Tour Confidential: Grading Tiger’s season, plus are PGA Tour setups too easy?

August 19, 2019

Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss Tiger’s season, whether or not Tour courses are too soft, the new Tour Championship scoring system, Presidents Cup captain’s picks and more.

1. Tiger Woods needed to climb eight spots in the FedEx Cup standings at Medinah to qualify for next week’s Tour Championship but failed to do so after rounds of 71-71-67-72. Tiger’s season will always be remembered for his magical Masters win but he did very little thereafter. What letter grade would you give Woods’ 2018-19 campaign? 

Dylan Dethier, associate editor (@Dylan_Dethier): 43-year-old Tiger Woods, just over a year removed from thinking he may never play golf again, won the Masters — his first major win in a decade and the final step of an all-time great sports comeback. That alone makes this season a massive, wild success. I’d argue Woods was still a strong Tour player even without the Masters, beating the field average in 27 of his first 30 rounds in 2019. And despite his clunky end to the season, Woods looked healthy this week. Good health and a green jacket guarantee a GRADE: A

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: This was the best year of his career, for many reasons. GRADE: A+

Josh Sens, contributor (@JoshSens): This question reminds me of the time a reporter asked Harper Lee if she was disappointed that she had only published one novel. Lee said: “I wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.” He did more than plenty. GRADE: A

Jonathan Wall, managing editor (@jonathanrwall): He won THE FREAKING MASTERS after everyone on the planet wrote him off. He was never supposed to win another major. It’s an A+. And you’re insane if you give it any other grade. GRADE: A+

John Wood, caddie to Matt Kuchar (@johnwould): Agreeing with all of the above. At this point in his career, majors are truly all that matter to him, so to grab the first since 2008 was everything. GRADE: A

2. Justin Thomas blew off the barn doors at the BMW Championship with a 25-under performance at soggy Medinah that included a third-round course-record 61. On Saturday evening, Adam Scott, reflecting on the week’s low scoring, said, “If a golf course is soft, we’re just going to tear it apart. They [the PGA Tour] haven’t figured out yet that long means nothing to us; you can’t build it long enough. … I’m not challenging [PGA Tour officials and course designers] to build longer golf courses; I’m challenging them to build smarter golf courses.” Is Scott right? Are Tour venues/setups too one-dimensional?

Dethier: I mean, yeah! Unquestionably. These pros need to be tested in more complex ways for the simple fact that it’s more entertaining viewing. There are plenty of problems with the Tour and its courses — the ball flies too far, the pros are too good, they overpower these courses and render their strategic design irrelevant, the Tour has some major dud courses on its schedule — but as currently constructed, courses with soft conditions and no wind hardly challenge pros at all.

Bamberger: Scott is exactly correct. More doglegs!

Sens: No doubt. Firmer, faster, with more compelling angles. That’s the better way to defend, but very hard to enact when the soil isn’t sandy and rains have tenderized the grounds.

Wall: Outside of Tiger’s win at Augusta and Lowry’s emotional triumph at Portrush, I can’t recall a season where I was so disinterested in the week-to-week results on Tour. Most are parkland layouts that offer little in the way of imagination, and the Tour makes the courses entirely too soft. Firm it up and crank up the level of difficulty. I’m tired of watching guys blitz the course and throw up 62s without breaking a sweat.

Wood:  I said it a couple of years ago at Erin Hills: Length alone is simply not a defense. Hilton Head. Colonial. Riviera. Challenges come when decisions have to be made, and if you’re wrong, you get penalized. There were a few holes at Medinah that aren’t played as they were designed because guys can carry the ball 330, over trees, and render the dogleg moot.  We played with Jon Rahm for the first two rounds, and he was taking lines that simply weren’t thought of when the course was designed. So, we not only need doglegs, but there needs to be a tree right off the tee (like they’ve done at Pebble Beach at No. 3) that demand the player play the hole as it’s designed, not how modern equipment allows them to.

Justin Thomas claimed his 10th Tour victory with a four-shot win at the BMW Championship.
Getty Images

3. Along those same lines, Tiger Woods was asked Saturday if the fear factor is gone for many of today’s young players when they tee it up on what were once considered “tough” venues. Woods said, “Now, you just pull out driver, bomb it down there and you’re looking for three to four good weeks a year. That’s how you play. It’s not the consistency, it’s not about making a bunch of cuts. It’s about having three, four good weeks a year. That’s the difference. The guys understand that.” Could this mentality become a problem for pro golf? 

Dethier: I’m not sure that mentality is a problem, but I do think the money is a problem. Look, I’m all for players making as much money as they can. Go get that bread, fellas! But most of golf’s real suspense is locked up at the intersection of the PGA Tour and the Korn Ferry Tour, where guys are playing to keep their dreams alive. On the other hand, whether a guy makes $4 million or $15 million in the FedEx Cup playoffs means very little to me — and that seems like a problem.

Bamberger: Not become a problem, IS a problem. The finesse game is dead. It was a better game. This is a good game, but it’s different. Jim Furyk said the other day, of driving it in play, “A lost art.”

Sens: Exactly. Listening to the NBC guys today trying to whip up our interest in next week’s purse was further proof of that. Jason Kokrak seems like a very nice guy. But trying to concoct drama over whether he gets to play for next week’s extravagant offerings doesn’t exactly make for must-see TV. 

Wall: I think Dylan nailed it. I’m far more interested in what guys on the fringe of earning/losing their card are doing than who’s walking away with $15 million. Trying to create suspense around who’s going to make it to East Lake and pocket nearly $400k (!!!) for finishing DFL reaffirms my belief that the system needs a shakeup. Bomb and gouge is a problem, but there’s very little drama when it comes to the Tour’s product. I think the latter is far more important when it comes to determining the future of Tour television contracts and who’s going to prioritize golf over other sports when they flip on the tube.

WoodAs Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine said (we ARE in Atlanta this week), chicks dig the long ball.  And by chicks I mean modern golf fans. They want to see something they can’t do, and driving a golf ball 330 is exactly that.  There is very little shotmaking anymore, or the need for it. Let’s say you’ve got a dogleg par 4 measuring 450. In the past, a player had to negotiate the dogleg with a shaped drive that found the fairway, usually getting just to the corner of the dogleg.  From there, after a robust 290 yard drive, they were left with 160 yards, which used to mean a 7 iron.

Today, and even more so in the future, most players simply tee it high and swing as hard as they can and launch it over the dogleg. At worst, they are left with 110 yards out of the not very difficult rough.  At best, they have 75 yards from the fairway. If things keep going as they are, you will never see another Corey Pavin, Curtis Strange, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, or, gasp, Ben Hogan ever again be a factor on tour, and that’s sad. At the highest level of golf, because of course design and equipment, there is simply no need to develop an array of shots.

4. A new scoring system based on a player’s FedEx Cup standing goes into effect at the Tour Championship this week. Here’s how it works: The No. 1 player begins the week at 10 under par, the No. 2 player at 8 under, the No. 3 player at 7 under, the No. 4 player at 6 under, and the No. 5 player at 5 under. Players 6-10 start at 4 under, players 11-15 start at 3 under, players 16-20 start at 2 under, players 21-25 start at 1 under, and players 26-30 start at even par. Is the new Tour Championship leaderboard/head-start scoring system an improvement?

Dethier: I’m sort of ashamed to admit this because I assume I’ll be in the minority, but I sort of like this new scoreboard. The other version rendered that $10 million prize basically irrelevant because of all the math required to figure out your winner. Now it’s far more clear-cut, and the Tour Championship is undeniably high-stakes. There are weirder ways to solve this issue that I’d like even better. But this is a definite improvement. 

Sens: Phew. I’m glad Dylan explained that. I was starting to feel like I was taking the SAT again. If two trains leave the station at opposite ends of the country, with Train A traveling twice the speed of Train B … Thought my head was going to explode. But now I see the reasoning, and I like it.

Bamberger: I would much prefer a 216-hole FedEx final. You have to play all three. Winner wins. That’s what made this country great, along with some other things, like the Constitution and the Rules of Golf.

Wall: I don’t have any beef with the format. Whatever gets the masses talking about the Tour Championship. For years, Steve Sands standing in front of the white board was a meme in golf circles. At least everyone can put that one to bed and start slagging a new format. I honestly think this could add some intrigue to the outcome. 

Wood:  We need to let it play out to see if it’s an improvement or needs further tweaking.  I for one always kind of liked that you had two storylines at East Lake. The FedEx Cup and a golf tournament to be won. 

Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson are both automatic qualifiers for the upcoming Presidents Cup.
Getty Images

5. The first eight members of each Presidents Cup team are now locked in. For Team USA, it’s Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar and Bryson DeChambeau. For the Internationals, it’s Marc Leishman, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Abraham Ancer, Haotong Li, Cameron Smith, C.T. Pan. As things stand now, who gets your four captain’s picks for each side? 

Dethier: International side: Jason Day, Jazz Janewattananond, Sungjae Im, Ben An (and pulling for a strong couple months for Kiradech, obviously). 

U.S. side: Tony Finau, Gary Woodland, Rickie Fowler, Tiger Woods. 

(Sidenote: It feels like yesterday we were breaking down Patrick Reed’s actions and comments at the Ryder Cup and musing that if he needed a future captain’s pick, he’d be in trouble. But here we are … and he’s getting hot.)

Bamberger: Will get back to you after I check in with Google. 

Sens:  Internationals: Day, Kiradech, Baddeley, Grace. U.S.: Finau, Woodland, Fowler, Woods

Wall: Does it really matter? This event is the anti-Ryder Cup. Slotting it late in the year when football is in full swing won’t help. (Finau, Woodland, Reed, Kisner, Day, Jazz, Im and Hadwin.)

Wood: Internationals: Grace, Day, Im, Connors. 

USA: Woods, Fowler, Woodland, and Finau/Reed, whoever plays best between now and China.

6. A U.S. Am semifinalist claims you don’t need a lob wedge if you’re a talented player. Good advice? 

Dethier: I’ve got a foot in both camps. I grew up without a lob wedge and I think developed a more creative short game because of it. On the other hand, I’ve developed a dependency on my 60 degree, which I recently left at my parents house — and wow, I miss it dearly. To answer the question: You don’t need one! But it’s awfully nice to have one…

Bamberger: Definitely. Open up a 56. 

Sens: At the elite level, it’s less about need than want. And at a firm, fast course like Pinehurst, I could see why you wouldn’t want a 60-degree. What I’d like to know is, what club would this semi-finalist suggest putting in the bag instead?

Wall: It depends on the caliber of player. I think the pro and single-digit stick most definitely benefit from having a lob wedge because loft gaps and touch shots take on far more importance. If you’re a mid-handicapper, you’re better off adding another hybrid or forgiving long iron to make the game more enjoyable. Learn how to perfect pitch shots and get creative with opening the face of a 56-degree. And stop trying to pull off the “Phil flop” — only to blade it clear into the woods. Follow Seve’s lead and opt for the 56. Keep it in play. Shoot lower scores. Have more fun.

Wood:  Courses are different now, and pins are tucked much closer to the edges of greens than they used to be.  I completely agree most amateurs don’t need anything more than a 56 degree sand wedge, because a 60+ is hard to hit correctly.  But at the highest level, you have to have a 60+. Go play Augusta on a hard and fast Sunday and you’ll understand.

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