By Alex Myers
The PGA Championship is the year's fourth major, both in schedule and in the minds of the players. But this year it will become the first major to have true fan involvement.
Not that it should cause too much buzz, but fans will have a chance to vote on the final-round hole location for Oak Hill's par-3 15th hole. The fan voting will be hosted by Jack Nicklaus, who won his fifth and final PGA Championship at the Rochester, N.Y., course in 1980.
"The opportunity for fans to take part in the interactive 'PGA Championship Pick the Hole Location Challenge' is part of a new era in engagement that connects golf fans with the Season's Final Major in a fun and dramatic way," said PGA President Ted Bishop. "The PGA of America is delighted to present this innovative opportunity, as we believe this is the first time that consumers have been able to make a direct and significant impact on a global sports arena. We are honored that the legendary Jack Nicklaus will lead fans as their host and teacher in understanding the nuances that the greatest players in golf consider and think about regarding course setup and hole locations -- and the effect their selection will have on the eventual outcome of the 95th PGA Championship."
Fans are encouraged to visit PGA.com from July 23-Aug. 10 in order to vote for one of four possible hole locations on the 181-yard hole during Sunday's final round on Aug. 11 (shown above). Of course, those four have been selected by the PGA of America, meaning devious fans can't just say they want the pin cut one yard over the water hazard that guards the green. A video with Jack Nicklaus goes more in-depth about the four options.
While this may be aimed at fans, nowhere does it say players are excluded from participating as well. Phil Mickelson was very vocal about a few of Muirfield's pin positions on Thursday of the British Open, which he ultimately won. Always looking for any edge, maybe Lefty will stuff the ballot box for that right-side location. . .
By Alex Myers
Rod Perry may have won the 2013 PGA Professional National Championship, but Rob Labritz undoubtedly provided the tournament's best highlight.
In a playoff for the 20th and final spot given to club pros in the PGA Championship, the Director of Golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford, N.Y., holed his third shot on the par-4 11th at Sunriver Resort (Ore.) from about 100 yards for an unlikely birdie. Here's the clip:
(h/t to the Metropolitan Golf Association's A.J. Voelpel for uploading the video)
When Labritz tees it up at Oak Hill in August it will be his fourth appearance in the season's fourth major. He missed the cut in 2002 and 2003, but was the only club pro to make the weekend at Whistling Straits in 2010.
The 42-year-old is no stranger to highlight-reel shots. Just last month, he used a final-round hole-in-one to propel himself to a second straight victory in the Polo Golf Met PGA Head Pro Championship.
By John Huggan
Abu Dhabi, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES -- After all the talking, all the speculation, all the toing and froing, all the other names in the Ryder Cup frame, it took the European Tour's tournament committee only an hour to decide that Paul McGinley was the man they wanted to lead Old World against New at Gleneagles next year.
Five men were considered: Sandy Lyle, Colin Montgomerie, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Paul Lawrie and McGinley.
"But we are 100 percent behind this captain," said Thomas Bjorn, chairman of the 15-strong committee. "It was obvious very early that a consensus was forming. We had all listened to the players on tour and it was obvious who they wanted to represent them. In the end, it was a unanimous decision and we are all 100 percent behind him."
Photo by Getty Images
Certainly, McGinley was pleased with the outcome. He arrived on stage for the late night press conference held in the Regal Ballroom inside the St. Regis hotel here with the widest of smiles across his expressive face. And the first thing he did was reach across and fondly caress the famous gold trophy, one that Europe has won in seven of the last nine encounters with the United States.
"I'm thrilled," he said. "It's a great honor to be chosen to lead the cream of the crop from what is arguably the strongest European Tour in history. I'm humbled to be sitting here as Ryder Cup captain and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to go up against one of my golfing heroes in Tom Watson."
Certainly, it was obvious that the 46-year old Dubliner had the support of the vast majority amongst the tour's rank-and-file. So if the committee members took any account of that level of feeling -- and they did -- there was only ever going to be one winner.
Perhaps even more importantly, McGinley had the public backing of world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and three other key members of the 2012 team -- Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Luke Donald. Throw in the fact that Irishmen McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowery and Peter Lawrie all appeared during the new skipper's press conference and it is clear that Europe has perhaps never before had a more universally-popular leader.
"Common sense prevailed," tweeted the world No. 1. "Paul McGinley 2014 European Ryder Cup captain. Couldn't be happier for him. Roll on Gleneagles."
"I stand by what I said earlier this week," continued McIlroy. "And it would be great to see Darren Clarke get the job in 2016. I played under Paul in the Seve Trophy and had such a good time. He made us all feel so comfortable. He's the best captain I've ever played under."
Such an unprovoked recommendation did not go unnoticed by McGinley, who was noticeably and sensibly silent throughout the convoluted and sometimes near-farcical build-up to the committee's decision. "It's amazing what you can learn when you listen and don't talk," he said with a smile. "Besides, the players were speaking for me so there was no need for me to say anything. But I will say that Rory is in good shape for a pick if he doesn't make the team."
Cue yet another grin as wide as Galway Bay.
Three times a Ryder Cup player -- three times on the winning side -- McGinley memorably holed the winning putt at The Belfry in 2002 and twice served as vice-captain in the biennial contest, as well as twice led the Great Britain & Ireland side against the Continent of Europe in the Seve Trophy. It was there that he developed the reputation for thoroughness and attention to detail that undoubtedly contributed most to his selection.
Still, with only four European Tour victories on his resume -- he and Padraig Harrington also won the World Cup for Ireland in 1997 -- he does at first glance have the look of a diminutive David against the golfing Goliath that is the eight-time major champion, Watson. And yes, he is surely the least-distinguished player to land the role since John Jacobs in1981. But don't be fooled. McGinley was ultimately the right man for the job --ask almost anyone on the European Tour and they'll tell you so.
Breaking the mold on American Ryder Cup captaincy, as the PGA of America did with a blockbuster announcement Thursday in New York, all began with the writings of Jim Huber. When a copy of the essayist's book, "Four Days In July," on Tom Watson's mythical run at the Open Championship in 2009, was placed in the hands of Ted Bishop at last year's PGA Grand Slam of Golf, the then-PGA vice president was moved. So was Huber when Bishop called to pitch his idea of Watson in a return engagement as captain, 21 years after leading the United States to its last Cup victory on foreign soil. "The idea is absolutely brilliant," Huber said.
The idea was not only brilliant, so was the execution. Three months after the longtime writer and broadcaster died suddenly and tragically of acute leukemia, 13 months after Bishop presented his idea, Tom Watson stood on the sidewalk outside 30 Rockefeller Center, announced to the world by Matt Lauer on the "Today" show as the next American Ryder Cup captain. Before our eyes, "Four Days in July" became "Three Days in Scotland" with a September 2014 run date.
Photo by Getty Images
At 65 and 22 days when the matches begin, Watson will be the oldest Ryder Cup captain ever, but as Luke Donald the artist painted the word picture on a tweet, we all can't wait to see the Young Tom "rocking his flat cap" once more. Something that Bishop first thought was off the wall has stuck.
Turns out, this was a conversation we'd be having even if Justin Rose didn't make his putt on the 17th green at Medinah, or if Martin Kaymer didn't bury the game winner in the 18th green for Team Europe. For Bishop, it was all about the fit of Watson and Scotland, where he is a kindred spirit, where the people call him "Our Tom." Maybe Watson, the favorite son, adopted with the four claret jugs he won on their sod, will add a Ryder Cup to his treasure chest and go off into the mist with the bagpipes playing and everybody crying with him. Maybe he won't and it will be like Turnberry, but there's not a better ambassador, a better man for the job at this point in history, than the man selected.
Even Larry Nelson and David Toms would have to admit that. The love Watson has for Scotland shows in his eyes and the corners of his mouth simply when he hears the accent. He is a romantic when it comes to the game and the idea of him going back to the site where Walter Hagen played Ted Ray in the 1921 Ryder Cup simply turned him on. At his news conference in the Empire State Building, he quoted the history, waxed about returning to Pershire, and did everything but sing "Scotland The Brave" during his big reveal. I remembered what he said at Turnberry about the game "being a fabric of life over here."
Keep in mind this is more than a feel-good story. Bishop didn't orchestrate this simply as a nostalgia trip or to create a storyline that would keep the audience over here in America for those 4 a.m. wakeup calls to watch golf. Nor did he do it as a knee-jerk reaction to the latest loss by a PGA-generated Ryder Cup team. This had been in the pipeline 11 months before Davis Love's team couldn't hold a four-point Sunday lead in Chicago. Selling the idea to the PGA's officers and rolling it out before Christmas was a game changer without a shot being struck.
If this is anything like 1993, Watson will not lead by committee the way Love did, nor will he shut himself off to feedback and rule like Hogan did in '67. "He won't walk in the (team) room and say, 'Here's the lineup," said his caddie, Neil Oxman. "He won't be a dictator." At the same time, Watson made it clear it's his team, and that "the ultimate decision is mine."
Watson is expected to have the chops Tony Jacklin had with Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer, when he had to cajole them into playing matches when they were tired, as was the case with Phil Mickelson Saturday at Medinah. It's doubtful whether he will bow to Tiger Woods' wishes about moving down on the lineup card to 12th -- as was the case in this year's singles. As Jacklin told me Thursday, "At the end of the day, the captains captain and the players play."
As for being in touch with the young kids, Watson will be playing the Masters, the Open Championship, and the Greenbrier, where he will be bumping into Tiger and all the other superstars on a regular basis over the next two years. If there was a potential friction point to this announcement, it was the Watson-Woods relationship after Tom's critical comments of Tiger's on-course behavior in 2010. That was smoothed over when the Woods camp issued a statement before Watson walked into the Empire State Building. Watson said he stood by his words but that they've both moved on, which appears to be the case.
"If he's not on the team for any unforeseen reason, and I'm sure he will be, you can bet that he's going to be No. 1 on my pick list," Watson said. "I want him on my team."
Always a fan of the gentleman's game, Jim Huber was indirectly a peacemaker, too.
The one criticism I keep hearing about the United States in Ryder Cup competition is too much deferring by the captain, too much a team by committee. I also keep hearing the PGA of America and its new president Ted Bishop wants to shake things up. So what better way to go back in time than bring back Tom Watson, which my sources say they plan to do.
Related: The reasons the U.S. lost the Ryder Cup
As for Watson, and why he's a good fit, the reasons jump off the page: Last winning away captain for the United States; revered in Scotland, where the competition is being held at the Gleneagles Resort in 2014; a legend younger players would look up to and respect -- because he's not afraid to speak his mind or make a decision. That was the case in 1993, when he captained the U.S. to victory at The Belfry.
You may remember Watson outraged several European players, most noticeably Sam Torrance, by refusing to participate in the traditional passing of the menus for autographs. You may not remember that Watson made most of the calls on pairings and slots in the singles lineup.
Related: Tom Watson's Golf Digest tips
John Cook was on that team and sat until Saturday, when he and Chip Beck were sent out to face the supposedly indomitable European team of Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie. Cook and Beck won 2 up and turned the tide in what was one of only three United States victories in 20 years.
"I don't think he asked anybody, to tell you the truth," Cook said when I reached him Tuesday evening. "He had his game plan with Stan Thirsk. He talked to Roy Williams, who was then at Kansas, about coaching. I know he had his practice pairings, but he just kind of observed, made his mental notes and made the pairings. We had such a complete trust in Tom and what he was doing. He was the captain. He ran the show. He took the bull and rode it all the way to the end."
One bull that Watson may have a tough time riding is Tiger Woods. Watson made some comments about Tiger's on-course behavior in 2010 that could still be lingering but that, in part, is why I expect the PGA to break tradition and go old school. Watson has never been afraid of shaking it up, speaking his mind, or making a call. Sounds like the new PGA president is of the same mind.
By John Strege
The PGA of America's search for a successor to retiring chief executive Joe Steranka has culminated with the appointment of former USGA executive Pete Bevacqua.
It seemed a natural fit for an organization involved in both the business of golf and operating championship events. Bevacqua was the director of the U.S. Open for the USGA before becoming that organization's first chief business officer in 2007.
Steranka announced in April that he would retire at the end of the year, his seventh at the helm of the PGA of America, an organization of 27,000 golf professionals and one that conducts the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup.
Bevacqua, 41, is a graduate of Notre Dame and earned a law degree from Georgetown. He joined the USGA in 2000 as in-house counsel. He resigned from the organization in March of 2011, three weeks after the USGA appointed Mike Davis as its executive director, a position for which Bevacqua reportedly was a candidate.
He also was rumored to have been a candidate for LPGA Commissioner, before the LPGA hired Mike Whan in October of 2009.
Bevacqua, who has run the golf division of CAA Sports, a division of Creative Artists Agency, since May of 2011, is an accomplished golfer, carrying a 2.4 handicap index at Manatee Golf Club in Branchburg, N.J., and at Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, N.Y.