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: At the Bob Hope Desert Classic, a week-long birdie fest on some easy layouts in Palm Springs turned into a battle for survival on Sunday, when gusty desert winds swept through the valley.
I like watching birdies and eagles, but Sunday’s adverse conditions really showed you who was playing well and who wasn’t. British Open-like winds really show you who’s a shotmaker.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I like the tough conditions, but I couldn’t help but notice the lack of star power out there. Phil Mickelson used to start his West Coast swing at the Hope. David Duval shot 59 there. Nowadays, it seems like the season doesn’t really begin until Torrey Pines.
Van Sickle: The Golf Channel may have belabored the old Bob Hope clips and the booth visits by Arnold Palmer, but I think they succeeded in restoring a bit of the tournament’s credibility. I saw a lot of the same old footage several times, but I didn’t mind. It conveyed the tournament’s history.
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: On the other hand…it might make some viewers long for the good old days!
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I agree that the Hope is pretty much sizzle-free. The concept of celebrity pro-am golf is only as good as the celebrities and the pros, and the field is weak on both counts.
Hack: Between the rotating courses and rotating hosts, it just feels JV to me. Growing up in Southern California, this tournament used to be special. No longer.
Friedman: But here’s a question re: celebrities like Kevin Nealon and Huey Lewis: Once they are invited to these things, are they ever dropped? Or is this a lifetime sponsor’s exemption?
Morfit: The celeb exemption looks pretty lifetime to me. The Hope and the Crosby need a quality-control mechanism like Guitar Hero, where you can get booed off the stage.
Friedman: OK, then, here’s the Next Big Programming Idea for Golf Channel: Celebrity Q-School.
Charlie Hanger, editor, Golf.com: In a recent column, David Feherty was pretty outraged with George Lopez’s dismissal as host? Did he get a raw deal?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Lopez poured his heart into the tournament, but the bottom line is that the Palm Springs golf community is the wrong demographic for him. Rich, old white people are the butt of most of his jokes!
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The age of golf catering to rich old white people can’t end soon enough. The Tour is really about TV eyeballs, right? And Lopez could only help get the game into zip codes that have little exposure to it. It was fascinating to read a David Feherty piece with no bits, just his defense of Lopez. That was enough to sway me that the Hope organizers made a poor choice.
Shipnuck: How about Lopez’s replacement? Did anyone else catch the clip on Wed. or Thurs. when the nearly 80-year-old Palmer was signing autographs for about a dozen fans, all of them women of various ages, many of them rather foxy? He had a definite glint in his eye. They don’t call him the King for nothing.
Bamberger: I love seeing Arnold Palmer in the booth. He won’t be around forever, and it’s great that fans who never saw Arnold make a swing in anger are still seeing the man’s charm and class. It’s one of the things golf does best, honor its past. I think Arnold’s role at the Hope this year, minor as it was, helped make the week.
Van Sickle: Arnie told a great story about winning his first event, in Canada, and Tommy Bolt telling him to pitch out to the fairway when Palmer ploughed a tee shot into the woods. Besides being a case of illegally giving advice, Arnie ignored Bolt, threaded a 6-iron through the trees onto the green and laughed that Bolt wouldn’t speak to him the rest of the round. That was a better anecdote than Nick Faldo has given in two years in the booth.
Bamberger: Speaking of Palmer: a few years ago I was with him at his casita near Palm Springs. I told him how much I admired his hard-collar golf shirts, like the ones you saw him wearing at the Hope this week. He said, “Follow me.” We went to the garage, where he had maybe a thousand Pickering shirts, size large, each embroidered with the Palmer logo, the multi-colored umbrella. The company was going out of business and he bought the remaining stock. He gave me one, in Palmer pink. Sunday’s winner, Pat Perez, wore a sort of modified hard collar, with pink on the shoulder blades.
Morfit: Enough about the stars. Let’s talk about the golfers. Poor Steve Stricker. He is a super nice guy, and I know it was flag-bendingly windy out there, but he seems to get the driver yips. His scores on holes 6-10 (47448) equaled the zip code of Nashville, Ind. At the 2004 Players, Stricker hit the flat-out craziest-looking shot I’ve ever seen a player of his caliber hit: a snipe-hooked drive on 18 that went about 60-75 yards in the air before splashdown — 50 yards left of the railroad ties.
Van Sickle: Stricker would be the first to admit he hasn’t done a great job of closing on the final nine. Pat Perez, an amazing talent and virtual birdie machine, has also had issues with closing the deal. Sunday was a different story.
Morfit: It would be good for golf writers if Pat Perez could climb into the top 20. The guy is a phenomenal talent, an awesome ball-striker in the way Boo Weekley is. And Perez is just as good a quote, if not better.
Hack: Agreed. Pat has got himself in tremendous physical shape, too. At last year’s FBR, he talked about ditching his partying ways with John Daly. It was time to grow up, Pat said, and he wished Daly would do the same. Looks like Pat is following his own advice.
James Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: I liked the exchange between Nick Faldo and Dottie Pepper when Perez threw his club and cursed after hitting the pin and almost holing an approach shot. Faldo was aghast at Perez’s show of anger and asked Dottie what she thought. Dottie, a fiery player in her day, thought nothing of it. I thought it was a good example of two ways to approach the game — calm and collected, like Faldo, or let it all out, like Perez and Pepper.
Shipnuck: The difference is that Dottie could effectively channel that anger, while these outbursts have always seemed to hurt Perez.
Van Sickle: Perez could use the win so the public would have a different image of him. About all he’s known for now is doing a tuning-fork with an iron that he angrily stuck in the ground a few years ago. It was such a classic tantrum that CBS even replayed it, sort of like Woody Austin bending the putter over his head.
Morfit: He’s also a little ADD, like many Tour pros. I interviewed him for a story in Golf about five years ago, and he was playing the Incredible Hulk video game, talking on his cell phone and smoking a cigarette as he did our interview. We were in his motel room in the Endicott, N.Y., EconoLodge, which had a pink bathtub. Good times. Amazingly, Perez made more sense than many pros do when they’re 100% focused on the interview.
Shipnuck: It would be great schtick if he was a consistent winner. Up til now it’s just looked like a guy who was out-of-control emotionally. He recently had an epic bachelor party in Cabo, so I guess that means he’s getting married and settling down. I’m sure that will help his career.
Bamberger: Perez has a Lanny Wadkins look, in his face and in his game. I could see this guy getting really, really good.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Perez is nothing like Lanny Wadkins. And winning a birdie-fest doesn’t mean he’s ready for anything except winning the Bob Hope Classic.
Van Sickle: Bamberger’s Lanny Wadkins comparison is the smartest thing anyone has said so far. He’s very Lanny — quick tempo, aggressive, swagger, emotional and always in a rush. Perez’s game is more based on power, but he’s got the energy of a young Lanny, who also wasn’t averse to a party. I hope this means we’re going to see more of him.
Bamberger: Lanny was super feisty, fast with the hands, often annoyed, a jock’s jock, a good talker, an emotional player and superb with the irons.
Morfit: Until the final 15 minutes on Sunday, Pat’s record was more Bobby Wadkins.
Shipnuck: Perez won a Junior World or two back when he was a dominant amateur. People who watched him back then have been waiting a decade for this victory. I agree this could be part of big run.
Van Sickle: I will predict that Perez will not win the FBR Open this week in Scottsdale. He has played it seven straight times. His results: six missed cuts and a tie for 43rd last year. Hmm, the FBR has the Bird’s Nest, the wildest party tent on tour. Wonder if that’s a coincidence? Phil Mickelson will make his return at the FBR. Perez got his Hope. Is there hope for Phil?
Hack: I’m tired of being fooled by Phil. There were two moments when I thought he was ready to take over the tour: through 71 holes at Winged Foot in ’06 and through 72 holes at the Players in ’07. I was wrong both times.
Morfit: I agree. He’s great for the game, but let me know when he wins another tournament that matters — a major or one where he’s got to stare down Tiger.
Van Sickle: Phil made a gutsy move by going to Butch Harmon for help. I, too, thought that would have panned out better than it has. Perhaps it still will, I don’t know.
Shipnuck: I think she’s the most knowledgeable roving reporter in golf. Definitely the hardest-working. She never misses a thing.
Shipnuck: No doubt he’s funnier, but Dottie always has more info. Plus, she’s much less flatulent, which is nice if you’re a reporter walking in the same group.
Van Sickle: By the way, here’s a piece of trivia: The Champions Tour had an event on TV Sunday night from Hawaii.
Herre: Gary, I was thinking the same thing, and even took a look at the senior leader board. (Geez, how long has Gil Morgan been out there?) I see all the big names near the top — and couldn’t care less.
Bamberger: How old is Hale Irwin? The scores he’s still making are amazing. But not enough to make me watch.
Morfit: I actually think the Champions Tour is a very advanced digital effect, all the same faces repixilated on a weekly basis on top of different colored golf shirts, with some dandruff thrown in for realism. It’s amazing no one’s figured it out yet.
Evans: The Champions Tour is a profitable little business for the PGA Tour. It gets enough sponsorship to survive, but after Nicklaus and Trevino faded it became an afterthought.
Van Sickle: It is almost impossible to think of a scenario that would make the Champions Tour compelling TV. Even if Fred Funk won 12 weeks in a row, I’m not sure he could get a headline in an American newspaper. The tour has simply fallen off the radar, and with the PGA Tour moving more to the Golf Channel, the seniors get less notoriety every year. Senior golf is a nice day at the course for fans, but it’s never been the same ever since it left ESPN years ago.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Fans like to connect to their heroes in person, but on TV we realize that they don’t have the skills we remember. It’s not a knock, just reality. Tennis has tried to make a go of a Senior Tour (35-and-over players), but even Borg, McEnroe and Connors couldn’t really create a buzz.
Morfit: The boldest quote of the year came from almost-senior Kenny Perry, who says he aims to reach 20 wins. He’s got 12, and he’ll be 50 in a year and a half. I was in that press conference, and we were all stunned when he said it. I thought I’d misheard him. Then I thought he might be joking. But good for him if he wants to call that shot. And if he does it, someone call the Council on Aging.
Van Sickle: Great point, Cam. There’s the telling difference in the Champions Tour. Ten years ago, guys couldn’t wait until they turned 50 so they could cash in. Now they turn 50 and they want to avoid the Champions Tour as long as they can, like postponing a root canal. I think that shows the difference in money, prestige and golf courses between the tours.
Evans: Not true. Only the guys who can still play on the regular tour try to avoid the senior circuit. Most of the players, guys who lost their tour cards and players who can no longer compete, relish an opportunity to join the seniors.
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