Alan Shipnuck's Mailbag: Golf Channel's new policy, ranking St. Andrews, U.S. Women's Open sites and more

A day or two ago I got a call from a TV industry heavyweight who is a faithful reader of Tour Confidential. He wanted to weigh in on our trashing of the Golf Channel for 1) cutting away from the French Open playoff in favor of meaningless early action at the AT&T National and, 2) not showing a second of the LPGA's Jamie Farr Classic.
My source said that top Golf Channel execs were also upset about how the French Open overtime was handled. It sounds like a lower-level staffer made a bad call in the midst of the Fourth of July weekend and in the aftermath the Channel has clarified a policy to never break away from coverage of a playoff on any tour. As for the Jamie Farr, turns out the absence of TV coverage is the fault of the LPGA and the Farr, not Golf Channel.

The new 10-year deal that kicked in this year pays the LPGA a much heftier rights fee but shifts the television production costs to the individual tournaments. This is the depressing reason why so few LPGA events are in high definition – it's costs an extra $100,000 to present Natalie Gulbis's legs in HD and the cash-strapped tour, and its penurious sponsors, won't pony up.
The bill for a week's telecast is upwards of half a million dollars. The Farr does not have a big national corporation as a sponsor, and for the smaller regional companies that support the tournament exposure on the Golf Channel is just not that meaningful. They're involved with the tourney mostly for entertaining clients. Ergo, the TV blackout. Surely the LPGA wants its events televised and it would have stepped in and covered the costs if the money was there. Thankfully, there will be no more dark weeks the rest of the year, at least for domestic events.

One last bit of intrigue: During Confidential we kicked around the merits of having the LPGA finish on Monday, when it wouldn't have to compete for attention with the other tours. My source tells me the Golf Channel has been advocating this for years and that there's a strong chance there will be some Monday finishes in the future, maybe as early as next year. The Golf Channel is also pushing for prime time finishes anytime the LPGA is out west or in Hawaii. Monday Night Golf sounds swell to me.

If it were not the "Home of Golf," where do you think the Old Course would rank in the Open rota? Or in general? Bert Stewart, Philly

That's like asking, If not for the sex tape, where would Paris Hilton rank? You can't divorce the Old Course from its grand history and setting. I see what you're getting at – if you placed the same holes on some tacky stretch of English coastline would the course be so celebrated? Many of us would still appreciate the incredible subtlety and challenge, but no question some prestige would be lost. Luckily, the Old Course will always be the home of golf and the Open's greatest venue.

Isn't it just brilliant by the USGA to host the Women's Open on a classic Open course? Will they continue that? If so, what other courses would be considered? Pebble, Torrey Pines, Bethpage, Pinehurst and any chance on getting on Augusta? Petter Claesson, Stockholm

Yes, it's great for women's golf to visit famous courses that have long been part of the sport's history. The Women's Open will enjoy this extra buzz in 2014 when it's played at Pinehurst No. 2, the week after the gents play the same course. Years ago Pebble Beach committed to hosting the Women's Open but it will be sometime after 2019, due to corporate foot-dragging. I've been saying for a while that a lot of classic courses are the perfect length for the best women – Cypress Point at 6,500 yards is the perfect example. The members' tees at Augusta National would be about right, too. Bobby Jones was a huge supporter of women's golf and there would be no better way for this all-male club to improve its rep than to host a Women's Open. The timing is problematic—Augusta National annually closes from late-May until October because of the heat—but something tells me the LPGA calendar could be tweaked for a chance to visit Amen Corner.

I also like that the Women's Open is cultivating its own courses. In 2012 it returns to Blackwolf Run, the site of Se Ri Pak's epochal victory. And in '13 it will be the first big-time event to be played at Sebonack, one of the most celebrated courses to be built in the last few decades. So I like the mix of the old and new, giving the Women's Open a unique identity even as it spends more time at vintage Open sites.

If you could mix and match TV commentators from the current set, who would you bring together? Color guy? On course? In the tower? MacKenzie

My ears are bleeding just thinking about this, but here goes: I'd want Mike Tirico doing play-by-play and have a three-headed color monster of Johnny Miller, Nick Faldo, and Paul Azinger. Faldo was much better with Zinger as his wingman. Miller is great, goofy fun but he so lords over his NBC colleagues they seem incapable of challenging him. That wouldn't be a problem with Faldo or Azinger. On the course I'd want David Feherty, Roger Maltbie and Dottie Pepper. Pepper is extremely knowledgeable and prepared while the other two are great fun. In the towers I'd go with Peter Alliss (great storyteller, totally unpredictable), Judy Rankin (smart, low-key, erudite historian), and Gary McCord (existential/absurdist comedy by way of golf commentary).

I know that Ernie Els, one of the taller players on tour, uses clubs that are 1/2" longer than standard, but I was wondering how true this is across the tour. Do most players stick with standard-length clubs, or do a lot of them adjust the length? Pete Mohs, Saint Louis Park, Minn

Tour player specs are incredibly specific and idiosyncratic—clubs are endlessly bent, chopped and tweaked for fractional differences that are measured in grams and quarter-inches. Many players use sticks that are longer or shorter than "standard," the grips, shaft flex, kick point, lie and loft are also adjusted on a case-by-base basis. I remember at a long-ago Presidents Cup David Duval damaged his 8-iron and didn't have a replacement. He borrowed one from a guy in the pro shop and then spent the round inventing shots with his 7- and 9-iron so as not to have to use the foreign club. Finally, late in the match, he came to a watery par-3 and it was a perfect 8-iron yardage. He grudgingly pulled the club and hit a nice shot to the middle of the green. I clearly remember afterward Duval expressing amazement that he was able to hit a club that didn't perfectly match his exacting specifications. You know, like the rest of us have to.

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by Kevin Cunningham