PGA Tour Confidential: Season begins with whimper at wind-delayed Kapalua
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.
A MIGHTY WIND
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Like an unfortunate couple on their honeymoon, the PGA Tour has had bad weather in Maui, with high winds delaying the opening round of the Tournament of Champions for three days. A restless Bubba Watson - after calling Friday's abbreviated round "goofy golf" - suggested letting the players play, wind or not. "Golf balls blowing around on the greens will get the viewers & ratings for tv," he tweeted. Does Bubba have a point? And when is weather too bad for tournament golf?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I like to see Tour pros suffer, but this was simply unplayable. Such a bummer, but there was nothing anyone could do. Except, perhaps, King Kamehameha.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: It's totally unfair when balls move on the greens, but I love to watch the players battle the elements. Bubba's right - it makes for good TV. Some of the guys lose it out there, others deal with it, which is also interesting to witness.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: It's entertaining to watch for a couple of minutes, but after that it's just plain silly.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Bubba's suggestion is fun but ridiculous. You can't hit a moving ball.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: My neighbor in Boise, whose son works at Kapalua, signed up to be a standard-bearer for Stricker's group. Those guys haven't even been allowed on the course yet, lest a metal sign take flight and turn into a Cuisinart.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It sounds like a good idea to play until you get a spot where a ball won't stop. I covered an AT&T at Pebble Beach where, at Cypress Point's 17th green, Ed Dougherty made an 11 and Lon Hinkle made a 14 because if you missed the putt, the ball blew completely off the green. While it might be fun to watch the world's best golfers battle such conditions, as soon as guys start racking up nines and elevens, it stops being a competition.
Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: My instinct is to agree with Bubba. Everybody's in the same boat, so what the heck. Even if it's silly, let's see who shoots the lowest score. But practically, it just can't work if the balls won't even stay still on the greens.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: If the ball can't rest on the green when guys are trying to putt, that's no longer tournament golf.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: It's no fun watching golf balls blow off tees, or golfers playing without hats, exposing their sun-deprived foreheads.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: There comes a point when skill is devalued so much that it's not fair to continue play. Strong, steady winds are one thing, but if the balls won't stay on greens (even when they're running to 8.5 on the Stimpmeter, as White said), what's the point? Safety is also a genuine issue. TV towers blow down and tree limbs snap.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I want to agree with Bubba, but what happened to Ben Curtis on No. 11 was silly. The wind blew his ball off the green. That's when things get goofy.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Do you like watching the pros struggle in bad weather? Is there such a thing as "unplayable" conditions?
DON'T NEED A WEATHERMAN...
Walker: Mark Twain is credited with the observation, "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it." Is this tournament just a victim of very bad luck or, with heavy wind in the forecast, should Tour officials have stopped mowing the greens?
Wei: They mowed the greens yesterday morning. They're running 8.5, but to my understanding, it's not the speed of the greens; the gusts are just out of control.
Shipnuck: The greens here are already fairly slow. They would have to have Stimped around 5 to have made a difference.
Reiterman: Just bad luck. I can't ever remember a situation like this at Kapalua. Unfortunately, this is what happens when you contest a sport outdoors. (And clearly Mother Nature wants us to watch the NFL playoffs.)
Morfit: Act of nature. Funny thing was that the weather was almost always playable just down the road in Lahaina.
Wei: Yesterday, I drove to Lahaina, just 8-10 miles away, and the weather was perfect. When I headed back up the mountain to Kapalua, the car (a pretty heavy duty SUV) was shaking because the wind was so strong. These winds are ridiculous. I've been having trouble staying upright.
Shipnuck: The dirty little secret of this tourney is that Kapalua has the worst weather on Maui. There's a reason it was the last part of the island to be developed.
Ritter: I doubt greenkeepers could've done much to prevent the delays. The mike on the 10th tee picked up Poulter, who was voicing his concern to an official about potentially injuring himself if his ball were to blow off the tee mid-swing. Poulter may have been a little over-dramatic, but if the ball won't even stay on a tee, it's time to head in.
Wei: A little over-dramatic? Way over-dramatic. He was saying he could injure himself if the ball fell off the tee mid-swing. How many times has swinging through air (a whiff) hurt someone?
Walker: Golf Magazine's Travelin Joe Passov just weighed in on Twitter: Pebble's pro Peter Hay to Cary Middlecoff at the windy '52 Crosby: "Show me in the Rules of Golf where you have to tee the ball."
Van Sickle: It never rains in Southern California, as the song goes, and yet the 2005 L.A. Open was shortened to 36 holes and declared unofficial. (Adam Scott won in a playoff over Chad Campbell.) So you never know. Hawaii would not be in my top 20 picks of tour sites where weather might cancel an event.
Godich: And remember when they played the Tournament of Champions at La Costa? How many weather delays did they have there? One year, the place was damn near underwater.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is Kapalua the victim of bad luck, or bad decisions from officials?
STRICKER SCALES BACK
Walker: Steve Stricker announced that he'd be scaling back to about 10 tournaments this year. At 46, Stricker is still one of the top American players. Did anyone see this coming? And with the amount of money guys make now, do you think we'll see more "semi-retirements" among top players in their 40s?
Herre: Stricker more or less collapsed at the end of last season. You could see in the Ryder Cup that he was completely out of gas.
Shipnuck: Who wouldn't want to be semi-retired at 46?! Stricks is living the dream. More power to him.
Bamberger: I think the Ryder Cup aged Stricker by 10 years.
Van Sickle: Stricker is cut in the Byron Nelson mold. He's a non-confrontational guy, he gets nervous and he feels the burden of pressure. That feeling is not your friend. If he hadn't suddenly uncovered the best golf of his career, he probably would've bagged golf six years ago.
Godich: Good for Stricker. Nice to see that one of the really good guys has his priorities in order. I know how much he wants a major, but how much money do you need?
Shipnuck: I'm not sure he even cares about a major, or ever did. That's for the likes of Tiger and Rory to worry about. I always thought Stricker cared more about deer hunting.
Godich: Good point. But I'm betting if he had a major in the trophy case, he'd be in full retirement.
Dusek: There's so much mileage on Stricker that I can't blame the guy for heading for the door. I think the Ryder Cup was the straw that broke his back.
Wei: Can't say I saw it coming, but was I surprised? Not really. He's always been a family guy and one of the few players who doesn't have a second home somewhere warm; he chooses to stay in Wisconsin and hit balls at an indoor range. So he's doing this for the right reasons, to spend more time with his family.
Morfit: I don't think this is a trend. Stricker has always struggled to justify all the time away from his family. Good for him.
Hanger: It wouldn't surprise me if more guys either retire or move onto other things once they've got a pile of cash put aside. It's related to the question we've asked before about the Champions Tour. Will today's stars be out there on the senior circuit when they're 55 or 60? I don't think they'll bother because they won't need the money.
Van Sickle: It's not about the money. Tom Kite was the all-time leading money-winner at one point. He certainly didn't need the money. Neither did Curtis Strange or Loren Roberts or Tom Lehman or Bernhard Langer or a number of other senior players. It's about the adrenaline rush of competition. Most of the guys playing senior golf keep going because there's no substitute for the thrill of competing, and winning.
Hanger: Good point, but I still think we might see more guys hang it up at 45. There are a lot of journeymen who have more money than they know what to do with. That hasn't always been true.
Van Sickle: It's been true since the start of the Tiger Era (1996), if not back to the early 90s. So that's 20 years.
Godich: Tom Kite won a little more than $11 million on the PGA Tour. Stricker is north of $35 million.
Van Sickle: Yes, but Kite's $11 million would be close to $35 million once you adjust for inflation.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Do you think Stricker is starting a trend among 40-something pros?
RORY AND THE OLYMPICS
Walker: In a BBC documentary, pride of Northern Ireland Rory McIlroy suggested that he might skip the 2016 Rio Olympics rather than inevitably disappoint some of his fans by choosing between representing the United Kingdom or Ireland. Which country do you think McIlroy will represent in 2016, or do you think he'll really sit it out?
Bamberger: Ireland. I'd put a five pound note on it, but not more.
Shipnuck: I feel for Rory, but he has to take a stand and make a decision. It would be a huge blow to golf in the Olympics if the game's biggest star doesn't play.
Herre: It's really a shame that the No. 1 player in the world is seriously considering sitting out what is potentially the glorious return of golf to the Olympics. He'll get a lot of pressure to play from the golf establishment. My guess is he plays, representing the United Kingdom.
Walker: Agree. I think his sponsors and the Tour will make McIlroy an offer he can't refuse, and he'll end up playing for the U.K. The Olympics are seen as too important to the growth of the game in South America and Asia for a global star like him to sit out. Maybe President Obama could talk him into getting American citizenship and playing for Team USA. We already know he doesn't like British weather.
Morfit: If he sits out, politics claims another victim.
Godich: He would be wise to sit it out. This is one he can't win.
Dusek: I doubt that Rory will sit out the Olympics, but I have no idea what team he'll play for. That's such an intensely personal decision. He's right ... no matter which team he plays for, he'll get heat.
Van Sickle: Who knows, scheduling may ultimately weigh in Rory's decision: how the Olympics fits in around the Open, PGA, FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai.
Hanger: He's in a tough spot that is not of his own making, and I wouldn't be surprised if he skipped the Olympics altogether. Eamon Lynch summed it up best when he wrote that Rory is "expected to choose between two abusive custodians who want to brandish him as a spoil of a war he isn't fighting."
Ritter: Maybe one of the two governing bodies can "decide" for him behind the scenes, which might re-direct the backlash away from McIlroy. Or, maybe the U.S. can just somehow adopt him. Gotta stay ahead of China in the medal count...
Wei: I don't think he'll actually sit out in the end, but he's in a very tough position. Solution: marry Caroline and play for Denmark.
Van Sickle: It seems like a no-win situation for Rory. Given that half the Olympic field will be players ranked outside the top 150 in the world, that gold medal ought to come with an asterisk. I think he might sit it out. I would if I were him. This is all assuming, of course, that the Olympic golf course ever actually gets built in Brazil.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Do you think Rory will pick a side, or sit out the Rio Olympics?
MONTY IN THE HALL
Walker: This is the first time we've convened since the announcement that Colin Montgomerie is the newest member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Make your case for or against Monty.
Herre: He belongs on his Ryder Cup record alone. And though he may not have won a major, he won plenty of tournaments, just not in the U.S. He was clearly one of the top European players of his era.
Dusek: Fred Couples getting into the Hall of Fame lowered the bar to a level where a lot of excellent, but not all-time great, players can be seriously considered. Monty was the dominant player in Europe for a long, long time, and one of the best ballstrikers of his generation. He was also one of the best Ryder Cup players in history. If you think Monty should be in, that's your case. But ZERO majors and ZERO wins in the United States are huge holes in his resume. I would not have voted for him.
Reiterman: He dominated a tour over a 12-year period, and he's also one of the best Ryder Cup players of all-time. Seems good enough for me.
Godich: I know Monty hasn't won a major, but even without it, he has accomplished more in the game than Fred Couples. Monty belongs.
Bamberger: He's a Hall of Famer for his press conferences alone. One of the great observers of the game and one of the 50 best European players ever.
Morfit: It's the WORLD Golf Hall of Fame. So even though we in the winner-take-all States have a hard time seeing his transcendence, or whatever it is that gets you elected, he crushed it on the Euro tour. If Aoki is already in, then how do you keep Monty out?
Hanger: He won a bunch of tournaments, was a Ryder Cup legend, and was an outsized figure in the game, both for his fans and for hecklers. Can you tell the story of golf in the last 20 years without Monty's career being part of the tale? No.
Wei: Monty deserves the nod. He dominated in Europe, clinching a record eight Order of Merit titles, including seven in a row from 1993 to 1999 . He's won 31 times on the European Tour, fourth on the all-time list, and he never lost a singles match at the Ryder Cup. He recorded a total of 23.5 points for the European team as the third all-time scorer, behind Nick Faldo (25) and Bernhard Langer (24). When you talk about the Ryder Cup and professional golf in the '90s and early 2000s, it's impossible not to mention Monty.
Van Sickle: Is there more to golf than winning majors? Larry Nelson won three majors and only just got into the Hall years after he became eligible. Andy North won two majors to Monty's zero. You could argue that Monty, with eight Order of Merit titles, was the best player in Europe for a decade. (Although Nick Faldo would debate that.)
Reiterman: I agree, Gary. While majors and PGA Tour wins are huge, it's not everything. Yeah, Monty didn't win in the U.S., but Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl. You're telling me he wasn't one of the 10 greatest QBs of all-time?
Van Sickle: I agree with that. Team sports are different. Was Monty one of the 12 best players in Europe in the last 50 years? Yes. In the end, is the Hall of Fame a hallowed hall for true superstars or just a tourist attraction that needs annual inductees for a tour-promoted TV show on Golf Channel? I think we know the answer.
Shipnuck: He's a fascinating case. Owning one tour for that long is remarkable, but he came up at exactly the right time, as the Seve-Faldo-Langer-Lyle-Woosnam generation was beginning to fade away. It's one thing to never win a major, but to never win anything in the U.S.? That's kinda crazy. I don't think he's a true Hall of Famer, but in this era of watered-down standards, he belongs.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is Monty a Hall of Famer? Why or why not?
BEST OF TIMES?
Walker: The Golf Channel announced that the network had its second-highest viewership ever in 2012 after a record-breaking 2011, with top stars like Tiger and Phil Mickelson still playing at an elite level and a crop of appealing young players led by Rory McIlroy. From a competitive standpoint, how does the PGA Tour today compare with the best eras of the past?
Van Sickle: The hookup with NBC probably had something to do with that. I'd say the tour is about the same as it has ever been, with the same assortment of superstars, stars, really good players, good players and novelty acts. With golf enjoying its greatest exposure ever, on TV and the Internet, it should be able to promote its product better than ever to the finite audience that is interested in golf.
Herre: The current era compares favorably. Having a once-in-a-lifetime player, even if he is no longer in his prime, continues to drive interest. Plus, there are many more terrific international players.
Van Sickle: Good point, Jim. The tour is far more attractive as a product on the global stage now. And it's only going to keep growing in that direction.
Shipnuck: Stars drive the game, and it's hard to imagine we'll ever see a better decade than the '70s, when Jack was in his prime and regularly having major championship battles against Watson, Trevino, Miller, Weiskopf, et al. But no doubt the competition is deeper now, and it's a much more dynamic media environment. And Tiger remains maybe the most compelling figure in the history of the sport.
Godich: Plus, you couldn't have scripted a better second half of the season: Rory wins the PGA, Rory and Tiger playing together in the FedEx Cup, a scintillating Ryder Cup.
Van Sickle: I'd have to say golf's Glam Factor is near the top of its register right about now. There were only Tiger and Phil for more than a decade. Now there are three, and a couple on the cusp.
Dusek: Last season we saw a fast start from Phil, the emergence of Bubba as a Masters champ and folk hero, three wins from Tiger, and Rory's becoming a global force and the best player in the world. The icing on the cake was an amazing Ryder Cup. If we get more of that from star players, golf will be in great shape.
Hanger: It seems like a pretty unique time in that we have the best (or second-best) player of all time trying to hang in there and a clear heir apparent in Rory. That's going to be a fascinating dynamic for a few years to come.
Wei: It's a fascinating time for the game with the changing of the guard while the greats of the previous generation are also still competitive.
Bamberger: This period is too in flux to judge. You will always be drawn most to the era in which you were smitten.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: How does today's competition compare to past eras?