What you missed: Golfers pay tribute to Kobe Bryant, The Players Championship purse increases, talks of a World Tour resurface and two Australian victories on Australia Day
Australia Day was a strange one for golf. On the one hand, it included a new European Tour record for Sebastian Soderberg, a maiden title for Lucas Herbert, and a fifth PGA Tour title for Marc Leishman. But it was also one full of shock and sadness, as it was confirmed during the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open that one of sports’ great superstars, basketball legend Kobe Bryant, had been killed in a helicopter crash in California that morning, along with his 13 year old daughter Gianna and seven others.
Tiger Woods led the tributes after being asked about Kobe, who he had known for over 20 years, following his round, while others shared what he meant to them on social media.
Elsewhere, it was a week in golf that had big announcements regarding various Tours: The LET received the boost it needed with the confirmation of seven new events and an extra €4.9million in prize funds, the Players Championship announced golf’s biggest event single event purse, and talk resurfaced about the prospect of a world Tour.
Here’s what you missed.
Tiger Woods leads tribute as golfers react to tragic death of Kobe Bryant, 41
Tiger Woods was one of a number of golf’s top players to pay tribute to basketball superstar and LA Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who were two of seven people that were killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning in California.
The tragic accident occured during the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open. Some players, like Bubba Watson, found out mid-round, but Woods was only informed by his caddie after walking off the 18th green.
“I didn’t know until Joey just told me coming off the 18th green,” Woods told CBS Sports after the round.
“I didn’t understand why people in the gallery were saying, ‘Do it for Mamba.’ Now I understand. It’s a shocker to everyone. I’m unbelievably sad, and it’s one of the more tragic days. The reality is setting in because I was just told about 5 minutes ago.
“Life is very fragile as we all know,” added Woods, who had known Bryant for 20 years and grew up as a Lakers fan.
“You can be gone at any given time and we have to appreciate the moments that we have. I just can’t imagine what his family’s going through right now.”
Others who talked about the influence of Kobe Bryant on them included Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka, who referred to the 18-time NBA All-Star as his hero.
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Marc Leishman wins fifth PGA Tour title at Farmers Insurance Open
Marc Leishman made it an Australia Day double on the European and PGA Tour’s as he powered to a one-stroke victory at the Farmers Insurance Open on 15-under-par, holding off a late comeback from Jon Rahm.
With a final round round seven under 65, Leishman made the most of early stutters from Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy at Torrey Pines as he came from four behind to win with the joint best round of the day – despite hitting just three fairways.
“I saw that the guys out front didn’t get off to the best start and then that really got my determination up,” said Leishman, who birdied his final hole to guarantee victory.
“I’ve led here early in the last round maybe once or twice and let it slip. I was very determined to not let that happen again.
“I didn’t really ever imagine I would be a five‑time TOUR winner, to be honest. As a kid you don’t expect this. You dream to be on the PGA TOUR one day and all of a sudden to have five victories, it’s a great feeling.
“So I feel lucky. This is a pretty sweet victory just because I’ve come close here a few times. From my first year on TOUR I felt like this is a place I could win at and then to finally do it my 12th year on TOUR is really satisfying.”
Lucas Herbert clinches play-off for maiden European Tour title at Omega Dubai Desert Classic
Lucas Herbert emerged as the surprise winner on Sunday as the early leaders struggled with the testing weather conditions and fell out of contention, defeating Christiaan Bezuidenhout on the second play-off hole.
Bezuidenhout held a two stroke lead in the 18th fairway but a costly mistake left him with a final hole bogey to open the door for Herbert, who finished his round with back-to-back birdies to force sudden-death.
It looked like Bezuidenhout then had the advantage on the first trip back up the 18th after Herbert found the water with his ‘worst ever shot’, but he managed to scramble a par before going on to hit the longest drive of the tournament at the next and making birdie to clinch his first European Tour title.
“It’s the best thing ever, it’s so good,” Herbert said after his win, before referencing the fires in his home country of Australia. “We’ve got a bottle of scotch at home to celebrate back in Australia so I can’t wait to get into that with the boys.
“There’s some pretty average stuff happening in Australia right now with the fires and Cam Smith said it a couple of weeks ago when he won, everyone around the world is behind us and hopefully we can keep fighting harder than what I did on that first play-off hole.
“That’s nothing compared to the firefighters and volunteers that are putting out the fires so i’m sending all my love back home.”
Sebastian Soderberg sets record pace on Sunday in Dubai
It took Sebastian Soderberg just 96 minutes to play 75 shots (three-over) during his final round at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, recording a new European Tour record.
The Swede decided to make the most of his solo tee time on Sunday with his brother on the bag, recording a birdie at the fourth hole and bogeys at the sixth, seventh, 15th and 16th holes.
His new record bested the time set by Thomas Pieters at last year’s Italian Open by 23 minutes.
“I felt like it would be a fun thing to do, and didn’t necessarily think it would hurt my game too much,” said Soderberg, whose final round 75 left him at 10-over for the tournament.
“I said we’ll try go as fast as possible the first five, six holes.
“I took a little time on putts and shots and ran in between, and I played quite well in the beginning so we just kept going.
“I struggled the last two days so I figured it wouldn’t really hurt my game just to jog in between and not think too much. I think three over is not bad, with zero fairways hit.”
Rory McIlroy says talk of World Golf Tour resurfacing may be “catalyst for some changes” on PGA Tour
Talk of a World Golf Tour has come and gone for more than two decades, but the idea seems to be firmly back on the table.
Geoff Shackleford first reported news that organisers of British Based company World Golf Group are making another bid to begin a ‘Premier Golf League’ with 18 events a season.
While a statement was initially released on Friday on behalf of the Premier Golf League (PGL) to say they did not want to comment further, PGL then sent out a detailed press release on Saturday to publicy confirm the structure of their plan for a new global golf tour, which they would aim to launch in 2022.
The proposed Tour would feature the world’s top 48 players.and be comprised of 18 events a year, with each tournament boasting prize money of $10 million. Ten of the 18 events would be in the United States, and each event would have three rounds with no cut.
Its statement also said the tour would be “an individual and team league” with 12 teams of four players vying for a world championship, as they argue the current Tour’s are outdated.
“If you want the world to watch, you have to showcase your best product, week-in-week-out. Golf doesn’t do that currently,” the statement said.
The concept from WGG was first reported by Reuters in 2018, and Rory McIlroy confirmed that the company have been in talks with players for years. And while no players have committed to the Tour, McIlroy did say it might be a catalyst for much needed change on the current PGA Tour.
“Those guys have been talking to a few of us for six years,” said McIlroy.
“They approached me at the end of 2014. They have exploited a couple of holes in the system the way golf at the highest level is nowadays and how it’s sort of transitioned from a competition tour to entertainment, right? It’s on TV, it’s people coming out to watch. It’s definitely a different time than what it was before.
“I love the PGA Tour, I love the way golf is set up right now. I certainly wouldn’t want to lose what’s been built in the last 40 or 50 years, tournaments like this (Torrey Pines), tournaments like Riviera, everything that we have gotten to know and love over the years. It might be a catalyst for some changes on this tour that can help it grow and move forward and reward the top players the way they should be.”
Phil Mickelson also spoke about the concept, revealing he was ‘curious’.
“I’m curious but I don’t know enough to talk about it,” Mickelson said. “I’m listening to it. I think it’s intriguing, but I just don’t know enough about it to comment publicly. I hope to learn more.”
When approached about the prospect of another tour, European Tour’s chief executive Keith Pelley said “We’re not in the habit of talking about the business of other tours, whether they are true or fictional.
“We focus on the business of our tour and the growth that we’re having right now so I don’t really have much more to say.
“I think they’ve been trying to move forward for eight years but I can’t comment on other tours. I wouldn’t comment on the business of the PGA Tour or certainly one that is not real.”
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan released an official statement after holding a meeting with players
“We don’t comment on the business of other tours, real or hypothetical,” the statement read.
And while there will certainly be obstacles to overcome for this to come to fruition, the PGL remain upbeat about the prospect of, insisting they wanted to “work with, rather than challenge, existing tours for the betterment of golf”.
The Players Championship Prize Fund rises to $15million
The PGA Tour are raising the prize funds at The Players Championship to $15 million, according to the Associated Press, which will make it the largest purse in golf.
The Tour’s flagship event had already shared that mantle last year with the U.S. Open, which each had prize funds of $12.5 million, but will now gain that title on its own unless any of the majors decide to match the $2.5 million increase.
Last year, the The Masters had a purse of $11.5 million, the PGA Championship offered $11 million and the Open Championship’s was $10.75 million.
It means that the winner of this year’s event at TPC Sawgrass, which takes place from March 12-15, will receive $2.7 million.
“It feels like it keeps going up and up and up,” said Jason Day, who won the title in 2016. “That’s great. I’m not complaining.”
The news was announced to players last week by PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan.
Ladies European Tour announces 2020 schedule with seven new events and more prize money
There was a big boost for women’s golf last week as the Ladies European Tour announced seven new events to their 2020 schedule, and an increase of €4.5 million on 2019 to be won across the season.
The news comes a few days after Alexandra Armas was named as the Tour’s CEO, and less than two months after players voted in favour of a new joint venture with the LPGA Tour which aimed to increase both financial and playing opportunities.
The new schedule includes;
• €18M record-breaking total prize fund
• 24 tournaments, including 15 in Europe and the Olympic Games in August
• Seven new events and seven more with purses of more than €500,000
• Biggest-ever full-field prize fund: $1M in Saudi Arabia; €1.5M mixed event with the European Tour in Sweden and a $1.1M event to be announced
• New Race to Costa del Sol provides biggest-ever LET bonus pool
“The LET and the LPGA only began working together in September 2019, but we’ve been blown away with the results in the first 90 days and the positive response from across the golf industry,” said LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan, who is also the Chair of the new Joint Venture Board between the LET and LPGA.
“With overall purse increases and seven new events, our athletes will have more opportunities for success. It’s exciting to think what we can accomplish after a full year of working with our new Board. We have a long way to go, but I’m so happy to say that this is the best position that European women’s professional golf has ever been in.”
The new 2020 LET schedule will include two new events in Sweden: the €1.5 million Scandinavian Mixed Hosted by Henrik & Annika, and the Creekhouse Ladies Open. There is also a new $1 million event in Saudi Arabia, The Saudi Ladies Championship, as well as the Mithra Belgian Ladies Open, the Dutch Ladies Open and the VP Bank Swiss Ladies Open.