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: Greetings, fellow golf gluttons. We have another celebrity guest this week, Geoff Shackelford, the learned historian, esteemed blogger — is that an oxymoron? — revered critic of golf course design and now a budding architect in his own right. Welcome, Geoff, and we’ll get to the really important stuff (UCLA basketball) shortly. Gritty win by Heath Slocum at the Barclays, and we’ll get to the near-misses of Tiger and Ernie et. al., but the host venue, Liberty National, generated a lot of buzz throughout the week. So, Geoff and everyone else, what did we think about the site of the first, ahem, playoff event?
Geoff Shackelford: What — Ty Votaw wasn’t available? Well, I’m honored to be here. As for Liberty National, all I could think of was the scene in “America’s Sweethearts“, where an audience is watching the premiere of the $85 million disaster and John Cusack whispers to Billy Crystal, “You know sometimes you watch a film and you say, ‘Where did the money go?'” I kept whispering the same thing as I watched Liberty National. Where did $250 million go?
Shipnuck: Advice to a newbie: refrain from referencing chick flicks. As for Liberty, it’s no Pebble Beach, I didn’t think it was that objectionable. The pros did a lot of kvetching about Liberty but it was their complaints (and, especially, Tiger’s antipathy) that precipitated a move from Westchester, a very different track I happen to love. How do you know a Tour player is complaining? Because his lips are moving!
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: The best jokes about the course I heard in the locker room this week were, “They took a perfectly good waste dump and ruined it by building Liberty National on top of it,” and “Even Lady Liberty turned her back on this place.”
Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Heath Slocum had no complaints.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Didn’t a few of the players actually give it their blessing? Padraig Harrington said it was a major championship venue. Ian Poulter loved it, too. Of course, they were heading for top 10s this week.
Dusek: I’m about the farthest thing from a course-design expert as you can get, but I think this summed up a lot of players feelings this week. As I walked nine holes inside the ropes with Geoff Ogilvy on Wednesday, he hit a sweet 3-wood at the 250-yard par-3 11th which landed 20 feet short of the hole. The ball released, rolled past the cup and went up a backstop. But instead of bringing the ball back to the middle of the green where the hole was cut during the pro-am, the backstop turned the ball to the right, into a collection area. Ogilvy, still on the tee, looked at me and said, “I just hit a great shot and I’m going to make a bogey on this hole.” There was no club that he could get onto the putting surface from the back tee that the green would receive.
Shackelford: There are so many things egregiously wrong with Liberty National — the plethora of bunker styles, the junky collection area shaping that leads to swarms of divots, the old Gambino crime family gates in front of 15 tee and the overall A.D.D. look to the design. But worst of all was the tree planting. There must have been 15 varieties and no rhyme or reason except to try and shield some of the surrounds that we were told are so amazing.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: It looked fantastic on TV, which counts for a lot.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Cam has it right. Liberty National is almost a made-for-TV golf course. Great views, not much substance. But remember, it was a dead-flat toxic waste dump. What’s going to spring up from that — Pebble Beach? Geoff said it all about design. It looks like “Potpourri for $100, Alex.” Why plant trees when you’ve got those views? Every tree is a potential view-blocker in ten years. You don’t want that. Go with the links look the whole way, don’t half-ass it.
Hack: One thing to remember about Liberty. It’s a young golf course.
I imagine its personality will change some through the years.
But with all of those blimp shots, Lady Liberty, the skyline,
the bridges, my guess is the tourney will come back at some point.
[Tour commissioner Tim] Finchem seems to dig the idea of a rotation. And, really, how many of these old-line New York/New Jersey clubs are going to want
a PGA Tour event every year? Quaker? Winged Foot? Baltusrol? No, no and no.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: If, like me, you’re watching on television in Kansas City, those Lady Liberty and NY skyline visuals are fantastic; Big Apple = Big Event. I love Westchester, too, but on television it is indistinguishable from any of the fine New Jersey courses they’ll be playing on in the future. If they hadn’t already spent an obscene amount building Liberty National, I’d tell them to throw another few million at it, make it a better course, and turn it into a Tour icon.
Shipnuck: Geoff, we’re making you Tour czar for a day — where would you take the Barclay’s? Gimme three or four dream venues.
Shackelford: I think they’ve got them lined up beautifully. Ridgewood, Plainfield and maybe Essex County which D. Hack played this week and which was just remodeled by my buddy Gil Hanse. Who is also consulting at Ridgewood and Plainfield and is doing his best to make next week’s playoff site, TPC Boston, playable.
Shipnuck: That’s our headline — G. Hanse saves the Barclays!
Shackelford: Actually, credit the tour’s Steve Wenzloff for following Gil around and doing his part to explain to Tim Finchem why you can’t play courses like Liberty National, no matter how much they pony up.
Garrity: Hanse’s star is rising. I played his new Castle Stuart course in Inverness, Scotland, in July, and it is one spectacular links course. So if you thought Royal Dornoch and Nairn weren’t reason enough to drive up to the Highlands — now you’ve got three great courses within easy reach.
Morfit: It’s sort of amusing how much the Barclays keeps bouncing around. Seems like anyone has a shot to host. I hear Chelsea Piers is getting it next year.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Along those lines, I was informed earlier this week that the Barclays people have made several visits to Essex County CC, a Seth Raynor-Charles Banks layout in West Orange that’s the oldest course in the Garden State. Based on that, and the announcement that Ridgewood and Plainfield would get the next two, I think we can expect this event to keep bouncing around Jersey.
Van Sickle: Despite the course, it was an exciting finish. Tiger Woods had a relatively short putt to win and didn’t make it. I repeat, didn’t make it. Heath Slocum had a 20-footer to win on the final hole and made it. I repeat, Heath Slocum made it. This was the opposite of Tiger’s recent history. Usually, he makes and guys like Slocum miss. You think Y.E. Yang’s PGA win is a turning point in Tiger history or was this another fluke — Tiger not putting well on greens he didn’t care for?
Morfit: It’s so fitting that with a murderers row awaiting a playoff at 8 under (Els, Harrington, Woods), Slocum would make that putt to win at 9. The way the whole year’s gone.
Shipnuck: Slocum played great and made an all-world par on the 72nd hole to ice the victory. Is he potentially a big-time player or was this just one great week?
Morfit: One great week.
Herre: Slocum’s win was simply a continuation of this year’s story line — a surprise winner when Tiger surprisingly comes up short.
Shipnuck: It’s mind-boggling that Slocum, Bubba Watson and Boo Weekley are all from the same small town on the Redneck Riviera. It shows, once again, that golf talent does not have to nurtured at swank country clubs.
Van Sickle: I won’t be doing any I-told-you-so’s with my FedEx Cup pick of Steve Marino. Even though he had a chance to win, his flaming finish shows that he’s much further away from being ready to win anything than I previously surmised, although his shaky finish on the 18th hole at New Orleans should’ve been an indication.
Herre: I felt for both the guys in the final pairing. At least Paul Goydos shot himself out of it early. CBS’s closeups on Marino’s figure-8 putting stroke told the story on him.
Shipnuck: I’ve tried, but I just can’t care about the FedEx Cup points race. However, I’m grateful that the Cup is giving us four good tournaments, and Tiger to boot. I hope it endures only because we get good golf deep into September.
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Does anyone think there’ll be any ridicule of the FedEx system because Slocum was able to vault 121 places?
Shipnuck: Ridicule? Nobody is even going to notice. But it seems appropriate to me to reward the winners of the, er, playoff events.
Shackelford: I think Slocum vaulting that much is the first nail in version 3.0’s coffin. The system will never work as long as geeks are trying to rig it.
Dusek: I thought the buzzword of last year’s FedEx Cup was volatility. Jumping to No. 3 seems a little much to me.
Hack: This thing will never have credibility if they tweak the rules every year. Seems like the FedEx Cup was half baked from the start.
Van Sickle: I think there might be some criticism — if only anyone cared. I think most of us are like Alan. We just can’t get into the whole FedEx points thing. I don’t see it ever working and I’ve written that for three years and tired of wasting my breath. I’ll be surprised if anything resembling the FedEx Cup survives in the next TV deal. It remains an interesting experiment, however.
Shipnuck: I think Tiger missing that putt may save this year’s Cup. Now he’s got some red-ass to try to win the damn thing.
Dusek: I completely agree. Losing the PGA and the Barclays as he did should, and likely will, motivate him to floor it at the DB and BMW.
Shackelford: The FedEx Cup could be a great thing for golf if it were played a few weeks later and the points were left out in favor of a cutthroat playoff. But that won’t happen because the entire thing is designed to get the top 5 to East Lake. Maybe when Tiger retires someone could make the concept work.
Shipnuck: Speaking of Tigah. He played nicely all week but all anyone is going to remember is the short birdie putt he whiffed on the 72nd hole, missing out on the chance to force a playoff. Was this a fluke or has his formerly bulletproof confidence been shattered by Y.E. Yang?
Shackelford: Look for a big Tiger win this week in Boston. He likes the changes and he’ll just be so happy to be away from Liberty National and those funky greens.
Morfit: I don’t know enough about the Lib Nat greens, but aren’t new greens pretty much always a crapshoot as far as the break?
Shipnuck: Hey, it was 8 feet — ram it in the middle and take the break out of it!
Shackelford: The greens have had plenty of time to mature. They’re just plain goofy, as most Bob Cupp greens are. Remember, this is the man who crafted many of Jack Nicklaus’s worst greens in the late ’80s.
Shipnuck: So do we give Tiger a free pass just because he didn’t like the greens?
Friedman: Not a free pass. Recently, he hasn’t always delivered. He used to be infallible in those situations, like Mariano Rivera. We’ll all be watching to see if he can regain the magic.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Free pass? Hell, no. Everybody in the field had to putt the greens. Should we tailor courses for Tiger Woods to keep him happy?
Shackelford: Free pass, yes, because no one could figure out the greens. This was not him just being his picky self.
Gorant: Well, he did still finish second.
Van Sickle: Hank Gola wrote in the New York Daily News that Tiger didn’t look interested until he shot a third-round 67. For Tiger and Phil, the golf season ends the minute the last putt drops at the PGA Championship, the year’s final major. Everything else is gravy or, from another view, unnecessary.
Tiger’s putting was off last week. I bet he hasn’t spent the weeks since the PGA grinding on his game. He probably didn’t touch his clubs, except for Notah Begay’s charity outing, until he got to Liberty. Certainly, Tiger’s mojo-mystique has taken some hits in the past month. He looks human. I hope everybody enjoyed that this year. I don’t think it’ll happen again.
Evans: Tiger joked about Kite designing Liberty National before he had his eyes fixed. The way Tiger has been misreading putts the last few weeks, I’m wondering if he needs a Lasik correction.
Morfit: Yep, gotta give the guy a pass. When he doesn’t win he finishes second, and then everyone wonders what’s wrong with him. He’s set a truly impossible standard, one that he’ll rarely be able to live up to for the remainder of his career. How many other guys can you bank on finishing in the top three every single week, non-Turnberry division?
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Tiger’s consistency is amazing. He’s shooting the worst he can shoot right now, and he’s top two every week. When he clicks into gear, we could see 2000 all over again.
Shipnuck: Tiger’s putting is an interesting topic. He’s blamed it at every major he hasn’t won over the last couple of years. Dude’s been making clutch putts for three decades. Maybe he’s used them all up.
Dusek: I don’t give him a pass. From 8 feet you can see every blade of grass. Every nook and cranny. He misread the putt and blew it 4 feet past. Yang’s win, this miscue, they could be the start of the chinks in the armor. A player like Harrington will see those things and be encouraged. Others should be too.
Shipnuck: Well, Tiger’s the one who said, “Second place sucks.” We’re judging him by his own standards. I disagree that he’s just mailing it in. If he didn’t want to play he wouldn’t show up. When he shows up, he gives it everything he has.
Hack: No free pass for Tiger. He wouldn’t want one.
But with Pebble and St. Andrews waiting for him next
summer, I’m sure he’s sleeping just fine these days.
Van Sickle: One other thought on Tiger: Do you think that playing with inferior equipment (i.e. his insistence on playing with V-grooves this year while his opponents still play U-grooves until the new rule goes into effect in ’10) might have cost him the 1 or 2 shots that could’ve won him the PGA and/or the Barclays? Nobody has even brought this topic up as far as I know.
Evans: No. The V-grooves thing isn’t that big a deal when you have Tiger’s skills.
Dusek: Tiger hasn’t taken advantage of equipment as much as some players. The grooves in the irons Tiger switched to earlier this season (Nike Victory Red Forged Blades) conform to next season’s standards. The grooves in the set he switched to midway through the year (Nike Forged Blades) also conform. As for his wedges, he’s played the same ones for a few seasons. His go-to wedge for the past few seasons, a 60° Nike SV lob wedge, also has conforming grooves.
Van Sickle: He’s putting himself at a competitive disadvantage with his opponents. I respect him for the move and it’s going to help him next year but did it cost him anything this year? It makes me wonder.
Herre: It HAD to cost him, especially on those rare — sarcasm alert — occasions he had to play out of the rough.
Gorant: How about the Ernie Els resuscitation? He looked good today, even if he was playing a little scared down the stretch.
Shipnuck: Els always looks good for 15 or 16 holes. He hasn’t been able to finish off a round since the early 21st century.
Morfit: I did a piece on Ernie for our June U.S. Open preview, and I got a sense that he was really trying hard, maybe too hard. He even had his head coach, Bob Rotella, move down to his neighborhood in Florida. But if you can’t get it done on the greens, there’s really not much you can do. He’s just had to wait for the putting to come around.
Dusek: Ernie’s wife, Liezl, told me Saturday at Hazeltine that Ernie is working harder than he ever has. On Wednesday at Liberty National, he damn near wore out the putting green. He was on it for nearly 90 minutes, looking at video of his stroke, grinding away on 6- to 8-footers. He seems a lot more motivated these days.
Shipnuck: Effort is not the issue. Scar tissue is. Els has had so many heart-wrenching losses I’m not sure he believes he can still win. His putting stroke certainly lacks belief.
Lipsey: About the telecast: Odd that they never pointed out or paid tribute to the Twin Towers spot. CBS missed a golden chance to do a teary but stirring tribute.
Shackelford: CBS, missing something? I’m shocked. Jim Nantz said the best thing I heard all day: This is our final CBS telecast of the year.
Shipnuck: OK, clearly our guest panelist is spoiling for a fight, so, Geoff, give us your critique on CBS’s coverage.
Shackelford: I remain convinced that Michael Jackson would be alive today if he’d just been introduced to a CBS golf telecast. Who needs Propofol when you can just fire up a CBS golf show? The entire telecast lacks a sense of urgency, probably because the plugs are so relentless and the music so bad. On my blog this week Peter Kostis blamed the Tour for all of the interruptions, but seven CBS shows were promoted coming out of commercial Sunday, whereas there were just four promos for the Tour. And then there are the announcers …
Shipnuck: You were counting the CBS plugs? That’s dedication … or obsession!
Shackelford: Only because Kostis was blaming the Tour. I had to stick up for my man Finchem.
Van Sickle: I love that “sense of urgency” line. That’s exactly what is missing.
Maybe CBS needs to shake things up. Remember when Gary McCord was a real rebel and hell-raiser? He’s gotten awfully tame in recent years. I’d love to see McCord and Feherty unleashed together.
Gorant: I noticed that Tiger called Kostis “buddy” after the final interview. PK has really dug his way out of the doghouse, no?
Garrity: Which explains why PK’s nose is so brown. It’s embarrassing to watch Kostis struggle when he interviews Tiger, trying to make everything sound like a compliment. He’s afraid Tiger’s going to swat him with the newspaper again.
Gorant: You can hear him sweating.
Dusek: You can see Dan Hicks, Mike Tirico, and the whole Golf Channel crew genuflecting when they talk to Tiger. Feherty gets him to laugh, but no one asks him the really tough, blunt questions after he doesn’t get it done on 18.
Herre: Ask Jimmy Roberts about what happens when you ask TW a tough question.
Shackelford: McCord sounds like he’s mailing it in, well, except for the
extraordinarily tacky TaylorMade “Tools For Success” spot.
Is Oosterhuis inhaling laughing gas? I mean, it’s a blimp shot of Lady Liberty, not a Feherty joke. And Faldo, who was so sharp at the Masters this year, is sounding more and more like Ken Venturi and Lanny Wadkins unless the love of his life, Ian Poulter, is on camera.
Shipnuck: How about someone waking up Faldo? The guy was supposed to be a star but he hasn’t mumbled anything memorable all year.
Friedman: NBC’s approach is so much looser and livelier, visually and in the commentary. Maybe CBS should steal director Tommy Roy. The big problem for CBS is, like him or not, Johnny Miller and his take-no-prisoners style is now the standard for golf commentary.
Shackelford: Dick, how about for all sports commentary? And yet CBS isn’t on board.
So we in golf have to suffer. At least we don’t have to listen to Phil Simms. The only moment of comedy today came when Nantz mistakenly suggested that players and the wives and their girlfriends were enjoying staying Jersey City, then corrected to note wives OR girlfriends. Even he chuckled at his mistake. I’m sure some wives didn’t find it so funny.
Herre: I had to laugh when Oosterhuis called the Staten Island ferry “magnificent.”
Van Sickle: I agree with Alan. Faldo seems to have stretched himself too thin with Golf Channel and CBS gigs. He has been overexposed and as a result, underwhelming.
Evans: Ken Venturi told me he puts the TV on mute now when golf is on. He says there is too much talking and too little golf.
Van Sickle: How good would Venturi have been if he’d been on the air for four hours — the entire round? This telecast shows something I’ve been saying for a while: Golf is overexposed. I like golf, yes, but I don’t really want to go all 18. There was more of a sense of excitement when golf came on and the leaders were already on 13 or 14.
Faldo desperately needs to be pushed and prodded and challenged. Nobody on CBS challenges anything, especially the status quo. Personally, I like Oosterhuis who usually sticks to the facts. But he’s not your candidate to be the lead analyst in the booth at 18. The perfect man for that job? Besides Azinger? Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.
Shipnuck: Gary, why don’t you and Brandel just get it over with and elope?
Shackelford: Chamblee really has become a star at Golf Channel. I could see NBC courting him, but no way CBS would want him. He has opinions and more alarmingly, shares them.
Next week’s edition of PGA Tour Confidential will appear following the Monday conclusion of the Deutsche Bank Championship.