With the New Year Just Ahead it’s Time to Honor the Key Newsmakers From 2017

Billy Payne

Served as Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club from 2006-2017, his tenure only surpassed by long time major domo Clifford Roberts. Payne’s reach included widening the exposure of The Masters through ESPN’s coverage of the traditional Wednesday par-3 tournament. He also expanded support for junior golf with Augusta serving as host to the finals for the Drive, Chip and Putt event. The former George football player also was instrumental in supporting golf’s inclusion in the Summer Olympics, and it was under his watch two women members were finally invited to join the club in 2012. Payne also presided over Augusta’s securing of additional land near the club so that future expansions — including possible new course renovations — are doable. In sum — Payne created a high bar that his successor Fred Ridley will now have to carry forward.

Justin Thomas

Newsmakers

No longer defined as simply Jordan Spieth’s bud, Thomas emerged as player of serious standing. He became just the fourth golfer — joining Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Spieth — on the PGA Tour since 1960 to win five times including his first major when claiming the Wannamaker Trophy for the PGA Championship. Thomas shot 59 in winning the Hawaiian Sony Open and his 63 at the US Open was the lowest to par in any round ever played in the championship. Ranked 3rd in the world it’s very clear that Thomas is in no golfer’s shadow any longer and the promise of more significant victories seems likely for the talented 24-year-old.

Wally Uihlein

Joined Titleist in 1976, rose to President and CEO in 1995 and set in motion the long time dominance of the company in the areas of golf balls, gloves and footwear. Played central leadership role in establishing the company as golf’s brand for serious players. Under Uihlein’s leadership the company created a coherent rollout for all future products so that the newest iterations would work in tandem with earlier models yet still provide clear innovations. During Uihlein’s term he was pivotal in acquiring the likes of Scotty Cameron and Bob Vokey to increase the quality and muscle of the overall brand. His retirement in ’17 now means the need for leadership to continue what he set in motion. The shoes he wore so well for so long will be a tough fit for just about anyone else.

Donald Trump

As the nation’s 45th President, Mr. Trump is actively playing his portfolio of courses. The total number of rounds played while president — on the grounds or played elsewhere comes to 83 times. Ironically, Mr. Trump often criticized former president Barack Obama for his time on the golf course and has clearly exceeded his predecessor during his first full year in office. Amazingly, 25% of his total time in office has been at one of his golf properties. For any President the wherewithal to play golf is a needed breakaway from the daily stresses that come from the most demanding of positions. The issue for Mr. Trump is finding the appropriate balancing act so that his duties as chief executive and the need for

Jay Monahan and Pete Bevacqua

The two leaders of the PGA Tour and PGA of America respectively came together to announce in August of ’17 that the PGA Championship and The Tour Championship would switch calendar positions beginning in ’19. With television ratings a major concern the PGA Tour wanted to see its grand marquee event that capped the FedEx Cup Playoffs move from late September to a time frame avoiding serious conflicts with football — NFL and collegiate. The Tour Championship will now be played during Labor Day weekend thereby ending the golf season at an appropriate time.

The PGA Championship – golf’s final major — will now move into the second slot with a May time frame. For years the PGA Championship was played in August and the ratings for the event have been impacted given the high time of summer. The new May date will move event to a time frame split between The Masters played in early April and the US Open played during Father’s Day weekend.

Monahan and Bevacqua both realize that viewership for the respective events is central to their overall success in leading both of their organizations. The moves are a proactive attempt to keep the sport and their contribution in a frontline position.

Gil Hanse

Hottest architect in golf — followed-up his successful design for Summer Olympics in Brazil with stunning effort at new Black Course at Streamsong in south central Florida and his remodeling of key clubs, most notably Los Angeles CC / North Course which will host the ’23 US Open. He’s also worked with a range of diverse clients — including Donald Trump in renovating the Blue Course at Doral. Hanse has been a proponent in making sure the “fun” equation in golf is clearly being pushed and he’s shown clear abilities to do so on the private and public side.

Tiger Woods

No person commands the stage more so than the 14-time major champion. His return in early December clearly surprised people since his earlier comments at The President Cup Matches seemed to indicate he could just as easily never play competitive golf again. The issue going forward — is there enough Tiger in the tank to compete at the highest level? Woods has attempted previous comebacks but the issue of his overall health and his passion to compete were clearly stymied.

All of the comments Woods has made indicate a positive desire to get back into competitive golf with a strong push. Woods, who turns 42 at the end of this month, will face far younger competitors and the intimidation aspect that Tiger had over earlier opponents will not be what it once was. Can Tiger sustain himself over 72-hole competitions? Is his game good enough to not only make cuts and high finishes but to win again? His last major came in ’08 — his last PGA Tour win was in ’13. There are plenty of questions — the answers will be interesting to see firsthand.

Lexi Thompson

CME Group Championship

Endured plenty of tough times — both on and off the course in ’17. Her mother’s cancer treatments quite rightly impacted her focus. In addition, Thompson lost two key events — one tied to a bizarre rules interpretation — the other when missing a two-foot putt at the season ending event.

The 22 year-old is immensely talented and when the focus is present she is the only American capable in overcoming the South Korean juggernaut on the LPGA Tour. How quickly Thompson can get her momentum going could very well lead to a year in which her total talents can take her to even greater heights.

Bernhard Langer

The German has been playing professionally since 1972 and his continued utter dominance on the Champions Tour is nothing less than impressive for its continued high level performance. In ’17 Langer won 7 times, including 3 majors and has now won a record 10 — surpassing the previous record of 9 set by Jack Nicklaus. The 60-year-old has won an impressive 36 times on the Champions Tour — trailing only leader Hale Irwin. In being so clearly the top player in the 50+ category there’s been a bit of controversy concerning whether Langer braces his long putter against his body – a violation of the newest rule put into place to deal with anchoring. Langer’s reputation for total integrity has been supported by the governing bodies of the game but the issue remains a bothersome claim from competitors who have lobbed such a charge from the shadows of anonymity.

Rules of Golf

The administration of how the rules are implemented set a clear debate in ’17 on whether basic issues of fairness are being followed. Lexi Thompson’s assessment of a four-stroke penalty during the ANA Inspiration event when she led by two going into the final round was one clear instance. The information was phoned in and the subsequent enforcement took place one day later in the final round.

Both the USGA and R&A are dealing with a total revamping of the language of the Rules of Golf and in updating some of the more draconian aspects that have bedeviled players and caused outright confusion among the general public. The final announcement on this will come with the start of the ’19 season.

The USGA dodged a major bullet during the ’16 US Open won by Dustin Johnson. The meltdown by administrators was a clear indicator that something of consequence would be needed.

In December both the USGA & R&A announced that those calling in with alleged rules violations from watching events on television would no longer be investigated for action. Clearly, the desire to keep golf at a high level of integrity is a central element. But, no less important, is to make sure that penalties will be assessed in a smart manner.

Interestingly, the issue of slow play and how this will be enforced seems to be left out. Hats off to the European Tour for implementing a shot clock to get certain players aware of their tortoise-like approaches when playing the game. It will be most interesting to see how this plays out.