PGA Tour Confidential

PGA Tour Confidential

Na Yeon Choi made a birdie on 18 to win at Torrey Pines.
Reed Saxon/AP

Every week of the 2009 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Pretty weird to have no PGA Tour golf on the weekend, isn’t it? It’s the calm before the storm of next week’s FedEx Cup final, the Tour Championship.

The LPGA played at Torrey Pines, an interesting showcase for them. Things seem to be brighter for the LPGA, which has signed a few sponsors since the exit of Carolyn Bivens, but crowds didn’t appear to be huge at Torrey. Did seeing the women play the course where Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate squared off in one of the most memorable U.S. Opens get your blood rushing? Korea’s Na Yeon Choi (the last one in this elite 20-player field) made a clutch putt (much shorter than Tiger’s, but still) for the win. And who’s going to be the LPGA Player of the Year? I’m still leaning toward Jiyai Shin.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It was fun to see Torrey again in the summer, playing hard and fast. And the players certainly took advantage of the ideal conditions — Choi made 10 birdies (!) Saturday to take control of the tourney. That was a week’s worth for Rocco.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I’m here at the Albertsons Boise Open, where most of the PGA Tour pros missed the cut. The greens are fast and brown and near dead, just like a U.S. Open.

Van Sickle: Well, Cam, maybe the U.S. Open ought to come to Idaho. Any potential venues there?

Morfit: Hmmm. Not sure about U.S. Open venues in Idaho, at least not that the USGA would have its eye on. Chambers is the closest one to here and that’s in Tacoma, but I think a lot of courses are Open-worthy if you mess with them enough — Old Works in Anaconda, Mont., a Nicklaus track, is hard enough.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It’s great to see the women at Torrey. As the LPGA tries to re-invent itself yet again, with another new commissioner, and tries to weather the storm of the economy, I think going to world-class courses (easier said than done) is critical. Unfamiliar names on familiar tracks, ones we dream about playing, is at least one way to get us in. Once we’re watching, we can learn the various characters and their personalities. But you have to start with the stage.

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Agree Michael. The LPGA is making the right moves. Most important, while purses are being reduced, events are being renewed. Everyone seems to realize that to play’s the thing. Maybe other sports leagues and players associations with labor contracts up for renewal should take note.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Well, they’re not giving it back out of the goodness of their hearts. They can’t get any more.

Friedman: Agree completely, Jim — but other sports entities are getting ready to not play their seasons if they can’t get what they want.

Van Sickle: This is one thing the LPGA should do more of, if possible. Seeing them play a course we’re used to seeing the men play is great fun. Let’s face it, the public isn’t familiar with most of the LPGA tracks. When they get on Torrey Pines or the Old Course or Oakmont, it’s a great kick. It’s probably not realistic to expect it often, but seeing the finish at Torrey’s familiar 18th was very cool.

Gorant: Think it helps earn respect too. Although you can’t compare the setup at all, it still registers somewhere that the LPGA winner shot 16 under at Torrey. Not what the men do, but it’s still impressive to the average player.

Shipnuck: And they played the yardage that you and I would play, not a mega-7,600 yard monster like the tipped-out Open. It was fun to watch the drama unfold on 18 and think, hmmm, she’s 210 yards from the green, over water, hitting the same club I’d hit. Definitely drives home the pressure of the moment.

Morfit: I agree that you may as well start with a world class venue, since at least that’s relatable. That said, I didn’t watch a shot of the LPGA this week.

David Dusek, deputy editor, It will also make selling the LPGA to sponsors easier if the tour visits well-known courses. Before we started a family, my wife was in charge of event planning for one of the best-known financial services companies on Wall Street. When companies like that are approached about getting involved with an event, the selling point of the venue is critical.

Gorant: Guess the only one who’s even close to Shin for Player of the Year is Cristie Kerr, with one win and 11 top 10s, but that’s not much of an argument. Lorena proved this year exactly how taxing it is to pick out china patterns and work out seating arrangements.

Shipnuck: The awards are all Shin’s to lose — P.O.Y, R.O.Y, money list — but she hurt herself today with a sloppy 74. Had she won, she could have started practicing her various acceptance speeches.

Van Sickle: Seems like the LPGA could really use someone to step up and fill the superstar void temporarily left by Ochoa. It would be a great time for Kerr or Paula Creamer or, of course, Michelle Wie, to get hot and carry the tour for a while. The international talent seems a little too fierce, though.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: The LPGA Tour has never thrived in the major markets. It’s always been a minor-league-town tour (Corning, Toledo, Pittsford), and that hasn’t always been a bad thing. It makes them the main attraction. I don’t think most people care about seeing the women play at Torrey Pines, since no one really thinks of it as a great golf course. Great things have happened there and it’s pretty, but it’s not a memorable layout.

Gorant: I remember it.

Bamberger: You can find iconic courses anywhere: San Diego, Columbus, Toledo. Interesting courses always make for better TV, for the pleasure of looking at golf holes and the quality of competition. Torrey’s not great, but it’s interesting and beautiful, and it has a history. It’s part of the draw.

Van Sickle: Is this just a low point in the Lorena Ochoa curve, or his her reign as a dominant player over?

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I’m still amazed by Ochoa’s struggles this year. During the broadcast of the Canadian Women’s Open this year, she got so angry that she took a huge chunk of sod out of a fairway. Judy Rankin said basically, “This was not the Lorena Ochoa that we knew a couple of years ago.” It was the perfect summation of Ochoa’s season.

Friedman: I’d vote for a lull, an off year. If she has another one next year, it’s more than that.

Shipnuck: The light LPGA schedule suits Lorena well. Next year she’ll have the wedding drama behind her and plenty of off weeks to devote to her new family. I think she’ll have a huge 2010.

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Gorant: Agree. She’s earned the benefit of the doubt. If she goes winless again next year, though, that’s it, I’m officially off the bandwagon.

Evans: Lorena is a wife and stepmother and an icon in Mexico. Golf is probably not as important to her as it once was.

Dusek: The real void was created by Annika’s retirement. Ochoa was clearly the better player, but Annika had crossed over a lot more than Lorena.

Van Sickle: Let’s talk about this dark week in the PGA Tour schedule. Does this punch a hole in the FedEx Cup momentum, or will this week’s barrage of Tiger stories from East Lake get the hype back? Right now, I feel like some air has been let out of the balloon.

Shipnuck: I was at the BMW and Cink and Stricker were both complaining of stiff backs and everyone seemed pretty fried from all the golf that dated back to the Bridgestone. I think the off week gives everyone the chance to mellow out and bring their respective A-games to the Tour Championship.

Bamberger: Week off = rally killer.

Friedman: Yes, I think the bye week interrupted some momentum, particularly after a Tiger win. (I feel the same way about the two-week wait for the Super Bowl.) It argues for the bye week coming in the middle, after the second FedEx Cup tournament.

Shipnuck: I agree with Dick’s points, and so do a lot of players. I think next year the off week will come after the second event.

Van Sickle: It’s pretty obvious the week off should come after Boston, where the event ends on a Monday, then come back and finish the final two weeks. No matter where the dark week falls, though, it still seems to be, like Bamberger said, a rally-killer. Nothing Tiger or Phil or Stricker or Heath can’t save, however.

Shipnuck: Uh, not Heath. He’s not saving anything.

Van Sickle: Sure he is. Heath is the Designated Cinderella Underdog. As long as he’s beating Tiger by a shot. Does Tiger have to be in the mix to make this FedEx Cup a success? Or would a good finish without him be good enough? And if not, are we all way too dependent upon Tiger?

Friedman: Tiger is guaranteed to be in the mix, one way or another, so that’ll help the Nielsens. All things considered, the BMW got respectable numbers against the NFL openers and U.S. Open tennis (and baseball).

Bamberger: Until gambling on golf becomes part of the mainstream betting action, like college and pro football, the PGA Tour will never have a real chance to make a mark in the fall. When you have your own money on the line, or your alma mater is playing, you connect with the pictures on your tube in a totally different way. And I don’t think the wise heads in Ponta Vedra Beach would want the Tour to turn into a haven for gamblers anyhow, although a Tiger-Phil-Heath trifecta sounds pretty good.

Van Sickle: Great point by Bamberger. The NFL was huge before, with lots of betting, and fantasy football has put it way over the top as the national past time. Golf can’t compete with that. Baseball might even be in tough shape if not for fantasy leagues.

Morfit: We are WAY too dependent on Tiger in every way you can think of. On the other hand, we’re all in his debt.

Dusek: Exactly. It’s wonderful to have the world’s most famous athlete competing in your sport, but he’s going to eclipse so many other players and events that things get out of hand. All in all, I think golf is better for having Tiger, but it’s a double-edged sword.

Morfit: One byproduct of Tiger is he’s made almost everyone else on the PGA Tour and on any other tour more anonymous. No one knows the difference between the middle management here at the Nationwide event in Boise and a regular Tour event like, say, GGO.

Van Sickle: I still think the potential for two winners at one tournament is counterproductive. Like last year, when Camilo Villegas won at East Lake and Vijay was crowned FedEx Cup champ. That may not happen this year, but still — maybe the answer is to make it all a qualifier for the last week, when 30 players start from ground zero in a four-day sprint for the $10 million prize. If I were a sponsor, I’m not sure I’d drop big money to put my name on an event, like the BMW, when every story keeps talking about FedEx Cup. I’m not sure I’d be getting my money’s worth.

Dusek: With the criticism Liberty National received, and a relatively unknown winner in Heath Slocum, do you think Barclay’s got the return on the investment it hoped for?

Friedman: NASCAR has the same issue. The final race of the Sprint Cup series is the Ford 400. Maybe this is just the way of modern sponsorship.

Gorant: All I know is that every time they showed a shot of the New York skyline, Kelly Tilghman said, “The Barclays building is in there somewhere.”

Evans: It’s fairly good business to have your brand seen and mentioned a million times over the course of one week. Plus, Barclays, a British Bank, is trying to build some brand recognition in the states after taking over Lehman Brothers.

Bamberger: Gary, you’ve had it right all along: cumulative scores for four events. It’s better this year, but it still makes no sense.

Dusek: That would be interesting, but it’s too bad the Tour Championship can’t be a match play event. The powers that be are just too afraid of losing stars in early rounds.

Gorant: I like the cumulative thing too, but you could still have one guy win the final event while another guy wins the FedEx Cup.

Van Sickle: True, but that’s a given with any system, barring match play or a total reset to zero. If a guy wins all three legs of the FedEx Cup going into Atlanta, shouldn’t he have the Cup locked up? I think so.

Pretty interesting interview with Lanny Wadkins in Golf Magazine this month. Since it’s a slow week, what do you think about the golf Hall of Fame? Now that Lanny’s in, who’s left to induct next year? Will Davis Love and/or Mark O’Meara get the vote? Ian Woosnam and Monty? Should they? There are others down the road, like Phil and Padraig Harrington, obviously.

Bamberger: Monty’s a thoroughbred. I don’t care that he never won a major or in the U.S. He dominated Europe like almost no one else ever has, won Ryder Cups for the Euros, talked about the game with passion, and he will be a lightning-rod Ryder Cup captain. He’s been a major golfing figure. I’d vote for him in a heartbeat.

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Dusek: I remember the Monty Hall of Fame debate got fairly heated the last time we discussed it. I agree that he played with a lot of passion, and that Ryder Cup record and Order of Merit streak are very impressive, but he was never the dominant player in the game and never won a major. For me, the Hall of Fame has to be a place where the all-time greats, the legends, are separated from the excellent players. Monty was an excellent player.

Gorant: It has always seemed like 15 wins and at least two majors were the unofficial cutoff for the Hall, but Lanny blows that up. Larry Nelson was short on wins but had multiple majors, so you could live with that. Those examples would seem to open the door for guys like O’Meara and Love. Phil and Paddy are locks, as is Ernie.

Morfit: David Graham. Only Aussie adaptable enough to win two separate majors. If Aoki is in with no majors …

Van Sickle: Davis won a PGA and a couple of Players, but he wasn’t exactly a regular contender in the majors. O’Meara won pretty much the only two majors he contended in. It is tough to get a feel for where the bar should be set for the Hall. If it gets set higher, we’re going to be out of candidates pretty darned soon.

Bamberger: O’Meara’s U.S. Amateur probably gets him in. If he would win one of the three senior majors — U.S. Open, PGA, British — he’d be a lock, but that’s asking a lot.

Dusek: Would running out of candidates be a bad thing? More importantly, would that be the wrong thing?

Evans: The Baseball Hall of Fame used to mean a ton of money at card shows and financial stakes in restaurants. But I don’t think Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds could give a darn about the Hall, with all their millions. What do you get for being in the World Golf Hall of Fame? Does it mean that someone will come and offer Lanny a chance to build a golf course in Dubai? Probably not? This may sound cynical to you guys, but it’s the truth. Lanny already had the respect of everybody he cared about anyway. Isn’t that the point?

Gorant: I don’t know. Lanny seemed pretty concerned about making it and pretty happy to be there. Felt like it meant something to him reading that interview.

Van Sickle: It does mean something to him. Lanny has been miffed for years that Kite and Strange got in before he did. You think it doesn’t mean something to Judy Rankin and Juli Inkster to be in the Hall? It’s an intangible, yes. There’s no card shows for ex-golfers. The Hall is about all there is, take it or leave it.

Friedman: Almost every top player wants that validation. Look how happy Jim Rice was to finally get into Cooperstown.

Van Sickle: I agree with Dave’s comments about Monty, but I think that fine line has already been crossed. And no matter what we think, the PGA Tour is going to keep inducting people every year to keep their Hall of Fame investment growing. Maybe there should be the occasional dark year or moratorium on inductees, but I don’t think that will happen.

Gorant: There are some real questionable/borderline guys in there now. That’s okay here and there because the debate generates some publicity, but too much of it drags the whole thing down.

Friedman: I don’t care who gets in, as long as they don’t use Michael Jordan’s recent induction speech as a template!

Gorant: Careful Dick, if Jordan reads this you’ll be on his revenge list.

Friedman: I was NBA editor for four years during which he wouldn’t talk to us. I think I have been suitably inoculated!

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