#AskAlan mailbag: With top U.S. players ailing, is a potential upset looming at the Presidents Cup?

December 5, 2019

In this installment of the #AskAlan mailbag, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck fields your questions about Phil Mickelson’s decision to skip the Phoenix Open for Saudi Arabia, a potential Presidents Cup upset and more.

With the top two American players either out or playing hurt, and with Tiger and most of the team stuck in the Bahamas the week before, could we be looking at an upset scenario at the Presidents Cup? [email protected]

Losing Brooks hurts, not only for his fine play but also his alpha energy. Dustin is certainly a wild card, too. And a 20-hour plane ride is not the ideal way to start the week. Throw in the thoughtful, subtle challenges of Royal Melbourne to neutralize American bomb-and-gouge and I think this Presidents Cup is going to be pretty close. That in itself would count as an upset.

Why is the Euro Tour’s event in Saudi Arabia so controversial when the PGA Tour literally runs a satellite tour in China? Would we blast stars for playing the BMW PGA if Nigel Farage became Prime Minister? I guess my question is – where’s the line? [email protected]_Bortles

It’s an excellent question. As I’ve written before, the European Tour would more or less go out of business without all the lucre from petrocracies and other oppressive, authoritarian regimes. Long ago, the golf world collectively made its peace with the UAE and China, accepting that sport has always crossed borders and, hey, these countries are economic allies and trading partners to the U.S. and European nations. The new tournament in Saudi Arabia just seemed so…unnecessary. Culturally, the Kingdom is centuries behind places like Dubai and Shanghai, and its treatment of women is prehistoric. For Americans, Saudi Arabia will always stir strong emotions as the homeland of Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 9/11 hijackers. Hundreds of families who lost loved ones on 9/11 are still locked in litigation against Saudi Arabia, fighting to uncover the truth of its governments complicity in the attacks that killed almost 3,000 Americans. And then there is the more recent assassination of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, who had been living in the U.S. So when an American star like Phil Mickelson jilts what used to be his hometown tournament to scoop up millions of dollars to help launder Saudi Arabia’s reputation, well, there is going to be blowback.

#AskAlan Is Phil done? [email protected]

One underrated aspect of Mickelson’s decision to go to Saudi Arabia is the surplus of World Ranking points available because so many other top players have been bought off. Phil is currently 58th in the World Ranking and has to fight his way back into the top 50 if he is going to guarantee himself a spot in the WGCs. It’s hard to remember but it was this calendar year that he won at Pebble Beach. It’s too soon to say Phil is done but he has to show a lot more focus and fire before we consider him a threat again.

What would the response be if Tiger pegged it in Saudi Arabia? [email protected]

He’s always been a mercenary, so I don’t think it would be a big deal. Phil is the one who likes to tell people he voted for Obama, so that’s part of the disconnect here — a socially liberal Californian who has never liked to play overseas suddenly propping up a brutal regime far, far from the gilded streets of Rancho Santa Fe.

In the spirit of giving/charity/Christmas, what are the best causes (#SaveSharpPark, etc), movements, and golf charities that people should consider donating to? [email protected]

Sharp Park is an evergreen good cause. SaveMuny.com is fighting to preserve the beloved Lions Golf Course in Austin. Saving Goat Hill is a passion project for many fine folks who care about the soul of the game. But for a more national cause that touches many lives I would recommend donating to Youth On Course. It allows kids to play excellent courses across the country for only a couple of bucks. The only way we’re really going to save this great game is by getting the next generations to fall in love with it, and Youth On Course is the most effective organization promoting that goal.

#AskAlan: Lee Trevino’s 80th birthday reminds me how I wished for a comparable rival to Tiger Woods. How impressive was it that Lee beat Big Jack so often in Jack’s prime? [email protected]_troyan

It’s one of the most under-appreciated legacies in the game. Trevino beat Nicklaus in a playoff at the 1971 U.S. Open at Merion and then dusted him head-to-head at the following year’s Open Championship at Muirfield, when the Bear was halfway to the Grand Slam. That remains the most bitter defeat of Nicklaus’ career. And then in 1974 Trevino beat Nicklaus by a stroke to take the PGA Championship. Epic stuff.

Alan, if you could choose one current PGA and LPGA player to write one magazine article per month for 2020 about golf and life in general outside of golf, who would you choose and why? They can’t be corporate-friendly articles: has to be true and heartfelt. Thanks #AskAlan [email protected]

Max Homa and Sandra Gal. Both are open, honest, likable people with big hearts who have seen their ups and downs in the game and have plenty of good stories to tell, on and off the golf course.

Should shorts be allowed on the PGA Tour? [email protected]

No. Three words: Colt Knost’s legs.

With Korn Ferry Q School coming up should the Tour go back to offering maybe 5 PGA Tour cards? [email protected]

I do miss the old romance of Q School, when a nobody could play his way onto the PGA Tour with one hot stretch of golf. (See Beem, R.) But one problem now is timing — with the wraparound schedule, a Q School grad will have missed the entire fall, some of their best opportunities to make hay. And season-long success on the Korn Ferry is a much better predictor of success on Tour than a hot hand at Q School. Still, they oughtta take the medalist and give him a card to the big Tour, just for fun.

What celebrity golfer would you love to see play the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am for the first time? #AskAlan [email protected]

I can’t wait for Steph Curry to become a regular. Andre Iguodala will beat him there. Both are passionate about the game and have built up a huge reservoir of goodwill in Northern California and will be welcome additions. Michael Jordan is an obvious choice but I think he’s scared of putting his game on display. I’ve been advocating for the actor Jeffrey Wright — I’m a huge fan and I know he’s a serious golfer. Matthew McConaughey would be great fun. But by far and away my first choice is Larry David. How good would that be?

What are your professional goals for 2020? [email protected]

I just want to surprise readers with interesting, unexpected stories, told with depth and hopefully a little flair. I’ve got a few in the hopper I’m excited about. I’d like to break some news, but that’s harder to predict. For the last couple of years I’ve been working on and off on a (non-golf) book and look forward to getting that done. Once it is, I’ve got a golf screenplay I want to write with a Hollywood dude I’ve been talking to for a while. But most of all, I just want to continue servicing you, the #AskAlan faithful.