It's too early to start the countdown to the U.S. Open at San Francisco's Olympic Club. It's too early to start a countdown to next month's Players at the Stadium Course, too. So I'm starting the countdown to lunch. But first, this week's snippy answers to your snappy questions for the Van Cynical Mailbag (or VCM as insiders are now calling it):
Darren Clarke won the Open Championship and Phil Mickelson was close. Does that mean it's easier for middle-aged players on the British Isles?
-- Golfnut Kuma via Facebook
Well, Golfnut -- is it OK if I just call you Nut? -- you have conveniently forgotten that Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, who are just barely past the embryo stage in comparison to Clarkie and Lefty, were right there with a chance to win. Then again, Tom Watson nearly won at Turnberry a couple of years ago when he was older than dirt. The quirky links the Open is played on require experience and local knowledge, which favors guys who have been around. The greens tend to be at more remedial speeds than the other majors, on account of wind that has been known to blow at 40 mph. Winds that high would make fast greens unplayable (play was stopped due to high winds during the 2010 Open at St. Andrews), and slower greens speeds may help the older guys whose nerves aren't what they used to be. So you could be right, old guys rule and young guys drool.
Why doesn't anyone seem to know when or if Rory McIlroy got the U.S. Open trophy back from China?
-- B.J. Turk via Twitter
You know how it is, Turk: What happens in China stays in China. Especially dissenters. Actually, that's a great question. I couldn't find a follow-up on the story about the trophy being confiscated in Chinese customs. However, I contacted Joe Goode of the USGA and he confirmed that the trophy is, indeed, now back in Rory's hands, "An innocent case of being lost in translation," Goode added. According to an unnamed source, the backup plan if it wasn't returned would have involved super-agent Jack Bauer.
Jim Furyk had an unexpectedly down year in 2011 following his FedEx Cup win in 2010. His last four finishes this year are tie for first (and lost in playoff), 11th, 11th at the Masters and eighth at Harbour Town. What mistaken equipment changes in 2011 has he changed for 2012?
-- Bob E.
As I wrote for SI last month from the Transitions Championship, Furyk tried to pick up some distance last year so he went to a ball with less spin and a driver to match. He picked up a few yards but lost some of his shot-making skills by playing a ball that spun less, which meant he couldn't work the ball as effectively to the right or left. So he changed equipment companies, clubs and balls this year. He also junked his belly putter experiment before the Presidents Cup and went back to a conventional length putter. Furyk is playing Callaway gear now, including their ball and their RAZR X forged irons.
Is golf better or worse without a really dominant player?
-- Claude Darnell via Facebook
An excellent question, C.D., deep and philosophical. For the sport to get national attention, and by that I mean front-page treatment in the sports section, it needs a high-profile star/dominant player, someone the casual golf fan knows (and from what I can tell, casual fans are the vast majority of the golf audience, unfortunately). In the '60s, one golfer everyone knew was Arnold Palmer. In the '70s and '80s, it was Jack Nicklaus. Then Greg Norman and, of course, Tiger Woods. When the game is between dominant golfers, casual fans (and that includes some members of the golf media) lose interest and think tournaments are boring. Why? Because they don't know who the players are and, ultimately, they don't really like golf.
A great example was the PGA Championship won by Shaun Micheel. He and Chad Campbell waged a weekend-long, 36-hole duel that culminated in Micheel winning when he hit a 7-iron shot to within inches on the 72nd hole. If it had been Mickelson and Ernie Els, it would be the stuff of legend. But since fans had no idea who they were, it didn't resonate. On the other hand, a lot of real golf fans enjoyed the time when Tiger was sidelined because they were tired of him hogging all the attention. It was a nice break to read about different winners like Padraig Harrington. The public, and, therefore, the media, are way too Tiger-centric. But Tiger makes golf seem more important. That's just the way it is.
You must be kidding me. Is the PGA Tour really using a picture of the Alamo behind the first tee this week at the Valero Texas Open? Why? What a stupid idea. So the next time the tour goes to D.C. they put a picture of the White House or Capital or Washington Monument behind the first tee? Or maybe a backdrop on every tee? I find it laughable and sad at the same time.
-- Phil A.
Well, Phil, I like to laugh when I'm sad so I think that's good. I have to admit, I've never seen a prop like this on a golf course. Maybe the Nationwide/Champions/LPGA should get some backdrops that show fans standing around the greens. That could be the next level for this genre.
What are the chances, in your opinion, of an athletic adult male committing 6-7 days a week and 5-8 hours a day on golf and then playing pro golf in three years?
-- Rick Nevarez via Facebook
You can play pro golf right now, Rickster. Anyone can turn pro. Making money at pro golf, that's another matter. I'd rate the chances at about zero. Professional golf is full of first-, second- and third-team college All-Americans who can't make it off the mini-tours. Three years of eight-hour days? These guys have been doing 10 hours a day for 15 years. And they've got years of tournament experience. Playing golf is one thing, competing in tournament golf is a completely different animal, even at the amateur level. Plus, even if you practice for hours, it's wasted unless you're practicing the right thing. So finding expert instruction is another key. Don't quit your day job. Even when you're talking about the Hooters or eGolf tours, these guys are good.
Did Matt Kuchar change his putter length at the RBC Heritage?
-- Peter Cowlin via Facebook
I don't know, Peter, but he did wear a different shirt each day. Does that help?