Tour Confidential: How would the PGA Tour have handled Donald Sterling? Plus, U.S. Ryder Cup picks and Donald Trump
Every Sunday night, Golf.com conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
1. The NBA took a strong stance against racism when it banned Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life after TMZ published recordings of Sterling saying he didn't want his girlfriend to bring African Americans to Clippers games. The PGA Tour has had many chances to make a strong statement against racially insensitive comments -- Sergio Garcia's racial joke about Tiger Woods after last year's Players Championship, Steve Williams' comments about Woods at the 2011 HSBC Champions, Steve Elkington's tweets -- but Tour officials have chosen not to make their censure, if any, public. Why not?
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The Tour is politically spineless. It is without a soul. It bows to money above all and takes a stand on nothing. How about the gutless way for years the Tour allowed the Masters to be considered, in essence, a Tour event when in fact Augusta National did not meet the Tour's own requirements regarding membership policies for clubs that host events? The Tour's drug policy is rooted in cynicism, in perception, not a real desire to see the sport be clean. The Tour addresses race issues, to use an old phrase, with benign neglect. What has that ever accomplished?
Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com (@eamonlynch): The culture of transparency at PGA Tour HQ is on a level with Putin's Kremlin. The Tour's secrecy about disciplinary proceedings -- enforced with equal vigor on everything from slow play to cheating to drug use -- has nothing to do with the privacy of the persons concerned, but rather presenting a sanitized product to corporate partners and fans alike. This is why Vijay Singh's lawsuit alleging arbitrary and inconsistent treatment so worries the defenders of the dream in Ponte Vedra. Nothing would give Tim Finchem more agita than having to make public the Tour's record of disciplining players. The Tour is sorely ill-equipped to deal with a public controversy when it comes. And it will.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Discussing the penalty requires talking about the original offense and therefore additional blows to the image. Silence seems like a better option.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): A generous explanation might be that players and caddies are independent contractors, allowing the Tour to maintain a certain distance and deniability from those opinions, unlike the NBA/Sterling case, which involved a franchise owner. Less generously, you could say that golf has never exactly stood boldly on the front lines in the fight against discrimination. On the contrary, many of its most venerated courses and institutions have made it either their formal policies, or their accepted practice, to keep very specific segments of the population out.
Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Who knows? Best guess is that the PGA Tour believes a cloak of secrecy protects their brand, but in reality, as other leagues become more open with violations and punishments, the Tour steadily appears weaker and behind the times. Not a great image for a game that's steadily shrinking.
Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): First of all, the PGA Tour is notorious for keeping any controversies at bay and any disciplinary actions under wraps. That said, the golf examples we've cited involve players and caddies, which is somewhat different in scope than our NBA example, where a team owner, that is to say, someone in power, who represents the league, made the offensive comments. I'm having a little trouble defining the distinction, but that's how I see it.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): The Tour is obsessed with the notion that its players are nothing but swell fellows; therefore all discipline must be kept in house to maintain the illusion. But in the absence of public censure the players are emboldened to say insensitive things. It's a broken policy.
2. J.B. Holmes won the Wells Fargo Championship, his first win since his 2011 brain surgery. Holmes is another intriguing potential U.S. Ryder Cupper with his length and his winning experience at Valhalla in 2008. Right now, these nine players would qualify for the U.S. team: Bubba Watson, Jimmy Walker, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Harris English, Jason Dufner and Phil Mickelson. If you’re Tom Watson, who would be your three captain’s picks.
VAN SICKLE: I'm going to assume Tiger won't be ready to play. I'll go with the next three guys on points list, Zach Johnson, Chris Kirk and Webb Simpson, but I'd keep an eye on Holmes and a few others. The points list is going to change drastically because the next three majors are worth double.
PASSOV: Tiger Woods remains at the top of the list. He's still number one in the world, and he's still the MAN until someone takes it away from him. Zach Johnson is next. I like his killer instinct, his experience, his ability to close, and his ability to make putts. Third, I'll go with Jim Furyk. The guy just keeps playing well. Not great, but well. I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow, but tonight, those are my three picks.
SHIPNUCK: Zach, Keegan, Willie Mac.
BAMBERGER: If he's healthy, Snedeker. Ryder Cup captains should always pick putters. Zach Johnson, too. And along those same lines, Jim Furyk.
RITTER: If he's healthy, I'd take Tiger (and so would Watson) as a political move if nothing else. What if you don't pick him and end up getting beat? You'd never hear the end of it. The next two spots are more fun. Holmes is appealing because his power can be paired with anyone and he played on a winning team in '08. I'd want guys in peak form, and right now Holmes is there. And I can't believe Zach Johnson toppled out of the top nine, but he'd be my final pick, and I might even slot him into the final singles match on Sunday.
SENS: Zach Johnson because he's nails in match play. Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler because I like the tweaks they've made in their games of late, and because they both seem really fired up about the event.
LYNCH: Given the number of likely rookies, I'd go for anyone who has played a Cup before and who isn't currently on the Champions Tour, which is already overrepresented with the captain and both vice captains.
3. With improved greens from a year ago and some well-received design tweaks, did Quail Hollow prove itself major-worthy this week -- considering it will host the 2017 PGA Championship?
PASSOV: The players love this place, as well they should. It's got that great Golden Age feel (even though it only dates back to 1961), with wide, rolling fairways lined with mature hardwoods, yet it also possesses that modern, pulse-quickening drama in its finishing stretch. Interestingly, our Top 100 course-ranking panelists like Quail Hollow, but aren't enamored with it. Give the greens another year of seasoning and Quail Hollow is definitely major-worthy.
VAN SICKLE: Quail Hollow is way better than Kiawah Island's Ocean Course and a few other poor PGA Championship choices that I won't bother to name. A bigger question is, How will the course play in the midsummer August heat?
BAMBERGER: The players generally have good taste in golf courses. If they like this course as much as it seems they do, I'd say it’s PGA-worthy.
LYNCH: As long as Torrey Pines is hosting majors, the answer to this question is always yes, no matter what course is being discussed.
SHIPNUCK: This tourney used to be the fifth major. Maybe it will be again next year as more big names return to see the revamped course, which is certainly worthy of hosting a PGA.
RITTER: It was major-worthy before the makeover, but the revamped 16th and 17th are now even tougher and, perhaps most importantly, look awesome on TV.
SENS: Yes. It's a strong design, and it's burly enough to stand as a stout major test. Not that those two criteria are always the foremost considerations when settling on a major venue (see Torrey Pines South and Olympia Fields among many examples).
4. Donald Trump will host the 2022 PGA Championship at Trump Bedminister in New Jersey, giving him his long-desired men’s major championship. He also bought Turnberry last week so he’ll almost surely host an Open Championship there, and he already hosts one of the Tour’s most high-profile events at Doral. Is all this Trump good for golf or is there a downside to the Donald?
BAMBERGER: Whenever you have too much power in the hands of one person, there's reason to worry, but so far it's all good. The Bedminster course is a very handsome, big sprawling modern golf course. It's not the kind of thing I love, but it is good for tournament golf. He looks to be improving Doral in every way. As for Turnberry, it's one of the best in the world, the hotel and the courses both. Golf needs Trump right now more than Trump needs golf.
SENS: I wouldn't want to be on the other end of a business deal with Trump, and I'd certainly never hire him as my interior designer, since I'm not into gargoyles, or as my hair stylist, because I'm not crazy about the Chia Pet-in a-windstorm-look. But I don't mind him as a golf course owner. His cartoonish self-promoting aside, he appreciates great courses, and he's smart enough to know when to tone it down. I don't think we'll see him rebrand the Open as the Donald Trump Links Championship anytime soon, if that's what you're asking.
SHIPNUCK: Well, *someone* has to invest in golf these days. Trump can certainly grate but he loves golf and he brings extra buzz, so it's time to embrace him and recognize his new importance to the game.
LYNCH: Trump is always apt to be mired in controversy and unseemly public spats, so an association with him carries some risk for typically risk-averse golf organizations. Still, the courses he is buying and events he is hosting have long been starved of public affection and oxygen. He provides plenty of both.
VAN SICKLE: Golf needs every ounce and every dollar of promotion it can get. That makes Trump the right man at the right time. Spend, Don, spend!
RITTER: You can love or hate Trump, but looking at this agnostically, a very famous billionaire who loves golf and is investing huge parts of his own fortune into it has very little downside.
PASSOV: Trump loves golf, is a strong player, and his every move keeps golf in the news. Late last year, he was on Letterman and mentioned both his Doral project and his new Ferry Point in the Bronx, a public course scheduled to open in late 2014 or early 2015. Golf can't buy positive publicity like that, especially these days. OK, he's used to getting things to go his way, so there's always a potential downside, once he starts butting heads with folks, but I think he's got a healthy respect for golf, and what it's meant to him in his life. I'm seeing nothing except upside to The Donald as Golf Czar.
5. While the PGA Tour’s biggest stars have been mostly MIA this season – except for Bubba -- the LPGA had another big name win this week: Stacy Lewis at the North Texas Shootout. Has the LPGA become more entertaining than the PGA Tour?
VAN SICKLE: The PGA Tour has had a series of underdogs knocking off proven champions this year, plus the comeback story of Holmes. It's been very entertaining if you actually like golf, but the winners haven't been the usual big names. The Shell Houston Open finish was about as remarkable as you're going to get. Paula Creamer made a crazy ocean-liner putt, but overall, I'd favor the guys.
BAMBERGER: Not more entertaining, but more exciting -- everything seems new and fresh. I can't remember the last time it was this good to be the LPGA.
RITTER: It's been a great year for the LPGA and Lewis is another fantastic winner. If you love watching golf on all tours, you'd probably say advantage LPGA so far this season.
SENS: Easier to root for, with more likeable and approachable players whose games we can more easily relate to. But that's not the same as being more entertaining.
PASSOV: We admire Stacy Lewis immensely, but we don't ooh and aah when she launches the ball. I've enjoyed the LPGA season a lot -- many compelling events and breakthrough performances, notably from Lexi and Wiesey -- but until they can make magic happen in the ways that most every threesome that tees off on the PGA Tour does, they're not going to be quite as entertaining.
LYNCH: Only if you're LPGA commissioner Mike Whan.
SHIPNUCK: Your question is misguided and ill-informed -- the LPGA has been more interesting for years and years.
6. The fifth major is almost upon us! Give us your Players Championship pick and reason why.
VAN SICKLE: There is no fifth major. However, I'll pick Matt Kuchar at the Players. He's played the most consistent golf of anyone this year and he's got good memories and a good feel for that course.
SENS: Rory McIlory, because I keep picking him to win another big event and one of these days he's going to prove me right.
BAMBERGER: Furyk. Home game. He's trending. He's due. He's a shotmaker and a smart player.
PASSOV: Phil Mickelson is getting closer and closer, despite a final-round flameout at the Wells Fargo. Still, it's time for Jordan Spieth to shine with a great win, not just with a great showing. Much of the pressure is actually off Spieth, because he's proved that he is already among the elite in the game. Now he just has to let the victories start happening. He will start at the Players.
RITTER: I'll take Kuchar, who's won it before and seems to either win or come close to winning every week.
SHIPNUCK: Luke Donald. It's a finesse course now and he's long overdue for a win.
LYNCH: Johnny Miller. He's the only guy at Sawgrass I'm confident is assured a good week. All else is fate and folly.
The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.