Since it's Halloween, it's appropriate that I'm experiencing déjà vu. Last year around this time I booked my trip to the Bahamas to report on Tiger Woods's glorious return to the game after a long layoff caused by injury and rehab. This morning I was looking at flights to the same place for the same reason.
Maybe I'll just skip the trip and cut and paste last year's story, which still pretty much holds up: Here it is. That will allow us to go light on Tiger in this week's mailbag, although we do need to at least acknowledge the state of things:
"Is there a better chance of a Shipnuck hole-in-one or another Tiger win? #AskAlan" - Matt (@PurdueMatt05)
I may be old and decrepit but some day I will make an ace. Tiger winning again is an even longer shot.
"#AskAlan Is it ever okay for guys playing in a USGA qualifying event to wear yoga pants under shorts?" - @Bob_Debaker
Yeah, I saw those photos, too, and it was indeed horrifying. I think we can all agree that yoga pants are one of mankind's greatest inventions, but they should never be worn by men…even in yoga class.
"If Kevin Sutherland (0 victories this season) wins the season-ender next week in Phoenix and Bernhard Langer (7 wins) finishes 2nd, Sutherland gets the Schwab Cup and $1M bonus. How is this remotely a thing?" - @LinksPlayers
First of all, bonus points for being the first person ever to get worked up about anything related to the Senior tour. But the answer is, it's a true playoff, in which a lower seed can win the championship if they pull off the upset. To extend the metaphor, Langer is clearly the regular season MVP and Player of the Year. But if he wants to be the champ, he has to perform in the big game.
"Laser, handheld GPS, phone app or walk it off?" - Lou (@Lou_TireWorld)
Your timing is amazing. For my entire adult life I have resisted any devices and walked off the yardages. I enjoy the romance of having to figure it out on my own and the mental workout of triangulating all the factors to arrive at what I think is the best guess. But I've grown wary of the side-eye from playing partners as I huff up and down the fairway looking for the elusive sprinkler heads, and lasers are undeniably more precise. So, with a heavy heart, two days ago I ordered a Bushnell Pro X2. We'll see how it goes, but I'm sure I'm gonna miss the days when I absolutely pure an iron shot and miss the green entirely because I've done the math wrong.
"Will Patrick Reed win multiple majors? #AskAlan" - Kod (@chief11)
How about multiple Tour events?! For all of the Ryder Cup heroics, memes, and Captain America jokes, Reed has won only two events over the last 3.5 years, and lifetime he has only one top-10 in the majors: this year's PGA Championship, where he had a chance to win until making a mess of the 72nd hole. Hopefully he can build on that experience and becomes a consistent contender.
The majors should actually suit Reed's game better than everyday Tour events; he is one of the best chippers and putters in golf, a skill set that is more important as the setups become increasingly extreme. But his work with the driver is miles away from many of the top players and that is what holds him back when the grass gets longer and fairways skinnier at the majors.
"I'm still fixated on Phil winning the U.S. Open. How many years ahead is he exempt from qualifying and do you think Pebble is his best bet?" - Jim (@jimsorr)
Winners of the Open Championship are exempt into our national championship for the next five years, so the 2018 U.S. Open is Phil's last free ride from the victory in Muirfield. He can punch his ticket to the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by finishing in the top 10 next year at Shinny or making the Tour Championship. The top 60 in the World Ranking at the cutoff point in June 2019 also get into the field.
If Phil fails on all of these fronts he could still get a special exemption from the USGA, which seems likely given his special connection to Pebble Beach: in addition to winning the Clambake four times, he made his pro debut there at the '92 U.S. Open. If the USGA doesn't come through Phil can still play his way in through qualifying, which he is certainly not too proud to try.
Yes, Pebble Beach is definitely his best shot, and not just because of his past success there. Because of houses, roads, maintenance buildings and, uh, the Pacific Ocean, the course is already maxed out, distance-wise. At barely 7,000 yards and in the firm conditions of summer, it will play so short that Phil won't need to hit driver on any hole. That club has always been his weakness, and he's now giving up a lot of yardage to the bombers half his age, so reducing its importance helps Mickelson in a big way. At the '19 Open, Phil will be able to lean on his iron play and short-game magic, in addition to his course knowledge. Sounds like a good place to make a last stand.
"This is bugging me: Shoal Creek's owner in 1990 said, "We don't discriminate in every other area except the blacks." PGA Championship was pulled. Trump Bedminster owner in 2017: "Some very fine people" marched among Charlottesville neo-Nazis. The 2022 PGA Championship has not been pulled. Is Trump "good for golf," as PGA of America CEO Peter Bevacqua says?" - @SethCooley6
It's a minor point, but the 1990 PGA Championship was in fact played at Shoal Creek as scheduled, even in the wake of founder Hall Thompson's incendiary comments. But it was a watershed moment for golf, forcing the sport to address its long history of institutionalized racism and leading to new bylaws ensuring that any host venue have non-discriminatory memberships. (Of course, this also led to weaselly rationalizations that Augusta National wasn't subject to the jurisdiction of the PGA Tour, USGA or PGA of America.)
Trump is a different kettle of fish because, on a very simplistic level, he's the President of the United States. Enough Americans love the guy – or, at the very least, voted for him – that golf's governing bodies can simply point to the election results as proof that the public is not bothered by his inflammatory rhetoric.
And to have the sitting President tweet 8 times about a women's golf event, as DJT did from the Women's Open, buttresses Bevacqua's claim that Trump is good for business. To walk away from one of Trump's venues now would lead to a political controversy that would spill off the sports page into the mainstream. Given Trump's fondness for weaponizing the legal system, a lawsuit would be inevitable.
From talking to people at the USGA, I know they wanted to move this year's U.S. Women's Open but deemed the potential costs too high. They could always fall back on the excuse that they didn't have enough time to prepare another venue. That doesn't work for a PGA Championship that is five years away.
No doubt Bevacqua is hoping Trump is not reelected, which would turn down the heat a little bit. But there are potentially three more years of this Presidency, which means untold controversies. Will one rise to the level of Shoal Creek and force the PGA to take action? Given the golf firmament's current stance of go-along-to-get-along, it's hard to imagine that happening.
"Is Tiger so dependent on outside love and adulation that he'll risk years of rehab to grab that ring one more time?" - David (@Dstan58)
It's pretty clear that we're all in a co-dependent relationship with Tiger. He can't quit us just as we can't quit him. The guy is only 41 – what is he supposed to do for the rest of his life? Of course he had to try to come back. And if he blows out his back again he'll deal with that pain later. Right now nothing matters but instant gratification, for all of us.