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.
Barring a last minute withdrawal, Tiger Woods will tee it up this week in the Bahamas against a small but strong field of top golfers. Where do you expect Tiger to finish and what would represent a good result after his 15-month layoff?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Normally I’d say making the cut would be a good achievement for Tiger’s first foray, but there IS no cut in this event. So I’d say, not finishing last would be a good result. Winning would be an otherworldly result, and would tip the golf world upside down. But personally, all this talk of a comeback doesn’t resonate much with me. I was never a charter member of the TW Fan Club, and he really lost my respect for good with the morals scandal. If he sets the world on fire again, fine. But if not, fine too. Wake me when it’s over.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I expect Tiger to finish in last place in this 18-man tournament. The field this week is chock full of talent with 3 major winners from 2016, 16 of the top 25 ranked players in the world, all three Olympic medalists, and last year’s Rookie of the Year. I would be impressed if (a) Tiger finishes the week without any health or back issues, (b) demonstrates that the yips are no longer afflicting his short game, and (c) controls his driver well off of the tee. If he does all three of these things and still finishes in last place, I would call the week a success and a good sign going forwards.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I’ll be honest, I’m not expecting much, but in 2013 everyone counted Tiger out and he proved everyone wrong. Perhaps it can happen again. We’ll have to wait and see but I think anything mid-field as a finish will be a good result for him. And keeping his chip yips under 6 for the week.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): TW! I look forward to this. Tiger will finish in the top 14, preferably top 3. He’s going to hit some good shots, and make a few putts. Interesting changes in equipment, primarily the putter (Scotty) and ball (Bridgestone). I do believe this will draw more eyes than a regular PGA Tour event. My PVR is already set.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It will be a victory of sorts if Eldrick manages to finish, period. That’s the only pressure in this made for TV commercial for Albany. I’m guessing more was spent on the post-Matthew cleanup at this enclave for the one-percenters than was spent in Haiti.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I predict he will finish dead last. Actually completing four rounds would be a good result. I know most of the golf world expects to see him win this week, and if he did it would be treated like a miracle after a return from the dead. History books would rank that feat alongside Moses parting the Red Sea and Jesus walking on water. It ain’t gonna happen.
The Gil Hanse-designed Olympic course in Rio is charging $74 per round and nobody is playing. There are reports that the course may close just months after staging the Olympics. What’s your take on the Rio course and is there a sensible solution to the problem?
Deeks: Well, as per my column this week, the sensible solution would have been to never have brought golf to the Rio Games in the first place, and wait for Tokyo. “Brazil” and “golf” are an oxymoron. The “sensible” solution now is, probably, let it go to waste, versus spending bags of money to keep it going for a few rich tourists. Or, sell it to the Trump Organization, let them build a yooge hotel and casino on-site, and lose their shirts.
Kaplan: This is not surprising to me at all considering just how much local opposition there was to this golf course in the first place! This track was forced down the Brazilian people’s throats by the IOC, despite the fact that two existing golf courses in Rio would have served as perfectly fine venues for the tournament. From what I have read, the clubhouse was never finished and employees working at the Gil Hanse design are just as scarce as the course’s patrons. Moreover, the greens keepers have not been paid in months and are threatening to walk. Add to that an economy in recession and an overall lack of interest in the sport from the locals and you have one doomed Olympic Golf Course on its last legs.
Rule: It’s sad to see but not unpredictable. I guess there just isn’t the demand for golf in Brazil that some had hoped. It was a successful event, and the course showed well, and I for one wish I could play it before it closes, but I guess I’d better hustle! Not sure if there is a solution, other than the government sinking millions of dollars into golf and golf tourism and hoping of the best. But it won’t be easy, and in the end, might not save great golf courses like the Olympic course.
Loughry: Listen, it would be a shame if it were to close. That said, it cannot stay open if the economics just don’t make sense. You can’t force things to work in any market if they don’t want it. Those involved in making this decision knew the realities of the economic state of the country going in. There are only 125 courses in Brazil and only one open to the public. The long term outlook as a golf travel destination is very weak. Would you expect anyone from golfing nations to travel all the way to Brazil to play just one course? I’m hopeful that someone sweeps it up for pennies and turns it around, but it will take more than one course for Brazil to be a golf destination.
Quinn: This was a classic five-ring boondoggle from the beginning. Like the rusting ski jumps and luge tracks around the world, this course was as ill-advised as any of the IOC’s idiocies in its storied history of abuses of power and money. No surprise here. Once again all the realists — and this time environmentalists — were ignored or silenced by the Oly cabal. Hope Finchem is proud of his legacy.
Mumford: The Rio course looked to be a remarkable piece of architecture and it would be a shame to lose it. But maybe it’s time people realized that you can’t force-feed golf to a culture that can’t afford it and doesn’t want it. As much as about-to-be-former Commissioner Tim Finchem wants to believe that the whole world is a PGA Tour branding opportunity, sometimes that just doesn’t play in Peoria.
Speaking of the Olympics, there’s talk that the golf competition for Tokyo in 2020 might feature some sort of team component. Team play has been all the buzz lately with the announcement about a team format for the Zurich Classic and just this past weekend with the ISPS Handa World Cup. In your opinion what’s the best way to set up the Olympic golf competition?
Deeks: Well, as per my column this week (is there an echo in here?), the IOC has an opportunity to do something creative and bold, which they won’t do, of course. My suggestion is to begin a series of team knockout matches for a year prior to the Games, like the Davis Cup in tennis, then have the top 16 teams square off in Tokyo. (Team players would be selected based on their international ranking at a certain deadline, or on which players are related to the King, the Sultan, the Caliph. Kim Jong-un gets an automatic bye.) There would be team medals and individual medals, as each player would sink all putts and keep individual scores. And if asked, I’ll be happy to join the IOC and accept whatever graft comes my way.
Kaplan: I like the idea of a team format, but I don’t think grouping players by country is imperative for the Olympics. In my opinion, a 64-person bracket of one-and-done individual match play would create a lot of excitement and some phenomenal match-ups between some of the world’s best players. Just imagine a final four of J-Day, DJ, McIlroy, and Stenson!
Rule: I love the idea of team play. I mean, who doesn’t get pumped for the Ryder Cup every two years? There aren’t enough team events, and if there is one event that should be a team event, surely it’s the Olympics, where everyone is playing for their country, not for themselves. The format in Rio was OK but I think it would be much more exciting as a team event. And if they could somehow find a way to make it match play and have a gold medal match, that would be the best format in my mind.
Loughry: I certainly like the idea of a team component. The stroke play setup just seemed too much like a regular Tour event to me. I thought if they could allow stroke play to be the individual competition while having a team (Four-Ball) at the same time that would be pretty interesting. Each country could send a few teams who qualify by world ranking and how those teams are created would be an interesting exercise to conduct. For example, if by World Ranking, Patrick Reed is to be paired with another American player and they don’t get along, would we see one of them suddenly come up with an injury?
Quinn: Looks like they have to go through with it in 2020. To make it even vaguely interesting, Tour pros should be banned from team and they should stage mixed target competitions at a TopGolf venue under the lights (the more lights flashing and the louder the music the better). After the medal ceremonies, the winners should be administered a breathalyser and anyone with an alcohol blood level below .08 disqualified. (Like weightlifting and track and other soul stirring Oly events, those disqualifications will take place four to eight years after the competition.)
Mumford: Olympic golf should be team match play. To avoid the dreadful possibility of a final between Tuvalu and Burkina Faso, pre-Olympic qualifying would identify the top 16 countries that could battle it out in single knock-out matches over four days. But assuming the powers that be won’t go for that, then try it this way: Leave the pros at home. Run a 4-day competition for 2-person teams of amateurs; each country gets one men’s team and one women’s team. The format is foursomes (alternate shot) for the first round and fourball (better ball) for the second, then two rounds of individual stroke play. Medals are awarded to top men’s and women’s teams based on combined scores from all four rounds; medals are awarded to individual men and women based on their scores from the final two rounds. It’s still just stroke play golf but at least there’s a team component.