The Primary Cut

Tiger Endorses Obama?

It’s well known that the vast majority of PGA Tour players are rank-and-file Republicans. Or at the very “worst,” closet independents. Over the years, some players have been more vocal than others about their political leanings. No one will ever forget in 1993, for example, when Ryder Cup team member Paul Azinger (this year’s U.S. captain) initially refused to attend a pre-match invitation to the White House from President Bill Clinton before the team flew to England. While part of Azinger’s problem was supposedly Clinton’s proposed tax increase for high-income wage earners, it later came out that his real beef centered around the fact that the President had dodged the Vietnam draft.

Tigs

It’s no surprise, therefore, that informal polls on Tour driving ranges so far have John McCain with a comfortable popularity lead. But Tiger Woods, for one, divulged recently in Dubai that he may be leaning towards Democratic candidate Barack Obama, believing him to be an “inspiration.” Over at Chris Lewis’ blog you can read the entirety of Tiger’s press conference response.

Speaking of Woods and Obama, Golfworld’s Jaime Diaz compares ‘Obamamania’ to pre-1997 Tigermania, when “Woods was still mostly promise, although there was a certainty and presence and sense of destiny to the young man, the kind Obama increasingly has demonstrated in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Both manias reflect an America willing to trust its gut more than its head. But tellingly, with Woods there was no second-guessing, and the same seems to be true with Obama.” In the same vain, SI’s Michael Bamberger wonders whether Woods, “simply by conducting his business the way he does, [has] helped make the country more tolerant?”

Ironically, some think that Tiger may be destined for the political stage himself. When his AT&T tournament chose the D.C. located Congressional as its annual venue, “Woods revived speculation that, someday, he might carry his popularity and success into the political arena, following the paths of such athletes turned lawmakers as Democrat Bill Bradley and Republican Jack Kemp.” Hey, even Wood’s late father, Earl, thought as much. In 1996, Woods predicted to Sports Illustrated that his son’s reach would extend well beyond golf: “Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity,” he surmised.

A Tiger presidency would be interesting, as would the “race” to be Tiger’s running mate. You’d have to think either “Stevie” (caddie Steve Williams) and/or “Steiney” (IMG agent Mark Steinberg) would have the inside track.

——————–

The New Chairman: Zach Johnson

Tour players had another election on their minds recently, and at the end of the day, it was Zach Johnson who earned the mandate. Masters champion, and Titleist ambassador, Johnson defeated Brett Quigley and Rich Beem for the role of chairman of the Players Advisory Council. The election means Johnson will move up to the policy board next year. Johnson is represented by SFX Golf’s Brad Buffoni.

As Tim Rosaforte explains, “PGA Tour members rely on the Player Advisory Council (PAC) and the PGA Tour Policy Board to represent them on issues involving [commissioner Tim] Finchem and his staff. The PAC, a 16-player committee, serves as a filter to the policy board, which is comprised of four players (Stewart Cink, Brad Faxon, Joe Ogilvie and David Toms) and four volunteer independent directors, all of whom are among the nation’s most prominent businessmen and one member from the PGA of America. The latter includes Hearst Corporation president Vic Ganzi, who has replaced retiring Richard Ferris of United Airlines as chairman; Ed Whitacre, the former chairman and CEO of AT&T; and financial executives John McCoy of Bank One and Ken Thompson of Wachovia. The PGA of America director is Brian Whitcomb, the association’s president. The Player directors are consulted but have little input in the appointment of independent directors. This nine-man council sits at the right hand of Finchem and governs the tour.

——————–

A PGA Players’ Union?

Even with the presence of the PAC and the policy board, there have been grumblings recently—mainly in relation to the Tour’s newly adopted drug policy—that players’ voices are being drowned out, or even outright ignored by Finchem. As I blogged last week, the phrase “collective bargaining” is now even being tossed around on Tour driving ranges.

With that in mind, Golfweek reports that All-Pro Sports & Entertainment Principal Peter Schaffer “has been dialing his agent brethren in an effort to form the PGA Tour’s equivalent of the [NFLPA], with the NFLPA willing to bankroll the venture in the early stages.”

Schaffer, who represents PGA Tour member Jonathan Kaye and “more than a dozen current and former NFL players … has been calling in an effort to lure a reputable, highly ranked player to battle the drug issue.” One agent contacted by Schaffer quipped, “It’s the same reason why any union would try to get people involved in other unions — to help with their own negotiations. Let’s say the golfers unionize and they get a perk from the PGA Tour they don’t have in the NFL or NHL. The NFLPA can then go back and say, ‘Hey, we want this, too, or we’re walking.’ It’s kind of like the way the mob unionized in the ’60s.”

——————–

FedEx Adjustments

As expected, the PGA Tour has already adjusted its FedEx Cup points system. The changes will allegedly allow for more leaderboard movement during the playoffs.

The policy board passed a number of measures during a meeting this past week at the Honda Classic. There will be two changes to the FedEx Cup points structure. One, the 144 players who qualify for the Cup will have their point gaps narrowed. For example, the gap between first and second will now be 500 points, down from 1,000 last year, with smaller proportional gaps down to 144. Also, players will receive 2,000 more points in each playoff finish position, which it is hoped will result in more player movement between events. The Tour estimates the changes would have doubled the number of players mathematically capable of winning the FedEx Cup during last year’s finale at the Tour Championship.

Other changes announced this week: the field for the Children’s Miracle Network Classic was reduced from 132 to 128 to accommodate daylight hours for the early November tournament. The Memorial was expanded from 105 to 120 players as part of the Tour’s goal to keep at least 120 players in limited-field events. The Frys.com Open, a Fall Series event staged in Scottsdale from ‘07-09, will move to a course in San Jose called The Institute that is owned by San Jose-based Fry’s. The invitational event will be called The Institute Championship.

——————–

Another Golf Channel Gaffe

Between Dottie Pepper’s Solheim hiccup, Kelly Tilghman’s unadvised attempt to put Don Imus to shame, and now Nick Faldo’s blatant pimping of TaylorMade, you wonder whether or not Tim Finchem is regretting the 15-year deal the Tour inked last year for the Golf Channel to become the exclusive cable television home for the PGA Tour.

During the morning 18 of last Sunday’s Accenture WGC match play final between Tiger Woods and Stewart Cink (both Swoosh sponsored), Faldo, once a hawker of Nike himself, went out of his way to prop up the TaylorMade golf ball while denigrating Nike’s ball as being one only for “certain players with high skill levels.” Specifically, Faldo referred to the test results in Golf Magazine’s February cover story “Revealed: The Best Ball For You!” that showed that under launch conditions meant to replicate the swing of the average player (90-mph swing speed, 13.75-degree launch angle, 2,900 rpm) the TaylorMade TP Black produced 259.1 yards of carry and roll compared with 239.1 yards for the Nike One Platinum. Faldo then said that the Nike ball “fell out of the sky.”

Faldo’s seemingly off-the-cuff remarks came right on the heels of the announcement of the beginning of a long-term relationship with the TaylorMade-adidas Golf Company in a role that will touch on marketing, product innovation and creation, product testing, player evaluation and more. Ironically, Nike equipment has now been bashed not only for being inferior (see Phil Mickelson’s comments a few years back), but also for being so advanced that only a select few should bother using it. So which is it? No comment yet from Tiger, and don’t expect one.

——————–

No More Tabasco, Please

According to various reports, Woody Austin will no longer be wearing his trademark, colorful, scenic Tabasco shirts this year. Rather, the company that makes the hot sauce (The McIlhenny Company) grew tired of the “media ripping my shirts,” Austin said. “They said it was too much of a negative on their brand.”

Austin, for one, claims that he never understood all the critiques from the “fashion police” in the first place, and thought that the bright colors showed off his personality.

“How can I be so bad off?” Austin said. “I’m not the one showing up in lavender purple pants and I don’t show up with giant white belts and burgundy colored shirts and Fedora hats. I don’t show up with a tie. I don’t understand how a fun, colorful shirt is so bad as opposed to all that.”

——————–

Other News

* Indianapolis Colts Owner Jim Irsay has signed a deal to sponsor LPGA Tour player Becky Lucidi, who will display the Colts’ logo on her golf bag, shirt and visor (Colts). The Indianapolis Star’s Mike Chappell reports that Irsay will “pick up the tab for all of Lucidi’s overhead expenses: travel, accommodations, meals.” Irsay publicist Myra Borshoff Cook: “That basically allows Becky to concentrate fully on the tour. She doesn’t have to worry about her week-to-week expenses.”

* Globalization advocate Thomas Friedman argues that the world is flat. So too, it seems, is the LPGA Tour, as evidenced by the influx of Asians in particular (primarily from women’s golf crazed South Korea), and also a world rankings list that starts off Mexico, Sweden, Norway and Australia, before finally hitting the U.S. (Paula Creamer). Geoff Shackelford blogs on Tour commissioner and “Brand Lady” Carolyn Bivens’ reponse to this relatively newfound phenomenon.

* Three of Golf Digest’s Campus Insider Ryan Herrington’s weekly Top 5 men’s collegiate teams are from the SEC (Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia), although the deepest team in the country (and my favorite to win the NCAA) is still the second-ranked UCLA Bruins, whose JV (blue) squad would probably rank in the Top 20 by itself.

* In an event where only 13 players finished under par, the world’s number one ranked female Lorena Ochoa opened with rounds of 66, 65 and 69 to take an eight-stroke lead over Annika Sorenstam and Paula Creamer, cruising to a Tiger-like eleven-stroke victory in the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore this past weekend. Ochoa (pictured) missed a chance to break Cindy Mackey’s 72-hole LPGA record for margin of victory of 14, but topped her own mark of 10 in the 2006 Tournament of Champions. For more on the HSBC tournament, and other LPGA news, check out Hound Dog’s impressive, in-depth LPGA blog.

Ochoa

* As part of a clothing deal with Reebok, 2003 British Open champion Ben Curtis wears the NFL colors of the local team in whichever town he’s playing. Thus, this past week Curtis was appropriately clad in a Miami Dolphins shirt and visor, as PGA National is about an hour north of the Dolphins’ home field. Curtis was recruited to IMG by Jay Danzi, who later was wriggled away by Wasserman Media Group to head its golf division. But thus far Curtis has remained under IMG’s representation.

* Over at Gaylord Sports Management in Scottsdale, the client list continues to grow. Last month alone Gaylord signed John Riegger (PGA Tour player), Charlotte Mayorkas (LPGA Tour) and Byron Smith (2007 Canadian Tour Player of the Year) to exclusive representation agreements.

* If there’s one thing you look for in an up and coming golfer, its consistent and marked improvement. Australia’s Matt Jones, an Arizona State graduate and Imani Sports client (through its CEO Chris Murray) since 2001, certainly fits the bill. Heading into this weekend the Tour rookie was 6-for-6 in cuts this season, with four finishes in the top 30. After spending roughly five seasons on the Nationwide Tour from 2002-2007, including last season when he finished runner-up four times (the Tour record is five) the 27-year old Jones took center stage this weekend as he battled for his first PGA victory on one of The Tour’s toughest weekly stops at PGA National. Announcers Roger Maltbie and Johnny Miller each rightfully praised Jones for his solid fundamentals and professional demeanor, and it will be interesting to see if Jones can validate his strong play (he finished the event T5) in the weeks and months to come.

* Golf and sportswear designer Linda Hipp announced that her company, LIJA, has selected nine elite LPGA, Futures and Ladies European Tour players to join its unique new sponsorship initiative for 2008 — the Tour Style Leaders program. Based on a variety of factors — including previous performance and on-course style, as well as a brief essay on how golf has impacted their lives — the nine professionals chosen to participate are Marisa Baena, Courtney Erdman, Jennifer Greggain, Jimin Kang, Leta Lindley, Brenda McLarnon, Jane Park, Georgina Simpson and Christina Kim, who partnered with the brand last season. As Style Leaders, each woman will receive an expansive selection of LIJA products to wear on- and off-course throughout the 2008 season, including an array of tops, bottoms, sweaters, outerwear and accessories.

* Fresh off of her Octagon to IMG switch, Natalie Gulbis has redesigned her website. According to the people at thegolfblog.com, “the site was designed by the Tenth Floor and looks really sharp. They have a video section, but just one cool compilation video so far. Natalie’s blog is still there, but no new entries yet.”

Top