Happy early New Year! Looking back, 2017 was quite a golf season, not least because you, the reader, made this mailbag an endlessly entertaining destination. Thanks for the never-ending stream of questions. Every submission is like a precious child: some are not so bright, some are homely, but they all deserve to be loved. My New Year's resolution for 2018 (beyond getting down to scratch and attaining a six-pack of abs) is to answer even more of your questions. Until then, may this #AskAlan nourish you like a stale sugar cookie…
"What's the over/under on number of 'What are you crazy?' texts Spieth got from his fellow golf buddies? #askalan" -@NoRealSports
Far fewer than you or I would if we were 24, famous, fabulously wealthy and yet, rather than chase swimsuit models, decided to marry our high school sweetheart. But with Spieth, we could all see this one coming. At last year's Masters I was watching him play and wound up in conversation with a 14-year old high school golfer who is from Dallas and shares Spieth's trainer, Damon Goddard. Because it was just a casual chat I don't want to use this prodigy's name, but I asked if his idol has imparted any advice when it comes to dating. The kid said, "Jordan told me, 'Find a good one and hold on to her.'" Sounds like Spieth followed his own gameplan.
"Your take on Tiger going without a swing coach for now? #AskAlan" -@CountDownDave
Oh, it's the best present I received this holiday season, besides socks featuring the likenesses of Eazy-E and Biggie. It certainly gives me more optimism that this comeback will be more than a tantalizing tease. Woods was an artist who became a scientist. When he described the chip-yips as being caught between "release patterns" it was a tipoff to how much clutter was in his brain. No one can tell Tiger F'ing Woods how to play golf. He already understands the game on a granular level, like maybe no one ever has. The only way this Mozart in spikes can refind some of the old magic is by freeing himself up to simply play the game and no longer worry about competing swing theories. This is a solitary pursuit and I, for one, am thrilled nobody will be whispering in his ear.
"If you could go for a beer with Rory, Jordan, Justin (Thomas, not Rose) or Dustin (Johnson, not Gee) who would it be and why?" -@MarkTownsend
If I could go for eight beers with any of them Dustin would certainly be the choice but I fear those days are over. It really comes down to Rory and Jordan here — they are the two most thoughtful voices among the younger generation of players. Spieth has more of an edge than he lets on: in practice round games and more private settings he is a spectacular trash-talker. But the choice here has to be Rory. He is blessedly uncensored, willing to address controversial topics and even call b.s. on himself, as with his after-the-fact acknowledgement that citing Zika to skip the Olympics was bunk. So, Guinness all around.
"Family update letters [with Christmas cards]....overrated or overrated? #askalan" -Jeff (@JBredbeck)
More than that, they are a crime against humanity. Put it this way: I'm a professional writer and have never typed one. Nor shall I ever!
"How much has the Ryder Cup article damaged your career/ reputation?" -James (@jfleming1980)
You're kidding, right? The point of opinion pieces like that one is to stir debate — pretty sure that column succeeded on a massive scale. If the unthinkable happens and Europe somehow steals a victory, well, I'm surely gonna take some electronic shrapnel. But even that will be kind of fun. Needless to say, for me the Ryder Cup is by far the most anticipated event of 2018. A continent of would-be trolls can probably say the same thing.
"How far down the OWGR do you go before anything other than a win is a successful week?" -Andrew (@gentles021)
Not very. Dustin Johnson has been a prolific winner but he also *loves* being number one. Part of why he's enjoying this long run at the top is he has learned to grind really hard on the weeks when he doesn't have his A-game, because backdoor top-10s and even top-20s mean more World Ranking points. Spieth (presently no. 2 in the rankings) is already playing for history but there remains a bit too much feast-or-famine in his game. So while all he really cares about are trophies, a short-term goal for him is to eliminate the mini-swoons like missing the cut back-to-back at the Players and his fifth major, the Nelson. The bottom line is the very best players know it's a process of continual improvement and fine-tuning to get where they want, which is to have a chance to win at the most important events.
"If Tiger plays the Zurich Classic, what are his chances of a high finish with Bubba Watson versus with Phil Mickelson?" (@slicecalderon)
Tiger and Phil have both mellowed with age and thanks to all the bonding at various Cups they are something close to friends. I think both have such immense pride they would fight hard to not be the one who lets the team down. Whereas Bubba would drive Tiger crazy with all his tics and fidgets and socially-awkward small talk.
"I've been to both Bandon and Ireland for a trip. Which do I do for a repeat and why?" -Todd (@tddlw)
Nobody loves Bandon more than I but Ireland has to be the choice. Have you done the entire island, from Waterville in the southwest to Ballyliffin in the northeast? There are dozens of courses waiting to be discovered along the way. Even if you've already played Royal Portrush it's worth seeing again for the Open-inspired changes. Bandon is the ultimate domestic destination but the courses in Ireland are wilder and woolier, the pubs more atmospheric, the locals more colorful, the weather more unpredictable. Just typing this I’m realizing how much I miss that place. Need a fourth?
"Do you think the Vijay vs PGA Tour case will go to court, or be settled, in 2018? #ASKALAN" -Ron (@MintzGolf)
If Finchem were still commish no chance in hell it gets settled at any point. Both sides have dug in and it's a very personal fight at this point. But Vijay doesn't have the same bad blood with Jay Monahan so perhaps he can find a way forward that mitigates the damage that will be done to both sides if this goes to court.
"What would you like the winning score to be at the U.S. Open?" -Rob (@gogogadgetwilly)
Even par. This year and every year.
"Rory says he wants to play 8 events prior to the Masters. Will he regret the heavy schedule?" #AskAlan -@AmolYajnik
Only if his body breaks down again. But going back to the ill-fated fútbol kickabout prior to St. Andrews in 2015, Rory has had a series of injuries interrupt his seasons. It's been a constant battle to find and maintain form. If he can stay healthy, the early part of this year will be the most sustained golf he's played in a very long time and hopefully he roars into Augusta razor-sharp. Importantly, he's doing less international travel and focusing more on PGA Tour events, so while it is a heavy load of events overall it should be less wear and tear.
"Why is Jordan both the best long putter in the world and shaky/mediocre from 5 feet and in?" #AskAlan -Brian (@brianros1)
I've asked Spieth's coach Cameron McCormick about this a coupla times and it always comes back to a theory of "compaction," in that on short putts the stats are highly bunched up and the difference between the best and worst putters is a relatively small number of missed putts. To this point, in 2017 Spieth ranked 113th on 5-footers, attempting 102 and making 82. The guy who ranked 9th on Tour, Jim Herman, attempted 101 5-footers and made 90. So across the entire season the difference between Spieth and Herman was less than one 5-footer per month. But as you get farther from the hole Spieth makes putts at a historically high rate, and he seems to make them when they really, really matter.
"Will 2018 be the year of the hole-in-one? #AskAlan" -Adrian (@adkelly23)
For me? All available evidence says no. But I 'spose I'll keep trying anyway, just to amuse the golf gods.