Tour Confidential: Country Clubs Snubbing President Obama

Tour Confidential: Country Clubs Snubbing President Obama

Billy Horschel walks up the 18th fairway during the final round of the Tour Championship at East Lake.
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Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Billy Horschel won the Tour Championship and the $10,000,000 FedEx Cup, but he won’t be on the American side in the Ryder Cup in two weeks. How much better off would the U.S. Ryder Cup team be with Horschel, and should we revamp the Ryder Cup selection process to accommodate all of the FedEx Cup results?

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Right now, Horschel looks like a better pick than any of Watson’s three at-large selections. You can’t push the picks too close to the Cup — how else would the custom sweaters arrive in time? — but waiting another week or two into the playoffs would only strengthen the U.S side.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Horschel is obviously the hot hand and would strengthen the team. But does anyone really want to see the tortured discussion of Ryder Cup captain’s picks dragged out any longer? I’d rather watch Steve Sands discuss FedEx Cup scenarios.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): Billy Ho has looked so good it’s time for someone to fake an injury so he can get on the team. Seriously, though, why wouldn’t you wait until after the Tour Championship, where the pressure is so big, to make your picks? This is such terrible timing for Tom Watson to be realizing how good Horschel is. Isn’t this supposed to be the 12 best from the U.S. against the 12 best from Europe? Not this year.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@eamonlynch): If a week is a long time in politics, then two weeks is even longer in golf. Watson made the right call in passing over Horschel, but the vagaries of the selection schedule mean his team departs amid mutterings that the two hottest Americans (Horschel and Chris Kirk) are at home. Who knows if Horschel would even have played given the imminent birth of his child? (That scenario would have been interesting: he was willing to miss the birth for a FedEx Cup payday, but would he miss it to play for his country?) If somehow the timing has weakened Team USA, then blame rests squarely with the PGA of America, not Watson. It owns the Ryder Cup and wants the PGA Championship to be the last qualifying event.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): One of the changes Paul Azinger insisted on as captain was a later selection date and four picks. Watson went with an earlier date and only three picks. There’s no sense complaining about it now. Azinger set it up once. This captain did it his way. Lee Janzen was left off the team one year and went on to win The International and another event in the mid-90s. Horschel isn’t the first.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Tom Watson chose to go with experience, but he was pretty clear, as was every captain before him, that he wanted wild-card picks with the hot hand, who could make clutch putts and could close. Sounds like Billy Horschel to me. The U.S. side would be better with him, period. Perhaps we allot one super wild-card pick that’s chosen after the playoffs have concluded.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Billy would be an ideal Ryder Cupper. Scary intensity. Kind of looks scary period. I wouldn’t want to play him. Yes, the team should be selected as late as possible. Like at the airport before takeoff, if possible.

2. Channeling the late Tim Russert, Golf Channel’s Steve Sands is the designated chalk-talker in explaining the FedEx Cup possible scenarios. Do you tune out this complicated process, or does it draw you in even further?

VAN SICKLE: Steve who? Tune it out. If you have to explain how it works, it’s a bad system.

PASSOV: With all due respect to Steve Sands and his thankless task, these machinations are distracting at best, mind-numbing and exhausting at worst. Why take the time to explore so many possibilities so early in the round? You can’t keep track of them unless you’re writing them down. So many things can and do change, it just seems silly to break away for this prognosticating. Wait until the time when it actually means something, say with three or four holes to go for all of the contenders.

MORFIT: Tune out. Win and it takes care of everything. That’s the way it should be. Those complicated scenarios are what the Tour needs to avoid.

BAMBERGER: I love watching Steve Sands explain it. I am in awe of his understanding of it. But those explanations are total proof of the absurdity of the whole system.

LYNCH: It adds valuable context, but I’d be more entertained if some poor announcer was dispatched to inform players on air of the ever-changing computations. They have the comparative luxury of competing in an information vacuum while fans chase the math.

RITTER: It doesn’t pull me in at all. The FedEx Cup will be better off after it adopts a format that’s so simple all the decoding and deciphering becomes obsolete.

SENS: Sorry. I tuned out at “Fed Ex Cup possible scenarios.” What was the question?

3. As compelling as the East Lake revitalization story is, would the Tour Championship be better served by taking it around to other great courses?

BAMBERGER: I think East Lake is perfect for it, and Atlanta in September is, too. It improves your appreciation for Jones and Augusta. I like the combo of city and course. I like getting to know the course.

VAN SICKLE: It’s not the course that’s not compelling. It’s the format and the whole so-called chase. Coca-Cola is a big sponsor, and they’re based in Atlanta, so you hold the event where the sponsor wants it. No need to move it around. But honestly, no 29-man event is going to be compelling very often. That’s not a tournament, that’s an outing, and a small one at that. Why not let the 125 guys play all four weeks and at least create more of a tournament atmosphere?

SENS: I like the idea of keeping the venue constant. I won’t go so far as to say it creates a sense of “tradition,” because the playoff series feels anything but deep-rooted and organic. But at least it gives us viewers a steady reference point from year to year. We get enough variety in venues throughout the year as is.

MORFIT: I’ve never been a big East Lake fan, but it has a ton of history and the Tour goes where the money is. Coke is money.

PASSOV: Among the past venues for the Tour Championship are Pebble Beach, Pinehurst (No. 2), the Olympic Club and Southern Hills. Sounds pretty appetizing. Yet, East Lake has grown on me as a place for this finale, for two reasons. First, while its design and terrain aren’t terribly dramatic, at least the juicy rough and firm greens make this the antithesis of bomb-and-gouge. It doesn’t favor any one style of player, which gives everybody a fair chance at the start of the week. Second, the obscene amount of money on display at least is nicely juxtaposed with the urban reclamation project that this tournament has benefited. The revitalization of East Lake represents one of the great success stories in golf. We need to spread that message as often as we can.

RITTER: New venues might be fun, but again, the biggest problem with the FedEx Cup is the points system. That’s the first thing that needs to be addressed.

LYNCH: I remain steadfast in my preference to see Tour events played on courses that have not allowed Rees Jones past the car park with a shovel in his hand.

4. Rory McIlroy was surprised by the backlash when he suggested that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are on the “last few holes” of their careers. Are Tiger and Phil partisans too sensitive or is Rory not sensitive enough?

SENS: The latter. But as is the case with most overblown reactions, we’re talking about a very tiny percentage of the population making a lot of noise, which then gets amplified and distorted through the usual channels. That said, Rory says something about Tiger and Phil and then is “surprised” that it gets a crazy amount of play? That itself is surprising.

MORFIT: Rory is honest. On a Tour where the money is flowing so freely, most guys are terrified to say anything for fear of causing upset in fantasy land, so McIlroy’s candor is rare and refreshing. I hope he’s wrong but he’s probably right.

PASSOV: Lighten up, Francis. It’s premature for Rory to have said what he did — Tiger did win five times in 2013 and his injuries robbed him of his 2014 season, while Phil showed at the PGA that he’s far from through when the flashing lights are on. Yet, is Rory wrong? Of Nicklaus’ 73 Tour wins, he won just three times after his 41st-birthday and of Palmer’s 62 triumphs, only one came after he turned 42. Tiger will be 39 in December and Phil is 44. You do the math.

LYNCH: Even a cursory glance at the recent performance record of both Tiger and Phil suggests truth in Rory’s casual comment. His only offense was in not following most other Tour pros and parroting whatever gentle lie is in vogue when asked about the long-term prospects of his fellow professionals.

VAN SICKLE: Rory was right on the money with his remarks. No apology needed. His condensed remarks looked awkward only in the inevitable website headlines (this site included).

RITTER: Not sure if they’re too sensitive or just not used to the idea of their favorite players entering the homestretch of their careers. If Tiger and Phil limp through a couple more winless seasons like 2014, it should be enough to get the rest of the masses on board.

BAMBERGER: Rory said nothing wrong. Grow up people.

5. President Obama reportedly couldn’t get a tee time on Labor Day weekend at Trump National or Winged Foot. Should private clubs make more of an effort to accommodate the president, or should the members come first on a busy holiday weekend?

MORFIT: He’s the United States President. I don’t care what your politics are. Show some respect and let him play.

BAMBERGER: I do not know why you would want to play a course where you are not wanted. If you are the President of the United States, why not go places where you are invited?

PASSOV: If I’m a member of such a club, regardless of my political persuasion, it would be very cool for the prestige and lore of my club, in perpetuity, to say that we had a sitting United States President play our course. That said, POTUS sure could have picked a better time to ask to play. Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend? Next time, clear the Army’s West Point course, a respectable Robert Trent Jones Sr. design, and have fun.

SENS: I have no problem with the clubs telling POTUS that they couldn’t make room for him. But something also tells me those decisions had less to do with inconveniencing the members than with the powers-that-be at those clubs not being overly fond of the President’s politics. My guess is they’d have made room for George W. Bush. But maybe I’m just cynical.

VAN SICKLE: Here’s a better idea: Follow the lead of George W. Bush, who gave up golf while our servicemen were in combat overseas. Then these problems are avoided.

LYNCH: I’m surprised Fox News hasn’t jumped on this one. Trump’s course in Westchester, N.Y. is dreadful. That the president expressed interest in playing there is a serious lapse in judgment and an outrageous affront to the American people. He should apologize immediately.

6. Jim Furyk said this week that he thought the Ryder Cup could be contested fiercely and still be a friendly competition. Would you prefer a kinder, gentler Ryder Cup or do you enjoy the current “Hunger Games”-like atmosphere of the biennial showdown?

VAN SICKLE: If you had a Ryder Cup without all the passion then all you’d have left was … a Presidents Cup. The passion makes it fun and must-watch TV.

PASSOV: The chanting, the cheering, the nerves and the sneering…The Ryder Cup has been the best event in golf since the early 1980s precisely for its “Hunger Games” atmosphere. Once every two years, it’s awesome to contest golf in an environment like this.

BAMBERGER: Kinder and gentler. A golfing get-together. A glorified exhibition. A good-will tour. We need all the allies we can find. There’s enough real conflict in the world. Real competitive golf is an individual competition. Jack Nicklaus understood that. Tiger Woods understands that. Evidently, Jim Furyk does, too. It should be a nice end-of-the-season thing, followed by a long recharge the batteries break. Hold it: the new season (as they say on my six o’clock news) starts NOW.

LYNCH: It’s already pretty friendly compared to many other major sporting events around the world. It’s not as though we have fans kicking each other to death in the parking lot afterward. Professional golf needs a boisterous, intense team competition. Let the energy flourish. Those who prefer tamer team events can have the Presidents Cup.

SENS: Furyk’s right, but he’s thinking from a player’s perspective. For fans, the event is so compelling precisely because it no longer seems so friendly. As a spectator, I want the “Hunger Games” atmosphere. Hell, throw in a few vampires and zombies, too.

MORFIT: It’s exactly how it should be, about as friendly as Cal versus Stanford or Auburn versus Alabama. Every sport needs at least one grudge match like that.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.