Gary Van Sickle's Mailbag: Tiger and Butch, Murray at Pebble and sponor's exemptions

Gary Van Sickle’s Mailbag: Tiger and Butch, Murray at Pebble and sponor’s exemptions

Tiger Woods was in contention at Pebble Beach, which helped to double TV ratings compared to last year.
Robert Beck/SI

Naples, Fla. – The excitement has built to a crescendo here as I prepare for the ACE Group Classic to begin at beautiful Twin Oaks. It's good to be in South Florida in February, trust me, and even the Champions Tour veterans are walking around with smiles on their faces, especially around the all-world daily lunch buffet in the swank clubhouse.

Now that I've finished my mango salsa chicken, apple puff pastry and Diet Coke, and felt a gentle breeze here on the veranda wafting across the lake by the 18th green, it's time to venture into this week's Van Cynical Mailbag. Thanks for having the guts to keep submitting such meaty questions, people:

Why give Tiger any attention after all he did?????
— Gene Foerster, via email

This may have escaped your attention, Gino, but Tiger Woods (like "Anchorman" Ron Burgundy) is kind of a big deal. TV ratings for the Pebble Beach tournament were double those from a year ago, and the highest since 1997, because Tiger was in contention. Tiger moves the needle for the public and, therefore, the media. Half of my weekly mailbag questions, including yours, are about him. He's the biggest name in golf and one of the biggest celebrities on Earth. And if I may add this… Duh!

I heard that Phil Mickelson flew Butch Harmon into Pebble Beach to work on his swing and-bingo!-he plays the best golf of the year (maybe even his career). Is it time Tiger rebuilt that bridge with Butch?
— Nick Scrutton, via Facebook

Come on, man. I can only conclude that you're new to golf and wholly unfamiliar with Tiger Woods. He may forgive (or he may not) but he doesn't forget. Tiger didn't just burn that bridge with Butch, he vaporized it. Tiger will never even consider working with Butch again. He stopped putting from off the green with a metal-wood years ago, even though he was very good at it, simply because Butch was the one who taught him that shot. So your question "What if Tiger got back with Butch?" is as relevant as "What if the 'Man From U.N.C.L.E.' went back in time to help the pioneers fight dinosaurs?" Not gonna happen.

My question is why do they continue to allow that golfing interloper Bill Murray to perform in his customary outrageous manner. Golfers want to watch golf, but I guess the producers want a substantial mix with pathetic comedy.
— Francis Niland, Shallotte, N.C. via email

It's odd that you would call the defending Pebble Beach National Pro-Am champion an interloper. I'd agree that we see way too much of the corporate hacks and CEOs that we don't care about, but a lot of people enjoy the celebrities. I followed Murray for all 54 holes one year and wrote about him for SI, calling him "the greatest show in golf." He does what amounts to six hours of improv comedy each day and it's funny. The galleries can't get enough. I suggest you quit playing stymies and stick to watching those "Walker, Texas Ranger" reruns.

Gary, Tiger blamed his putting, as he often does this does, for his poor Pebble Beach showing. Is he delusional? He didn't putt well, but he also hit some shots that were mediocre at best or flat-out bad. It seems like he can't bring himself to admit that he's not striking the ball as well as he once did.
— Rick Price, via email

It's not you, Rick, it's him. Do you think Tiger really wants to admit publicly that "Yeah, my swing worked great for three rounds and then when I got under pressure on Sunday, it turned to jelly for four holes and cost me the tournament?" That would bring more questions, the kind Tiger doesn't want to consider. He's not kidding himself. He knows exactly what happened. If the public will swallow bad putting as the answer, it's easier for him to move on and address the fact that while his swing changes are in cement, they're still in wet cement for now.

What's the consensus on Monterey Peninsula Country Club being in the rotation for Pebble Beach? I was there Friday and other than the ocean views, it didn't seem that special.
— Phil Nybro, via email

Go play Poppy Hills, which MPCC replaced in the rotation, and then tell me that MPCC doesn't suddenly feel like Cypress freaking Point, Phil! Great views, great location, fun holes. It's a terrific course for members — I'd join there in a second — and a fun track for the pros. Also, it drains well, which is often of no small importance in February.

I enjoyed listening to Mickelson and Bones on the 18th tee at Pebble Beach as well as the words from Amy as Phil was heading to the scoring tent. I wonder if they will ever be able to get the mike that close to Tiger without having FCC issues?
— Sean Byers, Pittsburgh, via email

Not without the traditional seven-second delay, Sean. Aim the mike at Tiger at your own risk.

Gary, I went to the AT&T on Saturday, my first time seeing Tiger play in person. Tiger gave the crowd absolutely nothing-no smiles, no waves, no appreciation. I found this very disappointing. Has he always been this way? After getting tired of the crowds at Pebble, we moved over to MPCC and followed Vijay Singh. In contrast to his surly reputation, Vijay was courteous, smiling, and even stopped for a picture with me after his round. Vijay represented the tour well.
— Kevin Kelly, via email

Tiger has always been Hogan-like in ignoring the crowds. There will be no eye contact, period. Phil Mickelson typically signs more autographs after one round than Tiger does in a year of tournament play. Vijay is underrated as a personality, mainly because he doesn't like bothering with what he considers an intrusive media.

Gary, Why do I have to miss out on 30 minutes of television coverage between Golf Channel and whatever network has the main coverage? I do not want to watch the pre-game with the Golf Channel people. I switch the channel and come back to the network coverage at 3 p.m. Be curious if ratings drop during that 30 minute window.
— Greg King, West Bloomfield, Mich., via email

Lighten up, Greg. It's the same crew producing both telecasts. Everybody needs lunch and a bathroom break and a chance to sit down for a few minutes, if that's OK with you, instead of going six hours nonstop.

What are your thoughts on Northern Trust snubbing Mike Weir by not offering that two-time past champion a sponsor's exemption?
— Chris Goodyear, via email

They didn't offer Jack Nicklaus (the man won 18 major championships!) one, either. Look, I've kept track of exemptions since the start of last year and written recurring updates about who gets them. The fact is, they belong to the tournament, which can pass them out as they see fit. Jason Gore used Twitter followers to build his case and score an exemption in L.A. Exemptions are like patronage jobs. If you're going to allow them in the first place, you have to live with exemptions you don't agree with. Like Sam Saunders getting the maximum of seven exemptions the last two years strictly because he's Arnold Palmer's grandson. Last year, 31 PGA Tour events handed out 271 exemptions in total. That's a lot of spots to give away based on politics or whom you know. The tour should reconsider the whole concept.

Gary, I've been a sucker for Golf Magazine and Golf Digest Top 100 course lists and have played as many of them as I can. I'm looking to get on their reviewer-rating panel? How do I start? You've got to have connections.
— Matt Bielawa, via email

Pick up a copy of Golf Magazine and write the editor, David Clarke. We don't do rankings here at Sports Illustrated. Golf Digest has a number of designated course-raters but since it is a competitor, surely you don't expect me to hook you up with them? That would be like asking some Harvard grad to get you on the Yale Golf Course. Inappropriate, man.