PGA Tour Confidential: Byron Nelson Championship

PGA Tour Confidential: Byron Nelson Championship

Paul Casey birdied the final two holes to win by one.
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

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: I like to moderate in the manner that Aaron Baddeley putts — with great dispatch and little preamble. So let’s get right to it. This is one of those weeks when the Euro tour offered up a better event than the PGA Tour. At the big-money BMW Championship, at venerable Wentworth, against a strong field, Paul Casey birdied the final two holes for a rousing victory that will propel him all the way to No. 3 in the World Ranking. In 2009 Casey has won in America, Europe and the Mideast, as well as made the finals of the Match Play Championship. Are we now ready to declare Casey one of the best players in the game and a threat to start claiming majors, or he is destined to disappoint us like other young talents such as Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia?

Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Lots of levers in Casey’s swing — like Sabbatini’s or Ogilvy’s. He has to be in synch to be successful, and that’s not going to happen every week.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: It seems like his swing has a lot of moving parts, and although he’s got it in synch now, it feels like it can go out at any time. Even if all he does is get people to associate him with something other than the “bloody annoying” Americans quote (and I win the prize for being the first to bring it up), it’s a great year for him.

Shipnuck: I get the sense he’s not content and he’ll keep pushing forward. As for your prize, it’s a free subscription to

Gorant: Sweet. I will say that I watched him hitting his driver on the range at Shinnecock, and the dude hits it a mile with what seems like ridiculously little effort.

Shipnuck: Casey has a pretty high success rate at closing out tournaments when he’s in contention. That’s an invaluable talent. Or maybe it’s a learned skill. Either way, he gets it done.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Paul Casey’s swing is like a modern version of Ian Woosnam’s: super-compact and muscular, with not a lot that can go wrong. The man hit 3-iron on the last — trying to get hole-high on a 260-yard, into-the-breeze hole. (He came up short and made a spectacular bunker shot and four-footer, not a bit of yip in it.) He drives it in play. When you swing that well, hit it that far, have a smooth putting stroke and a seemingly simple approach to the whole thing, that’s the full package. The first person he thanked was Peter Kostis. That tells you they’re logging real time on the range. He’s obviously coming into his own.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Paul Casey and I have talked at length several times this season, and I’m always impressed by him. Some people are aware that he got married recently — a life change that is sometimes associated with a drop in athletic performance — but fewer people know that there was a major fire at his Scottsdale home a few months ago. He and his new wife, Jocelyn, have been living in a rented place while repairs are made. All that has been going on in his world away from the course, but he earns three wins and a solid runner-up performance at the Match Play. That would be a great season for anyone, and we’re only in May.

Bamberger mentioned that he and Kostis have been logging a lot of range time, and that’s true. They are very much alike — extremely intelligent, quick witted, world viewed — and have been together since Paul was at Arizona State. Remember when Casey made a hole-in-one at the 2006 Ryder Cup? He gave the ball to Kostis. They are very good at creating game plans, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Paul win a major, especially at Hazeltine in August.

Shipnuck: Casey is a contender, but he’s not alone. There are a lot of very good players out there with something to prove. Are majors the only way to separate the men from the boys?

Herre: Yes, and the Ryder Cup.

Shipnuck: But last week most of the yahoos on this roundtable were devaluing Monty’s Ryder Cup accomplishments, to say nothing of Rory’s diss (and Tiger’s apathy). I’m not sure the Ryder Cup is the fifth major.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I say yes it is. Casey, with the Ryder Cup, will always have a bigger stage than some of his non-Euro brethren (like Adam Scott), but majors are to golf what the World Series, Super Bowl and NBA Championship are to their sports. You’ve got four cracks a year in golf. That’s not too much to ask to be considered truly great.

Anne Szeker, producer, But then how many majors do you need to win to separate yourself? Is one enough?

Shipnuck: Great point. There are a lot of flukish one-time major winners. I’d say three is a magic number to be considered truly great.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Right on, Anne. I’ve never understood how a player with seven career wins suddenly becomes a great champion because three other guys fall apart on Sunday and leave him standing with the Wanamaker Trophy. I want to see two or three major wins, at least, a la Phil and Vijay.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: On majors I always go back to what Larry Nelson said: “They mean a lot if you’re supposed to win them, and they mean hardly anything if you’re not supposed to.” Tiger and Phil are the only guys who are supposed to win majors. Everybody else is competing to pick off one or two over the next decade or so. I really think most players are content with making a good living. If they win a major, well, it’s like hitting the lottery.

Bamberger: The Ryder Cup is a fascinating team exhibition. All team competitions turn out heroes, and Seve and Monty and Garcia have better careers for it. For those whose careers didn’t depend on it — Tiger, Jack, Hogan — it’s an after-thought.

Shipnuck: John Daly made another cut overseas and continued to get rave reviews from the Euro press. I’m grudgingly beginning to look forward to his return to the U.S. Can I get an Amen?

Szeker: Amen! Can’t wait to see him and those crazy pants in the U.S.!

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Amen — and I was one of those who was writing him off. He is atoning, even wearing pink pants in support of Amy Mickelson.

Herre: If Daly is the sweetheart of the Euro press, what does that say about Paul Casey?

Hack: The man is a star, whether he’s 260 or 210, drunk or sober, blond or brunette. His wattage has been missed.

Bamberger: The public will never tire of the Long John Show. The problem, for some of us, is that we know it too well. The public does not, and doesn’t care anyhow.

Evans: Big John will play well and get his card back this season. As long as he can stay alive he’ll do alright. For me John Daly is like one of the Stones, especially the one that lives off cigarettes, Keith Richards. He might just have a longer career than Tiger Woods.

Shipnuck: OK, what does the flock think will happen when Long John returns here? There are fewer Hooters girls to worry about on the Euro tour, not to mention the various other hangers-on and bad influences he’s cultivated in every town on the PGA Tour schedule.

Herre: I think you’ve answered your own question.

Szeker: I think you’re going to see a different Daly. From following him on Twitter, he seems to have his priorities in the right place these days. How long that lasts is another story.

Herre: That’s right. Daly’s good behavior never lasts long.

Friedman: Ah, Anne, so young, so trusting. We’ll see what happens when he’s back with all the old temptations.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: If you’re a U.S. tournament sponsor, do you consider giving Daly an exemption now? Has he been on his good behavior long enough? And is he still relevant?

Friedman: Absolutely. He’s a drawing card, and many weeks there are damned few of them.

Garrity: If I’m a sponsor, I wait for Daly to show he’s sober for a year or two before I give him an invite. Yes, he attracts fans, but it’s corporate recklessness to yoke your company’s name to a guy who might take out himself (or an innocent family) while driving drunk on the turnpike.

Van Sickle: Daly is remarkably consistent. He eventualy quits pretty much everything he starts. Except for the obvious thing he needs to quit.

Shipnuck: OK, switching gears. At the Nelson, noted mischief-maker and truth-teller Rory Sabbatini played beautifully en route to his first victory in two years. Rory: love him or hate him?

Bamberger: Love him or hate him? Yes.

Gorant: Exactly. I find him somewhat irksome, but I also appreciate his passion, and that he can actually win out there.

Shipnuck: Rory certainly makes things more interesting. He did correctly call BS on the media-industrial complex that castigates players for not saying interesting things then rips them when they do. I hope he can contend more regularly. There’s nobody I’d rather see paired with Tiger on a Sunday afternoon.

Hack: Amused by him. Nothing like a guy who has five PGA Tour victories and struts around like he has 50.

Van Sickle: I love watching a guy who’s a total feel player, like Rory or Monty or Seve once upon a time. That Rory is socially challenged only makes him more fun. He’s an excellent interview, and so is his wife. I reported an item from New Orleans that we didn’t run about Rory’s son, who is about 5. Seems the daycare group got golf lessons one day and Rory’s son was trying to putt. One of the coaches offered to show him how, and the kid said indignantly, “I was on TV at the Masters last week. I know how to putt!” Cute stuff. Sounds like young Rory.

Bamberger: I saw Mrs. Sabo Sunday at Augusta, when the players are in twosomes and things generally move pretty well. I asked her, “Was the pace better today?” She said, “It’s never fast enough.” She, and surely it comes from Rory, have it right: the Tour pace is not even close to where it should be to make the game more interesting for spectators, better for TV and better for golfers everywhere. Four golfers should never need more than three and half hours to play a round. Golf as an all-day activity is painful, and it’s hurting the game.

Hack: How do you speed it up though? Fines aren’t going to scare these guys, and you’d have a revolt if they started adding strokes. All of these players grew up watching Nicklaus (who was, ahem, deliberate), and their shrinks are telling them to have pre-shot routines, with “thought boxes” where they visualize the shot and “play boxes” where they execute the shot. But not, of course, until they step across the imaginary line that separates the thought box from the play box. Five-hour rounds are becoming the norm, especially in the bigger events.

Bamberger: U.S. Open Thursday and Friday rounds are close to six hours, off two tees. A joke. You walk directly to your ball. You pontificate about the shot while the other guy is doing his thing. Forty-five seconds after his shot stops your ball is in the air. It’s all about continually marching to your ball and thinking about your shot all the time. It needs a total cultural change and won’t happen unless TV demands it. Duffers learning the game from TV unfortunately have the worst models imaginable.

Shipnuck: It’s been five days since the news broke, but the golf world is still struggling to make sense of Amy Mickelson’s cancer diagnosis. Sometimes it takes tragedy for a person’s popularity to be fully revealed, and it’s been uplifting to read all of the tributes to Amy that have been written this week. I’ve walked many, many holes with her through the years, and she is indeed great fun and good people. Phil’s been understandably out of sight, and none of us have access to the specifics of Amy’s medical issues, but does anyone have a gut feeling when we’ll see Phil between the ropes again? Amy is his biggest fan and she’s always encouraged him to go play. How dramatic would it be if Phil blew into Bethpage Wednesday night and teed it up at the Open?

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Little chance he blows into Bethpage. If it’s OK to play, personally, he’ll play. Making a Superman-esque dramatic appearance isn’t likely on his radar.

Bamberger: Nice of JD to go pink, and Rory, too, with a shirt and ribbon in his hair. All this pink in support of Amy is great, and good to remember that it’s a wake-up call for all of us. One in eight women will get breast cancer.

Shipnuck: If Phil does turn up at Bethpage, I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins. I’ve always felt he overprepares for the majors, and this would reverse the trend. Also, it was at Bethpage in ’02 when the cult of Phil really began. The gallery support would be off the charts.

Van Sickle: I would expect Phil to play Bethpage because Amy knows how much the U.S. Open means to him and how good his chances are of winning there. That said, none of that should factor into their decision. But if he plays, Rick is right. He won’t sneak in at the last minute. He’ll come in and spend hours chipping and putting around the greens, as usual, trying to divine the secrets of the Black Course. As for whether Phil should play, that’s a choice for Phil and Amy and no one else.

Evans: I think in the scheme of things, a golf tournament that is held every year is not something on his mind right now. He probably has 40 more majors in his career where he could contend.

Bamberger: You could see Phil playing Bethpage. He and Amy have talked about buying a place on Long Island. They love it there. He could do the whole thing as a tribute and a public service announcement. If he happens to get in contention, it’s even better.

Friedman: Not knowing the Mickelsons but knowing of similar scenarios, and assuming that treatment is proceeding normally, I can imagine Amy shoving him out of the house and making him play.

Hack: Coincidentally, the former LPGA pro Val Skinner held her 10th annual LIFE event (LPGA pros in the fight to eradicate breast cancer) last week. There were 28 LPGA pros there and several women who have had the disease. One woman in attendance was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer days after her college graduation. She was 21. Early detection is huge in the battle against the disease, and it is never too soon for women to begin thinking about mammograms.

Shipnuck: Nothing better sums up the irrelevance of the Champions tour than Michael Allen’s victory today at the Senior PGA. The guy never won a single event on the under-50 circuit, but in his first start against the geezers he cruises to victory at one of their supposed majors. Or am I being unfair to this exhibition tour?

Bamberger: The Senior PGA is a real event, with a storied history and real names on the trophy. Michael Allen’s life changed today. This is a keeper, as is the U.S. Senior Open.

Van Sickle: I’ll go with unfair. Once again, the PGA of America set up the course to be so difficult that it became an equalizer. The small greens with false fronts were so firm that it was very difficult to keep approach shots below the holes. So whether you hit it to 8 feet or 30 feet, you were two-putting at best. With putting rendered semi-irrelevant (and that is Allen’s weak spot), it became a ballstriking contest. That’s something he can win. The PGA makes the courses too difficult every year. Last year at Oak Hill was the worst, with the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island the year before a close second. It’s hard enough to get people interested in senior golf. It’s harder still when 73 is a good score. Nick Price said it best this week here: “Sometimes I think they forget we’re 50.”

Shipnuck: Good points. And I read Damon’s report a while ago from Cap Cana, and it seemed like everyone was having fun. Should the lords of Ponte Vedra Beach market it entirely differently, not as competition but more like a Globetrotters feel-good spectacle?

Bamberger: Alan, you and I, among many others, are fans of that Legends team event in Savannah on the Champions Tour. If they played 20 a year, two of them real majors, and each of the others somehow special and different and not an imitation of the real Tour, it would be, for me, far more interesting. Anytime you get Trevino at a golf tournament, you’re doing something right.

Shipnuck: Yes, the Legends is great, but only as a chance to watch the really old guys hit a few shots and flirt with the old biddies in the crowd. Once it gets down to players’ actually trying to win the event, I lose interest.

Evans: We are being unfair to the seniors. Get over the fact that it will never be as good as it was when Nicklaus and Trevino ruled it in the early 90s. It’s ridiculous to compare the Champions Tour to the regular tour. If it were not a good business for the PGA Tour brass, they wouldn’t have it.

Herre: Ask Van Sickle about Allen. If I recall correctly, Gary dusted him in a U.S. Open qualifier years ago.

Van Sickle: Talk about a black mark on a guy’s resume. Michael Allen was one of six players trying for one spot in the U.S. Open local qualifier. I somehow claimed that last spot. He was the only name player in the group. After he missed his third putt on the first playoff green, he kicked his ball and began walking back to the Yale clubhouse. Fluke? Yep, that was me. Totally.

Friedman: Well, in the next few years we’ll see some marquee names out there, like Couples and Faldo. They might make a dent. Lord knows, when Norman shows up, so does the buzz.

Shipnuck: Yes, having the stars want to play is the key to the seniors’ survival. The problem is that the pros make so much money now before turning 50 that there is no financial incentive. In fact, for the Normans of the world, it’s time wasted that could be better spent surveying a new golf course site in China.

Van Sickle: Alan said it all. The name players turning 50 now don’t need any more money. Even Michael Allen doesn’t want to go senior because the purses are less than a third of the PGA Tour. Not to mention the equipment and endorsement contracts that are much, much less. The tour was built on superstars. Watson and Norman qualify, and they play sparingly. There’s no compelling name coming up until Phil.

Bamberger: Phil Rodgers? The chances of Phil Mickelson ever devoting himself to senior golf are, imho, zero.

Hack: No love for Boom-Boom?

Shipnuck: Vijay could run the table and win every event on the schedule. That would be compelling.

Evans: The Champions Tour is a putting contest. While I don’t think the tour needs saving, it does need Fred Couples and a few others like him to bring some excitement over the next few years.

Gorant: Couples recently said that he plans to join the seniors at least 12 or 13 times next year.

Hack: Couples will play the Champions Tour as long as his back holds up. His best friends are out there (Jay Haas in particular), and it won’t be long for DLIII and others to join them. That tour is all about star power. Greg Norman showed up at CapCana and was immediately the biggest draw. Having Chris Evert in his gallery didn’t hurt, either.

Shipnuck: OK, let’s abandon the old guys and talk about another tour that may or may not be floundering. The final LPGA Corning Classic was a thriller as Yani Tseng birdied 16 and 17 to hold off Paula Creamer, who merely birdied 14, 16, 17 and 18 for a closing 65 that left her one stroke short. Am I the only person on the planet who gets excited about the LPGA?

Friedman: I’m with you. I got a frisson when I saw that Vicky Hurst was climbing the leader board.

Evans: The LPGA Tour is like women’s basketball: Not very deep but really strong at the top. The problem is getting corporate America to buy into it.

Lipsey: Guys don’t buy into women’s sports, unless it’s swimsuits, and guys control corporate America.

Van Sickle: Rick is right about the reality. Men don’t watch women’s sports, and barring some exploitive scheme, you can’t make them. Just about every female sports phenom is someone who combines great skill with — sorry about this — good looks. Not sure how we can change that.

Hack: I, for one, enjoy the women’s game, and it is becoming clear that the Tour is doing a lot of Internet marketing (having the players on Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Maybe that will help the Tour reach young folks. Wie, Pressel, Creamer, Gulbis, CKim, Pettersen, Stacy Lewis are all Tweeters. And I’m sure I’m missing a few others.

Shipnuck: Yes, at the recent LPGA summit they had a symposium on using Twitter and dozens of players have signed up. In general I hate Twitter but I’ve been reading a lot of the Tweets. Taken as a whole they give you a remarkable sense of the day-to-day life of the touring pro.

Szeker: Gulbis has been very active on Twitter, and she competed on Celebrity Apprentice and The Price is Right. That kind of exposure can only help the LPGA.

Evans: Golf fans don’t care about communicating with the players. They want to see shots that they can’t hit. Marketing isn’t what the LPGA Tour needs. It needs a culture shift that can’t happen in a male-dominated society. I think most of the girls just want to play golf. It’s sad.

Bamberger: I disagree, with all due respect. Some of the most enduring players give you glimpses of their life: Player, Palmer, even Nicklaus, Lopez, Ouimet, Hogan in his own way, Snead the same. Faldo found out when he hung it up that playing the shots alone was not enough to have really broad standing in the (hate this word) marketplace.

Shipnuck: I think on the PGA Tour they just want to hit shots. On the LPGA, the players do way more to support tourneys and the tour. They never say no to anything. Lorena signs more autographs in a week than Tiger does in a decade. And she does every last TV, radio and local yokel interview in two languages. She’s a tremendous booster of the tour.

Van Sickle: I might be more excited about the LPGA if I ever caught them on TV. That hasn’t happened much in the last few years. It’s like they disappeared.

Friedman: Gary, you’re right. We get a tape-delayed version tonight. That doesn’t cut it.

Bamberger: Women’s golf is way, way better in person than on TV. If you could get massive crowds to show up regularly, as they do at the Dinah, maybe TV and corporate sponsorship would become less important. The players will talk to fans, hit shots we can all relate to, and often put on a show down the stretch. It works on TV when the players are the female equivalents of Greg Norman. The rest of the time, you have to be there, like Triple-A baseball (which does great with live, paying fan support).