Joy of Golf: Olympic success will see leading golfers in Tokyo

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Olympic champion: Justin Rose.

How is this for a bold prediction – made four years in advance? When the competition returns in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, we will have the cream of men’s golf taking part.

After all the months of negative publicity it received in the build-up towards the re-entry in the Olympic fold, there were nothing but rave reviews when action finally unfolded at the Olympics Golf Course.

The final-round battle between Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, eventually decided in favour of the Englishman on the final hole, may not have been in the same class as the one between Stenson and Phil Mickelson at the Open Championship in Royal Troon a month ago, but it was intense enough to warm the cockles of every heart involved with the re-introduction.

Matt Kuchar played his part with a brilliant Sunday charge. A sold-out crowd of nearly 12,000 people watched the proceedings over the weekend rounds and the TV ratings were pretty good as well. There should be no doubt that golf needs the Olympics.

India’s Jeev Milkha Singh made a valid point when he said that even if the governments in countries like India, China and Russia started a programme where they aimed to develop a group of four to six talented but underprivileged junior golfers into medal potential by taking care of their coaching, equipment and travel, it would serve the purpose of growing the game.

The Zika virus was a real threat when players like Rory McIlroy and Jason Day made their decision to pull out. And if crowded schedule was an issue, the International Golf Federation would have learned from the Rio experience to make suitable changes in 2020.

The women’s competition started on Wednesday, and given how good the response has been from the top ladies, it is sure to be a success.

Allenby at it again

The curious case of Robert Allenby keeps getting more curious. The Australian is finding bizarre ways to be in the news, and the latest was an arrest at an Illinois casino for disorderly conduct and trespass.

Seems like he missed the cut at the John Deere Classic and got into trouble after a night of gambling and drinking.

The golfer has denied all this, but the police at Rock Island have said the golfer needed to post a bail of $1,500 after being put behind bars.

Last year, Allenby was involved in a major controversy when he claimed he was kidnapped, manhandled and robbed in Hawaii while playing the Sony Open.

Clearly, the 45-year-old needs help. His game has completely deserted him, and he seems to be courting trouble both on and off the course. He has made just two cuts in his last 24 starts, dating back to September last year and slipped to 1257th in the world rankings. That’s a remarkable drop from a career high of No. 12 back in 2010.

Remembering McAvoy

Tuesday was the 20th anniversary of the release of the iconic movie Tin Cup.

The Kevin Costner and Rene Russo starrer is perhaps the second most popular golf movie made after Caddyshack. Several parallels have been drawn with many players and the Hollywood script, but so far, the closest anyone ever came to replicating Roy McAvoy’s five balls into the water routine is John Daly.

During the 1998 Bay Hill Invitational, he outdid Costner’s character – although, he was not in contention and it certainly wasn’t the US Open – by hitting six balls into the water trying to reach the green 270 yards away.

Daly finally ended up with a score of 18 on that hole. McAvoy, on the other hand, holed out his 12th shot playing the last ball in his bag.

Well, Allenby also has something common with Tin Cup. He is one of the few PGA Tour players to have fired his caddie in the middle of the round – a fate which befell McAvoy while carrying the bag of David Simms (played by Don Johnson).

Quote of the Week

“That is the beauty of this event. If you’re in third, you’re actually going to be leaving with something. If you’re third at a major, yeah, you get world ranking points and a nice prize cheque. But I would definitely trade a third in a major for a third at the Olympics.” – Henrik Stenson at the start of the Olympic competition when asked to compare the Games with majors. The Swede eventually finished second.

Stat of the Week

Nine – out of top-10 ranked women players in the world are competing at this week’s Olympic golf competition. It could not be a perfect 10 because world No. 10 Ha Na Jang did not qualify as she was the fifth Korean player in the top-15 of women’s rankings.

A maximum of four players from one country are allowed to compete in Rio provided they are ranked inside the top-15. The USA will have three representatives in the field.

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Joy of Golf: Enjoy Furyk's low score rather than picking it apart

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Lowest PGA Tour scorer: Jim Furyk.

On Sunday of the Travelers Championship, Jim Furyk set the scoring bar on the PGA Tour by going where no man had ever been before – a 58.

It’s not that unique a number in golf because it has been achieved before. Ryo Ishikawa also shot a 12-under par 58, also on a Sunday, to win The Crowns on the Japan Golf Tour in 2010, while Jason Bohn and Stephan Jaegar matched his effort on the Canadian and the Web.com Tour respectively.

And even though the American media failed to recognise Ishikawa’s effort, it must be pointed out that the course set-up in Japan Golf Tour, on an average, is much tougher than on the PGA Tour. The Canadian and the Web.com Tour are developmental tours.

But let’s face it, after 59 was shot six times on the PGA Tour, 58 was the Holy Grail. And for Furyk to get to that mark is an astonishing fact, given he is one of the six men who have shot a 59 before.

There is a debate going on about whether the 59s of David Duval, Chip Beck and Al Gieberger were greater than Furyk’s 58. The first three gentlemen in the 59 Club were playing on par-72 courses, thus needing to shoot 13-under par to reach their 59s, while Furyk was 12-under par for 58 on the par-70 TPC River Highlands course.

I personally think the par for the course does not matter. My argument is this – if it is a par-72 course, it will have four par-5 holes, which are much easier for tour pros to make birdies on, compared to par- 4s and par-3s.

Most par-70 courses have only two par-5s, as was the case with TPC River Highlands. Astonishingly, Furyk did not make a birdie on either of the two par-5s en route to 58.

And then there are some who contend that Furyk’s 59 was a bigger achievement than his 58, because he beat the field by more shots during his 2013 round at the 2013 BMW Championship.

At Conway Farms, he beat the average score of the field by 11.61 shots, while last Sunday, he was ‘only’ 10.8 shots better than the field. The best sub-60 score by this yardstick would be Duval’s, who was 12.6 shots better than the field.

This is a much better argument, but it does not take into consideration many things, like the weather. The 59 at the BMW Championship was played earlier in the round and the wind may have picked up later.

A few critics have pointed out that Furyk’s effort came when he had no pressure. He was never in contention and things would have been a lot different if he was playing in the last couple of groups.

Honestly, I see no reason why there should be any comparison. Breaking the 60 barrier is as tough as winning majors, if not tougher. After all, we have far more major winners than players who have scored in the 50s.

Many top stars, including Tiger Woods haven’t even come close to sniffing a 59 in tournament conditions.

Another issue is the spate of low scores we are experiencing lately. Furyk’s 58 came a week after Jaeger posted a similar number at the Ellie Mae Classic on the Web.com Tour.

In the majors, a round of 63 was unthinkable until Johnny Miller achieved it in the 1973 US Open at Oakmont. From then to the 2016 Masters, 25 players managed to match that score in 151 major championships. Remarkably, four 63s have come in the last three majors – Hiroshi Iwata at the US Open, Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson at the Open Championship and Robert Streb in the PGA Championship.

Furyk also neither has the classic swing nor the length off the tee many fans believe is key to low scoring, and yet, he’s breached 60 twice.

Furyk’s homemade swing is one of the most unorthodox on the PGA Tour, once described by David Feherty as an “octopus falling out of a tree”. And he is 182nd in the list of driving distance, a whopping 45 yards behind leader Dustin Johnson’s average drives of 313.9 yards.

The end of Nike Golf

The equipment industry received a massive jolt last week when Nike Golf announced they are shutting down their equipment business. It was a surprise, especially considering they have players like Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods as part of their superstar roster, and even as early as this year, they signed up several young and upcoming stars, including Brooks Koepka.

Many theories exist as to why their business was hurting. Some believe Nike was responsible for ruining the endorsement market by paying outrageous amounts to top stars. But while Woods was still able to make those numbers look good by return on investment, once he started to struggle, so did Nike Golf.

Market leader: Nike banked on Tiger Woods.

Market leader: Nike banked on Tiger Woods.

The other reason is while Nike did amazing things in America, they hardly did anything of note in Asia, which is now the place to be and the only market that is growing at a pace that matters. They did sign up China’s Li Haotong, but ignored Indians, Thais and other Asians.

And finally, they also never came out with any club, especially fast-selling items like drivers and putters, that became iconic.

The success of established players in the business like Callaway, PING and TaylorMade is partly because of the fact how good and successful their new driver launches have been.

Quote of the Week

“The 59 was a great accomplishment. I’m a little flabbergasted that I had the opportunity to break 60 again and was able to do so and to do it with a 58. It’s amazing. I guess I look at it is it’s one day versus a career, but it’s also one day that no one else on the PGA Tour has ever done”. – Jim Furyk, when asked to compare his US Open and 17 PGA Tour wins against the 59 and the 58 he shot.

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Joy of Golf: Player ratings from the PGA Championship

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Texan turnaround: Jimmy Walker.

When talking of the four majors, the PGA Championship, more often than not, receives a step-brotherly treatment from fans.

Which is rather unfair, considering the tournament manages to pull the best quality field year-on-year (2016 was exceptionally good, considering it had the highest weightage in the history of world rankings as 97 out of top-100 players teed up), is always played on some of the classiest golf courses in America, and the course set-up and weather conditions are fair.

As a contest this year, it will pale in comparison to the astounding climax served up by Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson two weeks ago at Royal Troon. But that applies to every other tournament as well. The 2016 Open will remain etched in the minds of fans as one of the most sensational in the history of the sport.

And yet, the steely determination shown by Jimmy Walker in winning his first major title, and the doggedness with which 2015 champion and world No1 Jason Day chased him down the stretch will make the battle at Baltusrol an unforgettable one.

As we have always done the week after a major, here are our ratings from the PGA Championship…

JIMMY WALKER (10/10) 

The turnaround in the fortunes of the quiet Texan is complete with his first major victory. The 37 year-old turned pro in 2001, but the first of his five regular PGA Tour wins came as recently as 2013.

Walker did not come to Baltusrol in the best of forms, having missed the cut at the Open Championship and without any top-10s since finishing sixth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship. But he was brilliant from tee to green the moment he hit his first shot in New Jersey.

The final round was spectacular for the wire-to-wire champion as he made pars on each of the front nine holes, and despite the mounting pressure from his challengers, made three birdies coming in.

Known more for his astonishing pictures of distant planets and galaxies, this amateur astrophotographer has now firmly established himself as a star himself.

JASON DAY (10/10) 

I usually reserve 10 only for the champion, but will make an exception for the Australian runner-up this time.

To begin with, Day did not have the best of starts to the tournament.

Two-over par after 25 holes and in distinct danger of missing the cut, his lack of preparation for the tournament was showing.

Because of his own, and then his wife’s ill-health, Day had played just one practice round at Baltusrol before his opening round. But he made seven birdies in eight holes from the eighth hole onwards in the second round, and finally fell short of the winning number by one shot.

And yet, he did produce the shot of the tournament, a stunning two-iron second shot from 260 yards on the par-5 final hole which got him an eagle and piled on the pressure on Walker.

BROOKS KOEPKA (9/10)

 The American finished tied fourth at eight-under par, but it was truly a heroic effort from the man who is on the verge of qualifying for the Ryder Cup.

Koepka, who missed the Open Championship and has been out of action for more than a month because of an ankle injury, somehow played through the pain and things became that much more difficult for him when the thunderstorm forced him to pay 36 holes on Sunday. Despite all that, the 2014 European Tour Rookie of the Year was just sensational.

HENRIK STENSON (8/10)

It’s not easy to follow a major win with another, but the Swede almost pulled it off before running out of steam on the back nine of the final round. An unfortunate double bogey on the 15th hole denied him a finish better than tied-seventh.

BRANDEN GRACE (8/10)

Statistically speaking, the South African world No10 is now the second- best player in the world after Rickie Fowler not to win a major. Another superb outing for him with a tied-fourth place.

TYRRELL HATTON (8/10) 

The young Englishman may not have won any tournament so far in his career, but he is definitely one to watch in the future. Hatton’s followed his runners-up finish at Scottish Open with a fifth place at The Open and now a tied 10th at PGA Championship.

JORDAN SPIETH (6/10)

From the 12th hole onwards on the final day of the Masters, it just did not happen in the majors this year for Spieth. The tied 13th at Baltusrol was his best effort after Augusta, but with his putting under pressure, he has definitely not been the Spieth we all know.

PHIL MICKELSON (5/10)

A lot was expected from the American veteran, especially after the fantastic show in the Open, and given the fact that he was the champion in Baltusrol in 2005. With a tied 33rd place, he was a big disappointment.

LEE WESTWOOD (4/10)

With his horse ‘Hoof It’ winning the opening race in Glorious Goodwood on Saturday, it was thought an inspired Westwood will turn it around at Baltusrol over the weekend. That did not happen and the Englishman, worryingly for Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke, slipped with a 73 and 75.

RORY MCILROY (2/10)

A second missed cut in the majors – after the US Open – is extremely poor by McIlroy’s standards. The world No4 was easily the best in the field driving from tee to green, but it was on and around the green that he put up a nightmarish performance.

DUSTIN JOHNSON (1/10)

The hottest player in the world was nowhere in the reckoning. He made only two birdies in the two rounds he played, and two doubles and seven bogeys completed his misery.

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