Tour Confidential: Is Martin Kaymer golf’s new king? Plus, Phil Mickelson’s putting problems and Pinehurst’s new look

June 18, 2014

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. Martin Kaymer followed up his Players Championship by winning this U.S. Open wire-to-wire. Does pro golf have a new boss or do Adam Scott and Bubba Watson still have some claim to the title?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Kaymer is a much better putter and closer than Scott. He has way more grit and on-course smarts than Bubba. His life is a million times more settled than Rory McIlroy's. He's the guy until proven otherwise.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Kaymer wasn't on the radar when he won the Players — this could be simply a super-hot streak, on par with Henrik Stenson's summer/fall run in 2013, though Kaymer's wins are much bigger. Adam and Bubba have shown significantly more consistency, and deserve their present status above Kaymer. That said, Wow! Kaymer just blew these two guys (and everyone else) off the playing field on a course that didn't favor any one style. Could be in three months time, Kaymer regains his No. 1 ranking.

Jessica Marksbury, assistant editor, Golf Magazine (@Jess_Marksbury): YES! Kaymer is the new boss for sure. Scott's win at Colonial was impressive, but Kaymer has both the Players and a major championship under his belt, and that's just this year! In the here-and-now world, he's my No. 1 for sure.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Meet the new boss, different from last month's boss, and very likely different from the boss six months from now. That's the Tour today. Remember when Tiger Woods was boss? He wasn't the kind of guy you'd want to have drinks with after work. I miss him. He was frightening and compelling, and I don't think we'll ever see anyone intimidate his colleagues like that again.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@eamonlynch): Who rules the golf roost is open to debate (but it ain't Bubba). However, let’s take a moment to consider how the Official World Golf Ranking has again been exposed as woefully flawed. After winning the U.S. Open and the Players in the past month, Kaymer is now deemed the 11th best player in the game. This system might have Bernhard Langer ranked higher.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Kaymer dusted the field on the toughest course the guys will play all year, so I'd say he's the boss. We've passed through a stretch that produced several first-time major-winners, but with Kaymer now joining Bubba as a multiple champion, he emphatically adds his name to the list of today's greatest players. And because Kaymer's game is so solid in all areas (Scott can still be a shaky putter, Bubba wavers on courses he can't overpower), I'd put him right at the top. He's the best player in the world right now.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): It's a little hard to say at the moment, what with the speed that things are changing at the top. I'll go with Kaymer, not because he won by eight but because he seems to be able to self-correct when things are going wrong. Even though his coach, Gunter Kessler, was here on site, Kaymer's agent told me he figured out his driver problems by himself between the third and fourth rounds. Impressive.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): Kaymer has won more majors than Scott, is several years younger than both Scott and Bubba, and is the first player to win the Players and the Open in the same year. I don't think there's any question that Kaymer is the new king.

2. In Sunday’s final round, in which early starters like Keegan Bradley and Jim Furyk proved low scores were possible, no one made any sort of charge at Martin Kaymer. Does today’s generation of golfers lack guts?

PASSOV: There's so much money to be made for top 10 finishes and off-course endorsements that the incentive to win isn't as pressing as it was a generation or two ago. Today's contenders aren't lacking guts. They're lacking the combo of talent, patience and creativity to cope with the test that Pinehurst No. 2 threw at them.

MORFIT: I'd say today's generation of golfers sometimes lacks putts, as in made putts. Rory took 125 putts on the week, which was four more than even Phil. That's not very good. The flatstick is what separates Kaymer, as we saw this week and when he made that bomb on 17 at TPC Sawgrass.

RITTER: It's disappointing no one made a charge at Kaymer because we all could've used a little Sunday drama, but I don't attribute that to the pursuers' lack of guts. Pinehurst was just a really hard weekend setup. Only two guys shot under-par rounds on Saturday, and 11 (including Kaymer) went under-par Sunday. The field's best hope was for Kaymer to somehow stumble back to them. Keine chance.

LYNCH: Low scores are always out there on Sunday morning for players who are already thinking about beating traffic to the airport. Sunday afternoons are different. There are plenty of hall of famers who never made a run at Tiger on a Sunday in a major when the opportunity presented itself, but no one is suggesting Phil or Ernie lack competitive guts. It was a blowout win by an excellent golfer. How the rest of the field finished where they did is immaterial.

MARKSBURY: Tough to know. Tiger is the only player I've ever seen in the last decade who's seemed capable of turning on his game at a moment's notice and willing the ball into the hole when he needed it. It's a singular talent, and especially difficult to "force" it at a U.S. Open, so I can't really blame Fowler or Compton for lacking guts. Mostly, they were lacking an opening.

GODICH: It's a heck of a lot easier to play free and easy when you've got no shot at winning. Quite frankly, I was impressed by how Rickie Fowler and Eric Compton held it together. And maybe we should just give credit to Kaymer. You don't beat the field by eight shots without playing lights-out golf.

SENS: More like lack of experience. Aside from Scott, not a lot of major title holders in the realistic mix to start the day. What's more, this wasn't Sunday at the John Deere. Nobody was going to shoot a 63. The best shot anyone had was for Kaymer to stumble, and he didn't, proving that a lack of guts is not his problem.

SHIPNUCK:  Nah, that's not it. Take away Kaymer and all the top guys were bunched around par. It was a very difficult course to go low on. What Kaymer did over the opening 36 holes was historic — give credit where credit is due.

3. Phil Mickelson’s seeking the career slam made Pinehurst one of the most anticipated majors in year. What went wrong for Mickelson, and do you think he’ll ever win the U.S. Open?

MORFIT: Phil admitted he saw so many of his putts miss the hole in the first two rounds he started to lose interest in the rest of his game. The stats back him up here. He hit his fewest number of greens, eight, in the third round, and his fewest number of fairways, five, in the fourth.

SHIPNUCK: He picked the wrong time to get the yips. It's particularly frustrating because last year was one of the best he's ever had with the putter. I think he'll figure out the putting to some degree, but at 44 there's a lot of scar tissue there. If Mickelson can continue to drive the ball this well, he'll remain dangerous at the Open, but it's getting harder and harder to believe he'll ever win one.

MARKSBURY: I think Phil had way too much going on this week. The pressure of trying to win at the site of his first U.S. Open runner-up finish, the insider-trading allegations hanging over his head for the first half of the week, and the late change to the claw grip. That's a lot to handle during a major week. He said himself that he plays his best when no one expects him to, and although we didn't necessarily expect him to win this week, the pressure to perform was certainly there. And after Martin shot those back-to-back 65s, I'm sure he was pretty deflated.

GODICH: Phil hadn't shown much of a pulse coming in, so I'm not surprised by his finish. When he started to struggle on the back nine on Friday, I wondered whether he'd even make the cut. And we all know how this works with Phil. He'll bag his Open when we've all written him off and nobody sees it coming.

RITTER: Time for Phil to release the claw grip. He just didn't putt well at all this week, and that pretty much vaporized any chance he had of contending. Still have to believe he can win a U.S. Open — he's less than a year removed from a major, and he's still one of the best U.S. Open players ever. Why not Chambers Bay next year?

LYNCH:  He drove it lousy and putted poorly, which isn't a good combination in any major (see Tiger's results over the last few years). Phil's erratic driving can be navigated — after all, the Phrankenwood won him the British Open less than a year ago — but the passage of time is unsparingly brutal on streaky putters. He turns 44 today. I suspect Merion was his last great opportunity to win the national Open. Then again, I never thought he'd win a British Open.

PASSOV: Phil didn't play badly, but he didn't do enough right. By his admission, he threw away too many shots in the first two rounds. It was all phases of his game, not just putting. Yet even if he had played superbly, he might have been nowhere near Kaymer at the end. No reason to pick on Phil, specifically. No one challenged Kaymer.

SENS: Phil said it himself. His putting stroke felt poppy, which is Latin for "yippy." Anytime a guy goes to the claw, then away from the claw, in such quick succession, mid-event, take him to the miniature golf course as soon as you can and bet him for all he's worth.  I don't expect him to ever win the U.S. Open, which means he probably will.

4. Did the newly restored Pinehurst No. 2 play easier than expected, tougher, or about the same? Does it deserve another U.S. Open sooner than later?

LYNCH: Pinehurst No. 2 deserves another Open, and will surely get it. But last week can't be a mere experiment for the USGA or a blueprint solely for Pinehurst Opens. It must signal a change in direction. The same imaginative use of firm and fast conditions ought to be employed at future USGA championships instead of reverting to ribbon fairways flanked by deep rough. Those conditions can easily be created at several upcoming venues — Chambers Bay, Erin Hills, Shinnecock Hills and Pebble Beach — if the will exists. 

PASSOV: On Wednesday, I predicted that if it didn't rain too much, the winning score would be between 2-under and 2-over. Except for one guy, I nailed it. I also said if it rained and the course stayed soft, 6-under to 8-under would be required to win. So I came close. It played pretty much how I thought it would. Even with wider fairways than in 2005, no rough, easier-than-expected recoveries from the sandy scrub and soft greens on Thursday and Friday, in the end, Pinehurst played plenty tough. Only three players finished better than 1-over. With what Pinehurst showed the world about restoring a native look, helping the environment and the economics of the game, yet yielding a fair, option-laden test, it absolutely deserves another Open — and soon.

SENS: Easier, but I'd say the restoration had less to do with that than the fact that with Women's Open up next, they couldn't let the greens bake out to the torturous degree that might otherwise have. And for the sake of history, variety and the particular kind of punishment it inflicts, yeah, bring another one here sooner than later.

RITTER: It played exactly to expectations … for 155 of the 156 players in the field. One under par won the B-flight. I enjoyed Pinehurst's lack of rough and all the unpredictable lies from the sandy areas. Kaymer's Saturday escape from the scrub on the 5th hole was the shot of the tournament. I'm okay with the Open returning there in another 7-10 years.

SHIPNUCK: It was interesting to see how aggressive players were from the waste areas — seemed like almost every time they had a go at the green. But the cost for missing the fairway was statistically almost exactly the same as in the previous two Opens, so controlling the ball from those lies was another matter. Because the course played so fast, it played short, and I think that's why more scored under par. But Pinehurst was a fascinating test and clearly cemented its place in the Open rota.

GODICH: Considering the best score after Kaymer was one under par, I'd say No. 2 played about as difficult as the USGA wanted it. I did expect to see more of a penalty for putting the ball in the native areas. It sure seemed like a lot of players got a lot of clean looks when they missed the fairway. It's hard to believe that Pinehurst didn't host its first Open until 1999. Great venue. Great town. The sooner the USGA goes back there, the better.  

MORFIT: It played easier without the rough, and it was a perfect setup for Mickelson, if he'd just been able to make anything on the greens. As for when it should get another U.S. Open, I'd say sooner. It's a great golf town. One caveat: There's something wrong when a guy can miss a fairway way left, hit 7-iron to five feet, and make eagle, the way Kaymer did at the par-5 5th hole Saturday. 

MARKSBURY: By the end of the final round, it looked like a perfect U.S. Open venue on the leaderboard. Only three guys under par? Pretty typical! Except one of those guys blew everyone away by eight shots. I certainly wouldn't say the course "played easy" because of that, though. Kaymer was rewarded for being far superior to the field. And he never made a double bogey! I still can't believe that! Still, Pinehurst No. 2 is not my favorite U.S. Open venue.

5. The new no-rough, brown-edged Pinehurst No. 2 cut water use from 55 millions gallons a year to 15 million gallons a year, according to the USGA. However, critics like Donald Trump said Pinehurst No. 2 was the worst-looking course “in the history of televised golf.” Will golfers and golf-course owners ever embrace browner courses?

MARKSBURY: I understand where the Donald is coming from. I didn't think the course looked that great on TV either. Browned out courses are fun to play, but they aren't what the viewing public is used to — yet. Especially at a U.S. Open. (Could there be a bigger contrast to Merion last year?) Next year, we'll get another wild card in Chambers Bay. I'm excited to see what the USGA will do with that course! The conservation statistics involved here at No. 2 are very compelling, and I think it's an important thing to consider for the future of the game, but people will need to adjust their expectations first.

LYNCH: Can we really expect courses or golfers to embrace firm, brown conditions when Augusta National is continually held up as the pinnacle of American golf courses? Or when the PGA Tour presents the same monotonous, lush, setup every week that demands only execution, not strategic decision-making? Conserving resources (natural and financial) is appealing to courses, but it's a tougher sell to golfers because they are conditioned to expect what is celebrated on TV. So let’s not pretend that their reluctance to embrace firmer conditions is simply a lack of sophistication. Trump treats TV as reality, which is why the only things running fast on his courses are waterfalls.

SHIPNUCK: They better — water is going to usurp oil as this century's most valuable resource. Lush, green, overly fertilized courses are going to become increasingly rare, which is fine by me.

GODICH: They should, but many won't. I loved the look.

PASSOV: Admittedly, if you haven't been exposed to lots of British Isles golf, "brown" is an acquired taste. My dad, my mother-in-law and my brother-in-law's dad all agree with Donald Trump. Give it some time. Some courses and regions are better suited to brown than others. Brown sends a wonderful message for our game and for the future of our game. Let it spread quickly and widely, but where appropriate.

SENS: Are we really going to place weight on the aesthetic input of a grown man who wears his hair like that? Seriously, though, disappointing to hear Trump say that because he knows better and he now cuts such a prominent profile in the game. That said, a number of golf course operators already HAVE embraced browner courses. Have you been to Bandon Dunes? The golfing public hasn't exactly rejected that place.

MORFIT: I hope they do, because it makes sense both financially and environmentally. I liked the way the course looked; it wasn't such a manipulation of nature.

RITTER: Course owners can save serious money with the browner look, so I absolutely think it'll take off. It may not look as nice on TV, but it's more sustainable and fun to play — no more losing balls in the rough, and who wouldn't want to try some crazy shots off those scrubby lies? No. 2 was both retro and a look-ahead rolled into one.

6. NBC Sports delivered its final U.S. Open broadcast this week before Fox Sports takes over next year in Chambers Bay. What did you think of NBC’s coverage and whom would you like to see on the Fox broadcast team next year?

GODICH: I've said this before, and I'll say it again: NBC has the best broadcast team in golf. Fox would be wise to hire 'em all away.    

SHIPNUCK: Johnny is an icon and D. Pepper is terrific, but otherwise I was never dazzled by NBC. I'd like to see Fox continue to hire nothing but new voices, a la Norman. It's definitely time to freshen up the golf telecasts.

LYNCH: NBC gave more airtime to Paula Creamer, a spectator, than it did to Brooks Koepka, who finished T4. That was just one disappointment in a broadcast that was notable for the sense of desperation any time Kaymer missed a fairway, a palpable hope among announcers that he might make a quad and infuse some drama into things. Johnny Miller remains the best play-by-play guy in the game and not having him call a major is a loss for fans. But his lieutenants were dull and stale. Fox may do better with fresh voices, even if they are relatively untested. They should start by hiring Brad Faxon, who offered considerably more insight on Golf Channel than was provided by Peter Jacobsen, who replaced Faxon on NBC three years ago.

MORFIT: Poor NBC. I felt sort of sorry for them, having to try to make this exciting. I liked the way they cut away to the LPGA players arriving at the course, and interviewed Paula Creamer and Inbee Park before the leaders started. I liked that they stayed on Zach as he high-fived the fans after his ace on nine. As for who should be on the Fox team next year, Chamblee would be a good start for any golf-announce team.

MARKSBURY: I've always enjoyed NBC's coverage but I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what Fox brings to the table. Greg Norman was onsite with Joe Buck this week doing practice broadcasts and I would have loved to tune in to compare! Next year's Open will be exciting on several levels.

PASSOV: Sadly, lame-duck NBC was saddled with a completely drama-free weekend. This was the appropriate kind of event to deliver all of those filler features, and they did a nice job with them. I get exhausted every year with the never-ending Father's Day schmaltz — we get it already — but there wasn't much the gang could do to inject life into this one. Good hit with Jimmy Roberts' Erik Compton feature, though his colleague Tim Rosaforte beat him to the punch. Not sure who Fox will raid, but Brandel Chamblee and Tom Weiskopf would be an immediate boost to the credibility factor. 

SENS: To my mind, Miller and Hicks are the best one-two punch in American golf broadcasting, so even though I needed a few extra Alka Seltzers after ingesting all those schmaltzy Father's Day segments, I enjoyed the coverage. But if we can't have that duo, how about Andres Cantor? "Gooooooooool. . . . .goooool . . .de Martin Kaymer!"

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.