Alan Shipnuck's Mailbag: Fall Series, LPGA awards, Fred Couples, Tiger Woods and more
How do you know the golf season is winding down? Because Mailbag production has dropped precipitously. I've been on a little book leave, racing to finish my collaboration with Christina Kim on a compulsively readable diary of the 2009 season. I'll tell you more about it at the appropriate time, but now for the most pressing questions of a sluggish fall. "Do you think the Fall Series tournaments will eventually fold? It seems like the Tour does not support them in any way. If I was Timberlake [right, with Martin Laird], I'd want a better date or I'd pull my support." - John from AustinThe major flaw in this question is that it assumes the Fall Series tournaments are real PGA Tour events. In fact, they're elaborately staged dress rehearsals. The Tour has done an excellent job Band-Aiding together a schedule for 2010, but 2011 is likely to see a lot more upheaval, with more sponsors dropping out and a handful of empty dates opening up. Voila, the current roster of fall events can slide right into the "regular season" schedule after having had a few years to work out the kinks and establish fan bases. Once that happens the Fall Series will mercifully disappear forever."Is the mainstream golf media ever going to focus on the LPGA's Player of the Year/money list/Vare Trophy races? You've got the top Korean [Shin], Japanese [Miyazato], Mexican [Ochoa], American [Kerr], European [Pettersen], and Taiwanese [Tseng] player each with a chance to win it all. Why isn't this covered like a pennant race in baseball?" - Bruce SimonThe LPGA is dark this week, and then it's a sprint to the finish with the final four tournaments played over four weeks in four countries: Korea, Japan, Mexico, Texas. Hopefully golf fans will start paying attention because, as noted, there are a half dozen intriguing players in the mix for all the important season-ending awards and, blessedly, strokes are still the metric, not points. But here's the problem: the events in Korea and Japan have no U.S. television coverage. The players are treated like rock stars in those countries but over here they'll be lucky to get a few mentions on "Golf Central." Luckily next year the new Golf Channel deal kicks in and the network is contractually obligated to televise more of the LPGA's overseas schedule, so hopefully this late-season black hole will not be repeated.
"I find Freddie Couples to be an almost mythic figure on tour. I think he's one of the most naturally gifted players to ever pick up a club, yet his results have been good not great for someone with such immense talent. How much has his personal life limited his success on tour?"No question Fred's rocky personal life has distracted him deeply. He lost both of his parents to cancer years ago, but it was domestic troubles that received the most attention. Long after his first wife's outrageous alimony demands made headlines, she committed suicide by jumping off a building. Couples went through a high profile engagement at the 1995 Ryder Cup but never made it to the altar.His most recent marriage was difficult from the very beginning—two weeks after they started dating, Thais Bren was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fred stuck with her through her treatments but their marriage was turbulent enough that they were no longer speaking when she died this February. That much heartache and tragedy would sabotage any career, but just as ruinous have been his physical problems. In March of 1994, when you could still make the case that Freddy was the best player in the world, his back blew up on the range at Doral and he was never the same again. Couples never quite lived up to expectations but, given his myriad challenges, it's a testament to his awesome ability that he still managed to win 15 tournaments and a Masters.Put it this way: I consider Couples and Mickelson to be equals in talent dept. (Quibblers: Freddy has never been as good a putter, but he's always hit it much straighter.) Phil's stable life and good health—notwithstanding the recent challenges—will leave him with 45 or so career victories and probably five or six majors. That's how much the off-course stuff can affect a career. [For more on Couples, see Cameron Morfit's Golf Magazine interview from earlier this year.]"What do you think Tiger's long-term goals are before he hangs up the spikes? I think he is on a 5/20/100 path: 5 U.S. Opens, 20 majors and 100 PGA Tour wins."I think those numbers are conservative. A bad year for Tiger is five victories, so barring any more blown-out knees he should get to 100 overall victories before he's 40. He's got three U.S. Opens in the bank; in the next 10 or 11 years he'll likely get two cracks at Pebble Beach and one each at Bethpage and Torrey. Tiger's won at all of these venues. If he takes half of these tourneys, he's at five Open victories, and he'll have other chances at Pinehurst and OakmontWinged Foot, two courses where he nearly won past Opens. So give him two or three more national championships, at least a couple more green jackets, two more Open Championships at the Old Course and a few stray PGA Championships, and he could easily reach 25 major championships. Mind-boggling. "Hey Alan, Notice how Stevie Williams always takes his caddie bib off early on the 18th hole? I know he's The Man's caddie, but why would the rules people on the PGA Tour allow this special signature move?"More baffling than Williams's conduct is the fact that I've been asked this question four or five times already. I've always ignored it but clearly this is an important issue to the Golf.com readership. So, have you noticed that when Williams removes said bib, he is revealing on his polo the oversized Valvoline logo he gets paid to wear? That couldn't be one of his motivations, could it? Then there's the fact that it's always chaotic behind the 18th green when Tiger is around and Williams has a lot of mini-duties: guard the clubs, crowd control, snarl at reporters, and be on call in case his boss needs him in the scoring trailer. So it makes a certain amount of sense to dispense with the bib as soon as possible. But really, I think it's because Stevie is just a rebel at heart, and there's nothing more radical than removing your bib a few seconds too early."In the PGA Tour Confidential discussion this week, you reacted fast -- 'No thank you' -- to the suggestion of Jay Haas as a Ryder Cup captain in 2012. Why? Something about him we don't know? Something between you two?"Like everyone on earth, I like Jay Haas. He's a nice guy and good human being and in his day he was a fine golfer. But by the time the ‘012 Ryder Cup rolls around Haas will be nearly 59 years old and a decade removed from playing the PGA Tour. He won't know many of the players and they won't know him. Couples and Zinger were effective captains in large part because they were pals with their players and could relate to them as contemporaries. Not so with old man Haas."What's your take on Poulter's Twitter behavior? It seems like he has a thin skin and takes the bait from people. Is this a reflection on his real personality?"Yes."What's with players giving an excuse when they withdraw from tournaments? This week Leif Olson withdrew after an opening round 88 due to 'illness.' I suppose it's possible that he played bad because he was sick, but I am guessing he withdrew due to 'playing like crap.' Is it a breach of etiquette to just tell the truth?"No, but it would be unprecedented. I didn't call around to uncover the specifics of Olson's W/D because frankly that would require a little too much actual work, but W/Ds are often suspicious. "Stiff back" and "sore wrist" are common reasons given and can be roughly interpreted as "hungover" and "suffering from the yips and losing my mind," respectively. And not to cast aspersions on young Mr. Olson, but an inordinate number of withdrawals seem to happen in party towns like Vegas and Miami. Maybe W.D. are really the initials of a very toothsome rope-hoper.And now for my favorite question of the fortnight: "Will this column actually appear eventually or are we just being asked for questions week after week?"I thought about making this an existential exercise in which answers never appear, thus making the Mailbag more about the journey than the destination. My editor found this too tedious and obnoxious and thus the 'Bag was reborn. The next one will appear Nov. 3. Or so you'd like to believe.(Photo: Marc Feldman/Getty Images (Timberlake); Jon Super/AP (Williams))