Jordan Spieth and Jim Furyk In Tour Confidential

April 20, 2015

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. Jim Furyk charged into contention on Sunday and won a playoff in the RBC Heritage, five years and 31 top-10 finishes after his last victory in 2010. When we think of Jim Furyk in 20 years, how will he be remembered?

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@JoePassov): First, we will remember that bizarre swing, memorably described by David Feherty as resembling an octopus falling out of a tree. We’ll also recall his thoughtful, unvarnished answers to our questions, even when he wasn’t happy about the questions. As a player, he’s a low-rung Hall-of-Famer, in the mold of Tom Kite/Fred Couples/Davis Love III/Lanny Wadkins. Buncha wins, respected Ryder Cupper, frequent contender in majors. This exclamation point win will make me forget all about those disappointments from 2010-2015, though I’ll never forget his hard-luck 5-Hour Energy endorsement amid all of those fast fades.  

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: As the last of the independents, although Spieth does things his own way, too. Jim has used intelligence as much as anything to survive all these years. He’ll likely finish in the Hall of Fame, and, like DL3 before him, he’ll likely captain multiple RC teams. He’s not going anywhere. He’s a lifer.

Coleman McDowell, associate editor, (@ColemanMcDowell): A really solid driver of the ball. After his first three years on Tour, he only had more missed cuts than top-10s twice. And he did it while never cracking the top 100 in driving distance. His key: only finishing outside the top 25 in driving accuracy three times. Oh yeah, he’s also earned more than $63 million. That’s fourth all-time behind Tiger, Phil and Vijay. 

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): As a guy who got pretty much everything out of his game. He’s had a remarkable career for a short-hitter in a power-dominated era. We’d all like to see more wins, but his consistency is pretty mind-blowing.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens): If it all were to end now, his epitaph might read: better than he coulda, worse than he shoulda. The steely reputation he had early in his career has given way to images of Sunday fades and crucial missed putts in the Ryder Cup. Which is a bit cruel, since the guy has had a career most Tour pros would envy.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): He’ll be remembered as a guy with a funny swing who somehow made it work and played his way into the Hall of Fame. And he’ll be remembered as a human ATM machine. Furyk’s prime coincided with the Tiger era, and yeah, he didn’t always close the deal, but he wouldn’t have banked all those top-10 finishes and all that coin without a rare and admirable consistency. 

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Furyk will be remembered for his unique swing more than his consistency, his scoring skills or for helping take the stigma away from cross-handed putting. He’ll be remembered as a U.S. Open champion, which puts him in an elite class.

2. Jordan Spieth chose to honor his commitment and play the RBC Heritage, following an exhausting Masters week and subsequent media blitz in NYC. Where does Spieth’s second-round 62 rank among great rounds in recent years and how impressed were you with his T11?

SENS: Given the context (the second round of a relatively low-wattage event on a score-able course), this doesn’t qualify as anywhere near historic. Plus, he’s a 21-year-old at the top of his game who should be able to handle a few late nights and a swing through New York. Yeah, it takes mental focus to follow up on a high like Augusta. But this is his job, and let’s not make it sound tougher than the coal mines. In the end, as Spieth himself would probably say, this is what he’s supposed to do. 

SHIPNUCK: The entire week was a homerun – he killed it on his NYC media tour and the showing in Hilton Head was a monument to his professionalism and intensity. The kid is special in a lot of ways.

PASSOV: Funny how Spieth referenced Bubba Watson so many times in the aftermath interviews, because socially, he’s like the anti-Bubba. During the media-fest, Spieth was patient, funny and polished – like he was born to win majors and do these inane Q&As. He just seems like a complete class act. Not only did he show up for the Heritage, he was fired up after a poor first round, refusing to make excuses and making it clear that he absolutely wanted to be around for the weekend. Hey, he’s 21, he’s got energy. That 62, however, and subsequent T11, should tell you all you need to know about Jordan Spieth’s competitive spirit.

VAN SICKLE: You have to give Spieth a tip of the visor for playing the Heritage. His good showing just tells you that being mentally prepared is just as important as being physically prepared. He’s building more admirers every day.

MORFIT: I’d rank Spieth’s second-round 62 a stroke behind Troy Merritt’s second-round 61. (I have to give Merritt props; he’s from Idaho.) That said, it was mighty impressive. Thankfully, the young Texan gets this week off. He deserves a break.

BAMBERGER: The way he’s playing, he can T11 in his sleep. Or in his lack of sleep. You should honor your commitments, not be praised for doing so.

MCDOWELL: It’s more impressive he conducted 25 interviews in a whirlwind tour of NYC and never made a misstep that went viral.


3. Not content with his record-breaking first-round 71 at the Masters, 65-year-old Tom Watson made the cut at the RBC Heritage, opening with rounds of 72-70, then added a 69 in Round 3. How impressive are these achievements? What’s the greatest “old age” feat in golf?

VAN SICKLE: Watson’s near-miss at Turnberry in the 2009 British Open as a 59-year-old ranks among the great geezer feats. Gene Sarazen famously aced Troon’s Postage Stamp hole at 71, but one great shot doesn’t compare to Watson’s 72-hole showing at 59. 

BAMBERGER: What Watson did is stunning. I think he’s still leaving a mark on the game. He is very aware that Sam Snead played really, really good golf through age 75, with a swing and body that would not quit, and Watson would like to do the same.

PASSOV: If Tom Watson isn’t careful, he’s going to make us forget all about the 2014 Ryder Cup ugliness. His efforts the past two weeks border on the astonishing. There’s only one other guy in his league, Sam Snead, and Watson is either breaking his records or threatening to. I’m still in awe of Snead making a playoff in the 1991 Masters Par-3 event at age 78, but the best age feat of all belongs to Watson, who was one unlucky bounce away after a perfectly struck 8-iron from winning the Open at age 59. 

MORFIT: For a while, Gary Player was the oldest to make the cut at the Open since WWII (59 at St. Andrews in 1995). We should all age so well. His diet and exercise regimen is something we should all aspire to.

SHIPNUCK: They’re impressive, for sure, and just another way to burnish the legend. Watson’s run at the 2009 Open is probably the greatest senior golf ever, though Nicklaus at the 1998 Masters is vastly underrated: at 58, he arrived on the 8th tee only two strokes off the lead. If he doesn’t miss a short birdie putt on the 9th hole, who knows what bedlam would have ensued. A tie for sixth is still pretty awesome.

SENS: Very. Look around the landscape. No one of Watson’s age is competing anywhere near that level. His own turn at Turnberry in 2009 ranks right up there for all-time old age feats. But in the end, no one tops this guy.

MCDOWELL: It’s 17 years since Watson last won a PGA Tour event, and he’s still hanging around for the weekend while guys like Patrick Reed and Zach Johnson were slamming their trunks on Friday. But I like the 103-year-old who made an ace last year on a 114-yard par-3 with a driver. 

4. Pros seem to rave about Harbour Town, yet the RBC Heritage never draws the best field and the course performs respectably, but no better, in course rankings lists. How does Harbour Town rate with you?

PASSOV: In my brief heyday, I was a short, straight hitter who enjoyed working the ball and who thrived at the placement game. I loved Harbour Town. I totally get why the pros love it. They get to practice old-fashioned skills on an easy walking course with flat fairways and tiny greens that yield a lot of straight putts. In recent years, it’s become trendy to emphasize contour in fairways and on greens and offer roomy landing areas where angles are critical. The problem is that most pros simply bomb it over those design features. Harbour Town keeps ’em honest. It’s almost a one-off on Tour these days, where precision far outweighs power. Flat, yes, but Harbour Town is overflowing with memorable holes. 

SHIPNUCK: It’s a wonderful event, with so much charm and sense of place. The date is a problem – post-Masters ennui means a lot of top players never show – and the claustrophobic course also scares off big hitters and those who don’t enjoy quirks like being on the edge of the fairway but having basically no shot.

MCDOWELL: After walking the course, you can see why Bubba Watson would rather play in China than make the drive to Hilton Head. The course demands respect and thoughtfulness off the tee, and that’s a big reason Furyk, Kuchar and G-Mac are the most recent winners. The atmosphere has to be a breath of fresh air after having green jackets surrounding you the previous week.

SENS: I’ve only walked it; never played it. But I’m a big Pete Dye fan and dig watching the pros take on a layout that asks for something subtler than the usual bomb-and-gauge of a non-major event. 

BAMBERGER: All the smart Tour players love it to death. It has a great finish, but whenever I’ve been there I feel like you’re playing through people’s backyards. It may not be cramped but it feels like it is.

VAN SICKLE: Harbour Town is a delightful resort course (it has had maintenance issues at times over the past two decades) and is a fun course to play. It’s a different kind of challenge where accuracy off the tee matters and short game matters as well because the greens are small. It’s a nice break from the bomb-and-gouge TPC courses on tour. Harbour Town isn’t nearly as challenging now as when it was built, but it’s a good tour stop.

MORFIT: I love the relaxed vibe there, and you can’t beat hanging out at the Quarterdeck, on the water, after the round. It’s a very pretty place. 


5. Sei Young Kim holed a chip shot to tie Inbee Park on the 72nd hole, then dunked her approach for an eagle on the first playoff hole to win the LPGA’s LOTTE event in Hawaii. The telecast ended at 11:25 EST on a Saturday night. Good decision to go prime-time with this tournament, or is there a better alternative?

PASSOV: I finished dinner out west and flipped to the women’s golf. My thought was to see how Inbee Park’s remarkable putting stroke was looking these days, and then things got interesting and I got hooked. I don’t know if there’s a right answer as to when the LPGA should air a second-tier event like this. With those interchangeable names and a forgettable course, I wouldn’t have deliberately watched it on any day or time. Yet, when things got competitive – and the drama soared – I was pretty pleased with my viewing decision.  

MORFIT:When I think of golf tournaments, I think either Thursday through Sunday or Friday through Sunday. There are rare cases where it’s Wednesday through Sunday (the WGC-Match Play) or Friday through Monday (Hyundai TOC, which will go back to a Sunday finish next year). But I think by and large it’s a better idea to end the tournament on Sunday, as that’s when golf fans are most likely to be looking for the broadcast on TV.

VAN SICKLE: Prime time is better for attracting more viewers in theory. What would be better for the LPGA would be coverage by one of the major networks such as CBS, NBC or ESPN instead of Golf Channel and its tiny audience.

MCDOWELL: The LPGA should, and does, try creative ways to market their sport that’s overflowing with marketable talent at the moment. Anything out of the box is a thumbs up. 

SHIPNUCK: It’s a wonderful event, with so much charm and sense of place. The date is a problem – post-Masters ennui means a lot of top players never show – and the claustrophobic course also scares off big hitters and those who don’t enjoy quirks like being on the edge of the fairway but having basically no shot.

BAMBERGER: I don’t know anything about TV programming but I do know women’s golf is more fun to watch than it has been in decades. Sei Young Kim went Craig Perks on us. 

SENS: Well, I watched it live, though that may say more about my social life than it does about the savvy of a Saturday-broadcast decision. That said, I like the idea of mixing it up. Given all the competition for our sporting attention on a Sunday, why not try something different to attract some extra eyeballs? Plus, it gives us lonely hearts something to do.

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