PGA Tour Confidential: The Memorial

Monday June 6th, 2011
Steve Stricker led by four shots with nine holes to play, then held on to win by one and earn his 10th career victory.
Fred Vuich/SI

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.

STRICKER WINS THE MEMORIAL
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com

\nAlan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Same expectations as they've been for years heading it into a major: he should win one. Why he hasn't is a great mystery.

\nJim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Stricker and Kuchar are both good bets at the Open. The guy who caught my eye was Brandt Jobe. He showed some game.

\nStephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I was impressed by Jobe, too. That weather delay was unfortunate. It was a huge momentum-killer for him. Jobe had been hitting the driver beautifully all day and all week on No. 15. On his first shot after the delay (didn't hit balls at range before re-start), he pulled his drive into the woods. In his three previous rounds, he'd been hitting 3-iron into the reachable-in-two par 5. He walked away with a bogey on one of the "easiest" holes at Muirfield. Turn that 6 into a 4 and he's in a playoff, but of course, that's golf. He shouldn't have pulled his driver.

\nMark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Striker is always a threat when the putter is working, but I'm not sold. Those three hole-outs showed that this was his week.

\nWei: The discrepancy between Stricker's front and back nines is fascinating. He was four-over on the back and a gazillion under on the front. And while he rolled in those clutch putts on 16 and 17, he looked a little shaky. I'm sure he'll contend at the Open, but can he close the deal? I really like what I saw out of Matt Kuchar. Right now, he's my favorite for Congressional.

\nFarrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Stricker has everything: ball striking, putting, driving and experience. He should win the U.S. Open. However, I don't know how he will handle the pressure of being the favorite.

\n Tell us what you think: Will Stricker finally nab that elusive major at Congressional?

\nJACK OF ALL TIMES
Dusek: You'd be hard-pressed to find a sport that cherishes and honors its traditions more than golf, and at the Memorial it was all about the greatest player of them all, Jack Nicklaus. From his U.S. Amateur wins to his record 18 major victories to his course design work, the Golden Bear has left some serious footprints on the sport. When someone says, "Jack Nicklaus," what's the first thing that comes into your mind?

\nEvans: The '86 Masters.

\nDamon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think of grace in victory and defeat.

\nGodich: The putt at 17 in the '86 Masters.

Shipnuck: For me, Jack is the definition of class -- in victory, in defeat, in public and private. He has always done the right thing, simple and plain.

\nHerre: Family man first. For all the great things he accomplished in golf, it's how Jack and Barbara raised their family that's most impressive. I think she's who keeps Jack humble and is his equal in many ways.

\nMichael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I agree wholeheartedly with that, Jim. Barbara Nicklaus would have been remarkable had she stayed Barbara Bash her whole life and taught school. Her contributions to golf and charity are staggering.

\nJim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I know a guy who lives at Jack's place in Florida. One day he's walking through the lobby and there's Jack rearranging items in a display case. Barbara appears and tells him he's doing it all wrong. Move this here, do this, do that. She walks away just as this guy is passing and he and Jack make eye contact. Jack shrugs and raises his eyebrows. The Golden Bear as average American "Saturdad" doing chores, poorly.

\nBamberger: My wife Christine was once moving us from one house to another while I was covering the British Seniors, the won Tom Watson won at Turnberry when Bruce Edwards was ill. I told Barbara Nicklaus what Christine was doing. She said, "Tell Christine that she's lucky. Jack once helped with a move. Picked up one box and said, `Oh, that was too much -- I need a break.'"

\nCameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I was at a senior major about 18 years ago and ended up on an elevator with Jack and a bunch of older ladies. They changed into giggling teenagers when they saw who they were with, which was a revelation for me about what it means to be famous.

\nGary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Jack had five college golfers at the course Sunday morning for the Jack Nicklaus Awards, which are given to the top player in each division of college golf. He meets and greets them all, takes photos with them and their families, and gives them a tour of the course. He treats them like royalty and they'll never forget it.

\nRyan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: I saw Jack outside the clubhouse this week. Didn't say a word to him, but he still made eye contact and gave me a wink and a wave before driving off in his cart.

\nVan Sickle: Jack has discovered the secret power of The Wink. It can do wonders.

\nBamberger: Jack is a thorough as anyone I have ever met. He once gave me a one-on-one tour of the public course he reworked in North Palm Beach and he showed me every hole. During a passing rainstorm he took the cart under a big leafy tree, we talked and waited it out, and then he continued the tour. I'll never forget it.

\nHack: Good one, Michael. Dave Anderson of The New York Times calls Nicklaus the best interview in sports, with Muhammad Ali right behind him. Pretty good twosome right there.

\nHerre: Nicklaus has always been accessible, and that has helped him in many ways. Most times, you have to make an appointment to see him, but when you do you will have his full attention. He's a great example for the younger guys.

\nBamberger: And he concludes all those sessions with, "You got enough? You got what you need?" Dave Anderson covered EVERYBODY and he said Nicklaus was the best. Rick Reilly used to say the same thing.

\nVan Sickle: Jack is the walking lesson in media relations that today's athletes in all sports should learn from. He loves the discussion and is glad to tell you what he thinks. He gives us his time because he thinks it's important. You ever read a bad word about him? It works. But he does it because that's who he is. There's no one close to Jack in dealing with the press among today's top players. Nobody gets it like he does.

\nBamberger: I am actually getting chills thinking about what a pleasure it is to have covered Nicklaus, the fact that he let you in, that he wanted to get his views across, that he actually showed respect for the public by showing respect for us. That's exactly right, Gary. People want to say it's a different era now. It doesn't have to be. Tiger and Co. could figure out who is sincere about covering golf and its players.

\nEvans: Jack's not perfect. He's said his share of dumb things.

\nBamberger: Who wants perfect? Tiger tried to be perfect.

\n Tell us what you think: What does Jack Nicklaus represent to you?

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\nSHOULD TIGER PLAY CONGRESSIONAL?
Dusek: Tiger Woods didn't compete this week at the Memorial, and according to Jack Nicklaus, who spoke with him on the phone, Tiger was still wearing a boot and hobbling on a bad left leg. Nicklaus said that Tiger may not be able to play at the U.S. Open next week at Congressional. Having not played since Augusta, would Tiger be better served in the long run by sitting out the U.S. Open and letting his injuries heal?

\nEvans: Tiger doesn't live in the "long run." He's always looking toward a major championship and to miss one would gnaw at him for years to come.

\nHerre: If he's hurt, he shouldn't play. The worst thing he can do is keep aggravating his injuries. On the other hand, if they are already chronic he may have to learn how to play with and through them. Tough situation.

\nWei: I wouldn't be surprised if we don't see Tiger at the U.S. Open. Word inside the ropes is that his Achilles is worse than he's letting on (surprise!), but of course, that's speculation. Tiger and his doctors are the only ones who know exactly how bad it is. If he's hurt, he should sit out the U.S. Open and get healthy. Heck, if he needs to, he should take the rest of the year off and let his injuries heal. Only way Tiger will beat Jack's record is if he's healthy.

\nVan Sickle: Only Tiger knows whether Tiger should play the Open. Is he physically ready? Is his game ready? Can he win? It's up to him. At the Players, his start seemed futile once his injury was apparent. If that's the kind of shape he's in, he shouldn't play. But I expect him to play and if he's playing, I expect him to be somewhere among the top 15.

\nRick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I think Woods's career is in jeopardy. Everything, including his body, seems to be crumbling. If he ever gets back to anything even remotely close to his old self, it'll be a Lazarus-like resurrection.

\nShipnuck: To answer that, we'd need more information about Tiger's body, which is always hard to come by. But if it's a toss-up, I say play. He's not getting any younger. Every major now is a precious opportunity for him.

\nGodich: If he's hurt, he should sit this one out. He has played nine holes since the Masters. Nine! The last thing he wants to do is compensate for the bad knee and injure himself somewhere else. And the worst thing he could do is walk off the course again in the middle of a round.

\nHack: One Torrey Pines per lifetime. If Tiger isn't right, Tiger should sit.

\nMorfit: Tiger should definitely skip this U.S. Open-if he learned anything from Winged Foot in '06, he will.

\n Tell us what you think: Should Tiger Woods play the U.S. Open at Congressional or give his injuries time to heal?

\nWAR OF THE TOURS
Dusek: Last week, European golf was on center stage, with Luke Donald winning a playoff over Lee Westwood at the BMW PGA Championship with the World No. 1 ranking on the line. This week's PGA Tour event made the goings on at the Wales Open -- won by Swede Alexander Noren -- much more of an afterthought. With the help of cable TV, the Internet and private jets that can move players anywhere overnight, have we already begun the era of one tour and is that a good thing or a bad thing or just a thing?

\nVan Sickle: Despite Golf Channel's best efforts, Americans know and care next to nothing about the European Tour. Maybe if all the Americans go over there and play for a while, they'll catch on. But a world tour should be a cautionary tale based on the LPGA's experience. Sure, you can play for a big purse in the Middle East, but if no one's watching back home, how is that helping your product? We're inching closer to a world tour. That may be better for golf worldwide, but it definitely will not be better for golf in America.

\nGodich: And it's going to be really bad news for the long-time events that helped make the PGA Tour what it is.

\nVan Sickle: A real World Tour risks reducing the remaining PGA Tour to Nationwide Tour status. And the Nationwide-level tour would probably disappear.

\nEvans: The world is getting smaller with every new technological innovation. So a world golf tour is inevitable. But I don't know if the mighty PGA Tour will ever go for a pure global game that competes with its dominance.

\nLipsey: It's now like tennis. Top players can be anywhere in the world in any given week.

\nBamberger: Golf in America is almost an afterthought. Look at our Top-10 poll.

\nGorant: Most U.S. golf fans couldn't name 10 Euro events. Not so the other way around. The One Tour idea is a Euro fantasy. A few Euros are playing well now so people will pay more attention when they're playing at home, but we've still got a long way to go before that tour is on equal footing with the PGA Tour. More money, better depth, better courses, and way more established events over here.

\nHerre: I can easily imagine a day when all the big names fly over to China or somewhere if they feel it's worth their while, regardless of what that might mean for their home tour. That's why I'm interested in what's emerging in South Africa with the WGC late in the year. It creates conflicts on the other tours, but it's almost as if the position of the powers that be in SA is: So what?

\nVan Sickle: The South Africa thing almost sounds like how the bowl games work in America: It's dog-eat-dog, every man for himself.

\nBamberger: There's been one Tour for the entire Tiger era -- where and when Tiger was playing was the Tour event. Now the quality of the field and the course and how the events unfold is what matters. Wales could have been off-the-charts, if somebody shot 58 there. There are more variables of where and when great golf might break out than there has been in years, and we have more access to it via the Internet and TV. It's a moving target.

\nShipnuck: I don't want one homogeneous tour. I like that there are two healthy, vibrant tours, each with its own personality and homegrown stars.

\nVan Sickle: Exactly, Alan. If anything, we could use a little more good-old fashioned rivalry between the tours. Maybe not as extreme as War by the Shore stuff. But a little something besides just playing for massive amounts of cash.

\n Tell us what you think: Are you watching more European Tour events this year?

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\nWILL MICKELSON FINALLY WIN A U.S. OPEN?
Dusek: Phil Mickelson finally got his putter going Sunday and carded a 67 at the Memorial. Uncharacteristically, Mickelson is not playing the week before the U.S. Open. He's skipping Memphis to get in a few more practice rounds at Congressional, where he says he's dropping a 2-iron in the bag. Do you think Mickelson may be outfoxing himself again or do you think this is finally going to be Mickelson's year to win our country's national championship?

\nShipnuck: The list of winners at Congressional from its various tourneys is very heavy on long, high-ball hitters. It should be a favorable setup for Phil. And there's no tourney he wants more. Also, who else is really playing well right now? Beyond Luke Donald and Steve Stricker, it's a short list. And those guys haven't won majors.

\nVan Sickle: Phil had 10 birdies and an eagle on the weekend at Memorial. Looked like the Phil of old. There's definitely hope for the Open.

\nLipsey: That's much easier to do that when you're not in contention and have no pressure. Phil is slipping down the competitive totem pole only a bit slower than Tiger. I'd be VERY surprised if he even contends at Congressional.

\nBamberger: Why so neg, Rick? We LIKE Phil.

\nEvans: Phil shows up for majors. But he's not going to grind for four days in 35th place at a regular tour event.

\nGodich: A few more practice rounds at Congressional means a few more opportunities to over-think his strategy. He just needs to go out and play.

\nGodich: "There's no tournament he wants more." And therein lies the problem.

\nWei: Exactly, Mark. He's come close five times now, five second-place finishes! That's gotta do something to you mentally. But yes, obviously, the course sets up well for him. Maybe this year he'll have that little bit of luck you need to win.

\nMorfit: I have a feeling he's skipping the St. Jude because he knows he peaked a week early before the last major, winning Houston the week before the Masters.

\nBamberger: I think Phil is smart for taking the week before off. Phil can absolutely win the U.S. Open this year -- if he finds a way to drive it in play, by any means necessary. (Driver, 3-wood, evidently not 2-iron).

\nHerre: The 2-iron is interesting. What do you think Phil hits it, 240-250? He always has something going on. Can't help himself. Much more fun than the guys who never try anything different.

\nHack: I bet it's really a 1 1/2 iron -- tweaked and fussed over like a hockey stick -- that he can belt 270.

\nDusek: Mickelson says he'll carry the 2-iron because it goes 255.

\nBamberger: I believe it was Fluff who said, "There are no 2-iron shots at Congressional."

\nShipnuck: 260 and straight every time and Phil wins easily.

\nVan Sickle: Yup. That worked to perfection at Torrey Pines with the 3-wood. I like it.

\nLipsey: First, that won't happen. Second, you can't win a U.S. Open hitting irons off the tee.

\nShipnuck: I said "straight." The problem at Torrey was that he was hitting his 3-wood in the rough.

\nBamberger: Tiger Woods won a British Open hitting irons off tees. I don't agree, Rick. In play wins U.S. Opens. The card doesn't know how you got there.

\nDusek: I was at Royal Liverpool in '06 when Tiger employed that strategy. I know you've got to own the shots to use them in competition, but I was stunned other guys didn't do the same thing on that cooked course. If Congressional is playing really fast in the fairways, even at over 7,500 yards and par 71, I think the strategy can work if the shots are executed properly.

\nVan Sickle: Right, Dave. And that's where ex-Tampa Bay Bucs coach John McKay, when asked about Phil's execution, would repeat his famous line: "I'm in favor of it."

\nHack: I don't get Phil's over-tinkering. He over-tinkered his way out of the '08 US Open at Torrey on a course he could have played blindfolded. Dude, just go play.

\nVan Sickle: Uh-oh. Damon just fell off the bandwagon, Bones.

\n Tell us what you think: Can Mickelson win the U.S. Open hitting irons off the tee?

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