Nine to Know: A primer for Colonial, the Senior PGA, the BMW and more
You can learn everything you need to know about golf this week in the following nine items…
1. For PGA Tour events, it’s all about the date. Due to what is now a back-end-heavy schedule, there are no good dates to hold a Tour event after the beginning of June. The result? Tournaments ebb and flow in importance, and so does the quality of the fields. Colonial was a big-deal event for years, and players often talked about trying to get their names “on the wall.” A plaque by the first tee bears the long list of past Colonial champions.
For years, Colonial was top dog, and the Byron Nelson played second fiddle. The Nelson’s fundraising, coupled with Byron’s presence, elevated it for a while, but now both tournaments are smack dab in the middle of the May dead zone. Most players tee it up in Charlotte the week before the Players, and many will play the Memorial next week as a U.S. Open tune-up. That leaves this week and last week as the obvious weeks off.
Want proof? Kuchar and Mahan are the only players ranked in the top 10 who are teeing it up this week in Fort Worth.
2. There is a major championship this week. The Senior PGA Championship, the granddaddy of all senior golf events, will be played at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich.
It doesn’t matter that you probably can’t name all five of the tour’s designated majors -- this is The One. Too bad, then, that defending champ Tom Watson had to withdraw due to a pinched nerve in his wrist.
This Senior PGA might provide a little clarity as to who’s the real sheriff on the Champions Tour. It might be Fred Couples, who’s already won once this year. It might be Kenny Perry, who’s one of the “young guns” on this circuit, if that isn’t an oxymoron. There’s also Michael Allen, who won the senior tour stop in Tampa and teamed with David Frost to win the team event in Savannah, Ga. Bernhard Langer, Fred Funk and Tom Lehman are other players worth watching at Harbor Shores, a Jack Nicklaus design that will emphasize ball-striking. My pick: Lehman over Langer in a playoff.
3. Bye of the week: Just when things were heating up with last week’s fun-but-controversial match-play tournament, the LPGA takes a break until next week’s ShopRite Classic. The Nationwide Tour is also dark this week.
4. Trivia question of the week: How many European tour events are played in England?
Answer: Would you believe… one? This week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, which Lee Westwood considers golf’s fifth major (serious attempts only please, Lee), is the European Tour’s only stop in the country affectionately known to some golfers as Mud Island.
England had six tour stops in 2000, but the recession, and possibly the rise of big-money events in the Middle East and Asia, killed off the likes of the English Open, British Masters and European Open, to name just a few. Notice the season-ending money chase is called the Race to Dubai, not the Race to London or the Chase to Nottingham or the Sprint to Liverpool.
So who’s got a specific plan to try to correct this anomaly? So far, nobody, but Luke Donald, Paul Casey and Lee Westwood are setting up a task force.
5. The Big Deal of the Week: The aforementioned BMW PGA Championship. It is the European tour’s flagship event, and it has the top three players in the world: Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.
“Obviously, this is the biggest tournament that we play on the European Tour,” said Germany’s Martin Kaymer, currently ranked 11th. “It's a world-class field, a lot of guys from America came over. It's nice that Luke and Rory, they are here. There are a lot of World Ranking points. So it's a very big week and important week for us.”
When Kaymer says that a lot of players came over from America, he’s talking about players based in the U.S. like McIlroy, Donald and Ernie Els. The contingent of Americans is actually quite small: former British Open champ Ben Curtis, and former PGA champions Shaun Micheel and Rich Beem.
6. Was it just coincidence that the LPGA doled out a harsh slow-play penalty to Morgan Pressel just one week after Kevin Na’s stop-again, start-again swing opera reignited talk of slow play? It was, after all, a match-play tournament with only four players on the course. And, according to some reports, the twosome playing behind Pressel’s group was lagging badly yet went unpenalized. It’s history now, so it doesn’t really matter, but it does feel like ball served and returned. So keep watch to see if the PGA Tour returns that volley with some kind of slow-play response this week at Colonial.
7. Remember when American golf was somewhere on the level of Canadian bowling and Jamaican bobsledding? Check again. It seems that recent winners Jason Dufner (14th in the World Ranking), Hunter Mahan (6th), Matt Kuchar (5th), Masters champ Bubba Watson (4th) and Rickie Fowler (20th) have helped balance the scales of international golfing prowess.
The ranking isn’t perfect, but it is telling to see so much red white and blue at the top. Americans account for six of the top 10, 10 of the top 20, and 13 of the top 25.
Here’s the rundown of the top 25 by nation: U.S. 13; England 3; Australia 2; Northern Ireland 2; South Africa 2; Germany, Spain, Sweden, 1.
Let’s see in September if the U.S. is still the underdog for the Ryder Cup.
8. Stat of the week: Tiger Woods, despite having only one official victory since 2009 on the PGA Tour, ranks No. 7 in the world. How is that possible, you wonder? Well, he got undeserved credit for winning the Target World Championship, an 18-man outing last winter that shouldn’t count for any points. Also, we’re in a period of apparent parity. Few players are winning multiple times, which makes it a lot easier to crack the top 10. (Although Dufner, with two wins this year and a runner-up finish in last year’s PGA Championship, has yet to get in.)
9. The NCAA Women’s Golf Championship will be played this week at the Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin, Tenn. UCLA is the defending champion. Who’s the favorite? The Bruins, obviously, who received 23 of the 26 first-place votes in the latest college poll.