TOURNAMENT BAROMETER: Some Tour events are hot, others are not. A (subjective) rundown . . .
Booz Allen Classic: This year's edition at Congressional Country Club was a must-play. But expect the arrow to point south next year, when the tourney returns to the bland TPC at Avenel.
Deutsche Bank Championship: After a four-year hiatus, the Tour's return to the Boston area has been a smashing success with fans, especially since last year's Tiger-Vijay duel with the world number-one ranking on the line.
Wachovia Championship: As one of the most lucrative events, it gets the big names in the field, but it isn't just the purse and the posh amenities. Quail Hollow draws raves from the likes of Chris DiMarco and Tiger Woods, who said, "I can see myself playing here consistently, it's such a great golf course."
WGC-Amex Championship: As the Tour trudges from one TPC to the next, this event stands out for spotlighting unique courses such as San Francisco's restored muni, Harding Park, and, in 2006, The Grove, a stylish Kyle Phillips design near London.
Bell Canadian Open: As the third oldest national championship in the world, it should be a contender for the "fifth major" mantle, but right now it's just another event. We hope that changes. This year's venue, Vancouver's Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club, might be just the course to turn it around.
The International: Is it just us, or is the modified Stableford system not exactly the best vehicle for scintillating drama?Encouraging the players to go for broke is great, but the scoring methodology feels artificial.
The Tour Championship: Not to be confused with the Players Championship, the event has settled in at a venerable club (Atlanta's East Lake Golf Club). But by November many golf fans have given over their Sundays to the NFL.
84 Lumber Classic: Tournament chairman Joe Hardy has been banking on a Tiger sighting to boost the 84's profile. It's yet to happen. C'mon, Tiger! We need Woods to make Lumber.
How fortunate we are to watch, week in and week out, the most dominant player—possibly, when all is said and done, in the history of the game. No, not Tiger Woods. Annika Sorenstam. While Woods and Vijay Singh play hot potato with the world-number-one ranking, Sorenstam has left the entire field in her wake. Her eight titles last year—in just eighteen events—vaulted her into fifth place on the career win list, and the four she added (at press time) to kick off 2005 left her tied with Patty Berg with just Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth on the horizon.
Annika is breathing some rare air, indeed. Waive the LPGA's ten-year membership requirement, and her twenty-nine wins and six majors since 2001 alone open the door to the Hall of Fame, where, of course, she's already been enshrined. Through the Kraft Nabisco, 2005's first major—which she won by eight strokes—she was first in scoring average, first in greens in regulation, third in total birdies and second in driving distance. When she admitted she had designs on a sweep of the majors—the Soren-slam—nobody blinked. Michelle Wie can have the headlines playing with the boys; Annika has been there and done that, and doesn't seek the attention. At the age of thirty-four, she's largely competing with herself—and isn't that what golf is ultimately all about?—at her peak, playing for her place in history.
HOT PATH TO THE SHOW
With five recent graduates (Zach Johnson, Mark Hensby, Ryan Palmer, Vaughn Taylor and Andre Stolz) nailing down PGA Tour wins during the 2004 season, the Nationwide Tour has arrived as the major proving ground for future stars. In its early years as a "developmental" tour, only the top five money earners would join forty-five Q-school grads in ascending to the Show, but today those numbers have shifted to twenty and thirty, respectively. Additionally, occasional Chosen Ones, such as Chad Campbell, can earn an immediate "battlefield promotion" with three wins. "These guys aren't developing their games any longer; they've got their games," stresses Nationwide executive VP Bill Calfee. Indeed, the numbers show that nearly half the Nationwide twenty retain their cards after the first year, a much higher stick-around rate than that of the Q-schoolers.
HOT IMPORT: Euros
In recent years, the reach of globalization has extended to the ranks of pro golf, as increasing numbers of European mainstays have landed to take on the PGA Tour. Why is this happening?Part of the pull is money, part is the tougher competition. But the underlying source of the European talent drain is points—in general, PGA Tour events shoulder heavier weight in doling out the crucial world-ranking points that determine the top fifty recipients of automatic berths in the richer, more prestigious majors and WGC events.
Of course, the first thing Americans may have noticed about the new arrivals is that they haven't chosen to blend into the crowd. Young Euros like Ian Poulter and Frederik Jacobson have sartorial flair to match their games, ramping up playful on-course style to levels not seen since the early Parnevik era. Pastels. Plaids. Double-wide J.Lindeberg belts. Drainpipe trousers. Walter Genuin shoes. Tonsorial highlights. All appear radically chic beside the habitually bland post-'70s Yank mufti. Even veterans like Darren Clarke are getting in on the act. And they're sending a message. Explains Savile Row tailor William Hunt, designer of the infamous Union Jack trousers that Poulter modeled at Troon: "I'd look on the course and couldn't tell the difference between the fathers and the sons. They all looked the same." Not anymore.