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.

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.

Kevin Na’s personal frustration translates to golf fan frustration with slow play

The big story from the 2012 Players Championship was Kevin Na’s endless struggle with his pre-shot routine.  What I thought was fascinating was that the press was so empathetic and forgiving.  Normally, the press would be very critical but this time it was the fans that were outwardly critical.  The fans were respectful the first three rounds but by the 4th round, the fan frustration was evident with the haggling Na had to endure.

What led to this “gentler and kinder” press?  The answer appears to be in the fact that he did not hide from their questions.  Many reports stated Na “is refreshing” in his admission of his problem.  He not only apologizes to his playing partner but opens up in his press conference explaining:

“I’m trying to get comfortable with my waggles. It’s usually a little waggle, half waggle, little waggle, half waggle, and boom, supposed to pull the triggers. But if it doesn’t work, I’ve got to go in pairs.  So it’ll go four; and if it doesn’t work, it’ll go six; and after that, just — there’s a lot going on in my head. (Laughter).  And it’s not — I’m not being nice to myself, trust me. I’m ripping myself.”  See more of Kevin Na’s press conference at PGAtour.com

Now, I certainly have sympathy for any personal struggle but I must admit that more than once I was yelling at my TV — “just hit the ball.”  Eventually, I turned away from golf (something I rarely do on a Sunday of a big tournament).  I’m sure I am not the only fan that stopped watching.  My reaction is something golf cannot afford. The goal of the golf industry is growth (both in the fan base and in recreational play) and risking that a percentage of the current fan base might “walk away” from a telecast is going in the wrong direction.

Even though the tournament officials put Kevin Na on the clock (which added to his stress); it did not appear (to me) to quicken the pace of play.  Slow play is one of the biggest issues in golf today (both in professional and recreational golf).  If the professional golfers are role models for “how to play” then they need to send the message that playing slow is not acceptable.

Many tour players have expressed their dislike for slow play but it helps the cause when big name players take a stand.  Yesterday the biggest of big name players, Tiger Woods,  stated his opinion on how to fix slow play on tour.  Currently the fine for slow play is $5,000 up to $20,000 depending on the situation.  Tiger Woods said that he believes a penalty stroke should be accessed for slow play.  Woods explained:

“Strokes is money….what’s the difference between first and second [at the Players] right now?… $800,000…that’s one shot, and that’s the difference. That’s what people don’t realize, that one shot is so valuable out here.”

I completely agree with Woods, given the income of professional golfers a $5,000 fine is nothing but a stroke is significant.  A stroke not only impacts the wallet for the professional; but it could impact where they place in the tournament which can also carry over to Fed-Ex points and world rankings.  All of these combined make a stoke penalty a more meaningful deterrent.

Finally, I think the PGA could learn something from the LPGA.  Both the PGA and LPGA do have stroke penalties in the rules for slow play.  Both the PGA and LPGA give the slow player a warning before giving a violation.  But the difference comes when the first violation is given to a player.  The  PGA only imposes a fine; not a stroke on the first violation. The LPGA imposes a fine and stroke on the first violation.

Final word — gentlemen it’s time to follow the ladies lead — give a stroke penalty for the first violation of slow play.

The Gender Gap in Golf Prize Money

Wage gaps have been reported for years and it has been a sore point for anyone that believes in pay equity.  If you are not aware of the statistics, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity, “The wage gap remained statistically unchanged in the last year. Women’s earnings were 77.4 percent of men’s in 2010… according to Census statistics released September 13, 2011.”

If you accept that there is an overall pay gap then it should not be a surprise that ladies golf tournaments have much lower total purses (prize money) than men’s tournaments.  The basic logic for the gap is popularity of the tour.  The PGA is more popular and has a larger fan base so it attracts big sponsor dollars.  It should be noted that the PGA purses have increased greatly since Tiger Woods turned professional. Why, because Tiger made the sport so much more popular and even bigger sponsor money followed.

I thought it would be interesting to see what the difference was in recent tournament prize money for the various tours.

PGA versus LPGA

This week the top male players are at the Accenture Match Play, the other PGA players are at the Mayakoba, and the Ladies (LPGA) are in Singapore at the HSBC.  Here are the total purses and winners take for each tournament:

Tournament Purse Winner’s Take Home
Accenture Match Play $8.5 Million $1.4 Million
Mayakoba Open $3.7 Million $666,000
HSBC Women’s Classic $1.4 Million $210,000

I also was curious to see the difference between events sponsored by the same company. Lucky for me, HSBC sponsored both the Dhabi Desert Classic and the Women’s event in Singapore.  The Dhabi Desert Classic had a purse of $2,031,296 and the winner took home $451,131. The HSBC Women’s Classic (as noted above) had a purse of $1.4 Million and the winner took home $210,000.  I do think HSBC should be given credit for sponsoring both a women’s and men’s event; even if the prize money was not equal.

To give even more perspective on the gap, let’s compare the second place prize money of recently completed events.  The second place money for the LPGA HSBC was $102,564 and for the PGA Northern Trust Open was $580,800.  Another comparison of note — At the Northern Trust Open, the four men players tied for 4th place, each made $259,875.  That’s right, they made $49,875 more than the winner of the LPGA player at the HSBC.

Nationwide Tour versus Futures Tour

Now here are some numbers for the tournaments that the up and coming stars of golf play (i.e. think of these like the farm team leagues in other sports).  The PGA has the Nationwide Tour and the LPGA has the Symetra Futures Tour.

Tournament Purse Winner’s Take Home
Nationwide
Bogata Open
$600,000 $108,000
Future Tour
Florida Natural Classic
$125,000 $11,000

Champions Tour versus Legends Tour

There is also one final comparison to be made and that is the senior tours (for players over the age of 50).  The men play on the Champions Tour and the women play on the Legends Tour.  Now this is a bit less fair of a comparison because the senior ladies really do not play as much compared to the senior men but since they do have tours, I want to share an example.

Tournament Purse Winner’s Take Home
Campions Tour (Men)
Allianz Tourament
$1,8 Million $270,000
Legends Tour (in April)
Walgreens Charity Classic
$200,000 not listed (but obviously it will be lower than the men)

It is clear the gap in prize money is huge across the board.  Since the main earning years are on the two main tours (PGA and LPGA) I think that is where the issue really hits home.  It’s hard to say what would be fair if you assume that purses are driven by the ability of the tour to increase the popularity of the tour and in turn the size of the fan base.  You could even say that the payout for the men on the PGA tour is outrageous given the winner on the PGA often takes home over a million dollars for a week of work.  But it is what it is.

Obviously, as a women I find this an incredibly sad state of the game. I would like to see larger purses for the women.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the purses in women’s golf will ever be as large as the men’s but let’s hope over the next few years the leadership of the LPGA can make strides in increasing popularity of the tour and the fan base so that they can impact the size of the gender gap in golf tournament purses.