Every week GOLF senior writer Michael Bamberger identifies — and ranks — the absolute, undeniably, very best things in golf right now.
7. Best Stretch of Regular Tour Events
We’re in it right now: San Diego, Phoenix, Los Angeles. They’ve been around forever, they serve their communities, they give those of us trapped in deep freezes an escape through the magic of TV (or some other screened device). The grandest of that trio is of course L.A., because of Hogan, Riviera, Fred, even Tiger’s odd futility there. The loudest, the most modern, is not a subject for debate. But the best of them is the one that just passed, Torrey Pines — the Farmers Insurance Open on your PGA Tour schedule. That’s because it is played on two public courses, and public golf is where it’s at. (Yes, that sentence ends in a preposition. Deal with it, Mr. Di Sibio.) Public courses on an ocean and bathed (this year) in sunshine. A tournament with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth in the field but also Dylan Frittelli and Joel Dahmen and Sam Burns. A blimp, giving you the course and the fellas on it, the cliffs, the beach below. And, come dusk, as if The Beach Boys were still selling hits on AM radio, a beach bonfire, kids around it, a fireball sunset, David Bowie singing “Heroes” via YouTube on an iPhone, rocking out in a $10,000 suit, in a stop-time world below the course and beyond the cutline and the enduring mystery of reading poa grain.
6. Best Untapped Source
We in the golf typing trade all have our go-to guys. Ideally, you have sources in their 80s, 70s, 60s, 50s, 40s and 30s. But you really need to have a group in their 20s, too. Here’s a new one, for this reporter: Dylan Frittelli, top-100 in the world, South African of Italian ancestry who graduated from the University of Texas, good talker, whip-smart. Brings to mind Geoff Ogilvy, if that means anything to you.
5. Best Schlepper on Tour
Has to be that Peter Kostis. The Waste Management Open (aka Phoenix) is an NBC week (and Saturday will be Johnny Miller’s finale). But San Diego and L.A. (Genesis) are CBS events, so you got and will get your fill of Pete’s Konica-Minolta Bizhub Swingvision analysis. He lives and teaches in Scottsdale, outside Phoenix, by the way. He’s 71, he’s been doing it for so long it’s easy to take his whole thing for granted, but the fact is he’s one of the most insightful swing analysts in the game (per Davis Love III and others). Dude is on the ground. He was up and down the hilly South Course at Torrey last week, ear pieces in his left and right, a knapsack on his back with multiple wires coming out of it, an antenna attached to his cap, big cellphone and a yardage book in the back-right pocket of his 100 percent polyester pants, microphone in hand and his famous monitor dangling off his belly like he’s a new mom in Berlin carrying the blessed child in a BabyBjorn product. He gets that microphone right on his lips and says things like, “Look at this spine angle!” We hear it. We see it. Behind it all, there’s Pete, his Fitbit counting every step.
4. Best Flagstick Observations, Borrowed and Otherwise
I. Way better for the spectator, on the long putts.
II. When the flagstick is in when a putt falls, it really doesn’t seem like golf, because the game is about hitting the ball into a hole, not a hole stuffed with something. Yes, in an earlier time, there was no penalty for leaving the flagstick in, but that was decades ago. There were no flagsticks in the rabbit holes. Golf has been basketball with the rim only, no backboard. The flagstick is a backboard.
III. Flagstick in is fine for us, and many of us play that way. The elite game and the Sunday-morning game are different, and always have been. When Dylan Frittelli says he shot 72, you know he took 72 swipes. When we shoot 82, how did we play out-of-bounds? How did we play gimmes? How did we play mulligans?
IV. No science here, but it seems like it’s harder to get the ball to the hole on long putts with the flagstick in.
V. It is ridiculous to say the game’s “science” proves that it is better to have the flagstick in. What are the dimensions of the flagstick? What is its composition? How is it fitting in the cup? Is there wind? What is the mindset of the golfer over the ball? There are too many variables to make a blanket statement.
VI. When they putt on TV with the flagstick in, it makes the elite game look more ordinary.
3. Best Tom Weiskopf Observation of the New Flagstick Rule, Plus Other Tidbits
“I like it. If everybody did it, there would be so much less foot traffic around the hole.” Tom Weiskopf won the San Diego stop in its first year, 1968, at Torrey Pines, and he revamped the North Course in 2016. He didn’t defend his title in ’69. “I was in the Army Reserves, at Basic Training” he told me the other day, by phone. The players were making low scores on Thursday and Friday and it wasn’t bothering Tom Weiskopf one bit. “Perfect green, little wind, why shouldn’t they?” he said. A good attitude. He remains surprised that he and his partners got the job, to renovate the North Course, over local boy Phil Mickelson. “Usually, the PGA Tour wants that local Tour player doing it, so I don’t know what happened there, because that local Tour player knows the course best. I saw Phil and he said, ‘Good job with the course,’ so that was nice.”
2. Best Wedge Stamp
This week at the Waste Management Open: Ryan Palmer, on the back of his Vokey sand wedge: “How Bout Them Cowboys.” Super Bowl LIII kickoff time: Sunday, 6:30 p.m., Eastern time, Rams-Patriots, a half-hour after the Phoenix event is scheduled to conclude. Ryan Palmer’s wait for next year began in the second week of the playoffs.
1. Best Place to Spot World No. 1 this week
Justin Rose is playing this week at a new European tour event officially called “The Saudi International powered by SBIA,” held at the at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. Also playing there this week are Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau. They can do as they please. I won’t be watching. Now is always a good time to play the old O’Jays anthem, “For the Love of Money.”
Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]