KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Kapalua is busier than ever to start the new year, a development that goes beyond the largest winners-only field in Hawaii or even fans returning to the Plantation Course.
ESPN+ starts its nine-year digital rights deal with the PGA Tour at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
“PGA Tour Live on ESPN+” features live coverage on four simultaneous feeds from all four rounds, which adds more than 3,200 new hours of live streaming and a total of more than 4,300 exclusive hours over 35 tournaments.
“What fans are going to see is more than triple, almost quadruple the hours of coverage to choose from based on four new feeds,” said Chris Wandell, vice president of media business development at the PGA Tour.
ESPN+ was launched in April 2018 — the first round of the RBC Heritage was the first event streamed on the service — and now has upward of 17 million subscribers.
Viewers will be getting a better deal at $6.99 a month, down from $9.99 a month on NBC Sports Gold and Amazon Prime, and a lot more options.
The biggest change is the menu.
The two featured groups will be on one of the ESPN+ channels. A second channel will be devoted to the “marquee group” that will be determined each tournament (hint: if Tiger Woods returns this year, he likely will be in that group). That channel will show every shot from every player.
A third channel will be devoted to featured holes, primarily the par 3s or other pivotal holes, such as the 10th at Riviera, the 17th at the TPC Scottsdale or perhaps the reachable par-4 12th hole at the TPC Sawgrass.
“Every player that comes through ... you’ll see him play at least four holes,” Wandell said.
The other channel will be considered the main feed, a collection of video pulled together from all the other channels. That essentially would be a traditional presentation.
“It is significantly more content on one feed leveraging shots that are cut from each of the other three feeds,” Wandell said. “So it will be a producer in a chair bouncing between group one, group two, group three and any of the four holes, to effectively create this really compelling channel for ESPN+ users."
John Lasker, vice president of digital media programming for ESPN, believes this will be the most engaged feed of the four channels based on what ESPN has learned from doing the last two PGA Championships. He said it would be most comparable to what viewers will see from network coverage in the afternoon.
“It feels more traditional to the fan,” Lasker said. “It has a more broader scope, gets you more golf shots, telling the story of the entire tournament.”
More content will require 16 cameras across the course and a 15-person talent crew calling the shots on four separate channels. The weekly production crew, on site and from afar, is increasing from about 85 people to more than 210.
Along with more content, having ESPN involved will lead to a larger PGA Tour presence on highlight shows across linear channels, such as “SportsCenter.” And it might not stop there. Lasker was asked if there were plans to create a docuseries, similar to the one on Tom Brady.
“We don’t have anything particular on the ESPN side planned right now,” Lasker said. “But again, this is a nine-year partnership. I’d be surprised if we’re not investing in some complementary or robust or original content that’s PGA Tour-focused over time.”
Phil Mickelson didn't waste any time sharing the good news when he tweeted last week that he was the winner of the Player Impact Program and its $8 million prize.
He also revealed that's what prompted him to enter the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua for the first time in 21 years. Part of the deal is for the PIP winner to play a tournament he hasn't been to in some time, or a tournament agreed upon with the tour.
The tour has said the award is not official yet because it has to confirmed, though one tour official said early projections had shown Tiger Woods too far behind going into the PNC Championship to catch Mickelson.
Given the metrics — internet searches, media mentions, social media reach, television ratings and Q-score — the outcome shouldn't have been surprising.
Woods was in the news during his February car crash, and then except for an interview with media partner Discovery, he wasn't in the news again until the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas (news conference and range sessions) and playing with 12-year-old son Charlie in the PNC Championship.
Perhaps the power of Woods' appeal is that with so little time in the news, he still finished second.
ALL ABILITIES CHAMPS
Kapalua is hosting more than just PGA Tour winners this week.
The Sentry Tournament of Champions says the top all-abilities golfers from four countries have been invited to play in the inaugural ISPS Handa All Abilities Champions Playoff, which will take place during the opening two rounds.
On Thursday, the four players will tee off on the Bay Course at Kapalua as a foursome and play two 18-hole matches simultaneously among each other. On Friday, they will play nine holes of stroke play on the Bay Course and then the front nine on the Plantation Course right after the last group from the PGA Tour event has teed off.
The trophy presentation will take place on the ninth green.
The players were chosen from top all-abilities golf tournaments around the world — Brendan Lawlor (World Invitational), Johan Kammerstad (Australian All Abilities Championship), Juan Postigo Arce (European Championship for Golfers with Disability) and Chad Peifer (U.S. Disabled Open).
Lawlor called it an “unbelievable opportunity for us to put disability golf on the world stage.”
CINK AND SON
Stewart Cink is back at Kapalua with the rest of last year’s winners, and son Reagan returns as his caddie.
That wasn’t the plan when it started.
“Originally it was to do one tournament, but it was the Safeway Open, and that plan was quickly expanded into further into the year,” Cink said.
He won that Safeway Open in September 2020, and they were having so much fun together, they kept going. With Reagan getting married in July, they figured it was best for the son to stop caddying after the Tour Championship.
“It’s just not a good way to start a marriage, for him on the road and for her working at home,” Cink said. “Then she decided to take her job part time and be able to travel more with us. It was up to them. We weren’t going to stand in the way of him saying, ‘I want to keep going and Olivia is going to start traveling.’ I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re having a blast.
Nelly Korda starts the new year at No. 1 in the women's world ranking. It’s her 26th week atop the ranking, the most of any American player. She had been tied with Stacy Lewis. The record is 158 weeks at No. 1 by Lorena Ochoa. ... Sam Burns starts the new year by moving into the top 10 for the first time due to the rolling, two-year formula. ... Tony Finau, Patrick Reed and Matthew Wolff are among the latest to commit to play in the Saudi International. To get releases from the PGA Tour, they must agree to play the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at least once over the next three years. The tournament also says the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia will be the event's new title sponsor.
STAT OF THE WEEK
The total purse of the Tournament of Champions in 1997 when Tiger Woods won it for the first time was $1.2 million. The winner of this week's Tournament of Champions gets $1.476 million.
“For the first time in years, I feel like I've got some momentum.” — Jordan Spieth on starting the new year.