Michael Greller Made Almost as Much Cash as Phil Mickelson in 2015

caddieWe know it’s excellent to be Jordan Spieth, but it’s pretty good to be his caddie, too.

The 22-year-old Spieth earned his age in money (just over $22 million) on the PGA Tour this season, shattering Vijay Singh’s previous yearly record of $10.91 million by taking home the Tour Championship and an $11.4 million prize Sunday. Spieth’s right-hand man, caddie Michael Greller, cashed in as well.

Back in July, we explored just how much Greller made for his much-appreciated expertise, advice and counseling up to the John Deere Classic. That figure, approximately $867,000, was more than 159 other PGA Tour members made up to that point.

Then came the British Open, the PGA Championship and the FedEx Cup Playoffs, which put Greller into a whole new stratosphere of high-earning caddies.

Typically, caddies receive 5 percent of a player’s earnings for making the cut, 7 percent for finishing top-10 and 10 percent for a win. So let’s break down the last few events that Spieth has done, well, very well at.

  • The Open Championship: T4, earned $460,377
  • WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: T10, earned $149,500
  • PGA Championship: 2nd, earned $1,080,000
  • The Barclays: CUT
  • Deutsche Bank Championship: CUT
  • BMW Championship: T13, earned $173,250
  • Tour Championship: 1st, earned $1,485,000 + $10 million FedEx Cup bonus

Assuming Greller earned the typical tip, he brought home $1,275,453 in just those last five events where he would be receiving a payout. Add that to his previous earnings up to the Open Championship, and he’s brought in a cool $2.14 million this year. Not bad for a caddie!

That squeezes Greller into a tight spot between Russell Henley ($2.11 million) and Phil Mickelson ($2.15 million), 39th on the 2015 PGA Tour money list — more than 220 other PGA Tour players. When you’re making almost as much as Lefty, you’re in a good spot.

We don’t know what kind of arrangement Spieth and Greller have, as most players and caddies have specific agreements and some could receive random bonuses (see Billy Horschel from last year). But judging by their close relationship, their contract is probably far from typical. And by the way they celebrate, it’s clear to everyone that Greller’s earned every penny.

courtesy of Marika Washchyshyn (golf.com)

Spieth Takes the Lead at East Lake, 1 Round Away From $10 million

Henrik Stenson gets a free drop on the first fairway due to course conditions in the rain during the third round of the Tour Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)  MARIETTA DAILY OUT; GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT; LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; WXIA-TV OUT; WGCL-TV OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

Henrik Stenson gets a free drop on the first fairway due to course conditions in the rain during the third round of the Tour Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Already with the best year in golf, Jordan Spieth is one round away from having the richest year in golf history.

Spieth battled his way through a tough, rainy Saturday at the Tour Championship and finally overtook Henrik Stenson with a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 2-under 68 and a one-shot lead. Spieth also had an 8-foot birdie and a 20-foot par over the closing four holes.

Stenson had a three-shot lead going to the back nine until back-to-back bogeys. He dropped one more shot on the 17th and had a 72, his first time over par at East Lake in seven rounds. It also was the first time he was not in the lead at the Tour Championship in his two appearances.

Spieth was at 8-under 202.

A victory Sunday would push Spieth over a record $12 million for the year, along with the $10 million bonus for winning the FedEx Cup.

As tough it was in the third round, the FedEx Cup finale might be even more difficult – if not because of the course, then the competition and what’s at stake.

Rickie Fowler shot a 31 on the back nine for a 67, the low score of the third round, and was four shots behind. Spieth, Stenson and Fowler are among the top five seeds in the FedEx Cup and only have to win the Tour Championship to capture the FedEx Cup.

Zach Johnson had a 71 and was five shots back. A victory would give him the FedEx Cup, provided Jason Day isn’t the runner-up. Day had a 70 and was tied for 10th.

Relatively quiet during the postseason, Spieth looks to be in mid-summer form.

He has made only two bogeys all week, and he has delivered four amazing par saves. He was four shots behind and in the front bunker on No. 8, a flat lie facing a steep hill, and he had resigned to make bogey. Stenson was about 10 feet away for birdie. Spieth picked it clean and got up-and-down from 5 feet, while Stenson missed.

Spieth also saved par with a long bunker shot on the par-3 second and on No. 5 with an up-and-down from 70 yards.

”I could have easily been 3 over through eight,” Spieth said.

The other big save was on the 16th, when Spieth blocked it so badly off the tee he called out, ”Holy, right!” It missed by a foot going into the bushes, he drilled a line drive through the pine trees to the first cut, hit wedge to 20 feet and holed it for par.

”A miracle save on 16,” Stenson called it.

Stenson had another day of ordinary ball-striking, normally his strength, but he managed it fine. The difficult part was a wet East Lake, which made the course feel like a beast. No hole was more difficult than the 520-yard fifth hole, a par 4 that only three players reached in two. Stenson it a pair of 3-woods and couldn’t get there. Spieth hammered a driver and a 3-wood and was still some 70 yards short of the flag.

Stenson hit a fairway metal on the 10th hole out of the rough, just through the green and down a slope, leading to bogey. He also three-putted the 11th when the final group was warned to pick up the pace.

”Kept it together fairly nicely and we’re still at the races,” Stenson said. ”I would have liked to have gone a few better, but we’re still up there and yeah, it’s all going to be decided tomorrow.”

Paul Casey had a 71 and was tied with Fowler at 4-under 206, while Rory McIlroy lost momentum with a double bogey on the 18th from a terrible lie around a bunker. That capped off a wild finish for McIlroy – four birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey over the last seven holes. It added to a 70, and he was five shots behind at 207.

Only nine players remained under par, a big contrast from the opening three FedEx Cup playoff events where the winners were a combined 56-under par.

And now it comes down to one last day in the season.

Spieth effectively put an end to any debate about PGA Tour player of the year, especially with Day struggling this week in his debut at No. 1. Spieth also is all but assured the Vardon Trophy. But there’s a bigger prize that’s worth more than $10 million.

Spieth said even before the postseason began that his goal was to peak at East Lake, much like he tried to get his game just right for the majors. Here he is, leading by one shot going into the final round on a course that he believes is easier to play in front because of the premium on par.

But he spent all day in the rain with Stenson, one of the power players in golf who won the last time he was at East Lake.

”I’m very pleased with where we stand going into tomorrow, and Henrik’s going to come back very strong,” Spieth said. ”This was his off day, and so I’m going to have to play even better.”

courtesy of AP NEWS

Jordan Spieth, Jason Day Highlight Tour Championship Tee Times

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

The 2014-15 PGA Tour season finale is here, and the tee times have been set based on current rank in the FedEx Cup standings. That means that arguably the two hottest players in golf–Jason Day and Jordan Spieth–are paired together for at least the first two rounds at East Lake.

The first group, off at 11:40 a.m. Thursday, consists of Louis Oosthuizen and Harris English. Among the other highlighted pairings are Rory McIlroy with Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler alongside Henrik Stenson. Hideki Matsuyama was slated to play with Jim Furyk, but he will now go solo after Furyk withdrew due to a wrist injury.

11:40 a.m.—Louis Oosthuizen, Harris English

11:50 a.m.—Kevin Na, Sangmoon Bae

12:00 p.m.—Brooks Koepka, Bill Haas

12:10 p.m.—Brandt Snedeker, Steven Bowditch

12:20 p.m.—Matt Kuchar, Paul Casey

12:30 p.m.—Danny Lee, Scott Piercy

12:40 p.m.—J.B. Holmes, Kevin Kisner

12:50 p.m.—Hideki Matsuyama, Jim Furyk (WD)

1:00 p.m.—Jimmy Walker, Robert Streb

1:10 p.m.—Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose

1:20 p.m.—Daniel Berger, Patrick Reed

1:30 p.m.—Dustin Johnson, Charley Hoffman

1:40 p.m.—Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson

1:50 p.m.—Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson

2:00 p.m.—Jason Day, Jordan Spieth

Rory McIlroy Has Already Lost His Grip on Golf’s Next Era

Rory2PGAThey don’t make eras like they used to.

This time last year the golf world was busy feting Rory McIlroy, who had established himself as the game’s undisputed boy king. McIlroy, now 26, was such a dominant force that the big question was whether any other young players would step up to challenge him, or if he’d run roughshod over the sport. We now know the answer.

What’s stunning about golf’s current state of affairs is how much McIlroy’s standing has been diminished. Even though he made a brief cameo atop the World Ranking a few weeks ago, he is plainly only the third-best player in the game right now. (Fowler loyalists might say Rory is only the fourth best, but we’re not gonna go there just yet.)

Jordan Spieth began altering the landscape by doing what McIlroy has famously been unable to — solve Augusta National. His win there, and at the dust bowl that was Chambers Bay, highlighted the primary difference between these two awesome talents: Spieth’s superiority around the greens, which allows him to conquer firm, fast setups. Such speedy conditions have never quite agreed with McIlroy, which is inconvenient given that the lords of Augusta, Far Hills and St. Andrews all strive to achieve them for their championships. (The dons of Palm Beach Gardens have reluctantly accepted that August is not ideal for pushing a golf course to the limit, especially given their predilection for hot-weather venues.)

There was a pleasing contrast in the budding Jordan-Rory rivalry: an intense scoring machine versus an insouciant ball-basher. But Jason Day has of late added a new wrinkle by putting like Spieth while driving it like McIlroy. Just when Jordanmania had taken hold, and it looked like this could be his era and not Rory’s, Day has arrived as a man in full. In his Sunday showdown with Spieth at the PGA Championship, the 27-year-old Aussie simply had more firepower. He’s been too injury-prone for anyone to declare this the beginning of the Day Era, but he’s certainly a tantalizing addition in the rarified air at the top of the World Ranking. Day also has the advantage of being more settled off the course. Marriage and kids, and all the associated complications, are likely in the future for both Spieth and McIlroy. Day, an old soul thanks to a hard-knock upbringing, has already mastered the juggling act of being a touring pro and doting dad and devoted hubby.

If we can assume that the relentless Spieth is going to keep doing more of what he’s been doing, the really interesting question is where McIlroy goes from here. While he is physically recovered from the worst-timed kickabout in golf history, mentally it looks like he’s just not that into it. The front-nine 40 on Friday at Augusta was dispiriting, but he rallied with a strong spring, taking the Match Play and then, lest we have all forgotten, waltzing to a seven-shot victory in Charlotte, thanks to a Saturday 61.

But McIlroy played indifferently at the U.S. Open and seemed just the tiniest bit offended at how quickly the golf world forgot about him, as Spieth chased the Grand Slam. Missing the British Open was the worst luck imaginable. A golfer gets only two or three chances to tackle the Old Course in his prime, and to spend this Open on his couch was surely wrenching for McIlroy. Since he’s returned to action, he’s been scratching around for his old confidence and a little bit of form. Both have been slow in coming. At the Deutsche Bank — where a Friday 74 ruined his chances at victory — McIlroy said he was taking the long view and that the ascension of Spieth and Day will only help him by forcing him to raise his game. “When [I’m] playing [my] best and everything sort of clicks together,” he said, “I don’t feel like there’s anyone that can beat me.”

That was surely true a year ago. Now? We shall see. McIlroy remains a preeminent talent, and there’s no doubting his drive to become one of the all-time greats. Yet this rough season has made it clear that, going forward, it won’t be quite so easy for him to own the game.

courtesy of Alan Shipnuck (golf.com)

Can Phil Mickelson Reclaim His Game at the Presidents Cup?

The Presidents Cup - Singles MatchesWhen Jay Haas used his final captain’s pick to add Phil Mickelson to the U.S. Presidents Cup team, he cited Mickelson’s vast experience in team events and the outpouring of support from other pros on the squad. Phil’s reputation and popularity may have been enough to punch his ticket to Korea next month, but can he recapture his old form when it counts?

Between 2004 and 2008, Mickelson won three major championships and nine other PGA Tour events, finishing in the top six in scoring average every season. During this peak from age 33 to 38, Phil was clearly one of the three best golfers in the world, and while he fell to 10th between 2009 to 2013, he still won two majors and six other tournaments over those five seasons and remained an obvious contributor to team competitions. But since his 2013 Open Championship victory, Mickelson hasn’t won a single event in 45 attempts and rarely finds himself in the hunt.

A good way to measure overall performance is to look at how often a golfer beats the field average by 15 or more strokes over the course of an event. Past research indicates that players win an average of roughly a third of tournaments in which they play that well. Between 2009 and 2013, Mickelson reached this elite level fifteen times on both the PGA and European Tours (about 13 percent of his starts). In 2014 and 2015, he only played that well twice in 40 events (about 5 percent of his starts) and both of those performances came in majors — at the 2014 PGA Championship and 2015 Masters.

Of course, this level of decline is not uncommon among golfers in their 40s, as the average player tends to lose one full stroke between ages 35 and 45. Mickelson’s scoring average has gone from 69.3 between 2004 to 2008 to 70.4 in 2014 and 2015. Thus, his decline with age has been exactly what we would expect based on the career trajectories of other golfers.

Phil%20Mickelson%20-%20Scoring%20Average

Also typical of most aging players, Mickelson’s decline has been concentrated in his long game (approach shots and drives). Based on Mark Broadie’s Strokes Gained stats from PGATour.com, Mickelson declined from +0.9 strokes gained per round on tee to green shots in 2009-11, to +0.7 strokes gained per round in 2012-13, to +0.4 strokes gained per round in 2014-15.

Mickelson’s touch with his irons and wedges has also failed him lately. The PGA Tour’s proximity to the hole stat measures how close, on average, each approach shot comes to the pin. Phil’s numbers have declined across every distance (wedges, short irons, and long irons) between 2009-13 and 2014-15. He struggles to control his approach shots more than he once did, resulting in fewer birdie opportunities and tougher two putts for par.

What’s worse, Mickelson’s ability to recover from drives into the rough, the talent that bolstered the legend of “Phil the Thrill,” has all but disappeared. In fact, in each of the last six seasons, his rank in proximity to the hole from the rough has been better than his rank in proximity to the hole from the fairway. But that magic seems to have escaped him this year, as he is now one of the PGA Tour’s worst players coming out of the rough. Simply fixing that part of his game might provide the spark he needs to be a positive contributor in Korea.

There are reasons for optimism. Evidence suggests that Mickelson can raise his game in the most important events. He has clearly reversed his poor career record in team events over the last three Presidents Cups and last three Ryder Cups — winning 16 points over 25 matches. He also remains one of the best at raising his play in major championships. Over the last eight seasons, only Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy have a better scoring average in majors than Mickelson.

He’ll have to rediscover that big-game magic in Korea, or his most important contributions will come in the clubhouse.

courtesy of Jake Nichols (golf.com)

Tiger Woods, Lydia Ko and Michelle Wie in This Week’s Heroes & Zeros

When Horace Rawlins won the inaugural U.S. Open, in 1895, we’re pretty sure no one pounded him on the back and said, “Congrats on your first major championship victory, old boy.” History shows it takes a long time for tournaments to be accorded that august status. The first little invitational in Augusta was held in 1934, but it wasn’t until the early ’60s, when Arnold Palmer and color TV arrived together, that the Masters became a big deal. So who GettyImage1

2. Silverado. A sleepy little season-opener is suddenly big-time with Tiger and Rory committing at the point of a bayonet. I’m already stocking up on pens, notebooks and bottle openers.

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3. Tiger. Pros are flocking to his new restaurant, and his mere presence at Sunday Night Football relegated Jordan Spieth to an afterthought. That’s star power, baby.

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4. Annie Park. With her third Symetra Tour win in nine starts this talented 20-year-old has punched her ticket to the LPGA. Golf’s youth movement goes on and on and on.

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5. Thomas Pieters. He earned his second victory in the span of three weeks on the Euro tour. Keep your eye on this 23-year-old Belgian for next year’s Ryder Cup. As if the European team isn’t stacked enough.

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Zeros

1. Lexi. Maybe no one was going to hold off Ko this time around, but Thompson’s chip-yipped double bogey on the 14th hole certainly made it easy on her callow challenger.

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2. The U.S. Walker Cup team. I know these guys look up to the pros, but do they have to play like it’s the Ryder Cup, too?

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3. The World Ranking. It might’ve just usurped the BCS rankings as sport’s most annoying algorithm.

PGA Championship - Round One

4. Michelle Wie. I’m a big fan, but you simply can’t sport aviator shades, high-top pink shoes and rainbow-colored hair and then go out and shoot 75.

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5. Presidents Cup outfits. Lucky golf fans, we now get to choose the clothes for day one of the competition, thanks to a just-unveiled PGA Tour promotion. I’m opting for a paper bag in a distressed-khaki color so I can wear it over my head in shame as I vote.

The Presidents Cup - Singles Matches

courtesy of Alan Shipnuck (golf.com)

This Isn’t the PGA Tour’s First Youth Movement — And It (Probably) Won’t Be the Last!

The biggest story in golf over the past few years has been the emergence of young stars – Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day, among others – to fill the void left by Tiger Woods’ decline. These 20-somethings are clearly dominating the game right now, having won six of the last eight major championships and claiming four of the top five spots in the latest Official World Ranking. In fact, Fowler’s win this week at the Deutsche Bank Championship marked the 22nd victory by a golfer in his 20s through 41 2015 PGA Tour events, eclipsing the total from 2014 with nine tournaments left on the schedule. In other words, 2015 could soon become known as the best season ever for golfers under 30.

But this recent surge of young stars is not the first time the Tour has been overtaken by a youth movement. Looking at the historical data, the last era dominated by 20-somethings stretched from 1950s to the early 1980s and was headlined at first by the rivalry between the original “Big Three” – Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Arnold Palmer – and later by the emergence of Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros. Nicklaus, Player, and Palmer combined for twelve major championship wins while in their twenties, Watson would add three more in the 1970s and Ballesteros won four between 1979 and 1984.

Prior to 2015, the last season to feature as many wins by under-30 golfers was 1974 (23), when Johnny Miller led the Tour with eight wins and Tom Watson won his first professional tournament.

Starting in 1960, golfers in their 20s have won an average of 32% of PGA Tour tournaments played in any given year. The chart below shows how young players have fared relative to that average, and what’s immediately clear is that 2015 marks a new high-point for 20-somethings, narrowly eclipsing the Nicklaus-Player spike of the 1960s and the Watson-Ballesteros-led bump in the 1970s.

Win_rate_under_30

But what this graph also shows is the extreme lack of success by golfers in their 20s in the 1990s and 2000s. Despite the unprecedented dominance of Tiger Woods at a young age (46 victories in his 20s), this era consistently lagged behind the 1960s and 1970s in terms of winners under 30. As is clear from the chart below, when judging by age alone, the so-called Tiger Woods era was also dominated by players in their 40s, when vets like Vijay Singh, Steve Stricker, and Kenny Perry all won at least nine PGA Tour events after hitting the Big 4-0.

Win_rate_over_40

What truly sets this current youth movement apart, however, is how broadly the success has been shared. Just six years into the decade, fifty different golfers in their 20s have won PGA Tour events (an average of more than eight different winners per season). Only the 1980s saw more different golfers under 30 win events. That suggests that the recent success of young players is less about an elite handful of superstars rising to the top and more about the overall emergence of several highly-skilled young players. For example, in the 1960s, Nicklaus was responsible for 17% of wins by golfers under 30 while Woods won 33% of those events between 1996 and 2005. Meanwhile, since 2010, McIlroy has accounted for just 11% of those victories.

The surge in young success is even more striking when you look at the majors. Thirteen major championships over the last six seasons have been won by golfers in their 20s (54%). That marks the largest youth winning percentage since a combination of 20-year olds like Nicklaus, Player, and others won 43 percent of the majors contested in the 1960s.

Majors_by_decade

And considering the sheer number of young players at the top of their games, it’s hard to imagine that percentage declining anytime soon. After all, ten of the top-25 players in the world are currently under 30, and others like Tony Finau, Justin Thomas, and Patrick Rodgers have already contended for PGA Tour wins as rookies. So while 2015 is the first season in more than 40 years that’s seen more than half of all Tour events won by golfers under 30, there’s no telling what 2016 will bring.

courtesy of Jake Nichols (golf.com)

Tiger Woods Watches U.S. Open Tennis Match With Daughter Sam

Tiger-TennisHaving failed to qualify for the PGA Tour’s season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs, Tiger Woods turned free time into family time, taking in a U.S. Open tennis match with his daughter Sam at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York Friday night.

Woods watched his fellow 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal’s wild third-round tilt against Fabio Fognini from Nadal’s family box. The Spaniard coughed up a two-set lead for the first time in his career, falling to the unheralded Italian in five sets.

Nadal’s early exit snapped his 10-year streak of winning at least one major title per season and brought his dreadful 2015 campaign to an end.

Woods didn’t fare any better this year. Struggling with a surgically repaired back and a swing change, Woods went winless in 2015 and missed the cut in the season’s final three majors.

He will tee it up next at the Frys.com Open, the first tournament of the wraparound 2015-2016 season, in October.

courtesy of Golf.com Staff

The 6 Coolest Pro-Ams in Golf

Bill-Murray-Pebble-Beach-Pro-Am-2

When the price tag includes a comma, it better be a special round of golf. The best pro-ams don’t just pair you with the world’s top players, they also shower you with perks. Here are a half dozen that are worth the price of admission.

ZURICH CLASSIC OF NEW ORLEANS
TPC Lousiana, Avondale, La.
Cost: $6,000

Forget Fat Tuesday. In Nawlins, they party hard on Wednesdays, too. Witness the festivities that unfold midweek at the Zurich Classic, when a host of marquee restaurants set up catering stations around the course, turning a friendly competition into a Creole feast. In 2011, between bites of beignets and crawfish etouffee, Tour pro Jerry Kelly set an unofficial record for oyster consumption, sucking back so many that the scorekeepers lost count. We’ll put you down for a dozen on the first hole, no matter how many shots you take.

HYUNDAI TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
Plantation Course, Kapalua Resort, Maui, Hawaii
Cost: $7,500

No chance of getting paired with a no-name pro. Not in a field that features 30 Tour winners from the previous season. Like them, you’ve earned the right to peg it in a 3-D postcard, with palm trees dancing in the foreground and humpbacks breaching in the blue beyond. From the first tee, a downhill par-4 with an ocean panoramic, the course unfolds like a tropical idyll. The tradewinds are blowing and there’s O.B. left. As if that matters. Titleist lost. Paradise found.

WASTE MANAGEMENT PHOENIX OPEN
TPC Stadium Course, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Cost: $11,000

Over the weekend, the tournament itself takes on the boozy vibe of a campus kegger. But the pro-am’s when you start getting on your buzz. Reach into your swag bag. Aside from Oakley sports sunglasses and Bose noise-cancelling headphones, you’ll find a whiskey flask and a bottle of Platinum Johnny Walker Scotch. Take a swig and soak up your surroundings. Even on a Wednesday, the grounds are crowded, and, this being Scottsdale, land of skimpy outfits and surgical enhancements, the people-watching is unsurpassed.

AT&T PEBBLE BEACH NATIONAL PRO-AM
Pebble Beach Golf Links, Monterey Peninsula CC, Spyglass Hill, Pebble Beach, Calif.
Cost: $18,500

You know you’ve made the A-list when you score an invite to the famous seaside shindig that Bing Crosby called the Clambake, a gathering of screen stars, athletes and entertainers on a stage as grand as any in the game. Like Jack Lemmon and Bob Hope before you, you’ll get to strut your stuff in front of sellout crowds at Pebble. Pressure? Nah. The throngs aren’t watching you. They’re eyeballing Bill Murray, whose loosey-goosey antics and deadpan interactions with the masses embody the event as it was meant to be.

GARY PLAYER INVITATIONAL
Wentworth, Surrey, England
Cost: $25,000

One week after the British Open, the Black Knight rifles through his Rolodex, and a host of headline names answer his call. Fowler, Couples, Westwood and Kaymer rank among the stars who’ve taken part in this fundraiser, which benefits a children’s charity. But it’s Player who really puts his stamp on the proceedings. The nine-time major winner kicks off the event with an intimate golf clinic, then mills about the course during the competition, hitting shots and trading stories with every group.

ALFRED DUNHILL LINKS CHAMPIONSHIP
St. Andrews, Scotland
Cost: Unknown

Teleport the Pebble pro-am across the pond and give it a windblown Scottish look, and you’d get something like this high-wattage event. Call it the AT&T in tweed. The format pits top pros with headline amateurs from sports and entertainment, such as Michael Phelps, Hugh Grant and Samuel L. Jackson. But the three-course rota might be the biggest star. After rounds on the Old Course, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, there’s a 54-hole cut. Then it’s back to St. Andrews for the finale. It’s an invitation-only affair (presumably for types who don’t shy away from five-figure entry fees), though in 2014 the tournament did put one playing spot up for auction on eBay.

courtesy of Josh Sens (golf.com)

Shane Lowry Throws His Name In The Ring For Best Irish Golfer

shane-loweryForget what the world rankings say, maybe we just discovered the new Best Irish Golfer on the Planet.

His name is Shane Lowry, he’s 28, he chips and putts like a young Craig Stadler (that’s a compliment) and has a similar waistline (not as much), he made clutch shot after clutch shot on the closing holes and won the Bridgestone Invitational here Sunday.

And, oh yeah, he beat that other kid, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, the No. 1 player in the world, in the World Match Play two years ago. It was such an upset at the time that Lowry’s mother cried on the phone when he called her.

Since McIlroy has been out with an ankle injury—he’ll try to play next week’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits—Lowry should rank as the best Irish-flavored player in the world, at least for the moment.

Lowry’s third win, his second as a pro to go with his Irish Open victory as an amateur, was the title that McIlroy wasn’t able to defend at Firestone Country Club’s South Course. That ought to make it extra-Irish special, right?

“I really don’t care who won last year,” Lowry said with a laugh. “I won it this year and that’s all that matters to me right now.”

Lowry was the only man to finish in double digits under par—he was 11-under and only five players finished better than five under par for four rounds at the mighty South Course. And he won the Bridgestone impressively, a closing 66 with no bogeys and outlasted the three major champions who were chasing him—Bubba Watson, Justin Rose and Jim Furyk.

This win was unexpected, obviously, maybe even as his approach shot was in the air on the 72nd hole. Lowry pulled his drive into the left rough but caught a good lie and had a window under a tree in front of him but then had to get his 141-yard approach over the trees guarding the left side of the green. Lowry jumped on a sand wedge, the ball appeared to rustle off a few leaves, then it landed pin high and stopped 11 feet from the cup. A bogey would have dropped him into a tie with Watson, who was in the clubhouse at 9-under.

Instead, Lowry rolled in a curvy right-to-left putt for the best 72nd-hole birdie in this tournament since Tiger Woods made that infamous birdie in the dark.

Runner-up Watson wasn’t sure whether to be impressed or chagrined. Asked what he remembered about next week’s PGA in 2010, Watson said, “I lost. At least I got into a playoff. Here, I didn’t even get into a playoff. Through the tree and make birdie!” He shook his head and grinned.

That was only half of it, Bubba. Lowry came up big throughout the final nine. At 17, nursing a one-stroke edge, his ball came to rest up against the deep edge of the rough just off the green, a finicky shot at best. He chipped to six feet, then holed the putt like he’s been doing it all his life, although the fist pump that followed told you how much it meant. “Yeah, that was massive,” he admitted later. Lowry hit a 6-iron pin-high at the par-3 15th for a smooth par, and at 14, he drove it in a fairway bunker, laid up and then drained a clutch 18-footer to save par.

He got up and down for par at the 13th, stiffed it from the greenside bunker to save par at the 11th and pulled off the runner-up shot of the week (next to his approach at 18) at the 10th. He yanked his drive into the left rough, then swung just about out of his shoes with a sand wedge and flew it over the trees guarding the green. He pulled the shot left a bit but when it landed just off the fringe, it kicked hard right, caught a slope and trickled to within two feet for a kick-in birdie.

Is this guy just lucky or is he good? Well, once is lucky. Twice is good.

“I couldn’t believe I was seeing the ball coming down from there on the green,” Lowry said of his miracle recovery at the 18th. “The ball was in a bit of a hole and I was trying to get it to the front right of the green, but I pulled it a little bit. Obviously, it went through the tree and the rest is history.”

He asked his caddie if he could two-putt and win and his caddie answered in the affirmative. Then Lowry dropped the putt for birdie and a two-shot edge, closing out Rose and Furyk, who were three shots back before they each bogeyed the 18th to tie for third. Rose and Furyk, who shared the 54-hole lead, shot 72s. Watson shot 66.

“I played as good a golf as I’ve ever played the last four days,” said Lowry, who got into the field by being ranked 48th in the world. “I managed to hole a few putts and get a bit of luck. To shoot 11 under on this course, this is one of the toughest courses we play. I thought eight under would probably win earlier this week. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

This is the second time Lowry won’t get full credit for a victory. He won the 2009 Irish Open as an amateur, a fantastic effort, but he saw runner-up Robert Rock collect the 500,000-pound first prize. Lowry’s mother, Bridget, picked up more than 15,000 pounds in winnings because she wagered on her son to win at 250-1 odds. “She had a nice check, more than me, anyway,” he said then.

Lowry snags $1.57 million for winning the Bridgestone, but because he was not a fully exempt PGA Tour player, he won’t collect FedEx Cup points for this victory. Lowry said he hopes to play both the PGA Tour and the European Tour now that he’s a member on the tours.

“The future looks OK as of now,” he said with a wide smile.

He’s planning to get married next year to his fiancé, Wendy. Asked if this is payday going to allow for a more extravagant wedding, he joked, “Wendy probably thinks that.” But no, he said, it won’t be a fancy wedding, just a nice Irish get-together with family and friends. Lowry said he is not interested in moving to America to live, as many European players have done. He’ll stay in his home country.

Lowry was two years older than McIlroy when they grew up and Rory, Lowry said, was playing in men’s events when he was still young and Lowry, as a late-bloomer, was still playing boy’s events. So their paths didn’t cross much early, although they were teammates on a few occasions in some amateur team events.

“Yeah, I’ve knocked around with Rory for the last few years,” Lowry said. “To see what he does in the game and how he plays—when you hang around with him and Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell, guys who have done well and won majors, it definitely helps you.”

McIlroy beat Lowry in the European match-play event last year at Wentworth so they’re kind of even in that sense. “I’d love to go down the stretch with him again someday,” Lowry said. ”You want to test yourself against the best players in the world. So if I find myself in a battle with Rory next week with nine holes to play, I’ll be very, very happy.”

So would most of Ireland. The party after Lowry’s victory here might almost be winding down by then.

courtesy of Gary Van Sickle (golf.com)

McIlroy plays practice round at Whistling Straits without apparent discomfort

rory3Rory McIlroy, the defending champion in next week’s PGA Championship, played a practice round at Whistling Straits on Saturday, and did so without any apparent discomfort from the ankle injury he suffered two weeks before the British Open, according to one report.

Gary D’Amato, golf writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was a witness, and wrote, “He did not seem to be favoring the left ankle he injured in early July while kicking around a soccer ball with friends. McIlroy hit driver on the longer holes, jogged up and down a couple small hills and seemed to have a bounce in his step.

McIlroy was unable to play in the British Open and hasn’t played competitively since tying for ninth in the U.S. Open in June.

courtesy of John Strege (golfdigest.com)

 

U.S. PGA Tour presents packed 2016 schedule in Olympic year

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

Jordan Spieth might have no choice but to miss the John Deere Classic next year. It’s the same week as the Olympics.

The U.S. PGA Tour released on Thursday its 2015-16 schedule, which included changes because of golf’s return to the Olympics next August in Rio de Janeiro. The Travelers Championship, John Deere Classic, and Wyndham Championship will be played during the three-week Olympic window.

Spieth chose to play the John Deere Classic this year, even though it was a week before his bid for the third leg of the Grand Slam at the British Open. He not only won the Deere, he missed a playoff by one shot at St. Andrews.

He also won the John Deere in 2013 to earn his full tour card.

Tournament director Clair Peterson said the John Deere would like to have Spieth back to defend, although “we can think of no better representative of our country” than Spieth at the Rio Games.

The Americans can have as many as four players at the Olympics, provided they are among the top 15 in the world ranking. Spieth is No. 2, and he has nearly double the points average over the fifth-ranked American.

It’s possible two tour events during the Olympics will be without a defending champion. Bubba Watson, currently No. 3, won the Travelers.

Golf executives told the International Olympic Committee they wouldn’t hold big events – majors and World Golf Championships – during the Olympics. It was always going to be busy, especially in a Ryder Cup year (Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in Minnesota).

The US. PGA Championship agreed to move up to July 28-31, just two weeks after the British Open. And the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone will be held two weeks after the U.S. Open instead of its early August date preceding the U.S. PGA Championship.

Still unclear is how that will affect the European Tour, which has not released its schedule for next year. The weeks between the U.S. Open and British Open are during the heart of the continental schedule, with strong events in Germany, France, and Scotland.

“We knew there would be challenges for all of golf in terms of scheduling when the Olympics came in, and a number of people have made sacrifices,” said Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour chief spokesman and vice president of the International Golf Federation.

The Quicken Loans National, hosted by Tiger Woods, will be held a week after the U.S. Open. Woods has not played the week following the U.S. Open since he tied for 13th in the Buick Classic in 2003. That means a three-week period on courses that have hosted majors – Oakmont, Congressional and Firestone.

The Greenbrier Classic will be in the John Deere’s old spot a week before the British Open, and the Canadian Open will be sandwiched between the British Open (Royal Troon) and the U.S. PGA Championship (Baltusrol).

The FedEx Cup playoffs will start the week after the Olympics, and that could present challenges for players from smaller countries who qualify for the Olympics but are struggling to stay in the top 125 in the FedEx Cup. That could mean giving up a crucial week – or two weeks if they want to take part in opening ceremonies in Rio – in which they are missing out on potential points. This year, for example, Carlos Ortiz of Mexico is No. 111 in the FedEx Cup.

“We’re looking at this as one in four (years). We’re not faced with it every year,” Votaw said. “So it depends on where they are and what they want.”

He said projections show only about half of the 60-man field for the Olympics will be U.S. tour members.

courtesy of DOUG FERGUSON (golfdigest.com)

It took two holes to realize this isn’t Tiger Woods’ week at the Old Course

Tiger Woods often says St. Andrews is his favorite golf course in the world and it certainly has the perfect first hole for him. Wide open and calling for an iron off the tee to layup before the Swilcan Burn, it’s a great way to get off to a good start.

Well, usually.

Woods semi-chunked his iron off the tee. His wedge approach was hit slightly better, but it failed to clear the narrow strip of water drawing gasps from a heavy pro-Tiger crowd. Woods dropped and got up-and-down to save bogey, but the problems were just beginning.

On the 452nd-yard par-4 second, Woods chose an iron while his playing partners both boomed drivers. Hitting his approach from some 70 yards behind Jason Day, Woods watched as his ball came up a good 30 yards short. After knocking his third to about 15 feet, Woods struck what he thought was a perfect putt. He stepped in for a small fist pump, but the ball horseshoed out of the cup, drawing this pained reaction.

tiger3

Two holes, two over. A couple days removed from saying he wants to play the Old Course backwards before he dies, the only place Woods was going in reverse on Thursday was down the leader board.

Meanwhile, a light Easterly wind had the outward nine at St. Andrews there for the taking on Day 1. Just among those teeing off earlier than Tiger on Thursday morning, David Lingmerth shot 29. Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Robert Streb shot 31. Woods shot 40.

Woods made that easy portion of the course look difficult and he certainly made it play longer by hitting a number of irons off the tee. When he finally hit driver on No. 4, he striped one down the middle — and right into a divot.

Bad play. Bad breaks. Woods may still love this place, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to see much Old Course magic this week.

UPDATE: Woods shot 76, his worst-ever opening score at the British Open. It will take him a tremendous effort on Friday to avoid missing back-to-back cuts in majors for the first time in his career.

courtesy of Alex Myers (golfdigest.com)

 

PGA Tour player suspended after admitting he accidentally took PEDS

scott

PGA Tour player Scott Stallings is doing stuff no professional athletes who take performance-enhancing drugs actually do: He took them accidentally, then, despite not failing a drug test, turned himself into the tour. Someone from baseball should explain how these things ordinarily work.

According to the Golf Channel, Stallings is just the third player on the PGA Tour to be suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, and his 90-day suspension is in effect starting Tuesday:

The three-time Tour winner never failed a drug test, but after suffering from fatigue and being advised by his doctor to take DHEA, an anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour, he realized he’d violated the policy and turned himself in which is tantamount to a positive test under the anti-doping program.

“Whether I intended to or not, I took something that wasn’t allowed. I called a penalty on myself, that’s the best way to look at it,” Stallings told GolfChannel.com. “I did it immediately, so much so it took [the Tour official] by surprise.”

courtesy of  Luke Kerr-Dineen (usatoday)

PGA Tour aces merit Greenbrier fans a wad of cash


Two aces made Thursday by PGA Tour players resulted in a cash grab for fans at the Greenbrier Classic. Resort owner Jim Justice was handing out cash for each hole-in-one.

When George McNeill made an ace at the 175-yard 18th early in the day, fans at the hole received $100 from Justice (a total of $18,900 given away). When Justin Thomas passed through later in the afternoon and made an ace of his own (watch video above), fans made an additional $500 apiece ($173,500 given away). If another Tour player makes a Greenbrier ace, fans will receive a $1,000 payout.

That’s some perk for being in the right gallery at the right time.

courtesy of Golfweek Staff

Tiger Woods shoots 4-under 66 at Greenbrier Classic

Tiger Woods tees off on the 17th hole during the first round of the Greenbrier Classic golf tournament at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Thursday July 2, 2015  (AP Photo/Chris Tilley)

Tiger Woods tees off on the 17th hole during the first round of the Greenbrier Classic golf tournament at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Thursday July 2, 2015 (AP Photo/Chris Tilley)

For a change, Tiger Woods got off to a good start.

Woods rebounded from a dismal U.S. Open with a 4-under-par 66 in Thursday’s opening round of The Greenbrier Classic, four shots behind leader Scott Langley.

Helped by a morning rain that softened the Old White TPC course in West Virginia, Woods posted his lowest score of the season and matched his best in relation to par.

It was only the fourth time he shot in the 60s in 21 rounds. None on the first day of a tournament.

“Overall I can’t really say I hit any great shots, but I hit a lot of good ones,” Woods said. “I hit the ball better than what my score indicates.”

Two weeks ago at the U.S. Open, Woods had the highest 36-hole score of his pro career – 156.

Woods came to Greenbrier ranked No. 220 in the world and faced with the prospect of missing cuts in consecutive tournaments for the first time since 1994, when he had not yet turned pro.

For one round, at least, his solid game returned.

“Overall, if you drive the ball well here, you’re going to probably have at least seven shots with 9-iron or below into the greens, and you’re going to have to capitalize on that,” Woods said. “So far I’m one of those guys who did.”

Woods started on the back nine Thursday and birdied three of his first seven holes. He made bogey on the par-5 17th after his drive went into a hazard to the right, and a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the sixth hole left him at 1 under on his round.

Woods said he adjusted his aim later in the round after noticing that playing partners Steve Stricker and David Lingmerth were missing putts on the high side of the hole.

“I lowered my line just a touch, maybe half a ball here and there, and it seemed to pay off,” he said.

Woods finished with three straight birdies, making bending putts of 18 and 19 feet on the final two holes.

“Just trying to get back to 3 (under), and we just happened to pull off a hat trick coming home,” he said.

Jonathan Byrd and Danny Lee were a stroke behind Langley after 7-under 63s. Brian Davis and Ryo Ishikawa were at 64.

Friends Langley and Byrd both said they fed off each other during their morning round. They were tied at 7 under before Langley surged ahead with a short birdie putt at the par-4 16th.

Neither has a top 10 finish this season and both need some solid results to be among the 125 qualifiers for the FedEx Cup playoffs starting in late August.

“I got a little down on myself earlier in the year because the results weren’t really there,” Langley said. “I kind of looked at myself in the mirror and said, you know, at the end of the day, I need to be the most positive guy in the field week in and week out.”

Langley, seeking his first win on the PGA Tour, finished 25th at the Travelers Championship a week ago. He hit 17 greens in regulation in his bogey-free round Thursday.

Byrd is in the tournament on a sponsor’s exemption.

“I’m very thankful just to be in the field this week,” he said.

Fans were certainly glad to see George McNeill and Justin Thomas.

Both made holes-in-one on the par-3 18th, triggering advertised tournament payouts of $100 to fans at the hole for McNeill’s ace and $500 for Thomas’ feat, or a total of about $192,000. The next hole-in-one at any point in the tournament on the 18th would net fans $1,000 apiece.

The tournament also gave McNeill $25,000 and Thomas $50,000 for the charities of their choice.

courtesy of JOHN RABY (AP sports writer)

Bubba Watson Will Paint Over Confederate Flag on the General Lee

bubba-watson-general-leeTwo-time Masters champion Bubba Watson announced via Twitter Thursday night that he will paint over the Confederate Flag that adorns the roof of the General Lee, his 1969 Dodge Charger made famous in the TV series “Dukes of Hazzard.” Watson will have a U.S. flag painted in its place.

In his tweet, the PGA Tour star stated “All men ARE created equal, I believe that so I will be painting the American flag over the roof of the General Lee.”

The announcement comes amid a wave of backlash against the use of the Confederate battle flag following the killing of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17. South Carolina is considering removing the Civil War-era flag from the statehouse in Columbia, while many American chain stores have pulled products bearing the flag from their shelves. TV Land has even pulled reruns of “The Dukes of Hazzard” off its network in light of the show’s well-known depiction of the flag.

courtesy of Kevin Cunningham (golf.com)