ORLANDO, Fla. - We're on the doorstep of the Masters, less than two weeks away. It's time to temporarily shed my cynical winter coat and don the hopeful rose-colored glasses of spring… or not. Meanwhile, take a trip to this week's Van Cynical Mailbag:
Hey, Gary, a buddy is going to Augusta for the first time -- practice rounds. What should he not dare miss?
-- Matt McLain via Twitter
Your buddy should make sure to walk the entire back nine. It's so much hillier than on television. FYI, it's more than a 100-foot drop from the tenth tee to the tenth green. It would make a hell of a toboggan run -- well, except for the trees. You can feel the severe left-to-right slope of the fairway on the 14th. And what goes down must go up. Walking the 18th hole to the green is a huffing and puffing uphill effort. Your buddy will be surprised. Especially if he's out of shape. Also, he should check off the official food of the Masters -- the fried chicken sandwich. Others will tell you the pimento cheese sandwich is the Masters staple, but I'm sorry, what beats a piece of slightly spicy fried chicken on a bun? Nothing else at the concession stands, trust me.
Gary, I don't hear much about that new grooves rule anymore. What affect, if any, did it have? Could the same thing be done with the belly putter?
--Sean Cooney via Twitter
The USGA and the R&A apparently hoped that allowing only modified U-grooves might make the pros find the game more challenging, maybe even switch to softer-cover golf balls or higher-spin golf balls, which might play a factor in slightly reducing how far these guys bomb it off the tee. The grooves made almost no difference around the greens. The whole idea now seems like a fiasco. A complicated rules change cost equipment companies millions (although a short-term burst of soon-to-be illegal grooves helped ease the pain), and didn't faze tour pros while making the game more difficult for amateurs, who don't get much spin on wedge shots, anyway.
Due to the grooves issue, we've now got bifurcated rules -- that is, one set of rules for pros, one for amateurs. Sure, the same could be done for belly putters, but long putters have been around for 25 years so why do something now? I'm in favor of two sets of rules -- the ruling bodies could then rein in the pro game slightly while lifting limits on the rest of us hacks and make even hotter, longer drivers and continue to innovate so I can regain the 10 yards I'm losing for aging. Hey, it's all about me.
Gary, Will Anthony Kim ever recover his promise? He looked like a breakout star before surgery, but hasn't done anything since.
-- Brian Rosenwald via Twitter
Bad timing on your question, Rosey. Kim made a hole-in-one yesterday at Bay Hill and played a pretty good round. Can he keep it up? I don't know. It's never good to have a thumb or wrist problem in golf. Those parts of the body take such a beating in golf that it's hard to overcome those kinds of injuries, which can be career-limiting or career-ending. His opening round was a good sign. He looked like he's got a little bit of his swagger back and AK is totally a swagger guy.
Gary, what do you say about the PGA Tour's announcement that in the future, the new golf season will start in October, not January?
-- Doug Schwimer via Twitter
I say, You're welcome. I've made that suggestion and written it numerous times in the past. Nice to see they were listening. The Tour left the Fall Series events to die after it started the FedEx Cup, so it's nice to see those tournaments finally get some support. The big test will be whether the PGA Tour will give the fall tournaments full-value FedEx Cup points or just half-points. One sponsor has already threatened to pull out if its event doesn't get full points. Right now, those events get no FedEx Cup points, and their winners don't get Masters invites. That doesn't seem right. Make the fall events fully count. Who knows, maybe the pressure of feeling like they're falling behind on the new season will entice a few big names into playing a few events in the fall.
Hey, Gary, what's the favorite brand car that tour players like to drive?
-- Joseph Callaghan via Twitter
The courtesy car, Joe. Because the price is right.