Every week of the 2011 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 and join the conversation in the comments section below.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Happy Fourth of July, panelists. The golf story of the week was Bubba Watson’s invasion of France (a NATO ally), followed by his forced retreat and remorseful tweet. (“If I offended anyone I apologize.”) This isn’t “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”, but I’m offering a sleeve of golf balls for the best account of what Bubba did at the French Open that was so objectionable.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Bubba didn’t know the names of famous places, calling the Arc de Triomphe “the arch way” and Versailles “the castle that we are staying next to.” He also criticized fans for using cellphones and cameras; gee, that never happens anywhere else. He also offended the media by declining most interview requests.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: The euros have never gotten control of cellphones and cameras, but hasn’t Bubba ever played in a British Open? He should be used to it. As for the attractions of Paris, these guys go from the hotel to the course and back again, regardless if it’s the PGA Tour or the Euro tour. They’re not on vacation.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Thing is, Bubba acting like an entitled and spoiled brat and declining interviews weren’t one-time incidents that happened because he was homesick in a foreign country. He does that stuff all the time in the States, just not when the cameras are focused on him.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: I didn’t have a problem with the complaints about cellphones, etc, as much as the “I just want to go home” comments. He sounded like a homesick kid at summer camp.
Wei: He should have done his homework or kept his mouth shut. I mean, if a European came here and said, “Oh yeah, I saw that statue of that lady, it starts with an L,” how would Americans react? Don’t think we would have taken it too well, either. It was just embarrassing.
Garrity: Bubba wasn’t fair to Paris. That city’s got great barbecue!
Reiterman: I think Chubby Chandler’s quote on scotsman.com summed it up pretty well: “For a grown man to talk like that was quite pathetic.”
Van Sickle: Larry the Cable Guy goes to Paris.
Wei: Or just, a Bubba goes to Paris.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Bubba makes Clark Griswold look like James Bond.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I wish one of Bubba’s handlers had packed a Fodor’s guide in his luggage. It’s Paris, Bubs, not the dark side of the moon.
Wei: I couldn’t help but wonder, where was Bubba’s wife during all this? She played pro basketball in Europe and in my experience has always been much more gracious and eloquent than Bubba. I wish she would have stepped in and coached him. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s received at Royal St. George’s in a week or so.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: What Bubba did was act like Bubba. He’s well-known for churlish behavior, though he’s tried hard in the last year or so to be more agreeable. But the dude is moody, to say the least.
Wei: Most of the general public didn’t know it was Bubba acting like Bubba. They all think he’s just this fun-loving, fan-friendly goofball. Christina Kim summed it up quite well via Twitter: “I don’t claim to be a redneck, then go buy a pink Ferrari and floor seats to the Suns in my true religion jeans and Louis Vuitton wallet.”
WATNEY WINS AGAIN
Garrity: What about the winner? Nick Watney, my Masters pick, now has two victories this year and a modest lead in the FedEx Cup standings. Is he as good as I think he is?
Shipnuck: Gotta love Watney’s game, long and straight and possessing no real weaknesses. Just as Rory learned from his Masters blowup, Watney has been changed by his self-immolation at last year’s PGA. He seems so comfortable and relaxed when he’s in contention now. I expect him to be a force for a long, long time.
Van Sickle: When Watney putts the way he did at AT&T and Doral, and combines that with a beautiful swing, he’s got world-beater potential.
Herre: Yes, Watney was rolling them in from everywhere. Same old story: the hot putter wins. It’s like the hot goalie in hockey.
Van Sickle: It’s the one constant in golf. The winner always putted well. With modern equipment so forgiving, putting is just about the only place to separate yourself from the field anymore. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to dominate or even win multiple times.
Wei: I’m impressed with Watney’s composure. Choi put the pressure on, and Watney handled himself like a champ. It won’t be long until he closes out a major.
Reiterman: Don’t know why Watney doesn’t get more love. He’s been just as consistent as Kuchar this year, and Watney’s closed the deal more than Kooch.
Van Sickle: Great point, Ryan. Forget results. Watney looks much more formidable.
Hack: I love that he has two wins this year on two completely different golf courses. Kid has a game that travels.
HOSTS, TIGER AND THE ‘HOPE’
Garrity: Tiger Woods, unable to say when his injured knee will let him play again, had to settle for ambassadorial duties at the AT&T National “Hosted by Tiger Woods.” Coincidentally, the Bob Hope Classic announced last week that Hope’s name has been taken off the California pro-am famous for its celebrity appeal and Presidential drop-ins. 1) Does this mean the tournament host is an endangered species? 2) Does Tiger have the hosting chops to challenge Hope’s half-century as an attention magnet?
Lipsey: Tiger Woods will likely never be a genuine and long-lived host of anything. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Bob Hope and Dinah Shore are loved and respected by the masses. Tiger, now, is not.
Shipnuck: Tiger’s role is by definition different from Jack’s and Arnie’s. He’s the benefactor, not the patriarch, so he’s never gonna get as much face-time.
Van Sickle: Tournament hosts, like tournaments, are temporary. See Sammy Davis Jr., Joe Garagiola, Danny Thomas and Dinah Shore for details.
Herre: Good move for the Tour in Palm Springs. The Hope was hopeless after the host died, and probably a few years before. Now they’ve cut it back to four days, have a long-term sponsor and are finally moving forward. Kudos to those who saved this venerable Tour stop.
Van Sickle: Coupled with RBC and Boeing signing on in Hilton Head, it’s been a pretty good last month for the PGA Tour.
Wei: Anyone see the field at the AT&T this week? Tiger, the host, is still alive, and the field wasn’t D-list, but it wasn’t A-list, either. I was told that K.J. Choi wasn’t planning on playing but Tiger asked him as a favor. I think the Tour did what it had to do to keep the Bob Hope alive. We’ll still call it the Bob Hope, regardless of the “official” name.
Walker: It’s a great tournament and a great spot, so I’m glad it’s been saved, but these soulless corporate names of PGA Tour events are killing me. The Humana Challenge sounds like a sales contest.
Shipnuck: A brand-name host is helpful as long as he (or she) is still alive. Look at what’s happened to the Nelson since Lord Byron died. Tiger’s still young, so he’ll remain a draw for decades. But Bay Hill and the Memorial only have so many years left to enjoy their cachet.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Look how little we saw of Tiger this week. Why wasn’t he in the TV booth on Sunday, like Jack and Arnie and other hosts?
Herre: Good point, Rick. Where was Tiger? Wonder if it has anything to do with Jim Nantz, who is the one guy at CBS with the balls to criticize Woods.
Wei: Tiger did make a nice gesture on Tuesday. Feherty hosted his IED of Golf event on Tuesday, and the organizers didn’t invite Tiger this year because he showed up last year, so they didn’t want to “bother” him again. To their surprise, Tiger had his people call and ask if he could come spend some time with the soldiers.
FOWLER STILL WAITING
Garrity: I had my eye on third-round co-leader Rickie Fowler. He’s 22, like Rory McIlroy, and he’s comfortable on both sides of the ropes, like McIlroy, but we’re still waiting for him to prove that he’s America’s answer to Rorymania. Does Rickie’s final-round 74 at Aronimink suggest that he’s been over-hyped?
Van Sickle: Rickie isn’t overhyped from a public interest standpoint. They love him; he’s a star. I’d say he ranks third behind Tiger and Phil among American players who generate interest. But he hasn’t put himself into contention very often, and when he has, he hasn’t played great on Sunday. He’s still got plenty of time, and he’s still got plenty to prove.
Wei: That’s true. Every week, I see more and more fans of all ages following Rickie and wearing their PUMA hats, with at least one sporting an orange hat and shirt. But at some point, if you don’t back it up with results, does that star power begin to fade?
Herre: I think his inexperience showed on Sunday, just as it did at Torrey. Many of the hole locations were impossible, but Rickie still tried to shoot 62.
Reiterman: They’re the same age, but McIlroy’s got a few more years professionally than Fowler. If Fowler’s still winless in a year or so, then I’d start ramping up the over-hyped talk.
Shipnuck: Rickie’s Sunday scoring average is really shaky, reflecting numerous blown opportunities. I think he feels a ton of pressure to justify all the hype, and he keeps getting in his own way. Once he finally wins one, he’ll likely win a few more in a hurry. But days like today only make breaking through that much harder.
Wei: He was great at the Ryder Cup, but this isn’t the first time he’s had a Sunday meltdown. Sure, he’s young, but he’s had almost two years on Tour now. Rickie’s a great kid and likable, which makes us want to see him do well, and he has a lot of pressure and expectations to live up to, but champions rise to the occasion. He needs to get that first-win monkey off his back soon.
Hack: It’s hard to get on a guy who could be walking across a stage in Stillwater in a cap and gown (orange, of course). Not everyone can be Rory. Rickie will break through soon enough.
Shipnuck: When I think about Rickie I still can’t get over his layup down the stretch at Phoenix last year.
Wei: I’ve recently gotten over that. I think we can chalk that one up to inexperience.
PUBLIC LINKS ON A TRUE LINKS?
Garrity: Don’t you love linksland? Line-drive approach shots! Quadruple-breaking putts from 200 feet! I watched hours of the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championships at Bandon Dunes (won by UCLA’s Brianna Do and Clemson’s Corbin Mills), but I have to ask: Is it fair to stage a national championship on links courses, when parkland golf is the only style the competitors have ever played?
Van Sickle: It’s fair because they all have to play the same holes. The big question of fairness in this event is how to draw the line between club members and public links golfers. I would have loved to have seen an investigation into how Michelle Wie qualified as a public links golfer when she played.
Herre: It’s definitely fair to play links courses. I loved the Amateur last year at Chambers Bay, and it looked like many of the players did, too. Variety is the spice of life.
Lipsey: Those who don’t like it have an option: Don’t play. John, you’re sounding a bit like somebody named Bubba who just got fricasseed by this crew.
Garrity: No, no, no — I LOVE links golf! I’d be happy if they played the Masters at Pacific Dunes. I just wonder if it isn’t odd to watch all those kids try to play under the wind for the first time in their lives.
Shipnuck: Deciphering the course is part of the challenge. I love how Bandon challenges the players in unique ways, just as Chambers Bay did at last year’s U.S. Am. These courses will determine the most complete winner.
Hack: Not only is it fair, it’s the right thing to do. Better to broaden their golfing horizons early, unless we want our young golfers talking about St. Andrews like Scott Hoch used to.
Lipsey: Bubba needs your horizon broadening, Damon.
Hack: I’d happily show Bubba around the City of Light.
SPONSORS STEP UP
Garrity: A flurry of title-sponsor announcements the past week: Humana is picking up the Hope, the Royal Bank of Canada has agreed to rescue The Heritage, and Barclays has signed a four-year extension. The LPGA, meanwhile, got a three-year commitment from Manulife Financial for a new tournament in Waterloo, Ontario. Has Rory made golf cool again, or is this just the business cycle working in its mysterious way?
Shipnuck: It’s time for corporations to start spending money again. I also think Obama’s very public outings have helped reduce the silly stigma golf had a couple of years ago, when Wells Fargo was afraid to have its name on a premier tourney.
Herre: Smart take, Alan. I hope you’re right. Golf as the boogeyman was always a canard.
Wei: It’s the business cycle. The RBC deal was in the works and finalized well before Rory won the U.S. Open. Barclays has always been a big supporter of golf worldwide, so I doubt Rory made a difference. But I think Rory has given golf a massive boost for a sport in desperate need of a new, popular superstar.
Hack: The economy might be getting its sea legs back.
Lipsey: It shows that golf will live on quite nicely without you-know-who in the mix.