PGA Tour Confidential: Graeme McDowell wins RBC Heritage
Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
1. Before his playoff win over Webb Simpson at Harbour Town on Sunday, Graeme McDowell hadn't won an official PGA Tour since the 2010 U.S. Open. Why doesn't he win more?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: G-Mac doesn't have the length to overpower courses and his ballstriking can be streaky. He can win on a lot of PGA Tour courses, but not all of them. Augusta National, for example, would be a reach for him.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: As I alluded to the day before the tournament, G-Mac has had a lot to sort out since winning his major -- new house, impending wedding, new biz venture -- and I think now that those other things are settling into place he has some wins coming. Also, it's just impossible to keep up the pace he had going in 2010. Can't go anywhere but down after that season.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: The easy answer is it's really, really hard to win on the PGA Tour. G-Mac had such an incredible year in 2010 -- winning the U.S. Open, holing the winning putt at the Ryder Cup and beating Tiger at his own event -- that he was bound to have a dry spell. Plus, he doesn't have the firepower to dominate a course, so he's going to live and die with putter more than some of the other guys in the top 20.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Has has rung up a few other wins, they just happened to be either outside the U.S. or at Tiger's unofficial event in December. I wonder if the pressure and attention from being the best player in the world, as he was in '10, rattled the laid-back McDowell just a bit. Plus, he made a club switch at the start of 2011, just like Rory McIlroy did this year. (We've established that this can cause an adjustment period, right?) It's surprising he went three years without a win here, but I don't expect it to take nearly that long for his next one.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: It just shows how hard it is to win on the PGA Tour. For years, Tiger spoiled a lot of guys' weeks. Now with the fields so deep, all it takes is one player getting hot with the putter to take down the game's best.
Joe Passov, senior editor, travel, Golf Magazine I'm hardly a swing expert, but it seems to me that with his homemade swing, he winds up with some bad misses when he gets out of rhythm. He's a great grinder and sinks a bunch of clutch putts, and that puts him in contention a lot, especially on hard courses. When he's off, however, he's way off.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: His swing. I think it's too dependent on whatever biorhythm he is feeling that week. I'd advise him not to change a thing, or listen to people like me.
Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com Winning on Tour isn't as easy as Tiger's record over much of the last 15 years would suggest. McDowell does seem to play well on tough courses -- which is why he contended at the U.S. and British Opens last year -- and the Tour doesn't visit that many tough set-ups. Given how straight he hits his driver (see May's cover story in Golf Magazine), it wouldn't be a surprise to see McDowell contend at Merion this summer.
2. Adam Scott's Masters win -- and his charming performances in his post-Masters media appearances -- created a new star on the PGA Tour. What does the impending anchored-putting ban mean for Scott's future? And will Scott's victory change any minds at the USGA or R&A about moving forward with with the ban?
Godich: Scott's win will only embolden the USGA to push forward with the ban. And whatever happens, Scott will be fine. The monkey is off of his back. He'll play with renewed confidence, and he is such a good ballstriker that he will contend no matter what kind of flatstick he has to put in his hands.
Passov: Scott seems so well-liked by his peers and his class-act-in-defeat last year after the Open was so convincing, I would think he'd figure out a way to adapt if he's forced to change. I mean, he did win a slew of big-time events putting conventionally and I'm betting that now that he's banked his major, there will no longer be the intense pressure on him like there was before last week, so he can now relax a bit when he strokes the short stick. Of course, I played with him at New Zealand's Cape Kidnappers late in 2008 and was both shocked and amused at how awful his putting was, in the tournament and in our casual pro-am round. What a scary-great swing -- repeating it over and over -- and equally scary-bad on the greens.
Morfit: I doubt it'll have any effect. I think the issue has been decided and if anything his win will fortify the anti-anchorers.
Reiterman: As Scott said, give guys enough time to work with a piece of equipment and they'll do well with it. He's won plenty of events with a conventional-length putter. I can't imagine his win did anything to sway the USGA and R&A.
Ritter: Could be wrong, but I think Scott's current form is very close to being legal under the new rule. If it's a violation, I think he could set up with the broomstick a couple of inches off his chest rather than resting against it, and he'd be good to go. Either way, Scott will be fine, but nothing he can say or do will alter the USGA's current push to ban anchoring.
Lynch: If anything Scott's victory might only cement the ban on anchoring, which will probably be announced late next month and take effect in a couple of years. As for a ban's impact on his career, Scott was considered a mediocre putter with a short stick but he's actually not much better with the long wand. His stats in putting from inside 15 feet this season are terrible, even compared to his short putter years. It's hard to see him becoming a regular major winner with that weakness. But he's got a green jacket, confidence, a great attitude, an effortlessly polite disposition and is highly marketable. Shame he's ugly.
Bamberger: Scott's likability makes it harder to impose the ban. His performance with it makes it more necessary, if you don't want a nation of anchorers.
Van Sickle: The USGA, as far as I can tell, is an immovable object that has never listened to much of anyone, including in the late '90s and early 2000s when we were all saying the golf ball was going too far. If I'm Adam Scott, I'm busting my butt to try to win as many majors as I can before 2016 because after the ban goes into effect, I might be done winning majors. No long putter wants to admit that publicly but they all know it inside.
3. A lot of top players turned in disappointing performances at the Masters. Who has the most to prove at Merion?
Van Sickle: The most to prove is Rory McIlroy. He's got 250 million reasons to start playing well. Golf is a game of ups and downs and he needs to get back on the Up escalator in a hurry.
Ritter: Tiger's trying to prove he's the greatest player of all time, and to do that he really needs a major this year. I think Merion represents his best shot at it. Next on the list would be Westwood and Donald, who are long overdue to break through.
Morfit: Brandt Snedeker just looked out of it that last day at Augusta, after talking up his preparedness to win. His performance at Harbour Town (T59) is salt in the wound. He could make everyone forget about that at Merion.
Bamberger: Woods. He showed the world he cares more about himself than the game that has enriched him. My enormous respect for him took a hit at Augusta.
Godich: Luke Donald. If he's not careful, he's going to start getting labeled as the next Lee Westwood. Length won't be a factor at Merion, but accuracy will. That should play right into Donald's hands.
Reiterman: Once again it's Tiger. He was cruising to a fifth green jacket, and then his rules calamity derailed his chances for major No. 15. Everyone says Merion will be Royal Liverpool 2.0 -- lots of stingers, no drivers -- and it sets up perfectly for Woods. We'll see.
Passov: Rory, Rory, Rory, Luke. Phil could retire happy tomorrow (if he wanted to); it surprises me more now when he plays well than when he doesn't. Lee Westwood seems to have the wrong karma for majors. Rory so wowed us all -- media and public -- that it's time to sound the alarm bells if he doesn't at least contend at Merion. I mention Luke because the former World No. 1 doesn't seem to factor in enough at majors -- and Merion would appear to suit his strengths.
Lynch: Tiger. Every passing major takes him further away from his 14th at Torrey Pines five years ago and no closer to his stated goal of 19.
4. Peter Uihlein, the former Oklahoma State star, had the 36-hole lead at the Open de Espana before finishing in a tie for eighth, two shots back. Jordan Spieth, who left Texas after his freshman year, had another solid week on the PGA Tour, finishing T9 at Harbour Town. If you had the first pick in the 2013 PGA Tour Draft, would you take Uihlein or Spieth?
Morfit: Spieth is getting it done right now so he's the easy choice. Uihlein still has to get to the Tour, and that won't be easy since he's not on the Web.com Tour in 2013.
Ritter: Both players are great talents, but I've seen more of Spieth and really like his grit.
Bamberger: J-Spieth. More big-league experience.
Lynch: Spieth. He's quietly racking up the kinds of finishes that build experience and confidence, and those are two valuable commodities to have acquired at age 19.
Reiterman: I'll say Spieth, only because he's had a lot more success on the PGA Tour. But I admire Uihlein taking the more interesting road to the big leagues.
Passov: I admire Uihlein a lot for trying to prove himself -- and grow as a person and player -- by doing the globetrotting thing, but I can't figure out if he's under more pressure or less for being the son of Titleist/FootJoy majordomo Wally Uihlein. When you're not hurting for cash, it's hard to know how hungry you are. Spieth just has an incredible attitude. He's always been really mature for his age, great sense of humor and perspective. He seems to have the game to back it up. I like 'em both--but my money's on Spieth.
Van Sickle: I'd take Spieth. He's played his way onto the PGA Tour while Uihlein had to go overseas to find a place to play. I'd say Spieth's game and career are a little further developed than Peter's. But he's still got plenty of time. It's hard to get a foot in the door on the PGA Tour. Spieth already has that. Peter doesn't.
Godich: I'll take Spieth. He has accomplished more while playing on a better tour, and he's a couple of years younger than Uihlein. Plus, he played with the pressure of having to perform to earn temporary status for the rest of the year. And he responded. I can't wait to see how he fares back home at the Byron Nelson, where he contended for three rounds during his high school days.
5. In a 2012 survey of Tour pros, Harbour Town ranked as the second-best course on Tour, behind only Augusta National, and ahead of both Riviera and Pebble Beach, among many others. Is it really THAT good? How does it stack up with Pete Dye's other trophy tracks, such as the Ocean Course at Kiawah, Whistling Straits and TPC Sawgrass as a proper test for the pros?
Bamberger: Is this question serious? Harbour Town is so much better than any of those courses it's a joke. The Tour players overrate Harbour Town, maybe, but it shows how much they appreciate golf's finer points, and wish they had more chance to show off their skill at them.
Van Sickle: Harbour Town is a landmark course because it changed golf course design, for better or for worse. The Ocean Course is one of Pete's worst. He built a course you can play only through the air in a location where it's often so windy you need to play it on the ground. That makes no sense. Whistling Straights is a masterpiece of finger-painting because every little ridge and mound and bunker was created. It was dead-flat farmland before. From that viewpoint, it may be his best because he started with nothing. TPC Sawgrass is iconic, which is amazing again because he started with nothing. It was a swamp. I like the way Harbour Town makes superior use of all its trees. That's great design. I'd say yes, it really is that good.
Passov: I get why the pros generally love it. Flat fairways don't cause much trouble and the rare chance to get to work the ball around the tree branches is fun for these guys. Plus, the flattish greens, usually kept at manageable speeds, flatter the flatsticks, because there's almost no fear of looking foolish on a putt. Harbour Town is so old-fashioned, it hardly feels at all like Dye's more oversized efforts, and you'd never believe that Jack Nicklaus consulted, given the way most Nicklaus courses turned out. For me, it doesn't have the inherent hole-by-hole muscle or drama that you like to see at majors, but as nearly a one-off on Tour, it's pretty cool.
Morfit: Harbour Town is good because it holds up despite not being super brawny and long, and that brings a lot of really good non-bombers like Brian Gay into the mix. It's also a beautiful place to hang out, more so than those other Dye tracks.
Godich: Harbour Town is proof that a course needn't be 7,500 yards to be Tour-worthy. It is nice to see. I know the wind was up, but winning score in relation to par was the same as it was at the Masters. That ought to tell us how good Harbour Town is.
Reiterman: Harbour Town is always a fun event, but it lacks any memorable holes, except for 18. Kiawah and Whistling Straits weren't much fun to watch, and looked even less fun to play. To me, Sawgrass is the best test. Of course, that's easy for me to say since I'm not a Tour pro!
Lynch: I've never played it, but the key here is remembering who is doing the ranking. People who play for a living have a different criteria for liking courses than the rest of us. They like predictability, a test that values execution over imagination. In that respect a tight, hazard-strewn layout like Harbor Town seems far removed from Riviera but quite in keeping with other Dye courses. By which I mean that a mis-hit shot at Riviera is akin to a car crash with a chance of recovery, whereas usually a poor shot on a Dye design is like a plane crash with no survivors.
6. Broadcaster Pat Summerall passed away this week. His soothing baritone, low-key calls and willingness to tee up the talent that surrounded him made him one of the greats. Who is the best play-by-play announcer in golf today? Who is your favorite of all time?
Morfit: Summerall had such a great voice, it's funny to think he was discovered by accident. Dave Marr was a cool guy, back in the days of ABC Golf. But as far as the main man, Summerall will be hard to beat.
Van Sickle: It's hard to argue with Summerall as the all-time best golf host. Jim Nantz stands out now because the others are clearly a notch or two below him. I think Brian Hammons of Golf Channel is way underrated.
Ritter: Wacky old Peter Alliss is still my all-time favorite, while Summerall was the best from the U.S.
Passov: When Peter Alliss gets play-by-play duties, he's still my favorite. Savage wit, incredible knowledge and perspective. Other than the schmaltz that he's contractually bound to dish out at The Masters, I'll give Jim Nantz the nod. He's such a golf geek and really knows his stuff. For all-time, I'll go with Summerall at the Masters, Alliss the rest of the world.
Reiterman: I know he takes a lot of heat for his schmaltzy style, but there's a reason Jim Nantz can do the Super Bowl, the Final Four and the Masters, he's that good. I just wish he didn't feel the need to cap every tournament with some signature call ("Y.E.S!")
Godich: I like Dan Hicks, perhaps because NBC doesn't do as much golf. His voice is a refreshing change. He also has great chemistry with Johnny Miller. Best of all time? it was hard to beat Summerall and his less-is-more approach. He was the same with in the NFL booth -- authoritative but not overbearing.
Bamberger: I learn the most from Johnny Miller. My favorite of alltime is Gene Sarazen. What charm.
Lynch: All-time: Peter Alliss, whose turn of phrase was unique. Today: Johnny Miller. If the job of an announcer is to offer insight, engagement and entertainment, Miller has no equal. Anyone who nominates Lanny Wadkins here ought to face some form of sanction. Seriously.