Tour Confidential: What a season! What's your biggest takeaway from 2016-17?

Monday September 25th, 2017
4:35 | Tour & News
Tour Confidential: Thomas finishes second at Tour Championship, wins FedEx Cup
GOLF.com's Sean Zak joins Ryan Asselta to discuss Justin Thomas' FedEx Cup win and as well as who could be poised for a breakout campaign next season.

GOLF.com conducts a weekly roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and GOLF Magazine. Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. Justin Thomas won the monster FedEx Cup bonus and likely locked up the player-of-the-year chase, Xander Schauffele became the first rookie to win the Tour Championship and Tiger is still unsure about what swing to come back with. And that was just this week. Now that it's in the books, what's your biggest takeaway from the 2016-17 season?

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, GOLF.com (@Jeff_Ritter): What I'll remember most: JT became golf's newest star, Spieth became the player of his generation, Rory began breaking down and Tiger hopefully got the help he needs to have a healthy and happy next chapter, whatever it may be.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): Nicely said, Jeff. In the women's game, a couple of Lexi Thompson moments will also linger with me. The embarrassing rules kerfuffle at the ANA, but also her riveting comeback in singles at the Solheim Cup. Oh, and on the men's side, how about that epic U.S. Amateur?

Sean Zak, associate editor, GOLF.com (@Sean_Zak): I'll (hopefully) remember this year as the first real public acceptance of the post Tiger-Phil era. For two decades we expected those guys to carry the PGA Tour torch, but we can't legitimately expect anything from them anymore. That's OK, because we can now expect DJ, Spieth, JT, etc., to carry the sport. They've made it pretty fun, too.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The most impactful and memorable day of the golf year was the Sunday of the British Open, from start to finish, and by finish I am including Jordan Spieth's post-round remarks, and Kuchar's, too. That was sport at its best.

Josh Berhow, producer, GOLF.com (@Josh_Berhow): I don't want to be a prisoner of the moment, but what a season it really was. Sergio got the monkey off his back, Lexi became even more of a superstar in the women's game and Thomas and Spieth proved they should be around for the long haul. Sean hit it on the head that the torch is unquestionably in the process of being passed to the young guns. Twenty years from now, will I remember all of this? Who knows. But I will remember vividly walking with Spieth and Kuchar at Royal Birkdale on Sunday and seeing some of the most fascinating golf of my life on that back nine.

Justin Thomas capped a monster 2016-17 season with a FedEx Cup title.
Getty Images

2. Peter Malnati took to Twitter to defend athletes protesting during the national anthem, while also lambasting President Trump's administration for valuing "greed, hubris and power." While many NFL players and other athletes have spoken to this issue, Malnati was the first pro golfer to broadcast his opinions. Putting your politics aside, what was your reaction to Malnati taking so public a stand?

Ritter: No matter how you feel about kneeling during the anthem, it takes guts to be the first in your sport to voice an opinion, so I applaud Malnati for stepping up. It was a thoughtful post and one that will hopefully spark a healthy discussion from both sides of the issue.

Sens: Good for him. When people get all hot and bothered about the importance of "keeping politics out of sports," they ignore the fact politics and sports have always been entangled. If you doubt that, read up on the origins of the Olympics. Plus, what those complaining are usually saying is, "I don't like your political views, so please shut up about them." So, yeah, good on Malnati. It took all the more courage given how conservative the world of golf is.

Zak: I can't believe he didn't stick to sports! The nerve! I was surprised that it happened, sure, but not surprised when I heard it was Malnati. He's proven himself to be very well-spoken and thought out in his blog in the past. I think it's really great that some golfer — any golfer — was confident enough to "take a stand." There seems to be such a barrier for these guys to speak their mind, so I hope if anything he made it easier for others to do the same in the future.

Bamberger: The kid can write. I'd like to see him round-table with us on Sunday nights.

Berhow: It was great to see a golfer speak up. When I started seeing the athletes' responses trickling out on Saturday, I wondered if we would hear from someone on Tour. I doubted it, but glad I was proved wrong.

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3. The U.S. hasn't lost a Presidents Cup this century (it leads the all-time series 9-1-1) and is heavily favored to win again next weekend at Liberty National. Put on your marketing caps and give golf fans a reason to tune in.

Ritter: It's a team event and guys on both sides will be all-in. Pair it with what should be a rollicking NYC-area crowd, and this should be a blast.

Sens: Mickelson back once more as elder statesman; Tiger as sideline inspiration; Reed and Spieth paired up again; a U.S. team loaded with young firepower. Strictly from a marketing standpoint, anyway, I think those all beat "Up Close and Personal with Anirban Lahiri."

Zak: If all is fair in this marketing exercise, I'd just hype up the International squad as much as possible. I'd call them the greatest International team of all-time. I'd call them the greatest threat to the American team the Prez Cup has ever seen. I'd lie and lie and lie about how they're going to keep it close and I'd hope it would make enough people want to watch out of spite.

Bamberger: I'd suggest this: "This 2017 American Presidents Cup team is so good it will make you forget about the 1927 Yankees."

Berhow: Do you remember Rory vs. Reed on Sunday of the Ryder Cup!? Well, Rory won't be there, but Reed vs. Branden Grace can get your blood pumping! OK, so it's no Ryder Cup, but team events and match play competitions bring out the best in players. Most of these guys will take some time off after this, so they have a lot to leave out there. If nothing else, the Manhattan skyline can provide you with some A+ views.

Patrick Reed and Tiger Woods helped the U.S. win the Ryder Cup last year, and they'll be at Liberty National this week, too.
Scott Halleran/PGA of America via Getty Images

4. Davis Love III, Meg Mallon, Lorena Ochoa, Ian Woosnam and the late golf writer Henry Longhurst will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Tuesday. Any beefs with this class? And were any deserving candidates snubbed?

Ritter: For the past couple of classes, Woosnam was one of the more glaring omissions, so nice to see that finally corrected. I wouldn't call this a snub, but I think John Daly's case is fascinating: two epic majors among eight PGA and Euro tour titles. Of course there are all the WDs and drama, but can you tell the story of the game without him? When Fred Couples got in with one major, his popularity was cited as a contributing factor. I'd argue the same holds true for Daly, and I'd put him in sometime down the road.

Sens: I love the nod to Longhurst, and have no beef with the player inductees, especially given how and where the bar has been set in recent years. And I'm with Jeff on Daly. Easy to argue that after his two majors, the resume grows thin. But the Hall long ago ceased being a hyper-hallowed place reserved only for Mt. Rushmore-ish icons of the game.

Zak: Can't complain, obviously. I just think it's so cool how diverse the group is. Men, women, domestic and international, even a golf writer for folks like us to get excited about!

Bamberger: It's a good class, to be sure. I only wish we could read what Longhurst would have written for the occasion. Jenkins, when he got it, counted up the Hall of Fame members with whom he had had drinks. Talk about setting the bar high.

Berhow: No issues here. DL3 has had quite the run lately and isn't slowing down at 53. Won the Wyndham in 2015, winning Ryder Cup captain in 2016 and Hall of Fame in 2017.

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5. Tiger Woods's annual Washington, D.C., tournament, which was once a big draw on Tour, has yet to attract a title sponsor for the 2017-18 season. Is this a clear indication of Woods's waning marketability, of are there stronger forces at work?

Ritter: Tough one. The summer DUI couldn't have helped, but he's still golf's most famous figure. Wouldn't a sponsor out there somewhere want to take a shot at this? Feels like a combination of TW and dicey economics.

Sens: Given that sponsorship and marketability are pretty much two sides of the same coin, there's no doubt it points to something about Tiger's marketing allure. As for dicey economics, I dunno. I'm dubious about that, given how much money is being thrown around in professional golf these days.

Zak: Considering how far July 2018 will be from May 2017 (the month of his DUI), there really should be no problem with the marketability of the greatest golfer of all-time. Maybe, just maybe, if that golfer made himself a little more publicly open and not so closed off, then his marketability would never, ever wane. Alas, that's not TW.

Bamberger: I don't know, Sean. Fourteen months is nothing when you're in the marketing business and you don't know what is coming next. If Tiger's worried about that, and I doubt he is, he's worried about the wrong thing. If he can get his mental health in a good place, a lot of good things will follow from that, including getting a title sponsor for a mid-summer golf tournament.

Berhow: Maybe I'm young(-ish) and naive like Sean, but I don't think this will be an issue in a couple of months. People have short memories and usually are quick to forgive. I think the future of the event should be fine.

Arnold Palmer left a lasting impression on the game of golf.
Fred Vuich/SI

6. Monday marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Arnold Palmer. What do you miss most about the King?

Ritter: His contributions to the game are vast and well-documented. Gotta say I missed him most at the Masters, where an empty chair was stationed at the first tee Thursday morning and Billy Payne gave a moving speech. An emotional scene.

Sens: His ease among the crowds, and his accessibility and responsiveness to fans. Partly, that was the era, but mostly it was Palmer himself. Qualities that are hard to come by in a game where the biggest stars get so rich so fast, and the warped culture of celebrity raises walls between them and the rest of the world.

Zak: I really just miss the reactions people had around him. I never met him, never was even close to being around him, but every person who did was smiling ear-to-ear and had a vividly detailed story to tell afterward. That was something he pulled off so naturally.

Berhow: Arnold simply made the game better, in any way he touched it. Like Ritter, I'll always remember the 2016 Masters and his appearance on the 1st tee for the ceremonial shots. But even more so I'll remember all the buzz around the tee, grown men seeing their hero, dads telling their kids about Arnie and pointing in his direction. The man was larger than life.

Bamberger: His honesty. Fortunately, for me, I have a long, long interview with him inadvertently saved among my iTunes. I go for a long jog and somewhere between Roxy Music and Anderson East (depending on where shuffle lands), Arnold will pop up unannounced, with that foghorn voice, talking about the '66 Open and what it means to lose "the edge."

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