#AskAlan: Alan Shipnuck reveals his worst experience on the golf beat

Shipnuck has been writing cover stories for Sports Illustrated since 1994.
Courtesy of Alan Shipnuck

Welcome to another edition of #AskAlan…Please keep the thoughtful questions coming…

“Among top 20 players, who would you most AND least like to be stuck on a desert island with and why?”—Mark (@mocycling)

I’m gonna ignore the homoerotic nature of this question and assume you just mean personality-wise. In that case, I’d most like to have to pass the hours with Paul Casey. He’s a delightful chap, an ace storyteller and a gifted mimic. I think I’d least enjoy Bubba—with his many quirks I’m quite sure he’d drive me crazy. Also, back hair.

“Will there be another Zach Johnson who gets to PGA Tour without much power but finds a way to win majors?”—Brian (@briankoppelman)

Well, I suppose Jordan Spieth could be put into this category, though he’s an average-length hitter, not a shorty. This kid Wesley Bryan is quite intriguing. He’s a magician with the wedge and putter but only 170th in driving distance. I’m curious to see how he continues to develop. There’s another rookie I’m very high on: 5’6” C.T. Pan. He’s a precise, heady player who has a gift for scoring but precious little power. Still, it’s a big ask for either to be the next Zach, whose gifts are mostly anatomical. “I’d like to say he has something other than heart,” his caddie, Damon Green, once told me. “He’s got the biggest pair out here. He’s not afraid of being in the lead; he thrives on it. A lot of guys don’t like being in the lead; they can’t stomach it. But he’s got a cast-iron stomach. Man, he’s solid.”

Johnson won at Augusta National during a freakish weather year. In general the Masters and the PGA Championship reward power more than the other majors. The British Open courses are now so short that a would-be Zach has the best chance to break through there.

“Like him or hate him, doesn’t golf need more Pat Perez’s?”—Ryan (@spartygrad)


“Why doesn’t a legit media member like yourself reveal who fake journalist Secret Tour Pro is?”—Eddie (@EddieK619)

Because I don’t care in the slightest.

“For us non-pros, how much harder are the courses these guys play every week than we realize? (i.e–Augusta)”—Ben (@BGHartzell)

It’s practically a different sport. At plenty of tournaments I’ve walked across greens late on Sunday afternoon and they’re slippery. Like, there’s so little grass on them my shoes have trouble gaining traction. Imagine putting on these surfaces! The firmness and fastness of the greens is the biggest difference, but the rough is often so thick and juicy you can hurt yourself, as Phil Mickelson did at Oakmont a while ago. And perhaps you have trouble reaching 520-yard par-5s in regulation. Well, on Tour those are par-4s. Now add in 40,000 screaming fans, a global TV audience, a $10 million purse, a bunch of twitchy reporters crowding every tee box, the weight of history and various other pressures and, yeah, it’s brutally difficult out there.

“Favorite Steinbeck book? #askalan”—Sean (@PGATourSMartin)

So I like to think of myself as the second-best writer to come out of Salinas, Calif. It should be noted that there is a rather substantial gap between one and two. Trying to pick your favorite Steinbeck novel is like trying to pick your favorite Spice Girl; it’s highly personal. I’d probably go with East of Eden, but there’s no wrong choice. I will say that in my stories I always focus on the lead, which sets the tone for the entire article. In that vein, I believe the opening paragraph in Cannery Row is the best start to any piece of writing ever: “Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitant are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gambler and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, ‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holymen’ and he would have meant the same thing.”

“Which golfer have you had the worst experience interviewing or covering and why?”—David (@Dkateeb)

One of the things we’re doing on the site is an occasional feature called Knockdown Classic, in which I’ll offer the story-behind-the-story to some of my favorite features. (A fun one is coming on Tuesday.) So probably the best answer to this question will have to be saved for another time in the near future.

Early in my career I dealt with my share of grouchy golfers: Cory Pavin, Payne Stewart, John Cook, Tom Lehman. I get it, I was a young punk and they were old-school, and our sensibilities didn’t quite mesh. Chris DiMarco once was quite rude in blowing me off in the locker room, and that was particularly awkward because his young son was standing there, watching the whole thing. David Duval called me at home at 6:30 in the morning to kvetch about a story. Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Jim Furyk each got in my grill to express their displeasure, vociferously, but all of those incidents were around the turn of the century and things have been smoothed over. The answer that comes to mind for this question concerns Aaron Baddeley, who is a truly nice guy. After he won the 1999 Australian Open as an amateur, I flew down to Oz to do a long profile on him. He was about to turn pro, and his father was excited to have me be part of the festivities. A lot of things were lined up for my trip. I landed and drove straight to the site of the Australian Masters and upon arrival was informed that Badds had just WD’d from the tournament due to a nasty flu. He spent most of the next week in bed. The only time I laid eyes on him was when he got up, in only his boxers, to shake my hand and apologize for being sick. Through various forms of reporting—including phone calls with Baddeley once I was back in the U.S. —I managed to put together a story, but it’s a helluva thing to fly all the way to Australia and never get to speak to your subject.