Scottsdale, Ariz.– Let's take time out from the party that is the Waste Management Phoenix Open to check this week's Van Cynical Mailbag. Thanks in advance for your brilliant questions next week (hint, hint):
Gary, I enjoyed your column on Gary McCord and his hilarious stories. Did he really tell an ornery Ben Hogan that he could "beat his ass" in a putting contest?
— Joe Callaghan, Oldsmar, Fla.
As a tremendous entertainer and a Grade A amateur magician, McCord may embellish some details from time to time, but he assures me that yes, he nearly got into it with the Hawk at lunch at Shady Oaks after Hogan's dismissive and insulting comments. If only it was on video. That would've totally gone viral.
Gary, I'm a 14-handicapper at a muni course. When I get a chance to practice, I hit range rocks and hope it translates to my game. When a Tour pro practices, what kind of balls does he hit? What other advantages to Tour pros have over us to hone their games?
— John Swanson, Chicago
These guys are good, and they have it good. Most ranges at tour events provide a smorgasbord of all the major ball models. Then, when they pick the range, some poor volunteers sit there and sort the balls by brand so the pampered pros can hit them again. It sounds absurd, but I'm not making this up. As a former muni player myself, I feel your pain. My former home course in Milwaukee, Brown Deer, didn't allow chipping on the practice green. (Brown Deer later hosted the Greater Milwaukee Open.) There was no place to practice chipping at all. Tour players typically get the wave at any private club they visit — free golf, use the facilities, the perfect practice bunker, you name it. So keep practicing.
Gary, Do you find it interesting that three of the slowest players on the PGA Tour are members of the Players Policy Committee? This cannot bode well for any improvement in the slow-play problem that the tour has.
— Harry Collier
I assume you're referring to Ben Crane and Webb Simpson, two acknowledged turtles. Maybe you're also including Jim Furyk, who has made backing off his putt part of his routine. Slow play won't be resolved or improved until meaningful penalties are doled out. Money on the super-rich PGA Tour isn't meaningful, so fines don't work. Penalties would. I suggest a shot clock on a signboard in each group that is reset to 45 seconds after it officially becomes a player's turn. But you're right, Collie, the only thing slower than slow play is slow-play reform.
Gary, I watched the Hyundai Championship at Kapalua and while I love the scenery I wonder how much broadcast time will be wasted during the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in a couple weeks. With way too many commercials, I imagine we are losing 20 minutes of actual golf coverage over a three-hour period. Again, I love the views but I also like watching golf. So get out that stopwatcs and let us know.
— Gregory King, West Bloomfield, Mich.
You do realize that commercials are what pay for the show, right, King? Have you watched "Big Bang Theory" or any other sitcoms on television? In that 30-minute slot, the actual shows are only 19 or 20 minutes out of 30, maybe less. Don't watch a football game, either. In three-and-a-alf hours, there are probably fewer than 10 minutes of actual action. So just so you know, I'm not getting my stopwatch out for Pebble unless it's to time how long Ben Crane takes to hit a shot.
Kyle Stanley's caddie helps him align on most shots, as many LPGA caddies do, too. Why do so few players do this on the PGA Tour?
— Mica Stark via Facebook
Most professional golfers know how to line up and aim. They don't need help.
What do you think about letting some PGA Tour tournaments pay appearance fees? Seems like it is only going to get tougher to compete for top-tier fields when guys can make guaranteed money overseas.
— Golf Cheapskate via Facebook
That's a terrible idea, Cheaps, that would only widen the gap between the have and the have-not tournaments. Besides, we've already got the equivalent of appearance fees. All the World Golf Championship events have limited fields (around 70 or so) and no cut. So they're guaranteed a check. Ditto for the season-opening, winners-only event at Kapalua, plus most of the FedEx Cup series. It's a down economy and sponsors are hard to come by. This isn't the time to up the ante for sponsors and get them into a bidding war. Plus for whom are they bidding? Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson? Brandt Snedeker and Mark Wilson? Appearance fees would undermine the entire structure of the PGA Tour. Abu Dhabi bought a good field and, you may have noticed, as a result had a relatively small purse.