Alan Shipnuck's Mailbag: Meeting Michael Whan, Phil at Pebble Beach and more
Follow Alan Shipnuck on Twitter It's so edifying to once again be exchanging ideas and enjoying a high-minded discourse with my readers. Here is a sampling of the comments about my work from Kapalua: "I think you are mediocre writer without an ounce of investigative backbone in your character.. This is a waste of electricity... Sorry, this is just a very weak effort... You're NOT fit to write any sort of column, your judgment is completely flawed... With a haircut like that and you have the cheek to call Monty 'smarmy'!!"
Before we get to this week's repartee — which is sure to elicit more love letters from the readers — I wanted to tell all of you about my breakfast the other day with Mike Whan, the new LPGA commissioner. I was in Southern California working on a story, so we met in a hotel lobby not far from his home. (He and his family are still in the process of relocating to Daytona Beach, Fla., where the LPGA has its headquarters.) My first impression of the Commish is that he has a welcoming down-home demeanor and tremendous energy. Both qualities will serve him well as he tries to please the competing constituencies of a global tour. We didn't talk a lot about the nitty-gritty of tour operations because Whan is pleasantly honest regarding how much he still has to learn. He was quite funny musing on his boyhood in Cincinnati. He played football and baseball, and in his ill-fated stint as a relief pitcher has the distinction of having served up home runs to future major leaguers Barry Larkin and Jim Leyritz, the latter blasting a Grand Slam that Whan says, "might still be in orbit."
Whan has a palpable passion for golf, having spent his teens working at a couple of Cincinnati clubs. As a personable, clean-cut youngster he was recruited for the pro shop, but he steadfastly remained on the greenskeeping staff. "That way I could finish my workday early and still have time for 18 holes," says Whan. "Maybe 36."
For all the golf talk, the best tale told by the new commissioner was from his football days as a wee lad of 8 or 9. It's an easy metaphor for how he will preside over the most high-profile women's sports league on the planet. "One day at practice I heard the coach talking to my dad," says Whan. "He says, 'Well, your son isn't tough enough to play linebacker. He's not fast enough to play running back. He's not big enough to be a receiver. But no kid has ever learned the playbook so fast, so we're going to make him quarterback.' I was crushed. I thought it was the ultimate demotion. But my dad explained that I'd be the guy with the ball in my hands — it was my job to run the team and make everybody around me better. That's still a role I'm comfortable with. And I can still take a hit, too."
To the questions: "Alan, please, who do you think has a better chance to make it to the Ryder Cup - Ryan Moore or Rickie Fowler?" — Peter I think Ryan Moore is going to have a big year, and I expect him to make the Ryder Cup team. There's no way there are 12 Americans with more talent than this guy. I watched him play a bunch at Kapalua, and he has an awesome combination of power and touch. He showed a lot of flair and imagination navigating the Plantation Course, which will serve him well on any venue. Most importantly, he's finally figured out life on tour and what he needs to do to play his best at every tournament. There's definitely a learning curve to being a touring pro, as Rickie Fowler is finding out. (He opened the first round of the Sony with a double bogey. Welcome to the bigs, kid.) Like everybody else, I love Fowler's potential, but expect him to struggle at times this year, like every other rookie. He certainly has enough game to play his way onto the team but I think it's a longshot. But come 2012, he should begin a stellar Ryder career. "Is there no sensitivity in writing a book together with one of the pros you are employed to cover as a journalist? Also, What's the deal with the Pavins?" — Petter The book in question is my collaboration with Christina Kim, which comes out this spring. It's a valid question — can I be totally objective covering her in the future? We'll see. If she misses a two-footer on the 72nd hole to blow the Dinah Shore, I'll have no trouble ripping her. But we also have a deep kinship, which would certainly make me more sympathetic to her side of things. Whatever mild conflict of interest may or may not exist, the tradeoff is that through Christina I have learned so much about the tour, her colleagues and the many nuances and challenges of being a touring pro. It's certainly made me a better reporter. Also, because Christina trusts me so much some of her fellow players have become more inclined to do so, too. You may have seen my December story on Michelle Wie — no reporter has ever gotten that kind of access with her, and I believe a small factor in Michelle opening up was all the nice things Christina told her about me, some of which were true.
As for the Pavins, I've recently had a little tongue-in-cheek fun pretending to be upset that I'm being blocked on Twitter by both Corey and his wife Lisa. Turns out mock indignation makes good fodder for tweeting. But despite what they think, it's all good. I've always admired Corey, going back to 1995 when I wrote a long feature about him for SI. In the course of reporting that story, we went fishing, hit balls at a driving range and took in an Orlando Magic game. (To give you a sense of how many epochs ago this was, Penny Hardaway was the best player on the floor and hit a shot at the horn to win it for Orlando.) So if Kofi Annan wants to broker a truce, I'm amenable. "Why is Pebble constantly being referred to as Tiger's home turf, one of his favorites, etc., etc.? He won there twice (in the same season) 10 years ago, but I would be surprised if he has played there four times since." — Brian
In fact, Tiger hasn't shown up at Pebble since 2002. I have it on very good authority he was going to play this year, as Open scouting but also because the guy is a mercenary and this was to be his first Clambake since he signed his new endorsement deal with AT&T. It's a big loss for the tournament but only strengthens Phil Mickelson's case as the new sheriff in the Del Monte Forest. During Tiger's self-imposed Pebble exile, Mickelson has twice prevailed at the tourney ('05, '07), to go along with his title from 1998. Even before Woods dropped out of sight I felt like Phil deserved to be co-favorite at this year's U.S. Open. It's the tournament he wants more than any other, on one of his favorite courses. Winning this Open won't erase his crushing near-misses at Winged Foot, or Pinehurst, or Shinnecock, or Bethpage, or Bethpage, but if Phil takes this Open it will be the second-sweetest achievement of his career. "Alan, Paddy grabbed two majors during Tiger's medical leave from the tour. Who is best poised to win during Tiger's current leave from the tour?" Phil, obviously. I've always been bullish on Geoff Ogilvy, and I think this is the year he'll add another major. He's figured out his scheduling and preparation, and having a baby in mid-February will force him to take some time off and thus be fresher in the summer. I also think Padraig Harrington will be a force again. But those three guys are already major champions. Other, lesser players may benefit the most if Tiger's leave is prolonged. There are a lot of guys who have long-standing inferiority complexes when sharing a leaderboard with Woods: Sergio Garcia, Steve Stricker, Sean O'Hair, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott. Any or all of these guys could have a breakthrough this year. "Will someone ask the Tour if Tiger will face any kind of suspension for 'conduct unbecoming'?" — John PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has already addressed this and said that he doesn't believe the Tour penalties are appropriate for Tiger's infidelities. Had the Keystone Cops, er, Florida Highway Patrol, tested Woods and discovered the accident was alcohol- or drug-related, this would be a much harder sell for Finchem. But in the absence of any of this kind evidence, Tiger is guilty of horrible judgement, questionable taste, utter stupidity, and mind-boggling recklessness, but ultimately he has not been charged with a crime or done anything untoward between the ropes. I'm quite sure Finchem does not want to begin policing his player's sex lives, however entertaining that might be. Follow Alan Shipnuck on Twitter (Photos: Scott Halleran/Getty Images; Michael Cohen/WireImage.com)