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.
NEXT AMERICAN HERO? DUSTIN JOHNSON WINS AT BARCLAYS
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Greetings from Myrtle Beach, host to this week’s Golf.com World Amateur Handicap Championship, and the hometown of your 2011 Barclays champion Dustin Johnson. We saw what can happen when Johnson finally gets his
putter working, as he won for the first time this season after several near-misses, including a T2 at the British. With his win, Johnson moved to fourth in the world and now leads the FedEx Cup standings. So let’s hear it, will Johnson play consistently enough over the next few weeks and collect a $10 million bonus? And will D.J. be the top-ranked Yank by the end of the year?
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: If not the top-ranked Yank, he’s without doubt the most talented. Will be fun to watch him blossom in the years ahead.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I’d sort of given up on D.J., at least for this year. Now he’s fourth in the world? And going to bomb-friendly TPC Boston? Nice place to be. What the hell. I’ll say he wins the Cup.
Herre: Right, Cam. We’re in a rut — McIlroy, Donald, yada yada. Would be great to see DJ take flight and stay aloft for a while. Otherwise we could locked in until April 2012.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: I watched Johnson launch satellites with his driver on the range at Plainfield, so if his putter stays hot he can certainly win again at TPC Boston. That would pretty much seal the deal on the Cup and the top ranking among Americans.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Johnson has been struggling with his putter all season and that was the difference this week. Caddie Joe LaCava said Dustin arrived at Plainfield on Monday morning at 8 and worked on his putting for three straight days. He missed a few coming in today, but some of them were misread — those greens at Plainfield are super-tricky.
Reiterman: At the start of the year, Johnson said he’d been working on his wedge game so he could take better advantage of his ridiculous power. This week it was all about his putting. Scary to think what he could do if he becomes deadly from 100 yards in.
Herre: Hundred yards and in. That’s what it’s all about.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: And whatever you say about D.J. in that regard, it’s even more true for Alvaro Quiros. He could dominate at Augusta if he could go from a C- player from 100 and in to a B+ player.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: The rest of FedEx Cup schedule sets up well for Johnson. He’s defending at the BMW and he had a top-5 at the Deutsche in 2009. He’s got all the talent and star power to be the top American in the game. Still, that three of his five victories have some at weather-shortened events is one of the weirder stats out there.
Wei: Yeah, that is quite strange, but I think we’ll see him breakthrough at majors next year. I gained some really great insight from LaCava this week on Dustin and their relationship — more than I’ve learned from Dustin himself in all his pressers the last two years. LaCava talks DJ out of taking those hero shots, but he does it in a manner where DJ still thinks he’s making the decision. There is no way LaCava would have let Dustin hit that left-handed chip on the second hole at Pebble, and he probably would’ve prevented the bunker-not-a-bunker fiasco. We can’t know for sure, but I believe Dustin would have at least one major right now.
Bamberger: A 54-hole event on a soggy course is perfect for D.J. He’d win with Tiger-like regularity if those were the normal conditions. But one thing about him and this has nothing to do with the hype machine: there’s something actually charismatic about him. It’s his length, and his nonchalance. I don’t know how many others you’d say that of. Having Joe LaCava on his bag I think is a real plus–veteran guile should serve young Johnson well in the many more majors in which he will contend.
Hack: Dustin is unbreakable. He just keeps on keepin’ on. That’s four years in a row with at least one win. With Tiger and Phil’s putting woes, I’d peg Dustin Johnson and Nick Watney as Yanks 1a and 1b in 2012.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Winning the Cup and being the best American is small potatoes. Dustin should be No. 1 in the world. He’s got that much game.
MATT KUCHAR, BRIDESMAID OF THE PGA TOUR
Reiterman: It was another near-miss for Matt Kuchar. He’s been one of the most consistent players the past two seasons — 20 top 10s, but only one win, that coming at the 2010 Barclays. Why can’t Kooch close the deal?
Morfit: Too nice.
Herre: I think Kuchar is playing to his potential, which is great to see. He’s never going to be mistaken for Brad Faxon on the greens.
Hack: Kuchar needs a little flair and imagination to go with his fairways and greens game.
Walker: I agree with Jim. Kuchar is getting the most out of his game. He’s a supermodel of consistency.
Dusek: Kuchar had a breakout year last year and made zillions of dollars. He hits fairways and greens all the time, but like a lot of guys his putter seems to run hot and cold. Last year it was hotter than it’s been this year.
Bamberger: It’s not Kuchar’s fault, but there’s nothing in his demeanor or in his play that makes you think this whole thing is life or death for him. Which, of course, it’s not. And while it’s true you could maybe say the same thing about Dustin, he has more talent and will win more often on that alone.
Shipnuck: It’s been a long road for Kuchar just to become a front-line player. He’s still learning and maturing. I think he’ll continue to evolve like Jim Furyk or Luke Donald have and start converting some of these top-10s into victories.
PLAINFIELD’S DRIVABLE PAR-4 FINISHING HOLE
Reiterman: The Greenbrier finishes on a par 3, but this week Plainfield Country Club added a new wrinkle at the Barclays with the 18th hole being set up as a drivable par 4. Did you like the finishing hole, or do you like your closing hole to have a
little more bite?
Walker: I loved it. The main disappointment of this rain-shortened event is that more people didn’t get to see Plainfield, one of the coolest — and lesser-known — tracks in the NYC area.
Herre: Must admit, I’m a huge Plainfield fan. (The greens are insane!) However, I prefer the traditional kick-ass par-4 finisher, with danger lurking off the tee and around the green. So shoot me.
Dusek: The hole can provide drama and theater — that’s what I want in a finisher.
Reiterman: I loved the options. I saw David Toms hit a driver, even though he couldn’t reach the green. K.J. went with a hybrid. But most guys went for the green and were rewarded when they hit it since the conditions were soft. I’d love to see that hole play firm and fast, and then see how many guys would still go for it.
Herre: Good point, Ryan. We really didn’t see the real Plainfield. Much like Oakmont, Shinnecock and many other courses, Plainfield recently eradicated hundreds of trees. The goal was to return the course to its fiery origins. The wet August and Irene mitigated all that.
Wei: Loved it — and it added intrigue to the finale. Although Dustin had a two-stroke lead standing on 18 tee, it wasn’t over yet. If Kuchar made eagle while Dustin made a routine par, then two-shot swing and we have a playoff.
Bamberger: When it’s done well, I love a drivable par-4, and doing at the end of the day only adds to the fun. Maybe not for a U.S. Open, but for a made-for-TV Tour event? Sure.
Shipnuck: It was fabulous — so fun to watch and if DJ’s lead a
little smaller it could have been very dramatic. Smash-mouth par-4 finishes like at Atlanta Athletic Club are nerve-jangling because there’s always the possibility of a screw-up but I like it when the players have a chance to do something exciting and heroic.
COUPLES PICKS TIGER FOR PRESIDENTS CUP TEAM
Reiterman: After talking around in circles, Fred Couples shocked no one when he announced last week he’d already told Tiger Woods he was being picked for the Presidents Cup team. Couples said it was a no-brainer since Woods is the “Best player in the world forever.” What say ye about Captain Couples’s premature pick?
Herre: Couples will probably contradict himself tomorrow. Whatever, why not take Tiger? Plus, Tiger is the commercial choice. Australian fans would be disappointed if he didn’t show. Hey, pro golf is show business.
Hack: I guess this is a goodwill exhibition then. And we wonder why Joe Public has no clue about golf beyond Tiger. Couples is making a pick for friendship’s sake. Nostalgia apparently is alive and well.
Dusek: It’s a mistake to put Tiger on the team. Selecting him as a captain’s pick is based on the player he once was, and who Couples think he can be, but not the player he is today.
Walker: But the Presidents Cup is not today — it’s in two months. Tiger was coming off an injury, and it’s not surprising he struggled in his first two events back. That’s the meaning of a “captain’s pick.” Keegan Bradley, Mark Wilson and Rickie Fowler haven’t earned spots on the team either. I don’t remember all this commotion when Norman selected a slumping Adam Scott last time round.
Hack: I remember the commotion over the Scott pick. It was jeered.
Wei: Oh, there definitely was a good amount of commotion when Norman picked a slumping Scott two years ago (at least from what I recall seeing and reading). I remember Twitter exploding with a mix of outrage and shock. But Norman said he thought it might boost Scott’s confidence and get him on the right track. While Scott didn’t play that well during the matches (record: 1-4-0), he did indeed break out of his funk the following season and won twice (Texas Valero Open and Singapore Open). Maybe coincidence, maybe not. With Couples’s reasoning, Jack Nicklaus should be on the team, too.
Bamberger: Well, by Fred’s logic, Jack Nicklaus should have been picked for various Ryder Cup teams all through the ’90s, as he was then the best player forever. His pick of Tiger, which I get, for all the reasons cited by others, is proof that the Presidents Cup really is what the Ryder Cup once was, a friendly golf exhibition.
Shipnuck: The Presidents Cup is an international goodwill exhibition and the fans in the Southern Hemisphere want to see Tiger. Choosing him creates way more buzz and interest in the event, which benefits everyone. Plus, in Freddy’s mind Tiger has earned the benefit of the doubt. I understand the pick. But if Woods plays poorly and the U.S. loses Couples is going to get barbecued and rightfully so, because there are a bunch of guys who are playing much better and are more deserving.
WHO SHOULD COUPLES SELECT WITH HIS OTHER CAPTAIN’S PICK?
Reiterman: Now that Couples is down to one pick, who’s going to be the last Yank to punch a ticket to Australia?
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Gotta take Keegan Bradley — assuming he doesn’t play his way onto the team over the next few weeks.
Herre: I like Brandt Snedeker, who’s been playing well, but expect Jim Furyk.
Walker: Yeah, if Couples is picking Tiger based on past play, he can’t really ignore Jim Furyk.
Hack: I would have liked Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler. Given Bradley’s year, he gets my nod for Fred’s other spot.
Herre: I like Fowler, too. Have questions about Bradley. Might not be ready for prime time.
Hack: Two wins, including a major, and not ready for prime time? You’re a tougher than my junior high science teacher, Ms. Doyle.
Wei: And in his rookie year, no less! C’mon. The way Keegan handled himself after tripling the 15th hole and overcoming a five-shot deficit with three to play was mighty impressive, not to mention at his first major. So if you haven’t gathered, I think Couples should pick Bradley.
Shipnuck: I don’t know how you can’t pick Keegan Bradley, who’s long and straight and has proven he can make clutch putts. And the dude has won two playoffs as a rookie — clearly he has juevos. If Bradley plays his way onto the team I’d take Gary Woodland. He’s been solid all season and with his length he could be a match-play animal. The last dude I’d take is Furyk. He’s been awful all season. One emeritus pick is enough.
Bamberger: Fred Couples. Fred should pick Fred. Then bring in Davis to manage the club. Or Jim Leyland.
REJUVENATED BJORN WINS AT GLENEAGLES
Reiterman: Perhaps the most exciting event this weekend took place at Gleneagles, where Thomas Bjorn won a five-man playoff and a whole lot of Johnnie Walker. It was Bjorn’s second win of the year, to go along with his win over Tiger in the World Match Play and his run at the Open at Royal St. George’s. Bjorn is now No. 59 in the world. What do you think of this new and improved Thomas Bjorn?
Hack: A late-career flourish for a complicated — and at times tortured — champion. Neat to see Bjorn back from the abyss. Bjorn is at times emotional, honest, funny, dark. He seems to encompass the total spirit of European golf.
Shipnuck: I love Bjorn because he is so clearly haunted by golf demons and he’s honest about how the game tortures him. It’s never easy for him, even when he’s playing well. I’m happy he’s back. It’s funny that a player’s accomplishments are a factor in whether he gets a Ryder Cup captaincy, but that’s how it goes. This second act will help Bjorn get the nod, and I think he’ll be fantastic.
Morfit: And if he’s not careful he might find himself playing the Cup at Medinah next year.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Like Stricker, he’s proof that you can never truly write these guys off. They must be why David Duval and Chris DiMarco get up in the morning.
Morfit: Ha. Well said. Them and Tom Watson.
Shipnuck: It helps to be one of the great iron players of your generation. At a Euro tour event in the late ’90s I was watching Bjorn hit 1-irons. He went through a big pile of balls and I swear he didn’t mis-hit one. That’s pure.
Reiterman: Is there anything about Bjorn’s run this year that makes you think this could be a Steve Stricker-esque resurgence? That match play win over Tiger, and his run at St. George’s, where he had so many bad memories, might have cleaned out a lot of clutter in his head.
Hack: I’m not sure Thomas will have the staying power to do it year and after, as Stricker has over the last three or four.
Gorant: Yeah, even Vijay seems to have a sell-by date.
BRITTANY LINCICOME, THE FEMALE DUSTIN JOHNSON?
Reiterman: Brittany “Bam Bam” Lincicome made a clutch par from the trees to win the Canadian Women’s Open. It was Lincicome’s fifth-career title and her second this year. Is it time to start adding Lincicome’s name to the short list of best Americans? And will she ever join Kerr and Creamer at the top?
Shipnuck: Lincicome is a better closer than either Kerr or Wie, both of whom made late bogeys on Sunday to end their bid. Bam Bam has always been a tremendous talent but a bit flaky. She’s gone to a different level since she started working with the Vision 54 peeps. I think she can be a dominant force on the LPGA.
Gorant: She teamed up with a new caddie, former LPGA player A.J. Eathorne, earlier this year and it really seems to have helped her. Could be the start of run.
Hack: Brittany has a major, multiple wins this year, and five victories over all. She has the length to beat anyone out there and a much-improved short game to boot. Can she be the top American? Stacy Lewis might have something to say about that.
Gorant: Is Lincicome to the LPGA what Dustin Johnson is to the PGA? Both crazy long hitters who struggle with their approach and won his/her fifth this week…
Hack: I like the analogy, right down to their veteran, all-business caddies.
Shipnuck: To that you can add that they don’t, uh, overthink things.
Gorant: That’s what I meant by “struggle with their approach” but I was trying to soft pedal it.
Shipnuck: This is Tour Confidential, Gorant. We don’t soft pedal.
Gorant: True. True.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR MICHELLE WIE?
Reiterman: One of Stanford’s finest, Michelle Wie, nearly defended her title in Canada, but came up a stroke short. Let’s get an update on your thoughts on Miss Michelle. How many of you think she’ll start dominating once she’s done with school, and how many of you think what we see is what we’re going to get with Wie for the next few years?
Hack: I don’t see her dominating, but the end of college and the long putter are clearly two chits in her favor.
Shipnuck: If you can forget about the pre-teen hype and just look at the last four years it’s pretty incredible what she’s accomplished as a pro golfer while also getting good grades at Stanford and enjoying the college experience. But after she graduates next year I’m not sure being a full-time golfer is going to turn Wie into a dominant player. She’s too smart and has too many interests to be fulfilled hitting balls at the range all day. I doubt she’ll last even as long as Lorena.
Reiterman: Wow! So when people walk through the World Golf Hall of Fame a few decades from now, they won’t see a Michelle Wie exhibit in there?
Shipnuck: Once she wins a few more times maybe it will become a habit, or an addiction. She clearly has Hall of Fame talent, and she does love the limelight and would probably embrace being number one. So she could do amazing things in this game. But it takes a certain single-mindedness that, I think, doesn’t suit her.
Morfit: It’s hard to get a read on Wie’s future while she’s still a student. Maybe she’ll devote herself to golf, maybe not. Either way she will be fine. Can’t say same for LPGA.
Wei: Yeah, she’s way too multidimensional (unlike, say, Lincicome) with other interests she wants to pursue other than just golf — and in order to be number one and dominant, it has to be your only focus. That doesn’t mean she isn’t the most talented woman to ever play the game though. I don’t see her playing on the LPGA past the age of 30 and that’s a generous number. But who knows, maybe if she takes a few years off to explore other interests, she’ll come back to the game and reach all those milestones everyone expected from her since she was 13.
Hack: Whether Wie wants it badly or not might not even matter if Yani Tseng keeps winning majors at this clip. Wie could go on to have a fine career — possibly a Hall of Fame one — and for the sake of the game I hope she does. But all that Masters talk and the Big Wiesy trading tee shots with the Big Easy feels like a million years ago.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Wie will be a winner on the LPGA. Dominate? I’m not sure about that but she does have that kind of potential. Funny how a year ago we’d be saying, “Yeah, but she uses a long putter.” Now we’re talking about it like it’s some kind of advantage. No dominant player has ever wielded a long putter. This is a new decade in a new century though.
ERIN HILLS AND THE U.S. AMATEUR
Reiterman: Congrats to 2011 U.S. Amateur winner Kelly Kraft and runner-up Patrick Cantlay, who staged one hell of a duel Sunday. But Erin Hills was the other star of the week at the U.S. Amateur. The Wisconsin course will host the U.S. Open in 2017. Some of you lucky panelists have played the course, so now after seeing the best amateurs in the world tackle Erin Hills, what do you think of it as a future venue of the national Open?
Shipnuck: It’ll be a good but not great Open venue. But I think Cantlay will have a bigger impact on the sport than Erin Hills.
Morfit: When I played it last year I couldn’t figure out why it had landed a U.S. Open. Nice enough course. Totally in the middle of nowhere.
Hack: The USGA is taking its charge to grow the game very seriously. I hear the 2020 Open is slated for Neptune.
Herre: I don’t get the “middle of nowhere” thinking. Erin is much closer to Milwaukee than Whistling Straits and an easy drive from the airport. The course does have one thing in common with the Straits — an abundance of nearby rural land for parking.
Gorant: Cantlay is certainly looking more and more like the real deal every time he plays.
Van Sickle: Erin Hills is certainly difficult enough, long enough and big enough for the U.S. Open. Plus, it’s almost all natural and there’s over 650 acres of room. Corporate suites is the name of the game in championship golf now. Nobody wants to admit it but scenery, especially water, plays a big part in which courses we rate highly: Augusta, Pebble. Signature holes almost always have water in play on them. There are plenty of great courses without significant water hazards–Oakmont, for starters. But I’m not sure Erin Hills can ever escape the shadow of Whistling Straits to the north and its luscious lake views, not to mention its PGAs and Ryder Cup.