Welp, looks like the cat’s outta the bag — apparently everyone is playing golf. At the very least everyone is buying new golf stuff, and at a record pace.
According to Golf Datatech, LLC, U.S. retail golf equipment sales from July through September of 2020 surpassed the $1 billion mark, representing the first-time sales in Q3 have ever exceeded $1 billion, and the second highest quarter of all time (Q2 2008 sales = $1.013 billion). The research firm also reported that Q3 golf equipment sales for 2020 were up a staggering 42% over the same time period in 2019, with golf bags, wedges, and irons leading in sales.
“These month-over-month sales records are unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” says Golf Datatech’s John Krzynowek. “Our Rounds Played data also shows similar record-breaking growth over the past several months, which is a strong indication that avid golfers and newcomers alike are driving the sport to new levels right now.”
Graphic via Golf DataTech.
Outside of a few Corona-related WDs, and the upending of every tours’ schedule, golf has been one of the few things to remain steadfast during the pandemic. Highlighted as one of the safest activities one can do in the Covid era, the game we love seems to be catching on with the masses. Krzynowek says year-to-date sales for total equipment are now up 0.2% compared to 2019, calling
The golf advocate in me is cheering, welcoming all newcomers to the most beloved and hated game you’ll ever play. I hope you’re young, diverse and openminded — unfazed by women wearing active wear, anyone wearing hoodies, and music on the course. Welcome to the family, please just try to keep pace. The weekend golfer in me, on the other hand, is tired of fully-stacked tee sheets and driving ranges at capacity. It’s a good problem to have in the long run, but come on, I am a member.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? That’s essentially what the proposed Premier Golf League (PGL) needs to figure out if it hopes to make good on its lofty goals.
Plans for the PGL have been in the works for years, but after the World Golf Group recently announced it hopes to launch the league in January 2022, it’s back in the headlines. “Rivaling” the PGA and European Tours, the PGL aims to host 48 of the world’s best players at 18 tournaments over eight months around the globe. The purses would be huge — $10 million per event, according to reports — with no cuts. Along with individual scoring the PGL would integrate a team format as well, ending the season with a team playoff event.
Here’s a quick look at the why, according to the WGG statement:
“If you want the world to watch, you have to showcase your best product, week-in-week-out. Golf doesn’t do that currently. … We believe we’ll succeed because the league is what fans, sponsors and broadcasters want — and the best players deserve. It will revitalise [sic] the sport for this and future generations.”
Fair enough. But now for the bigger question: How?
Recruiting “48 of the world’s best players” is a lot easier to say than it will be to do. A $10 million dollar purse per event isn’t a bad start, but then things get a little more complicated. For the PGL to become truly successful in the long term it also has to court broadcasters and major sponsors. Hard to imagine doing that with a yet-to-be filled roster of players the fans will tune in to see, and it’s hard to imagine filling that roster without broadcast and sponsorship backing. It’s the classic chicken and the egg dilemma from your intro to philosophy class.
Considering the year-round broadcasting schedules we already enjoy thanks to the PGA, LPGA, Euro, Korn Ferry and other tours, air time for an additional 18 3-day events seems scarce to begin with. And who knows how much more broadcasters would be willing to shell out for the rights of a brand new tour when the aforementioned are only growing more popular, and expensive. Sponsors may be easier to come by — may be — but that still hinges on what, or rather who, they’re sponsoring. Don’t expect much buy in if those names don’t include the actual best players in the world.
So it seems it’s all about who’s playing in the PGL, and it’s been a priority for the would-be tour to figure it out.
At the Farmers Insurance Open, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson confirmed talks have been going on for years, though both were far from offering an endorsement.
“I’m still quite a traditionalist, so to have that much of an upheaval in the game I don’t think is the right step forward,” McIlroy said during a press conference at Torrey Pines. “But I think, as I said, it might be a catalyst for some changes on this tour that can help it grow and move forward — you know, reward the top players the way they should be, I guess.”
Mickelson told reporters he doesn’t know enough about the proposed tour to comment publicly, but McIlroy also noted the PGL is “exploiting a couple holes” in top-level golf as we know it, recognizing it’s become just as much about the entertainment as it is the competition. That bodes well for the no-cut and team formats that would give fans more reason to stay tuned in, again if we’re actually the best golfers in the world.
The PGL will have no help from its predecessors in courting top players to its ranks, either, try as it might. The PGA and European Tours won’t even acknowledge its existence let alone allow their players to double dip. That leads to the question of what top-50 ranked player would want to join the un-tested PGL at the sake of losing their other tour status.
The PGA is one looking forward to its largest broadcasting windfall yet, and golf as a whole is in the midst of an upswing in popularity thanks to, you guessed it, extremely talented and young players. Credit where it’s due, they’ve done a lot to reach this point and shouldn’t feel obligated to share it with the new kid on the block. What’s more, like McIlroy said, established tours could simply implement PGL-like changes themselves, thus making a new tour totally irrelevant from the get go (I added that last part).
So what comes first, the league or the players? The WGG told everyone to mark their calendars and the countdown to 2022 is on. We’ll have to wait a see who’s first on the tee, if there even is one.
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.