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Friday, January 26, 2018

Friday Four Ball: Back To Work

It's time again to pick my four favorite stories from the week in golf. It's an unusual mix this week to be sure, but then, it almost always is:

  • A strike ends

  • A legend returns (again)

  • A player and his caddie have a bad day

  • Shiny new toys are unveiled in Orlando (again)

Golf Channel and union representing striking video/audio workers agree to new contract, end labor dispute | via Ryan Herrington for GolfDigest.com

Officials with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents more than 300 broadcast workers, said that the new contract is retroactive to June 13, 2017, when their previous contract with the Golf Channel expired.

It appears that both parties are satisfied with the results even if they don't agree on who actually won the negotiations.

From the union:
“Everyone who works in sports broadcasting will benefit from this contract because it raises the floor for all workers.”

From Golf Channel:
"The ratified contract is fair and in line with industry standards, as had been true under the previous contract and prior to the union’s call for a strike that prompted some of its members to walk off the job."

I'm just happy that both parties were able to reach an agreement they can live with and that we can now expect the excellent coverage that the Golf Channel provides to return in the near future. Union workers are expected to be back on the job for the Golf Channel beginning on February 5th.

The Latest Return of a Modern Legend

Tiger Woods made his first regular tour start this week at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. The golf world, understandably, is a bit excited. Golf writer Dan Jenkins captured the insane level of enthusiasm in this fantastic tweet:


If you're on Twitter and don't follow Mr. Jenkins then you're doing Twitter wrong.

I remain concerned by the negative impact that "Tiger hysteria" is having on professional golf in popular culture. Not Tiger Woods himself. He's among the greatest players to ever compete and it's a pleasure to watch him when he's at his best. But, the fanatical coverage of Tiger Woods is just too much.

Golf, as a sport and as a spectacle, is far better off thanks to Woods. However, no one can deny that golf has been struggling to move beyond Tiger Woods the brand in his absence. Now Tiger Woods is back again. For how long and at what level he can play is yet to be seen.

It will be interesting to watch his latest comeback to be sure. But, it feels like too many folks are running back and already trying to put all of the game's eggs right back into just his basket. To remain healthy, golf needs a balanced diet of stars. We have that at the moment with players like Spieth, Thomas, Rahm, Johnson, McIlroy and a few other young players and veterans. We can certainly be excited and interested in the return of Tiger Woods. I certainly am. We just need to be sure that we're making him a balanced part of the whole story and not return to the days when he was the only story anyone really cared about.

The Rules of Golf Are Too Complicated (Again)

On Wednesday, during the final round of the Web.com Bahamas Great Abaco Classic, Rhein Gibson made headlines for reasons I'm sure he regrets. Gibson received a 1-stroke penalty on the last hole of the tournament due to the actions of his caddie. That penalty cost him in the neighborhood of $12,000 in purse money. Upon being assessed the penalty Gibson threw his putter cover at his caddie and, depending on whose version of events you believe, fired him on the spot. Gibson would later take to Twitter to apologize:


But what did the caddie do to cost his player and himself so much?

It's all sort of a he-said-he-said-he-said story but the meat of it appears to be this. Gibson hit his ball into some rocks. The caddie, not the player, retrieved the ball without the player properly identifying it himself. From there we get into a fight over timing, intent, who actually found the ball, who told who to pick it up, and the like. Then we start throwing "Rule 18.2" and "Decision 26-1/9" into the mix along with "in such cases, any doubt should be resolved against the player."

To add to the bizarre nature of the situation, Gibson's caddie took to YouTube, via Instagram, to defend his actions in an 8 minute plus rant. Also, for some reason, he decided to make his video appearing below while not wearing a shirt. So there's that.


Gibson hit his ball into some rocks. His caddie retrieved what appeared to be Gibson's ball from an unplayable lie. If the rules official had any doubt it was Gibson's ball he could have asked to have it identified after the fact. Now, if Gibson is upset because he felt the caddie overstepped his role and should have let him decide if the ball was unplayable, then fine, fire the guy. But how does all of this end up costing Gibson an extra stroke? I see how it does technically, but, in the spirit of the game, once again, the rules got it wrong.

And so we're once again back to a situation that causes golf to appear too technical and complicated. Golf is supposed to be a game of honor and intent. It shouldn't ever degenerate into sounding like someone trying to justify a deduction on their taxes to the IRS.

2018 PGA Merchandise Show

The PGA Show in Orlando came and went without much excitement this year. It was another evolutionary year for the most part. "Improved performance" got thrown around a lot as always. As did the usual mix of longest, straightest, fastest, softest, most forgiving, etc. It was actually a good reflection of where the game of golf is these days. Golf is at a crossroads.

Ever since Gary Adams brought his Taylor Made metal driver to market in 1978, golf technology has been undergoing rapid change. Revolutionary materials and manufacturing technologies allowed club and ball companies to make significant changes to their equipment nearly every season up until just a few years ago. Average players saw measurable gains and professional golfers saw huge gains. But lately, it seems like these companies have hit a wall. They've certainly pushed up against the limits in the performance that the USGA and R&A are going to allow them. So now we're seeing mostly evolutionary changes in form, but very little in function. New colors. The numbers don't lie. The new equipment is performing nearly the same as the stuff they made 5 years ago for the average golfer.

Add in that new equipment continues to get more expensive and you can see a problem on the horizon. Costs more but performs about the same isn't a healthy business model.

So, what do we do? If I had the answer to that I'd start a golf equipment company.

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