Tour Confidential: Should Hunter Mahan make the Ryder Cup team? Plus, the best recovery shots ever and the future of golf
Every Sunday night, Golf.com conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
1. Hunter Mahan surged past a crowded leaderboard to win the Barclays by two shots. If you were Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson, would you pick Mahan for the team? Why or why not?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Watson has to pick some hot hands and hardly anyone else is hot, so he'll have to go with Mahan. Only reason not to pick him is how he played the 18th hole with a three-shot lead since every hole at the Ryder Cup is like playing the 18th hole in a tournament. But Mahan's already been through that trial by fire. So pick him.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): I would pick Hunter. Yeah, he lost to G-Mac at Celtic Manor, but if you're (still) looking to assign blame for that loss, the candidates run deep. You can't, alas, say the same for the pool of Americans who are peaking at this late date and who stand out as a good wildcard pick. If Hunter plays well (top 20) in Boston, I would think he's going to get picked.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Yes, given the three Golden Rules of Ryder Cup selection. 1.) Go with the hot hand (see the Barclays) 2.) Go with a guy who's really into it (see his fire at Celtic Manor) 3.) Go with guy who provides a good story line (see redemption).
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I would make up my mind on Sept. 2. No need to commit now.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Sure -- the guy is a proven commodity and confidence is huge going into the Cup. Who's playing better?
Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Why not pick him? He hasn't been the same Hunter Mahan in the past 18 months or so, but he's clearly hot. He beat a great field of Ryder Cuppers and has plenty of history in international team competitions.
2. During the CBS broadcast of The Barclays, David Feherty said that people always ask him what’s the best place in the world to play golf and his answer is the New York metropolitan area. Do you agree? If not, what’s your choice?
PASSOV: The parklanders around Westchester County combine with Long Island's linksy masterpieces to form a powerful combo. Still, I'll take the Monterey Peninsula, Southwest Ireland, Bandon Dunes (on a smaller scale) and the Australian Sandbelt courses around Melbourne.
SHIPNUCK: Well, virtually every track he is referring to is private except Bethpage, and they're pretty spread out geographically and hours from NYC, so it's not much of a destination unless you're in the 1 percent of the 1 percent and have your own helicopter and access to these courses. But if we're including private tracks, it's not even the best part of New York -- Long Island has prettier, more fun and more dramatic courses. Anyway, I'd rather go to the Monterey Peninsula, or Bandon, or southwest Ireland or St. Andrews or the Sandbelt outside Melbourne.
MORFIT: I like Northern Michigan in the summer, when the sun almost never sets and you can find a ridiculous over-supply of good courses. My favorite: underrated Belvedere.
SENS: Sure, if you're David Feherty and you enjoy ready access to the New York area's peachy concentration of private courses. But that doesn't apply to the vast majority of us. If you measure by what matters -- not just quality but also access and affordability -- I can think of a number of metropolitan areas that are worlds better for most golfers than New York. Minneapolis. Portland. Phoenix. Orlando. Even L.A. Unless you've got friends at Ridgewood (and Winged Foot, and Shinnecock and so forth) on speed-dial, as Feherty surely does, or you live across the street from Bethpage, New York is not an especially golf-rich place.
VAN SICKLE: Feherty is only right if you're a TV golf celebrity and can invite yourself onto any private club in the country, as he can. There are a lot of great clubs in the New York area, but they're mostly very private. You want to show up uninvited to play Garden City or Westchester or Century Club, good luck. Other than Bethpage, the public golf is below average.
BAMBERGER: If he includes the East End of Long Island, yes.
3. Phil Mickelson entertained us twice at The Barclays with attempted recovery shots from a beer tent near the fifth green. What's the most amazing recovery shot you've seen?
SENS: For style points and degree of difficulty, I'll take Seve's fairway wood from his knees from under a bush (nearly hooked and ran onto the green). Or maybe Jimenez off the wall at the 2010 British Open. But if you take the moment and import of the shot into account, how about Tiger's chip-in on the 16th at Augusta to pretty much seal away the 2005 Masters?
SHIPNUCK: It's gotta be Bubba on the 10th hole at Augusta National. In a vacuum, it was an amazing shot. But with the Masters hanging in the balance, it's the all-timer.
PASSOV: I've seen my share of video of rooftop recovery efforts, pokes from tree limbs and gouges from thorny desert plants (henceforth called "Dubuissons") but I'll go with Seve's car park save in the 1979 Open at Royal Lytham's 16th hole. Not only did he make birdie, but he won the tournament.
MORFIT: Jason Day, from the Amazonian jungle left of the creek on two at the most recent Valhalla PGA. How he got that out of there and advanced the ball as far as he did, I'll never know. Major bonus points for sinking the par putt.
BAMBERGER: I was playing with my friend Burt McHugh in an alternate-shot event. He hit a 254-yard driver out of the right rough (of course!), slicing past some trees and, in my memory, onto the green. It is not on YouTube but should be.
VAN SICKLE: I'll take pages 3 through 7 in the Seve Ballesteros catalogue, thank you.
4. President Obama took heat for playing golf after his press conference addressing the murder of journalist James Foley by ISIS, an echo of criticism that his predecessor George W. Bush received for playing golf during the Iraq War. No one suggests that presidents don’t need down time, so why is playing golf such a controversial activity for the commander in chief?
BAMBERGER: Because golf is so bourgeois, time-consuming and unathletic.
SHIPNUCK: It's so stupid. Being on a golf course is pretty much the only fresh air a president gets. The hours and pressure of that job are insane -- we should want any president (Democratic or Republican) to be able to clear his mind once or twice a week on the course.
MORFIT: The game has become emblematic of ostentatious wealth and the class divide, and not without cause. There are too many examples, the most famous being Augusta National, and President Obama is such a lightning rod anyway, it's bound to draw criticism when he tees it up.
PASSOV: I wish I knew why the activity of playing golf suddenly became so "unpresidential," especially during crisis time. Bad PR -- can't be anything else.
VAN SICKLE: There's always someone there to hate you when you're the president. That's why Bush renounced golf for the remainder of his presidency and didn't play. Golf was "in" for a while in the late 1990s, but now it's "out" again. Maybe it's related to a growing dislike of the very rich in America, especially bankers.
SENS: So much of politics is perception, and golf is widely perceived as an elitist sport. If POTUS were to peg it at a public track, there'd be less controversy. He'd be a man of the people, communing with the masses. But, as illustrated by question No. 2, that's not where guys like Obama, Bush and CBS broadcasters play.
5. We had violations of pretty basic rules on both tours this week – the LPGA’s Chella Choi made an improper mark on a one-foot putt at the Canadian Open and withdrew rather than accept a two-stroke penalty after a viewer called in the violation, and Seung-Yul Noh got a two-stroke penalty for playing a shot to the 11th hole from the second green on Friday at The Barclays. Are these just isolated incidents or do the tours need to offer remedial rules training?
MORFIT: Here's how stupid the Rules of Golf are: Mickelson can hit off fake grass inside a hospitality tent, and that's okay. Noh tries to hit off real grass on the golf course, and he's penalized. The whole rule book needs to be rewritten and greatly simplified.
VAN SICKLE: The Tour doesn't need to hold rules classes. It's the job of the players to know the rules. A violation is a violation, whether it was caught on TV and phoned in by a viewer or seen by someone in the gallery. Players should take the rules more seriously. You see it a couple times every year where a professional gets careless checking the scorecard. That shouldn't happen.
SENS: In recent times, they haven't seemed like isolated incidents (witness all the hoo-ha on the men's circuit last year). But it's also not the responsibility of the tours to offer remedial training. If your job is to play golf, you should know the rules of the game, backwards and forwards, just as a writer should know the rules of grammar, which is something I aims to learn someday.
BAMBERGER: The players need more training, and some really need to understand that signing an accurate card is at the essence of the whole game. I refer anyone to the excellent preamble to the USGA rulebook, called I believe -- and could you have a more bourgeois title? -- The Spirit of the Game.
SHIPNUCK: It's astonishing how many pros don't know the rulebook, especially given that the USGA hosts rules seminars a couple times a year. Annika Sorenstam went through one, recognizing that a strong knowledge of the rules not only helps you avoid penalties but in many cases allows you to save strokes. If other pros don't care enough to educate themselves, that's on them.
PASSOV: Way too many rules violations because the rules are way too complicated. But if I were making golf my living, I would make sure I knew every last rule. Might be dull study, but when it costs you tens of thousands of dollars, knowing them winds up being just as critical as extra chipping practice.
6. Tiger Woods was resting his back this week, but he came to New York to promote the new Nike Vapor irons. Woods appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Rory McIlroy and golf enthusiast Jimmy Fallon, a segment that made golf look cool, hip and fun. On the very same day, the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods announced the company was getting out of the golf business because golf was in “structural decline.” Are you bullish or bearish on the future of golf?
PASSOV: I'm still bullish. Just played an incredible par-3 course, Terranea, south of L.A. Todd Eckenrode design with superb variety, stunning Pacific views. Took an hour and 15 minutes, played all kinds of shots, had a blast. Golf needs to be faster, cheaper and more fun -- and it can be.
VAN SICKLE: It's hard not to be bearish when participation numbers have declined to 1985 numbers and golf-course closings are becoming all too common. What happens when the baby boomer generation starts dying off? Their numbers have kept the participation rates up and there appears to be no one to replace them. Golf could be the next tennis, as far as the public playing it goes. The First Tee, which was originally supposed to get kids interested and keep them in the game, has been a failure in that regard.
SHIPNUCK: Bullish for at least another decade, given that many baby boomers are just hitting retirement age. But once they're too old to play, and Tiger is retired, and water is a more precious commodity than oil, things don't look so peachy.
MORFIT: It'll always be part of life, as it was before and after guys like Palmer and Woods brought it more into the public eye. But in what form? Six-hole rounds? Smaller and less water-intensive courses? One big (15-inch) hole and one standard one for the purists on every green? Golf is in structural upheaval, which is maybe a better term than structural decline, and will be for the foreseeable future.
SENS: Setting aside the question's built-in flaw (if you appear on Jimmy Fallon, you are almost by definition NOT hip), it seems pretty clear that golf is going to experience a post-Tiger correction. In the long run, the game will be healthier for it. But many of us who partly owe our jobs to the boom years are likely to take a hit along the way. I guess that makes me bearullish, a mythological creature of some kind.
BAMBERGER: Oh, incredibly bullish. Greatest game ever. Even if it is bourgeois, time-consuming and unathletic.
The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.