Cinderella finish caps a tumultuous year in golf

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

South Korea’s A Lim Kim won the US Women’s Open at Champions GC in Houston on Monday in her first LPGA event and in historic fashion too, coming from five strokes back in the final round, including birdies on the last three holes. Comment on Kim’s victory and what it says about the LPGA that two non-members (Kim and Sophia Popov) can win majors? 

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): It says that there’s an awful lot of extraordinary depth in women’s golf, internationally.  And that’s a wonderful thing.  Unfortunately, it’s also hurting the North American popularity of the women’s game, which, also unfortunately, is critical to the success of women’s golf.  Ironic, ain’t it?  But until those two Sunday afternoons, not one person in the United States ever heard of A Lim Kim or Sophia Popov, and American viewers generally like their women’s major champions to be known commodities, and ideally, pretty and American.   Unknowns — and especially Asians — just don’t cut it for American viewers, which means fewer viewers, and ultimately, less TV exposure and fewer sponsors.  Just watch.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Impressive win with aggressive play coming in. But she did play excellent golf the first three days to be in the neighborhood to win too. Very impressive as she isn’t an LPGA regular member, but it looks like that just changed. All this tells me is that in any given week, a very proficient player (professional Tour player or not) can put it all together and win. If she wasn’t a top player (LPGA member or not), she wouldn’t be there in the first place. And for me, that’s pure entertainment and compelling. Who doesn’t like a “Cinderella story” that unfolds live right in front of them?

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame member, PGA of Canada: OMG I was thinking the same thing! I have been the organizing guy most of my life and understand what it means to make rules that have to be followed. But it seems to me there is something wrong when both of these ladies slipped under the radar. The LPGA is trying very hard to gain a higher profile and media attention. This isn’t what they had in mind.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): It just goes to show how much parity there is compared to the men’s tour. On the PGA Tour, you have to expect someone in the top 40 to win every major, but this year on the LPGA, you had the 304th ranked Popov and 94th ranked Kim win majors in the same year.  It’s great for the tour in some ways, but it’s always nice to have dominant players on a tour to add to the intrigue.  The Korean players have really taken over as the dominant force on tour, as they hone their games on a competitive tour back home before playing LPGA tournaments, so they have the experience entering these big tourneys.  It was certainly an incredible finish for Kim, impressive to watch!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Well, two non-members winning tells one story, seven South Korean US Open champs in the past 13 years tells another. Birdieing the last three of any Major is amazing. There were a lot of great “storylines” as the TV folks now like to say, too bad it didn’t play out in prime time.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): The finish was great theatre, despite the weather and course conditions. Kim’s finish was brilliant and only time will tell if it was a once-in-a-lifetime rise to greatness a la Charl Schwartzl’s Masters win or the start of something more. Her demeanour would suggest more. That she and Popov came out of nowhere to nab major championships shows that there’s great depth in women’s golf and also more parity in the LPGA ranks than perhaps we previously thought. The Tour needs to do more to celebrate these newbie champions, as they are the spark that attracts new eyeballs. Excluding Kim and Popov from the CME Championship is so mis-guided.

The tournament was played in soggy, wet conditions where “lift, clean and place” would be the norm in every other LPGA or PGA Tour event, yet the USGA insisted that the ball be played down, resulting in lots of mud balls. Did the USGA make the correct decision?

Deeks: Purists would say “of course they made the right decision!”  But I’m not one of them.  I think it’s crazy to force the field to play with the vagaries that wet conditions can impose.  No one wants to see a well hit shot go 30 degrees off-course because there’s a hunk of mud on it, or a ball get plugged into the middle of a fairway.  WHAT is the point? If everyone is allowed to lift, clean, and place, then you have a level playing field where the best player wins, not the luckiest.  As I’ve said a million times before, the rules is an ass.

Loughry: YES, lift, clean and cheat as they say doesn’t always have to be implemented because you got a little sprinkle on rain. The GAME is played outside, conditions are part of the game, so let’s not gripe about whether you have to play the ball down or not, which is one of the fundamental rules of the game that not a single professional player should ever cry about. The Rules of Golf cover off abnormal course conditions, it was a little wet out there with not much puddling. And bottom line is, everyone was playing under the same rules, so just play on already.

Schurman: The problem isn’t the USGA. The problem is there are four main rules-based organizations on the PGA TOUR (USGA, PGA TOUR, R&A and the Masters). The USGA and R&A bear the brunt of controversy because they actually build and shape the rules while the other two are supposed to enforce them. However, inconsistencies often arise. The PGA TOUR and the Masters are also in the ‘protection of their business’, business. The Masters rarely has a year go by without some idiotic ruling and the PGA TOUR is owned by the players who would prefer to play in a greenhouse. Mud balls? It’s part of the game.

Rule: Absolutely not.  What a disgrace.  There were so many shots that took severe left or right turns immediately after being airborne and are so unpredictable for the players.  That adds too much luck to the game in my mind.  It seemed like the players that hit the fairways more often were the ones penalized with mud balls.  Imagine hitting a shot that ends up inches off of the green, only 20 feet from the hole but you can’t roll it because of a chunk of mud on it.  A terrible decision in my mind given the conditions.

Quinn: As many of the LPGA Tour’s stars pointed out, the Open had the TV schedule to itself Saturday and the mud balls made the best women players in their best showcase chance of the year, or many years, look like hackers. Banana balls from middle of the fairways made the 15 + handicappers feel good, and the rest turn off the TV. The USGA forgot that they were wearing blazers in DECEMBER! Awful decision.

Mumford: In almost every other endeavour, we prize people who can think on their feet and make critical decisions as conditions warrant. The ones who plow ahead with mind-numbing stubbornness when things clearly aren’t working usually get fired. Not sure why the USGA gets a pass on this. In the circumstances, it was a bad decision. They need to review their policy.

The PNC Challenge (formerly the Father and Son Challenge) goes this weekend and features 11-year-old Charlie Woods with his dad. It’s a great marketing move by the organizers to get Tiger into the tournament. How do you think the Woods pairing will do?

Deeks: I have no idea whether Charlie has his Dad’s game or his Mom’s, but the kid’s 11 and I can’t imagine the pressure of hitting shots in front of people (few in person, but millions watching at home) won’t get into his adorable little head.  So, I wouldn’t be putting much down on a Win bet.  It’s nice that the kid’s making his “professional” debut, though.

Loughry: I think the Team Woods will do just fine, but Dad will be carrying most of the load. Charlie is a tad young to be thrust into the spotlight IMO, but Tiger was too and that turned out OK. I’ll tune in for interest sake, but it’s not a must watch for me.

Schurman: Tiger should finally get some much-needed positive press regarding family matters. It’s a shame it comes on the shoulders of an eleven-year-old boy. Maybe they will get paired with John Daly and Little John. By the sound of the spirit in Charlie, he and Little John could put on a show.

Rule: I agree that it’s a great marketing decision to get Tiger there and I for one am very interested to watch his son play.  He many not be his father at 11 years old, but he’s pretty darn good apparently.  I’m not sure they can compete for the title, but it won’t matter for the tv coverage and exposure.

Quinn: The leading question going into this event should be: who cares? Can’t imagine the series of calamities that would have to be visited on this household to have the TV render a moment of this event. Nice though that Annika gets to play with her Dad. Hope they didn’t need the cameras around to arrange a tee time.

Mumford: The way Tiger is playing, he would need to adopt, then partner with DJ or Jon Rahm to have any chance of contending. But who cares really? This is hit and giggle golf. It ranks right down there with The Match III, the “am” portion of the Pebble Beach event and almost anything produced by Mark Burnett. It may be entertaining to some, but I’ll pass, thank you.

To say this was a strange year would be a massive understatement. Comment on what we learned from 2020 and how it might affect golf in 2021.

Deeks: One thing that struck me this “season” was how enjoyable it was to watch tournaments — especially the Mahstas — without galleries, and how unnecessary galleries are to the competition at hand.  I don’t think this change will be permanent by any means.  The fans love to be part of the action and will be back in droves when COVID is done.  But the lack of spectators, and the welcome lack of bozos screaming “in the hole!!” reminded us all of what a genteel, semi-solitary, and peaceful game golf is, at its core.

Loughry: What we did learn was that Bryson’s approach didn’t always translate to a DJ season, multiple Majors, #1 in the world, etc. He did improve, and maybe eventually he takes #1, time will tell. The chase for distance will always be a thing, and that’s OK, the best overall player will always rise to the top, not just a one trick pony.

Schurman: If you had several thousand ‘Story of the Year Awards’ it wouldn’t be enough. My take is that the Club Professionals and the PGA Associations have been absolutely amazing this year. Many wondered in April if they would be losing their jobs. By July, they wondered how to cope with the virus rules, no clubhouse, no driving range, no putting green, single riders on carts, no merchandise sales and constantly wiping everything down. By September, they wondered what the Hell hit them? Who are all these people suddenly wanting to play golf? Why don’t we have more hours in the day for starting times? Where do you get more inventory? Is it OK if I take a few hours off if I promise not to take all day? “My wife is on the phone? Tell her to cancel Christmas; our family is too big anyway”. And the next problems are going to be explaining to the GM/owner that the Club is the most profitable it has been in 50 years without a Clubhouse but closing it permanently will cost the jobs of the staff who worked in them. Second, how do we keep so many people playing?

Rule: Well, it’s quite amazing that they got in as many tournaments as they did on all of the Tours this year given what it looked like in March and April.  It’s still a shame that fans aren’t at the events but to be honest, that didn’t impact my enjoyment of the events on TV at all.  So maybe that was my takeaway from 2020.  But here’s hoping we do get fans back sooner than later because it will mean we are nearing the end of this terrible pandemic.

Quinn: We got to see what Augusta National looks like without “patrons” blocking the best views; that run-of-the-mill Tour events are much better without the yobs shouting ‘Go in the Hole’ etc.; that without gate receipts golf — like the NHL, MLB, NBA — may have to revisit the business model and those US $7 million purses; that all those who used to line the fairways outside the ropes may have finally realized that the only way to enjoy the weekend rounds is in front of the TV; that COVID triggered a pay-as-you-play spike that made it real tough to get a tee time (at least here in the BC Lower Mainland) and that private clubs had to cut off membership applications; that the vaccine may change all of this. All else was put in perspective this year, for those needing the nudge, making it difficult to imagine much of it returning to what used to be considered ‘normal.’

Mumford: Tournaments without fans were initially weird but once we adjusted to the idea, eminently more enjoyable. Thanks to Bryson DeChambeau, the distance race has been ratcheted up another notch and will show no sign of abating in 2021. At the club level, the absence of clubhouse amenities, forced though it was, may influence a scaled down “golf experience” going forward. As for the participation rate itself, it would be nice to think all the additional green fees were the result of thousands of new golfers but I’m more inclined to believe it was the same folks playing more often. As the pandemic wanes, so too may the demand for golf as other leisure time activities again become possible. Public courses and private clubs will be in more of a dogfight moving forward than they were in 2020. Otherwise, golf looks to be in a good place as the year ends and we look forward to continued success in 2021.

Editor’s Note: This is our final Round Table of 2020. We’ll be back the first week of January. In the interim, from all of us on the Round Table, thanks for reading. All the best to you and your family this holiday season and for the coming year!

 

 

 

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The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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