Gary Van Sickle's Mailbag: FedEx Cup, spike marks, and my future as a golfer

Gary Van Sickle’s Mailbag: FedEx Cup, spike marks, and my future as a golfer

Bill Haas's FedEx Cup win was exciting, but that doesn't mean a 30-man event should be a major.
Fred Vuich/SI

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I still think it’s a shame that Lee Westwood doesn’t play more in America. Wouldn’t it have been great to see Westwood, wearing his UPS logo shirt, win the FedEx Cup and have commissioner Tim Finchem hand him the trophy?

Maybe next year. Meanwhile, let’s check the Van Cynical Mailbag.

I saw a fan’s criticism of the FedEx playoffs that it’s a money grab. You and your colleagues have made similar comments. Of course it’s TV programming. We want to see the tournaments, don’t we? While the point system may be convoluted, it separates the winners from the losers. Forget the points, can you argue that the final 30 didn’t deserve to be at East Lake? The money is absurd, but it’s not the money that draws fans to watch tournaments, it’s the competition. And it’s pretty darn good. — Respectfully, Bill Stroh, Albany, N.Y.

You can’t argue with the exciting finishes of the last two Tour Championships, Mr. Bill. It was exciting once the playoff started and we could finally figure out who had a chance to win the flawed points race. (And realize that Webb Simpson and Luke Donald couldn’t win.) The FedEx Cup is a money grab, but I’d argue that phrase isn’t criticism, it’s just fact. I’d also argue that a lot more players than 30 deserved to be at East Lake. I find it hard to consider a 30-man event a tournament. It’s a small outing. But Haas getting up and down from the lake was the golf moment of the year. And then he grabbed the cash.

Isn’t it about time to change the rule about repairing spike marks on greens? At the BMW Championship, numerous TV close-ups showed the familiar metal-spike pattern, a series of mini-mines for later players to navigate. And don’t give me “players will spend all their time fixing imperfections rather than putting.” Today’s greens are so flawless on tour that if I can identify a metal spike mark on TV, the pros can easily distinguish between a metal spike mark and other scuffs. — Andrew Perkin

Sorry to disagree, Perk, but have you seen how slow tour pros are on the greens? Putting is the major reason tour rounds take five hours in threesomes. Let these guys repair spike marks, too, and the pace of play will get even worse, if that’s possible. One of golf’s fundamental concepts is rub of the green. That is, you get a bad break, a bad bounce, a bad lie, a spike mark — too bad. An argument allowing a drop from a sand-filled divot would be more compelling, but when it comes to fixing spike marks, I have to put my foot down. Absolutely not.

Gary, why not call the FedEx Cup a major retroactively? It has four times as many holes and four times the prize money of any other tournament? — Ron Schaffner

The entire FedEx Cup a major? You know, that’s actually not as ridiculous as I thought on first glance. But it can’t be a major if only 30 players are on the course for the last four rounds and if, like Bill Haas, you can finish without knowing you won. Haas saw two trophies at the award ceremony and asked who won the FedEx Cup. I don’t think anybody holed out on 18 at Augusta to win a green jacket and then asked, “Who won?” Change the useless points system to a cumulative score vs. par for the four events and I might reconsider it as a potential major championship. . . nah.

How about we get rid of the stroke and distance penalty for OB and play it like a lateral hazard? Is there a way to get the USGA to do that? — Gil Ramsey

There’s no way to get the USGA to do anything that involves common sense, Dr. Gil, such as allowing rangefinders in competition. I’m all for your OB concept but there’s one problem: You could still play your ball from the hazard (formerly out of bounds), even if it’s on someone’s patio. The OB rule prevents shots from “off the course.” Maybe you’d have to invent a new stake (white with red stripes?) that would be considered a lateral hazard but would require a mandatory drop. Or you could continue to do what you probably do now — make up your own rules and play OB as a hazard. Works for me.

Gary, has anyone with the Solheim Cup discussed having the competition among three teams: Europe, U.S. and Rest of the World? As you’ve said many times, it’s silly to prevent 20 of the top 30-ranked female golfers from competing in this. Is it feasible? I’m thinking a double elimination thing like the College World Series, maybe start it on Monday. It would be compelling. — John Sinclair, Stillwater, Minn.

As far as I know, adding a third team to the competition is just an idea us media hacks and fans have kicked around. I don’t think you could add a third team to match-play competition and have it be practical, but you could add an off-year qualifier where the losing Solheim Cup team plays the third team, with the winner advancing to face the defending Solheim Cup champ the following year. One drawback would be the potential for one team (let’s say the U.S.) to not appear in the Solheim Cup final for two or four years. Here’s an easier solution: a U.S. vs. Asia match in the non-Solheim years. I’d watch.

Enjoyed reading about the tournaments you recently played in. Any chance you’ll take a shot at the Senior PGA Qualifying School? — Jerry Clark, Louisa, Ky.

No. Those guys are good. Really, really good. I’m not. That said, if anyone wants to sponsor me to chase professional golf to the tune of $100k a year, I’ll be happy to take your money and have a great time while failing miserably.