#AskAlan mailbag: Will a golf ball rollback ever actually happen?

August 21, 2019

In this installment of the #AskAlan mailbag, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck addresses your questions about how the pros tore up Medinah during the BMW Championship, whether a golf ball rollback to counter distance gains on Tour will ever happen, the new Tour Championship format and more.

Is JT better than his buddy Spieth? [email protected]

At the moment, quite clearly. But Spieth is a few months younger and owns three times the major championship victories, so he has clearly had the better career so far. The real question is what happens from here. Jordan is too smart and too tough to simply go away. He’s back to being a dominant putter — if he can get his ballstriking to where it was a couple of years ago he will once again be a menace. But Thomas has no weaknesses and over the last three years has won more tournaments than anyone else on Tour. If you had to choose whom will have the better career from this moment forward JT would be a near-unanimous pick. But I’m not ready to give up on Jordan yet.

Does last week officially eliminate Medinah as a future PGA Championship or U.S. Open course? I feel like I could’ve broken par… [email protected]_eagle1988

It’s not Medinah’s fault. The modern game has overwhelmed every course on the planet. Unless the wind howls or the rain stays away long enough to present brick-hard greens, a traditional track like Medinah simply has no defense. They can narrow the fairways and let the rough get knee-high, but as we saw this year Bethpage, these young bucks will still bomb ‘n gouge their way to good scores. So, no doubt the folks around Medinah had their pride dented but look at the scores on Tour every week – this is the new normal.

Justin Thomas' golf ball pictured during the final round of the 2019 BMW Championship at Medinah
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports

I am really ready for a golf ball rollback. Do you think it’ll happen? [email protected]

I’m more optimistic than I used to be. We’ve clearly reached an inflection point, if not a tipping point. There are many factors that have led to the distance explosion but a bifurcated ball is the cleanest, fastest solution. However, the entire multi-billion dollar equipment industry which powers every level of the game is built on FOMO — we all want the latest greatest equipment so we can try to hit the ball like the pros. But it’s not so much fun to watch Matt Wolff drive it 275 yards… I can do that myself right now. Simply put, the current situation is unsustainable but there is no easy solution.

Is it bad that I laugh hysterically when I picture some FedEx Cup execs somewhere in bland a conference room, awkwardly high-fiving each other while proclaiming: “THIS IS THE FORMAT CHANGE THAT EVERYONE IS GOING TO LOVE! WE DID IT!! WE REALLY DID IT THIS TIME!!!” [email protected]

It’s a great mental image but what’s more hilarious is that a bunch of Tour players and executives signed off on it, too. But let’s face it, there have been many anticlimactic Tour Championships in the Cup era. This crazy scoring system has already created a tremendous amount of conversation, which is all the suits in Memphis and Ponte Vedra Beach really want. Once we’re a couple rounds into the Tour Championship the leaderboard may look like any other. I’m reserving judgement until this thing is over, but I certainly don’t hate the idea like lots of other folks.

You’re Augenstein’s caddy. What’s the first thing you say to him walking off 17 green when it’s all over? -Matt @mthedwards

“We’re going to the muthahf—–‘ Masters!” It’s an annual bummer that someone has to lose the U.S. Amateur final, and Augenstein certainly played his heart out. But the automatic invite to Augusta may be the best consolation prize in all of sports. The kid will be fine.

Who are your four captains picks for the Presidents Cup? [email protected]

Tiger, Wolff, Morikawa, Woodland.

East Lake was the site of Tiger Woods' epic 2018 win, but is the course worthy of hosting the Tour Championship annually?
Butch Dill/USA TODAY Sports

Is East Lake a worthy/dramatic/ exciting enough venue to host the Tour Championship every year? Would it not be better to move it around? [email protected]

No. Yes.

Any chance they tweak the playoffs by allotting a number of points to guarantee a major winner makes the top 30? Having Tiger/Shane Lowry not in top 30 for finals is a joke. If the Tour is looking to grow the game and get more interest/passion, having two major winners absent is not good. [email protected]

I’m actually okay with this. Winning a major championship already confers so many other benefits I don’t think it should hijack the Cup, too. If we’re truly supposed to treat the FedEx thingy like real playoffs, we have to think of majors like regular season conference titles — they help with the seeding but don’t mean a thing once the post-season begins. If you start guaranteeing spots into the Tour Championship based on what has happened in April or May or June or July, it badly devalues the two Cup events leading into the Tour Championship.

I know he plays emotionless, but isn’t it about time Patrick Cantlay starts to get more attention as a top 5 player? His comeback from injury and personal tragedy makes for a great story and I believe a major is right around the corner! [email protected]

Well, lack of emotion is a killer for fans trying to connect with an athlete, or writers trying to tell their story. I agree Cantlay is a guy we should all be rooting for, but if he doesn’t get excited about his own golf, how can the rest of us?

Do you enjoy watching PGA Tour golf tourneys on TV that are not one of the 4 majors? I used to watch weekly – now, never. [email protected]_Regali

I watch because I have to, but I agree the Tour product has suffered badly as the driver-wedge game increasingly makes every tournament feel the same. When the courses play the same way and the vast majority of players are employing the same strategy with the same clubs, watching every week can feel like…a job.

Tiger’s comments regarding players needing only 3-4 weeks of excellence to make their season is very insightful. Koepka is the prime example because his peaks are during the big events. Is this really a big change from 5 years ago? [email protected]_troyan

For decades on Tour there has been this maxim: you make 80% of your money in 20% of your events. It has always been thus. Brooks has just taken it to the illogical extreme. I took Tiger’s comments as a jab at Brooks and other contemporary superstars who seem to disappear for months at a time. One of Woods’ defining traits is that, pre-injury, he tried to give himself a chance to win every time he teed it up. That meant rigorous preparation beforehand and the will to grind hard on every shot across 72 holes. It’s what made him such a great champion. That so many talented young players seem content to check out mid-tournament surely baffles and irks Tiger.

A mighty oak has fallen with the passing of Jack Whitaker. Discuss. [email protected]

It’s a huge loss. He was such a graceful presence on those old broadcasts — listening to Whitaker on reruns of “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf” remains a pleasure. His erudite, playful essays are like Beatles songs: so good they never go out of style. Whitaker’s banishment from the Masters telecasts remains among the most ridiculous things Augusta National has ever done, and that’s saying something.

What do you think about Slugger White’s refusal to penalize for slow play because he’s afraid the players might lose the card and not be able to send their kids to college? When did PGA Tour become a socialist organization funding kid’s colleges? BTW: a lot of players are college-age kids themselves! [email protected]

Well, I appreciate Slugger’s candor but that tells you where the Tour is coming from, institutionally. Any real change is going to have to come from the players…egged on by the Twitter mob, of course.

Why is Medinah pronounced “Ma Dinah” instead of “Ma Dina”, as in funky cold? [email protected]

Because it is a cruel, unjust world.

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