El Nino Returns, Just In Time
At the rain-delayed Wyndham Championship in North Carolina, it was Sergio Garcia who rode a hot putter to victory after four winless years on the PGA Tour. Despite two victories last season on the European Tour, Garcia – the former wunderkind who was supposed to be the great rival to Tiger Woods after their PGA Championship duel in 1999 – had almost fallen off the golfing map since his victory at the Players Championship in 2008 and his playoff loss to Padraig Harrington in the British Open the year prior. Garcia, who finished at 18-under, was two strokes better than Tim Clark, and three strokes better than youngster Bud Cauley. The win all but secures a Ryder Cup spot for Garcia who is always a thorn in the sides of the Americans – taking after another Spanish Ryder Cup legend, his captain Jose Maria Olazabal. Attitude aside, his 14-6-4 record speaks for itself and, had he not missed the 2010 edition after going through a hiatus in golf, who knows how much better it could be. At only 32, this could mark the beginning of a resurgence for Sergio.
Yesterday, Augusta National Golf Club, home to The Masters, made the historic announcement that it would – for the first time in it’s 80-year history – admit two women as members. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore are the two women who will somehow try to match their outfit to those green jackets. Many are calling this a breakthrough for golf but the fact is, there are still clubs out there, namely Pine Valley (constantly ranked as one of the top golf courses in the world) which remains male-only. Not to mention the Ladies Golf Club of Toronto which – as one could guess – forbids male membership. The reason why this was a monumental decision, and not a breakthrough, was because of how high profile a golf course Augusta National is. It was never in it for the money as ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell reports here as in 2003 and 2004, when Martha Burk protested the tournament for not having women members, it simply held The Masters without sponsors. Was this decision so hard? No. Will this be looked upon as a positive decision for helping grow the game of golf? Too early to tell. But, it was the right decision.
In now a timelier interview (thanks to the announcement by Augusta National yesterday) the Globe & Mail posted this Q&A with Golf Canada president Diane Dunlop-Hebert on Sunday. I would have probably chosen a more appropriate photo than one of her sitting between two BMWs, but alas, the interview was interesting enough. There were some pretty standard answers with respect to game participation numbers, corporate sponsorships, and efforts to get younger people into the game, but there were still some interesting quotes despite the fact that the author was clearly not a golf writer (asking if golf was going to return to the Olympics soon? Come on, do your research). Most noticeably, Dunlop-Hebert stresses the importance of heroes in the game – I’d argue that the biggest jump of participation numbers of the game in Canada was 2002-2004 when Mike Weir was at his peak – and that golf remains the highest participation sport in Canada and generates $11.9-billion worth of revenue annually.
The Barclays at Bethpage
The PGA Tour returns to Bethpage Black this week for The Barclays, the opening event of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Bethpage made headlines in 2002 as the first truly public golf course to host a major championship (the U.S. Open, won by Tiger Woods). The U.S. Open returned again in 2009 but unfortunately was hit with torrential downpours all week long and the tournament was finished on Monday (won by Lucas Glover). The weather is expected to be mostly clear this week, and it will be interesting to see how Bethpage is set up for a regular tournament and not a major championship. Bethpage is also scheduled to get The Barclays in 2016 as it usually rotates around courses in the New York City area. Will it still be called ‘The Barclays’ in four years given the financial troubles of the bank? We shall see. A couple of guys who I really think have a chance this week are: Keegan Bradley, who graduated from nearby St. Johns and is playing well of late, Graeme Macdowell, who I feel is due for a PGA Tour victory, and Luke Donald, who, after quietly slipping from world no.1, I think doesn’t feel as much pressure and will get it done at Bethpage.