Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
IS A MAJOR NEXT FOR BRANDT SNEDEKER?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Greetings, golf fans, and welcome to our guest, Brandel Chamblee. Your thoughts on Brandt Snedeker, who's got two seconds and a win already. Is he just riding a hot streak of good play or has he taken his game to a higher level? Will he win a major this year and, if so, which major is he most likely to win and why?
Brandel Chamblee, Golf Channel analyst and Golf Magazine columnist: Snedeker's ballstriking has risen to the same level as his short game and putting. This is outrageous when you consider just how good he is with the scoring clubs, but I suspect five years of average ballstriking by tour standards is a more accurate measure of his talents tee to green. If this hot streak turns into a year of great ballstriking, then he could author something that we will talk about for years to come. His confidence off the tee was obvious on Sunday when he hit driver on the short par-4 fourth right up in the neck of the fairway, leaving him 67 yards, which he converted for birdie. His current form fits every major but in particular Augusta, as he is in better control of his approach shots, which will put him in a more aggressive position on the greens. The tears of disappointment in 2008 will be replaced by tears of joy.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: If Snedeker is not actively lobbying for the Masters to start tomorrow, he should be. The guy is so confident and playing so well he could probably beat a lot of the guys on Tour with 10 clubs. And given the way he finished 2012, I believe he's here to stay. I'd say he's most likely to win the Masters, which he made a run at five years ago, before he'd really even found his footing on Tour. He'll be helped by the fact that all eyes will be on McIlroy, Mickelson and Woods.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Brandt's riding the wave and he might for another decade. I love his game, he's a great guy, he's smart. He's the kind of person and player that can help a kid fall in love with golf. The USGA should use him as a poster boy for how to play ready golf.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: What's cool about Brandt is that he's doing it all — driving it well, stiffing the irons and putting like a demon. That sure makes it feel like it's more than a hot streak.
Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com He plays fast and didn't attribute his win to a higher power. What's not to like?
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Snedeker seems to have found the one thing that was missing from his game — self-belief. He's No. 4 in the world now, so, yes, he's here for the long haul and he should be on the short-list of favorites for every major this year, starting with Augusta. And Sneds adds a compelling wrinkle into the overall storyline for the season. We have the boy wonder (Rory), the legend trying to return to the top (Tiger), the fan favorite (Phil), and now the everyman (Snedeker). Plus, you still have guys like Donald, Westwood and Garcia playing well and still trying to win their first major. And then there's all the South Africans. Can we just get to the Masters already?!
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Snedeker is here to stay. As long as he continues to putt like this, he'll contend. His pace is remarkable, and every putt seems to fall right in the middle of the cup. And because of that stroke, I'll take him at the Masters. He tied for third in 2008 and was in the top 20 in his last two Augusta starts. And, of course, that was all before he broke out in the second half of 2012.
Van Sickle: Brandt Snedeker looks more like the real thing every week. He's knocking on the door of the top three in the world rankings. He's the best putter in golf, which makes him a threat to win anywhere. I think he wins a Masters first. I'm a believer.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Still hanging with Oosthuizen to win the Masters, but you can't deny that Snedeker is the hottest player on the planet right now. In past victories, he won while erasing large final-round deficits. Sunday he won as a front-runner. All that's left for him is a major. I like him the most at Merion, but when you can putt, you can win anywhere.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: You can't dismiss it as a hot streak because it started more than a year ago, at Torrey Pines, and continued over the holiday break. He drives it great, and he seems to be the new "Boss of the Moss." As for majors, I'd say his straight-driving, great-putting formula makes him a good bet to win a U.S. Open.
Bamberger: He'll win a major eventually. This year, who knows? Augusta is surely his best bet, because of his putting game.
Stephanie Wei, WeiUnderPar.com: He's definitely taken his game to a higher level. When I compare the Snedeker I saw back at the Heritage in April 2011 when he came from behind to post a low number and then beat Luke Donald in a playoff to the Snedeker who won the Tour Championship and just finished 2-2-1 in three straight weeks, they are two different players. He exudes confidence now. I think winning with the lead last fall at the Tour Championship and what he's done in subsequent weeks has elevated him to the elite ranks. (And he's moved to No. 4 in the OWGR.) There was no doubt in my mind after the third round that he had the win in the bag.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I'm here at Pebble and was struck by his steely demeanor. We know Sneds is a premiere putter and his ball control gets better and better — on Sunday he missed only one fairway, and that was by a foot — but it was his palpable confidence that was most impressive. Apparently he thinks he's going to win every time he tees it up. I love him at Augusta. The game's best putter has a built-in advantage there.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is Snedeker here to stay? Which major do you think he's most likely to win this year?
IS PEBBLE BEACH AMERICA'S CROWN JEWEL?
Van Sickle: Where do you rank Pebble Beach on your personal list of America's best courses? If it's not No. 1, what do you rank ahead of it and why?
Godich: I still have to go with Augusta National. I love the risk-reward of the par-5s as well as the creativity the players display on and around the greens. And let's be honest about Pebble. As spectacular as the oceanside holes are, most of the inland holes don't leave a lasting impression.
Morfit: It's so achingly beautiful, I can't not rank it No. 1. The sixth through the 10th holes are really juicy, but there are some pretty forgettable holes, like the very first, which borders not breathtaking coastline but … housing.
Chamblee: Pebble is my favorite place to play in the United States because with its combination of views, golf and the way I feel when I'm playing there. But I would not rank it as the best course in the U.S. because it doesn't have enough great par 4s. I would rank it behind Shinnecock, Riviera, Augusta National and Pine Valley, but it's still in my top five.
Garrity: Consulting my popular blog, John Garrity's Top 50, I see that Pebble Beach is ranked No. 9. Only two American courses are ranked ahead of it — Prairie Dunes and Augusta National — but if I had only one round left in life, I'm sure I'd pick Pebble. Even in bad weather. It's the scenery.
Gorant: I don't have such a ranking but then I never collected baseball cards either. Have enjoyed Pebble, but would still call Somerset Hills my favorite. Don't really keep track after that.
Van Sickle: You can't separate the scenery from the course. For that reason, there is no golf experience to rival Pebble Beach in this country. So I have to rank it No. 1.
Bamberger: Pebble is in my top 26. I take in everything, and Pebble's getting dinged for its high green fees. Yes, it's supply and demand, I get it. But your're gonna pay for it somewhere, and here it is.
Reiterman: Unfortunately I've never played the hallowed links, so I'm going to have to stick with Augusta. I was fortunate enough to win the media lottery a few years ago at the National, and it was as much fun to play as it is to watch every April.
Lynch: Pebble would struggle to make my personal top 10, but I will concede that it's among the top 3 courses on the Monterey Peninsula, though not in the top two slots (cue hate mail from Shipnuck). If you accept the premise that history and views don't always combine for a great golf course, then Pebble Beach is the third best course on the Peninsula after Cypress Point and MPCC's Shore course. Sure, it has five or six truly great holes, but the rest is largely forgettable. What would I rank above it? Take your pick: In addition to the aforementioned, toss in Pine Valley, Shinnecock Hills, Merion, Pacific Dunes, Sand Hills, for starters.
Ritter: Still haven't seen Pebble in person, but the best course I've walked in the U.S. remains Augusta, and my co-favorites that I've played are Kapalua's Plantation Course and Lanai's Challenge at Manele.
Wei: It's not No. 1, but I'd say it's in the top five, mostly because of the history and the beauty. I've only played Pebble once and I spent most of the time taking pictures, so I need to play it again for a more informed opinion. American courses better than Pebble that I've actually played? National Golf links of America will always be the best test of golf IMHO. Every hole is unique, and it makes you play every shot/club in the bag.
Shipnuck: It's number one for me, and not just because I spent three summers working there as a cart boy. The history and beauty are off-the-charts, but what makes Pebble so special are the heroic shot values. And some of the less famous holes are vastly underrated. I think 4 is one of the coolest little par-4s anywhere. 11 has an amazing green. The approach shot into 13 is one of my favorites anywhere — it takes so much geometry. I can go on if you want me to…
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is Pebble Beach the best course in the U.S.? If not, what ranks higher on your list?
PLAY ONE HOLE AT PEBBLE
Van Sickle: You're going to be dropped by helicopter onto the tee box of your choice at Pebble Beach and allowed to play one (and only one) hole. Which hole do you choose and why?
Chamblee: I'd play 18 because it is the most beautiful of all the holes at Pebble Beach and as a par 5, it would last the longest. Most importantly, it's very close to the lodge, where I'm pretty sure they have a fireplace, a view and scotch
Godich: Give me the 8th. The approach shot is about as good is it gets for both the degree of difficulty and the view. The fact that the one time I played Pebble I had a 45-minute wait on the 8th tee has nothing to do with my selection.
Lynch: It has to be No. 7, both for aesthetics and unpredictability. In a practice round for the '92 U.S. Open here, Ian Woosnam dismissed it as a nothing more than a chip-shot hole. His opinion changed later that week when he found himself hitting 7-iron from 100 yards.
Reiterman: Have to go with the par-3 7th. My favorite golf holes are downhill par-3s, and this is the Mona Lisa of short holes (sorry, No. 12 at Augusta). Plus, for as little golf as I play, this is probably my best shot at birdie on the course.
Ritter: It's not the most aesthetically dramatic, but I'll play 18 for its history. Plus, with my squeeze-fade, I should be able to avoid the Pacific and maybe even luck my way into a par.
Van Sickle: The 18th is probably the most panoramic hole at Pebble but I'd play the par-5 sixth. It's a hellacious second-shot hole for us hacks, even if you hit a good drive. Once you get to the green, if you ever do, you're practically standing on top of the world there with a great view of No. 7, Stillwater Cove, The Lodge, everything.
Morfit: I'd be conflicted about whether to play the par-5 18th or the par-3 7th, both of which would require a very good helicopter pilot lest we end up in the water. The 18th would last longer, but given my hook, and the fact the Hale Irwin tee shot off the rocks only happens once every 100 years or so, I'll go with the 7th. (And I'd ask the helicopter pilot for a two-club wind.)
Wei: Oh man, that's tough. I wanted to say 17 because it's so iconic and first thing that comes to mind when I think about Pebble is when Tom Watson chipped in from the left rough to birdie and then went on to birdie 18 and win the '82 U.S. Open. But I don't want to waste my ONE hole on a par-3, so I think I'll go with 18 because it's a fun par-5 and that tee shot with the view of the ocean is unbeatable.
Garrity: It's hard to choose, but I'll join Jack Nicklaus and pick No. 8. It's a blind tee shot, but your approach over the chasm to a sea's-edge green is thrilling.
Bamberger: The home hole. For the views, for the history, for the tree, for the chance to relive the walks of Watson, Nicklaus, Woods — and D.A. Points.
Shipnuck: No. 7. There's nowhere on the planet that is prettier and it's such a fun, delicate little shot. Except in a big wind – I once hit 7-iron there.
Gorant: 19th. Gives me the best chance to score (rim shot).
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Take your pick: One hole at Pebble. Which one are you playing?
TIME TO TAKE THE 'AMs' OUT OF THE PRO-AM?
Van Sickle: How do you feel about the whole celebrity pro-am format? Love it, hate it or don't care, and why? Does CBS give ample coverage to the actual celebs, as opposed to corporate heads and CEOs? How much do you care about the pro-am team title?
Chamblee: The AT&T pro-am format is one of the best traditions on the PGA Tour. As a kid, I ate it up and I imagined the glamour and glitz was an every-week occurrence. As a player I felt like I was privileged to be in the company of so many talented and successful people. In a year-long melee of event after event, this event provides some levity and reminds us that golf is the one sport where every level of golfer can play together.
Gorant: Don't care much. It's sort of fun once a year, but don't think it should be the focus of the coverage. A few shots of comic relief from time to time is about right.
Lynch: I plan my year around it. I'd almost forgotten (since last year's broadcast made the same point) that Carson Daly played as a kid at Riviera. Pro-ams are worth watching for one reason only: to see which CEO is lying about his handicap then make sure you don't own too much of his stock.
Wei: Don't really care, but paid more attention this year than usual. I didn't see that much of the coverage because I was usually walking the course or elsewhere, but from what I saw, it seemed mostly like they showed corporate heads more than actual celebs. Thought it was impressive that Jordan Spieth/Tony Romo shot 29-under as a team. Romo is a scratch, so he didn't get any strokes like the others who finished well.
Ritter: In general, I don't like watching amateurs on TV, and I'm specifically thinking of Rock N' Jock basketball at the NBA All-Star game, and the celebrity slow-pitch softball game at the MLB All-Star break. But for one week a year, I admit that I like seeing celebrities and CEO duffers take on Pebble.
Van Sickle: I enjoyed the old Crosby Pro-Am when celebrities we seldom saw except in movies or on TV played. Other than Bill Murray, the AT&T doesn't attract much in the way of big celebs. I remember walking with Burt Lancaster and Robert Wagner at Cypress one day. Those were real celebs, unlike today's corporate powerbrokers.
Godich: It is what it is. I do enjoy it when an amateur gets thrown into the last group. Who wouldn't enjoy experiencing that just once?
Reiterman: I still love it. The PGA Tour has enough regular events, so this is a welcome relief. My only wish is that the list of celebs would creep up more into the A-list, and not the same CEOs and C-listers that seem to be featured every year.
Garrity: To me, it's the only pro-am that matters, and I wouldn't bar the amateurs from Sunday play. But I want it to be more like the old Crosby clambake — fewer CEOs, more football coaches and crooners. As for the team title, yeah, I'm interested. Every tournament needs something to distinguish it from the same-old same-old.
Bamberger: The am in the pro-am is critical to making the thing work. I'd expand the definition to bring in celebs like Arnold and Jack and Gary, have them play on the celeb/am side. You need more walks of life. Even pols.
Morfit: I couldn't care less about the celebrity title, unless it involves someone like Bill Murray or Joe Pesci who play to the crowd and the camera. The Fortune 500 guys? Puh-lease. Nor do I care about the jocks, although it was interesting that James Driscoll had one of his better results (T9) playing with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. I texted Driscoll congratulations and asked if he'd gotten a pep talk, and he replied, "Oh, yeah. He set me straight."
Shipnuck: I like the idea on paper, but it never really works. It would take a much better crop of celebs with some actual starpower. The CEOs should only be shown when they really screw up – otherwise, no one cares. And the team title means less than zero.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Has the "Am" competition run its course at the Pebble Pro-Am?
ROCCO ROLLS ON CHAMPIONS TOUR! (ANYBODY CARE?)
Van Sickle: Rocco Mediate won in his Champions Tour debut. How excited are you about Rocco's arrival? Can his presence generate more interest on that tour?
Ritter: Let's say that Rocco's arrival has left me equally excited about the Champions Tour as I was before he got there.
Reiterman: I think Rocco's move to the Champions Tour adds another reason for us diehards to watch. But beyond that, I can't see anyone outside of the golf world being drawn in.
Van Sickle: Rocco is another familiar name who is going to connect with senior galleries. Senior tournaments are great fun for spectators and Rocco will be value-added for fans. But I think the seniors have their niche. Until Phil and Tiger hit that tour, not much is going to change.
Chamblee: I'm sitting with two avid golf fans as I am typing this, and I asked them this question. They both said they would tune in to watch Rocco. Their quotes: "He is never scripted," "He is not fake," "He always has something interesting to say," and on they went. He is good for golf, whether it's the PGA Tour or the Champions Tour.
Bamberger: Rocco's arrival on the Champions Tour is nice for Rocco. Who else would care, I don't know. Willie Wood interests me far more.
Garrity: Rocco will be a fan-pleaser, but he wasn't that big a star on the regular tour. The Champions Tour needed Johnny Miller and Greg Norman to embrace old-fart golf, and that didn't happen. They got Tom Watson and Fred Couples, fortunately.
Morfit: Rocco is a breath of fresh air for that Tour, as he was for the PGA Tour whenever he popped up and won a tournament. He smiles, he looks like he's having fun, he's a closer — what's not to like? He's such a competitor, I could see him staying out there and reeling off four or five wins this year.
Wei: I think that's great and he'll thrive out there, but nothing personal, he won't make me carve out the time to watch the coverage, or suddenly attract droves more fans to the senior tour.
Lynch: A Sunday shootout involving Rocco Mediate, Tom Pernice Jr. and Bernhard Langer is exciting only to Rocco Mediate, Tom Pernice Jr. and Bernhard Langer. Right now it's a Tour with a faint pulse.
Gorant: More excited about Rocco's departure. What was the Shipnuck quote that drove him around the bend? "You had your moment, now get off the stage."
Shipnuck: Nothing can make me care about the Senior tour, short of Ben Hogan's ghost coming back and winning a tournament. And even then I'm not sure I'd care.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Will Rocco's arrival give a boost to the Champions Tour?