The Green Jacket

By: Kipp Branch news services

My wife and I were riding around town last week and we commented on a blooming Dogwood tree we drove by.

I said its Masters time baby. We get an unexpected treat in a couple of weeks and that is we will enjoy our second Masters Tournament in 5 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2020 Masters was played last November with Dustin Johnson claiming his first Green Jacket.

The Favorites:

Dustin Johnson: Johnson is the betting favorite to win back-to-back in Augusta.

Johnson has the ability to overpower a golf course, and if the putter is clicking then he will be in the mix.

Johnson has been playing well and we will see if everything comes together again. Johnson is a player that plays well in major championships. Johnson is also the 2016 US Open champion.

Justin Thomas: Thomas just won The Players Championship, so his game is peaking going into Augusta.

Thomas may be the best player in the world at the moment, and a Green Jacket in 2021 could be the first of many. This is a guy to keep a close eye on.

Thomas finished 4th in the 2020 Masters. Thomas won the 2017 PGA Championship.

Rory McIlroy: Rory needs the Masters to cap off the career grand slam. His best finish at Augusta is 4th back in 2015. Rory is searching for his game right now.

He just brought in a new swing coach and trying to find your game right before coming to Augusta National is like trying to mix oil and water.

Could it all come together for Rory in a couple of weeks? At 31 years of age there is plenty of time to get that elusive Green Jacket.

Jon Rahm: Currently ranked 3rd in the World Golf Rankings Rahm is due to win a major championship.

His best finish at Augusta is 4th and he has top 5 finishes in the US Open and PGA Championship.

Have you ever known a Spanish golfer that doesn’t have a great short game? Rahm will be the next major champion from Spain.

Brooks Koepka: This guy just plays well in the major championships. He has a couple of US Open’s and PGAs to his name. He finished in a tie for 2nd in the 2019 Masters.

He will be near the top of the leaderboard and will be a factor on Sunday. His game is rounding into form currently.

Bryson DeChambeau: The current US Open champion has not played well at Augusta. His best finish is 21st in 2016.

Will he try to overpower the golf course? The answer is yes and will that risk/reward style be successful for him in 2021. He has something to prove at Augusta.


Rickie Fowler: I’m a huge Rickie Fowler fan.

He has top 3 finishes in all 4 major championships and finished 2nd in 3 of the 4. At 32 years of age, he is due.

He has the game to win at Augusta with a runner-up finish in 2018. If Fowler is in contention on Sunday, I will not leave my couch that day.

He will win a major in his career. Why not the 2021 Masters? Come on Rickie get it done.

Patrick Cantlay: Not many are talking about this guy, but he is that good. Every time I tune into golf on TV he is on the leaderboard. Don’t sleep on this guy folks.

Prediction: My head says Brooks Koepka and my heart says Rickie Fowler.

A Tradition Unlike Any Other takes place in just a couple of weeks.


Can I Wear That Jacket?

By: Kipp Branch news services

This year’s telecast of the Masters on CBS recorded the major tournament’s lowest final-round numbers since 1957, extending a streak of soft sports TV viewership numbers.

The broadcast averaged a 3.4 rating and 5.59 million viewers, according to Nielsen.

That is about 51% lower than last year, when Tiger Woods recorded a comeback win, and also well below the previous lows of 6.7 in 1980 and 11.05 million viewers in 2017. (Viewership has been tracked since 1995.) In 1957, CBS aired one hour of coverage and drew a 3.0.

I enjoyed The Masters. I liked the fact that three of golf’s Major Championships were able to reschedule and play in 2020. The Open Championship cancelled the 2020 tournament early on in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dustin Johnson is the number one golfer in the world according to the World Golf Rankings.

With the win at Augusta he capped a stellar stretch in the majors this year finishing 2nd in the PGA Championship, and 6th in the US Open.

Johnson has now won the US Open and The Masters, and has runner-up finishes in the PGA and Open Championship.

The play has been consistently very good since August where has finished no worse than 6th in seven starts on tours with two wins.

Johnson was born in Columbia, South Carolina and played his golf at Coastal Carolina University so the proximity to Augusta National made last weekend’s win very special to Johnson.

Johnson grew up in Irmo, South Carolina. His childhood dream was to win The Masters.

Once the Green Jacket was placed on him by Tiger Woods, he became very emotional and barely could speak a word.

That raw emotion from Johnson was very good to see. Johnson is known as stoic player, who just handles his business on the golf course and in 2020 style that post tournament side of Johnson was something that I wish we could see more of on the PGA tour.

Back to the final round of The Masters, Johnson carded a final round of 68 that left him at 20-under 268, beating the previous tournament best of 18-under set by both defending champion Tiger Woods, in 1997, and Jordan Spieth, in 2015.

Johnson shot four rounds under par for the tournament. He has played 11 straight rounds under par at Augusta which is a record.

Johnson became the first world number one to win at Augusta since Tiger in 2002.

Don’t let the low television ratings from last weekend put a damper on the quality of golf that was played.

Those of us who watched saw a record-breaking performance by Dustin Johnson, who has rapidly become one of my favorite golfers on the tour.

Johnson’s work ethic is better than most on the tour. At age 36 Johnson is in his golfing prime. Many more wins could be on the horizon.

Brooks Koepka called out Dustin Johnson as only having one major championship going into the final round of the PGA Championship in August and it backfired on Brooks.

Koepka finished tied for 7th at 10 under par at The Masters. Good showing but it was 10 strokes behind your 2020 Master Champion Dustin Johnson, who now has two majors under his belt.

Dustin Johnson is the best golfer in the world and he may stay there for a while. He has The Green Jacket to prove it.

He will defend in April and this time we will have Azalea’s and Dogwood’s blooming once again.

Yellowstone is my favorite show on TV right now and in grand Rip Wheeler fashion it is time to take 2020 on a trip to the Train Station.

Hole In One

By: Mike Anthony news services

The sports world is still a far cry from being normal, but at least one item on my personal checklist returned on Sunday afternoon.

As has happened on countless spring and summer weekends, I accomplished half of the household chores my wife had asked of me, only to be lured to the television – and a nap – by golf.

In a charity event held at the esteemed Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla., Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson defeated Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff in a skins match that raised over $5 million.

With every sport trying to figure out what strange new features will enable them to return to play as soon as possible, golf certainly seems like it can deliver the same sort of product while adhering to safety guidelines.

The lack of a crowd didn’t change my personal viewing experience. If anything, it allowed viewers to take in a spectacular Seminole Club course that had never appeared on television before.

The players wore shorts and carried their own bags, but – if anything – that made the action even more relatable to the high-handicappers watching at home who don’t play with caddies and who would never show up to a course wearing slacks on a muggy Florida afternoon.

Following Sunday’s event, it dawned on me that this could be a huge turning point for the sport and for how players choose to promote themselves.

To be sure, the marquee events on the PGA Tour and the four majors aren’t going anywhere. Ratings will be stellar if and when the tour is able to play its amended major schedule this fall, and attendance at those events figures to remain high as soon as crowds are permitted back on the links.

But as for many other dates on the golf calendar, who’s to say?

While current times are certainly an exception and not a rule, it’s not hard to fathom a future where huge names are reeled in for a payday in exclusive one-off events. Years of ratings prove that viewers follow the game’s biggest stars and plenty of non-pandemic TV specials have raked in tons of money.

If the money is there to be had, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to envision a golf club looking to make a name for itself ponying up the purse to put on a show.

If the television and online streaming eyeballs will be focused on the event, it seems like a no-brainer that top brands might organize an event featuring all the stars under their umbrella putting on a five-hour infomercial for the latest line of products.

Golf has been primetime viewing – at least during the biggest events – ever since Tiger Woods burst onto the scene. But prior to the late 90s, there was little hype for lesser events and nobody outside of the top 10-20 players in the world were getting rich off of the game.

And the truth is, anyone not consistently making cuts and finishing on the first few pages of the leaderboard every week still isn’t exactly a legend at their local bank.

It should come as no surprise that the lowest-level tour events – or those played concurrent to majors or big overseas tournaments – feature no-name players with sparse crowds and not much on the way of possible winnings.

The world’s top players already make more money in endorsements than they do through tournament checks.

If special events can guarantee big paydays – while also offering the lack of excessive media obligations, pro-ams, long days due to slow play from a 150-man field, etc. – there’s little that will stop the world’s top players from ditching smaller tournaments in favor of receiving top billing at a special event.

The Premier Golf League is currently trying to compete with the PGA. It aims to be a more global affair, playing only half as many tournaments while still offering huge purses.

However, many of the game’s biggest names have already declined potential offers to join.

But with more singular, unaffiliated events, it would be easy for big draws to pocket more money without the hassle of worldwide travel or learning the rules and format of an entirely new tour.

The PGA isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but if Sunday’s Seminole showdown proves anything, it’s that there could be more opportunities soon for the world’s top players might call in sick to lesser events in order to sneak out for a round of golf.

No Azaleas

By: Mike Anthony news services

Over a whirlwind 48-hour span, the entire sports world came to a halt. Over the course of a few days.

What started with the NBA suspending its season quickly turned into the NHL following suit, MLB nerve wracking days, a domino effect went into full effect; suspending all operations in the middle of spring training and every collegiate sport coming to a screeching halt.

Lifelong sports fans were in a sort of state of shock as each news update brought about worse news and more cancelations.

By the time Friday, March 13 rolled around, the gravity of the situation still hadn’t quite set in, with plenty of rumors circulating about how quickly everything could get back on track.

And then it happened. The Masters – a shining jewel in American sports and one of the most fiercely protected events and brands in the world – put its annual tournament on hold.

Calendars, warmer weather and the beginning of baseball aside, anyone with roots to the south knows that the true arrival of spring comes during four magical days in April when the world’s best golfers descend upon Augusta National Golf Club.

It is possibly the most mythicized and celebrated tournament in all of sports. It gets played amongst the backdrop of an impossible green and vibrant course.

It has always been a hint to the sports world that it is safe to come outside and play for the spring and summer months.

But just like everything else, the Masters will also be empty.

If there’s one bit of silver lining, it’s that the official scoreboard for the Masters reads ‘postponed’ where so many other events are canceled outright.

Communications from Augusta National have stressed that efforts will be made to hold the tournament at some point. There have also been rumors floating out of Augusta that the club might be aiming for a Masters held in the fall as the course usually shuts down during the summer months.

For as much as the stoppage of other sports stung, the postponement of the Masters may have been the signal to the sports world that the response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic isn’t an overreaction, but rather a very urgent and necessary step to protect the masses.

No golf at Augusta in April is like the constant halts to trading on stock exchange floors. It’s the near total halt of international travel. It’s the empty shelves in stores and longtime local businesses that are now shuttered.

It’s a punch in the gut, is what it is. But hopefully a measure that will work out once the world catches its breath.

This is already guaranteed to be a sports year unlike any other. Here’s hoping that we still get our tradition unlike any other.


Golden Award From Golden Bear

By: Rich Styles news services

Mark David Johnson Jr, lives on St. Simons Island, Ga. He decided to go to school at Western Carolina in NC.

After a couple of years, he decided that he wanted to come home and go to college. He called Coastal Georgia’s golf coach, Mike Cook, and told him he wanted to come home and play golf on the school’s team. Coach Cook said, “of course….come on.”

That was two years ago. Since then, Johnson’s golf game has exploded.

After transferring, his golf game reached new heights. He won several tournaments and earned individual honors including Player of the Year for NAIA, Coastal Georgia’s Men’s Student-Athlete of the Year and most recently, The Jack Nicklaus Award for NAIA Division. Quite a senior year.

Coastal Georgia went to a tournament in Mesa, AZ at the Las Sendas Golf Club. A course, Johnson and the other team members had not played.

They studied the course on the internet. Johnson knew the conditions of the course would be different than others he played throughout his young career.

So, he practiced on similar grass. He chipped and putted for hours. He would also play on various courses but he practiced his short game more than most. It payed off in a big way. His senior year was marked by several wins and a couple of second places until AZ.

At Las Sendas Golf Club, his team was behind by 15 strokes going into the final round.  He and his team mates knew they had to have a great day to catch up.

They caught up but fell short of the team title. Johnson finished tied for first individual honors and entered into a playoff for the title.

He had birdied the 18th hole during the first three rounds, then in the final round, a bogey. The three stepped to the tee on the playoff hole and he knew that he needed to hit quality shots. He did. The others did not.

Johnson birdied the first playoff hole to win the NAIA Individual title and became the first player in the history of Coastal Georgia’s men’s golf program to do so. Coach Cook said, “he is the best player in NAIA this year and it has been sweet to coach him.”

When I interviewed both Coach Cook and Johnson, they both smiled talking about their relationship since his transfer from Western Carolina.

Johnson’s game exploded with winning title after title and then winning the Jack Nicklaus Award for NAIA. He was one of five winners of the award, one for each college division. What does that do for him? Just an opportunity to play one of the hardest golf courses, with a slope rating of 76, for an exemption into a PGA Tour event in July.

He did not win but he did get his chance to meet and talk with 18 Major winner, Jack Nicklaus in Ohio.

As I talked with Johnson on the range at Retreat, he said he didn’t play well against the other division winners, he just could not get his game going. You have to drive the ball well and the rough was…..well let’s say very rough.

On Sunday in a crowded room, he and the others were to receive the award from Jack Nicklaus. Johnson said Jack’s wife Barbara came into the room first and greeted them.

Then the room became silent waiting for the PGA Tour legend.

In he came with his gray jacket and tie, he greeted and took photos with each winner. Johnson said he stayed and talked for over an hour. What a treat and a once in a lifetime experience that will go into his memory bank forever.

One final note, the winner of the Memorial, Patrick Cantley, was a Jack Nicklaus award winner and now a PGA Tour winner. Johnson knows that and looks forward to the challenges ahead of him after graduation.

Congratulations, Mark David Johnson. Well done and well deserved.


Tiger Stripes

By: Mike Anthony news services

Much was made about Tiger Woods’ win at The Masters in April, and for good reason.

Not only did Woods win his 15th major championship, thus stoking the fire on questions about whether he can reach Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record of 18, but he did so after a long and improbable comeback.

Just over a year ago, Woods was barely able to swing a golf club, much less stare down the best players in the world in the game’s most famous tournament.

Before his back issues, there were also well-documented personal setbacks for Woods, leading many to say that the living legend was simply beating himself.

The funny thing is that beating himself – or, rather, a handful of golfers modeling themselves in his image – is exactly what Tiger had to do to claim another major.

When Woods burst onto the pro golf scene in 1996, his approach to the game was different than anything that had been seen before.

Instead of hitting the steakhouse after a round, Tiger spent hours on the range and putting green obsessing over the things that would benefit him the next day.

Instead of palling around with other golfers for a few drinks late at night, Tiger was early to bed and early to rise, putting in running and workouts before a round to help build the overwhelming power that made some traditional course layouts obsolete.

Time is undefeated and untied. No one ever thought that Woods would be hitting 330-yard drives and playing the same number of tournaments at this point of his career. And that wouldn’t be much of a problem if he was still battling the same fields of the 90s and early 00s.

But a very significant byproduct of Woods’ rise to prominence was the impact he had on the generations of golf that came after him. He not only inspired kids to play the game – he inspired them to play HIS game.

So, when Tiger got sidetracked by some bad personal choices and then had his body start to fail him, he wasn’t left with the task of getting back to the point of competing with the likes of the turn-of-the-millennium forty-somethings that he had become accustomed to beating.

Instead, the standard that Woods had to build back up to was that of guys like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Brooks Koepka.

Not only is the top competition for Tiger now young enough to be one of his kids, it’s also had an entire lifetime’s worth of training and attacking the game in the mold set by Tiger more than two decades ago.

And where Woods may have had to search far and wide for a good gym or an indoor hitting bay to get in his extra work 20 years ago, today’s stars have had advances in technology and the added money and interest (thanks to the notoriety brought to the game by Tiger) fueling their training.

So, when Tiger made his Sunday charge at Augusta – and when he tees it up this week at Bethpage Black – he is still battling himself. Everywhere he looks, he’ll be surrounded by teens and twenty somethings who can hit it a mile, have tons of strength and stamina due to exercise and nutrition, and who take preparation and course management far more seriously than the generations of players before it.

Tiger dominated so thoroughly, and for so long, that there was almost no bar left to clear. His influence inadvertently gave him his toughest challenge yet and he was able to conquer that as well.

There’s no telling if Woods can repeat that greatness in a major. Especially since the competition is only getting better while he is only getting older.

But for at least the next week, Tiger Woods is still on top of the golf world, and there is still the prospect for golf fans of seeing a larger-than-life legend do his thing once again.

Teeing It Up For SEC Crown

By: Rich Styles news services

The SEC golf teams converged to Sea Island Resort for the 18th consecutive year to play their golf championship.

They played three days of individual and team play, then after elimination of sex teams, the remaining eight teams competed in match play. The results were surprising.

Auburn as a team smoked the other teams and led the team competition to get into the match play as the #1 seed. Auburn won by 16 shots. They shot -24 while the second-place team, Vanderbilt, shot -8.

Then followed in order by Texas A&M, +3, Kentucky +3, Georgia +6, Tennessee +6, Arkansas +15, South Carolina +16, LSU +17, Ole Miss +22, Missouri +35, Florida +35, Mississippi +38 and Alabama +42. The top 8 teams after Friday’s round advance to match play. The other teams went home.

Individual honors went to Auburn’s Jovan Rebula who beat his own mate, Graysen Huff in a playoff. Many of the past individuals who have won are now on either the PGA Tour or Tour.

Past champions include Michael Thompson (Alabama), Bobby Wyatt (Alabama), Lee McCoy (Georgia), Billy Horschel (Florida), Patton Kizzire (Auburn) and Justin Thomas (Alabama).

Several current PGA Tour players including Keith Mitchell (Georgia) and Thompson walked the par-70 Seaside course to watch their college teams.

On Friday, Seaside showed its teeth with strong winds that resulted in the 14 teams shooting a combined 214 over-par for the day. To play even par with the wind conditions was considered by many as playing under par.

To be able to play even in those conditions was nothing short of patience and determination. Many of these college golfers were being watched by their parents, friends and family and by sports agencies and club manufacturers who would like certain handpicked players to play their brand.

The crowds were about 300-400 people winding their way around the scenic course that hosts the RSM Classic in November.

Over the weekend, the top 8 teams played match play with one team being eliminated each round. That brought #1 seeded Auburn against #7 seed Arkansas on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

The crowds watched some great golf and like many sports, where you finish in the standings sometimes does not matter. Arkansas, which was 39 strokes apart from Auburn as a team, beat them 3.5-1.5. Quite an accomplishment for a team that was not picked to win this tournament.

Yet, as a team, they won. Julian Perico, the only Razorback to win all three of his match play contests, was tied with Grayson Huff through 17 holes.

Perico struck his tee shot like it was out of a cannon, while his playing partner had to play out of the fairway bunker. Bottom line, Perico won with a par and Arkansas was on their way to the SEC Golf Championship.

The SEC is known for football but now must be known for golf.  All 14 schools received NCAA bids in 2018. Probably most will for 2019. Since 2013, the SEC has been represented in the NCAA championship match play every year.

The SEC Men’s Golf has won 3 National Championships in the last 6 years; 7 SEC teams ranked in the top 25, 8 Arnold Palmer Cup team members in 2018, most by any conference; 9 PGA Tour winners in the 2017-2018 season and 5 Major PGA Tour wins since 2000 including 2 Masters…Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed. Watson went to UGA and so did Reed however, Reed left UGA.

Great golf under some difficult conditions and greater golf over the match play earns the SEC Golf Championship to Arkansas.

Lights, Camera, Action

By: JJ Lanier news services

At some point there will be a major motion picture about Tiger Woods.

All the plot points are there- a child prodigy with an overbearing father who becomes one of the most, if not the most, famous athlete in world; an earth-shattering fall from grace due to injuries (both emotional and physical, many self-inflicted), followed by a miraculous return back to the top of his profession.

It’s going to happen, it’s just a question as to who will inevitably garner an Oscar nomination for playing the role.

Whether you root for Tiger or against him- and the lists on both sides are long and justified- when you consider what has transpired over the past 10-15 years it’s hard to argue there has been a more impressive feat in sports history than him winning the Masters. And if there is, it has to be a pretty short list, right?

The fact his first major championship victory took place in Augusta, at arguably the most renowned golf course in the country, just makes the whole event that much more delectable.

I’m sure he would’ve taken a win at any of the four majors, but there’s something about him accomplishing it at the Masters that makes it that much more satisfying.

Over the last few years, whenever Tiger has produced rounds that flashed glimpses of his old self, we’ve been bombarded with “Tiger’s back” articles and talking points.

With this win I imagine those will only increase over the following weeks. If he is truly back and winds up winning a few more tournaments over the course of the season, I’ll be interested to see how he is embraced.

To me, one of the best parts to come out of all this, and something I believe is being overlooked, is that there is a completely new generation of golf fans who were able to witness it.

How many times growing up did you see an athlete towards the end of his or her career and wish you could have seen them in their prime? I’m not saying Tiger is in his prime, but what he pulled off would be comparable to Michael Jordan leading the Wizards to NBA championship during his return.

Like Nicklaus in ‘86, this will become a “Where were you?” moment.

I am currently on the cusp of turning 39. I eat healthy, workout three to four times and week, and all things considered am in very good shape for someone my age. My knees also routinely pop when I stand up, I wake up multiple times during the night, and seem to have acquired a love/hate relationship with dairy.

I mention this because not only is winning the Masters an impressive achievement, but to be the second oldest ever to do it at 43 makes it all the more incredible.

There’s a line in “The Dark Knight” when Harvey Dent (Two Face) says “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Now I’m not sure Tiger Woods has ever been close to dying as the hero, but he sure knows what it’s like to go from hero to villain….and now possibly back to hero.

I have no idea if Tiger’s Masters win is the beginning of his redemption story, or merely the closing highlight at the end of a remarkable career. Either way, it’s a story made for Hollywood and we’re all lucky to have been able to witness it.

Pouncing Tiger

By: Mike Anthony news services

When Tiger Woods won the 2005 Masters tournament, it was hard to imagine there would ever be a time when he wasn’t in contention at Augusta.

That win was Wood’s ninth major victory and began a stretch of four victories in a stretch of eight majors contested.

But, for the past decade, it was easy to wonder if he’d ever be in contention again as personal and physical problems kept Woods off the course far too often and rendered him ineffective in most majors where he was able to participate.

Everything came full-circle on Sunday afternoon at Augusta National.

Woods trailed for the first 12 holes, but as the top of the leaderboard swelled and the drama heightened, Woods – as he has done so many times before – was the only one who could stare down the pressure.

Tiger was the only player in the final group to avoid the infamous waters of Rae’s Creek on No. 12. He made birdies on each of the par 5s on the second nine, the second of which gave him the outright lead for the first time in the tournament.

And then, with several players still in contention and attempting a late charge, Tiger flipped the switch on his own personal time machine, briefly turning into the nearly unstoppable force from years ago. Woods’ tee shot on No. 16 judged the large slope in the green perfectly and nearly grazed the hole to set up an easy birdie and a two-stroke lead.

On No. 17, commentators speculated about Woods’ choice to hit driver instead of a safer tee shot with a 3-wood, but the second-guessing had barely gone out over the airwaves before Tiger unleashed one of his biggest drives of the day and stalked it down the fairway, wearing a stoic and determined gaze the whole way.

Up at the 18th green, thousands of patrons had heard cheers from farther down the course and they turned their eyes to the scoreboard. With no one able to birdie No. 18 to put the pressure on Woods, the updated scoreboard showing a two-stroke lead unleashed a roar that was the loudest of the week, the volume and emotion of it capable of being produced only by Tiger Woods.

There was still some work to do and Woods made bogey on No. 18, but the tournament was all but sealed when he chipped safely onto the green and just barely missed a par putt before tapping in for his fifth green jacket and 15th major championship.

Speaking in an interview less than an hour after clinching his win, Woods said it still hadn’t sunk in. But for the thousands surrounding the 18th green and likely millions more watching on television and reacting on social media, the gravity of the moment was immediate and cathartic.

Press members who have covered Woods throughout his career were hopeful for him throughout the week and were openly cheering his clutch shots down the final stretch. Fellow golfers – both young and old – stuck around the 18th green to bear personal witness to Woods’ return to the top.

And then there was Woods’ family.

Tiger and his father famously embraced after his first Masters victory in 1997. Woods also had one of his most public showings of emotion in 2006 after the death of his father when he discussed not having him there at the end of his Open Championship victory.

The full scope of the major drought came when a new family member made an appearance behind the 18th green. Woods’ son, Charlie, raced into Tiger’s arms for a celebratory hug. Charlie was born in 2009, eight months after Tiger’s 2008 U.S. Open victory – his final major win until Sunday.

“I’m so happy that my kids could be here to see me win and to celebrate,” Woods said. “For a few years (while battling health issues), all they saw was that golf caused me pain. Today, they get to see how happy I am to play this game that I love.”

New Golf Course

By: Mike Anthony news services

A decade ago, professional golf was mostly relegated to the man caves of middle-aged dads as they napped their way through Sunday rounds while winding down their weekends.

Since then, a swarm of young talent has brought the game much closer to the sports mainstream. Not only are the current stars a far cry from the beer-bellied prototypes of pros from previous eras, they’re also personable to crowds, all over social media and – most importantly – better than any generation of golfers that has ever come through the sport.

Players like Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler have started to move the needle, and resurgences from the old guard of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have resulted in plenty of drama.

The changing of guard from one generation to the next is enough of a storyline to hook in the usual golf fans, but the shakeup to this year’s schedule could be the spark that ignites a burst in ratings for the game.

For years, the golf schedule religiously held to the same timing for its biggest events, inadvertently causing lulls of a month or more in viewing for the casual fans. This time around, the season will feature a schedule that features marquee events in six consecutive months.

The big shakeup begins in March as the Players’ Championship jumps forward on the calendar by nearly two months. The Masters will hold its usual spot in early April, with the PGA Championship cutting in front of the other two majors by moving from August to May.

That leaves the U.S. Open for its normal spot in the blistering heat of June, followed by every golf fan’s guilty pleasure of sneaking out of bed early to catch the (very) early morning rounds of the British Open in July. With the PGA already done, the season will bump up it’s big-money Fed-Ex Cup playoff, culminating with the Tour Championship in Atlanta in late August.

It remains to be seen how viewership and attendance will respond to the drastic change, but it seems to be a shrewd move for a sport that has always had a massive casual following while lacking the ticket gate and sponsorship revenue of the traditional major sports.

Golf may have just played its hand perfectly.

In an industry where leagues are struggling to get fans to come to games instead of going to bars or purchasing all-inclusive television packages, golf has spent a decade investing in technology and information beamed right onto the screens of everyone watching the action at home.

And while every other sport is locked into a schedule that lends it to lapses in attention from casual fans, golf has made the decision to condense what had been a very scattered 10 months of tournaments – many of which weren’t featuring top players – into six months of better tournament fields that see the four majors bookended by the next biggest player and viewer draws of the season.

If golf was a sports franchise, this is when all of its fans would be starting to get excited.

Golf had some down years in the early 2010’s, but it took a step back and evaluated its position. It developed a young group of talent that can produce for years to come, it still has the star power of old veterans and – thanks to the new schedule – it’s got some sleek new packaging that will catch the eye of more than just the die-hard fans.

So, for all of the lazy Sunday dads out there, watch out. Your regularly scheduled nap is going to be interrupted by a lot more excitement this year.