PGA Tour Confidential: The Canadian Open

Monday July 25th, 2011
Sean O'Hair won his fourth career PGA Tour title at the Canadian Open.
BEN NELMS/Reuters

Every week of the 2011 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

\nCANADIAN OPEN SETUP
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Sean O'Hair beat Kris Blanks in a playoff at the Canadian Open, but the big talking point of the week was the ankle-high, wrist-breaking rough that turned a really cool course and prestigious tourney into a boring trudge. I blame the USGA and the R&A. The pros are hitting the ball so far that they will absolutely eviscerate an everyday 7,100-yard course, so we're left with extreme setups to protect par and the egos of the members at the host club. Have we finally reached the point of bifurcation, where amateurs like us can enjoy all the latest technology, but the pros' equipment needs to be throttled back?

\nGary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Bifurcation is already here. Ams can use square grooves, and pros can't. It's temporary, yes, but I think it makes sense. You can take the edge off the pro game and pull back on the controls for the amateurs so the manufacturers can keep doing what they do best — innovating and building better-than-ever clubs for us hacks.

\nJim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Bifurcation seems to be gaining momentum in commercial circles, but not with the governing bodies. The Canadian Open venue was a bit of an anomaly; you don't see that kind of rough much anymore. Most of the people who run events have come around to the point of view that too much rough diminishes a tournament, which is what happened in Vancouver.

\nMichael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The Canadian Open is further proof that the system really is broken. The courses that we play and the courses that they play can no longer be the same, not if we're all using the same ball. The 7,500-yard course is a joke for Tour play, it's so short. To have several truly long par-4s and one three-shot par five, a course needs to be more than 8,000 yards in ordinary conditions. That's six-plus hours. Or, you can muck up a nice course like they did in Canada. I hope Merion for the '13 U.S. Open wasn't watching too closely.

\nVan Sickle: It's funny how the bifurcation of rules in baseball didn't ruin the game. We're still using metal bats through college, but the pros use wood. And the manufacturers haven't gone broke.

\nFarrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: The Canadian Open was a good test. The players don't want that kind of setup every week, but it's good for them to play a really difficult, uncompromising course a few times a year.

\nVan Sickle: Since pro golf is ultimately a commercial endeavor, it's not about what's good for the players. It's about what's good for the fans and what makes the product most attractive. That thick rough you saw in Vancouver did not do a good job of selling the game to potential viewers. It was bad marketing. Beyond that, too much rough negates ability and is an equalizer. The USGA proved that in the '80s with the U.S. Open and, eventually, sort of learned. At least, Mike Davis did. The RCGA still has a ways to go.

\nBamberger: That's right, Gary. The great obstacles are wind, green speed, uneven lies, bunker depth. Length here and there. If you need rough to make your course hard, you're doing something wrong and bad for golf. Rough means lost balls and slow play, the two things that kill the game.

\nEvans: Slow play? Lost balls? C'mon, these are pros. They don't need us whining for them.

\nWei: What's wrong with thick rough, like they used to play before they realized Tiger and Phil couldn't win if they had to keep it in the fairway?

\nShipnuck: What's wrong is that you can't play shots out of those weeds. It negates skill, on approach shots and around the green. Even straight hitters miss fairways and greens, and that's when the game can be most interesting. I want to see them try to recover, not hack out sideways.

\nWei: With Shaughnessy measuring just over 7,000 yards, the rough was its only defense.

\nDavid Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: I've said it before and I'll say it again: golf needs two sets of rules when it comes to equipment. Holding fast to the antiquated notion that there should be only one set of rules regarding equipment means the game is going to be harder for weekend players and less appealing to newcomers. As Alan points out, it also means some courses will invariably get tricked out so they can host a tour event.

\nShipnuck: I'm not an evangelist: I love my 64-degree wedge and big ol' driver and nuclear ball. But when I play a 6,200-yard course, it feels laughably short, so now I'm playing the back tees way more often, which is a fun challenge. To give the pros commensurate back tees would require courses of 8,500 yards, maybe longer. That takes land, water, fertilizer, fuel for mowers, etc. The whole situation has gotten out of hand.

\nHerre: Maybe things are out of hand for a few hundred tour pros, but they aren't for me. I'll take that 6,200-yard course all day.

\nRick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Golf is not out of hand for 99.99 percent of the players on earth. People might be hitting shorter approaches, but scores have not changed, and they likely never will. Golf will eternally confound the masses no matter what technological advances come next.

\nDusek: Exactly. Huge drivers, forgiving irons, high-loft wedges and golf balls that won't spin off the tee but dance like Baryshnikov on the greens haven't made the handicap average drop appreciably.

\nVan Sickle: Bifurcated rules would make so much sense. We get our technology while the pros have to find new ways to score other than overpowering courses, like better technique and, oh, shotmaking.

\n Tell us what you think: Is it a good idea to have pros play one set of equipment, while amateurs are allowed to play another, more tricked-out set of geat?

\nO'HAIR BREAKS HIS SLUMP
Shipnuck: Let's talk O'Hair for a moment. At 29, this is his fourth career win, more than a lot of other dudes who get more attention. What do we think of his future? Can he turn into a big-time player?

\nJim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: He seemed like he was on that track a few years back. Three wins, pretty steady contender in majors, the close call at the Players, but he went into what seems like a two-year drought. I guess he was going through some putting woes and then a swing/teacher change. He hits it far and straight and can get hot with the putter, so I think he could be a very good player for a long time.

\nWei: Sure, if he gets rid of those putting demons.

\nBamberger: He's a big-time talent, but there's something slightly frail about his psyche. He should win Tour events for years, much like Stricker, but it's hard to imagine him winning majors. Now watch him win in Atlanta.

\nShipnuck: He has a very nice combo of length and accuracy, which is how he prospered in Canada. That puts him in position to play well on major championship setups. But Michael is on to something. That fragility is probably inevitable given O'Hair's psychodrama with his dad. I do hope he finds more resolve because he's a likable guy and could be a stalwart.

\nDamon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: He definitely belongs in the conversation of talented young players, along with Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson, Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson, Jonathan Byrd and the rest. Time will tell if he can break out of the pack and become a star, or if any of them can.

\n Tell us what you think: Is O'Hair ready to become an elite player?

\n

\nDALY'S TOP-10 FINISH
Shipnuck: So John Daly had a decent tourney, and the big boss at Golf.com wants me to pretend like I care, which I don't. Do you?

\nBamberger: We don't care because we've seen too much, too many tournaments when Daly took a spot from somebody who actually would have played hard for 36 or more holes.

\nDusek: What's that saying about the blind squirrel and the nut?

\nHerre: No. Daly is so '90s. He's been a sideshow for a decade.

\nLipsey: We can poo-poo Daly as highbrow journalists, but the fact is, Daly has a much bigger following than 99.9 percent of professional golfers.

\nGorant: If he won it would be fun, but there's not much to believe in anymore.

\nVan Sickle: Those reality shows he did really hurt his public image. They pulled the curtain back on ol' John and showed him for what he really is, and that made him very unappealing.

\nEvans: Show some respect! John Daly is a two-time major winner. Yes, he's made a lot of mistakes in his life, but he's paid for them. That should be enough without having people judge him.

\nShipnuck: I'm not judging him, I'm just bored by him. It's admirable when people learn from their mistakes. When they make the same ones over and over and over again, it's tiresome.

\nWei: I'm not the biggest fan of Daly, but it'd be one of the greatest things for golf if he won another major. Okay, that's not going to happen, but even winning a regular PGA Tour event would be big. From what I've learned via my blog, there are three players who move the needle — Tiger, John Daly and Michelle Wie. Has anyone seen the massive galleries that still live and die by every shot Daly hits no matter what he's shooting? It's incredible.

\nLipsey: Bizarre as it sounds, I care more about Daly than Tiger now. Really. Watching Daly come back would be great. Watching Tiger do anything, well, I'm not too interested.

\nHack: It was remarkable to see Big John on a leader board, especially at that track. He can still move it. Sadly, I couldn't help but think about all the wasted years, and all he could have been.

\n Tell us what you think: Were you interested in watching John Daly last weekend? Do you think he will ever win another event?

EVIAN BECOMES A 'MAJOR'
Shipnuck: Let's move to an existential question inspired by the Evian Masters: Can an LPGA bureaucrat snap his fingers and just like that make a nice tour event a major? In other words, what makes a major a major?

\nHerre: Money — if you're the LPGA.

\nEvans: You make a tournament into a major by setting up the golf course to be really hard and creating a selective field. Or you could simply be a struggling organization like the LPGA looking to light a flame under a struggling brand and create a new marketing opportunity for your corporate partner. It happens all the time in business. You do whatever you have to do to survive.

\nWei: Agreed. You gotta do what you gotta do. At the end of the day, the title is just a title. I think it'll take a while for most people to start actually considering the Evian a "major."

\nVan Sickle: It's no more artificial than the old du Maurier Classic being an LPGA major. And yes, it's artificial. It would feel a little better if the LPGA had de-certified one of its other majors and stayed at four majors instead of adding a fifth. Congratulations, LPGA, you've now got the same number of majors as the Champions Tour! Just don't play them all in a row.

\nBamberger: A cool thing would be to convene some kind of golf summit, bring in Dan Jenkins and John Garrity and Charlie Meecham and Judy Rankin and have them debate what they regard as the major women's events, and then float the names and see how people respond to them.

\nShipnuck: There are four Beatles, four dudes on Mt. Rushmore, four horseman of the apocalypse. Just having a fifth major sounds hokey. But the LPGA is in survival mode, so anything that brings buzz (and a longtime sponsor commitment!) is a good thing for the tour. But, really, if you have five majors why not have a sixth? An Asian major makes more sense than a second one in Europe.

\nVan Sickle: That's a great point, Alan. If any tour needs a major in Asia, it's the LPGA. That's where a fifth major should have gone. On the other hand, if the LPGA hadn't decreed a new major, we wouldn't be talking about it right now. So I consider it a successful marketing ploy already.

\nDusek: The only people who think there is buzz surrounding the Evian Masters already watch the LPGA on a regular basis.

\nShipnuck: When Gene Sarazen (nee Eugenio Saraceni) reached the Augusta National clubhouse after his playoff in 1935, no one said, "Yo, congrats on your first major championship victory!" It takes time for a tourney to accrue the requisite prestige and history. It happened with the Dinah Shore. The Evian is an outstanding event, but this still feels a little forced to me.

\nHerre: Of course it's forced, because Evian probably made the LPGA an offer it couldn't refuse.

\nBamberger: It actually made me sad, the desperation of calling a press conference to announce a fifth major.

\nMike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: The fifth major is bit of a gimmick, but give the LPGA credit for hosting a big event in Continental Europe. Can the sixth major in Asia be far behind?

\nDusek: Tradition and time make events meaningful, and by definition the majors are the most meaningful events. To simply say a golf tournament is being given major status is contrived.

\nGorant: Is there a formula — history, field, cash, players' wanting to win it more than others? Are past Evian winners now major winners? The Masters wasn't always considered a major, but those who won during pre-major designation are now considered major champs. This could have Hall of Fame implications.

\nShipnuck: Mike Whan made an interesting point about the Hall. With the contracted schedule, players now have fewer chances to accrue points toward induction. Another major helps give them another opportunity to play their way in.

\nDusek: If a player is really Hall of Fame caliber, would it matter if there were three to five fewer events played each year? Wouldn't she clearly demonstrate her worthiness anyway?

\nShipnuck: You would think. But the LPGA has its formula for accruing points to earn induction. Some gals used to be able to play 30-32 times a year. If there are only 20-24 tourneys on the schedule going forward, that affects a player's ability to make the Hall.

\nVan Sickle: The Hall of Fame is a bogus attempt to legitimize this move. If concern over qualifying for the Hall was really an issue due to the reduced schedule, the LPGA could simply reduce the number of points needed to qualify. That makes more sense than a fifth major. Hell, I think seven majors sounds about right, Mr. Whan.

\nHerre: On the LPGA, and on the Champions tour, all things are negotiable. Five majors? Do I hear six? As for the LPGA's HOF problem, qualifying criteria can also be tweaked — once again — to reflect a diminished schedule.

\nHack: Obviously, Mike Whan has to keep the LPGA viable, but five majors? Are we now saying that Yani Tseng must win the U.S. Women's Open and the Evian Masters to win the career Grand Slam? A couple weeks ago, she just needed the Open. The math just doesn't work.

\nCameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I hereby declare the Golf.com World Amateur Handicap Championship a major. You're welcome.

\nGorant: They'll eventually swap out one of the U.S. majors for an Asian major. I suspect the LPGA, although I hear there's progress on a new deal in Rochester. While I'm at it, I predict the same eventual fate for the PGA Championship — it will lose major status in favor of something like the Dubai Desert Classic.

\nHerre: No way the PGA loses major status.

\nBamberger: The PGA is a major for the reason the other three majors are majors: the players want it most. The fans and the press follow the players' own intensity.

\nShipnuck: Yeah, the PGA ain't going anywhere, if for no other reason than the fact that Jack Freakin' Nicklaus won six of them!

\nBamberger: I believe the proper grammar there is "ain't going nowhere," but I know what you mean and I agree.

\nVan Sickle: I predict the PGA Championship is held in Asia at least once before 2025. Money talks.

\nHerre: I don't know, Gary. It is the PGA of AMERICA.

\nBamberger: The LPGA should move the LPGA Championship to Asia before 2025. Why not?

\n Tell us what you think: What makes a major a "major?"

\n

\n

\nCOLLGE KIDS BEATING THE PROS
Shipnuck: So, Harris English of Georgia won the Nationwide event in Columbus, finishing one stroke ahead of SEC rival John Peterson of LSU. Meanwhile, UCLA undergrad Patrick Cantlay had (ho-hum) another very strong finish on the PGA Tour. It's been fashionable lately to declare that college golf is stunting the development of America's youth, so how do we explain this current crop of overachievers?

\nHerre: Because the college kids are playing against American pros?

\nMorfit: Numbers, and the Tiger Effect. There is so much golf talent out there it feels like we are introduced to a new hotshot every few weeks. Cantlay at the U.S. Open; Tom Lewis at the British. The game is in good hands.

\nVan Sickle: I seem to recall that Woods, Mickelson, Furyk, Palmer, Wadkins, Miller, Strange and a lot of other guys all went to college and played golf. Didn't hurt them much. College doesn't prevent success, it may simply slow its arrival. If you're playing golf and working on your game 24/7, you're going to progress quicker than if you have to pound out 15 credits of schoolwork every semester while you work on your game.

\nEvans: U.S. colleges have been the main pipeline to the PGA Tour forever, really, so it's hardly a surprise that college golf is producing players who are able to compete on pro tours while they are still in school.

\nBamberger: The overachievers are taking their cues from the lads — the kids in Europe and Japan who turned pro as teens. And they're still behind them. But so what? I'd rather play my best golf at 35 than 21.

\nShipnuck: And they're more likely to be playing well into their 30's because they've had fun and read a few books in college. You have to fear burnout for a guy like Ryo Ishikawa.

\nWei: Right. Staying in college gives them at least a semblance of a "normal" life.

\nGorant: Another college player won earlier this year on the Nationwide. Could it be that these kids grew up watching Tiger, and they have a different idea of what's possible, a different approach to the game?

\nShipnuck: Sure, the expectations have changed. Golfers are supposed to peak younger now. It's just interesting given that the demographics of tennis are going the other way; it used to be dominated by teens but the dominant players are now getting older.

\nHack: All these kids came of age in the Tiger era. He completely changed the mindset of what is possible, and the college kids are taking their cues from that mentality. Heck, Jordan Spieth and Anthony Paolucci are making cuts and popping up on leader boards in PGA Tour events even though they're still in high school.

\n Tell us what you think: How do you explain the recent rise of over-acheiving amateurs?

WHO WILL REPLACE STEVE WILLIAMS ON TIGER'S BAG?
Shipnuck: OK, Tiger — It's been enjoyable to listen to the deposed Sherpa vent, but the only interesting question is who comes next? I'm stealing Bamberger's idea and nominating Notah Begay. He knows Tiger and knows his game and would be a wonderful de facto spokesman. Setting aside practicalities or real-world complications, who would you like to see as Tiger's next looper?

\nGorant: Rachel Uchitel.

\nEvans: Paul Tesori has a great young player in Webb Simpson, who is having a breakout year. But Paul in my opinion is the best caddie on tour, besides Bones and Fluff. He can handle Tiger's mood swings, and he's got street cred from working with the demanding Vijay Singh.

\nHerre: Wouldn't be surprised to see several auditions before TW makes a permanent choice.

\nMorfit: I think he'll go with someone close to his own age, who he can hang with. Tiger needs a friend.

\nWei: John Wood or Tony Navarro. Dark horse: Pete Bender (if he's healthy). I love that betting sites have already set odds for the next caddie. A bit surprising that Fanny Sunesson is the favorite. Seems like the last thing Tiger would want is to deal with another Swedish woman!

\nVan Sickle: My three nominees: 1. Casey Martin. (He drives the bag in a cart. Helps with Tiger's sympathy factor.) 2. Fluff. They can both enjoy the flashbacks. 3. David Feherty. Tiger might play better if he was amused more often.

\nHack: Tony Robbins. And if he's busy, Tony Navarro.

\nWei: Might as well throw Michael Jordan's name in the hat.

\n Tell us what you think: Who should replace Steve Williams on Tiger's bag? Who will Tiger choose?

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