SI's Gary Van Sickle on what's wrong with Tiger, the best golf buddy-trip destination, and Rory's latest near-miss

Friday May 11th, 2012
Tiger Woods continued to struggle at Sawgrass.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- It’s time for the Players Championship edition of the Van Cynical Mailbag. Thanks to all those irate disc-tossers who responded to my dissing their little game [see below] and the rest for your suitably cynical questions. Two thumbs up.

Gary,
Are you loading up your Tiger bandwagon for the Open? I am sure you will be sounding the trumpets for him come Olympia time. Just want to remind you that you were "Mr. Tiger" for the Masters---and where was he there? Not much of a contender. It is time to realize that Tiger has become merely mortal, and will be like the rest of the PGA golfers every week--he has a chance, but no better.

The media is all over Tiger every week, and TV just fawns over him like he is the only golfer out there. Personally, I like to see players in contention, not an also-ran that is eight strokes or more from the lead. I firmly believe that Tiger will not win in 2012 (a real PGA event).
Robert Pringle

Thanks for reading, Pringle. Love your chips--the regular ones, not the barbecue-flavored. It’s the Olympic Club at the Open, fyi, not Olympia. I think your belief that Tiger won’t win in 2012 is a little off-base, especially since he's already won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and did so impressively--by five strokes! It sounds as if you somehow aren’t counting that one. It’s a real PGA Tour event with a pretty good field on a tough course. Are you in denial or what? You’re right, that performance convinced me--and many others--that Tiger’s game was back in one piece. What happened at the Masters was shocking. I believe we will eventually find out that Tiger injured himself in some way before the Masters (over-practicing, perhaps, or he tweaked his knee or Achilles again) or he had some behind-the-scene personal or financial problems. Tiger looked all too average at the Masters and in Charlotte, but he looked like No. 1 at Bay Hill.

Tiger brings in the ratings and the attention, so no matter how badly you’re dying to see Kevin Na and Bryce Molder hit some shots, TV is going to keep showing Tiger, who is the game’s most mesmerizing figure. After the last 15 years, we should all be used to that by now.

Hi Gary,
Sorry for being a cynic but ... Tiger's come up with more than a few reasons for his bad days on the golf course (new swing, more reps needed, bad luck, wind, mud, etc.) and the latest is his posture/set-up. What's left?

Regards, Stuart Williams

"Sorry for being a cynic"? This is the Van Cynical Mailbag! Be a cynic and be proud, my man. There aren’t many other options for Tiger to blame. He can’t blame his equipment--Nike is about the only decent endorsement deal he has left. If he blames his coach, Sean Foley, he’ll have to find a new guy and there goes two more years, apparently, which would be a shame since he’s so “close.” I think that leaves the media (always a popular choice) or his caddie. Uh, this isn’t you, is it, Stevie?

Mr. Van Sickle,
I just read your blurb in the SI PGA Tour Confidential, and while I don't usually respond to such stuff I was so upset about your comment on whether Tiger Woods played for his parents or the fans, etc. I know this is hard for you to understand, but I am a 62-year-old African American who has been playing golf for 30 years. During that time I've watched my white friends join exclusive country clubs, make business deals with other club members and generally enjoy all of the beauty and benefits of the game. In addition I watched CBS wax poetic about the Masters and its tradition and importance all the while excluding African Americans. Whether he likes it or deserves it, every week that Tiger plays, my friends and I gather, cheer or literally cry because he alone embodies all of our hopes and makes up for all of the slights. I don't underestimate the pressure this puts on him or the expectations that it brings to his game.

You on the other hand have lots of potential heroes, none of who provide you with the same visceral emotions that we feel for Tiger. Imagine how my friends and I feel about a Masters champ named Bubba. Actually it feels kind of appropriate. In addition, I challenge you to ask Tim Finchem whom Tiger plays for. The pressure to save the tour ratings, prize money and the integrity of many of its tournaments has to be intense. Tiger is the goose that laid the golden egg for the PGA and even his biggest haters can't argue with that.

Your quote: "He never gave anything to the fans or media" -- I simply don't get it ... or maybe I do.
Donald Carter

I agree with your last point that you don’t get it, Mr. Carter, at least as far as my point was concerned. My point was Tiger treated the fans and the media with disdain throughout his career as if they didn’t exist or didn’t matter, yet then says he was playing for them? I have to call baloney on that. I fully understand his unique issues with fame but Tiger clearly wanted no part of dealing with the public.

Of course, Tiger has many followers, even among the media, because he did things none of us had ever seen before--or ever will again. He was a great champion with flaws, as is even more evident now thanks to Hank Haney’s book. I simply call it like I see it on Tiger’s attitudes. I’m more disturbed that you’re bothered by a man simply because he’s named Bubba. What about his name offends you? Were you also offended by President “Bubba," as Bill Clinton was known? How about one of the all-time greatest defensive linemen, Bubba Smith, who played for Michigan State in the 1966 Game of the Century against Notre Dame, and later became an actor and appeared in “Police Academy"? Did his name bother you? I judge people by their actions, like Tiger’s, or their words, like yours. I simply don’t get it, Mr. Carter. Or maybe I do.

Hi Gary,
My buddies and I are planning a golf trip this summer -- we're going to rent an RV out of northern Virginia and take 7-10 days to drive in whatever direction we see fit, stopping only to tee off every morning. The burning question: where do we go? We're all mid-handicappers and looking for some decent value. Can you help out some young, die-hard golfers?

Mike Mahoney

Go directly to Myrtle Beach, S.C., Mahoney. Do not pass "Go," do not collect $200. There are more than 100 courses in the Myrtle Beach area and with that kind of competition, you won’t have any problem finding great deals. And you won’t waste your valuable vacation time on the highways. Locals will gladly point you to the best tracks in the area--and there are plenty of them. It’s also got one of the best beaches in the world. You won’t be sorry.

Hey GVS,
Now that TW is "boycotting" the press, do we really miss anything? The next time Tiger says something interesting it will be the first. I've fast forwarded through his "interviews" on my DVR for years.

John Sinclair
Stillwater, Minn.

Talk of Tiger’s boycott was greatly exaggerated. He’s still talking to us and, as you pointed out, he’s every bit as quotable as ever.

Gary,
I was one of the officials at Yankee Hill CC in Lincoln, Neb., several years ago when your son was playing in the PGA Tour Q-School and you caddied for him. I had the chance to talk with you and your son a bit when I was doing the starting one of the days and was wondering how your son has gotten along. I also wanted to let you know that I thoroughly enjoy your articles and find your humor and ability to not take the game too seriously in your articles and answers to your mailbag questions very refreshing.

Hobart Gay

Thank you, sir. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll note that Mike Van Sickle made it through U.S. Open local qualifying earlier this week. He played with a bad shoulder the last two years, which negatively impacted his swing. This year, he’s healthy and finally appears to have his swing back on track like the MVS who led the NCAA Division I in scoring, was a first-team All-American at Marquette and won the Byron Nelson Award. He plays on the eGolf Tour and will be trying to Monday-qualify for some Nationwide Tour events. Thanks for the support!

Dear Mr. Van Sickle,
How can you possibly justify the statement in your April 27th column that "disc golf requires no physical skill"? Please indulge us apparently skill-bereft disc golfers in your audience, exactly how much disc golf have you played? I ask because your statement certainly reeks of ignorance. Also, if you have indeed played disc golf, please fill us in on your estimated average driving distance, and roughly how many out of ten 30-foot putts you would normally make.

Sincerely, A longtime ball golfer, disc golfer, and now former SI subscriber

Thanks, I heard from a number of Basket Frisbee players. That’s what George Sappenfield, one of the sport’s founders, originally called disc golf. It’s a better name because Basket Frisbee has nothing in common with real golf and shouldn’t usurp its name. Basket Frisbee is to golf what hackysack is to football. One irate Basket Frisbee athlete said his 11-year-old son could surely outdrive me. If true, and it probably is, that just proves my comment. Very few 11-year-old golfers who weren’t named J.B. Holmes or Tiger Woods would outdrive me in real golf. Basket Frisbee is a game, just like hopscotch, tetherball or marbles, not a sport. You’re right, I should not have said Basket Frisbee requires no physical skill. I should have said Basket Frisbee requires much less physical skill than actual golf. I stand corrected.

Good Day Gary,
I have a simple question for you. Why does my men's club (and many others) abbreviate closest to the pin as "KP"? I have questioned the pro at my club regarding this oddity and, after his exhaustive research, he has come up with nothing. I was hoping someone of your obvious intelligence might be able to give me a plausible explanation regarding the aforementioned enigma.

Bill Savory

I’m stumped, too, Bill, as were my colleagues here in the Players pressroom. None of us have heard the KP expression. Maybe you guys started it.

What is your view/perspective on Rory missing the birdie putt for the win and wedge in on the Wells Fargo playoff? Were you surprised? I am a Rory fan, I did not expect either.
Jarrett Turko, via Facebook

Nobody’s perfect. Rory did hit a couple of mediocre wedge shots in the final round, notably at the 11th hole where he flew the green badly and made bogey. In the playoff, it appeared that he may simply have been caught in an awkward distance between wedges and played the stronger one and had to ease it slightly to send it the correct difference. That putt was difficult--you wouldn’t expect anyone to make that. I wouldn’t say Rory had anything resembling a weakness, but I would say he’d probably like to continue improving his wedge play and his putting on super-fast, sloping greens. Don’t worry, he already looks like the best player in the game right now.

Why does Alan Shipnuck hate Tiger Woods?
Andrew Neal, via Facebook

Andrew, did you mean to ask why does Tiger Woods hate Alan Shipnuck? Otherwise, I have no idea.

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