Forward PressMay 9, 2016

Forward Press: 2016 Players Championships aims to be better than most

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - MAY 10:  Rickie Fowler plays his shot from the 17th tee during a playoff in the final round of THE PLAYERS Championship at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course on May 10, 2015 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - MAY 10: Rickie Fowler plays his shot from the 17th tee during a playoff in the final round of THE PLAYERS Championship at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course on May 10, 2015 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

A year removed from Rickie Fowler’s playoff win, even veterans Johnny Miller and Mark Rolfing have declared it their favorite Players Championship. Ever! And why not?

For all of the talk about how democratic the TPC Sawgrass is -- and who is to argue with the range of champion playing styles -- the fifth of four majors has had its share of not-particularly memorable finishes and disappointing identity crises.

So don’t begrudge NBC/Golf Channel for devoting a decent amount of their 80 hours to reminding us how epic the week was. Throw in the the 15th anniversary of Gary Koch’s “Better than most” call and the replay truck will be earning their keep.

Besides bringing together 28 of the world's top 30 -- Charl Schwartzel is taking the same raincheck on Ponte Vedra that he’s employing for the Olympics -- this week’s Players threatens to move this event and tournament golf to eye-opening places. Strap in for just some of the under-the-hood storylines that impact how we view golf tournaments now and in the future:

PGA TOUR Live shows its next card

The tour’s first “Over The Top” streaming product -- apparently B-speak for a “TV leveraging play designed to get more money out of the networks when contracts are up for bid” -- will add features this week, including scoring embedded in the live feed. According to the tour’s press release, this will “help fans consume the event on a variety of platforms including the new Apple TV.” If you don’t want to pay for that, PGATour.com offers its full slate of digital offerings, including Live@17, which is second only to The Masters’ Amen Corner Live for perfect office background viewing.

Microsoft and golf sabermetrics

The week is also expected to feature an announcement of a new Microsoft partnership that should quiet the sabermetrics crowd longing for more advanced use of stats. An additional project with Microsoft, a demo of the 17th hole built into a new “HoloLens” product.

More virtual reality!

Footage collected Tuesday--Thursday will be released on the Samsung Gear/Oculus Virtual Reality headset and the PGA Tour VR app. The same content will be released as 360 video on Facebook and YouTube.

New Mitsubishi on-site video boards

They’re featuring state-of-the-art Real Black LED technology with a 10mm pixel pitch. Eleven of the boards will make their way to each week’s PGA Tour events with hopes of presenting more of the 21st Century arena-style imagery fans have been enjoying at the 17th hole in recent years.

Service at your sea and skin checks

Speaking of the infamous island green, the Qkr! app will allow grandstand-seated fans there to order food and drinks for delivery to their seat thanks to the good folks at MD Anderson Cancer Center. On a more serious note, the University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center and Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center are providing daily skin cancer screenings at the Nicklaus Gate.

More on the PGA Tour-LPGA partnership?

There are rumblings that the next phase of this partnership, seen largely as a bundling play for future TV negotations, will be announced this week. Or at least, better understood after all the tournament week networking has been activated.

Whew. Oh, and $10 million will be up for grabs. It all adds up to a fascinating week given that this is also Tim Finchem’s final Players as commissioner.

Much of the innovation and fun injected into the Players over the last decade has happened in spite of the tour's uneven approach to the event. In the last decade, it has gone from supreme Masters tune-up to a not-quite major that adequately fills the void between the Masters and the U.S. Open.

Jay Monahan likely takes over as commissioner at year’s end and it’s no coincidence that the above-mentioned initiatives are part of a culture started by his tenure as Players tournament director. Monahan comes from the New England sports culture that doesn’t settle for mediocrity or unfocused fan experiences. While no one knows what Monahan has planned for the Players, his passion for sports and interest in the fan’s perspective is evident in the above-mentioned initiatives.

For a fan, the progressive attack on all traditional ideas about tournament viewing comes as welcome news. This means the Players is no longer about trying to be an amalgamation of the other majors and instead is continuing the initial vision of Deane Beman to serve as an innovative standard bearer for the PGA Tour.

Now, if Monahan could be convinced in the coming years to recapture some of Pete Dye’s artisanal, small batch, gloriously inorganic swampy course design vibe, the Players could become the coolest tournament on the planet.

Your NBC/Golf Channel times for the 2016 Players, with all of the usual suspects on hand, plus David Feherty. Featured groups noted in the times, which are all ET:

Thursday, May 12

Golf Central Live From The Players 9 AM -1 PM (GC)

THE PLAYERS Championship (Round 1) 1-7 PM (GC)

Golf Central Live From THE PLAYERS 7-9 PM (GC)

Thursday Morning (and therefore Friday afternoon) featured groups:

Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Danny Willett

Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer

Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Branden Grace

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Friday, May 13

Golf Central Live From The Players 9 AM -1 PM (GC)

THE PLAYERS Championship (Round 2) 1-7 PM (GC)

Golf Central Live From THE PLAYERS 7-9 PM (GC)

Friday Morning (and therefore Thursday Afternoon) Featured Groups:

Sergio Garcia, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed

Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Adam Scott

Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson

Saturday, May 14

Golf Central Live From The Players 9 AM -1 PM (GC)

THE PLAYERS Championship (Round 3) 1-7 PM (NBC)

Golf Central Live From THE PLAYERS 7-9 PM (GC)

Sunday, May 15

Golf Central Live From The Players 9 AM -2 PM (GC)

THE PLAYERS Championship (Round 4) 2-7 PM (NBC)

Golf Central Live From THE PLAYERS 7-9 PM (GC)


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