I apologize in advance if hanging Christmas lights on my patio has taken the edge off the Van Cynical Mailbag. I'll try to get back on my game.
There, that's better. Your snappy questions and my snippy answers follow:
Gary, Tiger Woods has won 70-some tournaments and 14 majors, and I'm a big fan of his, but one thing boggles my mind. How can he be so good yet can't hit his driver? If he drove the ball like Greg Norman, he would have passed Nicklaus in majors and probably Sam Snead in wins long ago. What gives with him and that club?
-- Anthony Hoy, Edmonton, via email
Ahoy, Hoy. Some observers think Tiger's driver went away after he began working with Hank Haney. I think a bigger factor was the moment Tiger gave up his 43 1/2 -inch steel shaft and went with a 45-inch driver with a lighter high-tech shaft. You may recall he did this some time after Phil Mickelson pointed out that Tiger was playing with "inferior" equipment -- inferior, Phil meant, compared to the latest technology available at the time. Tiger's switch gained him more distance, but he gave up accuracy. Then came Haney, knee problems and lots of other variables. We'll never know, but I'd like to see the guy swing a 43.5-inch steel-shafted driver again, just to see.
Gary, it appears that Tiger is still letting a bad shot "get to him." Mentally, do you think he will ever get back to "moving on" to the next shot? Are there any other golfers out there that let one shot mess up the next?
-- Tim Delaney, San Antonio, via email
TD, I disagree that Tiger's misses are getting to him. It's simply his technique, which isn't as consistent as it was. I wondered during his heyday whether he was really as mentally strong as we all thought, or if he just had such good technique that he was impervious to pressure. The opposite may be true now, but I think you'll see the number of misses, and missed follow-ups, continue to shrink as his technique appears to be improving… so far.
Gary, who will unexpectedly play like a donkey in 2012, and who will have a breakout year and win his first major?
-- GhostofHogan, via Twitter
Thanks, Mr. Ghost, but I haven't survived 30 years covering golf by making negative predictions about specific players. You're right, some big-name player absolutely will play like a donkey next year, but we have no way of knowing who that might be. I'd be concerned about Dustin Johnson, who got his knee scoped last week, and Steve Stricker, who's had neck and shoulder issues and was debating surgery. Any player who comes back too quickly from surgery is asking for trouble, so I hope DJ takes his sweet time. Same goes for Stricker, if he has work done.
My breakout pick for '12 may have already broken out. I like Gary Woodland, a good all-around athlete who's still getting better at golf. He quietly finished in the top 20 on the money list, hits the ball forever and teamed with Matt Kuchar to win the World Cup recently. He doesn't have much experience in majors, and perhaps '12 is too soon to call him out, but he's a player to watch, for sure.
Lots of questions regarding why the Presidents Cup doesn't have the same weight as the Ryder Cup. To me, it's encapsulated in one moment -- when Ernie Els faced Tiger Woods in a playoff to decide the 2003 Cup. Oops, it's getting dark. Play on tomorrow? No, my guys are too busy. Sorry, but that moment was a disgrace to the game (and I am a huge Nicklaus fan) and relegated the Cup to sideshow status in my book.
-- J.Russ Peeler, via email
It's ironic, JP, that a complete foul-up (starting with tee times no doubt ordered by TV that somehow prevented 12 matches from finishing before dark!) is the moment that put the matches on the map of golf. They walked a fine line between sportsmanship and apathy in the resolution that ended in a tie and got away with it. Can you imagine anyone daring to change the rules of the Ryder Cup while it was in progress? It was a colossal blunder all the way around. But I haven't heard any questions on why the PC is a distant second cousin to the Ryder. Nobody thinks it's anywhere near an equal. There's the history, there's the nationalism (or lack thereof on the hodgepodge International squad) and there's the apparent lack of parity. It's still a fun show, though.
I was watching Golf Channel when John Feinstein made the analogy that the Presidents Cup was similar to Duke vs. North Carolina-in football. I've seen many experts put down the event. I thoroughly enjoyed the coverage, saw a great course halfway around the world and enjoyed the team camaraderie. It's too bad the golf experts don't have more positive things to say.
-- Kevin Hanley, New York, N.Y.
Real golf fans -- that is, observers who like watching the game of golf played as opposed to, say, liking to just watch Tiger Woods -- like the PC. Those who don't like it largely aren't real fans of the game, including some of the media.
Gary, the latest Steve Williams debacle brings forth the question--can any of the tours suspend a caddie from tournaments? If not, does this incident indicate a need for reform?
-- Rene Andersson, Sweden
The tours can ban anyone they want, as far as I know -- players, caddies, spouses, media and fans. You've seen plenty of boisterous or negative fans escorted off tournament grounds over the years. But you need a stronger reason to ban someone than just for being a jerk. Otherwise, there would be fewer media types (ouch!) and agents (yeow!) hanging out.
Your Presidents Cup comment about how much better it would be if it were the qualifier for the Ryder Cup… reminded me that I proposed combining them into one global event in 2005, and designed and wrote up a detailed plan on how to do this, but nobody took action on it. The Ryder and Presidents Cups work toward similar admirable goals -- promoting golf worldwide and sportsmanship.
I feel this combined worldwide competition should continue to be named the Ryder Cup, but it should welcome the International team. I understand this is controversial, but my hope is that people can look beyond those issues and do what is best for golf worldwide. I'd be grateful if you could find the right people to take it seriously.
-- Geoff Fix, via email
Thanks, Geoff, for "Fixing" the Presidents Cup. I'm not sure I'm allowed to use the phrase "three-way" on this site. I'm not convinced a third team isn't one circus too many for one week. But as far as the concept, you're preaching to the choir here about including the rest of the world instead of continuing to exclude them. Nobody is going to take our ideas seriously about a Ryder-Presidents Cup merger unless they see in black and white how much more money they would take in once they go global and start attracting sponsorships and selling TV rights for much bigger fees in Asia, South Africa, Australia and South America.