Does the collegiate golf system need a fix?
Reigning NCAA champion John Peterson may have been a bit too giddy when he suggested the top collegiate players could compete with the best of the PGA Tour after his runner-up finish to another amateur, Harris English, on Sunday at the Nationwide Tour event in Ohio.
Peterson, who plays at LSU, had led for most of the tournament, but a bogey on the 72nd hole coupled with a birdie by English led to English being the second Georgia college standout to win on the Nationwide Tour this year. Earlier, Russell Henley won a Nationwide event played at the University of Georgia.
"The top guys in college, the top 20 or 30 guys, can beat the top 20, 30 guys on the PGA Tour," Peterson told GolfWorld after the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational played at Ohio State. "Maybe with the exception of two or three guys who are constantly up there -- like a Matt Kuchar or Luke Donald, those guys that are always there -- those top 20 college guys will beat those top 20 or 30 PGA Tour guys, if given the opportunity. They just don't have the opportunity. That's why this tournament is so great'' Shortly thereafter, English concurred, making you wonder if the guys in lab coats who administer the tour's drug-testing program were not close behind.
To think that the top college players can compete with the top pros is absurd. In fact, there are plenty who believe the college game in the United States is absolutely the wrong way to prepare for a professional career. Certainly college players have reason to gloat of late.
In addition to the success of English and Peterson, Patrick Cantlay has finished in the top 25 in all four PGA Tour events in which he has competed this summer, including a tie for ninth on Sunday at the RBC Canadian Open. Cantlay, who will be a sophomore at UCLA, shot 60 at the Travelers Championship and was low amateur at the U.S. Open.
Then there is reigning U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein, who also was in the top 10 at the Ohio Nationwide event a week after making the cut at the British Open.
All of which is interesting when you consider there has long been a debate about the merits of collegiate golf properly developing players. And that is pointed out even more these days as Americans struggle in the majors and atop the world rankings.
Hank Haney, for one, has been outspoken about the college game's ability to develop players. The former coach to Tiger Woods was also a former coach at Southern Methodist and has worked with plenty of players who have come through the college ranks.
"They go to classes for maybe three hours a day, study for two more hours, then play golf the rest of the day,'' Haney recently told Scotland on Sunday." So in terms of their golf, they are losing five hours of practice time every day. You can't do that every day for four years and end up being competitive.
"Even when they are playing and practicing, they are too often not getting any better. In fact, the colleges invariably have no real interest in long-term improvement for these kids. For the school it is all about scoring well today. So there is no chance of them telling a student to go away and work on his technique so that he will be a better player 18 months down the road. That just doesn't happen.''
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Haney pointed out college golf coaches are not always necessarily trained in the skill of teaching golf, which means players are not always getting proper instruction.
And you can also, perhaps, attribute some of the recent success of amateurs to the idea they really have nothing to lose, nothing to choke over. Sure, English and Peterson had plenty going on trying to win a professional tournament. But for anyone else, there are not consequences in finishing a shot back; there is no money to lose, as there is for the pros who are grinding every week to make a living.
Then you have players such as Rory McIlroy, who turned pro and skipped college as a teenager, making a strong case for getting on with it. Then again, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, Englishman Luke Donald, went to college in the United States, at Northwestern. So did Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, who attended UAB.
And it's hard to argue with the success of Phil Mickelson, who won three NCAA titles as an individual, or Tiger Woods, who spent two years at Stanford before turning pro.
Still, Haney makes an interesting point.
"So, if American golf is in permanent decline -- and I don't think it is -- then the blame would have to fall in the lap of the college system. There's nothing else we can blame,'' he said. "In terms of improving their techniques, way too many kids are treading water for four years in college. Those colleges are the breeding grounds for the PGA Tour, so if we are getting worse that system has to be at fault."
Tiger Woods made headlines for all the wrong reasons. He fired his longtime caddie, Steve Williams, a move that is still generating conversation. Then the tough week got worse when he fell to No. 21 in the world, a position in which he has not resided since early in the 1997 season.
Woods has not played since May 12, when he withdrew from the Players Championship. At the time, he was ranked eighth in the world, and such a slide was due to come without playing and earning ranking points. Woods continues to lose points from the 2009 season that saw him win seven times worldwide.
Meanwhile, by staying among the top 50, Sergio Garcia, who has top-10s at the U.S. and British Opens, will earn a start in next week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
A tournament that attracts just three of the top 50 in the world typically gets panned, but that is far from the case this week at the Irish Open. That's because the three in the top 50 are all recent major winners from the north -- Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke.
The three players from Northern Ireland headline the field for the Irish Open at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club. Also in the field is defending champion Ross Fisher of England and Ireland's own Padraig Harrington, who has dropped from the top 50.
… about the idea of the LPGA Tour adding a fifth major. Commissioner Michael Whan announced last week that starting in 2013, the Evian Masters would be The Evian and would be designated a major championship. The tournament, played in France, will move to September.
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This one is hard to swallow. Major championships are not just so ordained. It takes time, history and prestige to be a major, and the tournament has been around for just over 10 years. If the tour was to anoint a tournament a major, it might have done so in Asia, where so many LPGA players reside and where a number of tournaments are played.
Of course money is in play here. The Evian folks undoubtedly stepped up and said they would pour money into the purse, the tournament, the venue, etc., in return for major status. Perhaps Whan was looking at losing another tournament and felt he had no choice.
Still, it smacks of desperation and devalues the other majors in the process.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
Birdies And Bogeys
1. Sean O'Hair. Seemingly out of nowhere, O'Hair, 29, captured his fourth PGA Tour title at the Canadian Open, the first time all year he finished among the top 15 in any tournament.
2. Ai Miyazato. The Japanese star won her seventh LPGA Tour title at the Evian Masters, then dedicated the win and a portion of her earnings to people in her homeland affected by the earthquakes.
3. Patrick Cantlay. Four PGA Tour events and four top-25 finishes, including a top-10 at the Canadian Open, for an amateur who has no intentions of turning pro anytime soon.
1. Tiger Woods. The last thing he needed was more drama, but the firing of longtime caddie Steve Williams brings more questions for whenever Woods returns to golf.
2. Bo Van Pelt. A one-time tour winner, the 54-hole leader at the Canadian Open was still leading until a back-nine double-bogey, bogey stretch that saw him miss out on an opportunity for victory.
3. Mike Weir. The 2003 Masters champ can't get a break. An elbow injury that needed surgery and has led to numerous swing faults forced him to withdraw from the Canadian Open last week.
• The Greenbrier produced a lot of low numbers last year, including winner Stuart Appleby's final-round 59, but don't expect such a scoring onslaught this year. The course has been lengthened by 200 yards and all of the greens have been revamped, which means they will be harder and scoring will be more difficult. Last year the four-day scoring average was 68.5.
• With his victory at the RBC Canadian Open, O'Hair, 29, joined Dustin Johnson, 26, as the only PGA Tour players under 30 with four victories.
• John Daly's tie for ninth in Canada was his first top 10 on the PGA Tour since a playoff loss to Tiger Woods at the 2005 American Express Invitational. The T9 also spares this week's Greenbrier having to give him a sponsor exemption, as anyone in the top 10 is eligible for the following week.
• Players can still earn a spot in next week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational by moving into the top 50 in the world following the Greenbrier Classic. Ryan Palmer (52) and Webb Simpson (53) are on the outside looking in.
• After making 29 straight cuts, Matt Kuchar has missed two in a row, at the British and Canadian Opens. He had not missed consecutive cuts since 2009, at the Zurich Classic and Quail Hollow.
• Defending champion Bernhard Langer seeks to become only the fourth player to win back-to-back U.S. Senior Open titles. Miller Barber, Gary Player and Allen Doyle are the others. Following thumb surgery, Langer returned to the Champions Tour at last week's Senior Open Championship, in which he tied for 12th.
"You could say I've wasted the last two years of my life. I've stuck with Tiger and been incredibly loyal. I'm not disappointed I've been fired. That's part of the job. But the timing is extraordinary.'' -- Steve Williams, after being fired as Tiger Woods' caddie after 12 years, 63 PGA Tour titles and 13 major championships together.
Catching up with '10 champ
Stuart Appleby entered last year's Greenbrier Classic in a slump, shot 65-59 on the weekend and emerged as the winner of his ninth PGA Tour title. His Sunday 59 was the fifth in PGA Tour history and the first on a par-70 course.
The Aussie returns to defend his title in much the same situation as last year: playing poorly. Since a tie for 10th at the Honda Classic in March, Appleby has made just two cuts in 13 starts and shot only five rounds in the 60s. His last made cut came at Colonial, where he tied for 16th, and he is coming off a missed cut at the Canadian Open.
Appleby, 40, turned his season around with his victory a year ago and went on to earn more than $1.9 million and finish 52nd in the final FedEx Cup standings. This year he is 109th and needs to maintain his position in the top 125 to qualify for the first playoff event, The Barclays.