AskAlan: Should the Masters expand its tournament field?

November 6, 2019

In this installment of the #AskAlan mailbag, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck fields questions about the LPGA Q-Series rules controversy, the Masters field and his recent epic golf trip to Australia/New Zealand.

Thoughts on the recent LPGA Q-School rules infraction and how situation was presented to us? – @amandagolf59

I’m confused by all the blowback Christina Kim has experienced. In golf we venerate the rules and celebrate those who uphold them. Isn’t that what she did. Kim told me she was “99% sure” she witnessed an infraction and immediately called over a rules official to confer, wanting to make sure there was not a new interpretation under this year’s sweeping rules changes. The official — a local who had been brought in for Q School, not an experienced LPGA or Symetra tour employee — wasn’t 100% sure so Kim opted to wait until after the round when clarity could be had. I think she handled it perfectly.

If there is anything to critique it’s Kim’s vague tweets the night of the incident. I think she was just blowing off steam but inevitably it led to more details coming out and the players affected were forced to go public when they would have preferred to keep things quiet. But that’s kind of naive; when a rule gets broken near the end of the most pressure-packed tourney in women’s golf, it’s always going to be a story, whether the players want it to be or not.

Christina Kim has three career LPGA Tour victories.
Getty Images

Is there a chance Jason Day gets left off the Presidents Cup team like he should? – @kyechsports

Nah, man. It’s a goodwill exhibition and the outcome is not really in doubt. The Australian fans want to see Day, who rarely plays in his homeland anymore even though he is one of the two biggest Aussie stars of the post-Shark era. The International team is already heavy on young players and rookies – no way Capt. Els passes up a major championship winner like Day.

#AskAlan: It was poignant to hear it has been 20 years since Payne Stewart died. How does he stack up with the best American golfers — Couples, Love, Jansen, O’Meara — of his generation? – @david_troyan

Yes, it was jarring to realize how long it’s been. Like all golf fans of a certain age, I remember exactly where I was when I heard about the “ghost plane” flying high above us, and then the awful news that followed. Payne was such a larger-than-life personality it’s easy to forget what an accomplished golfer he was. Among the Americans, he is easily the best player of his generation. Two U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship in the span of a decade is very stout. He also had 15 other top-10s in the majors, a sign of the consistently high level at which he performed. One of my favorite stories I’ve done is this forensic look at Stewart’s instantly iconic victory at the Open at Pinehurst.

The PGA Tour has added regular stops in South Korea and Japan over the past three seasons. Do you think they will expand internationally again? Where should they go next? – @CanHidekiWin

The Tour should make the Australian Open a co-sanctioned event. It has a glorious history and is contested on some of the best courses on the planet. The Oz Open deserves stronger fields and more fanfare. Selfishly for the Tour, it falls at a time of year when nothing else is really happening, so why not draft on what is already a terrific event? While they’re at it, the PGA Tour should also co-sanction the South African Open. You could create a blockbuster two-week stretch in December luring top players to a pair of important national opens, and give provincial American players a chance to explore two wondrous parts of the world.

Shouldn’t the Masters allow for Euro Tour wins (at least Rolex Series!) to provide a spot in order to have a more global field? #AskAlan  – @goufit

The first thing to understand about the good ol’ boys who run the Masters is that they still like to think of their event as a clubby invitational and keeping the field size small and intimate is a top priority – 100 or less is considered ideal. To add more automatic qualifiers would compromise that goal and potentially introduce more randos to the field. Augusta National doesn’t care about depth of field. All the stars will be there and that’s good enough for them.

Assuming Tiger picks himself, does he keep the ear-piece in during his matches at the Presidents Cup? – @deep_fried_egg

Gawd, I hope so. How great would it be for Tiger to slow-play opponents by talking into his sleeve, Secret Service style? Alas, the Presidents Cup features only one session per day, so it’s not like Friday and Saturday at the Ryder Cup where afternoon pairings have to be discussed while the morning session is still playing out. As playing-captain Tiger is going to have some long nights and early mornings but once he tees off he can focus (mostly) on his own game.

Please rank the courses you played on your just-completed trip to New Zealand and Australia. – much of Golf Twitter

1. Cape Wickham. Visually spectacular ocean holes, thought-provoking inland holes across dramatic terrain, fascinating greens, flawless turf and pure putting surfaces. Quite possibly the perfect golf course.
2. New South Wales. This Alister MacKenzie design is the most stimulating course I’ve ever played off the tee, and then comes a series of gorgeous, well-fortified greens. For sheer drama, the walk up the hill on the fifth hole compares to the thrill of reaching Pebble’s 6th green.
3. Royal Melbourne (West). A master class in course design and strategy, once again from MacKenzie. To get to the pin requires geometry and courage on these sloping and sometimes terrifying greens.
4. Lost Farm. An imaginative routing over incredibly varied terrain. The second course at Barnbougle is endlessly fun and engaging.
5. Victoria Golf Club. Is this the most underrated course on the planet? Tons of risk-reward on these lively holes, and gorgeous bunkering with edges so sharp you can get a paper cut.
6. Barnbougle Dunes. This brawny neo-classic has one great hole after another. Bring your A-game.
7. Tata Iti. From tee-to-green I think this is Tom Doak’s best design, which is saying something. (The third hole, with a green tucked hidden behind a towering dune but slopes to feed your ball toward the pin, was my favorite hole on the entire trip.) Like Muirfield, no two holes ever play in the same direction. But a handful of the greens are too extreme for such a windy site.
8. Kauri Cliffs. For fun and drama, it’s tough to beat this intensely scenic course. Bonus points for maybe the prettiest driving range on the planet.
9. Ocean Dunes. It shares King Island with Wickham and is a very worthy companion, with a ripping start along the ocean and then a whimsical back-nine up, down and around vertiginous dunes. I also loved the course’s scruffy, low-key charm
10. Kingston Heath. I could happily play this Sand Belt classic every day for the rest of my life. Some of the most interesting green complexes in golf and bunkering by the good Dr. MacKenzie.
11. Cape Kidnappers. The drone/helicopter photos make this look like the most epic course ever built but the finger peninsulas play flat and narrow, and the coast is a backdrop but never really a hazard. Still, Kidnappers has a bunch of terrific holes and some unforgettable views; on a trip lousy with infinity holes, the 12th here was the most majestic.

What is a reasonable budget for the epic AU/NZ golf trip? – @seank13

I’ve gone back and run a bunch of numbers with the godfather of our trip, Frank Krieger, the tour operator of Best Of New Zealand Golf/Best of Australian Golf. The retail price of the exact trip we took is roughly $15,000 per man, though we payed less thanks to media rates and the generosity of Air New Zealand and the New Zealand board of tourism. But we blew it out, with a charter plane to King Island and Barnbougle and staying at the swank lodges at Tara Iti and Cape Kidnappers. According to Frank, the exact same trip could be had for around $9,000 by flying commercial only, staying in more economical lodging, and taking fewer caddies.

The most challenging logistical piece for us was getting around New Zealand. Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers are wonderful but both are remote and quite far away from each other. However, Tara Iti is close to the Auckland airport. One way to streamline this trip is to give up Kauri and Kidnappers but still fly into Auckland for 24 hours to hit Tara Iti, which has enjoyed more buzz than almost any course of recent vintage. That brings the price down to less than $7,000. Still, Tara Iti is a big ticket. It’s a private club but allows outside play only if you stay on-site; a two-bedroom villa is around $1,500 U.S. per night. (All four of us squeezed into one.) And the greens fee is Pebble prices. To bring the trip price into a more reasonable range, you’d probably have to eschew New Zealand altogether. Frank Krieger can put together all the Australian courses we played for less than $5K. It ain’t cheap, but a pilgrimage to Scotland or Ireland is comparable and Australia is far more exotic and the golf just as good.

On a bespoke golf trip like this, whom do you tip (pilots? arranger guy?) and how much? — @BigGolfMachine

Both New Zealand and Australia do not have a tipping culture. We tried to spread greenbacks around the various courses and were often turned down. We definitely overtipped the caddies. The drivers we had accepted the gratuities and seemed surprised by them. We each kicked in $100 for our pilot, because he was awesome and, ya know, kept us alive.

Alan, looks like you had a great time! Did you get a souvenir (ball marker, score card, polo. etc) from each place that you went and if so what did you pick up? Also, what is your number one piece of golf memorabilia in your collection and why is it special? Thanks. #AskAlan  @forearmshivers

I’m a hoarder of nice ball markers and grabbed one at every course. But we were all a little disappointed at the logos on this trip. Barnbougle doesn’t even have one, Royal Melbourne’s and New South Wales’s were both too big and formal, etc. The only ones I loved were Kingston Heath, Cape Wickham and Victoria, so those are the new hats in my already bloated collection. In general, I’m not a big memorabilia guy. My most prized possession is a clubhead cover emblazoned with RJH, the initials of my old friend R.J. Harper: http://bit.ly/2JVvXr6

I noted you mostly carried your clubs everywhere. Is there truly a stigma in the U.S. about pull carts/buggies like I’ve read in other Twitter feeds? Buggies are a great way to enjoy a course by walking without lugging your clubs. – @willow080868

Only one of us, the self-flagellating purist Kevin Price, carried his clubs. The rest of us were very happy to use buggies. It’s a more user-friendly way to walk. There may be a lingering stigma in the States but I think it’s largely disappearing. I know I’m over it!

Where is the next adventure taking you? Who would be kicked off if you were told one had to be eliminated. Then who would be your choice to add to to the trip? – _Qonquistador

We’re talking about posting up on Long Island and trying to hit as many of those courses as possible. Ireland is also under discussion because a couple of the fellas have never made it up north. South Africa is also alluring – after this blowout to the antipodes that’s the only exotic destination that remotely compares. No one is getting kicked out of this ride-or-die crew.

Let’s see if I get lucky this week: When will we get a complete wrap of this trip of a lifetime? – @hughpsinthere

Don’t worry, the flood is coming!