Golf’s Most Overrated and Underrated

January 22, 2013

Tired of hearing your buddies say Tiger vs. Phil is a rivalry for the ages and that Bubba Watson is the definition of clutch? Our list of Golf's Most Overrated/Underrated will set 'em straight.


Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson

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Phil and Tiger at 2012 U.S. Open.

Overrated: Phil vs. Tiger
Golf pundits make a lot of the bad blood between them. But bad blood alone does not a rivalry make. Head-to-head clashes down the stretch in big events — that's what's required. And on those terms, Phil and Tiger offer very little. Of course, there was their pairing at the 2004 Ryder Cup, which went about as well as Tim Herron in a Speedo. But a great rivalry? More like two greats who just don't get along.

Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino

Trevino and Nicklaus at 1972 U.S. Open, won by Nicklaus.

Underrated: Nicklaus vs. Trevino
Nicklaus vs. Watson furnished more famous highlights. Nicklaus vs. Palmer supplied more storylines. But when it came to beating Jack when it really mattered, neither Tom nor Arnie surpassed Trevino, who snatched four majors from the Bear's jaws, twice when they competed head-to-head. "You can get the Man sometimes," Trevino once said. "But you can't get him most of the time." It's a measure of their rivalry that the Merry Mex came close to proving himself wrong.

Overrated: Golf in the Kingdom
Sure, it gave us Shivas Irons, a memorable mystic emerging from the mists. But mostly what we're talking about here is long-winded, New Age drivel — faux-spirituality masquerading as something deep. No wonder it gave rise to an unwatchable movie. It began as a largely unreadable book.

Underrated: A Course Called Ireland
"A search for a country, a pint and the next tee." So reads the subtitle of Tom Coyne's fine work. True to that promise, in vivid and often very funny writing, he introduces us to all three.


Bubba Watson

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Bubba at 2012 Thailand Golf Championship

Overrated: Bubba Watson
Public perception: Creative closer who won the Masters with a steely pitching wedge from the pine straw. Reality: Twitchy nervous-wreck who missed a yawning fairway on the first hole of the playoff at Augusta, but lucked out to be left with a gaping opening the trees. A better barometer of Bubba under pressure: His single's play in the 2012 Ryder Cup.

Billy Casper

Jerry Cooke/SI
Billy Casper

Underrated: Billy Casper
Aside from Jack, Tiger and Seve at their best, if you really needed someone to make a putt, that someone would be Casper, whose 25-footer to pull even with Palmer in a playoff at the '66 U.S. Open is just one instance of his all-around clutch play. The man won 51 times on Tour, in the age of "The Big Three" (Nicklaus, Palmer and Player), and captured more career Ryder Cup points than any American in history.


Torrey Pines

Larry Lambrecht
The third hole at the Torrey Pines South, a Jones' redesign.

Overrated: Rees Jones
They call him "The Open Doctor." But look at the results of some recent surgeries. Suspect scalpel work on the 18th at Bethpage Black. A botched operation (Phil Mickelson even said so) at Torrey Pines. And don't forget Cog Hill, which Tour pros roundly dissed (and which the Tour abandoned) after Jones redesigned it. Maybe we should call him Dr. Death instead.

Southern Dunes

The 16th hole at Southern Dunes.

Underrated: Brian Curley
If you've played Southern Dunes in Arizona or the Plantation in Palm Springs, you've been treated to the artistry of Brian Curley and his design partner, Lee Schmidt. But unless you've teed it up a lot in China, where the duo do most of their work these days, you've missed out on stunners like Stone Forest (pictured above), which is almost worth a trip halfway around the world.

Overrated: Caddyshack
It's a very funny film, so it's got that going for it. But it isn't a golf movie. It's a cinematic send-up of class divides, with Bill Murray doing hilarious ad-lib and a candy bar starring as a floating turd.

Underrated: Pat and Mike
Ok. It's not a golf movie either. It's an (Oscar-nominated) romantic comedy set partly on a golf course. But it's got Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, which alone makes it better than pretty much any golf movie ever made.

Overrated: The Green Jacket
Yes, a Masters win is the triumph of all triumphs. But the garment that comes with it is so gaudy that a carnival barker would refuse to put it on. Not that the winner has to worry. After a year, the jacket has to stay in their locker at the club.

Heath Slocum

Heath Slocum at the 2004 Chrysler Classic.

Underrated: The Conquistadore's Helmet
Is that Russell Crowe in Gladiator? Or Kirk Douglas in Spartacus? Wait. No. It's Heath Slocum, winner of the 2004 Chrysler Classic of Tucson, donning the coolest-looking prize in golf. How underrated is the metal headwear? So much so that the tournament it starred in is now defunct.


Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo

Eric Risberg/AP
Nick Faldo (right) and Johnny Miller share the broadcast booth at the 2012 Tournament of Champions in Maui.

Overrated: Nick Faldo
If you had a nickel for every time he uses the word "trundle," you could buy him a first-edition Roget's Thesaurus. As for insights, here's what we learn from listening to Sir Nick (by the way, please spare us on-air use of that stuffy title): six major wins and a British accent go a long way toward furthering a broadcast career.

Matt Gogel

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Matt Gogel at the 2008 Bob Hope Classic.

Underrated: Matt Gogel
Knowledgeable. Lucid. To the point. No wonder he's grown from Golf Channel bit-player to a prominent voice in the booth each week.


Rory McIlroy, Caroline Wozniacki

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Rory and Caroline sit courtside at a Miami Heat game in December 2012

Overrated: McWozniacki
They're charming together. But on their own, neither is the stuff of centerfolds.

Matt and Melissa Weber-Jones

Matt and Melissa Weber-Jones

Underrated: Melissa Weber-Jones
When she walked across the driving range at Bethpage, the former Miss Idaho (and wife of Tour pro Matt Jones) got a standing ovation. 'Nuff said.

Overrated: Playing a new ball
Sure, they're nice and shiny. But for the average golfer, the difference in performance between a pricy new ball and a 50-cent beater is so minor, you'll notice it less than the extra money you spent.

Underrated: A new glove
A soft, tacky new glove provides a surer grip, which bolsters confidence, which improves scores. Also, it looks good. Time to toss that ratty old one away.

Overrated: Ben Crane
Dig the enthusiasm behind the viral videos. But let's be honest: the laughs are a few and far between from this likeable guy gone Gagnam-style.

Underrated: Luke Donald
Take his roast of golf writers at a recent gala dinner, where he ribbed a scribe for being out-of-touch. "I was number one for six weeks," Donald said, "and (he) still thought I was Tom Lewis." Despite years in the States, Donald has retained his wry British wit.



Eighth hole at Doral's Blue Monster Course

Overrated: Doral
But let's hope Donald Trump remedies that.

Underrated: Forest Dunes
In and out of bankruptcy, in the middle-of-nowhere Michigan, Tom Weiskopf's gem should not be missed, but often is.

Overrated: Playing by all the rules
Going back to the tee when you can't find your ball? Leave that to the Tour pros. For most of us mortals, strict adherence to the letter of the law leads to little more than agonizing pace of play.

Underrated: Walking
Never mind the modern ball and the belly-putter, no technological "advance" has done more damage to the game than the golf cart.


Fred Couples

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Fred Couples at the 2010 Masters.

Overrated: Fred Couples
Love the guy. But a Hall of Famer? Fifteen wins on Tour and one major that might not have been had his ball not somehow stayed up on the bank of the 12th hole on Sunday at Augusta, in flagrant defiance of the laws of physics.

Paul Azinger

Paul Azinger at the 1993 PGA Championship.

Underrated: Paul Azinger
He doesn't have Couples's cuddly public persona. But with 12 Tour wins and one major to his credit, he's got a comparable record. Just no plaque at the Hall of Fame.

Overrated: Keep your head down
"It's been handed out like aspirin for well over a century," says Golf Magazine's Top 100 instructor Ed Ibarguen. "Ironically, it only creates more problems in the swing. The human body will not function properly if the unwitting golfer has their chin pinned to their chest and their neck at a downward angle that prevents the rest of their body from being able to flow naturally back and through."

Underrated: Relax and don't take yourself so seriously
Because, frankly, you're not that important, and you're not that good.

Overrated: "Does your husband play here too?"
Or any other of the mindless cliches that golfers spout out to their playing partners.

Underrated: Saying nothing
Need we say more?


Rickie Fowler

Rickie Fowler at the 2013 Tournament of Champions in Maui.

Overrated: Rickie Fowler
Give him credit for being different, though by different we mean dressing like a Creamsicle.

Ryan Moore

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Ryan Moore at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open.

Underrated: Ryan Moore
Tasteful, throwback threads that a man could wear proudly on or off the course. Now, to do something about that potbelly.

Overrated: Top 100 in the Official World Golf Rankings
Is Bernd Wiesberger really the 64th best golfer in the world? He is according to a byzantine ranking system, which relies heavily on strength-of-field ratings that very often have little to do with the number of quality players in the field.

Underrated: Top 10 Finishes on Tour
Winning, schminning. You keep your anonymity, save yourself hours of press conferences and autograph sessions, and you still can pay off that third house in Aspen.


Belley Putter

Titleist Kombi long belly putter.

Overrated: Belly Putters
Three of the last four majors were won by players with belly putters. But 97 of the last 100 were not. It's not a non-issue. It's also not as a big an issue as it's been made out to be.

Beta Blockers

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Underrated: Beta Blockers
They're banned by the PGA Tour. But the scientific jury is still out on whether beta blockers actually enhance athletic performance. Then there's this: what if a golfer takes them for legitimate health reasons (high blood pressure, say) or to maintain his blood levels within normal human range? That's what journeyman pro Doug Barron claimed he was doing when he sued to block the ban. Though Barron filed the suit in 2009, the questions it raised linger still.


Greg Norman

Norman on Sunday at the 1996 Masters.

Overrated: '96 Masters
Yes, his game went AWOL. But you could argue that the icy Faldo caught him as much as Norman coughed it up.

Underrated: '86 Masters
Often lost in the gushing recitations of Jack's heroics is this cold, hard fact: a par on 18, from the middle of the fairway, and Norman would have forced a playoff.