MEXICO CITY — There's just something different about the vibe of this worldly World Golf Championship. Having barely survived the stress-fest that is the Honda Classic, the players seem visibly more relaxed at an exclusive invitational played on a quirky course in the heart of a city that exudes energy.
On Wednesday morning, Louis Oosthuizen was wielding a driver on the tee of short par-4 first hole. He was in mid-backswing when Bubba Watson, standing on the nearby clubhouse steps, bellowed, "That's too much club." King Louis backed off and smiled indulgently at the man with whom he will forever be linked after their epic playoff at the 2012 Masters. Oosthuizen reset and as he was over the ball Watson shouted, "Be careful, there's O.B. left!" Louis ignored him and smashed a drive. "See, I told you, too much club!" Watson shouted. Oosthuizen, betraying only a tiny bit of exasperation, said, "It's on the green, mate. I guess when you get close to 40" — Watson is 39 — "it's hard to follow the ball in the air."
In this, the second year the event is being played at Chapultepec Country Club, the fans know exactly where to congregate for autographs. Patton Kizzire was leaving the driving range to walk to the clubhouse when he was besieged by two dozen enthusiastic kids.
"Man, they're really paying attention to the FedEx Cup standings," I said to him.
"Who knew?" Kizzire said.
Indeed, the golf world is full of surprises. Case in point: this week's mail…
Can you describe the top five players in the world as the taco they'd mostly like be? -@Carlos_E_Lara
Dustin Johnson: Ground beef and cheese. Totally basic, but satisfying.
Jon Rahm: Serrano ham, blistered Padron peppers, pimenton. Extremely spicy.
Justin Thomas: Same as the DJ, but on white bread.
Jordan Spieth: Slow-cooked brisket, ranchero sauce.
Justin Rose: Bangers and mash. Served golden.
Is there a hierarchy to the various WGC events amongst Tour players? Or media? #AskAlan -@1beardedgolfer
The Bridgestone is widely considered to be the most prestigious, mostly because it is an extension of the World Series of Golf, which back in the day was one of the biggest events on the schedule. (Jack Nicklaus won the first one, in 1976, and plenty of Hall of Famers followed suit.) Now that it's left that dreadful course in Tucson, the Match Play is everyone's favorite WGC, despite the vagaries of the format. The HSBC Champions is the anchor of the fall season, and some folks think Sheshan is the best course in Asia, but it's the Old Mac of this quartet — destined to always be ranked fourth. As for Mexico City, the players (and reporters) have come to appreciate the great dining, the white-glove service provided by the tournament and the energy of the crowds. It's certainly a more fun week than being in Akron, Ohio and having to navigate the narrow corridors of Firestone. This WGC is still finding its identity but it has certainly brought some much needed life to the franchise.
WGCs feel like events that should be transient (perhaps every five years). What other locations, given the time of year, should host? #AskAlan -@Carrforthecourse
Given the overall constraints of the schedule, the only WGC that can realistically be taken on the road is HSBC. Australia and South Africa have such strong golf traditions and stellar courses it seems like a no-brainer to go to each regularly. You could time the HSBC to be played the week before or after the Australian Open/South African Open, helping to boost these fields of those great old tournaments.
Is Justin the best closer of the young guys? -Brian (@brianros1)
He's been quite ruthless over the last year plus, though a notable exception came at Erin Hills. I would still like a little larger sample size but as of right now the answer has to be yes.
Shouldn't JT's caddie be handling crowd control? I can't imagine anyone doing that to Tiger and escaping Steve Williams' wrath #AskAlan -@PurdueMatt05
It's not really the caddie's job, or the player's. Crowd control should be done by marshals or trained security. The PGA Tour needs to very quickly pour a lot of resources into policing the increasing yahoo factor in the galleries. Putting this on the shoulders of the guys between the ropes is wildly unfair to them.
Please tell us that you got the scoop on how many USGA members sat in a room and decided two holes was the correct amount for a playoff. -@JeremyBenson
Yeah, I was there. Picture a bunch of blue blazers, with spray-on dandruff. The conversation went like this:
"Monday playoffs suck. Let's just get the damn thing over with already."
"Sudden death is an abomination — we don't want our championship decided by a mudball. Ask Kenny Perry about that."
"But we want to maximize our prime-time ratings, and because of our abject failure to do anything about slow play, the final round takes an obscene amount of time. I think we have time for only two holes."
Why are people worried about bifurcation? One ball for pros/elite ams & what we are already using for us mere mortals makes complete sense...doesn't it? -@Luke_Elvy
Yes. Sort of. It would certainly make the pros' outdated playing fields more relevant and more interesting tests. It would also avoid the doomsday scenario of making the game harder for the weekend hacker. But I can't pretend to be excited about bifurcation, mainly because it would rob the pro game of so much wonderment. As much as I object to how distance gains have overwhelmed classic courses, I don't really want to watch Dustin Johnson drive it 270 — I can do that myself! The USGA and R&A were asleep at the wheel for decades, and now they're trying to make up for it by going back in time. But we can't unsee the last 20 years. There's simply no easy or good solution to the pickle the game finds itself in.
Regarding bifurcation, what general weightings would you give the following factors for increased distance off the tee: agronomy, athleticism, technique, ball, club (head and shaft as one), other. -Ryan (@RW_Mountain)
This is an interesting thought exercise. My highly unscientific answer:
Do pros stay up at night in their hotel rooms with Trackman? Dialing in their wedges? Swinging and putting in the room has to look different now, no? -John (@jtwills)
Obsessive pro golfers have always worked on their game in the privacy of their hotel rooms. Brad Faxon once told me he loved staying at the Inn at Spanish Bay because the curtains were so thick he could hit full 7-irons into them. Padraig Harrington, in a podcast we did a couple years ago, told some hilarious stories about accidentally damaging his rooms with golf clubs. One of the best rounds Tiger Woods ever played was a Sunday 63 to win the 2004 Deutsche Bank Championship. He talked afterward about how the night before, in the wee hours whilst taking a whiz, he had a swing thought and then spent the next hour and a half rehearsing positions in the hotel mirror. But for sure TrackMan offers more feedback on such hijinks. It's funny to see practically every pro leave the driving range with their Trackman around their wrist in a leather case, like a little purse, only more expensive.