PGA Tour Confidential: The Byron Nelson Championship

PGA Tour Confidential: The Byron Nelson Championship

Start of something big? Jason Day celebrated his clinching putt on the 18th hole.
Mike Ehrmann/SI

Every week of the 2010 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.


Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Kids today, they grow up so fast. Jason Day, 22, won the Nelson, but Jordan Spieth, 16, stole the show. This continues the PGA Tour’s season-long youth movement, which is threatening to become the year’s dominant storyline. For years the LPGA has skewed young, but what do we make of the Tour suddenly turning into “Romper Room?” To help us make sense of this, and everything else, we’re pleased to welcome author and historian Art Stricklin, who has written three books about Texas golf. OK, y’all, take it away.

Click here to submit a question for Alan’s next mailbag.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I don’t know, love to see the young guys play well, but as far as storylines, Els has won twice, Furyk twice, Stricker once and Mickelson’s got the year’s first major. There’s a balance.

Shipnuck: Yes, the old guys are still hanging on, but this could be year one in a larger trend. Day is an example of the kids who grew up idolizing Tiger and adopted his dedication to the gym and practice tee and tried to emulate his manifest self-belief. There’s a whole wave of youngsters out there who think they’re supposed to peak when they’re in their early 20’s, and now they’re starting to win.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: The success of the kids is a manifestation of the Tiger Effect that is rarely discussed. People talk about TW’s effect on TV ratings and such, but sometimes forget how many kids he inspired to take up the game. That’s the real tragedy of his fall from grace.

Gorant: Agreed. Tiger set a new standard, and from now on that’s the goal of every young player. Eventually they’ll surpass him. I gave Day a lot of ink when he came off the Nationwide, where he showed not only power but a great putting touch, but it took him a couple of years to figure it out on the big Tour. Still, because he made the jump so young, he’s now a winner at 22.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Great e-mail from the Tour about that Grayson Murray kid, also 16, making the cut on the Nationwide tour this weekend. He was the second youngest to make the cut out there. The first youngest, the Tour reminds us, was Gipper Finau, who was 16 years, 20 days at the 2006 Utah Energy Solutions Championship. Now, Gipper may end up breaking all of Tiger’s records, but I don’t know.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: This doesn’t become a great storyline until one of the kids wins a major. The Tour holds 40-odd tournaments, and some of the kids are going to win from time to time.

Shipnuck: But they’ve never won like this — the Tour is on pace for a record number of twentysomething victors. Tiger’s fall from grace isn’t a tragedy to these guys; it’s an opportunity.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Shipwreck nails it. Opportunity knocked, a bunch of new guys answered.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Amazing what a few years gap on birth certificate can mean. Kids like Rory and Jason got all of the inspiration from Tiger and none of the battle scars from facing him.

Morfit: Another weird byproduct of Woods is that guys sometimes think if they haven’t killed on Tour in their 20s, they’re a bust.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: The explosion of youth achievement is not just Woods. It’s life and it’s everywhere. A 13-year-old just climbed Everest. Nothing surprises anymore.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: The Tour’s youth movement is a good subplot of the 2010 season, which we’ll remember mainly for the Woods-Mickelson reversal of fortune. This tournament was a nice introduction to Jason Day, but we need to see him and the other young guys in contention more to really get invested in them. It was also exciting to see Matthew McConaughey in the final group.

Van Sickle: I’ll be more impressed by the youth movement (if there is one) if they start doing it in the majors.

Morfit: It seems inevitable that one of these really young guys is going to go on a major run. The thing is, we keep waiting for it to happen, and it doesn’t. Maybe it only seems inevitable because we’re looking at it through our Tiger Woods glasses — if he did it, then some other kid is bound to follow. Adam Scott, the winner a few weeks ago, is a good cautionary tale.


Shipnuck: Let’s talk about Day in a little more detail. There’s a lot to like about his game and demeanor. Is he going to be a real force or just make a great living?

Morfit: His short game sets him apart, which is promising. Terrific putter, but also very handy around the green, and he seems to want it pretty bad. Very nice kid, too, much like McIlroy.

Art Stricklin: I vote for nice living. The only reason he lives in Fort Worth is because it has good airline connections to his home in Australia, plus his wife is from Ohio, and he sure didn’t want to move back there. Modern pro. Lives near his mates; there’s a large Aussie pro connection in North Texas. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him miss the cut at Colonial, but at least he made a nice check for his one week’s work.

Morfit: Day finished a shot out of a playoff at Colonial last year. I’d love to see him back up his Byron win with another at the Colonial this week, against a field that will include Phil Mickelson. I think two wins in a row or two in a span of a month or so would be reason to pay attention. Having written a long Jason Day profile for Golf Magazine in 2008, I’m as big a fan as the next guy, but we’ve seen too many flashes of brilliance from too many young studs not to be a little leery of hyperbole.

Gorant: Colonial is his home club, too. So he’s got a chance.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: He’s still got to show me something over a period of time. Hate to say it again, but the guy with the best short game won — again.

Herre: The kid did look pretty good around the greens.

Gorant: Day wasn’t one of those guys who simply collected high finishes on the Nationwide in order to move up. He won tournaments. In fact, he was the youngest winner ever on that tour at 19 years and nearly eight months. That’s a good sign.

Evans: Great living. That’s what they’re all playing for in the Tiger-Phil era. Day has a good swing and a nice macho thing going, but I would take Jim Furyk over him any day of the week as a partner in a four-ball.

Gorant: Right now yes, but in five years?

Godich: Good point, Farrell. And let’s not forget some of the swings he made over the last four holes — left off the tee on 15, a tee ball on 16 that might have gone OB if it hadn’t hit a spectator, the mis-hit off the tee on 18 followed by the yank into the water.

Van Sickle: Day was picked for greatness four years ago. He’s got game, but he certainly faltered coming in every day. But hey, he’s 22. He’s got time to learn how to close. It was awfully windy on the weekend; it’s hard to tell just how good he’s going to be. I don’t think he’s in Rory’s category, at least not yet.

Shipnuck: Yes, it’s like playing skins, now Day has to “justify.” I think we’ve all had our professional hearts broken by kids who didn’t follow up after a breakthrough. But he’s only 22 and has already been through his big slump, and he also recently got married. I think things are in place for him to take off from here.

Evans: Day hasn’t lived long enough to be in a slump. He won when he was finally ready. Period. Golf is too hard to try to predict with any real accuracy who will be consistent from week to week, unless your name is Tiger Woods.


Godich: Even more telling was the confidence shown by the 16-year-old. He wasn’t just talking about playing well; he was talking about winning. And he meant it. You had to be impressed by the kid’s poise. He didn’t look like a 16-year-old with the way he handled those interviews.

Gorant: He was better in front of the camera than some of the old pros. Maybe that’s the sure sign that he’s not ready yet: he gives too much to the media.

Shipnuck: Yes, the AJGA is practically as good a training ground as the Nationwide, and not just for the golf. These kids are polished in every way.

Godich: I called my son over to watch the telecast on Saturday and pointed out that Jordan was born the same year he was. He went right back to his Facebook discussion.

Van Sickle: Never seen another 16-year-old this smart. He was funny, realistic, and talked about not getting caught up in “the story about the 16-year-old.” We watch 32-year-old veterans get caught up in leading tournaments and fall apart. His parents are in no rush to let Jordan stop being a kid. He’ll go to Texas and play some college golf and have a great career. A breath of fresh air, for sure.

Evans: Jordan hasn’t even made a college squad yet. After he breaks into the top five at Texas and plays the summer amateur events, we can say what kind of future he might have.

Godich: I’d say a U.S. Junior Am championship and back-to-back high school state titles in Texas are a good start. He can go for the three-peat next year.

Herre: Bet the Colonial would do anything to have Spieth in its field. The kid was great for the gate, and just what a sleepy Texas swing needed.

Van Sickle: Colonial has Phil. These days, that’s good enough. But a side of Spieth wouldn’t hurt.

Shipnuck: For those who are already getting carried away about Spieth’s future, I have two words: Ty Tryon.

Stricklin: This kid is way smarter than TT ever was. He already batted down the going-pro-right-away angle. He told me he is looking forward to four years of golf at Texas. Jordan may not be the next Tiger or Phil, but he is way ahead of Tryon and Colt Knost.

Evans: Ty never tried to play college golf, never won an AJGA event. He got lucky in Q-school before he was ready. Spieth will figure it out at a slower clip through college and the summer amateur events.


Van Sickle: As our infamous Anonymous Pro texted me, the only way the Nelson would’ve had any stars would’ve been if the Dallas pro hockey team showed up to spectate.

Stricklin: PGA Tour tournaments truly go in cycles. Just eight years ago, there was no event at Quail Hollow, and the Byron Nelson was a powerhouse, attracting the top five players in the world at the time. Now Quail Hollow is a powerhouse, and the Byron Nelson is at low ebb. Bad date, dead legend and a so-so course equals trouble. Jordan Spieth saved this year’s tournament. Next year? Who knows?

Shipnuck: Since Byron’s death, the tourney has become B-list at best. Is this what awaits Bay Hill and Memorial, too, when their patron saints aren’t around to guilt-trip players into showing up?

Herre: Yes, Bay Hill and the Memorial will be diminished when Arnie and Jack leave the scene. Mostly because their events might not be given such wonderful dates, and in the end, a non-major tournament’s success is all about the dates — as much as anything, timing determine the strength of field. The Nelson was also hurt by the Players move to May.

Lipsey: Not too many years ago, Westchester was a beloved course and a kingpin event, so big it was put in the original FedEx Cup rotation. Now the event is dead. Nothing is sacred on Tour anymore.

Van Sickle: The Nelson’s woes are directly tied to the Players and Wachovia moving to May, thus turning the succeeding weeks into the new Dead Zone. It wouldn’t be any different if Byron were alive. The secret on Tour is to have a big-money sponsor who can buy a good date when one becomes available. Looked like Valero made a big move from the fall to May, but all they did was get suckered into the Dead Zone. See the Canadian Open (pre-FedEx Cup run) for scheduling pitfalls.

Godich: Weibring did a nice job with the redesign, but the golf course still isn’t great. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of other options. Plus, as somebody who grew up there, I can tell you that hardly a year goes by without a weather delay.

Morfit: To some extent, tournaments are a big deal if Tiger and Phil say they are, and that dynamic will only intensify post Jack-and-Arnie. (Of course, by then the taste-makers may include Rory and Jason and Jordan and …)

Stricklin: When Arnie dies, Bay Hill will only have an overrated course surrounded by old homes and Florida condos.

Gorant: That’s the problem with building these things around a personality. They’re often a tribute to ego anyway, so when that’s gone maybe it’s appropriate that the event goes, too.

Godich: Maybe so, but the Salesmanship Club raises a ton of money at the Nelson for charity. The Nelson isn’t going away.

Van Sickle: The Nelson isn’t going away unless HP decides it is. Could happen, but I hope it doesn’t. The Nelson is now No. 1 as the best pressroom for media — clubhouse parking, great food, a lounge with couches, massage therapy chairs and masseuses, a Wii, Foosball table, ping pong, delivery pizza each night for dinner, loads of beer. There isn’t a spot on Tour where the media get treated more luxuriously. I hereby volunteer for the ’11 Nelson.

Evans: The Memorial is handled too well to have a Nelson-style decline, and Bay Hill is too nice a track to be overlooked by the pros, especially if it stays where it is on the schedule, a few weeks before the Masters. What kills the Byron Nelson is that it’s played on a TPC course that’s not even in the top 10 of the TPC courses.

Stricklin: You give Bay Hill way too much credit. TPC Las Colinas is a yawner, and Bay Hill is just underwhelming. Let’s hope Arnie makes it to 92 like Byron.


Shipnuck: For my money, the Nelson was only the third most important tourney of the week. The Euro tour held its flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship. Journeyman Simon Khan prevailed, but all the buzz was about Ernie Els’s latest redesign at Wentworth, which was universally panned. This follows the too-tough TPC San Antonio, dreamed up by Sergio Garcia, among others. Has the era of the player-architect finally, mercifully ended?

Gorant: Probably not. When you’re investing millions in building a course, and the accompanying real estate, you need something to draw people. As much as you may like Tom Doak or Roger Rulewich, they don’t sell memberships/houses. Guy who drops big bucks wants to bore the crap out of people at the office talking about his Nicklaus course, etc.

Walker: Except for Nicklaus and Crenshaw, who’ve proved they’re serious about course design, Tour players should stick to stuff they know, like making wine.

Hack: Course design, wineries, these guys really are good.

Evans: The era will never end. The player-architect is in place to sell housing lots in developments that shouldn’t be built in the first place. A Tiger design in any affluent suburban development in the world will attract lots of buyers, even after the scandal, even in this tough market.

Stricklin: Ben Crenshaw is the only current player I want designing my courses.

Shipnuck: Ben can’t break 80 — he’s an architect first and has been for a good long while.

Morfit: The idea of a player-architect is another example of fuzzy logic. Why would I want to play Tiger’s first designs instead of, say, the final masterwork of a guy like Mike Strantz? Because Tiger could make a ball bend to his will? Who cares? I’d rather play Monterrey Peninsula C.C. than Tiger Woods Dubai or whatever that thing is going to be called.

Shipnuck: Poor Ernie keeps plowing up Wentworth, and it only gets worse. I liked Paul Casey’s idea that courses be treated like historical buildings, and that there be more oversight anytime someone wants to make changes.

Herre: Unless there’s an issue that affects play, like the 17th green at Shinnecock Hills or the 18th green at Olympic during the Open, I think these course-design kerfuffles are non-stories. Just play the damn course already.


Shipnuck: The young Korean Sun Young Yoo beat Angela Stanford to win a very exciting Sybase Match Play Championship, but the match of the week was Jiyai Shin’s takedown of Michelle Wie in the quarterfinals. Shin was giving up a foot in height and 60 yards off the tee but wore Weezy down with her relentless accuracy. How big a moment was this for Shin as she tries to establish herself as No. 1?

Hack: Shin’s the No.1 player in the world, a major champ and was the higher seed. The better player won, no?

Godich: It was huge, especially when you consider she was 1 down after 12 holes. The match didn’t even get to the 18th hole.

Gorant: Big in that she put a little numerical distance between herself and her closest pursuers. As far as beating Wie, though, I don’t imagine it means much to her, since she’s been doing it regularly for two-plus years.

Shipnuck: I think the victory is big because it will help people focus on Shin’s reign. Her English is engaging and getting better by the day, and she is a really bubbly, fun-loving personality. The LPGA and (Golf Channel) needs to do a much better job of selling her.

Gorant: She is quite peppy and has what Brent Musburger would repeatedly call a great story, but I’m not sure how captivating she is. At least a few notches below Ochoa, who didn’t exactly grab the average sports fan by the throat.

Shipnuck: Before we leave the LPGA, a special shout-out to Juli Inkster, a fiftysomething soccer mom who at the Sybase stepped on the neck of the tour’s best athlete and the No. 3 player in the world, Suzann Pettersen. Is there a more underrated great player extant than Inkster?

Herre: I will vote for Bernhard Langer.

Morfit: Not only that, everyone loves her, on both tours.

Godich: You have to love her passion, but perhaps her continuing popularity is due to the lack of a young American star? Would somebody — anybody! — please step up?

Evans: I don’t know that Inkster is underrated in the world of women’s golf. She’s won majors and she’s a Hall of Famer.

Hack: Golf Channel takes a lot of grief in this space, but I thought the announcers showed some bite this week, questioning Stanford’s decision to squeeze in the Yanks-Mets game Saturday night, some 50 miles away, between two days of 36 holes. Lincicome, a guest announcer, said she would have advised Angela to go to Sunday’s game, not Saturday’s. Val Skinner then asked Angela after the round. She said she lost because she was misreading putts, not because she was tired. That was good stuff.


Shipnuck: OK, before we go, we have to touch on the most exciting development of the week: Tony Romo is only two good rounds from playing in the U.S. Open!

Gorant: If he makes it, he’d be out there at Pebble Beach among all the 49er fans. Could be a bloodbath.

Morfit: Yes, it’s very exciting. And Jerry Rice is only two good rounds from making the cut in a Nationwide event and not getting disqualified.

Herre: Even Van Sickle made it through local qualifying. Romo has no chance in the sectional.

Van Sickle: Speaking as a player who just missed the Open in sectional qualifying — by a scant 17 shots — let me say congrats to Tony. But I also have to point out that unless he plays the two best rounds of his life, he’s not remotely close to making the Open. Glad he’s trying, though. It’s cool. The opposite of ego-freak Jerry Rice taking up space on the Nationwide Tour.

Godich: But who wins when he tees it up with Jordan Spieth?

Morfit: Funny that he and Spieth are texting buddies. Seems like Romo is opening himself up for a lot of criticism from disgruntled Cowboys fans by playing so much golf, but good for him for sticking with something he has a passion for even while maintaining his day job.

Godich: Well, he did pass on the opportunity to play in the Monday qualifier for the Nelson.

Stricklin: He still considers the Cowboys his day job, sort of. He is very serious about Open qualifying, but he could overthink it. Does Bob Rotella make housecalls to NFL quarterbacks?

Shipnuck: It’s a sad day when a guy can get criticized for shagging buxom starlets and playing too much golf. Isn’t that the definition of the American dream?

Stricklin: I am chasing the rumor that Jessica will caddie for him in the sectional qualifying, dressed in the Barbie and Ken outfits they used for her birthday party. OK, maybe not. His chances depend on the weather in the Houston area on June 7 and the conditions at the Nicklaus Carlton Woods course. In a birdie shootout, Romo is in trouble. If he only needs to shoot upper 60s or low 70s, he could advance. He is a grinder on the golf course. Like Gary said, he is not Jerry Rice, but a serious golfer who has gotten further than I or just about anybody thought he would.

Van Sickle: Nobody would have a word of criticism about Romo’s golf if he had two Super Bowl rings.