The Spirit International – Watch if You Love Amateur Golf

The Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship has been around since 2001 but many people that love golf don’t know about it.  The video below is a nice overview of the championship.

I learned about it because I follow Paige MacKenzie on Twitter and Paige is the captain of the 2013 United States team. Paige is also a former Spirit International competitor.  I watched the last hour of coverage on Thursday and Friday online and really enjoyed it. I wish I could have seen more but it is impossible to watch this type of event during a work week.  You can watch it Saturday (November 2, 2013)  via the live webcast at the Spirit International Website.

There are only four players for each country (20 Countries represented by 2 men and 2 women).  It may be a small field but the golfers are some of the best young players in the world and it is a nice preview of what we can expect to see in the coming years on the professional tours.  Past Spirit International competitors include US stars like Brandt Snedeker and Paula Creamer; as well as international stars such as Jason Day, Charl Schwatzel, Lorena Ochoa, and Ya-Ni Tseng. As they say, the list goes on and on.

The format is interesting because they have multiple competitions which include:

  • International Team- combined best ball of the men’s team and women’s team.
  • Men’s Team- Best ball of two players (four ball stroke play)
  • Women’s Team- Best ball of two players (four ball stroke play)
  • Men’s Individual- Most holes under par.
  • Women’s Individual- Most holes under par.

So you can cheer for your favorite country, men’s team, women’s team, and individuals.  I want the United States and Canada to do well because I have lived in the United States most of my life and feel an allegiance to the US; but I was born in Canada and I have a soft spot for athletes from Canada.  I hope that Brooke Henderson (a young Canadian golfer whose career I follow) does well. I am happy to report that as of the end of the second round Brooke is in first place for the Women’s Individual competition.

The United States is leading the overall competition. Check out the Leaderboard to see the other country standings. And if you can’t watch the live webcast then the next best thing is following the championship updates on twitter @thespiritgolf.

UPDATE (November 3 2013) – USA wins overall and Brooke Henderson wins Women’s Championship.  See all results at the Spirit Website.

How to train for a marathon and get in a round of golf

Do you have friends that tell you the game you love is not a sport?  Are the naysayers in your life by any chance, runners?  You do your best to argue with the runners in your life.  You state the facts — walking 18 holes of golf is the equivalent of walking ten miles. You need a strong abdominal core, great eye-hand coordination and flexibility to play golf. The runner in your life just smiles, says golf is boring, and goes for a 10-mile run.  Well, now you can tell all the runners in your life about the golf game made for them —  Speed Golf.

CBS televised the inaugural Speed Golf World Championship from Bandon Dunes.  It was fascinating and exhausting to watch.  First, a 22-year-old won the competition, which was not a big surprise because of the energy a young person has to draw on in a sport that requires you to run between every shot on the golf course.  But what did surprise me is that the man who came in second, Tim Scott (a founder of Speed Golf International) is in his fifties and was diagnosed with eye cancer in 2012.  And, even more impressive (to me) was a woman, Gretchen Johnson, came in eighth place.  I was not surprised she participated because she is a runner and works at Nike, but what was surprising was that the only woman placed eighth in an elite field of fifteen professional male speed golfers.

Screenshot of Results of Speedgolf Championship

The scoring is simple — combine the total number of strokes with the total time.  The rules of golf have been modified, for example, you can leave the flag in the hole when putting out.  They carry a small bag with limited clubs.  Also, when a ball is lost, you are allowed to drop it anywhere along the estimated point from where it was lost back on the line of flight to where the shot was originally played.

Clearly you need to be skilled in golf and a great runner but it appears from the scores above that being fast is more advantageous than shooting a low score in this alternative golf game format.

Will I ever participate in speed golf?  No, I have never enjoyed running. Frankly, I love the social aspect of playing a round of golf and don’t see the enjoyment of running the course alone.  But I appreciate any alternative format of golf that might bring more players to the sport I love.

Weather impacts another PGA tournament

For those of us that live in the Northeast the weather has been snowy and cold this March.  Normally as a golf fan I can get away from the drab cold days of winter by watching golf and day dreaming about the coming summer golf season.  This year even watching golf to escape the cold is not guaranteed.

Today, I was hunkering down to watch the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.  I was anticipating a great afternoon of golf with Tiger Woods (who I had picked for my fantasy team this week) and Rickie Fowler (one of the golf boys) in the final group.  But mother nature had a different plan in mind and the final round has been moved to Monday.  How bad was it?  Watch the video below…

Golf Analyst Mark Rulfing mentions in the video that it reminded him of Kapalua.  He was referencing the first tournament of the 2013 season, the Hyundai tournament of Champions, which was delay due to high winds (gusting 40 to 50 mph).  The Golf Channel has a great photo slide show of the windy tournament.

Another tournament impacted was the Farmers Open at Torrey Pines which was delayed due to Fog.  So rain, wind, fog all seem like expected reasons for golf to be delayed but how about snow?  Yup, the WGC Match Play in Arizona was delayed this year due to snow.  Snow in Arizona.  It was so bizarre that all the players were tweeting photos of it. Bubba Watson even posted a 30 second video of his snowball fight.

I don’t know if any other start to a golf season has had this many delays due to weather.  Certainly there have been memorable delays in previous years. Watch the PGA Tour “Top 10: Weather Interruptions on the PGA Tour” for their list.  One of my favorite golfers, Phil Mickelson, makes an appearance as he chips in the hail (2.35 second mark in video.)

Maybe I should be happy for the weather delay today because my fantasy pick for the Hyundai, tournament, Dustin Johnson, won.  So, if I were at all superstitious I would be thinking the weather delay is “a sign” that Tiger should win tomorrow.

Still I would rather have the final round played on Sunday so I could watch it live.

Communicating Change – USGA not so “old school”

The golf industry has been anticipating the ruling on long putters all year and finally the announcement came that the governing bodies of golf, the USGA and The R&A, are proposing a ban on “anchoring” the putter against the body.

I was not planning on writing about this announcement because I use a traditional putter and I don’t have an issue with the rule.  What I found interesting and what has compelled me to write is my surprise at how well the USGA and The R&A disseminated the information!

Obviously if you are a golf geek (as I am), you expected the news to unfold on the Golf Channel.  Both Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director and Peter Dawson,  The R&A Chief Executive were on TV.

What I did not expect was the variety of materials created to communicate and explain the proposed rule change, and the fact that they are promoting a 90-day feedback period to allows stakeholders to share their opinion on the proposed change.

INFOGRAPHIC

Proposed rule 14-1b Infographic USGA Infographic Anchoring Putter, Proposed Rule-14-1b

Infographics are a great tool for visually explaining the rule.  I’m a visual person so I love infographics.

From a communication perspective, the use of infographics in business is becoming more common but is still not really widely used and is not considered a “standard” in the communication toolbox. Therefore, it is nice to see the forward thinking of the communications folks (at the USGA and R&A) using an infographic to support the explanation of the rule change.

Video Explanation

The other visual I did not expect was the in-depth video explaining the reason behind the decision and demonstration of the putting options.  Yes, many videos are done but not all of them are done well or posted in a timely manner.  The USGA and R&A had the video posted on the websites and on YouTube ready for consumption and sharing.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen a major company (or brand) announce a new product and not have a decent video demo posted to YouTube.  And, demo videos are a standard in communication toolboxes in business today.

Email and Social Media

The next thing that impressed me was the email I received from the USGA.  I am a member (just a regular golfer membership for $25/annual fee) so I was not surprised to receive an email, but once again the timing of the email was impressive.  It came at 8:52 a.m. (I was literally watching the golf channel listening to the live press conference at that time).  Again, this simple act of sending an email early to the members is “first-class.” The email included a link to the rules explanation on the USGA website and encouraged feedback via the website feedback tool.

I was not surprised at the USGA’s use of social media (Twitter and Facebook) because they have been using those channels; and the status updates on twitter and Facebook are always timely.  Of course, one key to successful social media is to have great photos or images to share so the infographic and video play nicely into the social media communication channel.

Impact on Reputation

Finally, I think many golfers think the USGA and R&A are “old school” with a bunch of “old boys” and “old traditions.”  I’m sure there are golfers that will view the decision on anchoring the putter as wrong and view the USGA and R&A leaders as hurting the game.

However, based on the execution of the communication of the proposed rule change, the USGA and R&A have shown that although they are protecting the traditions of the game of golf; they are modern in their transparency and communication of their initiatives.

Earl Woods gets my vote for founder of “the youth movement” in golf

The Golf Channel Morning Drive Show has a daily poll question and one question was on a topic I have written about often — young golfers.  The question was posed because a 14-year-old amateur golfer from China, Guan Tianlang, won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and a spot in the 2013 Masters.

Here is the Morning Drive poll question tweeted by Lauren Thompson Twitter coversatin with Lauren Thompson on Morning Drive Poll QuestionI was pleased to get a direct message back from Lauren ThompsonImage of Twitter DM from Lauren Thompson

As you can see from my response to Lauren Thompson I did not select any of the four options.  Yes, I think all (coaching, equipment, global exposure and technology) are important factors but that does not speak to the underlying support system that allows kids to pursue a sport with such intensity at such young ages.

The only way a child can achieve such great success at such a young age is because the parents support it.  There will always be the debate as to whether or not the child truly “wanted” to “live and breathe” golf or if the parents really wanted it for the child.  But either way, the steps the parents must take to create the opportunity is the basis for it all.

Tiger Woods is the most famous child prodigy that ever played the game.  Yes, Tiger has proven his place in history as one of the best golfers ever.  However, I truly believe Earl Woods, Tiger’s father, was the mastermind behind the Tiger brand that exists today.  After all, Earl Woods not only taught his son golf at a young age but also was savvy enough to get his son “exposure” at a very young age.  If you have not seen it, below is the video of 2-year-old Tiger on the Mike Douglas show.

After Tiger, the next young phenom to come along was in women’s golf – Michelle Wie.  At the age of eleven Wei was the youngest player to qualify for a USGA amateur championship.  Wie’s career has not been as stellar as predicted; although she has reaped the financial benefit and fame sponsors like Nike deliver.  In recent years Wie’s poor play has been blamed on her focus on college but now that she is out of school she is still struggling to find her game.  Only time will tell if Wie will become a truly great golfer.  If she does not become a champion golfer then Wei’s rise and fall may become a cautionary tale of burnout or peaking too soon.

In 2012, we have seen a flurry of young golfers making news:

  1. Andy Zhang, a 14-year-old amateur golfer (also Chinese but living in Florida) made history as the youngest player in the US Open.
  2. Lydia Ko, a 15-year-old from New Zealand (originally from South Korea) made history winning the Canadian Open.  Ko is the youngest player to win a LPGA event.
  3. Beau Hossler, a 17-year-old Californian, became a sensation at the 2012 US Open when he took the lead (over Tiger) for a short period of time.
  4. Lexi Thompson won the Navistar LPGA Classic in 2011 at age 16 which triggered Mike Whan, LPGA Commissioner, to waive the 18-year-old age requirement for turning pro and gave Thompson (age 17) her PGA tour card for 2012.
  5. Guan Tianlang, 14-year-old amateur golfer from China, made history as the youngest winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and will make history in 2013 as the youngest golfer to ever play in the Masters.

So is this a good thing for the sport or not?  Some will say “yes” because it will bring a younger audience to the game and hopefully grow the game for the future.  Some will say “no” for reasons such as it is not good for the child (i.e. the pressure, the travel, the risk of injuries at a young age).  Whatever your opinion there is one thing that is hard to argue and that is “the cat — or should I say, Tiger — is out of the bag” and there is no turning back now.

 

The LPGA’s Funny Girl – Tiffany Joh

Another US Women’s Open has come to a close and most bloggers will be writing about the winner, Na Yeon Choi but I’m going to highlight a player that did not even make the cut — American golfer, Tiffany Joh.  Why?  Because, whether it is intentional or not — she is in the process of building a unique personal brand.

This year Joh is struggling a bit with her game and is 115 in the Rolex World Rankings.  However, Joh is a solid player and shows promise.  Joh won twice on the LPGA’s Future tour.  As a member of the LPGA 2011 Rookie Class, Joh had an excellent year with $237,365 in earnings and ranked eighty-seven (87) on the Rolex Women’s World Golf rankings list.  Joh also had a top 10 finish in 2012.  She was second at the Navistar Classic.  Unfortunately for Joh, it was the tournament Lexi Thompson (Golf’s newly anointed “phenom”) made history as the youngest winner (at age 16) on the LPGA.

So what makes Joh unique?  The PGA may have the Golf Boys but the LPGA has Tiffany Joh.  She loves music and has become known for her music videos.  This week, the week of the 2012 US Women’s Open, she posted her most recent video on her YouTube channel (Just Your Morning Cup of Joh.)   The video is All I Do is Win (LPGA Remix).  A parody of the song, “All I Do is Win” by Ludacris.

Joh has had a YouTube channel since 2008 but she really got noticed for her LPGA video last year “Grip It” (a parody of Freak Nasty’s 1996 hit song “Da’ Dip”).  It’s amazing how she get’s her fellow LPGA players to be silly on video.

Not only is she clever and creative with music videos but she has a great channel title “Just your morning cup of Joh” and user name “CupofJoh” and has a cartoon-like drawing (self-portrait – I’m guessing) and uses it as her YouTube channel and Twitter background.  All creating a unique personal brand.

The one thing that surprised me is that her website does not carry this branding.  However, if you visit the website, Joh’s humor and attitude come through loud and clear with just a single page stating “You are a Nerd…Websites are for Nerds.”  Is she ahead of the curve or just representative of her generation who live on social media?  I believe it is the later.  After all, the websites of the big golf stars are supported by big sponsor money.  So Joh’s site may get an upgrade if she lands a major sponsor.

It’s not just that Joh is using social media but she is savvy too — do you think the timing of the recent video was a fluke? No way.  The US Women’s open gets more press than any other women’s golf event and Joh’s video was all over twitter (at least the people who tweet about golf).

As I mentioned earlier, Joh did not make the cut at the US Women’s Open but her sense of humor never fails.  Here is a screen shot of her tweet from the airport the next day:

Tweet from Tiffany Joh on Missing Cut at US Women's Open

If you are old school and think golfers should only get noticed for their golf achievements than Tiffany Joh’s style may not be your “cup of tea” (or joh); but I respect the fact that she has developed a personal brand that sets herself apart from all the other young female golfers on tour.

The LPGA’s Marketing Challenge

The LPGA has a challenging issue in the American market.  The challenge is to change the perception of the LPGA in the mind of the average American golf fan.

What is really behind this challenge?  Let me share a recent conversation I had with other golfers on the Wednesday before the Wegmans LPGA Championship.  I was playing golf with a group of women (all play a lot of golf and are passionate about their sport).  I asked if they watched the LPGA and they all said no because the top 10 women golfers are all Korean.  Their perception is that the LPGA is becoming an Asian tour.  Their declaration that the top 10 players are all Korean is not correct. They were surprised when I told them both Stacy Lewis and Christie Kerr are in the top 10 of the world rankings; and that Stacy Lewis had won two of the last three LPGA events.

On Thursday, I started watching the Wagmens LPGA Championship.  It looked like an American might actually win this major tournament; Paul Creamer, Christie Kerr, and Stacy Lewis were playing well.  Then, on Sunday,  a Chinese player, Shanshan (Jenny) Feng shot an amazing 67 and won.  She is the first Chinese player to win but this means that the current title holders for the four LPGA majors are all Asian (from Korea, Taiwan, and China), and this is “the story” that is focused on in the media.

On the golf channel, both Ron Sirak and Tom Rosenforte raised the issue of what Feng’s win means for the LPGA.  Ron Sirak even suggested that it might mean the LPGA Championship could be held in China in the near future.  In Beth Ann Baldry’s GolfWeek online article she also pondered what Feng’s win means… “For all we know, decades from now this tour might be based in China. Crazier things have happened.”  These golf commentators are adding fuel to the fire and provide even more proof of the “image battle” facing the LPGA marketing team.

So what’s the LPGA to do?  They have tried very hard to position the tour as a “global” tour and promoted Yani Tseng so that fans can embrace her.  This is an important message because the huge growth in golf will be from markets like China.  But frankly, that doesn’t really help with the immediate (and sensitive) image issue facing the tour in its key market, the United States.

It is important to give credit where credit is due and the leaders of the LPGA are reinvigorating the tour overall. For example, they have added events, gotten new sponsors, and they have a really great new marketing campaign for 2012 —  “See why it is different out here.”  I promise, you will enjoy the video below.

They also have embraced social media as I highlighted in my previous blog post “Funny Tweets from LPGA Golfers.”

Now this is all great but the problem is that the message is not getting out to the average golf fan (at least not where I live).  The ads I see for the LPGA are only on the golf channel and mostly shown during coverage of the LPGA.

So what is the LPGA to do?  Well, here are a few suggestions.

  1. Get the Golf Channel to show the new ad campaign during broadcasts of the other tours; especially the PGA.  I get why the new ads are shown during LPGA coverage, but to me this is “preaching to the choir.”  As a marketing professional, this has always been a “pet peeve” of mine — showing ads that are intended to reach new customers to viewers already engaged with your product.
  2. Target an ad campaign to the viewers that “long for the days of Nancy Lopez.”  Heck, get Nancy to do some ads to promote the new breed of American players.  The message is that if you liked Nancy Lopez, then watch Stacy Lewis.  Which brings me to the next issue.
  3. Promote the heck out of your top American players.  Stacy Lewis is #2 in the Rolex world rankings — make a big deal of it.  Play off the developing competition between Stacy Lewis and Cristie Kerr to be the top American.  It’s great that the golf announcers talk about it during the broadcast but take advantage of it in your marketing (use all that great TV footage for some great viral videos).
  4. Expand social media and create a Pinterest strategy.  First, I give credit to the LPGA for having an official Pinterest page; but it has no strategy to engage Pinterest users. The strategy right now looks like they just put up some images as placeholders. They are missing a huge opportunity to brand the LPGA (as well as women and golf)  on a social media site whos biggest demographic is women. I can think of lots of quick wins for their Pinterest presence.
  5. It’s great that the LPGA has embraced Twitter with their players; but now it’s time to see if they can get some love from their brothers on the PGA. The young golfers on the PGA tour “are champions” (excuse the pun) at tweeting and some of the PGA players have huge followings.  I am curious if PGA players follow the LPGA.  If yes, see if they will tweet about it.
  6. Focus on grassroots marketing (and not just when the LPGA is in town for a tournament).  Basically create an outreach program with content that golf associations can use in their eMarketing channels.  There are many golf organizations that are key influencers in their markets and could be the local cheerleaders of the LPGA but they need to be given the messaging and the stories to push.

This blog post may seem like I’m on my soapbox but it just irks me that the golf media has to keep the focus on the large number of Asian players on the LPGA.  Since the media is determined to keep it as a top story; it is up to the tour to create the stories to give the home fans something to embrace.  Many of the American LPGA players are trying hard to step-up and compete (should I say it again, Stacy Lewis is #2 in the world) so they are doing their part.

Golf fans are passionate about their sport and usually have a favorite player (or players) that they follow.  For golf fans that like to cheer for the “home town players,” the LPGA has a lot of great American players to promote in the US market.  Golf fans love to watch great drama unfold during tournament play.  The LPGA has all these things, but right now it seems to be the best kept secret from the average golf fan.