Golf Editorial

20190901 Golf Needs More Majors, Less WGC’s

Introduction

Mens’ golf has played four Majors each year for many decades and they are the most prestigious tournaments of any year. I believe this is a great because, as in tennis, there are four big opportunities for players to realise a dream and define their legacy; every year. Spread throughout the year.

Conversely, in most sports there’s just one big opportunity a year, or biannually or even quadrennially: Superbowl, World Series, Champions League Final, Stanley Cup, Football, Cricket or Rugby World Cup, Olympics…….

Therein lies an insoluble problem for the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs. PGA Tour is attempting to mimic many major sports with a post-season spectacular but it’s inherently doomed to failure because of the status of the Majors. In my opinion, the FEC should therefore be scrapped as part of an overhaul of the global golf calendar.

The composition of the Majors has changed over the decades but the number hasn’t. The ‘Majors’ originally consisted of: the British and US Opens and Amateurs but for the past 60 years, effectively since Arnold Palmer first talked about “winning his own grand slam to try and match Bobby Jones” the Major menu has remained unchanged: Masters, US Open, Open Championship & PGA Championship.

That’s all fine but after 60 years I suspect it’s time to add more.

How Many Majors should there be?

I say there should be seven.

Before the traditionalists fall off their chairs, please bear with me. I make my case for seven Majors in the context of two adjustments to golf’s existing annual menu of tournaments, as follows:

  • Scrap the FedEx Cup; it’s irrelevant as well as an obscene waste of money and;
  • Scrap the WGC’s; they’re quaint but redundant.

Womens’ and Seniors’ golf both play five Majors each year and there’s nothing wrong with that. In this context, Mens’ golf as a bigger revenue-driver and attractor of eyes, logically should have more than five. So I say let’s start with seven.

Whither the WGC’s

These tournaments belong to IFPGAT; the International Federation of PGA Tours. Ever heard of it? It was founded in 1996 “to enable the world’s leading tours to discuss common and global issues in professional golf.”

That’s warm and fuzzy but, in my opinion, IFPGAT should have no engagement in sanctioning tournaments; especially committee-generated, no-cut, events carrying bloated purses yet with entry granted to lower-level (with all due respect) golfers solely because they had a good season in: Japan, Australia or South Africa. In my opinion, this is nothing more than a quaint paternal sop to lesser Federation members….

So, I say scrap the WGC’s to help clear the way for the introduction of golf’s 5th, 6th and 7th Majors.

Of course, there is no issue with any Tour hosting a ‘World Matchplay’ or annual big money tournaments in Mexico or China, but such tournaments should, in my opinion, be regular Tour events and succeed or fail on merit rather than bolstered by artificial ‘WGC status’

No More Opposite Field Events

The removal of the WGC’s would enable disadvantaged events: Sanderson Farms, Puntacana, Barracuda & Puerto Rico to have their opportunity to flourish or die, as the market determines, with purses of $6-7m (not $3-4m) and stronger fields.

An added benefit is focus. For golfers, fans and viewers. There’d be two ‘big’ tournaments every week (except December): a PGA Tour & a European Tour event. Better for television, better for spectators (stronger fields), better for the main tours, better for gamblers and a better timezone spread too.

On the topic of focus, if I were king of the golf world there would be no main Tour tournaments played opposite a Major. So I’d cancel or reschedule the Barbasol Championship. The Open Championship should stand in splendid isolation; all Majors should; all seven of them.

Keep the Four Current Majors?

The current Majors are played in USA (3) and UK (1). All carry heritage and prestige (PGA Championship being the weakling of the four in this regard) and should arguably remain in the Major rotation.

However, I’d consider transferring the PGA Championship’s Major status to The Players Championship. With its venue having been one key to The Masters’ prestige and familiarity, it makes sense to add another high quality permanent venue, TPC Sawgrass,

Also, having got rid of IFPGAT it would make some sense to get rid of PGA of America from the Major-sanction scene and have its replacement, The Players Championship, under the aegis of the PGA Tour.

Where to Play the Three New Majors?

I approached this vexed matter by taking: money, geo-location and inter-organisational jealousy into account. In the end, I concluded that the Middle East and China should each gain a Major while I couldn’t make a case for either mainland Europe or North America owning the third new Major outright – so I deemed they should share it.

The Middle Eastern Major would be the first of each year and scheduled late in February, likely under the aegis of the European & MGT Tours. It would take the slot currently occupied by Oman or Qatar and could be annually rotated around the region: UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, etc.

The Intercontinental Major would sit in a September slot and alternate between Europe & North America. Perhaps it should rotate through existing quality venues such as: Le Golf National, Valderrama, Riviera, Doral and the like?

The Chinese Major to end each Major season is logically the longstanding WGC tournament in Sheshan, held at the end of October; place it under the aegis of the CGA. Its timing perfectly ties in with my revised Major chronology (see below), stretching the Major season from late February to late October.

A New Major Schedule

While the most recent schedule change, shifting the PGA Championship from August to May, was a slight improvement it did create an issue in that the four Majors were compressed between early April and mid-July. On average, one every 4.5 weeks.

I believe seven Majors from late Feb to late October, one every five to six weeks and with no WGC’s, would be better for players’ Major preparation while simultaneously stretching ‘the interest season’ and making it more global and inclusive in its imprint.

Key to this approach is a more global perspective whereby PGA Tour, in particular, changes four mindsets:

  • There should be no fall swing; it’s a defeatist mindset;
  • The golf Major season should be longer and exist independent of american football;
  • The FedEx Cup is a flawed concept; it should be scrapped and;
  • The golf year (season) should follow the natural rhythm of a calendar year.

European Tour would potentially gain a bit through the removal of the FedEx Cup and involvement in two more Majors. However, it also needs to change:

  • More resources should be allocated to its tournaments preceding the Middle East, Intercontinental & Open Championship Majors;
  • Defensive negative moves, such a requiring a minimum number of events to be played to retain Tour membership, should be scrapped;
  • The tournament schedule should revert to a calendar year, ending in November and;
  • The Race to Dubai should be trashed and replaced by a season-ending Tour Championship (Dubai?); same format as PGA Tour’s Tournament of Champions.

I believe my mooted changes support all of the above. Here’s a rough revised Major schedule:

End February: Middle East

Early April: Masters

Mid-May: Players (or PGA)

Mid-June: US Open

Mid-July: The Open

September: Intercontinental (USA & Europe alternating)

End October: China

There’s longer spacing between Majors to give top players time to rest and try to peak seven times per year. Currently they need to try and peak 8 times from March to October but 7 of those are March to August.

There are multiple windows in which European Tour could strategically schedule its Rolex Series / flagship tournaments.

There’s a natural Mid-East swing to start the season with the recently introduced Saudi tournament capable of slotting in with Qatar and the new Middle East Major in February.

There is still room for the accommodation of non-annual events such as the Ryder Cup and Olympic Games in August or September.

There’s a natural ‘Asian’ swing end to the season with the new Zozo Championship slotting in with the CJ Cup & the new China Major in October.

 

Ⓒ Copyright MJ Miller (Mike) 1 September 2019.

Golf Editorial

20190727 The Western Amateur

Introduction

There are few consistently great tournaments in the world of golf; The Masters, The Open Championship and some others readily spring to my mind.

It may surprise some people that I regard The Western Amateur as one of those great tournaments.

Western Amateur1

It therefore seems timely, with the 2019 edition to be played next week in Michigan, to reflect back and explain why I hold it in such high esteem.

There are a two main reasons for my affection:

  • It contains a 72-hole stroke play test and is thus a truly helpful indicator of future pro tournament readiness / skill than any other amateur event and;
  • It always showcases most of the best up-and-coming amateurs, from North America and beyond, and is thus an exciting element of golf’s constant rejuvenation.

History

The Western Amateur traces all the way back to 1899 and this year will be the 119th edition.

This year’s host course, Point O’ Woods Golf & Country Club, Benton Harbor, echoes that long heritage, having hosted from 1971-2008, during which time the winners included future Major champions: Ben Crenshaw, Curtis Strange, Hal Sutton (twice),  Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard (twice) & Tiger Woods!

The trophy is ultimately decided by a few rounds of head-to-head match play, but it’s the 72-hole stroke play precursor on which I will focus here because my interest lies in future stroke play tournaments and betting on their outcomes!

Recent Results

My approach to this article has been to examine the (72-hole) stroke play results since 2011 (as far back as my d’base goes for this event) and the players finishing Top20.

I’m hoping these data will both support the case for my claimed significance of this tournament and also assist bettors and fantasy golf afficionados trying to identify emerging players who will grace professional tournaments with distinction in the months and years ahead.

Here are some selected names and their placings from recent years’ stroke play over 72 holes:

2018: Cole Hammer (1); Collin Morikawa (4); Brandon Wu (5); Min woo Lee (5).

2017: Norman Xiong (1); Doc Redman (6); Cameron Champ (9); Joaquin Niemann (14); Min Woo Lee (14).

2016: Sam Horsfield (1); Doug Ghim (6); Dylan Meyer (12); Joaquin Niemann (12); Cameron Champ (18); Wyndham Clark (20).

2015: Robby Shelton (1); Jordan Niebrugge (3); Sam Horsfield (3); Aaron Wise (3); Ryan Ruffels (8).

2014: Doug Ghim (1); Bryson DeChambeau (2); Xander Schauffele (3); Dou Zecheng (7); Lucas Herbert (7); Scottie Scheffler (10); Beau Hossler (10); CT Pan (13).

2013: Patrick Rodgers (1); Carlos Ortiz (2); Jordan Niebrugge (3); Sebastian Cappelen (7); Robby Shelton (7); Keith Mitchell (13); Beau Hossler (13); Talor Gooch (13).

2012: Justin Thomas (3); Abraham Ancer (3); Zac Blair (9); Brandon Stone (10); Mac Hughes (13); CT Pan (13); Max Homa (13);

2011: Patrick Rodgers (2); Jordan Spieth (3); Emiliano Grillo (4); Derek Ernst (6); CT Pan (7); Peter Uihlein (7); Mac Hughes (9); Andrew Putnam (11); Patrick Cantlay (16); Russell Henley (18).

Conclusions

As you can see, the further back we go the better the talent looks; of course. This is because sometimes it takes a while to mature into the professional ranks.

Some amateur stars never even try while others, such as Jordan Niebrugge (mentioned twice above), don’t make an early impact and perhaps never will.

Chris Williams, for example, who won the Western Amateur in 2011 & 2012, turned pro with the highest of expectations but, sadly, never won and, even more tragically, last week announced his retirement  from pro golf at just age 27.

However, my primary theme here is future successful pro talent.

22-y-o Collin Morikawa by now need no introduction and, after a stellar US Open and a 2nd & 4th in his past two PGA Tour events, may even grab his first win this week in Nevada. If not, it’s not far away.

20-y-o Aussie Min Woo Lee features in 2017 & 2018 above. He hits it a mile, made it through to the Web.com QSchool Final and has since finished 4th (Saudi Arabia) & 5th (Perth) on the European Tour this year along with meritorious Top30’s at: Valderrama, Qatar & the Volvo China Open.

20-y-o Chilean Joaquin Niemann also features twice above. On the PGA Tour, where he earned his card after just 8 pro starts! he’s notched 3xTop10’s in his past five starts and it’s only a matter of time before be breaks through for his first win. Interestingly, he was denied college entry in USA after failing an English language proficiency test; it was surely that college’s loss;

21-y-o Doc Redman is fast becoming well-known. Since turning pro in 2018 he’s grabbed a MacKenzie Tour card in Canada, snagged a Top20 in the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship then a 2nd in the Rocket Mortgage and last week was 20th in the Open Championship! Progression indeed! Watch out for him on the Fall Swing and beyond;

Deeper, looking for guys in those 2017 & 2018 Western Amateur top 20’s who are now pro’s and may win sometime soon, hopefully at decent odds, I have so far flagged the following:

  • 23-y-o Patrick Flavin (who has been making his way on PGA Tour Latinoamerica and recently won the Bupa Matchplay there);
  • Stanford’s Brandon Wu, who I expect to turn pro soon, made the cut at the US Open this year (+1 285 at Pebble Beach);
  • 22-y-o Nick Hardy, who finished 3rd in 2017, has played on various tours, including made cuts in the PGA Tour’s John Deere & Barracuda. He won last month on the Adams Tour (Supreme Lending classic) and I expect his confidence and comfort level to rise over the next year or so;
  • 22-y-o William Gordon who was 9th in 2017 was 4th in the 2018 US Amateur stroke play and then a losing match play quarter-finalist. He’s joined the MacKenzie Tour with just one missed cut and placed 28th in his only Korn Ferry start (Utah). I expect his talent to shine through over the next year or so.

 

Cheers and good luck with all your golf gambling involvement.

 

Ⓒ Copyright MJ Miller (Mike) 26 July 2019.

Golf Editorial

20190210 Incompetent ALPG?

I was dismayed last week to read the ALPG tournament schedule and see an event for this week entitled ‘Vic Open’. There was no sponsor name.

The absence of the sponsor name was staggering to me as ALPG had announced to the media on 7 December 2018 that a naming rights sponsor (inevitably that Australasian golf serial-rescuer, ISPS Handa) had been secured for the tournament.

Yet here we were in early February and ALPG hadn’t bothered to update the tournament name to reflect that sponsorship!

I say that’s either incompetent, in extremis, or demonstrative of a complete lack of respect. It has to be one or the other.

Might such behaviour partly explain why ALPG has failed to retain so many of its sponsors in recent years?

———————————————

Then, today, I see the ALPG site carrying a media release relating to an upcoming tournament previously known as Australian Ladies Classic Bonville. While that was an unnecessarily long title (should have been Bonville Classic?) the new one is a real beauty:

“The Pacific Bay Resort Australian Ladies Classic – Bonville, presented by Geoff King Motors.”

Pacific Bay Resort

Now we all know it’s difficult to attract sponsorship monies to Ladies golf, but here’s a wickedly unwieldy title trying to be all things to all people. And failing. Miserably. There are a lot of redundant words in that silly title!

It’s not remotely catchy and it’s far too long for me to use it on my site. I’m sure Oddschecker won’t use it and the bookmakers who offer betting on it (which helps fund Australian golf, by the way) won’t use this title either. Persons talking about the tournament in the street or in bars won’t use it ……

However, my main point is that the media announcement was from Golf NSW, not ALPG. In fact, ALPG did not even rate a mention in the media release, see it here

I don’t know the details but, to me, this looks like ALPG aiding and abetting another organisation to trumpet the fact that it had succeeded where ALPG had failed – in the securing of sponsorships.

Further, ALPG didn’t even have the nous to either add its own paragraph into the press release or release one of its own on the topic: welcoming the new sponsors on board, thanking Golf NSW for its excellence and stating how this is good news for its members. Nothing! Squat! Doughnut! Sweet FA!

Even further, if you visit the ALPG site to read about the organisation, it mentions the following:

screenshot-alpg.com.au-2019.02.10-09-48-52

Fyi, neither Oates nor McKayson are now sponsors; they’ve been lost. No mention of new sponsor The Pacific Bay Resort either!

An organisation that fails to update its website (its ‘window to the world’) to reflect commercial reality is no big deal in the greater scheme of things but it certainly is indicative of either commercial naivety or a lack of care. Whichever, it’s yet another sign….

I’ve railed on a bit in some recent blogs about competent (Mike Whan, LPGA) and incompetent (Mark Lichtenhein, LET) tour leadership during a critical era for female golf.

The above simple examples suggest to me that either the ALPG Board or CEO, or both, need to be added to the ‘incompetent’ category.

 

Ⓒ Copyright MJ Miller (Mike) 10 February 2019

 

Golf Editorial

20190102 Eisenhower & Esperito Santo Trophies as Predictors

Eisenhower Trophy

The Eisenhower Trophy is the biennial World Amateur Team Championship for men, organised by the International Golf Federation.

IGF logo

It was named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, the President of the United States, when the tournament was first played in 1958. It’s been played every even-numbered year since that time.

It first appeared on my personal radar when my country, New Zealand, briefly became competitive: 2nd in 1990 and the winner in 1992.

I’ve followed it closely since my interest in golf betting got serious, after my first ever golf bet ($50 on Bernhard Langer to win the 1993 Masters @ 50/1) won.

My interest was also spurred by the realisation that the sheer breadth of the Eisenhower competition, involving as it does the best amateurs from so many countries, made it a true scoping of global talent.

Not only that, but players complete 4 rounds of stroke play – the perfect measuring stick for persons like me who are interested in betting on golf tournament outcomes. Each team now has 3 players and the two best scores each round count towards the team total, but it is individual scoring performances on which I focus.

1992 (Canada)

That winning 1992 NZ team included Michael Campbell who went on to record 15 pro wins including a US Open. His first pro wins were in 1993, 1994 (3) & 1995.

1994 (France)

USA prevailed by 11 strokes with a team that included Tiger Woods. Interestingly, it was played at Le Golf National’s Albatros Course, the venue of the 2018 Ryder Cup; not one of Tiger’s happiest events!

USA team member Allen Doyle won the individual stroke play honours; he won 3 pro tournaments in 1995.

Tiger, who was 6th overall, started winning pro tournaments in 1996.

My point here is that we could to some extent predict progression to early professional success for Eisenhower stars and it’s a trend that has been maintained in more recent times..

Let’s now skip ahead to more recent Eisenhower’s and take a look at those who starred and what’s occurred since.

2014 (Japan)

USA won and its team was pretty useful: Bryson DeChambeau, Beau Hossler & Denny McCarthy. Bryson won the US Amateur in 2015 and his first pro tournament in 2016. Beau & Denny are also now both PGA Tour card holders.

The individual stroke play was won by Jon Rahm of Spain from Victor Perez, Lucas Herbert & Alejando Tosti.

Rahm’ subsequent ascent to near the apex of world golf is well documented while Herbert & Perez are already rising young stars on the European Tour. Tosti turned pro only at the end of 2017 and is yet to make his mark in the pro ranks.

Close behind in the stroke play standings came: Denny McCarthy, Marcus Kinhult, Bryson DeChambeau. Corey Conners, Renato Paratore …… Plenty of recognisable names there.

2016 (Mexico)

This was not a vintage year, and Australia cantered to victory by 19 strokes, led by Cameron Davis & Curtis Luck – who finished 1st & 2nd in the individual standings.

Davis has since won the 2017 Australian Open and a Web.com tournament in 2018. Huge promise!

Luck hasn’t yet performed as well as his compatriot, but 3xTop10’s on the 2018 Web.com Tour hint at what’s to come.

Adrian Meronk of Poland tied 3rd. He had a solid season on the 2018 European Challenge Tour (9xTop25’s) and is a strong candidate to graduate in 2019.

Sung-Ho Yun tied 3rd. He had a 2nd in his first season on the Korean Mens’ Tour in 2018 and is also expected to progress in 2019.

Alfie Plant also tied 3rd. He subsequently won the 2017 European Amateur but is yet to make his mark in the pro ranks.

Viktor Hovland was 7th. He has since finished 2nd in the 2018 European Amateur and won the 2018 US Amateur. His most recent start was a highly meritorious 13th in the 2018 Australian Open. Watch this space!

2018 (Ireland)

Denmark won from USA in the Teams’ event while the individual title was narrowly won by Spain’s Alejandro del Rey from Japan’s Takumi Kanaya.

Del Rey is at Arizona State (a Sun Devil theme here; see Jon Rahm above) and is a 20-y-o long-hitter. Watch this space too!

20-y-o Kanaya, since the Eisenhower, has won the Asia-Pacific Amateur, finished 24th in the Japan Open, missed the cut in a JGTO tournament and signed-off 2018 with 17th at the Australian Open. Keep a close eye on him in 2019!

Nicolai Højgård, a member of the winning Danish team, was born only in 2001 and counts an Open Championship start (2018; MC), a PGT win  and the 2018 European Amateur title on his cv.

His identical twin, Rasmus, was also a team Denmark member and, identical to his twin brother, was T6 in the 2018 Eisenhower. He’s already played a handful of pro events in Europe as an amateur and is expected to progress upward in the coming years.

Justin Suh tied 3rd. He played the 2016 US Open (MC) and finished 4th & 6th in the stroke play qualifier of the US Amateur in 2016 & 2018. Big things expected.

New Zealand’s Daniel Hillier tied 3rd with Suh. He was the stroke play medalist at the 2018 US Amateur, has placed Top20 in the past three Asian Amateurs and has three Top25’s from a handful of PGAT Australasia starts.

And so on …..

Conclusions

Amateur prominence is no guarantee of either accession to the pro ranks or success after arrival.

However, knowledge is power and it can enable bettors to back some highly promising ‘unknown’ players at great prices a few times, before everybody else jumps aboard and starts destroying their prices.

Esperito Santo Trophy

Turning to the Womens’ game, the Esperito Santo was launched in 1964 and, like the Eisenhower, is played bi-annually. 50+ countries compete.

I started following it from 2008 (Australia) when Sweden annexed the title by 12 strokes with a team of: Caroline Hedwall, Pernilla Lindberg & Anna Nordqvist. Two have since won Majors.

2010 (Argentina)

Korea beat a USA team including Jessica Korda by a monstrous 17 strokes, setting a tournament scoring record in the process. It was only Korea’s 2nd team title (1996) but a precursor of a dominant period to come; and, I suspect, ongoing!

2012 (Turkey)

Lydia Ko won the individual title, having finished 31st in 2010 as a 13-y-o. She was hardly unknown though, having already won the US Amateur & several pro tournaments including the LPGA’s Canadian Open!

The winning Korean team included 16-y-o Q Baek who won 3 times in Korea and once on the LPGA during 2014. Also, 17-y-o Hyo-Joo Kim who has since won 12 times, incl the 2014 Evian Championship!

2014 (Japan)

Australia beat Canada with Korea 3rd in the teams’ event.

17-y-o Brooke Henderson was top individual. She’s since posted 7 pro wins (incl a Major) with her first win coming in 2015.

Australia’s 18-y-o Min-Jee Lee was 2nd. She’d won the Vic Open as an amateur and also had her first pro win in 2015.

A pretty good supporting cast, too, with the next names on the leaderboard being: Alison Lee, Bronte Law, Su Oh, Linnea Strom & Anne Van Dam

2016 (Mexico)

Back to business-as-usual with a thumping Korean victory, this time by 21 strokes!

17-y-o Hye Jin Choi was the individual stroke play winner. She’s won 4 times on the KLPGA Tour since joining in 2017.

Puk Lyng Thomsen of Denmark was 2nd; she has entered the USA collegiate golf system.

Third was 16-y-o Korean Min-Ji Park who turned pro and joined the KLPGA Tour in 2017. She already has two wins (plus 4x3rd’s) so watch for her emergence onto the global stage.

Notable names a bit further down that 2016 scoreboard were: Daniela Darquea (5th), Leona Maguire (6th) and 16-y-o Nasa Hataoka (11th) who is my tip for the 2019 LPGA Money List title!

2018 (Ireland)

This produced a rare USA victory over asian powerhouses, Japan & Korea. I suspect it’ll prove to be a significant title, too, for a country looking hard for its next-gen golf heroines. Paste these girls in your hat:

The individual winner was 18-y-o Korean Aye-An Cho. She’s had one start since, a 6th on the KLPGA. She’d previously made 10 cuts on that tour as an amateur! Promising!

Joint runners-up were USA’s Jennifer Kupcho and Japan’s Yuka Yasuda.

Kupcho finished 21st at the 2017 US Open and was recently 2nd in the LPGA QSchool to win her card for 2019.

Yasuda has competed sporadically on the JLPGA Tour since July 2017 and has already notched up 5xTop20’s including 3rd & 7th!

USA ‘s 21-y-o Kristen Gillman finished 4th. She owns a stellar amateur record going back to 2013 including the 2014 US Womens Amateur title. She won on the JLPGA Tour in July 2018 as an amateur and also recently received her 2019 LPGA Tour card at QSchool.

Canada’s Jaclyn Lee was next. She was a quarter-finalist at the 2018 British Amateur (4th in stroke play) and recently also won her LPGA card for 2019.

Conclusion

The Esperito Santo is a massively powerful predictor of future pro success for (young) amateurs. More so than the male equivalent. Take note!

 

© Copyright MJ Miller (Mike) 2 January 2019