PGA Tour Confidential: The Wyndham Championship
Every week of the 2009 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.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Greetings from Tulsa on U.S. Amateur Eve. The Americans won a close Solheim Cup. Sergio Garcia kicked away a back-nine lead against a pack of undistinguished pursuers in Greensboro, a big comedown from last year when he contended for the PGA and the Tour Championship. The FedEx Cup starts later this week, something we greet with the same excitement as NFL preseason games. The senior circuit entertained its 11th major of the year, or whatever, at the Tradition. A big week.
Ladies first. The Americans were heavily favored, mainly because the Europeans were untested. Perhaps they shouldn't have been, given how few of the Americans have won anything in the last 12 months. Either way, it was a great effort by Europe, and the LPGA got what it needed a close, exciting Solheim Cup. Paula Creamer was a big star for the U.S., making two huge putts to win matches the first day, then scored a big early point in Sunday's singles. Michelle Wie didn't lose a match, despite not looking so great with the putter, but you have to give her credit. Juli Inkster made a nice rally in singles, perhaps the swing match that turned the tide on Sunday. Give em 'all three stars.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I don't think the Solheim needed saving, but this should quiet the kvetching for another couple of years. Europe played very inspired golf in forging an 8-8 tie over the first two days, and during singles they were in control of seven matches until the tide turned on the back nine. It was thrilling, competitive golf. The real story, though, is Michelle Wie. She was the best player on either team and showed the kind of passion that has always been missing in her game. This will be remembered as the week her career finally took off.
Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: I thought Wie looked pretty good on the greens. She made a bunch of clutch 10- and 15-footers the first two days. Plus, I liked the way Michelle came back to take out a salty Helen Alfredsson on Sunday.
Ryan Reiterman, producer, Golf.com: How awesome was Wie's drive on 18? She swung so hard she did a Gary Player follow-through. She seemed to be less technical all week and just played with a lot of feel and emotion. Great to see.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I also think we'll look back at this year's Solheim Cup as the turning point to Michelle Wie's career. She has been fully accepted now by her peers, by the fans, by almost everyone. She looked awfully comfortable today. It'd be hard to imagine her not taking her 3-0-1 week and turning it into some LPGA hardware.
Herre: I agree, Damon. Wouldn't be surprised to see her get that first W before the season ends.
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Definitely significant that Wie's parents, while on the scene, weren't allowed to hover. That may have loosened her up.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Totally agree that this week was just what she needed. I'm happy to see a girl like that thrive with her peers and her elders. She needs a steady diet of that, not more time with her folks.
Van Sickle: How many times have we said that about Ryder Cuppers, that after this, now they're going to be big winners? Hunter Mahan and others come to mind. Of course, Wie has a talent potential relative to her tour that they didn't. The LPGA certainly hopes this is a turning point for Wie. She could be its big cross-cultural American superstar.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Wie was easily the best golfer in the competition. But I'm not sure she's ready to win consistently on the LPGA Tour. She doesn't putt well enough and there are plenty of women with her length. She's not going to win a putting contest.
Friedman: Remember, too, that Michelle was a captain's pick. A no-brainer, maybe, but Beth Daniel could have gone another way.
Shipnuck: I don't want to scoop my forthcoming SI story, but Wie began working with Dave Stockton last week and the results were immediate. She had the best putting week of her life under tremendous pressure, and I expect she'll only build on it.
Hack: Alan, you might want to pass that Stockton phone number on to Sergio.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Like Jim H. said earlier, I thought she putted very well until the pressure rose on the back nine on Sunday. Then she started missing right again. By the way, dont want to scoop your scooping of your scoop, but they were talking about the Stockton stuff on TV.
Shipnuck: Yeah, but I got the great man on the phone and he spilled some great stuff for me. Read all about it Tuesday on Golf.com.
Van Sickle: Sergio and Monty had a history of putting great in the Ryder Cup and then not so much in stroke play when they don't have teammates backing them up. Credit Wie for addressing a weakness and going to the source for putting knowledge the great Dave Stockton.
Hack: I wonder if Michelle's folks will see what we're seeing and let her go (and grow). This is the first time she has won anything anything since 2003. She's got to feel on top of the world right now.
Morfit: Loved watching Kim jive and shimmy all over the course, but man would I hate her if I'd been cheering for Europe. The woman has a seriously good golf swing, though. I'm surprised she hasn't won more.
Gorant: She's to the Solheim what Sergio is to the Ryder.
Shipnuck: How can you not love this American team? Wie, Creamer, Pressel, Gulbis, Brittany Lincicome and C. Kim are all 25 or younger, telegenic, and they play with emotion and love to wave the flag. They have a lot of Solheim heroics in front of them.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The Solheim Cup had to be the most compelling women's golf this year. The emotion was great, there was some big-time pin-hunting that you don't often see in the women's game, and two classy captains to keep the thing on the right path. But as GVS implies, they MUST find a way to make this thing a three-team affair, winner keeps the court, between the U.S., Europe and the Rest of the World. U.S. beats Europe this year, next time the Cup is played in the U.S. and the Internationals come Stateside. The Inty's win the next one, and Europe goes to Tokyo, or wherever, to take them on. Here's a chance for the women to show the men how to do it right.
Shipnuck: The Solheim is U.S. vs. Europe and always should be. I wouldn't change a thing. All that's needed is a second competition, the U.S. versus the world, in even years. Then you get Lorena, Asia, Australia, and the rest.
Bamberger: Why should the U.S. be the team that plays every year if it's not the dominant team?
Evans: The LPGA is having a hard time fielding 20 events. How are they going to get someone to sponsor another team competition?
Van Sickle: Love the idea of another competition, but I'm not sure the U.S. can compete with that Rest of the World lineup. Also, how much are players from Japan, Korea, Australia, Canada and Mexico going to meld into a team? They'd need tag teams of interpreters. Where can you find somebody who speaks fluent Canadian these days?
Shipnuck: The men in the Presidents Cup don't seem to have a problem coming together. They'll work it out. Everybody speaks 7-iron.
Shipnuck: I'm sure plenty of Asian companies would line up to sponsor that event.
Herre: I like the point Michael made earlier the women have an opportunity to show how to do this team match play thingy right. Round robin, winner keeps the court.
Friedman: Whole generations might not get a chance to participate. Like a guy on a baseball team that never makes the postseason.
Van Sickle: Greg Norman and Karrie Webb know all about being excluded from team competitions.
Shipnuck: Webb was actually here this week driving Beth Daniel's golf cart. Seriously.
Herre: Cool the way so many retired LPGA players show up for the Solheim. I saw Kathy Whitworth, Betsy King and Pat Bradley, among others. Must be a fun week for them.
Shipnuck: Nancy Lopez was bawling behind the final green.
Van Sickle: I like the round-robin idea that I've previously proposed for the Ryder Cup, the one Bambi mentioned earlier winners keep the court. That could work for the women as well as the men, making both events bigger in scope and more global. Wasn't Ty Votaw the guy talking about growing the game globally last week? A Ryder Cup-Presidents Cup merger (as unlikely as that sounds) would do that better than an Olympics under the current lame proposed format.
Van Sickle: Thoughts on the Solheim telecast? I thought it was exciting. Team match play format just works when it's close. It's as simple as that. But the Golf Channel was uneven and featured some horribly clumsy interviews with players and captains.
Friedman: Agreed. The only times it was clich-free were when Judy Rankin and Dottie Pepper were on. Rankin is a welcome addition.
Gorant: Sunday was good, but Saturday afternoon was torture. Only four balls in play two shots, commercial, two shots, commercial. The canned interview clips were used well, though.
Van Sickle: Agree with Gorant. The slow play Saturday hurt the telecast and officials must now realize they have no practical recourse to stop it. Sunday's fast-paced singles action made up for it, however.
Shipnuck: Team match play is always a blast. This was another reminder of what the Olympic format should try to emulate.
Bamberger: True, Alan, but I'm guessing Tiger's endorsement of stroke play sealed the deal for the Olympic competition. Despite what he says, despite what his captains say, I think Tiger's body language tells the real story: the team thing is not meaningful to him. Maybe it will be a decade from now. But not now.
Friedman: The back-and-forth was just tremendous. Big ups, too, to Catriona Matthew. The woman is a gamer. First a baby, then the British Open, then a solid showing here.
Bamberger: Close match play is ALWAYS great, even if it's two guys shooting 92. But what makes the difference here, and it's been said a million times, is a group of people coming together as a team and playing for something bigger than themselves.
Shipnuck: Besides Wie, I thought the most impressive player was Anna Norqvist. She didn't get it done in singles but was electric over the first two days. She validated her breakthrough at the Open, and I look forward to watching her in the next 10 Solheims.
Gorant: Good call. I was impressed by Brewerton and Elosegui, too. I'd never seen either of them before.
Van Sickle: No question. Lost in the U.S. win was the fact that Europe has some good, young talent.
Herre: Suzann Pettersen was not her dominant self. If she had been we might've had a different result.
Gorant: She's so streaky, though, that it's not terribly surprising she didn't dominate. You never know what to expect from her.
Bamberger: I thought she would dominate, too. This result is slightly slightly similar to the British Open, where Watson won without winning. Europe, in the heart of America-the-beautiful country, with a lesser team on paper, pretty much held its own. That's like a win, and that's why we're all doing so much typing about it.
Van Sickle: In the bigger picture, when was the last time an LPGA tournament, even a major, was a big story or brewed this kind of excitement? The Solheim Cup is the big daddy of women's golf.
Bamberger: That's so true. The LPGA and the Champions Tour want to tell us what the majors are. Doesn't work that way. We (the people) decide. Solheim was a major. Not a major major. But a major golf event.
Gorant: That's true for us golf junkies, but I wonder how much it penetrated the larger sports world?
Friedman: Good point, Jim. It's not the major story either on SI.com or ESPN.com. It's listed among the "headlines" on both sites.
Herre: It wasn't that long ago that the Ryder Cup wasn't shown on network TV. The Solheim Cup has a chance to be a special, crossover event for women's golf.
Van Sickle: Until someone like Wie develops into a true superstar, the Solheim Cup is the LPGA's only hope for a special crossover event.
Bamberger: Alan: Did. C. Kim hurt herself, literally, with her chest-pounding? She's Patty Berg, right down to the funky hat.
Shipnuck: She lost her voice but was otherwise intact.
Evans: Christina Kim is great for golf. But I'm wondering why she doesn't have a bag sponsor? I hope this attention brings a name to her golf bag.
Van Sickle: Funny thing about Kim. I checked her stats and she had only two top 10s this year. Can that be right?
Shipnuck: Both majors, though. She's been tweaking her swing and equipment. This may foreshadow a big second half. (Fingers crossed ...)
Morfit: I love the flag waving, but even more I love the face painting. Wouldn't Boo Weekley look dandy with an American flag on each cheek and a 'BOO' ribbon?
Gorant: Juli Inkster had a great line in her post-match interview when they asked her about being a future captain. Something to the effect of: I'd love to, I'd be great at picking out the skirts and the matching hair ribbons. Good stuff.
Van Sickle: Inkster is a lock as a future captain, although Meg Mallon looks like the heir apparent.
Herre: Was great to see Inkster come back to halve her singles match. It was also fun to hear her say that this Cup was her last, and she wasn't going to pull a Favre.
Van Sickle: Maybe it's time to move on to the PGA Tour. The FedEx Cup playoffs are about to start. Can you name your points leader or describe the new format? Will you be watching any of it?
Bamberger: Tiger plays in them all? You'll have great events. But the cumulative build up that the Tour wants? I don't think the public will ever be that into it.
Gorant: I know three things: Tiger is in first; it's harder to win this year if you don't play all four events; and if anyone in the top five going into the Tour Championship wins that event, he wins the Cup.
Van Sickle: Minor tweaks that are better, but as Bambi points out, not enough to build interest. When a guy's point total can change while he stands on a tee box waiting to hit a shot (because someone else moved up on another hole), there's no way for fans or media to follow along. That needs to be addressed, assuming the FedEx Cup continues.
My darkhorse pick to win the Cup: Steve Marino. This guy makes birdies like few in the game. It's just a matter of time before he breaks through. Wouldn't surprise me to see him pull a Villegas and win a couple of the final events and snag the $10 million.
Bamberger: Steve Marino did an odd and interesting thing while playing with Watson in the third round in the British. On the back nine, he took out a camera and snapped a few pictures. Talk about stopping to smell the roses. Nice kid, love the swing, don't know if he has any killer in him, but who does these days?
Herre: Moving the Barclays to Liberty National was a good move Tiger Woods simply was not going to play Westchester again but I'm curious to see how the tournament draws this week, and what the TV ratings are. CBS scored big in the last three Tiger events the Buick, the Bridgestone and the PGA but I'm not sure the public understands the playoffs.
Hack: True. But the public understands Tiger. They'd watch him mowing the lawn.
Anne Szeker, producer, Golf.com: Right. I don't think the general sports fan knows or cares that it's a playoff event. As far as they're concerned it's a golf tournament that Tiger's playing in, and that's reason enough to watch.
Bamberger: You don't have to understand the playoffs if Tiger's playing. People want to see Tiger make history and do a hard thing well. Now that he's showing some signs of being an ordinary human (MC at British, bad last round at PGA) he'll be even more compelling to more people.
Van Sickle: Tiger's mortality does, indeed, make him more fascinating. If he may not hang onto every lead, that's way more exciting.
Friedman: Just having Tiger there will be a draw, both for attendance and TV. The New York media will be there in force.
Herre: Mickelson plays a lot of golf at Liberty. Maybe he'll finally make some putts.
Evans: People are fascinated by Tiger's shotmaking and domination. I have friends who are still mourning his PGA Championship loss. The world of golf will be focused on Liberty National.
Van Sickle: The telecast should be a hit. The scenery there is awesome. We'll be sick of the Statue of Liberty by Sunday, if that's possible. The course is nice, nothing exceptional, but pretty good considering the original site was a Superfund toxic waste site. Don't know how they can squeeze in many fans on a small piece of property like that. But the camera shots with the statue and NYC in the background should be breathtaking.
Bamberger: My Jersey peeps say the same, but Liberty's a Tom Kite course, and Tom Kite holds a curious amount of sway in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Van Sickle: We won't be mourning the loss of Westchester C.C. Neither will players, who complained of aging rooms, lack of hot water for showers and a definite feeling of being unwanted by the staff. Parking was always a nightmare, too, not that Liberty National will be any better. Don't think many fans from Connecticut will come to Liberty, at least not as many as went to Westchester.
Bamberger: Really? I know a lot of guys who loved Westchester and all that old-timey stuff. Especially back in the day, when it preceded the U.S. Open.
Van Sickle: Players liked the course, not the lodgings and the service and the members who continued using their lockers during tournament week.
Bamberger: Way back when, before the players struck it rich, guys went to Westchester looking for rich, good-looking New York talent, and were sometimes successful. It was Houston before Houston was Houston. Now Houston is Phoenix, or Scottsdale.
Evans: Tiger didnt like Westchester. That's why the Tour isn't playing there. Period.
Friedman: Any truth to the rumor that for the week, they are changing the words on the Statue's pedestal to: "Give us your retired, your rich, your crouching golfers yearning to be bogey-free"?
Van Sickle: No, but they are replacing her torch with a purple and orange FedEx box.
Gorant: Anyone know much about Michael Sim? Kid just won his third Nationwide event of the year to get a battlefield promotion.
Van Sickle: He's an Aussie, 24, who missed much of '07 and '08 with a spinal issue. Brandel Chamblee touted him to me three years ago as a guy with so much talent that he can't possibly miss. Due to injury, it's taken a while.
Gorant: Also, Gary, as former U.S. Amateur champ Ryan Moore collects his first win, what's your take on this year's Amateur? Who do like to win, or should I say, who do you like to finish second?
Van Sickle: As we've learned from the Tucson event, there's no way to predict match play. Southern Hills is a tree-lined shotmaking course that favors second-shot players. Tiger won despite laying up off a lot of tees. Anybody who qualifies for the 64 match play spots has a shot.
Herre: Michael, your pal Ryan Moore wrapped up his first PGA Tour win. Long time coming for the one-time amateur great.
Bamberger: I had one long conversation with him a long time ago and there's nothing conventional about him. You can see it on the outside, but it's him to his core.
Van Sickle: Moore talked last winter about working harder to get more consistent. Guess it paid off. Just took him longer than we all expected after his glittering amateur record.
Friedman: Another el foldo for El Nino. What to do? Does he need to hit bottom? Do we need to have a 'Putting Intervention' on A&E?
Van Sickle: Sergio might've been better served if he'd missed out on the FedEx Cup playoffs. He's clearly in need of an off-season to recharge.
Bamberger: Hitting bottom is Adam Scott. Sergio has a long way to go.
Bamberger: All those elite players should take a page from Annika and Tiger: don't show up unless you're ready to win. Sergio was ready to win, but didn't. But on that basis, why not keep playing?