This week’s Cut Line is all about extremes, with the rule makers keeping it simple with the most recent edition of the Rules of Golf, while things have gotten far too complicated for officials trying to bring an East Lake-like revival to New Orleans. Made Cut Young and restless. There are those who will attempt to characterize rookies winning the first two events on the PGA Tour schedule as a recent trend, but in truth it’s all part of a larger narrative that’s been building for some time. Before we dub the 2015-16 season Gen Next’s turn, consider that the average age of the top three players in the Official World Golf Ranking is 25 and the last two Player of the Year award winners were in their 20s. Emiliano Grillo, winner of the season-opening Frys.com Open, and Smylie Kaufman, last week’s champion in Las Vegas, are extremely talented, fearless, young and all part of a larger move in professional golf that has become a reality – 25 is the new 35. Favorable rulings. With the exception of the impending ban on anchoring, this week’s release of the 2016 edition of the Rules of Golf was a victory for common sense. The R&A and USGA adjusted the rules for signing an incorrect scorecard, the movement of a golf ball at address and the use of a training aid or artificial device during a round, all with an eye toward equity and general fairness. It’s all part of a movement among the game’s rule makers to simplify a game that is, at least to your average fan, undermined by the small print of the rulebook. “The stated objective is to find a way to simplify the rules, that’s our primary focus moving forward,” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of the Rules of Golf. “It’s a balancing act of inserting fairness, but also the ultimate goal of making it more simple.” Count this as unsolicited advice, but Cut Line would like to see the powers that be take a hard look at “stroke and distance” penalties and something called a “match adjustment.” Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF) Rory resurfaces. There have been concerns about his putting and doubts he has completely recovered from the ankle injury that caused him to miss the Open Championship, but all along Rory McIlroy has remained at ease with his comeback. So far this week at the Turkish Airlines Open he’s shown why pundits and couch potatoes alike should stay away from the panic button, opening his week with back-to-back 67s for a spot inside the top 10. In a relatively short amount of time McIlroy has proven himself adept at enduring the ebb and flow of the game; whether one chooses to acknowledge his track record doesn’t change the facts. Missed Cut Park place. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina officials in New Orleans moved to turn City Park, a sprawling public park with multiple golf courses adjacent gto a public housing development, into an East Lake-like project complete with an 18-hole championship golf course. The $13 million course is being designed by Rees Jones and has been cited as a possible host of the Zurich Classic by 2020, but ongoing resistance to the project, including local opposition to green fees that will range between $45 and $125, has again slowed the project. Tom Cousins, who led the restoration of East Lake in Atlanta and the surrounding area and has now turned his attention to bringing the concept to other cities, once told Cut Line that City Park was perfectly positioned for an East Lake-like transformation, but the politics of the Crescent City has proven to be a formidable opponent. Even if you don’t play golf, or see the need for an 18-hole championship course, anyone who has ever marveled at the state-of-the-art Charles R. Drew Charter School adjacent to East Lake can attest to what golf can do for a community. Turf wars. Although not exactly a cold war, the gulf between the PGA Tour and European Tour has become much more chilly in recent months. The rift began when the Tour released its crowded 2015-16 schedule which included the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational played opposite the European Tour’s French Open, which is one of that circuit’s premier events. The European Tour responded by removing the World Golf Championship event from its schedule and declaring that any earnings won at the Bridgestone by European players wouldn’t count toward the Ryder Cup points list or Race to Dubai. “Europe had to take the position they couldn’t sanction it, which was unfortunate,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. “It was a ripple effect of the Olympics and hopefully we’ll figure out a solution for next time.” The transatlantic turf war seems to have escalated in recent weeks, with players such as Ian Poulter and Paul Casey wedged between the two circuits. Some have even suggested the European Tour should yield to this pressure and reduce its minimum number of events (which is now 13), but many of the circuit’s core players see no need, including Poulter. “You can’t expect the European Tour to roll over and allow all their guys to disappear,” Poulter said this week in Turkey. “It really is the one thing that’s kept the European Tour together, the Ryder Cup.” Perhaps a global tour, a Darwinian amalgamation of the game’s top tournaments, is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean the European Tour shouldn’t have a say in what that future looks like.
DOHA, Qatar – Branden Grace successfully defended his Qatar Masters title on Saturday, becoming the first player to do so since the tournament began in 1998. The South African shot a 3-under 69 on another wind-swept day at Doha Golf Club to win the second leg of the European Tour’s so-called ”Desert Swing” by two shots over Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello (70) and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen (71). Grace shot an overall 14-under 274 for his seventh European Tour title. Scotland’s Paul Lawrie, the overnight leader by two shots, faded away with a 78 and finished tied for 13th at 281, while Spain’s Sergio Garcia (70) shared seventh alongside South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen (71) at 8-under 280. Grace made the turn at 1 under with a lone bogey on the fifth after starting with a birdie and adding another on the sixth hole. The turning point came on the par-5 ninth, where Lawrie pulled his tee shot way left and finished with a double bogey to hand over the sole lead to Grace. Grace is a traditionally strong finisher on the tough back nine here and the highlight Saturday was smashing his tee shot 327 yards on the par-5 18th, followed by an iron to 30 feet away and two-putting for a birdie. ”To win is tough, but to defend is even tougher,” Grace said. ”It’s brutal conditions out there.” Cabrera-Bello had one birdie and one double bogey in his first 15 holes, but finished in better weather with three straight birdies. ”It’s just a tough day, it was common to make mistakes,” he said.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Sunday was supposed to be a special day in Danny Willett’s life. If all had gone as initially scheduled, his first child would have been born. And, if that had been the case, Willett would have been in Sheffield, England with his wife Nicole when Zachariah James – their first child – arrived. But Zachariah made his first public appearance on March 30 after a C-section and, after talking it over with Nicole, Danny decided to come and play in his second Masters. Now, he’ll be coming back forever. On the day when he thought he would become a father, Willett became a Masters champion. Playing three groups in front of the week-long leader, Jordan Spieth, he shot a solid, bogey-free 67. And, like everyone else, Willett was stunned when Spieth completely collapsed going through Amen Corner, playing the 10th, 11th and 12th holes in bogey, bogey, quadruple bogey. Spieth had birdied the last four holes on the first nine to go out in 32 and had a five-shot lead as he made the turn. It seemed almost inevitable that the second nine holes would be a coronation march to Spieth’s second straight Masters title. But, as Greg Norman often said, there’s a reason why golf is a four-letter word. Until Sunday, the most memorable collapse in Masters history was Norman’s loss to Nick Faldo from six shots ahead in the final round 20 years ago. On that day, Faldo shot a bogey-free 67 (to Norman’s 78) and made the comment that he hoped people would remember that he played well, not just that Norman played poorly. Masters Tournament: Day 4 Tracker Masters Tournament: Articles, photos and videos “I hope they’ll remember that I came through with a very good day,” Faldo said that day. ”But I suppose they’ll talk more about Greg when all is said and done.” They did. And they have. But that doesn’t change the fact that Faldo did play superbly that day. The same is true of Willett, whose performance was all the more remarkable given his lack of experience in major championships. Faldo’s win in 1996 was his third at the Masters and his sixth major title, in all. Willett was playing in his 12th major and had one top-10 finish – last year’s Open Championship where he tied for sixth – on his resume. For most of the day, it looked as if he would add a second solid finish and perhaps his first top-five to that record. But a win? “I thought we had to get to 6 under or 7 under,” Willett said. “Then I looked up and Jordan was already at 7 under. After that it became a little bit surreal.” To put it mildly. Willett began the day in a tie for fifth place, three shots back of Spieth. Willett was on the 12th hole, having birdied the sixth and the eighth when Spieth rolled in a long birdie putt at the ninth. Willett was in second place, but still – as he noted – trailed Spieth by five shots. And then, while Willett was birdieing Nos. 13 and 14, Spieth was suffering one of the most stunning and inexplicable collapses in golf history – most notably at the 12th, where he mis-hit his tee shot, chunked his wedge even more dramatically and then bounced his fifth shot into the back bunker. From there, he made a very good up-and-down for 7. Suddenly, as he walked off the 15th green, Willett was leading the Masters – by one shot over the man he was paired with, Lee Westwood. “I heard the groaning or oohing or whatever the sound was,” Willett said. “I looked behind me and saw what had happened.” He smiled. “For a second I thought it was a joke and they were going to change it and put a 7 back up there.” They didn’t. If there was ever a moment for nerves to hit WIllett, it was as he stood on the 16th tee. He never blinked, hitting an 8-iron to within 8 feet and holing the putt for birdie. When Westwood three-putted from 50-feet, Willett had gone from trailing the leader by five to leading by three in less than an hour. Athletes in any sport will tell you that the most difficult thing to do when you are close to a dream is to stay in the present – in this case to not think about putting on a green jacket. Taking his time, taking deep breaths before every shot, Willett got up-and-down from just off the 17th green for par and then hit two sterling shots on 18 to set up a two-putt par. When his final putt went in, he hugged his caddie, Jonathan Smart, as if he had just won the Masters. Spieth still had a chance, having somehow calmed his shattered nerves long enough to birdie Nos. 13 and 15. But when he missed a curling 8-foot birdie putt at 16, then missed the green at 17 and made bogey, it was over. “Words can’t really describe it,” Willett said, wearing the green jacket that will be part of his life forever. “I’ve won a few times in the past, but this is a different league. It will take a while for it to sink in.” While he waited for Spieth to finish, Willett called Nicole. “The line was a bit crackly,” he said. “I think she said, ‘well done.’” That’s putting it mildly. Willett was a late bloomer as a junior golfer in England and had accepted a scholarship offer from Jacksonville State (Alabama) before he began to win more tournaments and drew more attention. He kept his commitment to coach James Hobbs and spent two years there before turning pro. His career has been on the rise for the past several years and included a third-place finish in the WGC-Dell Match Play a year ago and the sixth-place finish at St. Andrews last summer. He decided to pass on joining the PGA Tour this year because of the impending arrival of his son. “I guess he heard my prayers and knew he had to come early,” Willett said. “I’m not sure what’s been more thrilling today or last Tuesday. I’m not sure which one it’s politically correct to say.” Informed that it was the birth of his son, Willett, the son of a preacher, smiled. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “It really was amazing.” So was Sunday. Spieth’s pain was Willett’s joy; Spieth’s near-miss changed Willett’s life – at the age of 28 – in ways he could not begin to imagine, certainly not yet. On the 18th green, just before he tapped in his final putt, Willett took off the white sweater he’d been wearing all day to reveal the green shirt he was wearing. “I was warm, really,” Willett said. Then he smiled again. “And I thought the green looked a little better.” He now has the green every golfer dreams about owning. Because he stayed home until the last possible minute, Willett didn’t arrive in Augusta until Monday evening. Since he was the 89th – and last – player to register, Smart wore No. 89 on his white caddie jumpsuit. He won’t be wearing that number next year. Every player at the Masters receives his number based on when he registers. Except the previous year’s champion. He gets No. 1. Regardless of when he arrives a year from now, that will be Willett’s number. And while people will remember Spieth’s collapse, there is no doubt that Willett earned his victory.
ATLANTA – The knock against Tim Finchem for the better part of two decades has been that he lacks a sense of humor. That assessment didn’t exactly change on Tuesday at East Lake, but it did improve, however slightly. In what was billed as Finchem’s final “formal” news conference as PGA Tour commissioner, the 69-year-old attempted to alter his public persona by reading a series of pointed comments from various media, be it social or otherwise. “Wake me when Tim Finchem is finished speaking, #InductionCeremony,” read one observation. Another seemed to cut a little too close to home: “The more I study this Tim Finchem transcript on the anchoring issue, the more I like Bud Selig.” “That one really hurts, actually,” Finchem frowned. And finally, “Will Tim Finchem ever retire, or will he take Queen Elizabeth’s method of ruling until death?” “I used to threaten to do that, but then I realized, if I tried it, someone would probably kill me anyway,” Finchem laughed. Actually, Finchem’s retirement has been looming for some time. In March, the Tour named Jay Monahan the circuit’s deputy commissioner and chief operating officer to solidify a succession plan, and Finchem was given a one-year extension to his current contract that expires next June to allow him to tie up some loose ends. If the tone of Tuesday’s news conference was any indication, Finchem will be stepping down well before next summer. In fact, it seems likely that he’ll turn the keys to the kingdom over to Monahan at the end of this year, which at least partially explains his uncharacteristically comic approach at East Lake. In his two decades running the show, Finchem has largely avoided levity of any kind. It must have been a lawyer thing, or maybe he’d just never taken the time to see the lighter side of the business. Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos Time, however, is about to become a commodity for Finchem. “I’ll try to reverse the ratio of practicing golf and playing golf, which I get a fair amount of practice in. I don’t get to play very much,” Finchem said of his plan for his golden years. He’ll also take some time to reflect on what has been an eventful tenure at the Tour. Until now, that kind of contemplation has been a luxury Finchem hasn’t had much interest in making. Even on Tuesday, on the eve of his final turn as commissioner at an event he helped transition from a sleepy way to put a bow on the season to a cash grab that has made golf relevant during a time of year that is ruled by football, Finchem was still viewing things from 30,000 feet. Asked what he considers his legacy, Finchem spoke of the Tour “team,” the impact the circuit has had on growing the game and deferred to his predecessor Deane Beman. “Deane Beman is a legacy. When Deane Beman became commissioner in ’74, the net worth of the PGA Tour was $150,000,” Finchem said. Although Beman’s impact on the growth of the Tour is legendary, the facts suggest Finchem might be playing the modesty card. In 2014, the Tour reported $2.21 billion in total assets according to the circuit’s tax filings. It’s no secret that the Tour’s meteoric rise dovetailed with Tiger Woods’ climb to stardom, and many mistakenly attribute the circuit’s growth entirely to the former world No. 1; but that ignores Finchem’s savvy ability to sidestep predictable growing pains. “[Woods’] domination at a time when you’re bringing more and more good players along, is incredible. It lifted all boats,” Finchem said. “By ’98, Tiger was dominant. So the questions were, How do you manage to grow the Tour when your dominant player is playing 17 or 18 times and you have 46 events? How does that work?” In the 20 years since Woods joined the Tour, the number of events has remained virtually unchanged, with the ’96 schedule featuring 48 official events compared to this year’s 46 tournaments. The FedEx Cup, which entered its 10th season this year, is probably Finchem’s most high-profile addition to the Tour landscape, with the four-event postseason checking all the right boxes – meaningful golf that includes nearly all of the top players late into the fall. Finchem also oversaw the introduction of the World Golf Championships, the growth of the Presidents Cup, The Players transition to May, the creation of the First Tee and golf’s return to the Olympics. But it hasn’t always been unicorns and rainbows for Finchem in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. There have been missteps under his watch, perhaps the most glaring of those was the 2001 lawsuit filed by Casey Martin to use a golf cart in Tour events. Whatever the reason Finchem & Co. felt compelled to dig in against what has been a non-issue ever since, the circuit was left to look like bullies in the end. Similarly, Vijay Singh’s ongoing lawsuit against the Tour over his run-in with the organization’s anti-doping program is starting to look similarly shortsighted; and there are those who contend the commissioner doesn’t look out for the rank-and-file players. But even Finchem’s most vocal detractors concede that he’s been a savvy leader through some difficult times, like the economic crisis in 2008 that coincided with Woods’ competitive struggles. Despite the worst financial environment since the Great Depression, Finchem’s Tour didn’t lose a single tournament or playing opportunity for its members. Whatever Finchem’s legacy, he left the Tour better then it was when he took over, and in the ultimate nod to his leadership abilities he also realizes the need for new ideas. Never much for jokes, Finchem wrapped up his final news conference with a similarly out-of-character smile, “It’s time for the organization to continue to morph. That’s more important.”
DOHA, Qatar – Welsh golfer Bradley Dredge still led the Qatar Masters after the renowned gusts returned for the second round on Friday, but he had company. Eight others caught him to create a nine-way tie for the lead, a European Tour record. The last time nine players were tied on top was after the first round of the 1997 Wales Open, but this was the first time in Tour history so many led after 36 holes. Dredge was the only one of the nine not to finish under par. His par-72 gave him an 8-under total of 136. Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters The gusts made playing more difficult in the afternoon, and only three players from the afternoon groups – South Korea’s Wang Jeunghun (67), South Africa’s Jaco van Zyl (69), Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat (70) – managed to make a move. Morning players including Spain’s Jorge Campilo (67), South African Thomas Aiken (68) and England’s Ryder Cup star Andy Sullivan (68) were all bogey-free for their rounds. Finland’s Mikko Kornohen, who shot a 65 in the opening round, also joined the leaders with a 71 that included a double bogey on the ninth hole. Another Spaniard, Nacho Alvira (69), completed the group. Another seven players were one shot behind, and 10 players, including world No. 10 Alex Noren of Sweden (70), the highest ranked player in the field, and Ernie Els (70) were two shots back. The day’s best round was a 6-under 66 by England’s Jordan Smith, who graduated after winning the European Challenge Tour Order of Merit last year, and American David Lipsky. Among those who missed the cut at 2-under 142 was Tommy Fleetwood of England, who won in Abu Dhabi last week but finished at 2 over this week. Two-time major champion Martin Kaymer of Germany squeezed through for the weekend exactly on the cutline.
ADELAIDE, Australia – Ha Na Jang had an eagle and three birdies over her last six holes in a superb finish Sunday that set up a three-shot victory in the Women’s Australian Open. ”It’s a really good, strong finish. That is why it’s good sport today,” the South Korean said after closing with a 4-under 69 to finish at 10 under at Royal Adelaide. No. 6-ranked Jang regained her composure after opening with a bogey in the last round and finished three shots ahead of Nanna Madsen of Denmark, who finished with an even-par 73 for a 7-under total 285. Full-field scores from the Women’s Australian Open ”The first hole I was very nervous on the tee because I want to make birdie at every hole, more aggressive and try that,” said Jang, who claimed her fourth LPGA title and her first of the year. ”After hole No. 1 it’s really tough day.” Haru Nomura, the 2016 champion, closed with a 73 to finish in a four-way tie for third place at 6 under with No. 2-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand and Australians Minjee Lee and Sarah Jane Smith. Lizette Salas started Sunday with a two-stroke lead but struggled in the last round and closed with a 5-over 78 to fade into a share of seventh place at 5 under with six others, including fellow Americans Beth Allen, Marina Alex and Canadian Maude-Aimee Leblanc in the LPGA event. Top-ranked Lydia Ko, with a new coach and new clubs, finished well off the pace at 2 over with rounds of 71, 75, 73 and 75. ”It was my first tournament back,” Ko said. ”I think there are a lot of positive things to look at rather than thinking ‘hey, I shot over par.”’
ORLANDO, Fla. – Three feet from victory Sunday, Marc Leishman thought about his son’s nagging question. For the past year, his 5-year-old son, Harvey, has asked, “Daddy, why don’t you ever win a trophy?” It wasn’t for a lack of effort, of course. Leishman has desperately tried to snap a five-year winless drought. He nearly won two majors during that span, at the 2013 Masters and 2015 Open. He has been in final-round contention in all but one tournament this year. No trophy, though, and so the questions continued. It didn’t help that Jason Day won eight times over the past two seasons, and each time was bum-rushed on the 18th green by his two young kids, Dash and Lucy. “Hey, why can’t I run out on the green?” Harvey asked. And so the kid wasn’t about to miss out Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, even though the end result was still in doubt. He and brother Oliver, 3, raced onto the green to congratulate their dad, who had pitched to 3 feet and made the slippery par putt to post 11-under 277. When Kevin Kisner failed to make a closing birdie to tie, Leishman scooped up his kids in a bear hug to celebrate the long-awaited title. “You won, Daddy!” Harvey squealed. “Let’s go get the trophy!” This Arnold Palmer Invitational meant so much more than just the shiny silver trophy. Two years ago, Leishman was told that his wife, Audrey, had a 5 percent chance of surviving after a series of infections put her in a medically induced coma. Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos While Marc was at Augusta National preparing to play in the following week’s Masters, Audrey came down with a 102-degree fever and flu-like symptoms, and that worsened into strep throat and pneumonia, and that became acute respiratory distress syndrome and toxic shock syndrome. By the time Marc returned home to Virginia Beach, Va., his wife was hooked up to a ventilator, her lungs were filled with fluid, and the prognosis was dire. Leishman spent the next 96 hours by her bedside, barely able to eat, his mind racing, as the thought of being a single father of two young boys became a distinct possibility. “I was ready to give it away,” he said. Two days before the Masters – and after a doctor’s critical decision to turn her on her stomach – Audrey’s condition improved and she regained consciousness. Marc returned to the Tour later that month, and he lost a playoff at The Open a few months later. “They went through their nightmare when I was in my coma,” Audrey said. “When I woke up, it was a big relief for them, and that’s when my nightmare started. That’s when I realized what had happened to me and how sick I really was.” Audrey’s health has remained a concern over the past two years. She routinely developed some kind of respiratory infection. There was even a minor complication at this event last year, when a family trip to the theme parks ended up with Audrey in the hospital to receive IV fluids and steroids. Her health finally began to turn around last May, when she underwent a tonsillectomy. In September, she was cleared by her infectious disease doctor. “It was one of the best days of my life,” she said. “He said that I was released and told me to have a good life. I’ve never left a doctor’s office being that happy.” A month later, Audrey, 33, was pregnant with the couple’s third child, a girl, now due in July. The traumatic experience gave Leishman a much-needed dose of perspective on a tour full of charmed existences. “It makes golf less important,” he said. “It’s not life and death. We have been in that situation and it’s not fun.” Leishman’s hard-earned victory was a fitting end to an emotional week that was always going to be about more than birdies and bogeys. That tone was set early, with the unveiling of the 13-foot Palmer statue, and then continued throughout the week with the well-attended opening ceremony and the colorful umbrellas that adorned hats and bags and shirts, and the inspirational signage throughout the course. The beloved tournament host always camped out on the 16th tee, and he would have loved what he saw from Leishman. Lining up his 50-foot eagle putt, Leishman realized that he’d struck virtually the same putt during a practice round Tuesday and missed 3 feet left. He backed off, readjusted his line, and holed the putt to leapfrog the leaders. Two solid pars to close gave Leishman his second Tour victory, and first since the 2012 Travelers. “Very special,” he said. The only thing missing was Palmer’s customary greeting to the left of the 18th green. Fortunately for Leishman, Harvey and the rest of the family helped fill that sizable void.
A QUICK GOOGLE SEARCH confirms that no PGA Tour rookie has generated more headlines this season than Grayson Murray, and maybe soon they’ll even be about his play. With apologies to Steve Elkington, Murray has become golf’s most irreverent tweeter, tapping out controversial 140-character riffs on his peers, a Playboy model, the world-ranking system, the physical appearance of a high school student, a mid-round split with his caddie, internet trolls, police shootings … the hits keep coming. In a sport celebrated for its decorum, Murray, 23, has emerged as a polarizing antihero: He is either crude or complex, selfish or generous, ill-informed or misunderstood. Sure, those closest to him wish he’d just put down the damn phone. But the fact that a newbie with one career top-10 has gained more than 12,000 followers and some level of social-media fame (infamy?) suggests there’s an audience for his incendiary commentary on a Tour that often takes itself too seriously. “He’s a rookie, and I know how that goes,” says Tour pro John Peterson, who has had his own share of Twitter run-ins. “Four years ago, I had no clue what I was doing out here. The more people I pissed off, the funnier I thought it was. I think Grayson is almost right there. He needs to tone it down a little bit, but he’s doing great in the sense that people know who he is and know his beliefs.” Maybe so, but Murray’s various blunders epitomize his complicated journey to the big leagues. Each step has been marked by conflict. There was conflict as the phenom bounced around three colleges in four semesters. There was conflict as he grappled with anxiety and depression. And there is conflict now as he fights to keep his card, as he navigates the potential landmines of social media and the competing desires to be connected and honest while also staying true to himself. The proper balance still eludes him – for now. “As a parent, I’m wishing and telling him my thoughts, but you have to live your own life and your own experiences,” says Grayson’s father, Eric. “With my older two kids, it was like a light came on when they hit 25 and they became an adult. That’s what I’m waiting for with Grayson.” *** “NO ONE WILL OUT WORK ME. I WILL BECOME THE GREATEST EVER.” – Murray, on Twitter, Aug. 26, 2011 *** GRAYSON STUMBLED UPON golf accidentally. When he was 7, he tagged along with his dad and older brother, Cameron, at the Triangle Golf Complex, just down the road from their home in Raleigh, N.C. Using his mother’s clubs, Grayson took a few swings and struck high, crisp iron shots. The rest of his family looked on in disbelief. “Where’d you learn to do that?” Eric asked. Grayson shrugged. “I saw it on TV once,” he said. Within a year, Grayson was winning local tournaments and begging his parents to let him quit soccer and baseball. At age 10, he met Arnold Palmer, who had attended a banquet in the nearby town of Wake Forest. After returning to the car, Grayson tapped his dad on the shoulder and asked, “Would Wake Forest be a good school to go to? Because that’s what I think I want to do. I want to go to Wake and be a golfer.” The pieces were already in place, as he had begun working with Ted Kiegiel, the longtime director of golf at Carolina Country Club and the man responsible for helping mold Webb Simpson into a major champion. “I’ve coached hundreds of elite-level players,” Kiegiel says, “and I truly never thought I’d see another talent like Webb. But I knew right away that Grayson was going to be that special talent again.” Others saw similar promise. Wake Forest coach Jerry Haas was speaking to a hundred parents and juniors about how the recruiting process works when a 12-year-old in the back raised his hand. “How do you get the Arnold Palmer Scholarship?” Grayson asked. Haas was stunned. Well, you’ve gotta be a good player, he explained. A good student. A good person. Later, Haas asked someone about the young questioner. “He said, ‘That’s Grayson Murray,’” Haas recalls. “‘That’s the kid who’s so good.’” Everyone who followed junior golf soon learned about Murray. Not only did he grow into the perfect golf build, at 6-foot-1 with long arms and a powerful base, but he also possessed remarkable hand-eye coordination at an early age; at 13, his sidespin rate compared favorably to Tour players when tested at the Callaway Performance Center. Murray smoked his competition, joining Tiger Woods as a three-time Junior World champion (2006-08) and at one point rising to No. 2 in the high school class of 2012. “He was a guy that you didn’t want to play against growing up,” says Alberto Sanchez, a former teammate who has known Murray since they were 8. “He was going to dominate. He had that attitude, a lot of confidence. He had an intimidating, very aggressive look to him and how he would play the game.” And yet, as ruthless as Murray appeared on the course, he also displayed a compassionate side. There was the time he made his friend’s mom turn the car around so he could hand a homeless man his last $5. And when he carried his buddy’s broken golf bag for the final five holes of an event because the kid was too despondent over a tongue-lashing he’d received from a parent. And when, years later, he wrote a four-figure check to a family with mounting bills at a Nashville children’s hospital. By the time Haas finally watched Murray play, in 2010, as a high school sophomore, he saw the total package. “I was like, Oh my, he looked like a Tour pro at that age,” Haas says. “Selfishly, I like kids who look like they have a chance to go to the next level, and it’s just a bonus if they play well in college. Grayson had that look about him.” The same weekend that an apple-cheeked Texan named Jordan Spieth dazzled crowds at the Nelson, Murray, also 16, became the second-youngest player to make the cut at a Web.com Tour event, at his hometown Rex Hospital Open in Raleigh. Later that year, Golf Magazine ran a photo spread of both Spieth and Murray. The buzz was building, and they were seemingly on the same path for success – the publication declared theirs the “swings of the future.” There was little mystery about Murray’s college intentions. Eight years after he met the King, and six years after he asked Haas, Murray received the Arnold Palmer Scholarship and a full ride to Wake Forest, his dream school. His career there lasted all of three events. *** “I feel like this might be the best year of my life on the course and in the class. #workhard” – Murray, on Twitter, Aug. 29, 2012 *** IT WAS APPARENT ALMOST immediately that Murray’s time at Wake Forest would be short. Academically, socially, “I didn’t fit in there,” he says. “It was a little preppy. It wasn’t what I grew up with.” That realization crushed him. Before his first tournament, he met with his parents and Haas in a hotel room and said that he was so uncomfortable at school that he wanted to leave. Instead of the Freshman 15, he lost 25 pounds because of stress and was briefly hospitalized. The scholarship he’d always dreamed about became a burden. “He always felt that there was a price to pay for that,” Eric says, “and that price was that you needed to carry your team as a freshman. It got to him.” Murray tied for eighth in one of the events but his short-lived Wake career came to an end after the U.S. Collegiate Championship. Following a second-round 82, he exploded in front of his parents, barking, “This was your dream and not my dream!” After a few days, he changed his mind about quitting the team, only to reverse his decision a month later. Eric Murray described that time as “the hardest thing ever” for Grayson. “He literally cried like a baby,” he says. “He felt like a failure.” As Haas says now, “I fully expected it to be a long-term deal. I thought he needed it. I thought he needed to become a leader and a teammate you could count on. I thought his social skills could use a little work. I get the fact they’re competing against each other, and on the course you should want to beat each other’s ass. But off the course you have to have a little respect for each other.” Though he finished out the semester academically, Murray had a heart-to-heart with Haas before they parted ways. Says Haas: “I told him: ‘Young man, I’m worried about your health. I’m not worried about your golf – that’ll always be there. But I’m worried about you as a person.’” Murray wasn’t granted a full release, limiting his options for the spring semester. He transferred to East Carolina, which should have been a perfect fit: It was an hour and a half from home, he was more comfortable academically, and a family friend, Jacob Hicks, was already on the golf team. But Murray’s stint at ECU was even shorter – only eight weeks, after a series of disagreements with coach Press McPhaul. The coach tried to create behavioral expectations and an atmosphere of accountability, but after one tense meeting, Murray left the team and moved out of the dorms. He finished the semester driving 70 miles each way to class. “I wanted to do my own thing,” Murray says. “I was stubborn in a sense. I thought my own thing was good enough to get me there. So why try and change me and tell me what to do? If you’re not motivated, you’re not going to be a pro anyway, right?” That summer Murray committed to play at a third school, UNC-Greensboro, but later backtracked and took off the entire fall semester. Facing a one-year benching under the NCAA transfer rules, he contemplated turning pro. “I was trying to deter him,” Kiegiel says. “Selfishly, I wanted him to have a few more years of maturing and growing as a player and also as a young man. There were some life skills that he was growing into and managing, and it needed some more time to develop.” What Murray wanted most was a fresh start. So in 2014 he moved across the country and signed with Arizona State, where he joined a star-laden team headlined by Jon Rahm. In retrospect, Eric Murray concedes that decision was a mistake. “If I had to do it all over again, I hate to say it, but for someone who had the talent that Grayson had in the beginning, maybe we were the ones who held him back by talking him into staying in school so long,” he says. “He could have done a one-and-done sort of thing and been better off that way, getting out there and competing.” *** “I feel like Im the only student at ASU that doesn’t have a bicycle. I’ll start taking donations from anyone for the Grayson Murray bike fund” – Murray, on Twitter, Aug. 26, 2014 *** AS MURRAY LEFT AN early-morning workout that fall, his jacket got caught in the front wheel of his new bike and he flew over the handlebars, smacking his head. He was admitted to a local hospital for evaluation, but Eric could tell something was still amiss a few months later, when his son came home for Christmas break. He was moody and couldn’t focus. His head throbbed and vision was blurred. He slept all day and had no motivation. Grayson didn’t want to return to school, but that spring he was finally eligible to compete after sitting out nearly a year and a half. He played only one tournament, finishing 32nd, and the phone conversations home grew even more alarming. Eric flew to Tempe and stayed for six weeks, searching for answers. There was already cause for concern, with Grayson experiencing minor issues with anxiety in the past. The turning point came at the 2014 Southern Amateur, when he walked off the course despite sitting only a few shots off the lead. His arms had locked up and he couldn’t pull back the club, so he bailed, unable to control his anxiety. Players and parents gossiped about the latest sign of distress from the former junior prodigy. That night, Murray tweeted: “When you reach a low point in your life, you find out quickly who truly cares about you. Keep that circle very tight and don’t let go…” A few days later, he added: “You guys have no clue what’s going on in my life so stop judging me….” Only recently had Murray gotten clarity himself. After the tournament, he was diagnosed with social anxiety, which, according to the institute that studies the disorder, “is the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, embarrassment, humiliation and depression.” Those troubling years now had context. “He was not only playing the top golfers in the world, but he was also battling himself, and that was the toughest battle of all,” Eric says. “He was already in trouble – the concussion just pushed him over the edge. The combination was overwhelming.” And so, with his son’s depression deepening, Eric called an anxiety specialist in Raleigh and told him about Grayson’s dire state, about the dark thoughts and the concussion the previous fall. “Oh my God, that’s the issue,” the doctor told him. “He needs to come back here now.” Grayson spent 10 days at the University of North Carolina’s Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center, where he was put through a battery of tests. Doctors told the family that after the concussion, Grayson had been using only 20 percent of his brain on the right side, and that he had just 20 percent of his eyesight in one eye. “Bad shape,” Eric says. Grayson was prescribed mild anxiety medication and anti-depressants, which he still takes today, and he must stay mindful of his breathing, diet and workouts. “It’s such an easy thing to hide from at that age because you don’t want to be judged,” he says. “But now I can use my past experiences to help others. I’m not ashamed of it. It’s just what I had to go through to get where I’m at. “I hated every second being in that hospital, but it saved my life.” *** “Lots of positives to take away from my first pro event. Looking forward to getting out there and doing it again soon.” – Murray, on Twitter, May 31, 2015 *** MURRAY NEVER RETURNED TO school. Crashing at his parents’ house while on the mend, he turned pro that spring, caddied at Old Chatham for a little cash and played the mini-tour circuit. His energy levels remained low, but he didn’t need to look far for motivation. When he was 10, his mom, Terry, was crushed by an SUV after a freak accident in the parking lot of a Bed Bath & Beyond. She nearly lost her life and endured a 30-day hospital stay, about a dozen surgeries on her legs and a lengthy recovery in which she could only lie on her back for months. “That taught him early on that you just have to fight,” Eric says. Though he couldn’t beat balls for hours like he used to, or fine-tune his game after rounds, Grayson found that his form returned quicker than anticipated – even with his vision impaired for the next year. “There were times when I kept thinking, How is he putting?” Eric says. “He would lose his focus to the point where he couldn’t see enough of the line on the green. He was sort of winging it, I guess.” Eric, who worked in the auto parts industry, loaned Grayson the entry fees for the first two tournaments – about $2,600 total – and he never looked back. No longer multitasking, Grayson played in anything and everything, sometimes driving 200 miles for a 20-man event. “As soon as he cleared his mind and golf was his only responsibility, the sky was the limit,” says Sanchez, his former ASU teammate. “He’s super talented and always has been.” Murray headed into the fall brimming with confidence, and he placed 74th in the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School, which gave him conditional status but not a concrete plan for 2016. Another home game in Raleigh helped put his career on track, as he parlayed a top-10 off a sponsor exemption into another good finish a week later. He racked up five more top-10s before winning last September at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship – a well-timed breakthrough, for it guaranteed him fully exempt status on the PGA Tour for this season. “I’m telling you,” Eric says, “Grayson is my hero because I have seen first-hand how hard it’s been. Most people would have given up. Said it was too hard. Gone and gotten a real job. But here’s a kid who had a problem, everyone is telling him there’s no issue, and yet he just kept digging his heels in and finding a way to do what he always wanted to do in life.” Except the light still didn’t turn on. *** “First tweet. #Confusing” – Murray, on Twitter, July 5, 2011 *** AND SO BEGAN GRAYSON MURRAY’S love-hate relationship with Twitter. Over the next few years, he tried to find his voice, frequently updating his handful of followers with mundane details of his practice routine and his travel schedule and his girl problems. Sure, there was the occasional inflammatory tweet, but nothing outrageous for a college-aged kid. It wasn’t until he earned his PGA Tour card last fall that anybody began to notice. Murray first stood out because of his dental work. One of his front teeth got knocked out when he was 12, causing nerve damage, and last May he bit into a piece of Bojangles’ chicken that jarred the tooth loose. Annoyed, he simply yanked it out. With no time to get fitted for an implant, he went toothless for months, and a few of his hillbilly photos – including from the formal Web.com Tour graduation ceremony, where he also wore a T-shirt – began to circulate on social media. For athletes, one of the main benefits of Twitter is also its biggest drawback: Yes, they’re more connected to their fans than ever before, able to reach them directly, without an agent intervening. But they’re also more exposed to the keyboard heroes, to the angry and the anonymous. It’s why many of the world’s top athletes use the site to promote their sponsors and little else. For Murray, it was a perfect storm. He had tweeted prolifically for years, with no consequence. He was adjusting to the rhythms of Tour life, with all of the downtime. And he’s combative by nature, unwilling to let any troll get in the last word, consequences be damned. His first controversy of the year came in February, when he called out a fellow Tour pro (Bryson DeChambeau) for withdrawing from Riviera after receiving a sponsor exemption. That personal attack was one of the few tweets he regrets – he apologized to DeChambeau the following week – but fans initially revered Murray, the rare player who was willing to opine about the sanitized world of pro golf. The instant gratification was intoxicating. “I went from a nobody,” he says, “to a little bit of a somebody just through a few tweets.” Emboldened, the next few months were a whirlwind. He lamented that so many of his peers were “boring” on social media. He asked Playboy model Lindsey Pelas if she would caddie for him in the Par 3 Contest if he qualified for the Masters. (Pelas agreed, but Murray didn’t earn a spot.) And he started a Twitter war with some European Tour players after suggesting that playing overseas would boost his world ranking faster. After those tweets nearly caused an international incident, Murray texted his agent, Kevin Canning, and told him to change his password so he couldn’t access his account. “But I cracked back in again,” he said with a mischievous smile. Not for long, because in April, Murray sent a creepy tweet to a high school student that got picked up worldwide. (“Idk but I hate the fact you are in high school. You are pretty.”) He finally had enough of Twitter in May, deactivating his account following a heated, mid-round confrontation with his caddie and close family friend, Mike Hicks, at the Wells Fargo Championship. Hicks declined to be interviewed for this story. “Twitter was fun and games when I first started,” Murray says, “but it became this thing where people are taking me too seriously. If I defend myself, then it looks like I’ve done something wrong. If I stay quiet, all they’re going to do is lie and make up their own stories. So it’s a tough situation for me.” At The Players, Murray made a bet with his performance coach, Josh Gregory, that if he got through the Memorial without social media – a span of five weeks – then Gregory would have to take him out to dinner. Murray lasted four weeks and asked Gregory if he could send a tweet reminiscing about the Web.com event in Raleigh, the tournament that kick-started his run to the Tour. Gregory agreed. “Unfortunately, he didn’t just stick to that,” Gregory sighed. After ranting about police shootings – “Obey by the law and I promise you will live” – Murray protected his account, which means that only confirmed followers can view his tweets. He has tweeted only once in the past three weeks. “With guys with anxiety, it’s easy to fall into an addictive pattern,” Gregory says. “It’s hard for him, because when somebody bad-mouths him or trolls him, he wants to lash out. But they want you to do that. That makes their day – they got a PGA Tour player going back at them. They can go to their buddies and say, ‘Hey, I got in Grayson’s grill today.’” Indeed, whatever good comes from Murray’s social-media interactions – giving a family $10,000 for a down payment on a car, doling out tickets to a tournament, hosting Q&A sessions – often is lost amid an avalanche of unfiltered, unvarnished tweets. Inaccurate media reports, about his caddie breakup and then a fan altercation at the Memorial, only fueled his bad-boy image. “A lot of guys have to be politically correct or a sponsor will drop you, and it’s a shame,” Murray says. “So they shy away from it. They toe the line. “I am not one to care how much money I make if I’m not being myself. I don’t want to be a double person out here on Tour. I don’t want to be a person on social media and inside the ropes, and then another guy with my buddies. Who I am on social media is who I am with my buddies and who I am on the course.” *** “How come when I mess up everyone hates me. #NotFair” – Murray, on Twitter, June 2, 2017 *** ERIC MURRAY CAN’T EVEN LOG IN to his Twitter and Facebook accounts, and yet somehow he always becomes aware of his son’s social-media exploits. Someone will send him a screenshot. Or he’ll see a headline on a website. Heck, one day, he was listening to PGA Tour Radio in his car when the hosts started discussing the incident in Wilmington. “It’s very painful,” says Eric, 66, “and I wish he would get off the social-media thing. It may help with his anxiety issues, and it may be therapeutic for him in a roundabout way, because he can converse with other people. But with some of the things I’ve seen, I’d have more anxiety if people were talking about me the way that they were.” And that was the biggest fallout from Murray’s Twitter travails: It affected his performance. Of that there seems to be little doubt. “Early on, absolutely, 100 percent,” Gregory says. “He was almost setting himself up for failure. He was putting all this pressure on himself and putting himself in a position where you get people pulling against you and wanting to see you fail. You don’t need that when you’re 23 and a PGA Tour rookie. You want to keep it positive and only be in the limelight because of the way you’re playing.” Gregory began working with Murray in March, after walking a nine-hole practice round with him at Bay Hill. They immediately hit it off, for a couple of reasons. “He’s my kind of guy,” says Gregory, who also coaches Patrick Reed. “I’ve always had success with guys who were a little on the edge, who were not afraid to speak their minds. Grayson needed coaching more than he needed instruction.” But Gregory also could relate to Murray’s inner battle – he, too, takes anxiety medication (and has for the past 13 years). Consistency in a daily routine helped Gregory, and now he passes along that same message to his enigmatic pupil, who hadn’t reported any recent episodes … until last week’s Greenbrier Classic, when he withdrew after two holes, shaky and anxious. Murray met with his doctor last week to sort out his medication, and the hope is that it was just bad timing, a minor setback, a product of burnout, nothing more. He had been rolling. Under Gregory’s tutelage, Murray has eliminated the left side of the course with a release fade; added an array of short-game shots to his arsenal; and purchased a TrackMan to dial in his carry distances with his wedges, an attempt, like Dustin Johnson, to take advantage of his awesome power, as Murray ranks ninth on Tour in driving distance, at 307 yards a pop. Though he’s still looking for one big week to move off the FedExCup bubble – he is No. 117 in the standings, the reason he can’t take a few weeks off to regroup – Murray had survived 10 consecutive cuts, prior to Greenbrier. That’s no small achievement considering he’s seeing many of these courses for the first time. After a tie for 18th in Memphis, he sent Gregory a heartfelt text message: Thank you for believing in me. I know we’re heading in the right direction. Great things are coming. We make a great team. “I think he’s terribly misunderstood,” Gregory says. “Like a lot of young players that come out, they want to fit in so badly and they want to be funny and be cool and they realize, let’s just slow down and let our clubs do the talking. This isn’t about being the coolest – it’s about being a true pro.” And so there’s optimism that it’s not too late for Murray to repair his image, or to manage his issues. That it’s not too late for him to develop into the star he could be, or was supposed to be. That it’s not too late for him to become a well-adjusted adult – once the light flicks on at 25. “I think I’ll always be concerned, because no parent wants to have a physical or mental obstacle put in their kids’ way,” Eric says. “I’m concerned because I know how hard it is for him. I would love to see Grayson play golf without these issues and see how good he could have been. Oh my gosh, just unbelievable. But this is what he was dealt with, and he’s dealing with it, and he’s always going to be dealing with it. “At the end of 20 years, I think he’s going to look back and say that he’s had a good career. But only he’s in control of that.”
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox. Email I like the Bill of Rights. Not just the First, the Second, or the Fourteenth, but the whole darn American civil-liberties arsenal. Unlike many of my media colleagues, the Second is my fave over the First. After all, bad people with guns can shut up good people with keyboards pretty darn quick.So, I’ve been watching the gun-rights cases in the Supreme Court pretty closely, along with both of our Montana U.S. senators, Jon Tester and Max Baucus.Back in March, after attending oral arguments in the McDonald v. Chicago case, Baucus pumped out a press release stating his “bottom line” was the right to bear arms which is “spelled out right in the Constitution, and we’ve got to protect it. You can bet I’ll be keeping a close eye on this case as it moves forward.”Tester joined outgoing senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) in leading the preparation and filing of a pro-gun Congressional brief for McDonald. The brief was signed by 309 senators and congresscritters, including Baucus and Denny Rehberg. In June, Tester called the McDonald decision “a major victory for America’s gun owners and I’ll keep fighting hard to protect our gun rights.”But that “major victory” came on a wispy-thin 5-4 vote, and McDonald’s several opinions, concurrences and dissents are some of the most divergent and vitriolic I’ve ever read. Therefore, as Baucus put it, the confirmation processes for President Obama’s Supreme Court picks, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, warrant a close eye, too.I wasn’t real impressed when Sotomayor asserted her vast firearms knowledge by telling senators “one of my godchildren is a member of the NRA” and she had “friends who hunt.” She further declared that she “completely” understood the individual right recognized in the Heller case. How so?While on the Second Circuit Court in January 2009 (significantly after the Heller decision), Sotomayor concurred in a ruling that “it is settled law that the Second Amendment applies only to [federal] limitations,” not states, a “longstanding principle.”That case, Maloney v. Cuomo, came before Sotomayor from a federal judge who had in turn ruled that nunchuck possession could be banned by New York state law “because the Second Amendment does not apply to the States.”Rings a bell, doesn’t it? Yep, the states’ rights bell, the same shameless “longstanding principle” from the dirty days of the civil rights era. The argument was, while the federal government couldn’t trash the fundamental civil liberties of American citizens, states could. That was wrong then, it’s wrong today, and wrong forever.Finally, a year after her confirmation kabuki dance, everyone understands what Sotomayor understood: She was one of the four justices who found “nothing” in history about the Second “characterizing it as ‘fundamental’ insofar as it seeks to protect the keeping and bearing of arms for private self-defense purposes.”Now, every single Democratic senator, including Baucus and Tester, voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor. Party loyalty, of course.With Elena Kagan up for confirmation, they’ll get to vote again.It’s safe to say that Kagan’s understanding of the Second Amendment is well-developed. She co-signed a May 1999 memo to President Clinton referring to “an aggressive strategy” to “press for quick passage of our gun control proposals,” happily passing on the good news about a front-page New York Times article “perfectly conveying our intended message.” In other words, Kagan understands the politics of crisis and how to take advantage of press fellow travelers – a top-drawer political operative. Before the Senate, she was the picture of moderation as she declared that the freshly-minted McDonald ruling was “binding precedent” and “settled law, entitled to all the weight precedent usually gets.”Care to guess what Kagan meant by “usually?”Whether we find out is partially up to both Baucus and/or Tester. They may yet vote for Kagan, which is their right. I, and most Montanans, can live with that, at least until the next election. But if they do vote for Kagan, I would ask them to please shut up about “fighting hard to protect our gun rights.” Even the First Amendment has limits.
Anglers from Idaho head out from the Blue Bay Campground to fish during Mack Days on Flathead Lake. – Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon Anglers from across the region are preparing to swarm Flathead Lake for eight weekends of action-packed fishing. Their target is lake trout, and their reward is up to $150,000 in cash and prizes.Since launching 10 years ago, the twice-a-year Mack Days fishing derbies have become signature events on the largest freshwater lake in the West. The fall tournament regularly attracts more than 500 anglers, while the spring event, which kicks off March 15, draws twice that amount.Last spring more than 1,000 participants landed a record 38,085 lake trout, also called mackinaws, or macks. The top angler caught 1,525 fish. The largest catch weighed almost 25 pounds and stretched more than three feet long.For the many people who love hooking trophy lake trout, Flathead is one of the best spots in the West. More than 1 million of the silvery species, including roughly 400,000 plump adults, are believed to be swimming in the lake’s depths. For shoreline communities, the abundant sport fish has become an economic magnet, reflected by the rising popularity of Mack Days.But the non-native species is also a perennial source of conflict and anxiety.In the latest chapter of the contentious subject, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes announced plans last year to review their management of Flathead Lake and possibly enhance suppression efforts of lake trout to help native bull trout and westslope cutthroat. This could include cutting the non-native population in half by allowing gill and trap netting, bounties and commercial fishing. It could also mean the end of Mack Days.The prospect has angered recreationists and alienated the tribe’s longtime partner, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, which separated itself from the process in a public sign of disapproval last year. FWP has stated that bull trout levels in the Flathead Basin are stable, as defined by the previous 10-year co-management plan between the agency and CSKT. FWP’s new chief, Jeff Hagener, reiterated the agency’s belief that stricter reduction is unnecessary at this time in a January letter to Joe Durglo, the chairman of the CSKT Tribal Council.“FWP currently cannot support the Tribes’ draft lake trout suppression (environmental impact statement) for reasons stated in a letter from FWP Fisheries Chief, Bruce Rich, to Tom McDonald in March 2012,” Hagener wrote. “Our concerns regard both the content and process of the draft EIS.”Nevertheless, the tribe moved forward and, after almost a year of gathering research and public comment, plans to release a draft EIS on April 15. CSKT Fisheries biologist Barry Hansen, who has led the EIS process, said the document will include four possible management options for lake trout in Flathead Lake — reduce the population by 25, 50 or 75 percent, or maintain the status quo. The tribe currently relies solely on anglers to suppress lake trout through Mack Days and general harvest. Roughly 70,000 lake trout a year are caught in Flathead, according to the tribe. But Hansen said that only keeps the population from growing. An additional 13,000 catches are needed to actually put a dent in the population, he said.“The EIS was only initiated because we determined that Mack Days alone was not sufficient to meet the goals of the co-plan,” Cindy Bras-Benson, a tournament organizer and CSKT fisheries specialist, wrote on the Mack Days website. “Therefore if none of the ‘action’ alternatives is chosen Mack Days would end because the monetary investment would no longer be justifiable.”By sponsoring Mack Days, the tribe spends almost $300,000 annually.“The issue is that Mack Days isn’t enough. It needs help with other tools,” Hansen said. “We like using anglers to achieve these objectives, but it doesn’t seem anglers can catch enough to do it.”Hansen emphasized that other places with lake trout infiltration are trying to “annihilate” the species, but the CSKT does not intend for that to happen. “That is not our objective,” he said. “There will always be lake trout in Flathead Lake to the best of our knowledge.”There will be a 45-day public comment period after the EIS is released and the Tribal Council could make a decision by summer.Chuck Hunt, the vice president of Flathead Wildlife Inc., a local sportsmen’s group, is concerned about removing too many lake trout. What will it mean to the economy if one of the best lake trout fisheries is harmed? What will it mean to the current relationship between lake trout, Mysis shrimp and plankton, which all together help make Flathead one of the cleanest lakes around? What happens if millions of dollars are spent on suppression but the population inevitably returns to current levels?“I have concerns about native trout. No doubt about it,” Hunt said. “But there are some bodies of water that it just doesn’t make sense to do this. Are we willing to take away 397,000 opportunities for anglers or sportsmen and replace it with 3,000 native trout?”It’s illegal to intentionally fish for bull trout in Flathead Lake.At issue, at least between FWP and CSKT, is the definition of “stable.”Yearly redd counts, which determine the number of spawning adults, showed the bull trout population in the Flathead Basin ranged between 600 and 1,100 in the 1980s, according to FWP fisheries biologist Mark Deleray. In 1991, biologists counted 624. The following year they counted 291. The subsequent six-year period showed the lowest redd count numbers on record, Deleray said.FWP teamed with the CSKT a decade ago on the Flathead Lake and River Fisheries Co-Management Plan, which was crafted largely by Deleray and Hansen. The 57-page document outlined a 10-year strategy for handling its keystone fishery, which included an impetus for dealing with lake trout. The plan, jointly agreed upon by FWP and CSKT, determined that 300 redds was a stable level for the basin’s native population. If those levels remained secure, then additional suppression measures would be unnecessary, the plan stated.Over the last 14 years the bull trout numbers have stabilized, Deleray said. Last year’s count determined there were roughly 500 redds, he said.“By definition, which we jointly agreed on, bull trout are not at jeopardy and are stable,” he said. “You can argue that you want more than 300.”Deleray also said there is concern about the timeframe of the EIS process, which originated as an environmental assessment that would have required lengthier scoping than the EIS.As a result, FWP is not partnering with CSKT during the EIS process but has offered input. Hagener asked the tribe for a resolution in his letter.“Before we can move forward together with CSKT in co-management, underlying issues, including the purpose and need for the EIS, and future management direction must be resolved,” Hagener wrote. “I offer the suggestion of retaining a third party mediator to help us work through differences and to create a shared vision for future management direction of the Flathead Lake fishery.” Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. 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