#AskAlan mailbag: Should Tiger Woods have declined the Medal of Freedom award from President Trump?

May 8, 2019
Tiger Woods Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House

In this installment of the #AskAlan mailbag, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck fields your questions about Tiger Woods’ Medal of Freedom award, Brandel Chamblee’s Koepka critiques, the best course in Scotland and more.

Which major do you intend to win in order to give you the requisite credibility to cover golf, and until that day comes, how do you intend on spending your time? [email protected]

What is so delicious about Steve Elkington braying about Brandel Chamblee not being “qualified” to discuss major championship winners is that, by his own reasoning, Elkinington is unqualified to comment on TV commentators because he’s never been one himself.

We can quickly go down a rabbit hole here in which basically no one is qualified to say anything about anything. It’s true that I have never won the Masters. But I’ve been covering the tournament for a quarter-century. I’ve written a book about the host club’s history. I’ve done in-depth interviews about the tournament with innumerable players on a wide variety of subjects. I’ve studied the old telecasts in forensic detail. Do I know exactly how it feels to win the Masters? No, but very few people on the planet do. Still, I think I can add something to the conversation, even if the likes of Steve Elkington is dubious.

How has Elkington not blocked you? One of the great unexplained mysteries of Twitter life. [email protected]

Here I shall defer to Twitter user John Brock (@TheTexasSteve) who came up with a reply that cannot be bettered: “If he blocked everyone who doesn’t like him, there’d be nobody left to read his tweets.”

Irrelevant Elk aside (say that 3 times fast), how much does Golf Channel worry about the feelings of Tiger, Brooks, DJ, etc re Brandel? -John (@jaspar13)

The reason Brandel is such a lightning rod is because the rest of Golf Channel’s commentators are very, very deferential to the players, which is what makes his piquant commentary stand out so much. If the players en masse suddenly start boycotting the post-round interviews out of protest perhaps the Golf Channel suits will get worried, but until then Brandel will remain the network’s biggest star and continue to offer much needed balance to all the other rah-rah commentary.

Was there any way Tiger could have gracefully declined the Medal of Freedom pony show? [email protected]

Why should he? It’s a thrill to take your mom and kids to the White House to receive the highest civilian honor that can be bestowed upon an American. Tiger clearly has no issues with the President – he designed the golf course for Trump World Golf Club Dubai and they teed it up together just before the Masters. The ceremony was about Woods, not Trump. Even the golf fans who hated Obama’s politics had to be gratified to see him award the Medal of Freedom to Charlie Sifford. Same principle applies here.

What do you think Dan Jenkins would have written after Tiger won the Masters? I miss his Twitter feed. [email protected]

I said this Sunday night at the Masters: good thing Jenkins is already dead because that definitely would have killed him! His dislike for Tiger was well chronicled. But he was also a student of golf history and had a keen appreciation for transcendent performances, so I think Jenkins would have (grudgingly) given Tiger his due.

Who is less clutch, Rory or Daenerys? [email protected]

Yeah, it’s been a bummer to see both of them diminished this season. They each have enjoyed one important victory but on every other Sunday their frailties are further revealed.

Would Pebble Beach be the most visually spectacular golf course in the world if it weren’t for the COUNTLESS homes you see on almost every inland hole and several going out? Is it an eyesore for you? [email protected]

Would I prefer the edges of the course to be nothing but forest? Definitely. But the houses don’t really bother me. They’re in your sightline only on the approach shots to 10 and 11 and maybe 13. Unless you hit a monumentally wayward shot, they’re only in play on 12, 14, and 18. Those $20 million dollar houses are simply part of the scenery, not unlike the otters and crashing waves.

This home is one of only 31 homes along the protected coastline at Pebble Beach.
The Agency

What do you think about walking vs. riding? Is it a dead issue? Bandon Resort makes quite a statement with their commitment to the hike. On the other hand, I see a LOT of riders. Could we/should we try? [email protected]

I’m a live-and-let-live kinda guy. Those who make a big deal about only walking are like the annoying vegans I know who want to impose their views upon everyone else. I like walking – it’s easier for the whole group to engage in conversation, it’s underrated exercise and a more pure way to experience a course. But I’m also lazy with weird feet that make it hard to find comfortable golf shoes, so if my playing partners want to ride I’m happy to kick up my heels and spread out my snacks in the cart cubbies. People get too hung up on this issue – just do whatever helps you enjoy the day more, and keep your opinion on this topic to yourself.

Why is the best course in Scotland? (See why I did there?) -GeorgeBooth73

Jeez, I tweet one typo and the people never let me live it down. Anyway, when it comes to these debates I’m not a fan of “best.” What’s the best painting in the Louvre? We would probably disagree but there is no right answer. Same goes for golf courses. My *favorite* course in Scotland is Cruden Bay. But the wild terrain, blind shots and sheer quirkiness are too much for some folks, who prefer the thoughtful, tactical questions asked by Carnoustie or the straightforward elegance of Muirfield. They’re all great, but it’s hard to say one is the best. When I put together my golf course lists, either in my head or in print, the order is based on only one question: Which of these courses is more fun to play? That’s all I really care about.

Michelle Wie has won five (5?!) times. Isn’t that crazy? I know she’s hurt constantly, but I would have guessed at least 10 wins. She leads an amazing life – fame/fortune, etc. But five wins? Right now she’s Mark Brooks – if she can win twice more. [email protected]

Well, you’re underselling her career a bit – Wie did win the game’s most important event, the U.S. Women’s Open, on an iconic golf course, Pinehurst No. 2. And she had a starring role at a handful of Solheim Cups. She also made tens of million of dollars in endorsements, which should be on the plus side of the ledger but is actually a big part of the problem. She was bought and sold so relentlessly as a teenager the expectations for her became totally warped, as did her own self-image. Her parents were brilliant marketers but ineffective caretakers of what should have been a generational talent. The vast majority of players on the LPGA would kill for Wie’s career but, barring a late-career surge, no doubt we will always wonder what might have been.

Everybody loves an underdog until it comes to golf. Then nobody watches. Are the C.T. Pans and Max Homas only placeholders while we wait for the stars, or do they serve a greater purpose in the game? #AskAlan [email protected]

Well, casual fans need the superstars to drive the narratives, but us die-hards – and if you’ve submitted a question to #AskAlan you are by definition a golf tragic – should always find joy in the unlikely breakthroughs and charming underdogs. Pan has one of my favorite swings on Tour and, as has been exhaustively documented, Homa was already a Twitter legend. Maybe they’re just one week stories, but I still enjoy them deeply. Maybe they’ll grow into forces in the game; think about the relatively slow starts to the pro careers of Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Jason Day and plenty of others. Superstars are great fun but they fail to win a lot of the time. It’s important to invest time and emotion in the other guys, too.

The crowds at LPGA events on the West Coast can no longer be called crowds. More like a few folks, even on Sundays at the finishing holes. What do you attribute this to? [email protected]

Can’t blame this on the LPGA – the L.A. Open on the PGA Tour has always struggled to draw crowds, and that’s a marquee event at one of the best courses on the planet. The ’95 PGA Championship at Riv had famously light galleries, too. There are simply too many fun things to do in Cali and too many other college and pro sporting events. I’ve always felt all the golf tours are better off going to smaller markets where it’s one of the biggest events of the year – think Hartford or the John Deere or when the LPGA visits places like Palm Springs or Williamsburg.

Do you think there will ever be reckoning for golf’s use of herbicides and pesticides and a movement toward ‘organic’ maintenance? Or are people too attached to perfectly green and weed-free fairways? [email protected]

I hope the game goes greener, and I mean its maintenance practices, not the color of the fairways. Golf is already facing a burgeoning crisis with global water shortages and the relentless demand for new housing – seems like every week I’m hearing about another course that was abandoned because of water costs and/or turned into a housing development. The very least the game can do is be a good steward of the environment. A lot of courses have accepted this challenge but clearly we have a long way to go. It certainly begins with the customers, who need to embrace that Carnoustie circa July 2018 is as beautiful a playing field as Augusta National. I think attitudes are slowly shifting, and that will give superintendents more latitude to get away from so many harsh chemicals.

Anthony Kim surfaced in West Hollywood last week.
Ben Bujnowski

How would you define Anthony Kim and his logic not to continue playing the Tour. Smart? Wise? Cowardly, or what? -Joe (@JCarlos20200)

Very smart, from a financial standpoint. Thanks to his insurance policy he was looking at collecting in the neighborhood of $18 million, tax-free, if injuries ended his career. To keep that much playing the Tour he’d have to earn roughly $35 million, once you factor in taxes, commissions, diamond-encrusted belt buckles and the rest of his decadent overhead.

Considering how poorly Kim played in his last couple of seasons, his history of injury and the whispers of him having contracted the driver-yips, taking the money was the right call. But it’s also tragic that he never gave it another go. The dude had already pocketed a healthy amount of dough. Nothing in civilian life can ever replicate the thrill of almost winning a Masters or starring in the Ryder Cup, both of which Kim did in his old life. If he came back it would be one of the biggest stories in sports, which is also part of the problem – he was already burnt-out by the pressure and unmet expectations and that’s a lot of scrutiny for a rusty golfer trying to piece together his game. I’m sorry to see AK fade away but I do understand it.

How many pro golfers actually insure themselves against disability from golf? [email protected]

Pretty much all of them. The difference with AK was that he had the foresight – or was it all pre-planned in a film noir way – to take out such a huge policy. Most are for a fraction of what he scooped up.

If Jason Day weren’t a golfer and instead went into the military and then Australia went to war, what would be the cause of his draft deferment? [email protected]

Bone spurs, obviously.

#AskAlan. You have a dog called Monty. When will he attack the press? [email protected]

Luckily he’s all bark and no bite, just like his namesake.

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