Breakfast Ball, 7/29: Sizing Up the 2014 Ryder Cup.

July 29, 2014 in Breakfast Ball by Chris Chaney

The Ryder Cup is something that’s always just kind of there. 

The biennial event between America and Europe is a storyline that can be trotted out practically any time: after an up-and-comer breaks through to win, a la Patrick Reed, or when there is team dissension that could affect on-course symmetry, a la Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy.

For the most part, we keep the slightest grasp on what’s going on — who the captains are, where they’re playing the event — until the event inevitably sneaks up on us and the golf world gets its equivalent to the World Cup. Patriotism exudes and guys you may have an affinity for whether it be because of their style of play or because they’re on your fantasy team become the enemy.

“Graeme McDowell is a nice and affable guy. I hope he does well,” becomes “Wipe that stupid smirk off of your face, GMac, you smarmy prick.”  Call it nationalism (continentalism?) or just competitiveness, there is nothing in the golf world that compares to the side-taking of a Ryder Cup.

And here we are, just under 60 days away from pegging it at Gleneagles. So, what do we know? Turns out, not a whole heck of a lot. Here’s how both teams’ standings stand as of this morning:

standa;sf

 

There are a few sure things on either side. Bubba, Furyk, Walker and Fowler, you have to think are locks. DJ, Kuchar and Spieth are knocking on the door of automatic. From there, between Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley, who is in 16th place, the margin is just 500 points, aka $500,000 in earnings. Keep in mind that players stop accruing points at the PGA Championship — a major, which awards double points.

Then there’s the matter of captain’s picks. We’ll get to that in a moment.

The European points system is understandably more complicated. Understandable in the sense that the PGA Tour is the big leagues and the best players play Stateside meaning that they won’t accrue European Tour points as readily as guys who play primarily in Europe. The caveat being that WGCs and major championships are co-sanctioned, so you’ll see guys who perform well in those high on both lists — McIlroy, Stenson and Dubuisson, for example.

Like the US points system, the European Tour points system is based off of money (Euros) won, but unlike the US system, points are only accumulated within the last 12 months — US Ryder Cuppers can earn points from the 2013 major championships whereas Euros can’t. The World Points list is calculated using number of OWGR points earned over that same time period. The top four on the European Points list, along with the top-five on the World Points list, not already qualified, will make up the nine automatic picks for the European team.

At this point, if we’re calling seven of the nine US members quasi-locks, we could likely do the same with McIlroy, Stenson, Garcia, Rose and Kaymer, with the first three mentioned being stone-cold locks and the latter two being near automatic. Dubuisson and Donaldson are both in good position on both lists as well, meaning that Thomas Bjorn and Luke Donald are the two Euros playing for their respective Ryder Cup lives over the next month.

Also worth noting for the Euros is that their point-earning possibilities stretch through Aug. 31 (as opposed to Aug. 10 for the Americans), which is equals out to three more European Tour events after the PGA Championship.

Reuters

Earning a place on the respective teams on merit is solely up to the players themselves, obviously. What is more interesting to prognosticate, however, is for whom Capts. Tom Watson and Paul McGinley will use their three respective captain’s picks. These decisions are made much easier by players with strong Ryder Cup pedigrees playing themselves onto their rosters, but there are only so many spots for each team automatically awarded.

Sticking with the Europeans, a name not on the auto list that Americans would surely not miss at Gleneagles in September is Ian Poulter (7E, 12W) . Similarly, the aforementioned McDowell (13E, 10W) sits on the outside looking in. Both seem, given their pedigree, to be atop McGinley’s list for selections should they not play their way onto the squad.

That leaves an interesting pool of talent grappling for that third and final selection. There are vets like Miguel Angel Jimenez (11E, 13W) and Bernhard Langer (96E, 120W) who have made claims recently as well as fresher faces like Stephen Gallacher (12E, 11W), Francesco Molinari (14E, 14W), Joost Luiten (10E, 15W) and McGinley’s fellow countryman, Shane Lowry (16E, 19W), who have shown form of late.

For the Americans, pedigree — albeit not great results — sides with Phil Mickelson (11) and Tiger Woods (70). Mickelson has a good shot to still play his way onto the team while Woods, playing in his third and fourth tournaments since back surgery over the next fortnight, is still shaking off some rust. The overwhelming thinking is that both players will get nods from Watson based on reputation alone, but that would leave out some strong names.

Patrick Reed, currently in 10th place, has won three times this year and looks to be going the way of Hunter Mahan circa 2012. Brendon Todd, Chris Kirk, Ryan Moore, Webb Simpson, Bradley, Harris English, Kevin Na, Matt Every and Erik Compton round out the top-20.

If Watson and the PGA of America hold to form, decisions on the US captain’s picks will be made following the first two events of the FedEx Cup playoffs, in essence giving players two more weeks worth of auditions after point-earning has ceased.

Let’s get into some randomness to wrap up today, shall we? The last two days have been pretty topic specific, so let’s see what we’ve missed:


Breakfast Ball, 7/28: Tackling the Dick’s Sporting Goods PGA Pro Layoff.

July 28, 2014 in Breakfast Ball by Chris Chaney

DSGFIREPGAIn the week following Rory McIlroy’s third major championship victory, the narrative of Rory McIlroy-as-the-next-whomever was overshadowed by the announcement that Dick’s Sporting Goods, the country’s largest sporting goods retailer, fired all of their PGA of America professionals from their more than 560 stores.

As we’ve seen over the past decade, the economic recession coupled with a broken business model has forced the golf industry to make some difficult choices. This mass layoff, unfortunately, was just another of those decisions made to protect the bottom line.

When more than 500 men and women lose their jobs, justifications and reasons will be trotted out to try and explain why it had to happen. In this case, there are multiple offenders, not the least of whom includes Dick’s themselves. However, they are not the lone culprit; it goes far deeper than that.

First, we must understand Dick’s line of thinking, which brought PGA of America professionals into a retail store in the first place. The ultimately flawed model brought specialty professionals into a big box store that caters to every walk of sporting goods customer. The idea being that when Joe Golfer walked into Dick’s, he was going to get the best help available to him, which in turn would help him rationalize spending a little more coin at a brick-and-mortar establishment than buying a discounted version online.

It was that thinking that rationalized the presence of the PGA pro, adding credibility to the products Dick’s were pushing down consumer’s throats multiple times a year (more on that in a minute). Speaking as a consumer, PGA pros in Dick’s never quite jived with the feel of an all-encompassing sporting world, like a celebrity chef selling his wares in a grocery store. Big box stores cater to the masses by design, so why would a casual weekend hacker need expert help for a higher price? Again, speaking from personal experience, if I’m going to drop a nice chunk of change, I’m going to a golf specialty outfit, such as, I don’t know, a Dick’s-owned Golf Galaxy where golf is the deal, not just a piece of it.

But Dick’s wanted that added benefit of a licensed pro to add credibility. So be it. As Tony Covey said at MyGolfSpy, they were willing to pay these PGA pros $40-50,000 a year to, in large part, cater to a consumer base that needs information that would be readily available and as easily disseminated by a $10-an-hour employee.

The PGA pro hit Dick’s willingly took employing those folks was one thing, but the broken golf club dispersion model was the end factor that ultimately forced Dick’s to make the decision to cut the men and women working in their golf sections loose.

tmWhen I say broken golf club dispersion model I’m referencing the release of multiple big-ticket items multiple times a year by multiple companies. For example, TaylorMade released four drivers last year — R1, RBZ 2, SLDR and JetSpeed — each with multiple color schemes, shafts and head options (those are their mass releases, not including the Dick’s exclusives such as the Glorie and RBZ SL). As drivers constitute the largest margin possibility for manufacturers and retailers, you would think the more options, the better.

On the surface, yes: more releases, more opportunity for big returns. However, when these equipment companies oversaturate the market, places like Dick’s, who buy in bulk, are left with a lot of leftover inventory. As a result, consumers are hesitant to buy the newest and shiniest because why not wait a few months when an even newer driver hits the market and the original one they liked has it’s price chopped to make way for the new release?

Therein lies the trap that caught Dick’s.

And it’s not just TaylorMade who tried the 3-4 month release cycle. Callaway followed their lead to keep their head above water and as a result, Dick’s had so many drivers in stock, they couldn’t possibly move them all at the release-date price point. Discounts led to smaller margins, which led to smaller profits and finally, a need to trim some of the fat to stay afloat. Unfortunately, that fat turned out to be the more-than 500 jobs of PGA of America professionals.

So, where does the golf industry go from here? The reality of the situation isn’t pretty; it’s going to get worse before it gets better. This is not yet rock bottom, but we’re digging towards it. When I talked to Matt Ginella of the Golf Channel a few months back for a story I wrote in Sea Island Life Magazine about the future of golf course architecture and redesign, he spoke specifically of golf courses, but with an opinion that could be readily translated to the golf industry as a whole: only the strong survive.

The industry purge is getting rid of underused courses and equipment and it will continue to do so until demand gets back on level footing with supply. Too much equipment and too many courses are available for an industry that simply doesn’t call for it. On the bright side, a relative white flag has been waved by the club manufacturers who have not seen the boom they expected to see with the rolling out of new products. You’re not wrong in observing that fewer and fewer club launches have taken place in 2014 by the big manufacturers.

To continue to see gains, TaylorMade, Callaway and the like need to reign back their releases a la PING, Titleist and Mizuno in the equipment sector. More specifically, the previously mentioned companies keep their releases on a yearly or 18-month cycle. As the golf population  levels out, past success has proven that the hardcore golfing public are willing to spend their money on new products. It’s just that when they’re is a surplus of options, more spread-out buying doesn’t necessarily meet the cost to produce new equipment multiple times a year.

The bottom line is this: 500-plus PGA professionals are out of a job this week because of a failed business model.

The model failed on multiple fronts and similar fat-trimming practices will continue to take place until an equilibrium is found in the industry. The self-correcting nature of capitalism will weed out the bad ideas and reward the good ones. And until those good ideas have erased their poorly thought-out brethren, we’re left scratching our heads as to why in excess of 500 people lost their jobs, when a deeper look at the initial model would have shown that the it didn’t stand a chance in the first place.


Breakfast Ball, 7/21: Rory McIlroy One Step Away From Career Grand Slam.

July 21, 2014 in Breakfast Ball by Chris Chaney

Andrew Redington / Getty Images

Right now, as the summer enters its dog days, spring is the farthest thing from our collective mind. But yesterday, after shooting a final-round 1-under par 71 to win the 143rd Open Championship, Rory McIlroy forced us to look ahead 262 days from now to the first major championship of 2015 where he will be gunning for the fourth and final leg of the career grand slam.

He’ll still be 25 years old.

The fat-faced kid from Northern Ireland with curls bursting from his hat has transformed into a lean, shorn three-time major champion. His most recent coronation as the “next best thing” was the fulfillment of prophecy and confirmation of his all-around game.

Winning the Open Championship — ironically for a lad growing up on the wind-swept shores of Northern Ireland — seemed to be the major championship that would give his truly Americanized style of play the most trouble. A high-ball hitter, McIlroy even questioned his ability to win the championship as recently as 2011 Open at Royal St. George’s.

Q. If you’re going to contend in this championship you’re going to have to deal with the weather. 
RORY McILROY: It’s either that or just wait for a year when the weather is nice. 
No, I mean, my game is suited for basically every golf course and most conditions, but these conditions I just don’t enjoy playing in really. That’s the bottom line. I’d rather play when it’s 80 degrees and sunny and not much wind. 

And when asked if he’s capable of changing his game for the possible weather at the Opens, ie strong winds that would make him lower his ball-flight, McIlroy continued:

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I mean, I can. It’s just being comfortable doing that, and there’s no point in changing your game for one week a year. 

It should be noted that McIlroy’s Sergio-esque comments came after a 7-over par weekend that left him 12 shots off of countryman Darren Clarke’s winning score.

But to be sure, McIlroy didn’t get the Open simply on a week that the Open was ripe for the getting. By his own (and others) admission, McIlroy did receive the favorable side of the draw going out early-late on Thursday and Friday, but his first 36 holes and the whole of the weekend was played in typically sketchy British weather.

“And tell anyone who says Rory McIlroy won on a soft golf course that while the greens were holding Sunday, this was genuine links golf with enough wind, challenge and quirk to amount to a stunning breakthrough for the Northern Irishman,” Geoff Shackelford opined in the immediate aftermath of the event.

Now, even with the PGA Championship taking place in just three weeks time at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky., the most anticipated major championship is once again the Masters. The overwhelming majority of pundits and players alike believe that the career grand slam for McIlroy is not a question of if he can accomplish it, but when.

Already haven proven he can play the Georgia Jewel expertly over his career, that same high, right-to-left ball flight that was thought to be curse at the Open is tailor made for Augusta National in the same way that Bubba Watson’s high, left-to-right fade works for the lefthander so beautifully. Rising to No. 2 in Official World Golf Ranking, McIlroy will be in the hunt to overtake Adam Scott when the pair tee it up in Akron in two weeks as well as the following week at the PGA Championship.

Pete Morrison / AP

McIlroy’s two-stroke victory was closer on the leaderboard than perhaps it felt to him and his chasers. Leading by six shots entering Sunday, McIlroy seemingly had to shoot anything under par to guarantee victory.

His closest pursuers, and the pair who would prove to be the only real threats to his first Claret Jug, were Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia. Garcia put the early pressure on McIlroy going out in 3-under par 32 and then eagling the par-5 10th hole just ahead of Fowler and McIlroy to pull within two of the lead.

A McIlroy birdie at the same hole opened the lead back up to three and a costly bogey at the 15th caused by leaving a greenside bunker shot in the sand eliminated Garcia from any real shot at claiming his first major championship.

Fowler equaled Garcia’s 15-under par total thanks in the most part to a too-little-too-late charge over the last four holes that while it made him a good more chunk of change, it didn’t rustle McIlroy’s mettle.

Both the 25-year old American and the 34-year old Spaniard shared the runner-up spotlight and the accompanying dinner trays, but more importantly, both showed that there is an even deeper talent pool that will likely continue to vie for major championships outside of the usual suspects of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

The new guard has been here for a while now and it only continues to grow deeper. What this means for McIlroy’s dominance remains to be seen, but to think that in perhaps some of the deepest fields in the history of the game that McIlroy has won by eight strokes twice and went relatively unchallenged in another is a scary proposition for those fields.

Just scraping the surface with the top-3 finishers today. I’ll get to some other’s later this week as we have the shortest rest period between major championships.

I’ll leave you with a few videos to get you through your Monday, beginning with Rory McIlroy’s interview with Golf Channel.

And a quick reminder of why Ivor Robson is the best.

Screen shot 2014-07-21 at 12.00.46 PM


Breakfast Ball, 7/18: Day Two at The Open.

July 18, 2014 in Breakfast Ball by Chris Chaney

Breakfast Ball, 7/17: The First Round of the 2014 Open as Told by Twitter.

July 18, 2014 in Breakfast Ball by Chris Chaney

Trying something new for this major. 

You can get my #HotSportsTakes in Tweet form for the next 72 hours by following along on Twitter, @Wrong_Fairway. Here’s what you missed on Day One.