Monday, May 23

Thoughts and Video Highlights: Justin Thomas' Improbable Comeback Victory at the PGA Championship

JUSTIN THOMAS WON THE PGA CHAMPIONSHIP in a three-hole playoff with Will Zalatoris. Thomas began the final round seven shots behind 54-hole leader Mito Pereira. He finished with a 3-under 67 and watched all the leaders come back to him.

Thomas' victory, his second PGA and second major, seemed improbable. But the whole tournament seemed a bit off, even if it did keep everyone in suspense to the end.

This PGA kind of lurched along day to day ... hot weather, cool weather, wind, more wind, low rounds, high rounds, more high rounds, Rory McIlroy up then down (repeat), and the same with Tiger Woods, including a WD before Sunday's final round. His body couldn't take any more of Southern Hills.

Sentimental favorite and frontrunner Mito Pereira grimly hung on to nearly the end on Sunday, with a chance to grab his first PGA Tour title and first major victory on the final hole -- if he could make a par. Alas, his drive leaked into the creek to the right of the fairway.

"I thought I was nervous the first day," Mito said. "Then I thought I was nervous the second day. Then I thought I was nervous on the third day. But the fourth day was terrible. I mean, this morning was tough."

He added, "I just played it through. And actually had a one-shot lead on 18 and that was pretty good and sad to hit it in the water. I wish I could do it again. Just good memories for this tournament. Just taking out the 18th."

Thomas' shot-making was masterful in the playoff. Bones, his caddie, said he didn't miss a shot. (That's the way I saw it from my couch.) Like someone in the golf media said a bit earlier, Justin looked like he was the only one having fun out there.

Sunday, May 22

Report: Jack Nicklaus Sued by Nicklaus Companies for Breach of Contract

I ran across this news on Twitter. I had to read it again. It's real, and has been picked up by several golf media outlets.

REPORTED BY ALEX MICELI OF SI/MORNING READ, Jack Nicklaus is being sued by the Nicklaus Companies. Howard Milstein is the executive chairman of the Nicklaus Companies. Jack Nicklaus II is vice chairman.

Miceli wrote:

On May 13, a complaint filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York against the 82-year-old golf legend alleged a breach of contract with the Nicklaus Companies as well as tortious interference and breach of fiduciary duty.

According to the complaint, Nicklaus was paid $145 million in 2007 to provide exclusive services and property to the Nicklaus Companies, which over time he has failed to live up to or has worked against the company directly.

In a statement through his organization, Nicklaus said, "The claims made by Howard Milstein are untrue."

SI/Morning Read later updated its story to include this statement from the Nicklaus Companies:

We have great admiration and tremendous respect for Jack and his legacy and have tried everything to avoid taking this step. We are asking the court to sort out the legal responsibilities of the parties so that there is no confusion or misunderstanding going forward.

We are saddened to be put in a situation that now requires intervention from a court, but we have a responsibility to Nicklaus Companies and its employees, as well as to our customers and partners, to ensure that nothing disrupts the ongoing business of the company. We are confident that working together we can resolve this quickly and amicably.

Tuesday, May 17

A Primer on the Saudi-Backed LIV Golf League, Including the Threat to the PGA Tour and the Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman Controversy

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THIS IS FOR US, you and me, as I decided to write this piece to document the basics on this evolving golf story.

What is this new Saudi-backed golf league?
Sometimes called the Super Golf League and also known as LIV Golf, it's essentially a rival tour to the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour (European Tour).

How is it financed?
LIV Golf is backed by the Public Investment Fund, which is Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund.

How is Greg Norman involved?
Greg Norman is the CEO of  LIV Golf. He was named CEO in October 2021.

How is Phil Mickelson involved?
PGA Tour star and Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson has been an active and vocal proponent of LIV Golf. In late February some of Mickelson's comments stirred controversy (see below). He has taken a break from playing tournament golf, including the Masters and now the PGA Championship, which he won in 2021. He is one of three PGA champions in the last 75 years to not defend his title. Mickelson has also stayed out of the public eye.

How will the new league work?
The league plans an eight-event schedule called the LIV Golf Invitational Series beginning in June. The no-cut 54-hole tournaments are to be played in England, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Thailand. The fields will be 48 players and include a team and individual component. Total prize money for the series is in excess of $250 million.

Why is the PGA Tour threatened?
The PGA Tour doesn't want to lose any of the world's best players (who are also PGA Tour members) to a rival tour. It could/would impact a lot of things: its golf product and brand; its tournaments, sponsorships, network contracts and charitable work; and perhaps more.

Aren't the players independent contractors who can play anywhere?
Technically, yes.

However, the PGA Tour is a membership organization with tournament regulations. It has denied waiver requests by PGA Tour players who have asked for permission to play in LIV Golf's first event in England.

"We have notified those who have applied that their request has been declined in accordance with the PGA TOUR Tournament Regulations. As such, TOUR members are not authorized to participate in the Saudi Golf League's London event under our Regulations," said PGA Tour senior vice president Tyler Dennis in a memo to players. "As a membership organization, we believe this decision is in the best interest of the PGA TOUR and its players."

The PGA Tour has also threatened suspension and permanent bans for players who defect.

The DP World Tour, in a strategic alliance with the PGA Tour, has taken similar positions with its players.

What's the controversy about?
There's plenty, but here's a start.

The new league is funded and backed by the Saudi government and its crown prince, who are infamous for their human-rights record, including the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who had openly criticized the crown prince.

In his comments that surfaced before his exile, Phil Mickelson admitted as much. Golf writer and Mickelson biographer Alan Shipnuck reported the following in February:

[Phil] didn’t pretend to be excited about hitching his fortunes to Saudi Arabia, admitting the SGL was nothing more than what he called "sportswashing" by a brutally repressive regime.

"They're scary motherf---ers to get involved with," he said. "We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates. They've been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won't do what's right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I'm not sure I even want [the SGL] to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the [PGA] Tour."

More recently, when asked about the Saudis' human rights record and Khashoggi, Greg Norman said, "We've all made mistakes." LIV Golf later issued a statement saying that everyone agrees the Khashoggi killing was "reprehensible," including Greg Norman.

There has been strong public reaction to Mickelson's and Norman's various comments, many finding their words and stances offensive and openly wondering about their motivations related to the new league.

Is it for the good of golf and about providing players more opportunities, or is it simply a new and bigger money grab?

Monday, May 16

2022 PGA Championship Preview: Tiger Showing Up, Phil Sitting Out, and the World's Best Players Vying for the Wanamaker Trophy

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THE 2022 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP begins on Thursday at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In January 2021 the PGA moved its 2022 championship to Southern Hills from Trump Bedminster in New Jersey.

Purse: $12 million
Winner's share: $2 million +
Trophy: Wanamaker Trophy, named for Rodman Wanamaker, who started PGA of America and PGA Championship
2021 champion: Phil Mickelson
Scoring record: 264 by Brooks Koepka in 2018 at Bellerive CC
How to watch: Televised all four days on ESPN and CBS. Streaming via ESPN and CBS Sports apps.

Designed by Perry Maxwell and opening in the late 1930s, Southern Hills has hosted seven men's majors: four PGA Championships and three U.S. Opens. The course was tuned up in 2018 by course architects Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner. They removed trees, decreased rough near greens, increased bunkers and restored the width of fairways.

The par-70 layout will play over 7500 yards, about 300 yards longer than in 2007 when Tiger Woods won his fourth PGA Championship. There are only two par 5s, both in excess of 630 yards.

The PGA Championship always has a strong field. This year's field of 156 players includes 17 PGA champions, 34 major winners, three Ryder Cup captains, 70 points-earning players, and about 20 PGA club pros who qualified in the PGA Professional Championship in April.

The PGA Championship moved to May in 2019, the year Brooks Koepka successfully defended his title. It has worked well. The PGA was formerly played in August, the last and least popular of the four majors. The weather was hot to unbearably hot, and, despite its great field, the championship did not garner nearly as much interest. The crowded golf calendar helped move the PGA to earlier in the year, creating more interest, and the better weather opens up more venue opportunities.

2021 champion Phil Mickleson will not play, only the third PGA champion in 75 years to not defend his title. The other two were Tiger Woods in 2008 and Ben Hogan in 1949, both due to injuries.

Phil also skipped the Masters, and has not competed on the PGA Tour since late February when his controversial comments surfaced about LIV Golf (a Saudi-backed golf series) and the PGA Tour, where he has won 45 times and earned millions.

Tiger is at Southern Hills, "a lot stronger," he said. Woods, 46, made the cut at the Masters, a tremendous achievement considering that it was his first start since a 2021 automobile accident that resulted in serious injuries, including nearly losing his right leg. At Augusta he played well early in tough conditions but struggled on the weekend, especially with the putter.

Much of the field, including these guys:
World No. 1 and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler
Jon Rahm, 2021 U.S. Open champion
Justin Thomas, 2017 PGA champion
Brooks Koepka, 2018 and 2019 PGA champion
Rory McIlroy, two-time PGA champion
Colin Morikawa, 2020 PGA champion
Jordan Spieth, three-time major winner looking for first PGA title
Dustin Johnson, two-time major winner looking for first PGA title

A few more, all looking for a first major victory:
Patrick Cantlay
Xander Schauffele
Viktor Hovland

Americans have won the last six PGA Championships.

Monday, May 9

WGA News: 315 Student Caddies Awarded Full College Scholarships

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GLENVIEW, IL – This year, a record 315 students from across the country have been awarded the Evans Scholarship, a prestigious full housing and tuition college grant offered to golf caddies. The full scholarship is valued at an estimated $120,000 over four years.

Currently, a record 1,070 caddies are enrolled at 21 universities across the nation as Evans Scholars, and more than 11,500 caddies have graduated as Evans Scholars since the program was founded by famed Chicago amateur golfer Charles "Chick" Evans Jr.

Each caddie has a unique story that reflects the scholarship's four selection criteria: a strong caddie record, excellent academics, demonstrated financial need and outstanding character. 

Recipients were interviewed at one of more than 20 selection meetings across the country, from November through March. They will begin college as Evans Scholars this fall, attending one of 22 leading universities across the nation. The Evans Scholarship is valued at more than $120,000 over four years. 

"These young men and women are part of an exceptional incoming class of New Scholars from around the nation," said WGA Chairman Joe Desch.

The Western Golf Association has supported the Chick Evans Scholarship Program through the Evans Scholars Foundation since 1930. Known as one of golf's favorite charities, it is the nation's largest scholarship program for caddies.

Scholarship funds come mostly from contributions by nearly 35,000 supporters across the country, who are members of the Evans Scholars Par Club program. Evans Scholars alumni donate more than $17 million annually, and all proceeds from the PGA Tour's BMW Championship are donated to the Evans Scholars Foundation. In 2022, the BMW Championship will be held at Wilmington Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware, from Aug. 16-21.