There is nothing new except what has been forgotten, an old French proverb noted with uncanny precision, not unlike that exemplified by Tiger Woods with five-footers to win. Speaking of Tiger …
Coming on May 24, The Match: Champions for Charity will have Woods and Peyton Manning competing against the team of Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady at Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla. Coming sooner, on May 17, is the TaylorMade Driving Relief event, with Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff facing Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson in a team skins game at Seminole Golf Club in nearby Juno Beach.
Suddenly, challenge matches are in vogue—to fill a void on the golf schedule during the COVID-19 pandemic and to generate charity funds in a time of need. Last Thursday, organizers of The Match said the exhibition will bring in more than $10 million for coronavirus relief programs. The Driving Relief event is expected to raise more than $4 million for similar COVID-19 efforts, the American Nurses Foundation and the CDC Foundation.
More accurately, challenge matches are in vogue again. They are not new. In fact, they are old, but how old? Well, when doing an archeological dig for golf history, best to start by digging in the auld sod. Scotland.
Here we find that in 1843, Allan Robertson of St. Andrews played another Scot, Willie Dunn, in a renowned challenge match, 20 rounds in 10 days on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Robertson, ahead by two rounds with one to play, was declared the winner.
It was not the first challenge match, but given Robertson’s place in golf history—the best player of his era, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and by some accounts the first golf professional—it’s a good place to begin.
“Professional matches, first reported in St Andrews in the 1830s, were common by the 1840s,” the British Golf Museum website says. “The stakes, which were often high, were put up by backers, rather than the players.”
At the time, these matches were the only way professionals could make money actually playing the game, though perhaps earning less than punters in the galleries holding winning hands.
“Challenge matches are the life of golf,” Scottish professional Andrew Kirkcaldy wrote in his biography, “Fifty Years of Golf: My Memories,” published in 1927. “I wouldn’t give a button for an exhibition game. Man against man, and pocket against pocket, in deadly earnest is the thing.
“These challenge matches are real tests of golf. There are far too many exhibition matches nowadays for the top notchers. The rank and file of the professionals do not get a fair number of chances. There’s many a young player today who might now and again beat a champion and do himself some good.”
One of the most memorable challenge matches of the era was a three-rounder, 20 holes each, that Robertson and Old Tom Morris played against brothers Willie and Tom Dunn. At stake was £400, an enormous sum in those days. The match was tied going into the third round, when Robertson and Morris overcame a four-hole deficit with eight to play, winning six straight holes to prevail.
The Scots naturally exported the challenge match to the United States. Once there, these events became grand spectacles that could be used not just to help the players profit but work as fundraisers for worthwhile causes. When the U.S. became involved in World War I, Bobby Jones had just turned 15, too young to serve. Instead, he was enlisted to participate in Red Cross challenge matches to raise money for the war effort.
Jones often was joined by fellow Atlanta teens Alexa Stirling and Perry Adair, as well as Chicagoan Elaine Rosenthal, who was in her early 20s. They became known as the Dixie Kids and toured the country playing exhibitions, raising $150,000 in the process.
Post-war, in 1926, Jones played professional Walter Hagen in a match billed as “The Battle of the Century.” It was a 72-hole affair that Hagen won decidedly, 11 and 10.
When World War II began, golf, notwithstanding its reputation as an elitist sport that many thought should be avoided, stepped up substantially in aiding the war effort, urged on by those like Herb Graffis, an esteemed golf writer who later was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. “Golf, to deserve its right to boast of itself as being a gentleman’s game,” Graffis wrote in Golfing magazine, “isn’t to be played these days unless it’s played for somebody else, the soldiers, sailors and marines that we who are not in uniform must back up in our fullest, fittest way.”
So it did with the return of challenge matches that raised vast amounts of money for U.S. defense bonds and war relief, and featured any combination of stars of stage, screen and golf course.
Ed Dudley, president of the PGA, and Fred Corcoran, its tournament bureau manager and a promoter extraordinaire, enlisted Bing Crosby and Bob Hope to play a series of exhibition matches with professionals, the first of which included Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson at Brook Hollow Golf Club in Dallas.
“Dallas’ most glamorous golf show of all time,” the Dallas Morning News called it.
The next day, Crosby paired with friend Jimmy Demaret in a match against Hope and Nelson at Brae Burn Country Club in Houston. It attracted the largest crowd in Texas golf history, larger even than the U.S. Open played at Colonial Country Club in 1941.
Lesser lights also did their part. Pros Wiffy Cox and Joe Turnesa played a match against Willie Klein and Jack Mallon at Rockville Country Club on Long Island and raised enough money to ship a million cigarettes to servicemen overseas.
In 1943, the PGA Tour went on hiatus and a large swath of its players enlisted in the military. Nelson, however, was classified 4-F because of a mild form of hemophilia, so he was unable to serve in uniform. Instead he traveled the country, often with Jug McSpaden, playing matches on behalf of the war effort. Nelson had played 35 exhibition matches by the end of February 1943.
One of the most famous challenge matches, worthy of an entire book by noted author Mark Frost titled, simply, “The Match,” occurred at Cypress Point in 1956. It was suggested by Eddie Lowery, a successful car dealer in the San Francisco Bay area (who, as a boy, was on the bag when amateur Francis Ouimet’s famously won the 1913 U.S. Open at Brookline). Lowery boasted he had two amateurs working for him who could beat any two players, professionals included, in a best-ball match.
So it was that Ben Hogan and Nelson agreed to play the amateurs, Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward. The scores: Hogan 63, Venturi 65, and Nelson and Ward 67s. Reportedly, all bets were forgiven in the wake of astounding and memorable golf.
Television soon recognized an opportunity, in the interest of ratings, to spotlight some of the game’s elite by staging series of matches. The professionals also recognized an opportunity, to bolster their bottom lines, transitioning challenge matches back away from philanthropy and into a commercial enterprise. In 1961, “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf” debuted with a match between Billy Casper and Mario Gonzalez in Rio de Janeiro. The show ran through 1970 and returned in 1994 for another 10-year run.
Meanwhile, the era of the Big Three—Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player—was evolving and the threesome latched onto the growing influence of television with a made-for-TV series, “Big Three Golf,” a series of matches played in the U.S., Scotland and Japan. In the 1980s, challenge matches morphed into The Skins Game, the high-stakes four-player duel becoming a Thanksgiving weekend staple for golf fans until the 2008.
When the Tiger era began, Woods was too dominant to be part of a triumvirate. Instead, he took on several different challengers in a series of individual and two-man team matches on Monday nights from 1999 through 2005—the Showdown at Sherwood, the Battle at Bighorn, and the Battle at the Bridges. They aired on ABC television, though the ratings steadily declined each year after the second event. In 2012, it returned once more with a Woods-Rory McIlroy match, the Duel at Lake Jinsha in China.
The concept was resurrected again in 2018. On the day after Thanksgiving, Woods played Phil Mickelson in “The Match,” a pay-per-view event that played to tepid reviews and is unlikely to have a book written about it.
Last year, it was the MGM Resorts The Challenge: Japan Skins, with Woods, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Hideki Matsuyama competing for $350,000 staged by GOLFTV.
These latest Challenge matches come full circle of sorts, with charities being the big beneficiary while also sating, for the moment, an audience starved for fresh action. However these matches play out, they will face a high bar to match the colorful commentary Kirkcaldy provided in recounting one match in his book.
“Ben Sayers and I played a 72-hole match at Sunningdale and Walton Heath,” he wrote. “Lord Riddell, as he is now, offered a prize of £50. The English people seemed to find in us a great diversion, giving us credit for humor we were not aware of.
“For instance, when my ball was going straight to a hole at Sunningdale, Ben made a move as if he would like to stop it. I took him by the collar and said, loud enough for the crowd to hear, ‘Ye wud hae kiekit it oot, wud ye?’”
Had the coronavirus not put a halt to professional golf, officials with the PGA of America would be putting the finishing touches on TPC Harding Park in anticipation of holding the PGA Championship this week in San Francisco. Instead, golf fans, like with the Masters a month ago, will once more be left to fill the major championship void.
The good news: ESPN and CBS will be there to help. The official broadcasters for the 2020 PGA, which has been rescheduled for Aug. 6-9, will be re-airing past telecasts of that PGA Championship throughout the week in much the same way they did a month ago during the Masters.
On Thursday (May 14), ESPN will show from noon to 2:30 p.m. on ESPN2, the final round of the 2017 PGA, where Justin Thomas won his first major title at Quail Hollow Club. Immediately after, ESPN2 with air the final round of the 2014 PGA at Valhalla, where Rory McIlroy raced darkness to win his second PGA title and fourth career major.
ESPN comes back on ESPN2 with two more PGA rebroadcast on Friday (May 15). At 7 p.m., is the re-airing of the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah and the infamous clash between a 23-year-old Tiger Woods and a 19-year-old Sergio Garcia. At 9:30 p.m., fans can see the 2019 PGA, with Brooks Koepka holding on to win at Bethpage Black.
Over the weekend, CBS picks up with coverage. On Saturday, (May 16), the network will show from 2:30-6 p.m. EDT the final round of the 2018 PGA, where Brooks Koepka outlasted Tiger Woods among others to win the Wanamaker Trophy at the Bellerive in St. Louis. Then on Sunday (May 17), CBS will re-broadcast from 3-6 p.m. EDT the final round of the 2000 PGA, in which Woods held off journeyman Bob May in a playoff at Valhalla Golf Club to win his third straight major title.
If the re-airing of final rounds doesn’t satisfy fans’ hunger for PGA Championship coverage, CBS Sports Network and the Golf Channel will the PGA Championship official highlight videos throughout the week. Each channel will show several of the recent. On Wednesday (May 13), Golf Channel will air the highlight videos from 1945, 1962, 1969, 1972 culminating with a rebroadcast of the final round of the 1974 PGA, where Lee Trevino beats Jack Nicklaus at Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, N.C.
On Thursday (May 14) you can see rare highlights of the 1974, 1975 1976 and 1980 championships.
It is March 10, two days after the conclusion of the Qatar Masters, the last tournament played on the European Tour before the coronavirus changed the world forever. Brian Nilsson has arrived back in Bangkok, Thailand, his home for the last 17 years. The Australian, universally known as “Aussie Bri” on the Old World circuit, where he has spent the last decade on former Ryder Cup player Nicolas Colsaerts’s bag, didn’t hang about in the nation’s capital though.
Realizing the heightened dangers of staying in such a densely populated area, Nilsson and his wife, Fohn (“Fohnzie” to her friends), headed south to the Hilltop Ao Nang resort in the Krabi Province, the “gateway to the islands,” not far from Phuket.
Little did they know that trip would be just the start of a so-far two month-long odyssey that has seen the pair involve themselves in a life-saving mission, what has become known as “Operation Happy Tummy.”
With the tourist industry all but decimated, the local villagers were left penniless and hungry, their sole means of supporting themselves suddenly gone. Very quickly, the situation reached dire proportions; people were starving.
“We could see that the people were in trouble,” says Nilsson. “The tourist season had been quiet anyway. But this was disastrous. With no one coming in, there was no work. None. So we came up with an idea. Our friend, Pete Tanawatana, who owns the resort, has continued to employ 15 members of his kitchen staff. They began producing food for the locals. Alex Wuttijirakul, who owns a local bar, has also been a great help.”
Within the first week, 300 meals were being given away. That expanded when the poorest communities and villages were included. So 300 meals a week soon became 300 per day. But that was providing only one meal per person. Today, “Happy Tummy” is looking after about 400 people and preparing 5,500 meals per week. That works out to about 15 per person, or about two meals a day.
“Three days a week we cook their meals,” says Nilsson. “On the other days we hand out dry packs with 500 grams of rice, four eggs, some tinned fish and milk for the kids. So the locals are still doing some cooking for themselves. We don’t have to see them every day.”
All of which has required money, of course. The initial aim was to raise £20,000—enough to provide food for four months—and that target has almost been reached through a variety of means. Donations from Nilsson’s fellow caddies have come in, as well as from European Tour players. And Thailand’s leading golfers have stepped up, as well as the nation’s leading badminton, tennis, swimming and Tae Kwon Do stars.
“My wife works for a company called ‘All-Thailand Golf Tours,’” says Nilsson. “She got in touch with many of the leading Thai golfers like Boonchu Ruangkit, Prom Meesawat, Danthai Boonma and Kosuke Hamamato. They started a ‘chip-off challenge’ on the internet. They chipped five balls each into a bucket maybe 10 yards away. If you failed to get at least three, you had to donate to ‘Happy Tummy.’ That was successful. Then the top badminton players started something similar. And the tennis players and the swimmers and the Tae-Kwon Do guys. All of that raised quite a bit of money.”
Further complicating the need for cash is the fact that many of the people living in the Ao Nang area hail from other parts of Thailand. To claim the government hand out they would have to travel back to their home province, which is impossible with the country in lockdown.
“That actually became a moot point,” says Nilsson, failing to hide his disdain, “when the government announced they don’t actually have the money.”
Anyway, there is more to this tale than mere fundraising. The accumulation of cash was only the beginning. Realizing that food hand outs are but a short-term solution to the problems faced by the locals, Nilsson and his gang have introduced them to basic farming. It was an obvious conclusion: If you can’t buy food, you better grow it.
“In the last two weeks we have been planting bean sprouts, water spinach (known here as ‘morning glory’) and kale,” reports Nilsson. “The great thing is that the beans can be grown in three or four days. You don’t even have to plant them. We’ve been using old egg containers. Throw in the seeds, add water and boom. It is so hot and humid here, things grow quickly.
“Step two has been the digging of some large holes,” he continues. “Lined with plastic sheeting, they are perfect for farming catfish. That’s not hard to do. We’ve been learning how from YouTube actually. So soon we are going to be providing our own vegetables and fish. We’ll keep going with the rice packs. And we have a deal with one of the big milk companies in Thailand. We’re getting baby formula too for the kids. There are 14 or 15 kids under two (years old) in the villages.”
Geographic expansion of the scheme is also underway. Hearing of a nearby fishing community that had basically been cut-off, Nilsson has been to investigate, courtesy of the Thai police allowing him a special dispensation to get through the many road checkpoints.
“There are 60 people in the village,” says Nilsson. “They have been eating fish for weeks. And nothing else. So now we have set up a barter system. We send them chickens and eggs and rice in return for fish. That gives everyone a more balanced diet. We’ve also been trying to spread the word and tell others what we are doing. The hope is that other provinces will start similar projects. People are starving everywhere in Thailand.”
Two-months after it began, the journey from Qatar via Bangkok is a long way from over. But “Aussie Bri,” with a lot of help from his friends, is getting there. None of which comes as a surprise to his boss.
“Brian’s greatest quality is his loyalty to friends and those close to him,” says Colsaerts, who notes that he and Nilsson must rank in the top three on tour for the length of their working relationship. “I can’t imagine anyone thinks he is anything other than one of the good guys. You can’t last on tour this long without being passionate about everything you do. He and Fohnzie are wonderful people and a great match. You can see that in what they are doing now.
“I’ve seen the back streets in Thailand through Fohnzie. We’ve done things in the past for schools there. One was struggling to find teachers but we were able to help. And Brian has been involved every step of the way.”
Can you get custom fit for some new clubs without leaving your couch, especially since when it comes to getting custom fit these days, the couch is about the only place you’re going? Callaway is attempting to make the best of a less-than-ideal custom fitting environment with its new Distance Fitting program.
The Callaway Distance Fitting program enables golfers to sign up for a free 30-minute fitting conversation with one of its custom fitters. Other companies, most notably Ping and Bridgestone, are attempting to get golfers better dialed in without them having to be physically present.
“We’re already seeing how effective this program is at delivering a personalized and comprehensive fitting in just 30 minutes, and getting players into the right equipment to help them play better golf,” said Michael Vrska, Callaway’s director of custom fitting and player performance. “We’re going to give them a really precise fit on exactly what they need and it’s something they’re going to be able to be confident in, knowing that we’ve dialed them in over the phone.”
While the fitting experience typically has involved hitting multiple club and shaft combination and comparing ball flight data to get specific performance metrics, Vrska said that Distance Fitting can work without that kind of process. Golfers can provide launch monitor data if they have it, but it’s not necessary.
“We still believe that hitting a ball and getting data is the ultimate experience,” Vrska said. “But we are confident based on the incredible amount of data we’ve developed in the past that the recommendations we’re able to make and because of the experienced fitters we have that we can do outstanding fittings over the phone.
“These are our experienced master fitters who have been through top of the line training. It’s those questions back and forth, understanding their ball flight, their needs, what’s worked for them in the past and what they want their golf ball to do in the future that makes it so comprehensive. We can ask the right questions to help golfers understand what’s going to be perfect for them.”
Vrska said it is the one-on-one interaction that refines and individualizes the recommendations. A key part of the Callaway program is a pre-fitting questionnaire that asks the golfer to get into personal playing specifics that range from static measurements (like wrist to floor) to typical miss patterns and even preferred golf ball. Questions include asking players to rate various aspects of their game on 1-5 scales, as well as their current shot shape, their desired shot shape and what aspect of their game they’re hoping new clubs will improve.
“These questions already are pointing us in certain directions so we’re already starting to narrow things down even before the call starts,” he said, adding that the golf ball question is a fundamental part of every call.
Vrska also believes that Distance Fitting isn’t merely a stop-gap during the current crisis, but a viable option in the future of how Callaway relates to and learns from golfers. “This is something we have full intention of being a year-round part of what we offer going forward,” he said, noting that getting to a qualified fitter might not be easy for some golfers both from a geographic standpoint and a comfort level. “There are people who are die-hard golfers who want to get fit, and this will be a great entry point for them where they can get a great fit and be ready to buy. For a lot of other people, it’s a much less intimidating experience, and they can use it as a starting point to be confident to go test a club and get fit in person.”
Appointments for Callaway’s Distance Fitting are handled through the company’s website and are available Monday through Friday.
The sequel is now set.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson announced they were reviving their made-for-TV exhibition for charity last month, adding NFL greats Tom Brady and Peyton Manning to the event, but the initial release was light on details, as tournament organizers remained engaged in negotiations. On Thursday, fans were given a full offering of what to expect from The Match: Champions for Charity.
The competition will be held on Sunday, May 24, starting at 3 p.m. ET. Turner Sports is running the event and will simulcast it on TNT, TBS, truTV and HLN. Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla. will serve as the venue, a course dozens of PGA Tour players call home, including Woods.
Woods and Manning are teaming up against Mickelson and Brady, playing best ball on the front and a modified alternate-shot format on the back. As part of the competitive play, there will also be a set of on-course challenges to raise additional charitable funds.
According to a statement, WarnerMedia and the golfers will collectively make a charitable donation of $10 million to benefit COVID-19 relief. As part of the fundraising efforts, the competition will also include a partnership with the ALL IN Challenge, along with additional on-course competitive challenges for charity.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unimaginable tragedy and heartbreak,” said Jeff Zucker, chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports. “We’re hopeful this event and platform will help raise meaningful funding for COVID-19 relief, while also providing a source of brief distraction and entertainment for all sports fans.”
Mickelson defeated Woods in the previous match in 2018, knocking off the 15-time major winner in a four-hole playoff.
It began with a simple question: if The Old Course at St. Andrews is so great, why hasn’t it been mimicked or replicated more often?
What a can of worms.
Of course, it has been copied in different ways over time, and it remains the touchstone for so much of what we consider standard in modern architecture. Several of its holes have been considered among the greatest in the world and have inspired different templates at courses going back to the time of C.B. Macdonald. And yet, St. Andrews remains entirely unique, entirely its own thing, and strongly resists attempts at pure replication.
This is the topic Jim Urbina and I discuss with Canadian architect Jeff Mingay in our “Feed the Ball” podcast. Mingay is a student of The Old Course who specializes in renovations and restorations of courses throughout Canada and the United States. Conversations about St. Andrews can go in so many directions, but this one centers on the architecture of the course, what makes it so difficult to accurately reproduce, whether “ugliness” is a necessary component of its greatness, and how its principles have been incorporated at other courses, including Old Macdonald at Bandon Dunes, which Urbina designed with Tom Doak at Renaissance Design.