GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, NJ
Let's face it, one of the sure fire ways to know summer is almost here at the Jersey Shore is the annual trek by the LPGA to Stockton Seaview Golf Resort and the ShopRite LPGA Championship presented by Acer.
The event has been around since 1986 - with a brief respite - and most of those events have been played at the Donald Ross designed Bay Course.
It's history is chock full of great champions, from Annika Sorenstam to Karrie Webb, from Stacy Lewis to Anna Nordqvist. Last year I.K. Kim kickstarted a stellar season which included a win in the RICOH British Open with a win at Seaview, ruining two-time defending champion Nordqvist's attempt at a three-peat.
Kim won by two over Nordqvist after rounds of 66-67-69--201 earning her fourth LPGA Tour title.
Bucks County's own Brittany Benvenuto is entered, playing her fourth LPGA event that has seen her make one cut. Benvenuto will be playing in the Wednesday pro-am at Galloway National down the street from Seaview. The former Pennsylvania Women's Amateur Champion is playing this season on a medical exemption after missing last season due to injury.
Every member of the PGA Tour has a story. There are stories of dedication, of heartbreaks and exceptionalism. The Tour displays the best players in the world on outstanding venues.
At a time when each and every event could have shots on a highlight reel, the game of golf is - depending on your point of view - is in great shape, superb shape and stagnating.
Fact is the PGA Tour is doing just fine, but the game itself is suffering from barbs of all kinds. Rounds played are stagnating, clubs are closing and all is not rosy.
A few years back Hall of Fame member Lee Trevino mentioned three reasons for players not flocking to and sticking with the game could be boiled down to golf being too expensive, taking too long to play and being every so difficult. "It's a great game, and it's doing great, and iit will continue to be just fine," said the Merry Mex.
If you follow the game you are bombarded with the superstars. That makes sense. We like to argue about who is the best player, the flashiest player and the up and coming stars. Yet it's hard not to recognize that some of the players not in the spotlight are still the backbone of the tour.
Stewart Cink is one of those backbone players who have game, are fugolfn to follow and interesting. The 2009 British Open Champion was never a World Number 1 but has compiled a stellar career.
"I've failed miserably at golf," said Cink the day after The Masters at Reynolds Plantation on his way to Hilton Head and the Heritage, a PGA Tour even he had one twice. "I learn something every day. Fact is, this is a game where I've played in about 550 PGA Tour events and only posted six wins. Some might think that's failing most of the time, but with the competition on Tour it's not too bad!"
One can't argue with Cink's accomplishment, like competing on five Ryder Cup teams and four President's Cup teams, winning a major and winning a world golf championship event as well as four other Tour events.
"I'm proud of my accomplishments, it's a tough game and we have so many great players," said the 44-year-old who is still making cuts on tour. "It's a great game, we have a strong product, we are attempting to grow the game and overall it's a great place to be."
At a time when many players are averaging 300 yards per drive, Cink is hanging close at 295. He hears rumbles about dialing the golf ball back in an effort to negate the need for longer and longer holes, Cink has no problem with outlandish drives. "I don't think we have to reign in the golf ball, the rules are there and the manufacturers follow them. We don't have to, after the fact, start dialing things back. Players are getting into the game at an earlier age, with high value instruction and competition.
"If you look at the stats, we aren't hitting much farther than 2000, but more players are hitting it far. Scoring isn't all that different. Bottom line, why rush to fix something which isn't broken?"
Cink's advice makes sense.
He agrees there could be fine-tuning to the rules and even has a "tweak" he'd like to see in PGA Tour rules. "Totally agree with us not being allowed to use range finders in events. With one provision. In an effort to speed up the game and eliminate long delays when there is a wayward shot and player and caddie have to spend minutes figuring out distances to lay up spots. Maybe allow a range finder to be used in that situation, say, twice a round. Rather than walk all over, boom, shoot the range finder to a spot, hit it there, and move forward."
Interesting, but never gonna happen. Still, little tweaks can sometimes make a great difference. And there's nothing wrong with speeding up the game.
Talking with Cink and getting insight into the game from a knowledgeable guy give great insight into golf. No, not a superstar with canned answers, but a real interesting discussion of the game from one of the core players who has flown below the radar screen.
By Bob Oliver
It’s that great time of the year. Spring, with beautiful weather, golf courses filling up and The Masters getting ready to tee off.
Patrons are itching to get to Augusta. Those who aren’t attending in person are scheming ways to get the most coverage from various sources.
And around every golf club there are people prognosticating and settling on their player who will hoist and then wear the Green Jacket.
Yes, a great time of the year and a great time for the game of golf.
Will Sergio Garcia go back-to-back? Will Ricky Fowler or Justin Thomas claim his first?
Tiger. Tiger. Tiger. People are practicing the chant with heartfelt hope.
Oh, you will hear that 40 of the players in the limited field Masters can’t possibly win. But of course, that’s the half empty theory. In reality, there are 60 or so of the best golfers in the world on center stage navigating the wide Augusta National Golf Club fairways. Each could win this event, as history has shown it’s not the favorite who necessarily wins.
There will be lucky breaks, bad bounces and confounding lies. There will be upstarts coming out of nowhere to post a good solid score. And there will be disasters, like falling or something at one’s cottage before the first round.
The Masters is always willed with story lines.
Hey, Bubba’s back! Watson won in LA and Mexico after a year of malaise. He won in 2012 and 2014 so he’s got the game to win. And just two years ago Jordan Spieth was crowned. Who can possibly say he’s not itching to return. Adam Scott has been showing signs of brilliance.
Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Kevin Kisner and Matt Kuchar come from throughout the US with an eye on a Green Jacket, while Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama asks why not me?
The new breed Euros are poised to challenge, as in Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren, Jon Rahm and Thomas Pieters join Rory McIlroy, Henrick Stenson, Justin Rose and Paul Casey as challengers to Garcia’s throne. Aussie’s Marc Leishman and Jason Day are ready to rock.
There are some for sure picks to not win, among them former champions like Angel Cabrera, Fred Couples, Trevor Immelman, Sandy Lyle, Larry Mize, Jose Maria Olazabal, Vijay Singh, Danny Willett and Zach Johnson. Throw in the amateurs and you can see how the list of potential winners can be reduced to about 60 players.
And yes, there can be an unexpected champion. But that’s far fetched as the last first time participant to win a Green Jacket was Fuzzy Zoeller more than 30 years ago.
In Vegas a few months ago, I made my picks. Of course, didn’t know the full field back them, so I picked based upon those with high odds from the guys who make the bets. My list of guys with the potential of a big money payoff were Alex Noren, Thomas Pieters and Daniel Berger. Now that’s going against the grain.
Big odds means big payoffs, and prior to the Masters my long-shots had an equal chance at winning as the low odds favorites.
The oddsmakers liked names like Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy to win, but here’s saying that my selections have an equal chance.
That should show you the 2018 Masters is clearly unpredictable. Patrons will roar and groan, and one learns to expect the unexpected. And then wait for the final nine holes which will determine the champion.
Bottom line? It’s Spring and The Masters is here to dazzle, bedazzle, entertain and argue about.
It’s a great time of year.