#AskAlan mailbag: Is Rory McIlroy the worst great player ever?

March 13, 2019

GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck fields your questions on the Players, Rory’s failure to close, the future of golf media and more!

Ranking equations be damned, is there a better golfer in the world right now than Molinari? [email protected]

Well, I think Brooks deserves this recognition for bit longer, based on his recent triple-major binge and steady play since. But there’s no doubt Molinari is a menace. I can’t wait to watch him knock down flagsticks at Augusta National, the quintessential second-shot golf course. He has become such a machine from tee-to-green that any time Molinari’s putter gets hot he’s going to contend and might very well win.

With each sulfurous deposit that coils itself in my timeline courtesy of the Tour’s online re-education camp, I’m increasingly curious about Jay Monahan’s competence. Is it actually possible he’s oblivious to the fact that alienating core customers is bad for business? [email protected]_TireWorld

Ahhh, must be Players week, when the Monahan’s Minions (trademark pending) lay it on particularly thick! It’s incredible how much of the Tour budget is now going toward social media offerings. In fact, at most tournaments there are now more Tour media staffers than actual reporters. Based on your feedback – and the rest of the world’s – it appears they have some work to do to connect with more discerning fans.

Is Rory the worst great player ever? Never seen an all-timer look so bad so often. Even when he shoots 68 he’s flying wedges 20 yards over the flag. Maddening. [email protected]_nods

Ah, Lord McIlroy. He has become one of the most polarizing and maddening figures in the sport. To maintain our collective sanity the best way to think of McIlroy is that he has already played his best golf. He will never be able to recapture the carefree swagger and effortless domination of the Congo-Kiawah period. Pining for those days is folly. He’s about to turn 30 but McIlroy has been going so hard for so long we probably need to measure his age in dog years. He is now a massively talented but flawed golfer, capable of providing us occasional thrills and frequent heartache. I sincerely hope something clicks for Rory at the right time and he can run off another string of major championship victories. The game is certainly more fun when he is winning. But the only way for us to survive emotionally is to care a little less.

Rory McIlroy lines up a putt during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Keyur Khamar/PGA Tour

How cool was it that NBC honored Arnie’s life and legacy by repeatedly cutting away during the weekend to show players arriving on the range at Sawgrass? -Vaidya (@vs2k2)

That was bizarre and tacky. In other words, beautifully on-brand!

Having never attended the Players Championship, beyond the island green what makes this event so great for spectators? #AskAlan -Mark (@cottonmc)

Well, it is the height of sundress season, but many other factors make it a great week. As the Tour’s flagship event, the czars of PVB pull out all the stops to enhance the spectator experience, whether it’s strong food offerings, interactive fun zones, live music at day’s end or leaning on the players to spend more time than usual signing autographs. And the name of the venue is a clue – the Stadium Course was literally designed with big crowds in mind, so there are fantastic sightlines on every hole and some very fun gathering spots.

Burning question: How many shots behind, going into the final round on Sunday at the Masters, does Rory need to be to win? I say 5! No pressure, no expectations… [email protected]

That feels about right – shoot a 62 and win it whilst relaxing in the clubhouse. When folks claim it’s hard to win a major I always think about David Duval’s breakthrough: barely make the cut, go out early on Saturday and shoot a low round, play steady golf on Sunday and let everyone else beat themselves. It can be that easy! It does seem like Rory is going to need to find a sidedoor because of his ongoing mental block playing in the final group. But the Masters is the hardest of all the majors to back in to a win because the Sunday pins yield low scores.

Who’s the favorite for the Masters? -Ryan (@reverett013)

I’m taking Dustin, with the caveat that there’s still a lot of golf to play between now and then. What if Spieth’s putter gets hot? What if Matt Killen can channel Earl Woods? What if Golf Channel disrespects Koepka? If a heckling fan fires up JT? If Phil decides to hit all of his shots lefthanded? Right now you can make a strong case for at least a dozen guys. This has the makings of an epic Masters.

Now that golfers can fix spike marks on the green, when they miss a putt why do they point to something and look at their caddy? Can it ever be you just hit a crappy putt? [email protected]

No, because that would be admitting fallibility, and Tour pros do that about as often as the Pope. The players always find an outside agency to explain why a shot goes awry – the wind shifted, mudball, spike marks, you name it. It seems silly but is in fact necessary to be able to soldier through the endless hardships wrought by tournament golf. I remember ages ago listening to Jack Nicklaus say that he usually went the entire West Coast swing without a 3-putt. On those grainy, soft, winter greens? Riiiiight. But he was dead-serious and got grouchy when challenged about it. This highly selective memory is no doubt part of the secret to Nicklaus’s success. So, while I agree the pros’ pantomiming on the greens can look ridiculous, just know that it is a serious mental health issue.

Who is the best golfer of all time that failed to capitalize on his/her talent and who got the most with the least? [email protected]

It’s tempting to say Greg Norman but he did nab two Opens, win all over the world and spend years at number one, so that outweighs the serial heartache in the majors. Fred Couples would be an easy choice but blowing out his back in his early-30s is a mitigating factor. I’m going with Johnny Miller. He’s candid that even before he reached his peak he had simply lost interest in tournament golf and the grind of the Tour. He still had a good career but, oh, what might’ve been.

With Tiger now giving most of his interviews via Golf TV and Discovery Inc., will we see more top players owning or profiting from their comments like Tiger, and how much damage will this do to an already declining presence of the media covering professional golf? -Ron (@MintzGolf)

I’ve been stewing about this for weeks. It’s certainly an ominous trend. But Tiger is a unique case and he hasn’t really given writers meaningful access this century, so we’re not missing out on much. There will always be a place for good journalism because golf has discerning fans and they crave authenticity. Cutesy social media posts, splashy ad campaigns and canned interviews with corporate partners offers nothing at all. So, in a roundabout way, maybe Tiger’s deal (and Rory’s) is helpful, because it throws into sharp relief the value of an independent press.

Given all the recent questions re whether Jessica Mendoza should be allowed to work for ESPN and the Mets because of conflicts of interest, shouldn’t the same be asked of CBS re Peter Kostis and Ian Baker-Finch? Only more so? -Greg

Yes, Kostis is Paul Casey’s swing coach and sometimes has to comment upon him for the broadcast. We all know that and it has been acknowledged on the air many times. This arrangement doesn’t bother me. The real problem is that Kostis is so meek whenever he has to say anything about Casey. His self-consciousness about the potential conflict makes him retreat. At Pebble last month, when Casey was folding down the stretch, it would have been riveting for Kostis to offer a forensic explanation of the collapse, offering a guided tour through his pupil’s psyche and granular details about his swing miscues. He should have owned that broadcast, and fans would’ve learned a helluva lot. Instead, the sum total of the analysis was, His swing looks a little short. It was a massive missed opportunity. Similarly, IBF spends a lot of time working informally with players – take us to the practice green and driving range! We all have eyes and see the action unfolding. What viewers want is analysis and a deeper understanding. If a few announcers have deeper insight because of their moonlighting, that should be exploited.

It’s the year 2052 and Sam Saunders is in his 15th year on the Champions tour. Are the announcers still calling him Arnie’s grandson? -Matt (@BF_CJed)

Gawd, I hope so! Otherwise, we’ll have to invent a new drinking game for Bay Hill.

Why are you the way you are? -Matt (@4WallerOU)

Just lucky, I guess.