It says something troubling about the PGA Tour’s schedule that Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler would skip a World Golf Championship event. The quartet is missing from this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play in Austin. Each explained their decision being tied to giving themselves the best preparation for the Masters, which I get. What I don’t get is how things are going to get much better in the future, particularly if talk of moving the Players back into March comes to pass. Jack Nicklaus lamented how the Florida Swing has been “destroyed,” in part by moving the other early season WGC event from Doral to Mexico City but not repositioning it on the calendar. So what we have are two WGCs in four weeks competing against each other, plus a plethora of high-profile events competing against the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which didn’t have No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson or Scott. While the Bay Hill field still managed to grab four of the top five players in the world, tournament-host Sam Saunders expressed his overall disappointment. As it relates to the WGC-Match Play, Rose said in a Golf Digest Podcast that he prefers stroke play as a way to prepare for Augusta, so he’s opting for the Shell Houston Open. “Match play is a fun format,” Rose said. “But it’s unpredictable.” In some regards, it’s a nice problem for the PGA Tour to have. What is predictable is the pushback. If you’re a host or a sponsor, it’s not what you’re paying for.
Of all the tributes and remembrances on display last week at Bay Hill, the one element that might have made Arnold Palmer happiest was the condition of his golf course for the API, specifically its greens. The perfect roll on Marc Leishman’s 51-foot putt for eagle on the 16th hole was testimony to the job golf-course superintendent Chris Flynn and his staff did on Bay Hill’s back-nine putting surfaces after vandalism shut down that half of the course from late April until October in 2016. Roy Saunders, vice president of the Bay Hill Club and Lodge, called it “golf course terrorism.” With Palmer being a proud host and son of a superintendent, this was an issue that troubled him in the final months of his life. Bay Hill reopened just after Palmer’s passing in late September. Bland Cooper, Competitions Agronomist for the PGA Tour, called the work done by Flynn and his staff “a success story.” The grow-in came together with good weather over the summer and a cold front that hit Orlando early in tournament week that some say was heaven sent. “I know Arnold would be incredibly proud of them,” Cooper said, with Saunders adding, “I know Mr. P had a hand in this. He’s looking down on us.”
After becoming a social-media rock star for tapping an alligator in the tail at the API, Cody Gribble kept saying, “You should meet my father, Bill Gribble.” Around Austin County Club, one of the courses frequented by the University of Texas golf team, where Cody played his college golf, the exploits of “Wild Bill Gribble” are quite famous. Longhorns coach John Fields retold the story of “Wild Bill” at a college tournament at College Station where spectators were screaming at the site of a highly dangerous Copperhead snake. “Wild Bill swoops in with a stick, pins its head, picks it up by its head, takes it deeper into the woods and releases it!” Fields texted with an “OMG” attached. I reached “Wild Bill,” an investor in oil, gas and real estate, over the weekend. He says he told his son, “You’re getting way too much notice for the alligator instead of your golf scores.” Gribble missed the cut at the API but has a two-year exemption for winning the Sanderson Farms Championship last October, so don’t expect this to be the last time you see the member of Texas’ 2012 NCAA title team messing with wildlife. As “Wild Bill” told me, “It’s in his gene pool.”