Wednesday, April 23, 2014

HackGolf- April 22

There has been a movement in golf since the PGA Merchandise Show. On a Tuesday night in late January, Mark King, the CEO of TaylorMade Golf, introduced a concept called “HackGolf.” King’s idea was not based around hacking- like in bad shots. His vision was hacking computerese into the game of golf and changing the way people view the sport.
Since then the floodgates have opened on ways to make golf friendlier, more relaxed and a fun game. King’s HackGolf gemstone was based around the concept of a 15-inch cup versus the traditional 4 ¼ inch cup that golf uses. There have been several 15-inch cup events in the past few months and I had the opportunity to join King in one such event at Reynolds Plantation on the day after The Masters.
Making the Reynolds Plantation 15-inch cup outing even more intriguing was the fact that Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, the reigning U.S. Open Champion, also played. Garcia, Rose and I marveled at how much fun we had playing to the 15-inch cups. Not to mention, how much it speeded the round up.
Fresh from The Masters, Garcia shot 30 for 9-holes and wanted to go lower. “I had three chances to chip in and didn’t,” he said. “So obviously I was quite disappointed.”
Rose shot 33 for 9-holes. “My mind set changed completely,” Rose said. “If I hit a poor drive, I’m trying to figure out how I can best save par. Here I’m thinking if I can just get the ball up near the green somewhere, I can still make birdie.”
I was so impressed with the 15-inch cup idea that we will use it on occasion at The Legends Golf Club this season. We have designated May 3-4 as “HackGolf Weekend” and the 15-inch holes will be in play as well as the Indiana premier of FootGolf, a sport that combines soccer and golf.
These are just two examples of ideas that have spawned from HackGolf and the PGA of America exploring ways to make the sport more fun and inviting. The goal is not to change golf as we know it, but to introduce innovative ways for people to play and stay in the game. Golf has reveled in its standards and rich traditions.
But increasingly a victim of its own image and hidebound ways, golf has lost five million players in the last decade according to the National Golf Foundation. Predictions are that 20 percent of the existing 25 million golfers are apt to quit in the next five years. Panic time? Maybe it is and certainly a time to re-examine the sport and its future.
I take my hat off to the leadership of the Franklin Chamber of Commerce, most notably Lisa Buening and her golf committee. They are running the 36th Annual Franklin Chamber of Commerce Golf Outing. Organizers had felt the outing was stale and tired. They were looking for some new energy and life to energize its annual fundraiser. The Chamber’s golf committee has decided to use the 15-inch cups on June 5. They didn’t stop there. A 9-hole FootGolf outing is scheduled simultaneously for non-golfers.
My prediction is that players will leave the outing saying it was the most fun day of golf they ever had. The 15-inch cups will speed up the pace of play by 30-45 minutes. It will reduce time spent on the greens and lower scores. Who won’t enjoy a faster round of golf with lower scores? The FootGolf part of the day gives “non-golfers” a chance to join in on the fun of the day, dinner and the camaraderie of the outing. This will be the first outing of its type in the United States.
The PGA of America recently named a Growth of the Game Task Force which I am proud to serve as Chairman. We hold our first meeting today in New York City. I will be joined by Pete Bevacqua, CEO of the PGA along with Dottie Pepper, Independent PGA Director and LPGA legend. Also in the group will be Arlen Kantarian, former CEO of the United States Tennis Association. Kantarian resurrected tennis during his time with the USTA when he did innovative things like lowering the nets, creating larger racquets and painting the U.S. Open courts blue.
Bode Miller is the most decorated skier in American history. He is an avid golfer and Miller brings the perspective of extreme sports. Tom Dundon is the founder of Top Golf, a driving range on steroids which features video games, golf balls with sensors, loud music, food and drink. It’s one of the most successful business models in golf. King from TaylorMade brings his public web portal to the PGA Task Force. Anyone can submit an idea to the PGA Task Force through this crowd sourcing concept of HackGolf.
Ashley Mayo, a 25-year old digital strategist from Golf Digest, will add a youthful and energetic perspective. Damon Hack, co-host of the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive, joins former Indianapolis Colt, Melvin Bullitt in providing insights on minority golf participation. Last but not least, Commissioner Tim Finchem of the PGA TOUR will have a seat on the PGA Task Force. The TOUR brings the most powerful voice in all of golf.
This PGA Task Force is charged with three basic concepts. The first is to redefine the golf experience and offer the consumer a 30-90 minute activity that is something besides a 9 or 18-hole round of golf. Secondly, introduce people to alternative forms of the sport such as FootGolf (more on this next week). Thirdly, offer a relaxed set of guidelines that help recreational golfers enjoy the sport. Most who play the game are golfers who do not have handicaps or compete even at the local level.
We want to convert as many golfers as we can into players- they are the people who do have handicaps, play by the Rules and like to compete. In the meantime, let’s keep the game fun and interesting. It’s now time to recognize that more than one type of golf exits. I have used the analogy that if I go to a basketball court and play a game of H-O-R-S-E that is basketball.
Golf needs to get up to speed and now is the time!       



Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April 2, 2014

Is it the end of an era or the beginning of a new one? It’s hard to imagine Tiger Woods regaining the dominating form that he once enjoyed in professional golf under any circumstances at the age of 38. The golf world was jolted this week with the news that Woods would miss The Masters after undergoing back surgery on Monday.
In all likelihood, Woods might not be back at all in 2014. Graham DeLaet, Canadian player, who made his presence known in last year’s President’s Cup missed an entire year with a similar injury. It seems almost certain that Woods will be a no-show at the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. It’s a long shot that he will be in the field at the PGA Championship in Louisville later this summer.
So, life goes on in the professional golf world. Certainly there is a void without Woods, but look at the last five Masters and you will see great, dramatic finishes that did not include Woods. Start with Angel Cabrera’s playoff victory over Kenny Perry in 2009. Phil Mickelson hit the famous shot out of the pine straw on the 13th hole in 2010 and beat Lee Westwood.
The next year it was Charl Schwartzel finishing with an unprecedented four straight birdies to win the 2011 Green Jacket. Bubba Watson beat Louis Ooosthuizen with that incredible second shot from deep in the woods on the 10th hole to win in 2012. Adam Scott canned a putt in the rain on the 10th green to win a thrilling playoff victory over Cabrera last year.
At no time in the past five years has Woods really been in contention at The Masters. Since he was knocked off by Y.E. Yang on the final hole of play at the PGA Championship at Hazeltine in 2009, Tiger has pretty much been a non-factor in all of the majors. He has suffered two severe injuries during that time, the latest to his back while an earlier injury to his knee also forced surgery.
We all root for Woods to have a speedy recovery because the sport needs him. “In all likelihood, he’s done for the year,” said Golf Digest’s Geoff Shackelford this week on The Golf Channel.
I have said for months that 2014 is a transitional year for golf. Many new faces are emerging and some of the familiar ones are seemingly drifting away. Phil Mickelson is out of this week’s Shell Houston Open with an oblique injury. His presence at Augusta could be in doubt. Steve Stricker hasn’t been nearly as effective this year as he was in 2013 playing an abbreviated schedule.
Granted, Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Harris English and Jordan Spieth are far from household names. It’s been a weird year as many of the top named players have been out of form. It begs the question, who are the favorites next week at Augusta National?
The betting favorite is Rory McIlroy. He is due again to win a major championship. If he duplicates his wins in the U.S. Open and PGA, it will be in record-breaking fashion in terms of his margin of victory. Could that happen next week? I think it can.
Adam Scott figures to be a factor even though it will defy the odds to win back-to-back Masters. Dustin Johnson has played well at times, but will he put all facets of his mental game together over 72 holes. Nobody has played more consistently of late than Bubba Watson who finishes in the top ten in virtually every event he plays in. Zach Johnson has won before at Augusta and he could be primed for another Green Jacket.                
Whatever the case, this Masters will be well worth the watch.
It’s a special year at The Masters with the first Drive, Chip and Putt Championship to be conducted Sunday morning on the hallowed grounds. Last year nearly 16,000 kids competed in ten qualifiers around the U.S. with the hope of being one of the 88 boys and girls, ages 7-15 years old, to make it to the finals at Augusta National.
You can watch the competition live on The Golf Channel beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday. Nels Surtani from Noblesville will represent Indiana. The 12-year old had two aces last year and shot 72 on Pinehurst No. 2. Believe it or not, nine of the competitors in the Drive, Chip and Putt have recorded holes-in-one.    
Drive, Chip and Putt Championship will be expanded to all 50 states this summer. It is anticipated that over 50,000 kids will compete with the hopes of making the trip to Augusta National in 2015. Registration opens on Sunday, April 6 at Two of Indiana’s local qualifiers will take place at The Legends Golf Club on June 27 and July 3.

Making this competition even more unique is the fact that the putting finals will actually take place on the 18th green at Augusta National. The Masters will allow a limited number of spectators on the grounds Sunday. The initiative is collaboration between The Masters Foundation, the PGA of America and the United States Golf Association.