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.
PETTERSSON’S WIN AND WILSON’S CLOSE CALL
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Welcome aboard PGA Tour Confidential. This week we’re traveling far and wide, so I’ve parked the bus and grabbed a plane. We’ll be visiting the ladies in France and the old timers in Scotland after starting our journey in Canada. Carl Pettersson’s 60-67 weekend gave him a one-shot win in Toronto. It’s the Swede’s fourth career PGA Tour title, but the week after a major it’s always tough to attract a strong field. What can we take from this week at St. George’s Golf Club?
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: What I take from Canada is this: Not counting opposite-field events, Americans haven’t won much lately on the PGA Tour. In addition to having to settle for second at the Senior British, that fact must be somewhat of a downer for U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Yeah, the tide — on paper — is strong for anybody who’s not American. That could change on a dime, but heading into the Ryder Cup, as Cam says, Pavin’s gotta be worried.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Too early to get excited about that. The Ryder Cup, as Azinger realized, is all about who’s got the hot putters. The ballstriking is pretty much a wash. All 24 guys are studs. Who’s hot on the greens in July isn’t relevant to who will be holing the putts in early October.
Dusek: Pettersson started the day four shots behind Dean Wilson, a guy who lost his PGA Tour card last year and played this week on a sponsor’s exemption. Wilson made a nice check for his second-place finish, but a win could have jump-started his career. Does Pettersson feel good that he was able to get the win, or fortunate that Wilson wasn’t able to close it out on Sunday?
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: He feels fantastic. Is Wilson still working the stack and tilt? Is anyone? That thing came and went like a bad cold.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: If I’m Pettersson, I’m feeling pretty good about making the cut on the number, shooting 60 on Saturday and making six birdies in an eight-hole stretch on Sunday after two early bogeys. He earned this victory. Hard to believe that he has four PGA Tour wins.
Van Sickle: It’s got to be both. There’s so much more pressure on a non-winner/quasi-journeyman like Wilson when he’s trying to win versus a previous established winner like Carl. Pressure on Carl, too, but so much more was riding on it for Wilson. That’s why the Cinderellas have a tough time closing out Tour wins.
Godich: The look on Wilson’s face at the end said it all: He knew he threw away an opportunity, and he had to be wondering when the next one will come along.
Morfit: Gotta think he feels like he won it. Wilson’s career will get nice boost even though he didn’t win.
Van Sickle: You can feel empathy for Wilson, but let’s face it, the Tour is quite the meritocracy. If you shoot the scores, you win the trophies. At 40, it’s tough to come up short like that once you’ve had the lead. But that’s tour golf. You’ve got to play well for four days and putt your rear end off to win. If not, you get a nice check as consolation. Good sign for Wilson, though.
Lipsey: Pettersson was awesome. I wonder if he’ll try for the Ryder Cup.
Van Sickle: Good point, Rick. Monty’s team is already loaded, but he’d be crazy not to seriously consider Pettersson. He’s a ball-striking machine.
Dusek: Yet Colin Montgomerie was quoted this week as saying he’s got headaches (the good kind) about selecting the European Ryder Cup team. In a nut shell, he said he’s got two teams’ worth of players who could compete well against the Americans.
Van Sickle: Monty has 20 pounds of soil to fit into a five-pound bag. A nice problem to have. If Monty is somehow implying that he’s got two lineups better than the Americans, though, I’d have to disagree.
SAVING THE AVERAGE TOUR STOP
Godich: I don’t take much from Pettersson’s win. Sadly, the weak field is becoming a recurring theme on the PGA Tour. If you’re not a major or one of the handful of other marquee events, chances are that you’re not going to draw a strong field. My rotisserie league is proof of that.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: It’s a PGA Tour event. Call it a weak field, but it’s the best players in the world playing for a lot of money. Last week’s winner at St. Andrews proves that a strong field doesn’t only include the top 20 players in the world.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Once you get caught up in the competition, it doesn’t matter who’s playing. How they’re playing and where they’re playing are just as important. The LPGA, I don’t think, has ever figured that out.
Van Sickle: Who’s to say Carl Pettersson isn’t going to win the PGA and the Tour Championship and next year’s U.S. Open and become a superstar. If you like golf, and are not just a celebrity watcher, every PGA Tour event is a good show.
Lipsey: Before graduating college, I never thought, “Oh, that was a weak field.” I just watched golf every weekend. Didn’t matter who played, what event. It was the Tour. I think most casual golfers have that mindset.
Morfit: Whatever the strength of field, the self-proclaimed Redneck Swede played pretty strong to win. The 60 on Saturday stands tall.
Van Sickle: The Tour got along fine all those years when Nicklaus, Watson and Norman played only 15 or 17 times. There were four majors once upon a time, and several bigger-than-average Tour events — the Players, Memorial, even the Canadian. Colonial was seen as an exclusive invitational. Inventing the WGC events and the FedEx Cup playoffs completely undermined and devalued all the other regular Tour events and helped create this preoccupation with Tiger and Phil and superstars only. The Tour needs to get back to its roots of democracy, where every event was significant and relevant and not just some qualifier for the FedEx Cup.
Godich: Bingo! We have a winner.
Dusek: But does anyone really think that the PGA Tour, getting ready to negotiate the next series of television deals, will do away with the FedEx Cup Playoff system?
Van Sickle: The PGA Tour will do what it has to do to sell the next TV deal. If TV doesn’t want it, they’ll have to get rid of it. I know the other events would like to strangle it, as sponsors who spend big money to promote their own companies get FedEx signs jammed down their throats at their own tournaments. I’m not sure I’d put up with that if I was a sponsor.
Lipsey: I think FedEx will do away with it. Can’t fathom them paying another $30-40 million to sponsor it. If the Tour can find another sponsor at that level, hats off to Tim Finchem.
Van Sickle: Rick’s right. It’s hard to see them or anyone else dropping $300 million over six years to sponsor this thing. Other than forcing top players to play and having some exciting individual tournament finishes (which any tournament could have), the FedEx Cup “race” has been a dud from Day One. My suggestions: Return the BMW to the Western Open on July 4 weekend. Move the old Westchester Classic back onto the regular tour schedule. Deutsch Bank has been a big draw in Boston area on Labor Day weekend. Just make it a nice big tour event. Need a big finish to the season? Move the PGA to late September as the final event of the year. End the season with a major. What would be bigger than that?
Morfit: The survival of the FedEx Cup all depends if there’s corporate support for it. If not, I could see the Tour doing away with the playoff thing and spinning it as some sort of positive.
Van Sickle: What makes the FedEx Cup series exciting, supposedly? All there is to brag about is the $10 million. If no sponsor is willing to drop that kind of dough, would it have the same impact if the first prize was $5 million. Or $7.5 million? Maybe, I don’t know. But the FedEx Cup thing even takes away from the Tour’s own Tour Championship, the lamest 30-man event still in existence. What got more attention last year — Phil winning the Tour Championship or Tiger claiming the FedEx Cup title? That should be a red flag for every PGA Tour marketing person.
Lipsey: Losing the FedEx money in purses would be a huge blow, especially to the players.
Van Sickle: Not as big a blow as losing tournaments on the schedule. See LPGA under category of Things You Don’t Want to Have Happen. More events with smaller purses is better than the alternative.
Morfit: I agree with Gary that the Cup just hasn’t worked. I find myself thinking, Oh, so five more weeks until we pretend to be excited about the FedEx Cup? This from a guy who absolutely, positively loves FedEx. (Wouldn’t have gotten my rushed passport renewal and been able to cover the British Open without it.)
Godich: What, no Kodak Challenge update?
Lipsey: That, to be honest, is more fun to follow than the FedEx Cup. It’s actually kind of amusing, for a few minutes, to track the Kodak thing when they show the standings on TV.
Morfit: The problem is this idea that you can build a season around something so obviously half-baked and random, when everyone knows the majors give a season its shape.
Van Sickle: Exactly, Cam. That’s why you move the PGA later and end with a major and put a spotlight on the race to the top 125 to keep your card.
Lipsey: The hunt to keep your card and finish in the top 125 is WAY more interesting than the Fed Ex thing, especially to a true golf fan.
Godich: One problem with playing a major in September: Football.
Van Sickle: One problem with playing the PGA in August: Football. Preseason. Somehow it seems to work anyway.
Godich: Those exhibitions are played at night, and there is no college football to compete against. Those September games are played in the afternoon — Saturday and Sunday.
Van Sickle: But they play the Ryder Cup or President’s Cup every fall. And the entire Fall Series. There is fall golf.
Dusek: So is there a solution to the problem of weak fields in tournaments that are not majors or WGC events? What’s a Canadian Open supposed to do?
Godich: The PGA Tour has been kicking around the idea of requiring the stars to play in the lesser events every several years. The sooner the better.
Van Sickle: The PGA Tour already requires players to play in events. Unfortunately, it’s the WGC and FedEx Cup events. Get rid of those and put the other tour stops on an equal footing again, and you’d take a big step toward solving the appearance problem.
LANGER SHOWS HIS METTLE AT CARNOUSTIE
Dusek: Across the Atlantic, the over-50 gents took on one of the toughest tests in golf — Carnoustie — and Bernhard Langer came out on top. For a guy who has tried every putter and putting stroke invented, how does he keep on winning? Has his mental toughness ever been given its due?
Evans: I’m surprised that Langer never won a regular British Open. He had his chances in ’81 and ’84. Mental toughness has never been his problem. It never was for Hogan, either. It’s the yips.
Lipsey: He is a rock, pure and simple. I’ll never forget watching him methodically beating balls at the 2002 PGA. He was alone at dusk on the range, tinkering with his swing all alone. He clearly loves the process as much as anybody ever has, and the effort pays off.
Bamberger: Langer has not been given his due. He’s the modern player who most closely lived by the Hogan principle, dig it out of the dirt. If Hogan himself had been as devoted to putting improvement as Langer, he might have been Tiger.
Van Sickle: Bernhard is the Tom Kite of European golf, and I mean that in every way as a positive. Tireless worker and preparer. Really devoted to the craft of golf. And he’s gotten results. He hasn’t gotten the publicity in accordance with his success, but that may be because he doesn’t reveal much in interviews. Ditto with Jose Maria Olazabal, a superstar about whom I’ve still never read a truly thorough, enlightening feature. Bernhard is as much a mechanic as The Mechanic — Miguel Angel Jimenez.
Godich: It’s been a long time (1991) since Langer missed that putt at the Ryder Cup at Kiawah. The guy just keeps reinventing himself.
LPGA GOES TO FRANCE, BUT DID ANYONE NOTICE?
Dusek: On to France, where Jiyai Shin came from behind to win the Evian Masters. She made a birdie on the final hole to beat Morgan Pressel, who missed a putt that could have forced a playoff. And 15-year-old Lexi Thompson finished just one shot back as well. If the LPGA Tour can get on more TVs, is there any doubt that people would get more interested in women’s golf?
Bamberger: The first step is not getting the LPGA on TV more. It’s making the existing show better. If there were a dozen events as good as this week’s Evian on an annual basis, the LPGA numbers would be hugely better.
Evans: The LPGA needs to get on the networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPN. The Golf Channel can’t deliver the audience to get any real traction.
Van Sickle: Good luck with that.
Evans: The LPGA would obviously like to be on the networks, and Golf Channel would like to be on everybody’s basic cable plan. When the latter happens it will be great for golf.
Godich: Save for three of the majors, ABC/ESPN doesn’t even televise the PGA Tour. Why would they want anything to do with the women’s game?
Van Sickle: And it’s not about what the networks want to show, it’s what the sponsors are willing to pay for. And they historically haven’t had much interest. It’s a shame.
Dusek: What about Oxygen Network (owned by NBC)? I’m not being flippant, but if the Golf Channel can’t deliver good coverage and the major networks aren’t interested, would another cable channel geared toward women be a better place for the LPGA Tour? Or a cable network like Versus, which carries the NHL, Tour de France and some college football. They’re not afraid to carry non-major small sports.
Evans: Women have to want to watch the ladies play golf, and advertisers need to believe they can market to women through golf programming. There is not much evidence to support either case.
Van Sickle: Despite the fact that 25 percent of recreational golfers are women, how many golf ads have you ever seen on TV trying to sell equipment to women golfers? Not many.
Godich: The LPGA needs Lexi Thompson to win — and the sooner the better. Yeah, there would be that thorny issue about LPGA membership, but she would give the tour a boost it desperately needs. She certainly seems to be having more fun than Michelle Wie did at that age.
Van Sickle: To improve its standing in the U.S., the LPGA needs any American player to dominate/win regularly. Preferably someone with personality or glam like Wie, Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, Lexi or (fill in the blank). But the current Rolex world rankings indicate that’s not likely. Remember, even men’s golf was a page-five sport before Tiger.
Lipsey: Despite Cristie Kerr and Paula Creamer’s major wins, Americans are losing — have lost — their hold on golf.
Van Sickle: The LPGA has never found a huge following, just a faithful group of followers. But Shin, who I think will reclaim the No. 1 spot once she’s back in form, creates interest in Asia, and Lexi will help in the U.S. Tell me how the LPGA gets on more TVs, though? Don’t think the major networks are interested, and Golf Channel is overloaded with golf on the weekend. Not much room on the menu.
Dusek: I don’t disagree, but for an event played in Europe to be broadcast on the Golf Channel at 9:30 pm EST is an injustice. It will have been over for 10 hours before the tape-delayed broadcast begins. The Golf Channel needs to develop a better solution for the LPGA. (Correction: The Golf Channsel first showed the Evian Masters from 1-4 ET Sunday.)
Van Sickle: As I’ve said many times, a Saturday or Monday or even a Wednesday finish might allow Golf Channel to give the LPGA the spotlight treatment it deserves. As for the tape-delayed broadcast, if Golf Channel thought the LPGA delivered viewers, it would show the event live. The 10-hour wait tells you the network thinks its other tours deserve a higher priority. If the LPGA can’t elbow some room on Golf Channel, where else can it go?