Gary Van Sickle's Mailbag: Picking a Ryder Cup team, the Tiger bandwagon, the next dominator and more

Saturday January 14th, 2012
Tiger Woods has not dominated the game like he once did, but he has been showing signs of his old self.
Danny Moloshok/AP

It’s mail call for the Van Cynical Mailbag. Once again, I’m not as cynical as usual. Possibly because due to unseasonably warm weather, I was able to tee it up and play nine holes of golf last Tuesday. In January. In Pittsburgh. This weather is starting to remind me of my favorite bad 1960s sci-fi flick, “The Day the Earth Caught Fire,” but deep down, I know this is a fluke and that payback is hell. We’ll probably have the snowiest February in history. As all Midwesterners know, yeah, we’ve got it coming.

A better question not asked in your recent Mailbag: What’s the optimal U.S. Ryder Cup team if you could just pick all 12 players?—Brian Rosenwald via Twitter
You’re onto something, BriRo, for all those who say the Ryder Cup captain doesn’t do anything. Can you imagine if the captain just picked all 12? That’d be some great controversy for us media hacks to write about. There’s no such thing as the Definitive Dozen, but we could probably agree on a core of six Americans—Steve Stricker, Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson. After them, I’d definitely want Hunter Mahan, Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley and Bill Haas on the team, plus Tiger Woods if he looks as resurgent as he did in Australia and at the Chevron. Now I’m down to one spot for Rickie Fowler, David Toms, Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk and Bo Van Pelt, among many others. Coin flip. And I’d almost bet that someone I didn’t mention—like J.B. Holmes after brain surgery or Brendan Steele, maybe—plays his way onto the team on points this year. Which 12 players are in your wallet? Lemme know.

Why are you still riding the Tiger Woods bandwagon when he's clearly a shadow of his former self? Shipnuck's been done with him for over a year. —Keith R. Pillow, via Facebook
Thanks, Mr. Pillow. Guess you missed our year-end SI Golf roundtable discussion in which Alan Shipnuck picked Tiger to win the 2012 Masters and said, “It’s clear Tiger is going to win in 2012, maybe more than one and maybe even one that really matters.” Obviously, he’s not “done with him,” as you suggested.

You may also have missed Tiger’s play in the Presidents Cup, which was impressive, and the Chevron World Challenge, which he won. We’re hardly on Tiger’s bandwagon, just calling it the way we see it. If you think Tiger forgot how to swing a golf club, I believe you’re mistaken. If you think he may never get his putting stroke back to where it was, you could be right. That’ll determine how far he comes back and how much he wins. A shadow of his former self? Maybe that was true a year ago. Not now.

Any chance the tour goes to a once-in-every-four-years rule to strengthen the fields at some tournaments?—ffgolfer, via Twitter
Nope. Because Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour commissioner, knows he can’t make Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson comply with it. Finchem has to keep those two show ponies happy. When they complained about the season being too long and skipped the Tour Championship, Finchem shortened the season with the FedEx Cup. (Thus freeing Tiger and Phil to chase appearance money in Asia in November, so apparently the season really wasn’t too long—just too cheap.) When Tiger was unhappy about the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus being paid in an annuity, Finchem changed it to mostly cash. The big names don’t want a 1-in-4 rule. Therefore, it won’t happen. It would make more sense to help fields by rotating the tournaments that get WGC designations. Maybe the Firestone passes its WGC status to the John Deere Classic every fourth year. Or the Doral event hands off its WGC status to the Honda Classic or Transitions Championship. That would be a way, though also unlikely, to spread the wealth.

What’s your insight on the current generation of golfers? Can we safely assume that one player domination days are over?—Aman Misra, via Facebook
You mean like back in the mid-1980s and early 1990s when we safely assumed one player would never again dominate? Tiger Woods proved that assumption wrong. Someone will probably prove that assumption wrong again. Possibly even Tiger Woods again (although I’m not betting on it.) With the forgiving quality of the modern clubs, it’s more difficult than ever for a top player to separate himself from the rest. I’m not sold on Rory McIlroy as a dominant player. He’s a terrific player who’s got what—four wins? He won the U.S. Open in dominant fashion but he’s not close to dominating the game. Another dominant player (not counting Woods) will probably turn up and whoever he is, he’ll have to be the best putter in the game to legitimately dominate. It may take a decade, or longer, to find another one.

Why are you ragging on winter golf rules? Do you actually play winter (i.e., Chicago) golf, or is your "winter" golf in a warmer climate? —Gary Griffin, via Facebook
I played winter golf Tuesday at my home course in Pittsburgh just so I could say I played golf in January. Very unusual. I’m not sure you grasp the term, winter rules. That’s a copout some players use all spring, if not year-round, to justify improving their lies and rolling their balls over and giving themselves three-foot putts. I’m not ragging on winter golf, I’m ragging on players who don’t play by the rules, but they still want to have a bet and expect me to give them strokes. Yeah, I improved my lie a number of times Tuesday. It was like playing in oatmeal, lots of semi-plugged lies. Leave the winter rules for winter golf. Play it as it lies the rest of the year.

I hit my driver straight every time but it always goes left of my target. No slice or draw just left. Could it be as simple as ball position? Maybe too far forward?—Joe M. Bracamonte, via Facebook
You’re not paying me enough to talk about your ball position, Joe B. I don’t even know if you’re a boxers guy. Look, I’m just another low-handicap hack but it sounds like you’re probably hitting the ball where you’re aiming it. Set up to hit a shot and have a friend put a club so it touches both your shoulders and see where the club is pointing. (It’s probably pointing left, where you’re actually aimed.) If your shoulders are correctly lined up, try the same thing with your hips. If that club points at the target, too, then have your friend check where your club points at the top of your backswing, because wherever the club is aimed at that point is the direction most players hit it. Best advice—get lessons from a PGA pro, not a hack.

Is the new Adams driver a good buy?—Kevin Riley, via Facebook
Is a round of golf at Pebble Beach a good buy at $450? Some say it’s a bargain, others say it’s a ripoff. I can’t make that determination for you. Always hit a club before you buy it. And that’s never been easier, thanks to the high-tech golf simulators that can give you crucial launch data, enabling an expert to determine your optimum settings. All the major manufacturers make good stuff. It’s not as much about the clubhead as it is about getting the right shaft, flex, swingweight and loft/lie settings. That said, an Adams Speedline Fast 10 driver with a custom Fubuki shaft has been the driver in my bag for the last two seasons and in 2011, I set a personal high for fairways hit at 73 percent.

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