SI Golf Group convened a panel of experts -- senior writers Michael Bamberger, Alan Shipnuck and Gary Van Sickle, as welll as special contributor John Garrity and a PGA Tour player who took part on the condition of anonymity -- to tackle this week's big questions as we approach the U.S. Open. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
1. What do you think of the USGA’s novel experiment to play the two Opens at the same venue in consecutive weeks?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): No matter how the events turn out, it’s already a success. We’ve spent more time discussing the Women’s Open than ever. For sheer exposure, it’s brilliant. If this were American Bandstand and we were rating records, I’d give it a 95.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): I totally agree. If you ask LPGA players to name the best tournaments they’ve ever been part of, they’ll say the Open at Oakmont or the British Open at St. Andrews. When they get to play the iconic courses, it elevates the tournament. We feel it, they feel it, and the viewers at home feel it.
ANONYMOUS PRO: The only way it’ll be a disaster is if the men are playing Monday because of weather or a playoff. The USGA should’ve had the Women’s Open run from Friday through Monday just to build an extra day into the schedule. Let the women finish on Monday. That way they won’t be on TV against baseball or men’s golf.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Women’s golf has improved tremendously since the Nancy Lopez era and maybe even since the Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb era. There are more good players now than ever. When you see these women playing the same approach and bunker shots that the men do, the public will have a much deeper appreciation for their talent. That’ll be a great thing for women’s golf.
John Garrity, special contributor, Sports Illustrated (@jgarrity2): I agree, but someone needs to point out the concerns, like the women may end up putting on shag carpeting or sand if the weather is extreme for the men.
SHIPNUCK: At majors, the courses are the stars as much as any one player. Why was Stacy Lewis winning the British Open such a big deal? Because she birdied the Road Hole to win. Every golf fan knows what that means. So having an Open at Pinehurst is huge.
ANONYMOUS PRO: I’m not so sure. I don’t think the women’s ratings will be any different than usual. The LPGA has a loyal following, and the same people who always watch it will watch it, but that’s it. If the women played Augusta National the week after the Masters, yeah, the ratings would be a lot higher because of the course. It has an aura. Nobody is going to tune in because it’s Pinehurst. It’s nice, but from a recognition standpoint, it’s no Pebble Beach, Oakmont or even an Olympic Club.
2. Sentiment says this should be Phil Mickelson’s Open. Can he really do it?
GARRITY: If you’re asking me if the guy with the best Open record over the last 15 years can win the Open, yes, I think so. Especially since it’s been less than a year since he won his fifth major. I get that he’s been in poor form lately, but he’s still gone low a few times and he’s still Phil.
BAMBERGER: This is perfect, for Phil to go in with super-low expectations. He loves to prove people wrong. Going in playing poorly will work to Phil’s advantage in a weird sort of way.
ANONYMOUS PRO: Sorry, but I’m a naysayer. Really, what has Phil done this year to give anyone reason to think he can win? He says he’s never driven it better, but his numbers aren’t any better. And he’s putt-ing worse than ever.
SHIPNUCK: His early-season struggles weren’t a big deal, but the Masters was a huge red flag. He looked lifeless, and that’s his favorite tournament.
VAN SICKLE: He keeps changing putters and putting grips—that’s another red flag. That club is a problem. You can count on two hands the number of guys who kept putting great into their mid-40s.
BAMBERGER: I wish he would come to me for a putting lesson because he looks like he’s overdoing that forward press, more than I remember him doing in the past.
SHIPNUCK: To be so up and down indicates that Phil’s problem has got to be mental. His head just isn’t in the game.
VAN SICKLE: I’d like to be wrong, but that British Open win carried the faint scent of a curtain call.
ANONYMOUS PRO: Phil’s form around and on the greens is the worst it’s been in 10 years. He’s really screwed up a lot of holeable chips and routine pitches and even Mickelson-esque lobs. Remember the 12th at Augusta when he went back and forth in the bunkers? That and his putting will keep him from winning the Open.