Champions Tour

Golf Roundup: Russell Knox has slow road to top 50 and quick fall

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The timing for a revamped PGA Tour schedule could not have been more appropriate.

This is the 50-year anniversary of the PGA Tour breaking away from the PGA of America, leading to years of disharmony. Well, as much as this genteel game allows. And yet all these years later, it took a strong relationship between the two organizations for American-based golf to get the schedule it wanted.

Next season’s schedule was released Tuesday, and there were lots of moving parts, most of them already known.

The FedEx Cup playoffs have been reduced from four events to three, with the opening event alternating between the New York area and Boston. The season will end at the Tour Championship on Aug. 25, allowing the richest payoff in golf — expect that $10 million FedEx Cup prize to increase significantly next year — to be awarded before fans shift their interest to college football and the NFL.

Minnesota replaces Houston. Golf returns to Detroit and leaves Washington. Florida will have four straight tournaments in March for the first time since 2006.

None of this works, however, without the PGA Championship moving from August to May.

“Without the commitment and great partnership with FedEx, and the great partnership with the PGA of America, we’re not where we are today,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said Tuesday.

Monahan’s main concern was his biggest corporate partner, FedEx, which in 2007 ponied up $35 million in bonus money for a year-end bonanza aimed at giving the PGA Tour a more defined finish to its season. It was critical to establish continuity and heritage for the tour to renew its deal, and that meant creating more value — more attention — for the FedEx Cup.

That was tough to do in late September in Atlanta. Even with Jordan Spieth capping off a great year, Rory McIlroy holing out a shot from the fairway, Bill Haas splashing out of a lake to make par in a playoff, golf had to compete with America’s most popular sport. And it was a losing battle.

“We wanted to finish before football and other sports,” Monahan said, “and own August.”

The PGA Championship moving to May allows that to happen.

Monahan speaks of the “cadence” to the new schedule, though nothing really changes. Golf still has a big event every month, only it now starts in March with The Players Championship instead of April with the Masters. The PGA is in May, the U.S. Open is in June, the British Open is in July, the FedEx Cup in August.

The finished product doesn’t seem all that complicated now, though it required cooperation from just about everyone.

“Everybody, including us, had to give along the way,” Monahan said. “You do that if you think the end result is worthwhile. We never wavered on that front.”

Still to be determined is how this works out.

For next season, 46 tournaments will be crammed into 41 weeks. There will be even more golf in the 2019-20 season when Houston and Greenbrier are in the fall, with plans for an official event in Japan, and perhaps one other domestic event.

That’s also an Olympic year, and the tour is considering an off week during the men’s competition.

The strongest competition might be found outside the ropes as tournaments try to persuade the most appealing players not to take time off during their events.

Tournament officials at the Honda Classic and Valspar Championship already are nervous about whether Tiger Woods will return, mainly because those two tournaments fall into a seven-week stretch that includes the Genesis Open at Riviera (run by the Tiger Woods Foundation), Bay Hill (where he has won eight times), The Players Championship and two World Golf Championships, assuming Woods is eligible.

Fast forward to the end of the season. While the top 125 players still qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, one fewer playoff event means only the top 70 — instead of the top 100 — advance to the second round before the top 30 make it to the Tour Championship.

“We have a stronger conclusion to our season. By having a stronger conclusion, it’s making every event that much more important,” Monahan said. “Depending on where you are, a lot less people will be comfortable with their position because they have one fewer at-bat.”

Monahan is banking on players competing more, keeping the PGA Tour relevant right up until the end.

Right before kickoff.



Russell Knox entered the world ranking in 2009 when he played his first Tour event at age 24. A year later, he cracked the top 1,000 with a tie for seventh in Knoxville. It took another four years before Knox cracked the top 100 following a top 10 at Hilton Head. And then two years later, he cashed in by winning a World Golf Championship in Shanghai to move into the top 50.

And that’s where he stayed for 93 consecutive weeks, reaching as high as No. 18 after his victory in the Travelers Championship in 2016. Life was good. He was in all the majors, all the WGCs, and he even played in the Hero World Challenge that Tiger Woods hosts in the Bahamas.

“I saw how good a place that was,” Knox said after his playoff victory in the Irish Open. “I think I tried to get better too quickly. I’ve kind of preached to myself and younger players my whole career that you get better slowly without forcing it, without trying to get better.”

His golf got worse. Knox had only eight top 10s in his next 55 starts after winning the Travelers. He fell out of the top 50, and then he fell out of the top 100, dropping to No. 137 before slowly — there’s that word again — working his way back up until it culminated with a runner-up finish in France and a victory in Ireland.

Knox now is No. 49 heading into the Scottish Open this week.

“You just naturally evolve as a golfer,” he said. “I think I got to the point where I was really close to being right where I wanted to be — top 10 in the world — and I just pushed too hard and I got worse. It’s just hard. Once you lose your confidence, which I did a little bit — and I was tinkering with equipment — I just didn’t quite get it right. But I knew starting this year, I’d played good golf and I knew that eventually, something about was going to happen.”



An injury that might sound small turned out to be plenty big for Jim Herman. Imagine trying to play golf for a living and needing surgery on your toes.

Herman was last seen trudging up the hill on the 18th at Riviera in the second round of the Genesis Open, and then facing an even steeper walk up the steps to the clubhouse. He immediately withdrew and didn’t play again until last week on the Tour in what amounted to rehab assignment.

The issue? Herman noticed the nails on his baby toes (both feet) would fall off, grow back awkwardly, and then fall off again. It eventually became too painful to walk, and because he couldn’t shift his weight to his left side, it began affecting his swing.

“It got to point where I couldn’t make a swing without pain,” he said.

Along the way, he developed plantar fasciitis, leading to a miserable year. Herman had surgery on his toes and wore a boot to deal with the plantar fasciitis. He returned last week at the Lecom Health Challenge, where he tied sixth.

“I’ve missed it. It was good to get back out,” Herman said. “And it was nice to get this resolved.”

He plans a few more Tour starts to make sure his feet can handle a full schedule. Because he won’t be in the FedEx Cup playoffs, Herman plans to take a major medical for next season, in which he will get 18 starts.



Kevin Na went 158 starts on the PGA Tour in nearly seven years before winning at Greenbrier for his second title. That puts him in a small, but peculiar group of players who shows that consistency pays off, even if that doesn’t meant a case full of trophies.

Na joins Charles Howell III and Tim Clark as the only players with two victories to have at least $20 million in career earnings.

Howell leads the way with $35,527,655, and while his only victories were at Kingsmill and Riviera, he has 16 runner-up finishes and 88 finishes in the top 10. Na now has $27,283,596 in official earnings. He has been runner-up six times since his previous victory in Las Vegas.

Tim Clark, who hasn’t played in more than two years and now spends most of his time coaching, has $23,942,321. His two victories were the Canadian Open and The Players Championship. The South African had 13 runner-up finishes in his career.

All three of them recorded top 10s roughly 17 percent of the time.



Mark Calcavecchia is among those from the PGA Tour Champions who have three straight weeks of majors — the Senior Players Championship outside Chicago this week, the British Open at Carnoustie next week, followed by the Senior British Open at St. Andrews.

Calcavecchia skipped the trip across the Atlantic last year, mainly because Royal Birkdale (Open) and Royal Porthcawl (Senior) are not among his favorites. St. Andrews is hosting the Senior Open for the first time, which will be Calcavecchia’s seventh time competing on the Old Course.

The question is whether he’ll play the first hole ahead of Thursday’s opening round.

Calcavecchia has a habit of walking out of the Old Course Hotel to the second tee and heading back to his room when he finishes the 17th hole. The only time he sees the first tee is when he has to show up at the clubhouse to register.

Will history repeat itself?

“I don’t know,” he said. “We’re not staying at the Old Course Hotel, so maybe. That would be a first for me.”



The British Open announced a $10.5 million prize fund this year, with $1,890,000 going to the winner. And to think golf’s oldest championship once had a hard time attracting top Americans because they wound up losing money from all the travel expenses. Sam Snead, for example, won 150 pounds when he won at St. Andrews in 1946.

Times have changed, and so has the money.

Majors now pay even the players who miss the cut.

The R&A says last place will receive $13,500. The top 10 pros and ties who miss the cut will get $7,375, and the next 20 pros and ties will get $5,900. Everyone else gets $4,950. The U.S. Open and the Masters pay $10,000 to everyone who misses the cut.



Thomas Pieters was among five Europeans who took up PGA Tour membership this season, though the Belgian is not likely to last. Pieters has played just nine PGA Tour events going into the British Open and is No. 172 in the FedEx Cup. … Aaron Wise has missed the cut in four straight tournaments since winning the AT&T Byron Nelson. … Canadian Pacific has extended its title sponsorship of the Canadian Women’s Open for five years through 2023. The purse next year will increase to $2.25 million. … Players from the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour will compete separately next year for a $1 million bonus based on how they play select holes on their tours. It’s called the Aon Risk Reward Challenge. Players will be measured by how they play the risk-reward holes that are selected. Scoring and which holes will be highlights are among the details still to be sorted out.



In the eight years of the PGA Tour at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na (No. 65) and Angel Cabrera (No. 90) were the only winners ranked among the top 100 in the world.



“Only difference really is the competition is a little bit steeper.” — U.S. Amateur runner-up Doug Ghim, on the difference between college golf and the PGA Tour.

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