Tour Confidential Extra: On Rory, Jordan and Players Championship
SI Golf Group convened a panel of experts—senior writers Michael Bamberger, Alan Shipnuck and Gary Van Sickle, plus special contributor John Garrity and a player who requested anonymity—to tackle these questions and other hot topics
1. How will Jordan Spieth bounce back after his Masters disaster?
John Garrity, special contributor, Sports Illustrated (@jgarrity2): Can you give me an example of a player of Jordan Spieth's stature who didn't recover after a major meltdown?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Van Sickle Scott Hoch or Gil Morgan?
Garrity: I said, a player of Jordan Spieth's stature.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Greg Norman never recovered from his Masters meltdown, but he was already 41.
Garrity: You've got Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot [in 2006]. He was supposedly scarred for life, but he has won two more majors. Rory blew his own Masters, then won the U.S. Open by eight shots a couple of months later. When Adam Scott collapsed at Royal Lytham, everybody said he'd never recover.
Van Sickle: I had him at 27-to-1 odds to win. I never recovered.
Garrity: The next spring Adam won the Masters. We all remember Arnold Palmer blowing it at Olympic in 1966 to Billy Casper. The next year Palmer was runner-up again in the Open. He had 14 more top 10s in majors and won another 15 tournaments, and that Open meltdown was about as bad as anybody ever had. My point is, there is no historical reason to think Spieth won't be just fine.
Anonymous Pro: Jordan knew how poorly he was striking it and that his putter was the equalizer. The old line: Pros who putt for pars are like dogs chasing cars, they don't last. You can't play like that for 72 holes in a major and come out on top. Jordan is hurting, but he's also got to be reveling a little knowing he had his C-game ball striking and still led for 65 holes.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I wouldn't question for a minute that Spieth will come back. I don't think golf is so central to his life that he lives and dies with every little thing.
Shipnuck: It's clear that Spieth is going to be more like Phil than Tiger Woods. He's not a ruthlessly efficient closer. There's an element where Jordan can get squirrelly, like when he doubled the 71st hole last year at Chambers Bay. He's going to have some wonderful wins and some spectacular flameouts. That just makes him more interesting.
Van Sickle: Spieth is not a ball-striking machine like Ben Hogan or an overpowering driver like a young Tiger. He's more like a Ben Crenshaw or a Corey Pavin who gets the ball in the hole better than anyone else. I like that Spieth is a different kind of superstar.
Shipnuck: If Spieth shoots a boring 37 on the back nine at Augusta on Sunday and wins, it would've been remembered as a very dull Masters and cemented Jordan as being vastly superior. Now Rory McIlroy gets his ass kicked on Saturday by Spieth but still leaves Augusta thinking, Hey, this guy isn't as tough as I thought; Jordan Spieth isn't unbeatable.
2. So ... whatever happened to Rory McIlroy?
Bamberger: This is odd because Rory still talks to the media, but I feel like we know him less well at 27 than we did at 19. Then, he was consumed with one thing—golf. Now he's super rich, he spends a lot of time in the gym and we don't know where his priorities are.
Shipnuck: Rory looks like a case for early burnout. It doesn't seem like he's having much fun. He wanted success and a place in history, and he's already got them. Maybe he's lost his edge.
Bamberger: For Rory to shoot the Saturday round that he did at Augusta—Tiger never did that in his life prescandal. He was never not there at 54 holes after being there at 36 holes. That makes you wonder where Rory's head is.
Garrity: There may be nothing as mind-numbingly dull as the routine necessary to maintain success at the highest level in golf—getting up in the dark, early tee times, endless practice sessions and endless gym sessions as well in Rory's case.
Van Sickle: It's just like being a writer.
Garrity: Not exactly, but 50 years ago there was a kind of life on Tour; it was much more social. Tour life today is a trap. It can be a sweet trap with private jets for some, but if you want more of a real life, it can be difficult. I still like a guy who hits it as far and as straight as Rory does. If he gets his focus back, he'll be right back on top.
Van Sickle: I'm not so sure. Rory has gotten hooked on bodysculpting. There's strong, and then there's chiseled. Rory is chiseled, and the time he spent getting there might've been better spent on putting.
Anonymous Pro: There's a place for training in golf, but while heavy weights are in vogue, they're not in the best interest of staying supple for golf. I'd rather see Rory hitting social media instead of doing more dead lifts.
Shipnuck: Rory could be the beginning of a new trend where golf is more like tennis, with guys peaking younger and burning out faster. You need to win your majors in your 20s because the idea of winning them in your late 30s is suddenly old-fashioned. Junior and college golf is more intense, the international schedule takes a toll, and there's the 24/7 social-media scrutiny.
Van Sickle: Plus there's the complacency from winning all that money.
Shipnuck: Yes, the life-changing millions. I don't know if any young star today will still be grinding in his late 30s. Rory is only 27, and it feels like he's already taken his foot off the gas.
Van Sickle: So 29 is the new 39?
Shipnuck: It could be. Historically, many of the greats won their majors in a six-to eight-year window. That window may now open earlier and close faster. And Spieth has been doing this since he was 13, so his clock started ticking much earlier too.
Van Sickle: Maybe it's simpler than we think. Maybe Rory seems less interested because his putting has gone south. He switched to a cross-handed putting style in March because something was awry in his stroke. And it still is.
Anonymous Pro: Rory's putting is not good at all, actually. The change to cross-handed has been a flop. It only accentuates the handle-dragging stroke that Dave Stockton is teaching him. Rory needs a new method that allows the putter to release more and isn't a heel-pulling block.
Bamberger: If you're Spieth or Jason Day or even Danny Willett after one Masters win, your financial needs are set for life. What's your motivation if you don't have that as a driving force and, as Garrity suggests, there's no real camaraderie on Tour?
3. The hole I'd blow up at TPC Sawgrass is ...
Anonymous Pro: The 15th hole has no bite; it's just a way to get from 14 green to 16 tee. I'd add 40 yards so guys have to hit driver. Then I'd fix the mundane second shot by bringing the hazard greenside and meander it in front a hair.
Van Sickle: With the slapdash danger the Stadium course delivers on the closing holes, it's a shame to have a nondescript opening hole. Add a big pond down the right side and put the fear of Pete Dye into these guys right from the first shot.
Bamberger: This is a resort course the other 51 weeks, and my memory of the tee shots at 1 and 10 is of their being impossibly difficult for me. There's nowhere to miss, so you have a good chance to begin both nines with an X. That's no way to start.
Garrity: I'd blow up the clubhouse. It's way too big, and the architecture looks like something Addison Mizner would've designed for a Palm Beach millionaire in the 1920s. If you want a style that today's touring pros can relate to, make it look like a bank.
Shipnuck: The 18th hole is too simplistic. There's water left so everyone bails right, into the trees, and it's a slog from there. I'd like to see a footpath built to a floating tee box out in the lake. It would add pizzazz. The entire course is gimmicky, so why not take it to the illogical extreme?
Bamberger: It's a lousy course and not a great tournament, at the end of the day. Augusta National is great for the world's best players, and it's great for fans. That was the genius of Alister Mackenzie. That's not the case at the Stadium course with Dye and Deane Beman.
4. The golf gods have mandated a fifth major. What event are you anointing?
Garrity: The British PGA Championship has been Europe's major for decades. Wentworth is an old track with a clubhouse that looks like a castle. The winners go back to Peter Alliss, Dai Rees, Tony Jacklin and Peter Oosterhuis, Woosnam, Seve, Langer, Monty and even Rory. Arnie won it in '75. Nick Faldo won four times.
Shipnuck: The Australian Open gets us to another part of the world. Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player won it multiple times, it's played on some great tracks, and it has a tremendous roll call of winners.
Van Sickle: I second that one, Alan, but for the sake of argument, I'll go with the Canadian Open. It's older than dirt and gained some swagger when Lee Trevino won the U.S. Open, British Open and Canadian Open in the summer of '71.
Bamberger: I'd ask the governing bodies to create a true mixed championship—men and women competing together—with global stature. It would be playing for keeps on the grandeur of a great course—maybe Augusta National, Shinnecock Hills or the Old Course.
Anonymous Pro: Sorry, boys, but the event that easily has the game's strongest field every year should be a major. The others have amateurs, qualifiers, dated past champs or club pros who remain mostly noncompetitive. You know what I'm talking about—the Players.
5. And the winner is ...
Bamberger: I'm taking Rickie Fowler to repeat. The more you know Sawgrass, the better you play it. He'll be ready to defend.
Shipnuck: I like Justin Rose because it's a position course. Your iron game has to be spectacular. Why not?
Anonymous Pro: Patrick Reed is so tired of the acclaim that Jordan, Rory, Rickie and Jason get that he's going to grab his slice of the big pie. The way he birdied the 72nd hole in San Antonio, hitting a sweep-hook 3-iron over water, showed that he craves a win. He's a bulldog; beware his bite.
Garrity: I like the way Adam Scott has played this year and the confidence he's gained from the switch back to a conventional putter. He's won here before; he can play this course.
Van Sickle: This has Charley Hoffman written all over it, but none of you picked the No. 1 player in the world so I will—former No. 1 Luke Donald, that is, who's been contending again. This course is about mid-irons and the short game. So I vote for the Donald. Wait, did I just say that?