McCARTHY GOLF NOTES: Winter is long in Canada; The Saudi question; R.I.P. Tim Rosaforte

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It’s a tough time of year for golfers in Canada.

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It’s January, the holidays are over, and we are left staring at the new golf gear we found under the tree while the temperatures in much of the country are low enough to get you in contention at Kapalua.

This year (like last) is particularly painful as most travel plans fluctuate between complicated and cancelled. Fellow golf addicts, I’m here to tell you that it’s not all bad news because there is plenty you can do in the off-season. You can start by re-introducing yourself to neighbours, or maybe to your wife and kids. You can tackle all the chores you put off during the summer, like laundry, cleaning grass out of your trunk, or moving your golf bag from the front hall.

When it comes to improving your golf game over a Canadian winter, there is lots to do. At least so I’m told. Last year I made it as far as buying an indoor putting mat. Unfortunately, the turf was a little too realistic for my dog, and I’ll spare you further details but it’s been put away (the mat, not the dog).

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Unfortunately, many golfers will be doing the same thing this winter: Nothing. The good news is, time off can be good for your game, just ask World No. 1 Jon Rahm who took nearly three months off tournament golf before shooting 33-under at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

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“When the Ryder Cup was over, I was drained from the previous year and a half; not only the last four months but the previous year and a half,” Rahm said last week. “I just, I needed a break.”

He’s right, we all need a break after a long golf season. Sure, Rahm had multiple bouts with COVID, won the U.S. Open, became a dad, and was the lone star for Europe in the Ryder Cup, but did he have playing partners handing him two cans of beer at 9 a.m. on a Sunday? Don’t think so.

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And besides, nobody can think about golf 24/7.

“I mean I have golf on my mind 24/7,” Rahm said. “I’m a sunrise-to-sunset type of guy, so I don’t know, I mean there’s very well weeks where I average 10 hours (of practice per day).”

OK, that’s not helpful, got anything else?

“I feel like you got to understand and know your body,” he said. “Sometimes you need to rest, your mind and body need to rest, and I don’t think you’re getting worse, it’s just taking care of yourself.”

Now we’re talking. Summers on and winters off has worked for generations of Canadian golfers, so why fight it? At least there’s golf on TV to watch, and not even Jon Rahm can beat us at that.

“I’m a golf nut, unless it’s commercials I’m watching golf, that’s just for sure,” he said.

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OK fine, you win. Is it spring yet?

ALL EYES ON SAUDI INTERNATIONAL

Next month’s Saudi International is sure to be in the spotlight for two big reasons.

No longer a European Tour event, the tournament makes its debut as the flagship event on the Asian Tour, in conjunction with the Greg Norman-led and Saudi government-backed LIV Golf Investments. The deep-pocketed upstart group’s widely-speculated end game is to become a challenger to the PGA Tour’s dominance.

The Saudi International field includes Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele and Phil Mickelson. More than 20 PGA Tour members have requested releases for the week to play. Despite a few outspoken critics such as Rory McIlroy, most players have a wait-and-see attitude regarding the rival tour.

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“I think certainly it’s a threat to the PGA Tour,” Jordan Spieth said last week. “I think as a player overall it will benefit in that I think that the changes that have come from the PGA Tour have been modernized in a way to, that may or may not have come about if it weren’t there.”

The PGA Tour recently announced major boosts to purses at its biggest events, as well as increases in bonus programs, all of which not-so-subtly target the game’s top players.

The second reason the Saudi International will be a hot topic over the next month is because the players in the field will be asked about their decision to take part in an event widely seen as an attempt to sport-wash Saudi Arabia’s image.

“I’m not a politician, I’m a professional golfer,” Shane Lowry said on Tuesday. “I earn a living for myself and my family and try and take care of those, and this is just a part of that.”

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Lowry signed a three-year deal to compete in the tournament following his 2019 Open win at Royal Portrush. Top players will reportedly earn seven-figure appearance fees before hitting a shot.

Players love to point out that they are independent contractors and the freedom to pick and choose their events is one of the biggest motivating factors to stay on the PGA Tour instead of joining a breakaway league that plans to set their schedule. The irony is that this very benefit is what opens them up to criticism for choosing to play this controversial event. Formula One drivers didn’t face anywhere near the scrutiny last month at the Saudi Grand Prix because it’s largely out of their hands where they race.

Yes, professional golfers get to pick their schedules, but that also means they have to answer for them.

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GOODBYE ROSIE

It’s a sad day in the golf world as we say goodbye to one of the sport’s most familiar faces.

Longtime writer and Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte died after a brief battle with Alzheimer’s. He was 66 years old. Tributes poured in from fans, former colleagues, and golfers who shared stories of the man affectionately known as “Rosie”.

I didn’t have many interactions with him but what always stood out was his incredible work ethic. Early in my career I was routinely one of the last media members in the press centre, typing away as the cleaning staff vacuumed underfoot. Numerous times I climbed on to the last shuttle leaving the golf course and would see Rosaforte onboard.

First in, last out, and always dressed to the nines. He will be missed.

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