PGA Tour Confidential: AT&T National

PGA Tour Confidential: AT&T National


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.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Howdy, y’all. We begin not with golf but tennis. Watching the Wimbledon final today, you always had the sense that Federer would win but Roddick played with such heart and panache it was impossible not to root for him. In defeat his reputation was elevated as much as Federer’s in victory. Which brings us to the AT&T National. It was probably fated that the host would win but I was most interested in how Anthony Kim would play when paired for the first time with Tiger, and I have to say I was very disappointed. The guy has as much firepower as anyone on Tour but Kim made nary a back-nine birdie and seemed strangely docile, showing none of Roddick’s passion or aggression. What did you all think of the Great Belt Buckle?

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Don’t know about Kim but love your belt buckle line. Actually, I predicted Kim would shoot a 74 today, so he did three strokes better than I expected. His Sergio takedown at the Ryder Cup gave reason to believe he would be unbothered, but Sergio ain’t no Tiger.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Roddick played his guts out against a legend, with legends like Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver and Pete Sampras looking on from the Royal Box. They competed on holy ground, the Centre Court at Wimbledon, and Roddick looked gutted by the loss. I have trouble envisioning Kim being that openly crushed in defeat.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Anthony Kim is enjoying the lifestyle and perks of being a successful Tour pro: the cars, the entourages, the big house and easy money overseas to play in second-rate events. But he’s not yet a big-time player with staying power. Sometimes I think the media is more in love with the thought of him — the flashy belt buckle and swagger — than it is with his golf game. Today he showed why he’s a pretender.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: As for pretenders, with Phil on the sidelines, who the hell is the No. 2 player in the world right now? Lucas Glover? Bryce Molder? Kenny Perry? Man, what happened to everybody? No one else is putting together any consistently good play and/or wins.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Kim has two wins and a Ryder Cup at age 24. Pretender, Farrell, isn’t the word that comes to mind. Youngster, sure.

Evans: I’m standing by pretender until Kim competes every week.

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I was worried for a while that he would set a record-for most times losing his grip and swinging one-handed. But let’s give him a little credit, Farrell. He shot a sizzling 62 in the first round, and after a 70, bounced back yesterday to grab a share of the lead. He’s not the only guy who’s wilted in the glare of Tiger.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tony Kim showed he’s still a kid today. It’s nice to see youth intimidated. It shows a sort of intelligence. He’s not ready and he knows it. The question is what he’ll do next: retreat or man-up.

Shipnuck: Let’s hope it’s a man-up. This season has been defined by the poor performances of the so-called headliners and I, for one, am tired of it!

Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Kim is also working through some swing issues, which explains his erratic play from round to round.

Hack: AK was a bit like Luke facing Vader in Empire Strikes back — not ready to match light sabers with the big man. Luke lost an arm that day. Also learned that the big man was his daddy.

Van Sickle: Right after that he learned the chick he had the hots for was his sister.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: We all make so much of this mind stuff — is he ready for prime time? Can he handle it? They wheeled a guy up the 18th fairway who lost two legs, two arms and one eye in Iraq. That guy was really under fire. Yes, golf plays with the mind, but it’s not nearly as complicated or intense as the media make it out to be. That’s why Tiger is so dang good. He doesn’t listen to or think about any of the garbage everybody else takes on. As a kid, Tiger called it the “loser loop,” according to his childhood coach, Rudy Duran. Tiger stayed away from locker rooms, all the golf chit-chat, etc., because that stuff was for losers. He wanted to be a winner.

Van Sickle: I think Tiger is less susceptible to pressure because his technique is so solid and so repeatable. Those reps pay off.

Shipnuck: The thing I love about Tiger is that early in the back nine he can hit it in a hazard and have to take a drop, and then on the next hole fat a sand wedge into a bunker. But on the closing holes, when it really matters, he simply gets it done. It speaks to the clarity that Lipsey referred to, and three decades of positive reinforcement.

Lipsey: Tiger’s 33. Scary, but true, as AS points out, that he’s had three decades of positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement for my toddlers happens when they bring a dirty dish into the kitchen. Earl clearly had a diapered Tiger on the AP program.

Shipnuck: He’ll need all that reinforcement at his next start, the British Open, which begins a week from Thursday at Turnberry. This is the third time this year Tiger has won his final start before a major. After the Memorial most of you seemed to want to cancel the U.S. Open and declare Tiger the winner. I wasn’t so sure, given his inability all year to put together four clean rounds in a row. I’m still not convinced the great man will get it done at Turnberry. This win was a testament to Tiger’s scrambling and the fact that he’s the greatest winner in the history of sports, but he hit too many loose shots this weekend to allay my doubts that he can stay out of trouble in high winds on a really firm, fast track framed in knee-high weeds. Thoughts?

Van Sickle: Sorry, I’m still on the Tiger Train. I look for him to win at Turnberry and in the PGA at Hazeltine and run the table the rest of the year for as long as he cares (and that may or may not include the FedEx Cup events). Tiger never played perfect golf even at his best, although he was close a few times. He hits it closer than anyone else, gets up and down more often than anyone else and makes more putts than anyone else. All he has to do is get off the tee — which he did this week. When he plays well, he is close to unbeatable because he’s that much better than the rest, and despite some bobbles, I’d say he’s playing well. Here comes another wave of Tiger domination, in my opinion.

Friedman: Yes, and some of us thought he would have won at Bethpage if not for his unlucky tee times.

Evans: If the weather is perfect at Turnberry, Tiger wins by a dozen. If he gets the bad end of the draw on a windy or rainy day, he could finish tied for fifth and some guy from Argentina not named Cabrera could win.

Bamberger: Everything Alan says is true, but he’s missing one point: For Tiger not to win, someone still has to shoot a lower 72-hole score. Firing on all cylinders for four rounds or not, who is going to shoot a lower score than Tiger? Sure, any of a dozen or so players can get white-hot and do it. But really, there’s just not that many people for Tiger to beat. Either Tiger’s way better than Nicklaus and Watson, or this era is not as competitive as when Jack and Tom dueled and sweated it out 32 years ago.

Van Sickle: Bamberger is dead on. Tiger is much better than his peers, maybe much better than Jack or Watson, it’s hard to tell with the different equipment although clearly, Tiger’s short-game shots far outclass those of Jack, who drove it much better than Tiger. Watson had the short-game shots but Tiger has Jack’s dominating length. He’s a hybrid of the two.

Shipnuck: Plus, he has Nicklaus’s brain, Hogan’s will and Snead’s athleticism.

Herre: If the year’s first two majors are any indication, Tiger’s success or failure at the British should be all about his putter. Tiger simply putted poorly at Augusta while all the rain threw him off at Bethpage.

Bamberger: And a British Open is less about putting than any other major, which lends itself to Tiger right now.

Shipnuck: This also helps: Who’s gonna beat Tiger? Only Lucas Glover and Hunter Mahan seem to have any form these days.

Van Sickle: Great comment by Shippy. If Lucas Glover and Hunter Mahan are now the guys for Tiger to beat, well, they’ve got three career wins between them.

Hack: Sean O’Hair, anyone?

Shipnuck: You can have him.

Hack: He’s ahead of Mahan. I know that much.

Evans: Sean is getting there but he’s still growing into a new swing crafted by Sean Foley.

Van Sickle: Let me know when O’Hair has at least five wins. Then maybe I’ll consider him a contender.

Lipsey: Would anybody here pay $40 and drive one hour to watch Sean O’Hair?

Shipnuck: I think only Tiger and maybe Phil pass the $40 test. I learned via Twitter that LPGA player Erica Blasberg endured days of rain at the U.S. Open because for years she had been dying to see Tiger play in person. Pretty cool.

Shipnuck: The mighty reporting resources of SI/ have uncovered a brewing mutiny on the LPGA tour. Earlier this week, after the news broke of the cancellation of October’s Kapalua Classic, a dozen or so top players convened for dinner and it was commissioner Carolyn Bivens who got roasted, as the players aired their various grievances about her leadership. If she can’t win back her most important constituents, you have to think her days as commish are numbered. What’s everybody’s take on Bivens?

Herre: Yes, the natives are restless, and who can blame them? The LPGA is becoming less and less of a U.S.-based tour. That might be a good thing in the long run, but I’m sure the American players are not happy about it.

Bamberger: Ms. Bivens has all the charisma of … Tim Finchem, and the personal charm of … Tim Finchem. But it would be a major admission of a goof for the players to fire her in a bad economy after an exhaustive search. I think they only can her if they really know who they want to succeed her, and group decisiveness is not their communal strength.

Shipnuck: It’s clear Bivens’s hard-charging personal style has rubbed a lot of players and corporate types the wrong way, but you can’t fault her original vision: raise purses, improve the pension and retirement benefits, and expand the tour’s TV presence. The problem seems to be that Bivens has stuck to her hard-line negotiating even as the economy has imploded. Sponsors are hard-pressed to maintain their current commitments, and she’s asking for them to pour in more money for next year and beyond. Something had to give, and it’s being reflected by the tour’s contracting schedule.

Evans: Bivens can’t turn rotten grapes into Bordeaux. She’s got a good Yellow Tail wine. She has good players and she’s doing her best with the marketing and promotional options allotted to women in sports.

Van Sickle: Bivens had a worthy goal, to kick the LPGA up a notch financially. Problem is, that’s the wrong goal at the wrong time. It’s not gonna happen now. Her hardball tactics to raise money coincided with an economic downturn — some might say depression — that could have long-lasting and disastrous results for the tour. Sponsors are dropping like autumn leaves. She didn’t cause this problem but her tactics made the problem worse, and quicker. I wouldn’t be surprised if the rank-and-file LPGA players go into a kill-the-messenger mode. It’s not the messenger, it’s the message: Your tour isn’t selling in the U.S.

Friedman: Wouldn’t it be possible to accept lower overall sponsorship dollars in return for keeping the events alive? As Don Corleone said when Michael told him that a certain move would be a sign of weakness, “It is a sign of weakness.” Maybe you don’t want a wartime consigliere, but someone who will accept the reality and work with it — sweet-talking sponsors and players alike.

Shipnuck: Yeah, you don’t want Sonny Corleone giving advice in a down economy.

Van Sickle: I think Greg Norman was right on earlier this year when he said the PGA Tour should cut every purse $1 million across the board to show some support for struggling sponsors and send the message that the tour gets it. The LPGA is taking lumps now because it arranged for many of its sponsor contracts to expire after ’09. The PGA Tour feels safe because many of its sponsor deals run through ’10. I wonder if what the LPGA is experiencing now is going to repeat itself with the PGA Tour next year.

Gorant: The Kapalua Classic was locked in until ’12. Oops.

Van Sickle: It’s hard to think the sky is falling in professional golf and all areas affected by it — recreational golf, the golf media, us.

Herre: Hey, rounds were up in May. Golf isn’t going away, regardless of what happens on the pro tours. It’s a buyer’s market in golf right now, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Shipnuck: This past weekend in France, Martin Kaymer, one of the best young players no one talks about, prevailed on the Euro tour. Of more interest to me was the guy he beat in a playoff, Lee Westwood, who has now gone two years without a victory despite a whopping 17 top-10s in that span. Anyone know what’s wrong with Westwood?

Bamberger: I don’t know, but Westwood played his bottom off at Torrey and finished one out of the playoff. That will either spur you to greater heights, or set you back.

Van Sickle: Funny, I would’ve said that after where Westwood was a few years ago, those 17 top-10s ask this question: What’s finally right with him? He’s enjoyed a comeback. Not sure he putts well enough to be a big winner again, although playing in the Ryder Cup usually cures that for him.

Lipsey: Westwood is a pudgy guy who loves being at home and isn’t Mr. Practice. I think he’s done darn well with his tool set.

Shipnuck: It’s easy to forget that at Torrey Pines Westwood had a putt on the 72nd hole to join the playoff. That effort was meek at best, pathetic at worst. Maybe he’s still scarred.

Evans: Westwood can win any week that he plays, but he can also do great disappearing acts. That’s the Paul Casey in him.

Van Sickle: Westwood has done a David Duval on a much smaller scale, really climbed back from rock bottom. He was never supposed to be the No. 1 player in the world. Give Westwood a hand for getting most of his game back. He had one foot out of the game at one point.

Shipnuck: The ultimate driving machine from Germany, Kaymer, has now won three times in less than three years on tour and he’s only 24. Maybe he’s really the next Anthony Kim.

Van Sickle: Kaymer is a possibility. I still think that the next Kim — that is, the idea that Kim was supposed to be the next world-beater and potential No. 2 in the world — is Rory McIlroy. Haven’t seen anything to change my mind. Whose career would you take right now, Rory’s or Kim’s? I’d take Rory’s.

Evans: It’s hard to talk about a German golfer not named Langer. Kaymer is smooth but until he comes to the States he’s just a pretender.

Shipnuck: Farrell, for the record, my favorite pretender is Chrissie Hynde.

Herre: Chrissie’s “Back on the Chain Gang” is my all-time favorite R&R song.

Friedman: My fave is the Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” … so my attention swivels back to the female side. The Women’s Open is at Saucon Valley this week. It follows a fun Jamie Farr, won in a playoff by Eunjung Yi, who beat Morgan Pressel. Any thoughts? I’m a(n Angela) Stanford fan.

Van Sickle: I’ll predict that one of the first two rounds won’t finish by sundown, even without any delay. I’ll also predict that the only real winner will be Saucon Valley. And that the winner will be a non-American, most likely a Korean. Also, I look for local hero Jack McCallum to park near the press tent in an RV.

Herre: I’ll take Pressel. She’s playing well and is due. Plus, she has a terrific track record in the Open, which is perfect for her fairways-and-greens game.

Bamberger: I, too, like Morgan P., mostly for rooting interest. I was once at a Honda tournament and saw her following Davis [Love III] around. She said, “My swing god,” or something like that. Either Trip is swinging too flat, or Morgan too upright, but I’m with Jim: The trophy would look just right in her hands.

Shipnuck: Pressel would be the first player to offer a champions’ speech via Twitter.

Hack: Saucon Valley is 400 yds longer than the Jamie Farr. Could be tough for Morgan P. I’ll take Suzann P — Pettersen, that is.

Van Sickle: Ji-yai Shin. The No. 1 player in women’s golf, one of these days.

Evans: Shin.

Bamberger: And you can just see all those Bethpage fans storming the old Bethlehem Steel hangout (Saucon) chanting, “J-Y-S, J-Y-S!”