Tuesday, June 30

USGA Announces New Media Rights Partnership With NBCUniversal, FOX Sports Exits Agreement

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LIBERTY CORNER, N.J. – The United States Golf Association (USGA) announced that the United States media rights for its championships have been transferred to NBCUniversal (NBCU), effective immediately.   

With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to the shift in dates for the U.S. Open from June to September, finding the necessary broadcast hours presented a challenge for FOX Sports, given their commitments to the National Football League, Major League Baseball and college football. What started as an exploration of how FOX Sports and NBC/Golf Channel could work together [during] this unique year led to a broader conversation and eventual agreement for NBCU to take over the USGA media rights.  

As a result, NBCUniversal will broadcast the four championships the USGA will conduct in 2020: the 120th U.S. Women's Amateur (Aug. 3-9 at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md.); the 120th U.S. Amateur (Aug. 10-16 at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Ore.), the 120th U.S. Open (Sept. 17-20 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.) and the 75th U.S. Women's Open (Dec. 10-13 at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas).  

"We are thrilled to acquire the remainder of FOX Sports' USGA agreement, and will carry the designated USGA events, including the U.S. Open, through 2026," said Pete Bevacqua, president of NBC Sports Group.  

"Partnering with NBCUniversal, including Golf Channel, gives us an unparalleled opportunity to connect and engage with the core golf audience more directly and routinely, and as a nonprofit, to continue to have a significant and lasting impact on the game," said Mike Davis, CEO of the USGA.  

While the details are confidential, the term of the agreement between NBCUniversal and the USGA will be the same as the previous agreement with FOX Sports, carrying through December 31, 2026, and the financial remuneration for the USGA will remain the same for the duration of the agreement. This allows the USGA, as a nonprofit, to continue to fulfill its mission to champion and advance the game of golf, which includes conducting 14 annual Open and Amateur championships, serving golfers and golf courses and providing pathways into the game.  

Starting in 2021, when the USGA's full championship schedule will be played, the agreement with NBCU will allow the USGA to continue the uninterrupted coverage it provides to television fans thanks to its longstanding partnership with Rolex. In 2021, that means eight of the USGA's televised championships will be completely uninterrupted, including the U.S. Women's Open and the Walker Cup. For the U.S. Open, thanks again to Rolex, NBCU will continue the tradition of showing the last hour of the final round uninterrupted.

"FOX Sports has cherished its time as home to the USGA championships for the past six years. This is a relationship and partnership that has been second to none," said Eric Shanks, CEO and executive producer of FOX Sports. "Recent events calling for the shift of the U.S. Open created scheduling challenges that were difficult to overcome. While we are proud of the success we've built over these years, this is a win for golf fans everywhere, a win for the USGA and a win for FOX and NBC Sports."

Saturday, June 27

Golfweek: The $100,000 Stipend for PGA Tour Players Who Test Positive for COVID-19

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GOLFWEEK'S ADAM SCHUPAK REPORTED about what appears to be a very generous sick leave program for PGA Tour players:
During his press conference on Wednesday, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan referenced the Tour's "stipend program." 
Apparently, players who test positive for coronavirus are eligible to receive as much as $100,000 as long as they follow the [PGA] Tour's health and safety guidelines during the 10-14 day self-isolation process. 
"We have developed a program, a stipend program, for players on our tours, if they were to test positive during the week or during competition, and to be able to be eligible for those protocols, we've just reconfirmed for our players, you must follow our protocols in order to qualify for the stipend," [PGA Tour Commissioner] Monahan said.
Schupak added that caddies who test positive are eligible for up to $10,000, according to a Golf Channel report.

And this:
PGA Tour players love to tout how they are independent contractors, but receiving a $100,000 stipend for effectively not playing sounds a lot like something only an employer might do.
That's pretty good money for sitting out two weeks.


Thursday, June 25

PGA TOUR COVID-19 Testing Summary: 2757 Tournament Tests, 7 Positives in Three-Week Period

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PGA TOUR News Release (June 24, 2020)

We have been working since March to develop a comprehensive health and safety plan that would be considered a best practice among professional sports leagues. While we have been thorough in building and implementing a program that mitigates as much risk as possible, we knew it would be impossible to eliminate all risk – as evidenced by the three positive tests this week.

We need to use these developments as a stark reminder for everyone involved as we continue to learn from an operational standpoint; we are making several adjustments to our health and safety plan, as noted in the memo sent to players this morning, and we will continuously reinforce to all players, caddies, staff members and support personnel on property at PGA TOUR events to adhere to social distancing and other safety protocols that further minimize risk.

Positive COVID-19 cases with arrival testing complete (2,757 total in-market tournament tests over three weeks; 7 positives):

This week:

Travelers Championship

Cameron Champ (PGA TOUR player)
Ken Comboy (caddie for Graeme McDowell)
Ricky Elliott (caddie for Brooks Koepka)

Overview of withdrawals from the Travelers Championship field (chronological order):

Cameron Champ

Withdrew after testing positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday.

"I feel great physically and I was obviously surprised and disappointed to learn of the test result," said Champ. "It's important now to take the necessary steps and measures to protect others, including my loved ones."

Graeme McDowell

Withdrew out of an abundance of caution after his caddie, Ken Comboy, tested positive for COVID-19.

"When I look at the last four to five days, I have experienced some fatigue and muscle soreness myself," said McDowell. "I didn't think of it as COVID related, but rather just the effect of being back on the road, back practicing, back playing and just a little tired after having a few months off. But now that Kenny has tested positive – and we've spent a lot of time together the last 10 days – I have to take those symptoms more seriously. That is why I am withdrawing this week. I want to do the responsible thing.

"I've had two negative tests this week – Monday and Wednesday – but if there's any chance that I could have it, I am not keen on risking the possibility that I could pass it onto anyone else this week in Hartford. I decided to drive back to Orlando today, versus flying and those risks as well. I'm just going to take the scenic route down the east coast of the USA for 17 hours and increase my knowledge of U.S. geography a bit."

Brooks Koepka

Withdrew out of an abundance of caution after his caddie, Ricky Elliott, tested positive for COVID-19.

"I haven't tested positive for COVID-19, but as I've said all along, I'm taking this very seriously," said Brooks Koepka. "I don't want to do anything that might jeopardize the health of any player in the field or his ability to compete. I was planning to take the next two weeks off anyway, so the right thing to do right now is get home, support Ricky and feel confident that I'm doing what I can do protecting my fellow TOUR members, my PGA TOUR friends and everyone associated with the Travelers Championship this week."

Webb Simpson

Withdrew out of an abundance of caution; has been tested twice and has not tested positive for COVID-19 this week.

"In the last 24 hours, I had a family member test positive for COVID-19," said Simpson. "While my tests this week were negative, I feel like it is my responsibility to take care of my family and protect my peers in the field by withdrawing from the Travelers Championship. I am going to return home to Charlotte and quarantine under CDC guidelines, and I look forward to returning to competition after that time period."

Chase Koepka

Withdrew out of an abundance of caution; neither he nor his caddie, Dan Gambil, have tested positive for COVID-19, but they played a practice round with McDowell (caddie positive) and Brooks Koepka (caddie positive).

"Despite being very excited about playing the Travelers Championship, I am electing to withdraw," said Koepka. "My team and I have all tested negative for COVID-19; however, I was in close contact with someone who tested positive. I feel as if this is the best decision to keep all other players, caddies and volunteers safe. I wish everyone the best of luck this week."

Utah Championship:  No positives as of 2:50 p.m. ET

Tuesday, June 23

The Guardian: 'Ryder Cup Will Be Pushed Back to 2021 Over Coronavirus Concerns'

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THE GUARDIAN REPORTED THE RYDER CUP won't be played this year:
Confirmation that the Ryder Cup, due to be held in September at Whistling Straits, will be postponed until 2021 is expected next week....
With health and safety concerns to the fore – playing the biennial competition without spectators has never been a serious option – postponement is now seen as the most responsible solution. As recently as last month hopes had been raised that the Ryder Cup could take place. The relevant parties have considered the US and Europe facing off in front of reduced numbers, with around 25,000 per day mooted, but that is not now thought viable amid coronavirus concerns. Ongoing travel restrictions – such as quarantine – are also a factor.
The Ryder Cup will remain in "odd" years following the switch, as was the case before 9/11 led to a 12-month delay to its 2001 version.
This is another disappointment, but it's the right decision given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

Thursday, June 18

USGA Celebrates 2020 Bob Jones Award Honoree Se Ri Pak

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LIBERTY CORNER, N.J. – As part of its celebration during the original week of the 120th U.S. Open Championship, the USGA will honor 2020 Bob Jones Award recipient Se Ri Pak with a variety of specialized content on its digital channels.

The champion of the 1998 U.S. Women's Open and a World Golf Hall of Famer, Pak was named the recipient of the Bob Jones Award, the USGA's highest honor, in January. The award has been presented annually since 1955 to an individual who demonstrates the spirit, personal character and respect for the game exhibited by Jones, winner of nine USGA championships.

Pak, 42, a native of the Republic of Korea, is being featured throughout the week on USGA.org through a dedicated landing page that chronicles her historic career and broader influence on the game. Specific content includes an in-depth recap of her thrilling 1998 championship victory, a look at her final U.S. Women's Open round in 2016 and a video that celebrates her award and her significant impact on the game.

Additionally, a pair of films highlighting the 1998 U.S. Women's Open, as well as the last two hours of the playoff telecast, will be featured on demand on the USGA streaming app, available free on Amazon Fire, Roku and Apple TV.

As one of the most influential pioneers in golf, Pak inspired an entire generation of Korean golfers during her 20-year professional career, which included five major victories among her 39 wins. She burst onto the LPGA Tour at age 20 in 1998, and her playoff victory in the U.S. Women's Open at Blackwolf Run, where she became the youngest winner in the history of the championship to that point, became a defining moment in the game.

Despite carrying the attention of an entire country, Pak maintained a friendly attitude and humble demeanor that elevated her status beyond the LPGA Tour and inspired golfers of all genders and ethnicities across the world.

Pak was originally slated to receive her award on Wednesday during a ceremony at the U.S. Open. A new date will be announced in the coming months.

Industry reaction to Pak's Bob Jones Award honor includes:

Michael Whan
"When you look at that company, it's where she belongs. It's the people who have left the game different in so many ways, and on so many continents, and have changed the way young and old feel about the sport of golf… If Bob Jones were here today, he'd be the first one to say, 'That’s someone who deserves to be the Bob Jones Award winner.'"

Michelle Wie
"Being Korean, being a minority, seeing a minority win, I remember watching like, 'Wow, that's what I want to do' She really paved the way for all of us."

Stacy Lewis
"She didn't just come over here for five or six years and win a bunch of tournaments and leave. She really made an impact and taught the girls that they needed to learn the language and be part of the tour and give back, and that's what you see in this current generation."

Judy Rankin
"She has led an entire nation into golf… I don't think any of us will ever completely know or understand what she went through to become the champion she became… I don't know how you could be more deserving."

Wednesday, June 17

VIDEO: Ian Poulter Assesses Next Shot and Nearby Alligator at RBC Heritage

WOULD YOU HIT THIS SHOT? Or would you wait for that gallery of one to back away?

The RBC Heritage tees off on Thursday at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Cheng Tsung Pan is the defending champion in a field of 155 players. There will be no spectators.

PGA Tour Live, Golf Channel and CBS will provide streaming and broadcast coverage.

Tuesday, June 16

VIDEO: Bryson DeChambeau Is Applying Brute Force to His PGA Tour-Leading Drives

DANIEL BERGER WON THE CHARLES SCHWAB CHALLENGE at Colonial Country Club on Sunday with a par on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff with Collin Morikawa.

It was the first PGA Tour event since the coronavirus forced a shutdown of the sports world. There were no spectators.

One surprise (at least for me) was Bryson DeChambeau, who has transformed himself into the PGA Tour's "Incredible Hulk."

As you can see above and below, brawny Bryson is going at the tee ball like Arnold Palmer in his prime. Except that Bryson is physically huge compared to Arnie and he's hitting his drives into the next zip code.

On average, DeChambeau's drives are going 20 yards farther this year. And yes, at 323 and change he's leading the PGA Tour in driving distance. Long ball seems to be working for him. Bryson finished in a tie for third in Fort Worth.

So, what's the deal?

"My ultimate goal is to get as strong as I can," DeChambeau said, "applying some force and speed to the swing to see what it can handle."

(H//T Geoff Shackelford)

Thursday, June 11

PGA Tour Returns With No Gallery at Colonial; 3 on Korn Ferry Tour Test Positive for Coronavirus

THE PGA TOUR IS BACK. The Charles Schwab Challenge is underway at Colonial in Forth Worth, Texas. Justin Rose and Harold Varner III are the first-round co-leaders after 63s.

I watched some of the telecast, and while it was a little strange with no gallery, it also wasn't. There often aren't many people along the fairways or circling the greens during the first round of PGA Tour events. It didn't seem terribly different in that respect.

The traveling circus that is the pro tours is doing its utmost to protect the health of players as they resume tournament competition.

To that end, Golfworld's Joel Beall reported the extent of testing, including three positive tests on the Korn Ferry Tour:
While the PGA Tour did not register a single positive coronavirus test upon its return at Colonial, its developmental circuit was not as fortuitous. One player and three caddies on the Korn Ferry Tour had to withdraw from its season re-opening event due to COVID-19 concerns.... 
The PGA Tour announced Wednesday it conducted nearly 1,600 tests for the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas and the Korn Ferry Challenge at tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach. The tests were administered at both home and tournament venues, with nearly 900 tests coming at tournament sites. The player and caddies [who] tested positive for coronavirus came through home results.
The Charles Schwab Challenge continues through Sunday and will be televised on Golf Channel and CBS.

Tuesday, June 9

U.S. Women's Open to Celebrate 75th Anniversary; Annika Sorenstam Named Ambassador and Will Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

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Three-time champion Annika Sorenstam named ambassador
of milestone celebration; in December Sorenstam will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

LIBERTY CORNER, N.J. – The United States Golf Association (USGA) announced a number of exciting initiatives connected to the milestone 75th anniversary U.S. Women's Open Championship, which was originally slated for this week but will now be contested Dec. 10-13, 2020 at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas.

"The U.S. Women's Open has played a significant role in the advancement of the women's game for the last 75 years," said Mike Davis, USGA CEO. "As we reach this monumental occasion, we want to thank and honor everyone who has been involved in the championship from the start – from the fans, volunteers and staff to the champions and players themselves, by reliving memorable moments and celebrating in Houston this December."

In support of the historic milestone, the USGA has named three-time U.S. Women's Open champion Annika Sorenstam ambassador of the championship. Her wins in 1995 and 1996 made her the first international player to win back-to-back titles, and she added a third victory with her playoff win in 2006. Sorenstam is one of six players to have won three or more Women's Open titles, and the only one to achieve the feat in the last 35 years. In 2012, she received the USGA's Bob Jones Award, the Association's highest honor. Prior to the U.S. Women's Open in December, Sorenstam will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

"I am proud to represent the U.S. Women's Open as their ambassador during this historic year," said Sorenstam, a native of Sweden. "The championship means a lot to me and my career, and I look forward to celebrating and reliving moments that have meant so much not only to me, but the sport of golf as a whole. It’s truly a special occasion for so many of us."

To further commemorate this landmark, the USGA, in association with Rolex, has launched the U.S. Women's Open History Experience, a fully immersive timeline that brings the first 74 years of U.S. Women's Open Championships to life on uswomensopen.com.

Through original broadcast footage, archival photos and interviews with champions, fans will have the opportunity to relive moments that are not only significant to the game, but also hold personal and sentimental meaning. From Babe Didrikson Zaharias' emotional comeback from cancer in 1954 to Se Ri Pak's victory in 1998 that inspired a new generation of champions, the Women's Open Timeline chronicles the championship's history and impact since its founding in 1946.

Monday, June 8

MORNING READ: Golf Writer Farrell Evans on Golf and Race in America

FARRELL EVANS WROTE ABOUT GOLF for Sports Illustrated and ESPN.com. More recently, Evans co-founded two organizations that use the game of golf to help underserved youth.

via @FarrellEvans75
In MORNING READ last week, Evans reflected on golf and race, including his own experience entering country clubs and other golf spaces as a black man.
In my own career as a golf writer, race always has been a central theme in my work. From the time I started the game as a 9-year-old growing up in Georgia, I understood the sport's racial legacy. I knew there were places that I couldn't play because of the color of my skin. I also knew that black people had built their own professional tour, golf clubs and associations. As an adult, I would learn as a black male that my mere presence at certain country clubs as a guest could elicit stares and questions from members and staff.
I was surprised recently when Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour's commissioner, said he struggled with what his role should be in addressing some of the hardships and injustices faced by black Americans. Monahan said that he had conversations with members of the black community to "better understand the current crisis and the systemic racism that they grapple with on a daily basis." He went on to say that this was the time for "listening and making a commitment to understand." 
What country has he been living in all of his life? 
How can you live in America without having a basic understanding of the pernicious legacy of slavery and Jim Crow? What does he think Martin Luther King Jr. was speaking about at the March on Washington or fighting for during the civil-rights movement? Where was he during the L.A. riots in 1992? 
He need not look further for understanding than the history of the PGA Tour and the travails of Charlie Sifford to break the PGA of America's "Caucasians only" clause in 1961. Surely, he knows the stories of Sifford, Lee Elder and other black golfing pioneers who systematically were excluded from the game because of their skin color.
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Thursday, June 4

Golf Channel's Damon Hack: 'Can I Be Both Thankful and Horrified?'

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DAMON HACK IS CO-ANCHOR of Morning Drive on Golf Channel. This week Hack, 48, published a short piece in the midst of worldwide protests related to the murder of George Floyd.

Here's an excerpt:
Can I be a smiling face on your TV and a somber soul when the camera is off?
Can I have laughter in the morning and tightness in my chest at night?
Can I talk Tiger and also talk about being pulled over on a California highway and the Jersey Turnpike, speeding neither time? ("Do you have drugs or weapons in your vehicle?" "No, sir. I'm just driving home from my summer internship." "Why am I being stopped, officer?" "Uh, there was a dog loose on the turnpike.")
In the below podcast (Episode 14), Hack told Geoff Shackelford the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Tuesday, June 2

The PGA TOUR Announces Debut of PGA TOUR University

Inaugural Class of 2021 to be awarded pathway to
Korn Ferry and International Tours

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida РThe PGA TOUR announced a new program designed to strengthen and elevate the path to the PGA TOUR through the Korn Ferry Tour, Mackenzie Tour РPGA TOUR Canada, PGA TOUR Latinoam̩rica and PGA TOUR Series РChina. PGA TOUR University will reward elite collegiate play with varying levels of playing access to Tours operated under the PGA TOUR umbrella, while upholding the principles and virtues of collegiate athletics.

Players eligible for the PGA TOUR University Ranking List will be NCAA Division I golfers who complete a minimum of four years in college.

"With the level of immediate success from the top collegiate players in the last decade, our team has done extensive research over time and developed a plan to provide a pathway for those players as they begin their journeys into the professional ranks," said PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan. "By focusing our efforts on players who have completed a minimum of four years, PGA TOUR University will not deter from the college game while ensuring its graduates benefit from their maturity and experience."

The top 15 finishers from the final Official PGA TOUR University Ranking List at the conclusion of each NCAA collegiate spring season (defined by the conclusion of the NCAA Men's Division I Golf Championship) will be awarded exempt status to the Korn Ferry Tour, PGA TOUR Latinoam̩rica, Mackenzie Tour РPGA TOUR Canada and PGA TOUR Series РChina, based on their respective finish.

The top five finishers from the final Official PGA TOUR University Ranking List will receive Korn Ferry Tour membership and will be exempt into all open, full-field events beginning the week following the conclusion of the NCAA Division I Men's National Championship through the conclusion of the Korn Ferry Tour regular season. The top five finishers will also be exempt into the Final Stage of that year’s Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament.

Finishers Nos. 6-15 will secure membership on one of the International Tours for the current season and a spot in the Second Stage of the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament (if necessary). At that point, these players will have their choice of which International Tour their exempt status applies to.

The eligibility for each respective Tour will begin the week following the conclusion of the NCAA Men's Division I Golf Championship. The 2021 NCAA Men’'s Championship is scheduled to be held at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, from May 28 – June 2.

The PGA TOUR will partner with the World Amateur Golf Ranking® (WAGR®), which is administered by The R&A and the USGA, to create the PGA TOUR University Ranking List. The WAGR system ranks the top amateurs on the basis of their average performance in counting events on a rolling cycle over the previous 104 weeks. The list will be filtered to include those players and results meeting the PGA TOUR University eligibility criteria.

Events which will count towards the Official PGA TOUR University Ranking List include NCAA Division I Men's Golf events and official PGA TOUR events, including the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The first Official PGA TOUR University Ranking List will be unveiled this summer leading into the start of the 2020-21 Division I season, with the Ranking List updated each week during the season.

PGA TOUR University will partner with GOLF Channel to provide extensive coverage of NCAA Division I golf to complement the Ranking List and showcase the race to the top 15. GOLF Channel is the television home for college golf, televising six college golf championships, including the men's NCAA Championships since 2014.