(Reuters) – All four major golf championships this year were won by players without equipment contracts, an unusual situation but one that reflects an era when club and ball manufacturers increasingly focus on signing only the biggest names in the sport.
Sep 7, 2018; Newtown Square, PA, USA; Dustin Johnson hits his tee shot on the 12th hole during the second round of the BMW Championship golf tournament at Aronimink GC. Eric Sucar-USA TODAY Sports
Nike’s exit from the golf equipment business two years ago set off a ‘free-for-all’ that ushered in an era of free agency that is still shaking itself out, according to one insider.
Keith Sbarbaro, senior vice-president of tour operations for TaylorMade, said equipment companies did not have unlimited budgets to sign everyone they wanted.
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari were among players contracted to use Nike equipment when the company decided to leave the golf stage.
Woods and McIlroy subsequently became contracted TaylorMade players, but Koepka and Molinari did not.
Without the benefit of a crystal ball, TaylorMade had no way of knowing that Koepka (U.S. Open and PGA Championship) and Molinari (British Open) would carry off three majors in 2018.
Even if they had known, they would not necessarily have had the budget to add them to a crowded stable that includes Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Jon Rahm and Jason Day.
Molinari remains uncontracted, a free agent even though he used 12 TaylorMade clubs, along with a Bettinardi putter and a Titleist ball for his Carnoustie triumph.
Koepka, meanwhile, used clubs of four different manufacturers in his 2018 major championship wins, including TaylorMade’s M3 driver and Mizuno irons. Mixing and matching has certainly not hurt his game.
Patrick Reed, who left Nike in 2013, also used a variety of clubs to win the Masters in April, a Ping driver and mainly Callaway irons.
“You had all four major winners being free agents. I don’t think you’ll see that again,” Sbarbaro told Reuters.
“They are high ranked players. They are not going to have small deals. They got great deals with Nike and they’re not bothered trying to find a bit of club money.”
Sbarbaro said Nike’s exit set off a mad scramble from rival club makers to sign the most marketable players.
The superstars were wooed by multiple manufacturers, the others not so much.
“When Nike exited it was a free for all. Most (people) didn’t see it coming,” Sbarbaro said.
“It opened up for all these Nike guys to play whatever they wanted.
“Rory’s parents’ house looked like a golf warehouse. Tiger’s house too.”
When the dust settled TaylorMade had the two biggest names in the game, with McIlroy’s deal worth a reported $100 million over 10 years.
“We’ve got Rory, Tiger (etc). You would love to have every player in the top 10. We just can’t have them all. Us golf companies don’t have endless pockets.”
Sbarbaro said the days were gone when so-called journeymen enjoyed lucrative equipment contracts.
“The middle tier is getting hurt a bit,” he said.
“It’s got even more separated. The big guys are more important than ever. There’s more value at the top.”
He said a prominent social media presence is important, an area where McIlroy excels with 3.17 million Twitter followers.
“His social media side. we didn’t have anyone like him, Rory. He touches so many people.”
But good old-fashioned television remains the biggest factor in determining a player’s worth.
“Our top four players get over 90 percent of our TV time,” Sbarbaro added. “What percentage is Tiger getting on his own?
“Back in the day Tiger (before signing for TaylorMade) was getting more TV time on his own than our whole staff.
“The beauty of it is when Tiger is on TV that’s when most people are watching.”
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ken Ferris
Five takeaways from 2018 NASCAR Cup Series awards in Las Vegas including Joey Logano, Roger Penske, Martin Truex Jr. Jim France
LAS VEGAS — Joey Logano was emotional, as expected, when he spoke Thursday night in front of the crowd at the NASCAR Cup Series awards ceremony.
That was expected from a driver who often talks about his family. As is typical with awards ceremonies, the speeches were relatively routine. But inside some of the speeches and chatter the past few days, there was plenty to ponder.
Here are five takeaways from the NASCAR 2018 celebration week:
A great year for Penske
Roger Penske touted 2018 as the best year for his racing organization. That’s saying something, considering that the team began competing in 1966.
Team Penske won the Cup title with Logano, the Indianapolis 500 (its 17th) with Will Power and the Australian V8 Supercar title with Scott McLaughlin. It also won for the first time in the Brickyard 400 with Brad Keselowski.
“This is probably the most successful season we’ve had in 52 years, if you can believe it — I’ve been around a long time,” Penske told the crowd.
Afterward, Penske credited his employees. He said that more than 200 people in the Penske organization have more than 10 years with the team.
“It’s just hard to believe,” Penske said. “We’re going to go back at it again next year. But each year we set this bar a little bit higher, and I think that’s what makes us so good.
“Part of the success is the human capital. We’ve got to provide a driver with the best race car.”
In an eight-day span, Penske saw those people at work, helping Logano and McLaughlin win their titles.
“It was one of those things, either you win it or don’t win it [in Australia],” Penske said. “Going to Australia and seeing Scott McLaughlin, a young man we want to bring here [to NASCAR] at some point, it was just a thrilling and unbelievable situation for me.”
For Logano, it was special just to be part of Penske’s best year.
“It is incredible to just drive for him and to end up it being one of his best seasons ever — there’s so much that goes into what he does,” Logano said. “It doesn’t just happen.
“It may look like that everything Roger Penske touches turns into gold, but it is that way because of the work and the people that he has surrounded himself with.”
NASCAR will push Logano’s philanthropy and attitude
Having Gavin Grubbs — a teenager who met Logano about 10 years ago as part of a Make-A-Wish Foundation visit and later served as a groomsman at Logano’s wedding — introduce Logano showed that NASCAR will want try to show the off-the-track Logano as much as his on-the-track persona.
“He has made a major impact on my life as well as many others,” Grubbs told the crowd.
Logano talked about family and tried to put the past few weeks in perspective. His wife, Brittany, gave birth to their first child, Hudson, in January.
“Family means a lot to me,” Logano told the crowd. “We have so many long talks at night and I’m not always smiling. … [Brittany] is an amazing mother to our child and what an amazing year to have Hudson and now a championship.
“I would trade all of this [championship stuff] in a heartbeat [for them]. But the great part is we don’t have to.”
And Logano continued to embrace the fact that he won’t be the most popular driver. He told the fans: “Whether you’re booing or cheering, it’s pretty good. We all do it for you guys.”
Logano reiterated that after the ceremony.
“Love me or hate me, the fact that [fans] love NASCAR means the most,” Logano said. “Because, honestly, that’s what keeps everyone standing around here employed.
“That’s a big deal for the growth of our sport. I’m a fan before I was a driver and I’m still a fan before I am a driver.”
Truex hopes for better days
Martin Truex Jr. seemed almost offended following the awards ceremony when it was suggested that things might never be as good at Joe Gibbs Racing as it was for him and crew chief Cole Pearn the past three years at Furniture Row Racing. The organization closed its doors following the 2018 season.
“It’s not going to be a tick lower because we won’t stand for that,” Truex said. “That’s not why we’re here. Cole and I and the team he assembles, we’re going to have the same attitude.
“We get paid to win. That’s our job, to figure out how to win.”
Pearn and some other team members will move to North Carolina to work at JGR.
“Cole is going to be in North Carolina next week getting to work and I’ll be pestering him about what we’re doing getting ready for Daytona and how the car is going to be,” Truex said.
Sometimes it can be more difficult to influence change with a bigger team.
“The mad scientist part of Cole is still there, and he will still be a driving force,” Truex said. “We’ll just have to see. It will be new territory.”
Jim France makes short statement
Jim France, who has taken over as CEO and chairman while his nephew Brian continues on an indefinite (permanent?) leave of absence following his DWI in August, was honored Wednesday with the Myers Brothers Award for contributions to the sport.
In accepting the award, France gave a very brief analysis of the sport:
“I’ve had the opportunity the last part of this season to spend a lot of time again in the garage area and pits of our racing series, and I’d like to pass on one quick observation from the 1950s in the pits at Bowman Gray Stadium to the 2018 pits in the NASCAR Monster Energy Series:
“That NASCAR spirit, the competitive spirit of the drivers and teams, is alive and well and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
France, while affable, prefers to remain in the background and has not done a news conference since assuming his new role. This would have been an opportunity for him to give more of his state-of-the-sport thoughts. While that would have been welcome and likely productive, it isn’t his style.
Xfinity Series fun day
Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick got to have fun at Universal Studios on Tuesday, where he rode on the float that led the afternoon parade. He also met fans and signed autographs.
“It’s incredible to be out here,” Reddick said.
Universal and Xfinity are part of the Comcast family of companies, so it was a natural setting to try to highlight the young driver and the series champion.
“It’s pretty cool,” Reddick said. “I got the trophy sitting right next to me. We had a bunch of calls [with media] and sitting down and talking about how it all happened. It’s starting to really sink in.”
Reddick enjoyed the day. It was good to see the series sponsor trying to promote its champion, especially one who will return next year to defend his title (albeit with Richard Childress Racing and not JR Motorsports).
“There’s been a lot of big fan reaction,” Reddick said. “There’s a lot of fans back in my dirt [late model] days who have followed me from almost the very start that have still been following along that are still ecstatic. … They have stuck out what seemed to be a pretty hard year, but we’ve rewarded them with a championship.”
Ohio State AD denies Meyer 2020 succession plan
FILE PHOTO: Nov 24, 2018; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer tests the wind direction on the sidelines in a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith is not expecting Urban Meyer to leave the Buckeyes anytime soon and denied a report that a succession plan to promote offensive coordinator Ryan Day is already in place for 2020.
Football Scoop claimed, citing anonymous sources, Meyer informed Smith and Ohio State he planned to step down prior to the 2020 season.
Day, who was interim coach of the Buckeyes in September during Meyer’s suspension, is expected to be a top candidate for several head-coaching vacancies.
To retain Day, Ohio State would bump his salary with an “unwritten understanding” he will succeed Meyer, per the report.
Smith, in a text to ESPN, said there was “no truth” to the report while Meyer declined comment in Indianapolis ahead of Saturday’s Big Ten championship game against Northwestern.
Day told ESPN on Friday that he is still interested in, and very much in the running for, other college jobs.
Meyer, 54, said earlier this week he is planning to coach next season. Football Scoop reported Meyer intends to address his health challenges and status as Ohio State’s coach as early as after Saturday’s game.
—Field Level Media
Tiger Woods hits ball twice on shot during Hero World Challenge, avoids penalty
NASSAU, Bahamas — Tiger Woods got a break from golf’s evolving rulebook Friday when he was not penalized for hitting his ball twice during a shot out of a bush on the 18th hole at Albany Golf Club.
A lengthy review of the issue at the Hero World Challenge determined that the rules infraction could only be determined with slow-motion video evidence. Because it was not “visible to the naked eye,” nor did Woods feel that he hit had the ball twice, no penalty was assessed.
“He didn’t scrape or spoon or push the ball,” said Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president of rules and competitions. “And when he did that, Tiger said that he did not think he hit the ball twice.
“Looking at it in regular speed on a high-definition television, you couldn’t tell that at all. But when you slow it down, you could see where the ball did stay on the clubface quite a bit of time and it looked like he might have hit it twice. But there’s no way he could tell that.”
Citing one of the Decisions in the Rules of Golf (34-3/10, Limitations on Use of Video Evidence), Russell said there would be no penalty.
“Basically it says if the player did not know that he did that, and the only way you can tell that is by using this type of slow motion technology, he’s exempt from the rule. There is no penalty there.”
Woods would have had to add a penalty, which means his score would have gone from 6 to 7.
As of Jan. 1, that rule will change. There will no longer be a penalty for hitting the ball twice, but both strokes must be counted.
“I didn’t feel like I made contact twice,” Woods said. “It was such a short little shot, I was just trying to hit it sideways there. Under slow motion and high def, you can see that the ball hit the clubface twice … but there’s no penalty. I’m sure that Mark [Russell] will explain it to you better than I can, but the rules committee reviewed it for awhile.
“In slow motion, you can see I did hit it twice. But in real time, I didn’t feel that at all.”
The final hole at Albany ruined what had been a solid day for Woods, who was 5 under par on his round and had not made a bogey.
But hitting a 3-wood off the tee, he flared it well to the right and it ended up in a bush.
Even without the penalty drama, Woods made a mess of the hole — after he had birdied it on Thursday. After hitting that short shot out of the bush, he narrowly avoiding the water that fronts the green with his third shot. A long chip came up well short, and Woods did well not to three-putt, settling for a double bogey and a round of 69 at the event he hosts on behalf of his foundation.
“Today I played much better,” said Woods, who shot a 73 in the first round. “I finally hit my irons the way I normally do. Other than the last tee shot, I felt I really hit the golf ball well.
“Yesterday I drove it great and didn’t hit my irons well, and today I hit it like I normally do. If I would have just putted the way I normally do, this round could have easily been 8, 9 under.”
Woods missed birdie putts of 7, 10, 12 and 4 feet on the front side, and he missed a 5-footer at the 11th as well. He birdied four of the five par-5s and got up and down for another birdie on the short par-4 14th. He stood on the 18th tee in the top seven of the tournament before missing the fairway and encountering problems with his second shot.
Two possible rules came into play.
First, Rule 14-1, which says the “ball must be fairly struck at with the head of the club and must not be pushed, scraped or spooned.” The penalty for that is two strokes, and Russell determined there was no infraction in that case.
The second is Rule 14-4, which says “if a player’s club strikes the ball more than once in the course of a stroke, the player must count the stroke and add a penalty stroke, making two strokes in all.” (The penalty stroke goes away in 2019).
But in late 2013, golf’s governing body added the decision that said penalty strokes would not be applied if the infraction “was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time.”
This was largely in response to violations that were caught on replay in which a ball barely moved on a green or in playing a shot that the player could not reasonably know without consulting slow-motion video.
“We just asked him if he thought he hit the ball twice; he said no,” Russell said. “He didn’t, that’s the only way you could tell. If you looked at it at regular speed, it wouldn’t enter your mind that he did. But if you look at it [in] ultra-slow motion, the ball did stay on the clubface quite a long time.”
Woods was involved in similar a ruling at the 2013 BMW Championship, where he was penalized two strokes when attempting to play a shot from branches, and he was deemed to have caused the ball to move. It could be seen moving with the help of slow-motion video, and it is likely that had this decision been in place, that penalty would not have been called.
That was a year of several rules issues faced by Woods faced. The biggest came at the Masters, when he took an improper drop on the 15th hole during the second round. Woods failed to add two strokes to his scorecard, but he was saved from disqualification because Masters officials said they erred by not bringing the issue to his attention before he signed.
Woods had hit the flagstick on the hole and saw the ball carom back into the water. He elected to drop from the same spot, but went too far back before knocking the next shot close — making what he thought was a 6 at the time. Two strokes were added, Woods took an 8 on the par-5 hole — and ended up finishing four strokes back in the tournament.
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- Trump rips New York Times over Kavanaugh piece, calls for resignation of anyone involved in ‘SMEAR story’
- With New Mexico rally, Trump seeks to flip state won by Clinton in 2016
- California adds Iowa to ‘travel ban’ over refusal to fund gender transitions
- Senior U.S. Democrat focused on Trump impeachment, not Kavanaugh
- Manhattan DA subpoenas Trump tax returns