Chipping In - 6hrs for a round of golf....again!!
Chipping in is a weekly column by golf journalist Nick Bonfield
Emotional victory for Bowditch
Yes, the Valero Texas Open isn’t the most exciting tournament on the PGA Tour schedule, and those claiming it’s one of the dullest events on the roster (a combination of frequent high scoring, slow play, a poor field and a scrappy golf course are touted) have a legitimate argument. That said, the beauty of golf is that good storylines can emanate from absolutely anywhere. Until yesterday, Bowditch was a man with a simple remit at the start of each season: finish inside the top 125 of the PGA Tour Money List. He failed to do that in 2012 and barely scraped by in both 2011 and 2013, but the landscape now looks very different for the Australian. Not only has he earned a two-year exemption – often the catalyst for improved performances due to the reduction of immediate pressure – he’s also poised to make a Masters debut in 10 days. Those thoughts clearly entered Bowditch’s mind as he welled up with tears during the presentation ceremony – a moving sight and a reminder that only the very best in the world are exempt from concerns pertaining to long-term economic stability and touring longevity.
Slow play… again
Once again, the issue of slow play reared its ugly and infuriating head at the Texas Open. And once again, I’m about to launch into a scathing tirade against PGA Tour officials and executives who fail to put in place sufficient measures to rectify a problem that’s been the scourge of the game for years and years. Their indifference to a critical issue, unwillingness to redress the slow-play assessment criteria and to apathy towards penalisation are absolutely staggering. Steven Bowditch provided the emotive storyline, but the post-tournament coverage again centered on slow play. The final three-ball took THREE HOURS to play nine holes and no one was penalised. If that isn’t an indication that something is seriously wrong with the system, then nothing will be.
Masters injury scares
The fortnight preceding the Masters Tournament is normally full of positive themes and vociferous praise for an event that raises golf’s profile and showcases everything that’s so good about our enthralling yet underappreciated game. This year, though, the build-up has centered predominantly on injury. Tiger Woods is still yet to confirm his place in the field, Hunter Mahan pulled out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Jason Day is struggling with a thumb injury and Phil Mickelson withdrew from the Valero Texas Open after rallying to make the cut. The tournament will undoubtedly lose something if such players fail to recover, but the magic of The Masters supersedes any individual allure. The pertinent point to make regarding these injuries is not the effect it will have on the prestige of the tournament – nothing can take that away – but who might benefit from possible high-profile absences. If I was Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson, I’d be feeling very positive about my chances.
The build-up to the EurAsia Cup was slightly overshadowed by animosity from Seve’s family regarding the abolition of the Royal Trophy, but the event itself was a unanimous success. An Asian team that looked far weaker on paper staged a storming final-day singles comeback to snatch an unlikely draw, an eventuality that seemed inconceivable after a 5-0 whitewash on day one. The event helped showcase the growing collective ability of Asian golfers and helped bring some additional exposure to positive growth in the East.
It was also well attended by some of the European Tour’s biggest names – and whilst it’s easy to be cynical and label performance fees as the principle factor for that – I like to think a desire to help support the game came into it. With golf in Asia growing each year, I can see the EurAsia Cup becoming more and more respected. I also think a rotational model – as used in the Ryder and Presidents Cups – would help bring more exposure to the event, and should therefore be considered.
Signs of Spanish revival?
When I read the news about a new European Tour event being staged in Spain this April, it would be fair to say I was a touch skeptical about the strength of the field. However, some relatively high-profile European Tour names have committed to play – something that I think demonstrates both the viability of Spain as a tournament host and the desire of players to support new tournaments in favourable, familiar and easily-accessible geographical locations. Spain was the epicenter of the tour a few years ago, and it’s encouraging to see a new event on the roster in a time when the Spanish economy is still struggling. Hopefully this sets a precedent and coerces other sponsors – whether new or returning – into doing the same thing. Spain is a great location for all parties and I hope to see it return as a hotbed of European Tour activity in the near future.
Last chance saloon
This week provides the last chance for those not already exempt to secure their places in the field for the 2014 Masters. On the European Tour, the likes of Chris Wood, Alejandro Canizares and Marcel Siem will be looking to win the NH Collection Open and force their way into the world’s top 50. In America, it’s the Shell Houston Open that provides the last opportunity. The field is traditionally strong, but I’ll be rooting for another mid-range tour pro to realise a dream and earn a ticket to Augusta National. It’s not what the part-time golf viewer wants, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching Steven Bowditch and Matt Every’s emotional wins over the past couple of weeks.
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