The API, the PIP and The Players

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.

The course set-up at Bay Hill last weekend has been compared to a U.S. Open. Everyone grumbled about the conditions; some called them unfair. In the end Scottie Scheffler won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at 5-under and only needed an even par score in the final round on a course that average four strokes over par for the day. Was the course too hard? Was it unfair?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): On the one hand most of us old guys have been complaining that men’s professional golf has become boring, with week-after-week birdie-fests where the winner putts out at 24-under par or thereabouts. So, it’d be pretty disingenuous to whine that the course was too hard. Apparently, the Bay Hill folks said, “We’re not going to let those guys make a mockery of OUR venerable course.”  So, they grew the rough, which is about the only man-made defence that courses can produce to combat 350-yard drives and Velcro golf balls. And good for them!!  I actually enjoyed watching players have to struggle to make par and hit deft greenside shots out of 4-inch grass. Please, can we have more of this, not less?

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Yes, it was a little too crusty/unfair. The rough was super penal, and yes, I’ve preached how that can protect against scores, but that doesn’t make for great events and finishes. When players can’t aim it at the flag on more than half the holes (whether they hit the fairway or not), then it’s micky mouse. It’s sad because this is Arnie’s event. It’s also sad that the field isn’t as strong as it should be. The two might be related though (course setup and front ending the Players Championship). I hope this tournament can become a more respected event. Its certainly in the upper half on Tour, but it should be a can’t miss by anyone. Sadly, its not the case right now judging by those missing from the field.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I love the variety each different event brings. I like to see -30 because only these guys can do it. And I love -5 on a course like this because only these guys can do it. Unfair is what we had in the PGA of Canada championship at the National G.C in 1979. A missed fairway called for a not much more aggressive play than to pitch out. Hit the ball on the green above the hole and ten feet away and you would putt your first putt just to get below the hole which was quite often 30 feet away by the time it stopped rolling. Bunkers were full of heavy fluffy sand meaning getting it out required a good shot. But the weather was perfect. I enjoyed this week’s event a lot!

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I like to watch a tournament on a tough track every once in a while and see who can handle the pressure.  I think the setup was fair and resulted in a very exciting final 9, that says enough.  I think tough setups such as that also bring more players into the mix, including the guys that don’t bomb it 320 all day long.  Fairways hit was a big stat last week, and should be more often.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It seemed tough, but we were so lucky to have the incredible insights of a veteran professional to put it all in perspective for us, as Peter Jacobsen did in describing the 11th hole: “Probably one of the most difficult driving holes … off the tee.” No wonder the scores were so high: they had to hit their drives from the tee! Sheesh! So harsh. But, if this was a U.S. Open, even Jake might have said out loud that the course got away from them. Don’t think Arnie would have let them dry out the greens like they did on the weekend or allowed four-inch rough to take over the greenside roll off areas and eliminate chipping. And, as Rory said, good shots weren’t rewarded. Sawgrass is going to seem like hitting it into Velcro.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): As Rory McIlroy indicated, the set-up not only penalized bad shots but good ones as well. Thick rough and rock-hard greens made it almost impossible to hold a green on approach if hit from the deep stuff. That’s ok. Learn to put the ball in the fairway. But the greens were so hard, even a good shot from the short grass with plenty of spin usually took one big hop and often rolled through the green. That’s not ok. Overall, though, I’d much rather see a winning score of -5 than one well into double digits.

The PGA Tour released the results of the first Player Impact Program (PIP) and to no-one’s surprise, Tiger Woods came out on top. There may have been a few raised eyebrows about some in the Top 10 and some that didn’t make it but mostly the results were predictable. Does the PGA Tour get a passing grade for this program, or should they kill it before it spreads?

Deeks: Kill it. It seems just plain silly that a guy who hasn’t played a PGA Tour event in over a year, and is already close to a billionaire, wins several million dollars simply for waking up in the morning. They should make the PIP recipients give their money to refugees from Ukraine. At least they’ll get a tax receipt.

Loughry: Tiger was a surprise if your name is Mickelson who thought he had it “in the bag.” The program is a start in the right direction, but it is a fail overall and they know it. Results were based on US searches and reach only. So, how can any non-American compete equitably in the PIP standings? This has to be the reason you didn’t see a single Asian in the top ten and only two Euro’s (McIlroy and Rahm). Needs tweaking, and I hope they make corrections. The Fed-Ex Cup kept evolving, I see the PIP the same way.

Schurman: Paying the top players isn’t the answer to a problem. These guys have plenty of earning power. The players who need help are those from 100 to 125. By the time they pay travel costs, hotels, caddy fees, % to coaches, taxes and provide for a family there isn’t a lot left over. Sure, they net $200,000 to 400,000/year but that is only as long as they hold their ‘card’. What would make more sense would be a “shareholder’s dividend”. The PGA TOUR has revenues of close to $1B. The players are the owners/shareholders. Why not distribute this equally among the players and then let them add to it with winnings and off-course revenues? These are the best in the world at their job. They should be compensated. BTW The PGA Tour has one of the best pension plans in all sports thanks to Deane Beman.

Rule: I don’t really get it, these guys aren’t the ones that need the money, but obviously it was all in response to the threat of other tours stealing the top players from the PGA Tour.  I don’t see how $8M in Tiger’s pocket achieves that, but maybe it’s just getting more social media eyes on the game, trying to attract the younger crowd, and perhaps that’s working.

Quinn: What a concept! Giving a multi-multi-millionaire a bunch more millions for recovering from an accident that could have killed others and almost cost him his leg. This awful knee-jerk to the threat of Saudi billions should be shuttered immediately, or at least have the ludicrous lucre sent to the PIP winners’ designated charity instead of their offshore bank accounts.

Mumford: Ditch the PIP! It’s an obscene example of a tone-deaf organization pandering to a group of over-indulged gazillionaires. The PGA Tour loves to boast about all the charities it supports but the players shouldn’t be one of them. If the Tour has all this extra cash, surely some creative thinking could figure out a more beneficial and acceptable use for it.

The Players Championship kicks off this week with arguably the strongest field of any event on Tour. Who are you picking to win and who might be a long-shot, surprise, out-of-left-field, dark-horse winner?

Deeks: I have the sense that slow and steady wins the race at TPC Sawgrass. So, assuming he’s in the field, I’m picking Shane Lowry as my long-shot, surprise, out-of-left-field, dark-horse winner. Darker horse? Corey Conners.

Loughry: This is a golf course you need to pick apart and be patient with, it does not purely provide an advantage to big hitters. Not my favourite player, but if Berger can keep that bunt cut down the fairway going, I think he’ll win. Recent good form too, so I’m going with a bit of a hot hand. My dark horse for this course is Jason Kokrak. He’s better than everyone thinks, and he’s played well here in the past. He has some wins under his belt, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s there in the end.

Schurman: This is a difficult course to pick a winner because of the demands on ball striking and the short game. A combination of both is required for the #1 Major in the world. My ‘solid’ picks are Cantlay (who I picked for months, and he let me down but now he is legitimate) and Tyrrell Hatton. My dark horse is Daniel Berger. My hope to win is Corey Conners. My longshot is the longest shot in the event, Ryan Brehm.

Rule: I like Collin Morikawa this week.  It’s a ball strikers golf course and I see his putter getting just hot enough to return to his dominant form of last summer and become the No. 1 player in the world.  As for a dark horse, I’ll take Will Zalatoris because…well, why not?  He seems to always be in contention and shows up pretty well in the big events, and he was T17 in his only Players appearance to date.  Maybe he makes this year’s Players his maiden victory heading into the Masters where he tries to replicate his high finish last year.

Quinn: It ain’t Rickie Fowler! This is a gut pick, but from the way he hit it last Thursday and Friday, Rory could put it together for the weekend. Looks like bad weather’s rolling in, so the power of Rahm or Koepka could be a factor. My long shot isn’t that long, but Tyrrell Hatton is playing well and could weather the storms. And besides, he has that cool unflappable temperament, right?

Mumford: Not sure if there are any stats on this but I like the bounce-back player. Take the last few tournaments. Scottie Scheffler beat Patrick Cantlay at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and held off Viktor Hovland and Billy Horschel at the API. Those also-rans were playing great and had almost enough game to win. It’s not likely they’ve cooled off since and with the added motivation of not quite getting it done, I like that type of player to win at The Players. You could throw Daniel Berger into that mix too as he came close at The Honda Classic. For a dark horse, I’ll go with Will Zalatoris – a great ball striker on a course that requires precision.

 

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

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