The defending PLAYERS Champion, PGA Tour Champion, Tour Player of the Year and arguably the best player on the planet, Rory McIlroy, is making his 2020 debut this week at Torrey Pines. Outside of a little media-driven drama with Brooks Koepka, the reigning world no.1, McIlroy somehow managed to fly under the radar last year as far as the headlines were concerned. That’s despite his four wins, 14 top-10 finishes and the accolades previously noted.
The new decade seemed to be starting off the same way for former world no.1, too, with much of the focus on Tiger’s 2020 debut at the Farmers Insurance Open this week as well. Now, though, he’s flying a little less under the radar.
Currently ranked no.2, McIlroy has the chance to reclaim the top spot as early as this week with a win — and his chances are good. As of the last update, the Irishman is the favorite to win the Farmers at +600. And it’s definitely on his mind.
“There was a point in the middle of last year where I was, like, four points behind Brooks. And then, once I won the Tour Championship and then in China [WGC-HSBC Champions], I kind of saw that gap closing,” McIlroy told Golf Digest this week. “Then it sort of became, ‘Huh, I’m actually close.’”
McIlroy isn’t a lock by any means, though. Third-ranked Jon Rahm and one Tiger Woods have favorable odds to take the Farmers, too, at +750 and +1000, respectively. And McIlroy has never won a season debut — if you can believe that — finishing top-five in 10 of 12 such events, according to @JustinRayGolf.
.@McIlroyRory opens his 2020 this week at Torrey Pines. Rory can do something this week he's never done before.
Despite playing extremely well in year-opening events in his career, he's never won…. in those 12 starts, he's finished in the top-five 10 times.
Nonetheless, the silver lining: Rory kicked off last season’s campaign at Torrey Pines as well — his first pro appearance at the course — finishing T-5. You’d think he’d be able to top that now that he’s familiar with the course, and knows he can score there. And after his red-hot finish to the 2018 season, the stars are aligning, right?
If you ask Rory, whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. “Look, it’s on the radar,” he told Golf Digest in the same interview. “If it doesn’t happen this week, I’ll have chances in the future.”
Seems inevitable at this point.
McIlroy’s paired with Cameron Smith and Brant Snedeker for the opening round of the Farmers. Stick with Golf Channel for live coverage of the early rounds, and CBS for his possible weekend run.
It’s the start of a new decade: out with old USGA handicap system, in with the new, supposedly simplified, World Handicap System.
Effective in the US January 2020, the WHS puts an end to the half dozen systems used around the globe in favor of one standard calculation. In an effort to make it easier for anyone to get an official index, the new system only requires 56 holes to be recorded (down from 90), and only the top eight of 20 rounds count (down from 10) — meaning a couple blow up rounds won’t hurt as much. The WHS is updated daily, too, which is certainly a nightmare for tournament committees but convenient for players keeping a close eye on their index.
Among the other changes, the old Equitable Stroke System is no more, replaced with the “net double bogey” standard (Double Bogey + any handicap strokes received on a hole). And the WHS even takes weather into account with the “playing conditions calculation.” The PCC determines the impact of your score based on the average of all scores posted at that course on that day (emphasizing the importance of daily updates and other player data). Lastly, soft and hard caps are now in place to safeguard your index should the wheels start to come off — as they so often do. Explained by Golf.com and Steve Edmondson, the USGA’s managing director of handicapping and course rating, if your index worsens by three points in a year, further decreases will only be calculated at 50%. That’s the soft cap. The hard cap comes into play when your index worsens by five in a year.
By all accounts, American golfers won’t see a dramatic change to their existing indexes under the new WHS — one or two stokes if anything, according to the USGA — but the new system could change how many strokes you’re getting or giving out on the tee box by a lot.
Here’s the old USGA formula to determine strokes: Course Handicap = Handicap Index x (Slope Rating/113)
And here’s the new WHS formula: Course Handicap = Handicap Index x (Slope Rating/113) + (Course Rating – par)
The biggest change to the formula is, obviously, the addition of course rating and par. This change is an ode to regions predominately playing Stableford, where points are counted as opposed to strokes. According to Dean Knuth, the USGA’s former Director of Handicapping — who has the badass nickname “The Pope of Slope” — the new formula creates a problem for American players, mostly because par is hardly indicative of how difficult, or easy, a course plays.
From his op-ed in Golf Digest:
“Where this issue becomes noticeable is how the new formula changes course handicap values from tee to tee … For example, where once a course handicap was a 12 from the back and middle tees, and an 11 from the front, under the new WHS calculations there will be much larger variations — as many as 18 shots in some instances — between tees. Part of the reason for this is that during the calculation, an approximation is being approximated again by adding Course Rating minus Par, creating an imperfect “over-spreading” of the course handicaps. Golfers moving to longer tees will think this is a logical change (they’ll be getting more strokes). Golfers playing shorter tees won’t be so happy.”
Once the official announcement is made, the Tour will see its broadcasting value increase a ridiculous 60%. That’s thanks to the new broadcasting deals with CBS and NBC totaling $700 million per year, up from $400 million. The 9-year agreement keeps the two networks as the official homes of golf, and begin once the previous contracts expire at the end of the 2021 season.
Why such a dramatic increase?
Tiger Woods, probably. The 2018-2019 season was the best we’ve seen from Tiger as of late, and from the Tour as a whole. It was emotional, it was controversial, and it was super fun to watch. The “Tiger Effect” is back in full fucking effect.
At this point it doesn’t even matter to the masses if Tiger wins or loses — so long as he’s playing, we’re watching — it just so happens that he’s coming off one of his best seasons to date, and performing better than many thought he would after making his comeback. And lucky enough for the Tour, it’s all happening as their current broadcast deals are expiring. The Tour did make a little gamble by not opting out of the deals and making a go at a larger amount back in 2017, good call.
It’s not all luck, perhaps. Golf has come along way in reimagining itself in recent years (still thanks in large part to Tiger). Brooks, Rhambo, DJ, Rory, JT, Phil, Rickie — there is no shortage of superstars to root for. And now, going out on a limb a little here, the Tour is enjoying its very own international super villains in Patrick Reed, and, to a lesser degree, Bryson DeChambeau, too. Golf is younger, flashier, and a whole lot more interesting. Those trends show no signs of stopping, and when you add the second-coming of Tiger Woods to the table, it’s no surprise it’s paying off for the PGA Tour.
As if there weren’t enough excitement surrounding the 2019 Presidents Cup already, the week that saw the Hero World Challenge provided a whole lot more to buzz about heading into Melbourne.
Topping the list is Patrick Reed’s now-infamous rules infraction during the third round of the World Hero Challenge in the Bahamas. Leading the tournament at the time, Reed found his second shot at the par 5 11th buried in a waste bunker. With a camera locked on, Reed can be seen grounding his club and sweeping a generous amount of sand from behind the ball — twice.
That little number earned Reed a two-stroke penalty at the end of his round, the loss of the lead heading into the final day, and ultimately the tournament. A couple stroke penalty and little social media chastising would usually be enough for everyone to move on, but not when it’s Patrick Reed.
Like him or not, Reed is one of the most socially scrutinized golfers on Tour and isn’t known to do himself any favors when it comes to his public perception. That continued with his statements after the penalty, in which he claims he didn’t intend to improve his lie, and something about the camera angle making it seem more egregious than it was (yeah, OK, Pat).
Adding even more fuel to that fire is Reed’s spot on the American Presidents Cup team, captained by Tiger Woods, the host of the tournament at which Reed made a fool of himself. The memes and calls for his removal from the America team immediately flooded social media, garnering reactions from other tour players and the bringing promise from some that Team USA, and Reed in particular, are gonna get it from the International fans in Melbourne.
International rookie Cameron Smith made his thoughts known unabashed. “I don’t have any sympathy for anyone that cheats. I hope the crowd absolutely gives it to not only him, but everyone [on the American team] next week,” Smith told the Australian Associated Press. “If you make a mistake maybe once, you could maybe understand but to give a bit of a bullshit response like the camera angle … that’s pretty up there.” Marc Leishman echoed the sentiment saying Reed’s brought the verbal lashing on himself.
With the odds stacked against them (US -275 at the time of this writing), the International team has asked fans to not screw up their would-be home-field advantage. “I’ll be disappointed if they are cheering enthusiastically for Tiger or anyone on the U.S. team,” Adam Scott told the Herald Sun last week. “Last time it was too friendly.”
Patrick Reed or not, that’s a tall order considering we’re talking about Tiger, the GOAT, Woods and the rest of the star-studded American roster. Woods is hot right now, finishing fourth at the Hero after winning the ZOZO Championship in October, and he’s clearly feeling himself.
Paired with Justin Thomas for the opening round of the Hero, Tiger set the tone for HIS weekend by trolling JT on the tee box:
There was one Team USA name missing from the tee sheet last week. Dustin Johnson withdrew from the Hero to recover from a knee surgery he had after the Tour Championship, but says he’ll be ready to take on the International team. As for his teammates, along with Woods, Reed, Thomas, Gary Woodland, Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, and Tony Finau all finished top-10 last week, giving team USA plenty of momentum heading into the week. (Oh yeah, Henrick Stenson took the Hero Challenge and the $1,000,000 purse at 18-under par.)
After last week, as we eye the opening rounds of the 2019 Presidents Cup, we already know what we don’t know. We know the International players and fans want to get under the Americans’ skin, we just don’t know if they can. We know the American pairings are going to be good, we just don’t know how good. And we know the Americans are going to win, we just don’t know by how much. We’re ready to find out.
Coverage begins Thursday, December 12, with the fourball opening round followed by the foursome matches on Friday. Saturday brings a full slate with the second round of fourball and foursomes, and closing on Sunday with the singles matches. Tune into the Golf Channel for live coverage Thursday through Sunday, and NBC for a replay of Sunday.
When word that the PGA Tour Policy Board had passed and will implement new pace-of-play guidelines during the 2020 season began to spread, the age-old cycle of news headlines, analytics, anonymous sources, finger pointing and speculation got another big boost. We don’t know all the details of the new plan, and won’t until the Tour makes its official announcement about the change (reportedly coming early 2020), but we do know enough to keep the speculation going until then.
Golf Digest reports the new policy will shift the Tour’s focus on players in groups that are out of position to individual players regardless of group position, which is in-line with the Tour’s August announcement that it would be taking a closer look at the pace-of-policy. That announcement came on the heels of the “recent incidents,” the Tour cited at the time — those incidents being Bryson DeChambeau’s antics at the 2019 Northern Trust and a whole other p-o-p rabbit hole. But back to the new policy. To shift the focus to individual players, the Tour is reportedly going to create a secret shit list of the slowest players so they are more likely to be put on the clock. If a player records a second bad time during a round they will incur a one-stoke penalty.
The new policy is supposed to start a week after the Masters, at the RBC Heritage in South Carolina. That seems a pretty quick turnaround for what’s being talked up as some kind of sweeping, answer-to-all-problems policy — but is it really any of that? There are rules meant to address slow play on the Tour already on the books, though they are pretty weak, obviously. But the bigger part of the problem, one the rulebook can’t fix, is the Tour’s inability to enforce it’s own rules, or unwillingness to do so.
Pace-of-play has been a massive problem for the Tour ever since, well, ever. Any time it looks like the Tour is ready to do something about it, it doesn’t — a story seemingly as old as the game itself. Are we really to believe this new policy is going to change anything?
It’s no secret who the slowest players are, certainly amongst the players themselves, but the fans know it too. What’s keeping a list of the most-likely suspects going to achieve if the same rules officials won’t penalize anyone anyways? What’s the point of keeping the list secret in the first place if we can guess who’s on it? Maybe some good ol’ fashioned online public shaming is the change we need to speed things up.
Despite the announcement, right now the Tour is no closer to solving the problem than it was to begin with. This new policy gives it a new approach at highlighting AND enforcing the problem, but given its track record for penalizing players, or lack there of, the prospect that the Tour has effected any meaningful change is still a toss up.
At least we won’t have to wait too long to find out for sure.
An artist rendering of the new Crush Golf facility in Colorado Springs, opening summer 2020.
With the explosion of TopGolf and Drive Shack popularity across the US, we here in Southern Colorado have been patiently waiting for our turn at a brightly lit, titillating year-round golf venue. Come summer 2020, the wait will be over.
In a November press release, developers of the ever expanding Polaris Pointe retail complex on the north side of Colorado Springs announced the upcoming opening of Crush Golf and sister facility AirCity360. Currently under construction, Crush Golf will span 54,000 sqft, housing 75 heated driving range “suites” with Trackman Golf tech, a 250-yard driving range, dining and meeting facilities. Crush Golf with be the “first of its kind golf facility in the Pikes Peak Region,” according to the release, offering southern Colorado golfers a way to cure their FOMO with our neighbors to the north (Top Golf has already staked a claim in the Denver area with two locations).
Crush Golf’s sister facility, AirCity360, is said to be an all-family entertainment venue with everything from a roller coaster, climbing wall and “Ninja360” course to dodgeball, trampolines and much more. The two facilities join a host of other attractions in the Polaris Pointe center, including go-karts, shopping centers, restaurants and more to make it one of the premiere entertainment centers south of Denver, located east of I-25 and Northgate Boulevard.