The Sunshine State takes over the month of March, with only one round in the four Florida tournaments played in February.  The first one, on Feb. 29, marks the debut of the Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches at PGA National, in Palm Beach Gardens.

That tourney’s name change might be a problem.  Since 1982 the tourney was known as the Honda Classic, and it was the PGA Tour’s long-running uninterrupted title sponsorship until it ended last year.

Since 2007 the Honda was played on the Jack Nicklaus-designed Champions course at PGA National.  It has a three-hole stretch of back nine holes dubbed the Bear Trap. They were tough, and still are.  The Cognizant Classic will be played on the same course but without the field problems the Honda had in recent years.

Even though nearby Jupiter is home for many PGA Tour stars, those players were reluctant to relish a rare home game after all that travel  on the West Coast. Weak fields became a problem, but this time Jupiter residents Daniel Berger and Shane Lowry were among the first entrants in the Cognizant Classic, and other early signups included 2022 U.S. Open champion Matthew Fitzpatrick, Justin Rose and U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson. Chris Kirk is the defending champion.

After the Cognizant Classic’s debut comes two biggies – the March 7-10 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando and the March 14-17 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass  in Ponte Vedra.  The API is the fourth of the PGA Tour’s eight signature events of 2024 and carries a $20 million purse.  The Players, at $25 million, is even bigger.  There won’t be any problem getting strong fields at those places, and the Valspar Championship – the climax to the Florida Swing on March 21-24 – apparently won’t have a problem, either.

Taylor Moore told a Media Day gathering what it was like to win the Valspar Championship.

Valspar’s $8.4 million purse is the smallest on the Florida Swing but the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor is universally popular with the players. Valspar tournament director Tracy West included a field list at last week’s Media Day and it included Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay,  Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth and Will Zalatoris. They could hardly be considered Valspar regulars. Two-time winner Sam Burns, Tommy Fleetwood, Sepp Straka, Sahith Theegala  and Gary Woodland are also in the field.

The defending Valspar champion, Taylor Moore, was on hand for the Media Day and he wanted no part of questions about the controversial LIV Tour.  There certainly was no need for discussions on that, given how West and her staff have positioned the paint company sponsored event as “the most colorful PGA tournament in the world.’’

“There’s been a lot of noise around golf these days, but none of that matters,’’ said former football star Ronde Barber, in his third year as Valspar’s general chairman. “We’re trying to put on a great golf tournament, and we’ve got 19 out of the world’s top 50 despite all that’s been going on.’’

“A terrific year is shaping up, and we’re excited about our field, but our product is more than that,’’ said West.

In December the Valspar was named the “Fan-First PGA Tournament of the Year’’ and this year’s event is building on that with a load of special features.

A 5-kilometer run, expected to draw about 700 participants, will kick off the festivities on March 17.  In addition to the pro-ams at Copperhead a new celebrity  pro-am will be played at the Pelican course in Belleair on Tuesday and a concert by country singer Cole Swindell will follow Saturday’s round.

A double-decker skybox has been added at Copperhead’s 18th green, a new golf shop just opened and a special ticket will be offered for those wanting to visit the soon-to-be re-opened Packard’s Steakhouse following a major renovation.

And, again, the Valspar is the only tournament granted special privileges by the PGA Tour.  Players can substitute their nicknames on the caddie bibs and bring a guest of their choice inside the ropes during tournament play.

In short, the PGA Tour will have a refreshing change when it returns to Florida.

One way the Valspar shows it is the PGA’s most colorful tournament is in the decorating of the parking spots for its past champions. This one is for defending champion Taylor Moore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIV tour is off to a good start after its first two tournaments

With the LIV Golf League venturing outside of the United States for the first time this season, it’s a good time to reflect on what’s happening with this controversial circuit.

LIV has had events in Mexico and Las Vegas.  Both certainly fared well going head-to-head with PGA Tour stops, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Pebble was devastated by bad weather, the event being reduced to 54 holes  (just like LIV’s Mayakoba event).  A format change – reduced fields for both the pros and amateurs – didn’t help Pebble, either. The event lost the flavor it had built up over the years when Bing Crosby’s Clambake drew all the top pros and many of the best celebrity/amateur players.

Weather was a problem for the PGA Tour in Phoenix, too, but there was a more serious issue there.  The tournament announced attendance at nearly 250,000, which would be a record for any golf event, but the raucous behavior of many of those spectators were an embarrassment to the game in general.  Not even the players were reluctant to criticizing their own fans. This is a problem that must be addressed before the tourney is held in 2025.

Now on to LIV.  Tournament No. 3 of this year’s 14 events is March 1-3 in Jeddah – at the Royal Greens in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. No. 4 is the following week, March 8-10 in Hong Kong.

The competition was great at both Mayakoba and the Las Vegas Country Club. In Mexico it ended with a four-hole playoff in which Joaquin Niemann beat Sergio Garcia for the individual title. In Las Vegas another playoff seemed inevitable with six players tied for the lead late in the final round.  Extra holes weren’t needed, though, as Dustin Johnson became the first player to claim wins in each of the three seasons LIV has had events. No one could keep up with DJ playing more like he did in the first LIV season rather than the second.

What I’ll take away the most from the two tournaments, though, shifts to the team competition.  How could a team put together at the last minute – Jon Rahm’s Legion XIII – win in Mexico? And, how could Brooks Koepka’s revamped Smash GC squad romp in Las Vegas?

Actually, the issue isn’t so much how Smash won but rather how Koepka worked magic with his roster.  How do you wangle Talor Gooch, the best LIV player in 2023, from Bubba Watson’s RangeGoats?  That’s the biggest question of the day, but it was also a stroke of genius for Koepka to sign Graeme McDowell, a former U.S. Open champion who played for the Cleeks in Season 2, as a free agent.

Koepka had his under-achieving brother Chase and Matthew Wolff on his roster last season, with Jason Kokrak filling out the team. Smash was a seven-shot winner over Johnson’s 4Aces in Las Vegas.

Without saying how he did it, Koepka wasn’t surprised that his rebuilt team did well.

“That was the plan,’’ he said. “To bring in two guys with experience, that know how to win and to be in this situation where I feel we’re competing every week.’’

I’ve been big on the team concept since LIV’s creation, and the change to have all four players on each team count in the team score on the final day was a wise move.  The team competition still needs to get a bigger spotlight in each tournament, though.  Team play makes LIV unique among the other pro tours.

Bryson DeChambeau’s Crushers won the team title in 2023 but weren’t much of a factor in the first two tournaments of 2024. They will be, though, and that could trigger another level of interest.  Koepka and DeChambeau never were buddies on the PGA Tour.  Having their teams in head-to-head battles could produce some sparks, and there’d by nothing wrong with that.

LIV won’t play again in the U.S. until the week before the Masters.  The fledgling circuit gathers April 5-7 at Trump National Doral, in Florida, before more distant competitions in Australia and Singapore close out the first half of the season.

 

 

LIV’s season-opening tournament was eye-catching.

The controversial LIV Golf League has only 14 tournaments in its third season, but the first one of 2024 couldn’t have gone any better for the fledgling circuit.

LIV’s debut in Mexico went head-to-head with the PGA Tour’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which underwent a major format change, was elevated to a “signature’’ event for the first time and couldn’t shake its history of challenging weather.

Both events featured great individual rounds.  Joaquin Niemann shot 59 – the second sub-60 round in LIV history — in the first round at Mayakoba,  a former PGA Tour tournament site. Reigning U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark set the Pebble Beach course record with a 60 in the third round in California.  Both won on Sunday, but there the similarity ends.

LIV had all the drama, as Clark didn’t hit another shot. A threatening weather forecast led PGA Tour officials to eliminate Sunday’s final round, so both events were 54-hole tests this time. LIV had Sunday television time all to itself. Most of the national golf media didn’t take much note of it, focusing more on the travails at Pebble Beach, but the ones that did missed out on an extraordinarily captivating wrapup in Mexico.

Niemann, a 25-year old from Chile, had a particularly interesting Sunday.  After arriving at the course he was told by tournament officials that he had been assessed a two-stroke penalty for taking an “improper’’ drop the day before.  Niemann was entitled to a drop when his ball stopped on a cart path, but he took two club lengths of relief and was entitled to only one.

That turned his Saturday 70 to a 72 and tightened up the individual race considerably.  It brought several other players, most notably Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm, into contention. Reigning Masters champion Rahm was LIV’s major roster acquisition in the offseason and he didn’t disappoint.

Rahm made five birdies in his first seven holes on Friday but couldn’t keep up with Niemann. He got close again on Sunday before finishing bogey-bogey but did have some consolation.  His new Legion XIII team, put together less than a week before the tournament, captured the team title. Team victories are celebrated in style at LIV events.

In a format change LIV counts three scores per team in the first two days of a tournament and all four in the final round.  Rahm’s 70 was the highest final round score on his team as Tyrrell Hatton shot 64, Kieran Vincent 69 and Caleb Surratt 67.  Surratt, 19, was a story by  himself.  He was playing in his first professional tournament after leaving his dormitory room at the University of Tennessee just a few days ago.

The PGA and DP World tours don’t have team competition, but Rahm bought into it in his first LIV start.

“It was very nice in a day in which in any normal tournament I would have been upset at my finish to actually have something to celebrate,’’ said Rahm.  “This is one of the reasons why I decided to transition.’’

What was “normal’’ for Rahm is no longer normal on the LIV circuit, and neither was Sunday’s individual battle.

Niemann and Garcia wound up in a playoff for the title, and that created a story worth telling.  Garcia, 43, was Niemann’s boyhood hero. Only 25, Niemann is going to be a prominent player in the game – and not just on the LIV circuit.  Late last year he won the Australian Open, and that earned him a place on the DP World Tour.  Membership on that circuit gave him a place in the Dubai Desert Classic two weeks ago, and he finished fourth there.

Though the now Official World Golf Rankings still haven’t adequately recognized good play by LIV members, Niemann is now eligible for the British Open and will probably get into the PGA Championship as well.

Winning $4 million at Mayakoba was nice, but the way he did it will be hard to forget by anyone with even a passing interest in professional golf.  The playoff with Garcia went on until daylight was gone and only the light of the 18th hole scoreboard was available to keep it going.

Niemann and Garcia made pars on the first three playoff holes, all on No. 18.  Faced with the option of returning on Monday, they agreed to play it one more time even in what Niemann called “super darkness.’’  Niemann won it with a birdie putt from the back of the green.

Now the LIV players are headed for their second tournament in Las Vegas and the PGA Tour goes to one of its most fun stops – the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Both will be hard to match the excitement produced at Mayakoba.

 

 

 

Langer’s injury puts a damper on the Chubb Classic

 

Bernhard Langer’s posted an historic victory at the Chubb Classic in 2023 but an injury will keep him out of this year’s event at Tiburon. (Joy Sarver Photos)

 

OCALA, FL. – Bernhard Langer, appropriately enough, has always been the focal point of the upcoming Chubb Classic but now – due an unfortunate circumstance – it’s for the wrong reason.

Langer tied Hale Irwin’s record for PGA Tour Champions wins with his 46th at last year’s Chubb event, a tournament he has won five times.  This year he was poised to tie another Irwin mark, for victories in the same event on the 50-and over circuit.

That possibility evaporated on Friday when Langer revealed he had suffered a torn Achilles tendon in a Thursday practice session in Boca Raton. He had surgery on Friday.

“It will cause me to miss time playing competitive golf as I recover,’’ Langer said in a statement.  “Throughout my career, faith and family have been my bedrocks, providing me strength and guiding me through difficult times.  I will lean on both again as I work towards a return to competition. I look forward to seeing the fans and my fellow competitors back on the course soon.’’

How soon is yet to be determined, but no doubt he’ll be missed when the Chubb returns to Tiburon in Naples, FL.  That’s where he won last season to tie Irwin’s career win record on the Champions circuit with his 45th victory.  He passed Irwin with another win at the U.S. Senior Open in July.

Had Langer been able to pull off a three-peat at Tiburon he would have tied Irwin’s mark with six victories in the same event.  Irwin won six times at Hawaii’s Turtle Run Resort from 1997 to 2005.

With Langer now on the mend, it’s time to wonder if his record of 46 victories on the 50-and-over circuit will ever be broken.  Not many records in golf have seemed as insurmountable as that one, but Steve Stricker is 10 years younger and lurking – at least sort of.

Stricker turns 57 the week after the 37th playing of a Champions Tour event in Naples. The Chubb, which is Feb. 16-18 on Tiburon’s Black Course, is the longest-running title sponsor on PGA Tour Champions.

Now 66, Langer has lived in Boca Raton – near Naples – for 40 years. He’s used to the Bermuda grasses and grainy greens of that area and was particularly disappointed to miss an event at Tiburon.

“It feels like a home game to me,’’ he said. “and I’ve played some of my best golf in the Naples area.’’

But, like all of us, Langer is getting older.  Earlier this year he announced that he’ll be making his final competitive appearance  at the Masters in April. Whether he’ll be recovered in time to play at Augusta National is uncertain.

The first PGA Tour Champions event of the season didn’t find Langer at his best.  He tied for 22nd in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii, where Steven Alker won. Langer dismissed that showing for good reasons.

“I felt rusty,’’ he said. “They also changed that golf course.  It’s almost the opposite from Tiburon.  It’s wide open.  There’s no rough at all.  There’s very little punishment if you spray it, and the bombers have a huge advantage.’’

Langer was also still shaking off the death of his mother, who was 100 and living in Germany at the time of her passing.

“We traveled to Germany for a couple of weeks and no golf, obviously.  There was snow and cold weather,’’ he said.

Now, back to the possibility of his Champions Tour win record withstanding the tests of time.  Irwin, now 78, won’t be a factor because he rarely competes any more. His last win was in 2007.

The leading candidate to chase down Langer now is Steve Stricker, who won six times in 16 starts in 2023 and has 17 career victories on the 50-and-over circuit.  He’s coming off a third-place finish in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship.

Stricker’s task is a daunting one.  He got his 17 wins in 64 Champions starts.  Irwin needed 481 to win 45 times.  Langer’s 46 came in 341 tournaments. To pass Langer’s present total Stricker would have to average six wins a season for the next five campaigns.

At this point Stricker’s not motivated by catching Langer.

“My family’s into golf,’’ he said.  “My wife caddies and plays a lot.  My kids are big golfers, and they’ve been on the bag, so it’s been a family affair.  If it wasn’t that way I don’t know if I’d be out there.’’

Langer was considering a reduction in his tournaments, from 25 a season to maybe as few as 20 even before the Achilles injury. Some courses, Augusta National being one, have changed a lot and don’t suit Langer’s game as well as they had in the past. He still has playing goals, however.

“My overall goal has always been to get better,’’ he said. “If I can achieve that I am confident I will have a chance to win more tournaments.’’

The Chubb Classic will have 78 players competing for $1.8 million. They include Davis Love III, making his tournament debut; Hall of Famer Colin Montgomerie and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Padraig Harrington; two former world No. 1s in David Duval and Tom Lehman and six past Chubb champions. Among them is Stricker, who won the title in 2021 and is a former Naples resident.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the most interesting products from the PGA Show

Gary DiSalvo shows how Poptical sunglasses can benefit golfers. (Joy Sarver Photos)

ORLANDO, FL. – Every year it’s the same thing – only different.

The 71st PGA Show again showcased the newest of the new in golf gear and attire. There were more than 1,000 companies and brands to entice the approximately 30,000 industry members who gathered at Orange County National Golf Center, for the traditional Demo Day, and the Orange County Convention Center for three days of indoor browsing.

This massive gathering began with merchandisers showing their wares from the trunks of cars in 1954 and grew into one that had representatives from 84 countries and all 50 states this year.  More than 7,000 PGA professionals attended this year’s gathering, and they’ll be bringing much of what they saw to their shops and stores back home.

That should intrigue the reported 41.1 million Americans who play golf and create a $22.6 billion total economic impact in America.

It’s not easy to wade through the lines of exhibits at the OCCC, where each day began with traffic nightmares for attendees trying to find parking spots.  It was all worthwhile once they got inside, however. The products were diverse and – in most cases – worthwhile additions to American golf consumers.

Enough said for the scene-setting.  Let’s get to the good stuff, and there was a lot of that. Interestingly much of it was brand new to the show, and organizers made a well-received change in how the newbies were displayed.  The New Products section was expanded and easier to walk through. It was a busy place and included some items judged – by me at least – as the most interesting at the overall show.

Whether they work is up to the golfers who try them.  Golf’s an individual sport and some things work better for some than others. We stayed clear of the major equipment companies for this report because they have their own promotional styles, but these are worthy of your attention, too.

Two of the most eye-catching products are the PGA Show were the Omnix golf bags (left) and LagMaster training aid.

 

MY MOST INTERESTING PGA SHOW PRODUCTS

 

1, POPTICALS – This is a sunglass company with its products hand-made in Italy.   What’s intriguing here is that the company makes sunglasses designed specifically  for various sports and needs.

“Our most popular is our golf line,’’ said Gary DiSalvo, chief executive officer for the company’s headquarters in Ellisville, Mo.  “These glasses are specifically made for golf. ”

The violet-tinted lens accentuate the contour of the greens on the course.

DiSalvo says the difference in viewing will be immediate.

“As soon as you put on a pair on a golf course you’ll notice something different.  You’ll see different shades of green and that’ll help in putting,’’ he said.  “You’ll be able to tell the levels of the green and whether your putt is uphill or downhill. The second you put these glasses on they’ll show miniscule differences in the grass — the elevation changes and where the break in your putt might be.’’

The golf sunglasses, listed on the Popticals website at $143, are collapsible for storage. Dr. Craig Farnsworth, “The Putt Doctor,” endorsed the product, and he works with the likes Dustin Johnson and Nick Faldo.

2, PERFECT HANDS GOLF – Training devices abound at all PGA Shows, but this one was billed as “the world’s first ever swing and strength trainer.’’ It’s equipped with a belt, four accleration bands that come in 10-, 20-, 30- and 40-pound increments, gloves for both hands and a carry case.

If used as suggested, this device is said to help a player both get his swing on plane and increase his strength and range of motion.  In short, Perfect Hands can develop proper technique and increase swing speed. The listed website price is $199.99.

Chicago-based Zero Friction’s last creation is the Stride, and it comes in a variety of colors.

3, WHEEL PRO STRIDE – This electric bag trolley, is the newest innovation by Chicago-based Zero Friction, one of the most active creators of new golf products in recent years.  The Stride is an offshoot of the Wheel Pro, which was part of the 2023 show, and the Stride was a winner in the International Network of Golf’s  Industry Honors at this year’s show.

The Stride’s 35-pound bag has a pocket-sized remote control that uses Smart  Technology to follow within three feet of the golfer. It’s a versatile product, though, as you can push it, carry it or put it on a cart.

It comes with an umbrella holder, a cooler that can hold up to six cans or bottles, two invisible magnets to secure a rangefinder or Bluetooth speaker and a built-in USB port.  Its price at the PGA Show was $2,499.

4, OMNIX BAGS – This company specializes in customizing bags, and some of its creations were the most eye-catching items at the show. They had an interchangeable outer shell, seven multiple pockets, 14-way club dividers – and, most importantly, a distinctive appearance. The company calls it “revolutionary’’ with its combination of advanced technology, functionality and edgy style.

The models that caught my eye the most were mostly in the company’s Rainbow Series.  The Black Vodka and Sex on the Beach models in that series are both priced at $540.

“Omnix bags will illuminate the course and feed free spirits,’’ according to the company’s website. No argument there.

Want a beer on the course? Chris Hurry might be able to help you with his Zigit Dispenser.

5, ZIGIT BEER AND DRINK DISPENSER – This one could be controversial because it might involve dispensing alcoholic beverages on golf courses.  The Phoenix-based company has it in operation at, among other places, the American Airlines Center in Dallas  and wants to make inroads into the golf community

“We’re targeting golfers because they could use it year-around,’’ said Zigit’s Chris Hurry.

Zigits can serve beverages on the course, but the choice of which ones is up to the course owners. They’ll decide what beverages are offered, but Zigit has technology that can screen out under-age buyers and limit the alcoholic daily intake of others.

6, RIMAC BALL TESTER – Golfers want to know the compression of their golf balls to ensure they’re all the same.  This  machine, patterned after one used in the auto industry starting in 1930, can do this.

Rimac isn’t just a clever tool.  It reveals the precise compression of each ball far beyond the vague labels like “firm,’’ “soft,’’ “softer’’ or “soft feel.’’

Understanding compression enables golfers to select balls more knowledgeably and find the best-suited ball for their style of play. The company’s website lists the price at $1,495.

Alcide Deschesnes’ One Club trainer  can also double as a warmup tool.

7, ONE CLUB TRAINING DEVICE – This One is engineered to enhance a golfer’s swing mechanics and engrains the correct neuromuscular paths for swing consistency. Thanks to technology it provides instantaneous tactile, audible and sensory feedback.

Alcide Deschesnes, a Canadian-born mechanical engineer, was an outstanding athlete in multiple sports. He developed the One Club and sells it with a training guide designed to increase golfers’ swing speeds.

“It’s more than a weighted club,’’ said Deschesnes.  “It combines the principles of dynamic inertia resistance with instant feedback and can be used as an exercise tool.’’ It retails for $197.98.

8, TOWELTAG – A Canadian company, TowelTag  manufactures popular golf towels, I have two versions on my bags, one customizes a radio show and the other a golf organization. The company’s product that intrigues me this year is a ball marker that can help golfers draw straight lines on their balls for identification purposes but is more valuable after play begins.

“It can be used as an alignment tool,’’ said Craig Holub, who labels himself as TowelTag’s “founder and visionary.’’

The ball marker comes with a dial that can help line up putts, be it on the putting green before a round or on the course. Listed price at the PGA Show was $19.99.

9, LAGMASTER – Another training aid, this one looks like the drain pipe under your kitchen sink. Mike Dickson is the founder and believes it can accomplish big things for golfers who use it.

The Lagmaster is said to “teach movement that gets the body, arms, hands and club synced correctly and trains the power swing, weight shift, sequence, low point and finish.’’

And, according to promotional material, “it keeps it simple.’’ You’ve got to see it and use it to believe it.  Cost is $119.99.

10, ZOOM BREEZE – This product is the golf version of the Zoom Broom — a name that I love because it has a nice ring to it. It’s also fun to use.  On a windy day it can be a ball-saver.  Turn the battery-powered gadget on, and the leaves get out of your way.

It weighs only two pounds, fits in a golf bag and the sound it makes – according to creator Randy Kuckuck – isn’t a negative.“In a room it’s a little noisy, but on a wide open course it isn’t bad,’’ Kuckuck said.

Kuckuck, a Michigan State alum, got the idea for the Zoom Broom after a few of his rounds as a retiree were negatively impacted by too many leaves. The Zoom Broom can also be used around the house and is priced at $189. The golf-specific version is $179.

Randy Kuckuck’s Zoom Broom and Zoom Breeze can eliminate leaves as a problem for golfers.

 

PGA Show, tournaments put Orlando in the golf spotlight

ORLANDO, FL. – PGA Tour Champions opens its season in Hawaii and the PGA Tour has shifted its events to California, but — for the next couple weeks, at least — Orlando is where most of the action is in professional golf.

The Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions – first event of the Ladies PGA Tour season – tees off on Thursday at Lake Nona.  The Golf Writers Association of America Championship starts its two-day run on Sunday at recently renamed Mission Resort and Club (formerly Mission Inn).  The 71st  PGA Merchandise Show begins with a Demo Day on Tuesday at Orange County National and then moves to the Orange County Convention Center for three more days.

After that flurry of activity the LPGA begins its regular season just a few miles away, with the Drive On Championship at a new site, Bradenton Country Club.

The LPGA’s Tournament of Champions, in its sixth staging, starts it all with an event that includes celebrities, but Canadian Brooke Henderson dominated last year with a wire-to-wire four-stroke victory.

Legendary Annika Sorenstam, a Lake Nona member who can still play with the best women, will be competing in the celebrity division. The 72-hole no-cut event has a record 36 LPGA players competing. Only those who won tournaments in the last two years get invitations.

“We’re really, really excited,’’ said tournament director Aaron Stewart, son of the late, great Payne Stewart. “We’re thrilled to have the Tour represented in a little deeper field (the previous high was 29), but that means there’s been a lot more first-time winners.’’

“Winning last year was a huge boost for my confidence,’’ said Henderson.  “This is a great way to start the season.  It’s an amazing atmosphere and a lot of fun.’’

Sorenstam has contended for the celebrity title in the past and entered several women’s senior events in recent years.  She’s not sure what her competitive schedule will be going forward, however.

“I’m going to take it week by week,’’ she said.  “I’m not playing the U.S. Open.  I’m not playing any LPGA events.  I’m not playing in the LET (Ladies European Tour).  Nothing like that.  If it’s a celebrity event, I appreciate the invites.’’

Now starting her 10th LPGA season Henderson changed virtually all her clubs in the last two months and continues to struggle with a thumb problem that has hampered her off and on since 2017. A bad omen for her is that none of the previous Tournament of Champions winners won any tournament in the following year.

The PGA Merchandise Show has recovered from a few lean years caused by the pandemic.  The industry-only event is being held for the 71st time with a staggering array of new equipment and apparel. Over 1,000 brands of golf and golf  lifestyle products will be on display.

Rather than analyze the newest products I’ve decided to take the easy way out and play the name game. Catchy names are nothing new in the golf industry, and this year’s best are the Zoom Broom, a fun-to-use product that is used to blow leaves away from hard-to-find golf balls, and the Caddy Daddy, a cart bag.

After all that the LPGA will hold its first regular season event at the Bradenton Country Club’s Donald Ross-designed course.  The club is celebrating its 100th anniversary and the LPGA player turnout is excellent.

Lilia Vu, Ruoning Yin and Celine Boutier – the top three players in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings – will be there.  So will 31 players who competed in the 2020 Olympics including all three medal winners – Nelly Korda (gold), Mone Inami (silver) and Lydia Ko (bronze).

Inami won the Japan Classic on the LPGA Tour last year but didn’t immediately turn pro.  She made her official LPGA debut at Lake Nona.

 

 

 

 

LPGA retains Tournament of Champions theme in its opener

Brooke Henderson did the celebrating at Lake Nona in 2023. (Joy Sarver Photos)

The PGA Tour no longer starts its season with a Tournament of Champions.  The field at last week’s Sentry event in Hawaii, for better or worse, was dominated by players who got in by finishing in the top-50 finish in last year’s FedEx Cup.

The LPGA, though, will again celebrate its recent winners at its season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona, in Orlando FL. It’ll have a January 18-21 run, which makes it a convenient lead-in to the nearby PGA Merchandise Show at the Orange County Convention Center.

While the women have preserved the Tournament of Champions concept by inviting the winners of its tournaments over the last two years, they must share the attention and tee times with celebrities and amateurs who come from the worlds of music, entertainment and sports.

The LPGA stars play for a $1.5 million purse – official prize money — over 72 holes and the celebrities and amateurs compete in a separate competition using a modified Stableford scoring system. The event will be televised nationally on The Golf Channel and NBC.

Admittedly using two formats in one event is unusual, but this one works given its spot on the schedule.  The LPGA debuted this format in 2019 and the celebrity/amateur division has been dominated by baseball standout John Smoltz and Mardy Fish, a one-time professional tennis player. That division has a $500,000 purse and supplements – without distracting from – the LPGA competition.

The preliminary entries included 35 LPGA players, among them a solid contingent of the circuit’s top stars, and about 50 celebrity/amateurs are also expected to compete.  LPGA players include Canadian Brooke Henderson, the defending champion; 2023 Rolex Player of the Year Lilia Vu, Olympic champion Nelly Korda and New Zealand’s Lydia Ko.

They’ll be in competitive mode, with the regular season beginning Jan. 25 with the Drive In Championship at another Florida course, Bradenton Country Club.

While the now gone PGA Tour’s Tournament of Champions was a long-time fixture for the men, the LPGA’s version didn’t start until 2019.  It was first held at Four Seasons in Lake Buena Vista before moving to Lake Nona in 2022.

Lake Nona is the home course of LPGA legend Annika Sorenson, and she has been a competitor in the competition in the past as a celebrity. Her foundation will be the prime beneficiary of this year’s tournament.

Henderson led wire-to-wire last year, finishing with a four-stroke edge on runner-ups Charley Hull of England and Maja Stark of Sweden.  Fish won the celebrity division for the third time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McIlroy is changing his tune as Sentry opens PGA Tour season

The first event on the pro golf tours teed off at The Sentry tournament in Hawaii, on Thursday. Formerly the PGA Tour’s Tournament of Champions, it had a new format, with 35 winners on the PGA Tour in 2023 and the top 50 in the 2023 FedEx Cup Playoffs eligible to compete.

It’s a good thing that the FedEx Cup stars were included, because otherwise two top players — Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele — wouldn’t be there.  They didn’t win tournaments in 2023.  Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy did, but they weren’t in The Sentry field either.

Rahm’s title defense was ruled out because the PGA Tour suspended him for signing with the LIV Tour.  McIlroy, who has called himself “not much of a Hawaii guy,’’ opted to start his season with three events on the DP World Tour.

That left The Sentry, with a $20 million purse, offering a field of 59 players.  Sixty were invited, but only McIlroy opted out. His comments in the days leading up to the start of the 2024 campaign was eye-opening, though.  Once the most outspoken critic of the LIV circuit, McIlroy made an almost complete reversal. Not only did he admit being “too judgmental’’ in his earlier views of players who joined the Saudi circuit, he came out critical of the PGA Tour that he so consistently defended in 2023.

“What LIV and the Saudis have done is expose the flaws in the system,’’ said McIlroy. “We’re all (PGA Tour players) supposed to be independent contractors and we can pick and choose what tournaments we want to play. What LIV and the Saudis exposed is that, if you’re going on a tour, you’re asking sponsors for millions of dollars to sponsor these events and you’re not able to guarantee that the players are  going to show up.  I can’t believe the PGA Tour has done so well for so long.  If we’re going to ask these people for so much money we need to be able to guarantee to them what they’re getting.’’

Viktor Hovland, the FedEx Cup  champion, and Ernie Els, the long-time star now competing on PGA Tour Champions, were also among those openly critical of the PGA Tour management as the new season closed in.

An agreement PGA Tour, LIV and DP World Tour leaders by December 31 was proposed, but that deadline came and went. Now the hope is that an agreement will be reached before The Players Championship so the ugly negotiations don’t negatively affect April’s Masters.

Not a great way to start a season, is it?

LIV players won’t hit a ball until their season begins in Mexico on Feb. 2. They have problems, too, but they’re different.  The signing of Rahm was huge for the fledgling circuit, but created a dilemma in its tournament format.

Rahm is supposed to captain the 13th team, but he has no players. As a 12-team circuit last year LIV had a workable 48 players in each tournament.  With a Rahm team added that won’t work. We’ll see how that problem gets solved – if indeed it does.

The other pro tours are comparatively quiet with their season openers closing in.  The LPGA has its Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions running Jan. 18-21 at Lake Nona, in Florida.  The top women players – headed by defending champion Brooke Henderson — share the spotlight with celebrities in that one,  a prelude to the regular season start at the Jan. 25-28 Drive On Championship.

Also a Florida stop, the Drive On is helping Bradenton Country Club celebrate its centennial.  Bradenton is Nelly Korda’s hometown and the club members include Hollis Stacy, an 18-time winner on the LPGA tour, and Paul Azinger. The course was designed by Donald Ross, restored by Ron Garl in 1999 and renovated by Tony Jacklin in 2018.

PGA Tour Champions tees off Jan. 18-20 at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, also in Hawaii.  It’ll be the tourney’s 28th staging with 42 legends in the field.  Steve Stricker, who won six times last season on the 50 and over circuit, is the defending champion.

The Korn Ferry Tour gets going with two January tournaments in the Bahamas.  The first is the Great Exuma Classic Jan. 14-17. The Epson Tour, for the up-and-coming women players with LPGA aspirations, hasn’t announced its schedule yet.