More stories

  • in

    P.G.A. Championship: Jordan Spieth Aims for Career Grand Slam

    And why not? After a couple of years of uncharacteristically mediocre play, he sees an opportunity at the P.G.A. Championship to complete a career Grand Slam.TULSA, Okla. — Sixteen months ago, Jordan Spieth spent long stretches during post-round news conferences answering questions about what was wrong with him.Or what was missing from his once prized golf game.The world’s top-ranked men’s player for much of 2015-16 and the winner of three major championships in roughly the same period, Spieth had tumbled to 92nd in the world rankings by January of last year. His best finish at a 2020 major had been a tie for 46th.In this time, Spieth handled the almost weekly inquisition about whether he would ever regain his form with poise and sincerity. For the most part, he kept his smile. But that smile is far wider now. With a rally in 2021 that included a second-place finish at the British Open and a surge this year that has included a 13th PGA Tour victory and two second-place finishes, Spieth has climbed back into the top 10 worldwide.On Wednesday, one day before the first round of the 2022 P.G.A. Championship, Spieth met with reporters and happily spent most of his time answering questions about whether he might achieve a measure of golfing immortality this week.Jordan Spieth chipped to the green on Wednesday while practicing for the P.G.A. Championship in Tulsa, Okla.Matt York/Associated PressOnly five golfers — Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods — have won each of the game’s major championships. With victories at the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open, Spieth, 28, needs only a P.G.A. Championship title to join that gilded group.“It’s the elephant in the room for me,” Spieth said Wednesday with a small grin. “If you told me I was going to win one tournament the rest of my life, I’d say I want to win this one. Long term, it would be really cool to say that you captured the four biggest golf tournaments in the world that are played in different parts of the world and different styles, too. So you feel like you kind of accomplished golf when you win a career Grand Slam.”Tiger Woods’s Lasting Impact and Uncertain FutureThe star golfer, one of the most influential athletes of the last quarter-century, is mounting a comeback after being badly injured in a car crash.The 2022 Masters: After saying that he would step back from competitive golf, Tiger Woods teed off at Augusta once again.Four Days That Changed Golf: When Woods won the 1997 Masters, he remade the game and catapulted himself to stardom.A Complicated Legacy: Our columnist looks back at Woods’s stunning feats and shocking falls.His Enduring Influence: Even when Woods is not playing, his impact on the sport can be felt at a PGA tournament.Accomplished golf? As in mastered it? That’s an almost celestial ambition in a sport that keeps almost all of its devotees cruelly grounded on a regular basis. But Spieth can be forgiven. When his game was in an abyss, he endured many months muttering to himself as he marched off the tee on his way to the high rough. And no golfer mutters to himself so systematically, indeed professionally, with the zany zeal that Spieth exhibits.Even with his golf ball sailing straight and farther now, Spieth has not stopped his frequent self-commentary on the golf course, always with his forbearing caddie, Michael Greller, the former sixth grade math teacher, nodding silently as he walks alongside his boss.Greller’s role should not be underestimated given Spieth’s active brain (and mouth). Spieth acknowledged as much Wednesday.“I’ve been trying to really have some fun more, and Michael does a good job with that,” Spieth said. “If I wake up tomorrow a little on the wrong side of the bed, as we all do, he’ll try and talk to me about something other than golf. He’ll step in, and having kind of a friend on the bag that can keep it light can sometimes turn things in that direction.”Jordan Spieth handed a club to his caddie, Michael Greller, during a practice round leading up to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in April.Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesSpieth will be tested in other ways in Thursday’s first round. He will play with Woods and the four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, a grouping that is likely to be followed by about 70 percent of the tens of thousands of fans on the grounds at Southern Hills Country Club. The atmosphere will be charged, and because a golf gallery does not remain seated as at other sporting events, it will become more like a noisy, chaotic, ever-moving wave.But Spieth, whose wife, Annie, gave birth to the couple’s first child, a son, Sammy, in November, had a different take.“I’ll get to tell my kid about this someday — I got to play with Tiger in a major,” Spieth said.He added that he had done it before, but as he acknowledged Woods’s near-fatal car crash in February 2021, he added: “Last year, you weren’t sure if that was ever going to happen again.”Spieth did concede that the massive crowd could be a distraction, but one he has gotten used to. When he nearly won the Masters as a 20-year-old and finished first at the tournament a year later, in 2015, Spieth attracted some teeming crowds himself.“Sometimes, when the crowds get big enough, it’s kind of just a color blur in a way,” he said. “But Tiger and Rory are great to play with. They’re quick. They’re positive. I think you have to embrace it and recognize that it’s cool and it’s obviously great for golf.”The grouping might even be a blessing, Spieth said, as a way to keep his mind off the opportunity to achieve the career Grand Slam of major championships.“If I can play well these next couple days, given the crowds that will be out there, then I think the weekend might actually feel a little like a breather in a way,” he said. “So that’s how I’m looking at it.” More

  • in

    The Scramble at Southern Hills

    P.G.A. Championships are planned years in advance, but the club had less than two years to prepare when the event was moved from Trump Bedminster.When players tee off at this week’s P.G.A. Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., they will be playing a course that has been renovated since the last time it hosted a P.G.A. in 2007 (when Tiger Woods won by two). Gil Hanse, who has become the go-to architect for courses hoping to host a United States Open or P.G.A. Championship, renovated the course in 2019.But the players are also competing on a course that wasn’t selected until early last year — an unheard-of rush for a major championship — and one that had not been planning to host its first major after the renovation until 2030.How this came about was something no one involved could have imagined when the course for the 2022 P.G.A. Championship was announced in 2014.Every major golf championship is planned years, if not decades, in advance. The courses that will host are locked in, and the process to get them ready for players, and sponsors, usually requires years.The U.S. Open has planned out past some people’s lifetimes, with Oakland Hills in Bloomfield, Mich., tapped to host the 2051 tournament. The British Open is set for courses until 2025. The Masters, of course, will be at Augusta National Golf Club, unless the world ends.The P.G.A. Championship, which is organized by the Professional Golfers Association of America, has long been on a four-year activation cycle. This means teams have time to get to the next site to plan the tournament, drum up sponsorships and plan the course setup, which includes asking for course modifications.Rory McIlroy putting on the fourth green at Southern Hills on Monday. The course was chosen for the P.G.A. Championship just last year.Michael Madrid/USA Today Sports, via ReutersThe P.G.A. Championship is planned out to 2031 — or 2034 if you count a few open years until the championship is at the P.G.A.’s new headquarters in Frisco, Texas.The only exception was this year, when a course and all the planning for the 2022 championship happened in 16 months.So why and how did the P.G.A. of America and Southern Hills have to get ready so quickly?In 2014, the P.G.A. awarded the men’s major to Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. Its owner, Donald J. Trump, was then a businessman with a portfolio of 17 golf clubs in the United States and Scotland.That same year, Mr. Trump bought Turnberry, a Scottish course that had hosted the British Open four times. He had a reputation for investing heavily in his clubs and also for wanting to host big tournaments, which can be a hassle for private clubs that have members who can’t play as the tournament gets close.It seemed like a solid plan to host the tournament at what is better known as Trump Bedminster.“The P.G.A. of America is excited to begin a new chapter of major championship history by taking two of our premier championships to venues that bear the Trump label of excellence,” Ted Bishop, then-president of the P.G.A. of America, said at the time.Mr. Trump said: “Having the P.G.A. is a very, very big deal. So, it’s very important to me. It’s a great honor for me.”Then he was elected president in 2016. Fast forward to Jan. 6, 2021, when President Trump gave a speech that fired up a crowd in Washington, which then stormed the Capitol to stop the certification of the 2020 election results.Five days later, the P.G.A. of America announced it had voted to pull the 2022 major from the Trump course.“It has become clear that conducting the P.G.A. Championship at Trump Bedminster would be detrimental to the P.G.A. of America brand and would put at risk the P.G.A.’s ability to deliver on many programs and sustain the longevity of our mission,” Jim Richerson, the P.G.A. of America’s president, said.And that left the organization scrambling to find a course to host the tournament and get a team there. While a major championship is about top golf, it’s also about building the equivalent of a small town that can bring in the maximum revenue for the governing bodies. Rushing that isn’t ideal.Some 30 courses raised their hands. One of those was Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, which has hosted the tournament three times.“When the P.G.A. of America said we’re going to move the tournament, I said we need to step in and help,” said David Pillsbury, chief executive of Invited (the new name for ClubCorp), which owns Firestone, and a former PGA Tour executive. “I said we can do this. We have a world-class-tested course. We have had the Senior Players Championship there, so there’s a senior staff there.”In the end, none of the suitors were selected. And the P.G.A. went with Southern Hills, which it knew well because it was hosting the Senior P.G.A. Championship that year.“One of the main reasons we ended up selecting Southern Hills when we decided to move it is because we had the Kitchen Aid Senior P.G.A. there in 2021,” said Kerry Haigh, chief championships officer for the P.G.A. “We were working with the community, the city, we had a lot of plans together.”But a senior tournament is not the same as a P.G.A. Championship. For one, the course is set up shorter and easier. And there just aren’t as many fans or sponsors to accommodate. The dollars are much less.But Southern Hills had something that other courses didn’t. “We had staff on site,” Haigh said. “We also had a contract in place for them to host a P.G.A. Championship, albeit for a later year. All the things that needed to happen — agreeing on a contract, moving staff, having relationships with all those people — were already in place.”Tiger Woods playing a shot from a bunker at Southern Hills during practice on Monday.Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesThe course, though, would have to play longer. At a par 70, it was set at 6,968 yards for the Senior P.G.A. This week it will measure 7,635 yards for the P.G.A. That added distance can change the angles that players have to take; it can also alter the setups.While Pillsbury wished Firestone had been selected, he said the selection of Southern Hills for a quick turnaround made a lot of sense. “To organize a tournament quickly, the first thing you have to do is mobilize the membership,” he said.And Haigh said they had that from the start. “A big part of selecting Southern Hills was the support of the membership, who is passionate about major championship golf,” he said. “They were very quick to remind us of how much they wanted to host the P.G.A. Championship and that they had the support of the city and the community to turn this around immediately to support the P.G.A.”A major tournament, though, is more than the course. It’s about the fans and the sponsors who will help fund a prize pool worth over $12 million, with more than $2 million going to the winner.“It’s a midsized market, so that concern was raised that they wouldn’t have enough money to go again,” said John Handley, director of championship sales and marketing at the P.G.A. “We didn’t experience a whole lot of that. The membership at Southern Hills was incredibly helpful. We felt we had a good pulse of the market. The concern never materialized.”The experience had the chief executive of the P.G.A., Seth Waugh, pondering if planning years in advance was even worth it. In an interview with Gary Williams, a golf commentator, Waugh said this past year had taught him that a major could be planned more quickly.“Frankly, when you say 20 to 25 years, I think it’s a little bit, possibly irresponsible, because who knows what’s going to happen between then and now,” he said. “You certainly don’t need that much time to lock something in. When I made the decision to move to Southern Hills a year and a half ago, we had 30-plus venues that were willing to take us on.” More

  • in

    Rich Beem Looks Back at His Improbable P.G.A. Championship

    Twenty years ago, he beat Tiger Woods by one stroke to become the surprise winner of the event. It was his last win on the tour.Look for the usual suspects — Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, and the hottest player in the game, Scottie Scheffler — to be in contention at this week’s P.G.A. Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.But don’t be shocked if someone emerges out of nowhere to upstage the big names.After all, 20 years ago, Rich Beem did exactly that.Heading into the 2002 P.G.A. Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., no one was talking about Beem, though he had won the International tournament two weeks earlier in Colorado. People were talking about Tiger Woods, who had captured two majors that year, and other top players.Heading into the final day of play, Beem was trailing Justin Leonard, the 1997 British Open champion, by three strokes. Woods was five back.On Sunday, however, while Leonard struggled with a five-over 77 to finish in a tie for fourth, Beem surged.Two shots that stood out were the 7-wood Beem hit from about 270 yards away on No. 11, a par 5, which led to an eagle, and the 35-foot birdie putt he converted at No. 16. He posted a 68 to prevail by one over Woods. It was Beem’s third victory on the tour.Woods, after a couple of bogeys on the back nine, birdied the last four holes to put pressure on Beem — which he felt as he got ready to hit his second shot on the final hole.“I literally was like, ‘Just don’t shank this in front of all these people,’” Beem said. “‘Don’t screw this up now.’”Beem reached the putting surface with his approach, and then got down in three putts for a bogey. After the final one dropped, he did a little dance on the green.“I could relax,” he said. “I could breathe again. I was done.”Beem will never forget the shot at 11. Perhaps the same could be said of Woods.During a practice day leading up to the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, Woods walked toward the green on No. 12. Beem was heading in the opposite direction.“Doesn’t say hi,” Beem recalled. “Doesn’t say, ‘What’s up?’”Then, Beem said, Woods asked him:How the heck did you get it home in two on Sunday on No. 11?Beem didn’t miss a beat.Beem putting on the eighth hole during the final round of the 2002 P.G.A. Championship.Jeff Haynes/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images“When you got it, you got it,” he said.Leonard, who was paired with Beem in 2002, had a similar impression about the approach at 11.“That’s a shot I was in awe of,” Leonard recalled. “I felt like that was kind of the tournament right there.”Not quite. Not with Woods still on the course.Beem heard the roars while Woods was making his late rally.“I heard them,” Beem said, “but never really thought about them or wanted to react to them.”Beem was only 31, but the victory would be his last on the tour.“I’m really bummed out about that,” he said. “That’s probably one of the things that eats at me more than anything else about my career. I probably didn’t grind as hard as I should have in some instances.”He knew a lot about grinding. Before he qualified for the PGA Tour in 1998, Beem was an assistant pro for two years at El Paso Country Club in Texas. His salary was about $13,000. He made roughly twice as much as that in mini-tour events in New Mexico and West Texas.Before then, for about nine months, he sold cellphones and car stereos in the Seattle area.Beem said he was a good phone salesman. The stereos, however, were another matter.“I was just awful,” he said. “I didn’t realize speakers were different sizes for different cars.”Beem, 51, now works as a commentator for Sky Sports, though he hopes to compete more often on PGA Tour Champions, the circuit for professional golfers 50 and older.In the meantime, being exempt as a former P.G.A. champion, he’ll tee off Thursday with the younger guys at Southern Hills. His goal is to play on the weekend.“I’m healthy enough,” he said. “The body feels fantastic. I’m very capable of making the cut.” More

  • in

    This P.G.A. Champion Lost the Wanamaker Trophy. Oops.

    It goes to the winner of the P.G.A. Championship, but Walter Hagen lost it after he won in 1925.It’s nearly impossible to talk about the P.G.A. Championship‘s Wanamaker Trophy without mentioning how the five-time champion Walter Hagen lost it in Chicago after winning the event in 1925.As the story goes, while out in Chicago celebrating the win, Hagen gave his taxi driver $5 and asked him to take the cumbersome trophy to his hotel. It not only never arrived, but Hagen never admitted the loss to the P.G.A. until he lost the championship in 1928 and had to turn the trophy over to the winner.The trophy is tied to the history of the P.G.A. It was named after the department store owner Rodman Wanamaker, who in 1916 formed the Professional Golfers’ Association of America.“Rodman Wanamaker was a big fan of professional golf and perhaps even more so of Walter Hagen,” said Connor Lewis, a golf historian. “He believed that professional golf was the way of the future — perhaps a decade ahead of the general public — who at that time believed in the ideals of the amateur game.”Wanamaker invited a group of golf professionals, including Hagen, to meet and form the association to help elevate the professional game.“In those times professional golf was not an actual occupation; it was frowned upon,” said Tom Clavin, the author of “Sir Walter,” a biography of Walter Hagen.Wanamaker had two main motives, Clavin said. One was to form a professional association to enhance the position of golf. Another: Money.“Let’s face it,” Clavin said. “There was a commercial motivation for forming the P.G.A. The man was a magnate of department stores. By forming the P.G.A., he could make golf more popular, bring more people into playing golf and sell a lot of clubs, balls and clothing.”The P.G.A. named the cup after him, and the first P.G.A. Championship was held in 1916 at Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, N.Y. Jim Barnes won the trophy, which was designed by Dieges & Clust — the same company that created the Heisman Trophy in 1934. The P.G.A. silver trophy weighs 27 pounds and is more than two feet tall and two feet wide, handle to handle.“Wanamaker’s prestige and his bankroll gave golf a great jump-start, and it was perfect timing,” Clavin said. “It was after World War I, during the Roaring Twenties, and there were more and more professionals playing. More people started following golf and wanted to know who’s winning. There was Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen catching headlines. Professionals were starting to storm the gates. And Hagen was leading the charge.”Walter Hagen, right, accepting the Wanamaker Trophy from Charles Smalley, the president of the Olympia Fields Country Club, after defeating Bill Mehlhorn to successfully defend his title at the 1925 P.G.A. Championship.Getty ImagesHagen won the first of his five P.G.A. Championships in 1921, but didn’t win again until 1924. For the 1925 event, Hagen lugged the trophy to the event at Olympia Field Country Club, near Chicago. He won again — but that’s also when he lost it.In 1926, Hagen defended his title without the trophy. It was P.G.A. policy for the winner to return the trophy the following year, according to Bob Denney. a P.G.A. historian. Hagen told officials, “I will win it anyway, so I didn’t bring it.” Hagen said the same thing in 1927 to defend his title.“That was Hagen — they just laughed it off,” Clavin said. “He was a showman and great for golf. Everybody was just winking — ‘Hey, that’s Walter.’”It wasn’t until 1928, when Leo Diegel won, that Hagen confessed to losing the trophy. Again, it was awkward, but officials shrugged it off, Denney said. The missing trophy was replaced with one made by R. Wallace and Sons of Wallingford, Conn. It was ready by the 1929 PGA Championship, with Diegel’s name on it. Diegel successfully defended his title in that year’s tournament and finally took home a trophy, but it wasn’t the Wanamaker.“You would be hard pressed to find the Stanley Cup or the Heisman where the winner actually lost it,” Clavin said.In 1931, the P.G.A. announced that the trophy had been found. A janitor cleaning the basement of the building that had once housed the Walter Hagen Golf Products Corporation in Grand Rapids, Mich., discovered a large box containing the trophy, Denney said. How it got there remains a mystery.“The taxi driver probably dropped it at the hotel, and the hotel sent it to his company headquarters,” said Paul Wold, a historian of Rochester Country Club, where Hagen was club professional.Hagen, not one for much introspection, didn’t give it another thought, Clavin said.“You get the impression he was a real prince of a guy,” Wold said. “People loved him, and he really just raised the total esteem of professional golf.”It’s difficult to top the Hagen incident, but there have been minor gaffes over the years.Collin Morikawa reacting to the lid of the Wanamaker Trophy falling off after he won the 2020 P.G.A. Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.Charlie Riedel/Associated PressIn 2014, at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky, the trophy lid fell off as Ted Bishop, who was then the P.G.A. president, handed the trophy to the winner, Rory McIlroy — who caught it before it hit the ground. “You saved me,” Bishop said.At the 2020 P.G.A. Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, the lid fell off again. Collin Morikawa hoisted the Wanamaker, shaking it until the top lid clanged off and dropped to the ground. Morikawa clutched his chest, replaced the lid, gently lifted the trophy again and kissed it.While the Wanamaker Trophy passes to a new champion each year, winners also get a replica engraved on site to keep. The P.G.A. has the original, which will soon be on display at its headquarters in Frisco, Texas.“It would be lousy to have nothing to show for the win,” Wold said. “Wouldn’t it?” More

  • in

    Tiger Woods Calls Phil Mickelson’s Viewpoints ‘Polarizing’

    In remarks before the P.G.A. Championship, Tiger Woods distanced himself from his longtime rival, Phil Mickelson, who stirred controversy with his support of an upstart Saudi-backed golf tour.TULSA, Okla. — On Tuesday, when Tiger Woods spoke publicly for the first time since his stunning comeback at last month’s Masters Tournament, the expected topic was to be his continuing recovery from a near-fatal 2021 car crash. Woods did indeed say his reconstructed right leg felt stronger as he prepared for this week’s P.G.A. Championship, which begins Thursday at Tulsa’s Southern Hills Country Club.But perhaps for the first time at any news conference in Woods’s 30-plus years in the public eye, he spent nearly as much time discussing a longtime rival, Phil Mickelson, as he did himself. And Woods was not usually chatting about Mickelson in flattering terms.Woods was emphatic about distancing himself from Mickelson, who will not defend his P.G.A. Championship title and has not played since he made incendiary remarks in February in support of a Saudi-backed golf league that hopes to rival the established PGA Tour.While Mickelson in the past has privately reached out to Woods during his struggles, which have included a sensational marital infidelity scandal in 2009 and the aftermath of a tumbling car crash on a Los Angeles-area boulevard last year, Woods said on Tuesday that he has not contacted Mickelson.“I have not reached out to him; I have not spoken to him,” Woods said. “A lot of it has not to do with, I think, personal issues. It was our viewpoints of how the tour should be run and could be run, and what players are playing for and how we are playing for it. I have a completely different stance on that, so no, I have not.”Woods added: “We miss him being out here. I mean, he’s a big draw for the game of golf. He’s just taking his time and we all wish him the best when he comes back.”A poster of Phil Mickelson, last year’s P.G.A. champion, greets spectators at Southern Hills. Mickelson will not play this year.Erik S Lesser/EPA, via ShutterstockBut after conceding that the social media landscape had escalated and quickly polarized the dispute between the PGA Tour and the breakaway league, Woods said: “And the viewpoints that Phil has made with the tour and what the tour has meant to all of us has been polarizing as well.”Mickelson applied for a release from the PGA Tour to play in the inaugural event of the upstart golf circuit, LIV Golf, next month outside London. The PGA Tour denied Mickelson’s request and any made by its members, and it has threatened to suspend or otherwise discipline players who play in the alternative tour’s events. In February, Mickelson provoked a hailstorm of criticism after he acknowledged Saudi Arabia had a “horrible record on human rights” — including the murder of a Washington Post journalist — but said he was still talking with, and aiding, the new tour because it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to apply pressure on the PGA Tour. Earlier this year, Mickelson accused the PGA Tour of “obnoxious greed.” He later said his remarks were “reckless.”On Tuesday, when Woods was asked how his disagreements with Mickelson could be resolved, Woods replied: “I don’t know if he has to resolve it or not. I understand different viewpoints, but I believe in legacies. I believe in major championships. I believe in big events, comparisons to historical figures of the past. There’s plenty of money out here. The tour is growing. But it’s just like any other sport, you have to go out there and earn it.”When he wasn’t discussing Mickelson on Tuesday, Woods’s rebuilt right leg did look considerably stronger than it did last month when he labored to ascend seemingly every hill during the Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. During a practice round in Tulsa, Woods actually half-jogged up a steep incline.During the final round of the Masters Tournament last month at Augusta National Golf Club, Woods used an iron to support himself as he walked. Doug Mills/The New York TimesWhen asked how much he had physically improved during the last five weeks of additional rehabilitation for the serious injuries incurred in his 2021 crash, Woods smiled.“The first mountain I climbed was Everest,” he said. “So, yeah, I’m better than the last time I played a tournament.” He added: “I still have tough days, and things aren’t going to be as easy as people might think. Still, I’m doing better — more positive days.”But tellingly, Woods, who used to be known for almost ceaseless practice, especially with his putter, scoffed when he was asked if he can now practice enough.“Practicing a lot? No, I don’t do that anymore,” he answered. “Bending over for a long time, hitting a bunch of putts like I used to? No, that doesn’t happen — not with my back the way it is.”Some things, however, have not changed. Woods never showed up for an event unless he believed he could finish first. That resolve has not wavered.“I feel like I can — definitely,” Woods responded when asked if he could win. “I just have to go out there and do it. Starts on Thursday and I’ll be ready.”Jon Rahm, who is the world’s top-ranked men’s golfer and also in this week’s field, said he was not surprised that Woods wants to win every tournament.“Hey, the world wants him to win,” Rahm said with a grin.In what will be an eye-catching grouping, Rory McIlroy will play in Thursday’s first round with Woods and Jordan Spieth, who has won every major golf title but the P.G.A. Championship. McIlroy expects to see an upgrade from the Woods who started strong at last month’s Masters but faded in the final two rounds.“It’s been six weeks or so since Augusta?” McIlroy asked. “Six weeks is a long enough time to recover from that week and then build yourself back up again.” More

  • in

    PGA Tour Denies Golfers Waivers for Saudi-Backed Tournament

    The tour has made it clear it will suspend players who defect to Greg Norman’s rival LIV Golf series, which is set to make its debut in England next month.The PGA Tour has sternly refused to grant its membership the ability to play in the inaugural event of a rival Saudi-backed golf tour, which will make its debut next month outside London. The move, announced in a memo to tour members Tuesday night, was hardly a surprise — the PGA Tour is protecting its business — but in the most gentlemanly of sports, it exposed uncharacteristic rancor.It is also pressuring the world’s best men’s golfers, who are highly paid entrepreneurs, to choose sides over where they will collect their millions of dollars in compensation. And not inconsequentially, the focus of the dispute is often the source of the alternative golf circuit, LIV Golf, whose major shareholder is the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.The overwhelming likelihood is that only a small number of players with little standing on the established, American-based PGA Tour — plus a handful of golfers past their prime — will jump to the new golf series, which may not lack for money but currently lacks prestige, or even a TV contract.But if the start-up tour perseveres for years — also not a certainty — and keeps its promise to dole out purses that overshadow those on the PGA Tour, it could sow unrest down the line in a future generation of young pros, especially those raised outside the United States whose focus is not so centered on the PGA Tour.For now, scores of tour players, including everyone at the top of the men’s world rankings, have pledged their fealty to the PGA Tour.Several times, Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner who is ranked seventh in the world, has declared the breakaway tour “dead in the water.” He has also disapproved of its underpinnings, saying, “I didn’t like where the money was coming from.” Aligning with McIlroy, 33, have been some dominant new faces of the game, like Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth.Caught in the dispute is one of the most renowned players in the sport, Phil Mickelson, who has stepped away from competitive golf for months since making comments in support of the breakaway league.Mickelson was one of several PGA Tour-affiliated players, including Sergio García of Spain and Lee Westwood of England, who applied for a release from the tour to play in the first event of a LIV Golf International Series at the Centurion Club near London from June 9 to 11.The tour is declining to grant those releases, which means players who choose to play in the LIV Golf event will be deemed in violation of tour regulations. Disciplinary action could include suspension or revocation of tour membership.Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, has made it plain to the players this year that the tour will suspend players who defect to the rival league. The same may be true for a player who wants to play even one tournament on the LIV Golf schedule, which includes eight events from June to October, including one in Thailand and five in the United States. In late July, the host site will be Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.Greg Norman, chief executive of LIV Golf Investments, at a news conference at the Centurion Club on Wednesday.Paul Childs/Action Images Via ReutersHours after the PGA Tour declined the players’ requests to play at the Centurion Club event, Greg Norman, a former major golf champion who is the chief executive of LIV Golf Investments, denounced the tour’s decision.“Sadly, the PGA Tour seems intent on denying professional golfers their right to play golf, unless it’s exclusively in a PGA Tour tournament,” Norman said. He added: “Instead, the tour is intent on perpetuating its illegal monopoly of what should be a free and open market. The tour’s action is anti-golfer, anti-fan and anti-competitive.”As if to up the ante, LIV Golf on Tuesday announced plans for more events from 2023 to 2025.The next step in the clash may be in court. Monahan has insisted that the tour’s lawyers believe its decision making will withstand legal scrutiny.While a court case will be less than riveting, the more compelling drama within the drama for golf will be Mickelson’s situation. He has only a few days to commit to playing in next week’s P.G.A. Championship, which he won last year when he became the oldest major champion at age 50. Mickelson has been linked to the LIV Golf circuit for months. In February, he was severely rebuked for incendiary comments attributed to him in support of the Saudi-backed tour.In an interview for a biography to be released next week, Mickelson told the journalist Alan Shipnuck that he knew of the kingdom’s “horrible record on human rights,” but that he was willing to help the new league because it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to drastically increase the income of PGA Tour players.Shortly afterward, Mickelson, a six-time major winner who has earned nearly $95 million on the PGA Tour, was dropped by several of his corporate sponsors. He apologized and called his remarks “reckless.”Next week, perhaps while Mickelson is making final preparations for his return to competitive golf at the P.G.A. Championship, Shipnuck’s book, “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar,” will be released. It is expected to shed light on Mickelson’s gambling habits, among other things.Sergio García at the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament this month in Potomac, Md.Mitch Stringer/USA Today Sports, via ReutersGarcía, another player who has long been considered a candidate to join the LIV Golf enterprise, recently expressed his support of the alternative tour in an unconventional way. Playing in last week’s PGA Tour event near Washington, García was apprised by a golf official of an on-course ruling that went against him. That decision was later determined to be erroneous (but not reversed). García, whose career PGA Tour earnings exceed $54 million, told the official, in a reaction picked up by a nearby television broadcast microphone: “I can’t wait to leave this tour.” He continued: “A couple of more weeks, I don’t have to deal with you anymore.”García, 42, represents the kind of professional golfer who might be most receptive to the promises of the LIV Golf enterprise. A Masters champion with 11 PGA Tour victories, he has been struggling to keep up with the more powerful, long-hitting young players taking over golf. His world ranking has slipped to 46th. He is also not American, like other golfers who are reported to have signed on with the breakaway tour. These players are most likely attracted to LIV Golf’s more global, and limited, schedule. Some players view the American tour as overbearing, restrictive and weighted toward events staged in the United States.In the meantime, there is a ruckus in the genteel world of golf. Its short-term impact is unlikely to rock the boat much. The question will be how long the rival tour can maintain sustainability, and whether that will be enough to seriously churn the sport’s customarily calm and lucrative waters. More

  • in

    Jack Newton, Golfer Whose Career Was Ended by an Accident, Dies at 72

    He won several tournaments before losing an arm when he walked into the propeller of a small plane. After he recovered, he taught himself to play golf one-handed.Jack Newton, who lost to Tom Watson in a 1975 British Open playoff and tied for second behind Seve Ballesteros at the 1980 Masters before his professional golf career ended in a near-fatal aircraft propeller accident, died on Friday. He was 72.His family said in a statement that Newton, who had been living with Alzheimer’s disease, died from “health complications.” The statement did not say where he died.Newton won the Buick Open on the PGA Tour in 1978 and the Australian Open in 1979, as well as three tournaments in Europe, before his career — and nearly his life — ended when he walked into the propeller of a small plane he was about to board at Sydney airport on July 24, 1983.His right arm was severed, he lost sight in his right eye, and he sustained severe injuries to his abdomen. Doctors gave him only a 50-50 chance of surviving, and he spent nearly two months in intensive care before undergoing a long rehabilitation.Despite his near-death experience, Newton returned to public life, his jovial personality intact. He became a popular television, radio and newspaper golf commentator, a golf-course designer and the chairman of the Jack Newton Junior Golf Foundation, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for up-and-coming players in Australia.Newton with his wife, Jackie, and their children, Clint and Kristie, in 1984. A year earlier, he had lost an arm in an aircraft propeller accident.William Lovelace/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesThe foundation’s annual tournament attracted a who’s who of celebrities and pro golfers in Australia, most of whom dressed up in outlandish costumes as encouraged by Newton.He taught himself to play golf one-handed, swinging the club with his left hand in a right-handed stance. He regularly had scores in the mid-80s for 18 holes — which translates to a handicap of about 12 or 14, one that most able-bodied amateur players would aspire to.Newton turned professional in 1971 on the European Tour and won his first event, the Dutch Open, the next year. A week later, he won a tournament in Fulford, England; in 1974, he won the tour’s match play championship.His playoff loss in the 1975 British Open came after Watson had a few lucky shots. A wire fence kept Watson’s ball in bounds on the eighth hole, and he chipped for an eagle at the 14th to claim the Claret Jug by a shot over Newton.“I always felt that if I came into a major with some good form, then I could be dangerous,” Newton said. “That’s the way I played golf. Once I got my tail up I wasn’t afraid of anybody.”Newton in action during the 1980 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.Augusta National/Getty ImagesAt the 1980 Masters, he finished the tournament tied for second with the American Gibby Gilbert, four strokes behind the 21-year-old Ballesteros of Spain.Gavin Kirkman, the chief executive of PGA of Australia, said that Newton’s “contribution and legacy will live on for many decades to come,” adding that he “was as tough off the course as he was on it.”Newton is survived by his wife, Jackie; two children, Kristie and Clint; and six grandchildren. His daughter was a pro golfer, and his son played rugby in Australia and Britain. More

  • in

    The Roar of the Crowd Returns

    AUGUSTA, Ga. — The roars were absent or diminished for two Masters Tournaments, so many spectators kept away because of the pandemic.But Augusta National Golf Club’s gates have swung open once again for the wealthy masses to convene along the course. For all that has changed just about everywhere else, not so much has at Augusta. Of course it hasn’t: This is tradition-bound Augusta, for better or for worse.And so the Masters is, as ever, a sporting event with the (sometimes vanishing) sensibilities of a garden party, the rarefied attendance of an elite fraternity gathering and a golf spectacle equaled by few places.Pairing sheets, free to anyone who perhaps paid thousands of dollars for a general admission pass, rustle. Ice cubes clink in plastic cups, and sandwich wrappers crinkle. Balls catapult off driver heads, setting up shots and, in the meantime, anodyne commentaries to no one in particular. There are nervous laughs, urgent shouts and communal ducking and shoulder-clenching when a shot goes astray and lands on the crossway of an entirely different hole.There are no cellphones, no remote doorbell chimes, no one squawking on a conference call that you, too, have wound up joining. But there is, at last, noise.“They just live and die with your success or failure,” Tommy Aaron, the 1973 Masters winner, said of the spectators in 2020.And they and their exclamations are back. A cheer someplace prompts heads to snap around, the volume and direction suggesting what might have made one man’s day and ruined another’s.The roars have been building all week. Headed into the final day, surely the safest bet at Augusta is that Sunday will elicit the greatest ones of all.Spectators leaving the golf course after the horns sounded to alert that lightning was in the area and play had been suspended during practice rounds on Wednesday.Cellphones are not allowed on the course, but the Masters provides free phones for patrons away from the action.Patrons posed outside the clubhouse dining area.The concession area during a practice round. While some prices have gone up slightly this year, it is stilll pretty cheap to eat and drink at Augusta National.Fans following a shot hit on the the 13th fairway in the second round.A young boy watching the golfers on the practice green.The crowd watching Bryson DeChambeau hitting from the tee on the third hole during the first round. More