Tour Confidential: Does Jordan Spieth Have Multiple-Major Talent?
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. This week we're joined by a special guest, CBS Sports analyst Peter Kostis.
1. Jordan Spieth birdied the third playoff hole to defeat Patrick Reed and Sean O’Hair and win the Valspar Championship. Spieth joins Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Robert Gamez as players since 1940 to win twice on Tour before age 22. Does Spieth have the talent to win multiple majors or does his relative lack of power mean he’ll only be able to pick off wins here and there on shotmaker’s courses?
Peter Kostis, CBS sports analyst (@peterjkostis): Seriously? Lack of power? I believe averaging nearly 300 yards off the tee is enough to compete. So many times we judge players on the tangibles like swing positions and aesthetics, or power, just like they do at the NFL combine. We neglect the intangibles like heart, competitive emotional composure and those things that make you a winner. The fact that Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick shows the flaws of the evaluation system. Jordan is a winner, period. I would expect more victories and multiple majors before his career is done.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@cameronmorfit): I walked with Spieth as he played the last nine holes in regulation, and the three playoff holes, and I don't think he's too short off the tee to be dangerous at the majors. He was even with Reed after both hit great drives on 18 in the playoff. Plus, Spieth is getting more comfortable in the big moments, and that was the only thing that was missing. He looked at the hole as he made a crucial six-footer for par on the 17th in regulation, and then looked back at the ball as he made that tense 12-footer to salvage an unlikely par on 18. The putt he made to win, on 17 in the playoff, was traveling pretty quickly when it hit the back of the hole. Whatever. He found a way to get it done "in the smoke," as Trevino used to say.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Can I give a shout-out to the Innisbrook event first? Best event in a long time. Unpretentious players in the playoff, on an unpretentious course, with an unpretentious sponsor, and an unassuming telecast. Three Americans taking different routes there, with different swings, all playing fabulously imperfect golf. I loved watching all three. I love Spieth's heart, win or lose. Whether he ever wins another golf tournament or not, I like his future.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Yeah. A real powder-puff. Only averages 295 off the tee. I almost feel sorry for him. No. I don't think we have to worry about his length. He has won on some stout courses and he was right there at Augusta last year, a layout that has been stretched to a pretty hefty distance, last I checked. If he stays healthy, no doubt he nabs a major or two before all is said and done.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@markgodich): Spieth is plenty long (30th on Tour in driving distance at a step shy of 300 yards) and seems to be getting stronger—he's just a bit crooked off the tee (135th in the rankings heading into the Valspar). I also seem to recall that he finished T-2 last year in his first trip around Augusta National, at the age of 20. With that putting stroke, he can win pretty much anywhere, and I think this victory (and the manner in which he won) is going to open the floodgates. Spieth will win twice more this year, and one of those might be a major.
Michael Walker, assistant managing editor, GOLF.com (@michaelwalker): Jordan Spieth can be the American Rory McIlroy. He's not as long, but he's long enough, and with that short game and clutch putting he can compete anywhere with anyone. Spieth has a presence and confidence about him that reminds me of when McIlroy came on the scene. Everyone has game on Tour, everyone's competitive, but guys like Tiger, Mickelson, McIlroy carry themselves differently, like they're meant to be wearing green jackets and hoisting Claret jugs. Spieth's like that.
Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@joepassov): Spieth absolutely has the talent to win multiple majors. He's got more than adequate power, averaging more than 289 yards off the tee in 2013 and 2014 and is up to 295 so far in '15. Augusta can play like a bomber's paradise yet he nearly won there last year. Controlling his emotions and shaky short putting seemed to be problematic last year, but clearly, he's progressed. What he proved at Innisbrook this week is that he's loaded with heart and guts. So many loose shots, so many amazing recoveries, so many huge putts.
Jeff Ritter, senior editor, SI Golf Group (@jeff_ritter): Multiple majors are coming. If not for Bubba's unbreakability down the stretch last year at Augusta, Spieth might already have one. What Jordan lacks in power he makes up for in irons, scrambling, putting and guts. Wouldn't surprise me at all if he bagged major No. 1 this year.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Spieth has two huge assets. He's a great scrambler who simply gets the ball in the hole. He's a genius at it. Second, he has the ability to hole out when needed. He's a buzzer-beater, it's just in his genes. He only has to get a little straighter tee to green to be a Curtis Strange, Tom Watson type of player. Luke Donald got to No. 1 without being a power hitter and Spieth, I think, will be much better.
Coleman McDowell, assistant editor, SI Golf Group (@colemanmcdowell): Spieth has increased his driving distance six yards from last year's average and ranks in the top 50 so far this year. It’s not like he’s dribbling it out there 250! Birdies are often linked to prodigious length, but Spieth was sixth in birdie average last year and is eighth this year. Players who hit it shorter than Jordan? Justin Rose, Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler.
2. Tiger Woods has chosen to skip Bay Hill, where he's an eight-time champion. Old friend Notah Begay, who spent time with Woods in the past week, said, "Things are improving, but it's still a good decision to wait until he's 100 percent (before he returns to the Tour)." Good decision to wait? Will he be back for the Masters?
BAMBERGER: Tiger has been saying for a while that golf is not his highest priority and it's obviously true. He showed that out west, he's showing it again this week and at Bay Hill and one way or another he'll show it at Augusta.
KOSTIS: Tiger is at a critical juncture in his career and he must be very careful which fork in the road he takes. He, and only he, knows when he will come back. More importantly, he must listen to his heart and his head to make his own decisions. Everyone seems to know what's best for Tiger, but none of those opinions mean anything. Tiger needs to fall back in love with Tiger and the game of golf. Until that happens, he should stay away and that includes the Masters.
WALKER: With his history at Bay Hill and his respect for Arnold Palmer, Tiger would have played if he thought he was ready. So we can safely say the short game still needs work. Tiger's almost certainly playing the Masters and we might see him at the Shell Houston Open for a pre-Augusta test-drive.
GODICH: It says a lot that Tiger is skipping a tournament at which he has had so much success. You'd think he would want to return on a track where he feels comfortable. That said, his absence speaks volumes about the state of his game. I'm beginning to think we won't see him at Augusta National, and even if we do, that it won't be pretty.
RITTER: If Tiger is healthy, he should tee it up competitively as soon as he's beaten the chip-yips because that's the best way to get in playing shape -- and to turn everyone's focus away from his short game. I have no idea if Tiger will play before the Masters or if we'll see him in Augusta. Skipping Bay Hill tells me this could take a while.
MORFIT: Skipping Bay Hill is probably a good call, but only Tiger knows for sure where his game is at this point in time. Bay Hill is a hard course, with lots of water, and there's no sense in going out there and shooting a million, the way Tiger did at last year's PGA Championship, and, to a greater extent, this year's Phoenix Open. That just drains his confidence. I'd guess he'll play the Masters, but gone are the days when he could just drop in out of nowhere and finish T4. He's figuring out a brand new swing and he's got chipping issues. If he plays the Masters with no warm-up events and finishes even in the top 10 I'll be very surprised. Still, I sort of hope it happens.
MCDOWELL: It would be news if Notah Begay said anything besides the company line emanating from Team Tiger. But yes, it’s a good decision. Don’t add more scar tissue with embarrassing short game follies at Bay Hill and drive through Magnolia Lane with the most confidence possible to try and will your way to contention on Sunday. What's the other option?
VAN SICKLE: In the absence of any factual info on Tiger, I fall on his side. Some other players could play their way into shape, perhaps, but Tiger is in a fish bowl like no one in golf has ever been. It would be counterproductive for him to show up with less than 100 percent, especially in the wake of those chipping episodes. Skipping Bay Hill is an eye-opener, though, and it makes me think there's still a very small chance he might not play the Masters, although that's not the Tiger I think I know.
PASSOV: I'm still missing something here. Didn't Tiger believe his golf game was good enough to enter Phoenix and San Diego? Wasn't he already ready, after all of that time away, rehabbing and practicing? How can you know you're "100 percent," unless you try it out in tournament competition? That said, we're talking about the greatest player of our generation. If he doesn't feel he's ready, then it's his call alone. But wow--how many tournaments have been won by guys who self-admitted they were playing lousy coming in, and then found something? What I'm missing most, though, is Tiger's name near or atop the leaderboard. Tournament golf is not the same without him.
SENS: I wouldn't pretend to know how deep Tiger's problems run and given his tight friendship with Woods, I don't think we can rely on Notah Begay for an especially objective take on the matter. If he's still struggling with the chip-yips (and those don't tend to go away over night, if ever), Augusta will be a pretty humbling place. But the Catch-22 is that he can only really know how far he has come when he puts himself to a test in competition. Only Tiger knows how badly he really wants it. But if he is ever going to get his mojo back, it's going to have to happen before the camera glare, not in the seclusion of practice rounds at the Medalist. That's the bargain he's stuck with simply by being who he is. Uneasy lies the head, etc.
3. Adam Scott missed the cut at the Valspar at Innisbrook, ending a run of 45 straight PGA Tour cuts made, which had been the longest active streak on Tour. A year ago, with Rory struggling, Scott was the Masters favorite and was the consensus pick for a lengthy reign at No 1. He remains comfortably in the Top 5, but is there cause for concern? Is his stock rising or falling?
KOSTIS: Wow! You guys are brutal! Adam has the longest cuts made streak, misses one, and you're asking if his stock is rising or falling? How about getting adjusted to married life and a new baby? Adam Scott is just fine, thank you. He looked good with the short putter. His swing was OK. Let's all take a deep breath and realize if your careers didn't fall apart just because of one bad column, Adam will be fine after going 45-1 on cuts made!
SENS: I have a hard time mustering up much concern for a multi-millionaire who plays golf for a living, especially one who's newly married and just became a father. Scott has plenty of good reasons not to be at his absolute sharpest. One of the many upsides of his stock is that he looked pretty comfortable with the switch to a conventional putter, which a lot of market analysts have been worried about in assessing his long-term value. Deep breath. Don't panic and sell. I think we've got a Blue Chip here.
VAN SICKLE: If a guy putts conventional for two weeks and says everything is fine, even though one of those weeks was bad, then says he might revert to a long putter for the Masters, I have to believe there's something going on there under the surface. Hey, he's still got nine months to figure out a way to putt. Plenty of time but still, food for thought.
PASSOV: It depends what your expectations are for Adam Scott. Let's be fair. He got married, had to replace a caddie, had a child, has had to experiment with a once confidence-sapping conventional putter--there's been a lot to deal with in the past few months. With that swing and that talent, it's easy to envision him sticking around the top 5, or at least the top 10 for a few years. I just don't know, with the changes in his life, if the desire and the necessary sacrifices are there to return to No. 1.
WALKER: Adam Scott's strength and his weakness is that the game comes so easily to him. The world's shortest book would be My Struggle by Adam Scott. He was at his best after losing the 2012 British Open to Ernie Els. With fiery Steve Williams on the bag and the galleries pulling for him, he responded winning the 2013 Masters. Now that Williams is gone, I hope he doesn't lose that edge. Because he's one of the good guys.
GODICH: The guy was in the hunt just a week ago at Doral and looked pretty good wielding a standard-length putter. Let's not push the panic button just yet.
RITTER: It's all about the putting. Will Scott stay with the short stick despite a rocky start with it? His stock is a little shaky at the moment, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him break out the broomstick at Augusta and contend for a second green jacket.
BAMBERGER: How often do guys miss cuts and win the next week? I have no worries about Adam Scott and where he's trending.
MCDOWELL: Adam Scott’s biggest professional worry when he wakes up every morning is, “Should I use a 35-inch or 36-inch putter?” I’d say his stock is comfortably rising.
MORFIT: I'm not worried about Adam. His MC at the Valspar was typical of a guy who just became a father. New fatherhood brings bogeys and dirty diapers. It's one of the immutable laws of nature.
4. John Daly called the PGA Tour's drug-testing program "a big joke" on his radio show this week, saying that he and other Tour pros know in advance when they will be tested and calling on Tour commissioner Tim Finchem to "get off [his] ass" and reform the program. The Tour defended the efficacy of the program and disputed Daly's claims. Should the PGA Tour be doing more to ensure that its athletes are competing clean?
BAMBERGER: This will never happen, but I'd eliminate drug-testing for what the Tour calls "drugs of abuse" and go all-out on PEDs, which means drawing blood and doing it without notice. You do it to protect player health, create a level playing field and send the message to aspiring Tour players that you don't have to take PEDs to make it on Tour.
VAN SICKLE: Funny I haven't heard any other players match Daly's complaint about drug-testing. I don't know who to believe but I do know the Tour's drug testing isn't up to speed with Olympic levels and I continue to wonder why that is.
KOSTIS: I put PGA Tour drug testing, results and fines/suspensions in the same boat as government transparency. Everyone talks about it but it never quite seems to work out the way it was supposed to.
PASSOV: Almost 30 years ago, Bob Hope wrote, "The (PGA) Tour has a simple test to see if a player is on drugs--if Isao Aoki speaks and the player understands him, he's on something." I'm fine with that. I've never felt that there was a legitimate problem with performance-enhancing drugs in professional golf, so I don't think the PGA Tour needs to be doing anything more than it is doing on the testing front.
GODICH: I rarely agree with Daly and his antics, but the Tour needs to be more transparent with its drug policy. The truth will set the players free.
WALKER: The PGA Tour's drug-testing program sounds on par with what goes on in other American professional sports leagues. That's probably not adequate to catch someone determined to cheat, but as Henrik Stenson said last week, there's no magic pill out there that's going to help you play better golf. The problem with the Tour's drug policy is the secrecy. We know that Bhavik Patel is under suspension for PEDs, but we don't know what he took. It doesn't make any sense. The Tour's secrecy is just a habit now.
MORFIT: The Tour will have to start testing blood for the Olympics, and that's the only way it'll catch guys if they're using HGH. Are they? I have no idea. Maybe Big John knows, but I kind of doubt it. He does his own thing on Tour.
RITTER: Golf should have a drug program that mirrors other Olympic sports. According to GOLF.com, the Tour says that it doesn't currently blood-test players because the needles could cause performance-altering arm bruises. Depending on your worldview, that's either comical or pathetic. Why isn't there a stronger program in place today? It starts with the commish.
MCDOWELL: It says it all that John Daly is a more trustworthy outlet of information that anything originating out of Ponte Vedra.
SENS: When it comes to drug testing in golf, seems to me that perception is almost as important as reality. Cheaters will always find ways to skirt the rules, no matter how vigilant you are. But if the perception is that you aren't trying everything (and clearly, based on Daly's comments and the comments of others), that's the case, then you need to do more to change that perception or your credibility suffers. Either that, or you need a better PR campaign. Seems the Tour is falling short on both those fronts right now.
5. This week marked the passing of noted golf writer Jim Finegan at age 85 and is the 57th anniversary of SI publishing the Ben Hogan and Herbert Warren Wind instructional material that became Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. What’s the most influential book ever written about golf?
BAMBERGER: Thank you for noting Jim Finegan, one of my heroes. Golf books have shaped my life so profoundly and on any given day I would have a different answer to this question but today I will say that Percy Boomer's On Learning Golf captures the essence of the swing as well as any book I know and Michael Murphy's Golf in the Kingdom captures the essence of the game's heart better than any book I know.
KOSTIS: I've read too many golf books to ever be able to pick a single "most influential" one. I can however, lament the fact that books like The Mystery of Golf by Arnold Haultain, or Natural Golf by John Dunn, or anything written by Bob Jones are not written nor appreciated in today's world of five-second attention spans and "tips." Everyone should have to read Shirley Povich or Red Smith or Herbert Warren Wind. Don't get me started!
VAN SICKLE: I agree with Mr. Kostis that many good books have been lost in the shuffle. Harvey Penick's Little Red Book was a bestseller so it had a lot of influence. If I wanted instruction on my game, though, "Take dead aim" doesn't quite do it for me. I'd take a look at Johnny Miller's Pure Golf and books by Ernest Jones and Manuel de la Torre, for instance. I don't know that in this video age that an instruction book will ever again be considered influential.
MORFIT: I enjoyed Dead Solid Perfect by Dan Jenkins, but I wouldn't call it hugely influential. That honor would have to go to Five Lessons.
WALKER: The Five Lessons is the most influential book for golf instruction: everyone talks about Hogan's understanding of the swing and Wind's writing but those amazing Anthony Ravielli illustrations helped give the book its staying power. Look at an issue of GOLF Magazine, and the way those tips are photographed and presented owe a lot to The Five Lessons. There are so many excellent books about professional golf out there it's hard to choose a most influential, but I'm looking forward to reading the upcoming Men in Green by Michael Bamberger.
GODICH: I'd go with Harvey Penick's Little Red Book. Talk all you want about the noted instruction tomes, but I'd venture that Penick's collection of nuggets did so much for players of all skill levels and experience.
PASSOV: Most of my favorite influencers were golf books about history, courses and architecture--and the best of those, from Bernard Darwin, Bobby Jones and Herbert Warren Wind often managed to combine all three. Toss in the incomparable Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate by Dan Jenkins, Tom Doak's Confidential Guide, and the volumes of Jim Finegan, both giant and slender and you've got a good little library started. When pressed, however, Ben Hogan's 5 Lessons is the most influential. Given the obsession we have with golf instruction and game-improvement, this is the bible in that department. After serving with distinction in Vietnam, Larry Nelson took up golf at age 21, using Hogan's book to learn and within three years, he was on the PGA Tour. With all of the players and teachers who remain Hogan disciples, this is an easy pick.
RITTER: One favorite for this time of year is The Story of Augusta National, by the club's founding chairman, Clifford Roberts. There are all kinds of juicy bits on the club's history, like how the members came to wear green jackets, and how Augusta invented the system of using red and green numbers on scoreboards.
MCDOWELL: Ben Hogan’s Modern Fundamentals of Golf is a work of art that can be effective for, really, anyone. A top-tier PGA Tour pro or someone whose clubs were purchased as a 14-piece set can come away a better player after reading the five lessons.
SENS: I'd break that answer down into categories: instruction and everything else. For instruction, Hogan's Lessons and Harvey Penick's Little Red Book are the two that resonate for me. In the other broader category, Golf in the Kingdom has sold more than a million copies and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. That I find most of it to be unreadable New Age drivel doesn't change the fact that so many have read it and found meaning in it. It's thanks partly to that book that golf has earned its reputation as "spirituality for Republicans."
6. Happy almost-St. Patrick’s Day! What’s the best Irish course you’ve played?
PASSOV: Northern Ireland's Royal County Down is the best I've played, with its incomparable blend of beauty and brawn, but I'd rather go back to Ballybunion's Old course. It's less punishing off the tee, with fewer blind shots and a couple of my favorite holes on earth, the par-4 11th and the par-3 15th, its playing areas cocooned in dunes adjacent to the beach.
KOSTIS: Royal County Down on a windy day!
VAN SICKLE: Ballybunion's Old Course is as memorable as it gets, from hitting over the cemetery on the opening hole to challenging the cliffs on the way in. And that par-3 15th hole down into the dunes, well, that just might be my favorite par 3 in the world.
MORFIT: European Club--and the putting course at Mt. Juliet. Big caveat: Those are the only Irish courses I've ever played. In any case, the European Club's congenial proprietor, reformed journalist Pat Ruddy, really rolled out the red carpet. Good man.
SENS: Including Northern Ireland in the answer: Royal County Down is the prettiest I've played. Royal Portrush is the best layout. And Ballybunion and Lahinch tie for first place in the category of "most fun."
WALKER: I've been lucky enough to play Carne in Belmullet and Portrush in Northern Ireland, both are spectacular, world-class courses. But what really makes the golf there so special is the hospitality of the Irish people. You'll never feel more welcome anywhere than when you travel to Ireland to play golf.
GODICH: My favorite is Ballyowen in Hamburg (New Jersey). Does that count? That's right. I've never set foot on the Emerald Isle. And Mrs. G's maiden name is Conner. Sad, I know.
BAMBERGER: Ballybunion in a south wind with the aroma of the freshly-baked bread at our B&B still in my nose on the first tee but gone by the first lost ball. And a shout-out here to Peter Kostis--you have raised the bar for all Confidentialists, sir! If I were Tiger, I'd call you for my next one-on-one, I'm-coming-back, five-minutes-while-standing-up interview. Shirley Povich? Showing your Maine roots, Peter, and bless you for it. Like Mr. Finegan, another legend!
The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.