News

Alan Shipnuck's Mailbag: Writing a Masters game story, Phil's chances at St. Andrews and the 'Best Player Never to Have Won a Major'

Don't know about you, but I'm still buzzing about the Masters. What a stellar tournament, and it
sets up so many juicy storylines for the rest of the year. To wit: Can Phil get
halfway to a Mickel-slam? Can Tiger find his swing? Will AK build on that spectacular
final round? Who's the best Korean? Will either English bloke rally from their
crushing weekend disappointments? I know I'm supposed to be answering
questions, not asking them, but this Masters has me all aflutter. OK, your turn ...

@AlanShipnuck What's the process for
writing an SI game story? What percent is written out ahead of time? Do you
use much reporting from other SI reporters?
Howard Riefs, Chicago.
Via Twitter (@hriefs)

The Masters game story is
always the most intense week of my year. A lot of space gets set aside — 7
pages this time around — and if there's a good winner it's pretty much a
guaranteed cover, so all of that comes with a certain amount of pressure. The
tournament ends around 7 p.m., then there's at least an hour of interviews and
running around. Deadline is 7 a.m. on Monday. To write 2,000-2,400 words. Last
year I wrote all night, took a shower around 6 a.m., packed my stuff and headed
straight for the airport, without a second of sleep. I was done this year
around 2:30 a.m.

In the old days, circa the
turn of the century, I had a dedicated reporter whose job was to help me report
the story. It's a vast playing field and you can't be everywhere at once, or so
the thinking went. Those days are over — I'm all on my own now. Other SI scribes
will occasionally share a nugget with me but they have their own magazine/web
stories to fill, to say nothing of tweets, talk radio phoners, and dinner-party
small-talk.

The Sunday time crunch is
so intense it's always advisable to write as the week goes on. We call this "the
middle." It's a regular press room talking point with the few magazine scribes
on hand, like "Got any good middle yet?"

This year Tiger's return was always going to be part of my story, so I
spent Saturday night and Sunday morning banging out about 800 words about his
eventful week. In almost any scenario this was going to hold, so that put me way
ahead of the game. I also had spent the previous days hoarding and then organizing
my material around potential winners, eliminating them as the week wore on. By
Sunday morning I was pretty confident it was either going to be Mickelson or
Westwood. I also had tons of material on Anthony Kim from a feature I've been
working on and will turn in next week, so I was thrilled when he started
charging up the board. (I had nada on K.J. and was thus cursing his every
birdie. Nothing personal, mind you.)

I spend a lot of time on
the course the first three rounds but Sunday is mostly spent in front of a TV
and my computer. As Phil was taking charge early in the back nine I started
writing that lead. I had gathered a lot of good info and the story was coming
together quickly enough that I bolted the press room and ran down to catch him
on 15. I wanted to soak up the scene (and, frankly, I needed to stretch my
legs.) I followed him home.

The one thing I really
needed in the story was Amy Mickelson's voice. I had spent days beseeching Phil's
people to set up a phone interview on Sunday night, but there was no firm
commitment. When I saw her behind the 18th green I knew that was my
chance, though not at 18, where there was a huge crush of reporters and fans. I
circled back over to the Butler Cabin where the family of the victor always
gathered. I've known Amy since the mid-90s and when she saw me she broke away
from the family. I got a big hug and we talked for about five minutes. (Scott
Michaux of the Augusta Chronicle was there, too.) It was the last missing piece
of the story, and as soon as we were done talking I started typing in earnest. You can read the story here.

Hey Alan,
I asked
David Dusek this question last night and I'd like to get your opinion on it.
After Phil's spectacular win at Augusta, and presuming he plays well in the U.S.
Open which he nearly always seems to do, what do you make of his chances of
contending at St Andrews? David Dusek pointed to his high ball flight on a
windy links course being an issue and I tend to agree but something tells me
this is going to be a special year at the Majors for Phil. What do you make of
Lefty's chances of claiming the Claret jug? Thanks.
Ronan O'Keeffe

You're smart to
double-check anything Dusek says! This feels like 2004 all over again, when a
huge win at the Masters turned Phil into a contender at every other major that
year. Pebble sets up great for him. If he wins there it will be bedlam at the British,
especially because the Old Course sets up well for
him. Mickelson finished 11th there in
2000, his second best-showing ever at the Open, besides his third in '04. For a
lot of his career Phil played a big balloon ball and he couldn't control it in the
wind. He's controlling his trajectory so much more effectively now I think he
can play anywhere, anytime. And the Old Course demands more creativity in the
short game than any other Open venue. I definitely expect Phil to contend
there, and wouldn't be at all surprised if he wins.

Did
Tiger chuck the goodwill he earned with his ridiculous post round interview
Sunday? By not acknowledging the love he got?
Paul Koeherst

How
much goodwill did he really earn? Tiger was definitely more interactive with
fans early in Masters week, but once the tourney started he was back to his old
brooding self, complete with inappropriate language. I thought he handled
himself very well in his pre-tournament presser, but again, as the tournament
wore on he became more curt and defensive, topped by the awkward CBS interview
you mention. Tiger's biggest problem is Phil, who reminded everyone at the
Masters that it's possible to win with class and grace. Mickelson has always
been great with the fans and never loses his cool on the course, and all of
this throws into sharp relief Tiger's antics. (As for their differing devotion
to their spouses, I won't even go there.) Woods could always at least claim
superiority between the ropes, but the gap between them right now is as close
as it's ever been.

So who is now the "Best Player Never to Have Won a Major"? Gregory Turley, McAllen, Tex.
Via Twitter (@get_atty)

At this point I think you have to say Westwood. He's
been right there for the last three majors, to say nothing of the '08 U.S.
Open. And he backs it week-in-and-week-out as the top player on the Euro tour.
A couple years ago I thought Sergio was the guy but he's a lost soul who has
drifted into irrelevancy. Steve Stricker
deserves a mention because of his lofty world ranking and his four PGA Tour
wins in the last 11 months. But dude simply disappears in the majors — he hasn't had
a top-5 in the 21st century.

I'm think about
starting a golf blog, but worried about no one reading it. Have any tips on how
to get started and gain readers?
Michael Montisano

I would recommend Beatriz Recari bikini photos, for
starters. If you're thinking of going a little more high-brow, the key is to
post often, and to have a strong point of view. Anyone who wants a mere news
accumulator is already loyal to golfobserver.com.

A good blog has to have a
distinctive voice. Geoff Shackelford at his eponymous site is the gold standard — he's
a traditionalist with an obsession about the effects of technology on course
architecture and how the game is played. He's also an eagle-eyed media critic.

Stephanie Wei at weiunderpar.com offers spiky, quirky commentary on the news and is great
at digging up off-beat topics.

Ryan Ballangee at waggleroom.com helps advance
the story with a lot of original interviews and reporting and frequent
commentaries on the lively open threads on his site.

Bottom line, people will
find you if you write interesting stuff. As for your fears about no one reading
your material, hey, it hasn't stopped me!

More From the Web
by Kevin Cunningham