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.
TOMS TAKES COLONIAL, BUT CAN HE KEEP WINNING?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Greetings Confidentialists. Before we get started, I want to introduce this week’s guest commentator, Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher and swing coach to the stars, Mitchell Spearman.
Pretty strong bounce-back by David Toms to win at Colonial after giving away the Players. With 13 wins, including the 2001 PGA Championship and a bunch of Ryder Cups, there’s been a little chatter of him making a run at the Hall of Fame. What more would Toms have to do to earn a spot in St. Augustine?
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Oh, he’s not even close. I’m not saying he couldn’t get there. Of course he could. But he’d need to turn into Vijay.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Agree with Michael. Toms has a long way to go, at least two more majors and seven more total Ws. He’s sure swinging well at the moment, though. With that putting stroke, he’s another guy you have to consider at the U.S. Open.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Toms is certainly on a hot streak, but with all due respect he has never been a dominant player. He’s just not a Hall-of-Fame-level golfer.
Shipnuck: Twenty wins seems to be a key threshold. That’s unlikely given Toms’s age. If he could pick off another major and get to 16 or 17 victories, he’d have to be considered, given the other guys who have been voted in. But personally I think the Hall has let in too many very-good-but-not-quite-great players.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I agree with that. Seems like the pressure to get a few guys on the docket each year, and the fact that guys who are more popular tend to get more votes regardless of their qualifications, has led to some questionable decisions.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: All these guys on the bubble will get in if the Tour keeps having an annual induction ceremony; to have a TV show, you need inductees. Unless the Tour goes to every-other-year voting (which would be a great move), everybody will get in.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Toms has to get to 15 wins and maybe win another major. That’s a big ask, but based on how he bounced back this week, he might have it in him. He’s certainly riding a wave of confidence, especially after what happened at Sawgrass.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I asked David about the Hall of Fame at Quail Hollow. It’s definitely on his mind. He knows he has a lot more winning to do to get there. Probably needs four or five more victories, including another major, to be in the mix.
Herre: Toms might get in with fewer wins due to his post-Katrina work. And we all know he’s a good guy.
Mitchell Spearman, Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher: I guess if he’d won last week, that would have been a big step. Let’s see what happens in his forties. Outside of Bubba and Vegas, it seems like the ball-controlling shotmakers are making a run this year to win more on tour.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Another major would get Toms in. But I don’t know that another couple of regular wins would make a difference. It could go either way with him. He’s not a first-ballot guy, so to speak, but definitely as worthy as a lot of guys who are already in.
POULTER KNOCKS OFF DONALD
Shipnuck: This was one of those weeks in which the Euro tour offered a much more compelling tourney. After Ian Poulter’s rousing victory at the World Match Play Championship, no less than Paul Azinger declared Poulter the best match play golfer in the world. I’m not convinced of that, but it was definitely a big W for the flighty English lad. What’s your take on Poulter’s place in the new world order?
Hack: Poulter has a seat at the table, one of the 15 or so best players in the world. He needs a major to back up his brashness, but I believe he’ll get it.
Spearman: He certainly shows that heart and desire are more important than a great golf swing. No doubt if his technique was better, i.e less laid off at the top and less excessive left leg movement on backswing, he’d be a regular contender in majors.
Bamberger: Couldn’t one have said that about Hall of Famer Raymond Floyd?
Spearman: Yes, that’s true. Floyd had lots of different shots, and a stare that could kill you.
Dusek: I think Poulter gets up for events that matter most to him (Ryder Cup, WGC-Match Play, and so on). He gets ultra-focused and seems to rise to the occasion, but at majors, so do a host of other guys. If he could bring that fierceness every week, I think he could win a lot. I think he’s a solid top-10, top-5 talent.
Bamberger: A great talent, an interesting guy, and I’m glad he’s on the scene. I don’t see him closing the deal in a major for the reason Alan cited: flightiness. I hope he does. It’d be fun. But it’s hard to close your eyes and imagine it.
Gorant: He’s gritty and gutty but doesn’t seem to be able to consistently put himself in contention. He’s shaping up as a match play specialist.
Godich: Never mind a major. If he wants a seat at the table, he needs to win more, period. But he does have a pair of impressive match-play victories on his resume.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: I ranked him ninth in the latest SI Golf Ranking, the first time all year I’ve had him in the top 10. It was an impressive win, but he still needs to show more in a major to crack my top five.
Herre: I’d rank Poulter among the top 10 Europeans. He has to win a major or three. He’s 34 now and can’t make a rep on potential.
Evans: Forget a major. Poulter has to win any stroke play event that has a world-class field.
MATCH PLAY MENTALITY
Shipnuck: Poulter is like Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald, two other Euros who have played their best in match play but seem to have something that holds them back in stroke play. Is match play that different a game?
Herre: Yes, of course match play is different. You have to “hate” your opponent. The Euros seem to have a great aptitude for this.
Shipnuck: Anyone who follows Poults on Twitter knows he’s a spiky character. I think that feistiness suits him well in match play, but he can’t quite control it for 72 holes of monotonous stroke play.
Bamberger: I think Tiger answered that question for us. Oops, I typed Tiger.
Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: I think the difference in match play is less about the interaction between the players than it is about the way it can free a player up in his own head. If you play yourself out of a hole and make a big number, it only costs you one, and you can always get it back on the next hole. Seems like this is liberating for some guys.
Shipnuck: Charlie’s thesis might hold for a Dustin Johnson, but Luke and Poulter are pretty steady A-to-B players. I’m just fascinated that these guys can play with so much more confidence and aggression in match play. Knowing that, why not bring the same intensity to stroke play?
Godich: No doubt there’s a different mentality. You can be more aggressive (or conservative) in match play, there’s no concern about what’s happening elsewhere on the golf course, and there’s basically no target score to shoot at.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Colin Montgomerie is a good example. He was much more aggressive with his chipping and putting in Ryder Cup play, and that helped him play the hero role.
Herre: Could also be that Euros, in general, are simply more comfortable in the match-play format because they played more of it growing up.
Gorant: Could be duration. In match play you only need to maintain that intensity for 18 holes, maybe less. Stroke play is a 72-hole slog. Still doesn’t explain why Donald doesn’t close better, though.
DONALD: CONSISTENTLY CLOSE
Shipnuck: Let’s talk about the guy Poulter beat in the finals, Luke Donald. It was another strong finish for the would-be No. 1, but are you more impressed with his consistency or disappointed with his inability to win?
Gorant: Donald’s inability to close would be more disappointing if there were someone out there showing us how it’s done. Westwood whiffs an awful lot, too, especially against strong fields. Kaymer has done very little this year. Phil and Tiger aren’t part of the conversation. Given all that, Donald’s consistency and his win at this year’s Accenture match play look pretty good.
Herre: For a guy who has built a rep for being consistent, Donald sure hits some squirrelly shots now and then. His misses can be truly atrocious. Still, he’s my No. 1 this week. I look for him to contend at Congressional.
Godich: Well, we know he’s going to contend. But will he win? And that is the issue.
Dusek: What impresses me most about Luke is that he’s maintained his consistency while elevating his overall standard of play. It seems like every week he’s in contention instead of every week earning a top 20. He’s been an absolute rock since the Ryder Cup.
Shipnuck: Tiger’s ability to close out tourneys looks all the more remarkable now that he’s ceded the stage to mere mortals. If no one can win a lot, I guess consistency is the new metric, and therefore Donald’s play becomes more impressive. But it sure is a lot more compelling to total up victories, not top 10s and top 5s.
Bamberger: I don’t have enough emotion wrapped up in Sir Luke to be disappointed by his difficulty closing deals. His wife seems very nice. He seems very nice. His brother who used to caddie for him seems very nice. The horses on his shirts are frighteningly large. They scare me.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Let’s be honest: Is there anybody on Tour in whom we’re emotionally invested anymore, not counting Mickelson and Woods? That’s why golf is back to being clubhouse TV, not a must-see program.
Evans: Consistency is a good thing to have when you’re a young man like Donald with hundreds of chances in your future to win. But I wonder how long Donald can go on with all the near misses without hurting his confidence. Guys in their forties like David Toms, on the other hand, can’t miss too many chances to win.
Spearman: Luke’s swing is too dependent on timing. Sure, it looks beautiful and Johnny loves it, but he has too much hang-back and then forearm rotation through the ball for pure consistency.
WESTWOOD, AND OTHERS, ON TWITTER
Shipnuck: Lee Westwood created a stir by threatening to shut down his Twitter account due to some offensive feedback. That’d be a shame because he’s a lot of fun on there. I’m wondering how much Twitter has changed your perception of pro golfers in general? For me, a ton.
Spearman: It’s probably because Westwood is a Nottingham Forest football fan. Understandable that he’d get grief!
Gorant: It’s troubling. If the fans start offending the players directly, what’s left for us to do?
Bamberger: It’s changed my perception as well. Much wit and good writing from the Euros and Cink and others. But not Tiger. Uh-oh, did I type those five letters again?
Lipsey: What’s Westwood expect? Blue coats to wax poetic about his graceful manners and silky putting stroke. C’mon, Lee, wake up.
Hanger: I feel like I know a lot more about the various players’ personalities, but it hasn’t changed my overall perception of pro golfers that much. From what I see on Twitter, they’re pretty much as I expected: private jets, focused on their games and their home lives, giving their buddies grief, etc.
Shipnuck: I follow more than 100 players from all the tours. There’s real info every day about injuries, course conditions, playing schedules, the state of their putting strokes. But it is a great chance to get to know their personalities. Jane Park of the LPGA may be the funniest person on Twitter, and her musings/obsession with food make me laugh out loud at least once a day. And I’ve never once interviewed her in person! That’s just one of many examples of how the medium allows you to get to know players.
Herre: Twitter is fun, and I know a lot of people who use it as their news feed — the bin Laden story really broke on Twitter. But it’s also dangerous. Lots of meltdowns lately, and it doesn’t take much. One loose thought, a single misguided joke and in an instant you’ve got trouble with a capital T.
Garrity: Jim’s right. There’s also the problem that Twitter, like “reality TV,” gives you a reality that can be more contrived than real. Is it your hero tweeting, or is it his P.R. agent?
Hack: Twitter is the AP wire of the 21st century, though it has a lot more mistakes.
Spearman: It’s a great platform for fans to interact with these guys and to hear them banter with each other. However, there are guys like Oliver Wilson who seem more interested in tweeting than playing good golf. He’s fallen 100 places down the World Golf Ranking, but his Twitter following is up considerably. More practice and less tweeting might be good advice.
Evans: In general we know more about all athletes and politicians in this fast-moving, media-driven culture than we knew in past generations. But I would be careful using Twitter as a barometer of player behavior. How many players really use it?
Shipnuck: Rickie Fowler lit up Colonial on Thursday, playing his first 17 holes in nine under. He was five over the rest of the way and failed to crack the top 15. Are we still bullish about young Fowler?
Bamberger: Could I get back to you in 10 years?
Herre: Would love to hear what Mitchell has to say about Fowler’s swing. Certainly unique and allows the little guy to hit it a long way. But he’s wildly inconsistent.
Spearman: I’m bullish on Fowler, but the clock is ticking. Day-in, day-out, that swing is going to produce different feels and different shots. For sure you can’t swing like that when you are older. It’s amazing how deep his arms get going back, and how close his elbows are together. Then the arms swing away from his center through impact. Sure it’s a pure strike, but distance control can be tough to gauge.
Van Sickle: Bullish? Sure. He looks darned good in all orange. And sea-foam green. And sky blue. Don’t look now, but he’s already the third or fourth most recognizable American golfer. He’ll win in time.
Hack: Rickie puts the “e” in streaky, for good and for ill. Still bullish on him, though. Just needs to learn to harness all that talent.
Godich: Not so bullish. A lot of these young guys seem to be sputtering. Anthony Kim birdied five of his first six holes on Thursday and was six under after 12. He walked off the course on Sunday at two over.
Evans: Fowler is maturing as a professional. He’s good but not great. His time is coming.
Dusek: I’m very bullish on Rickie. He’s so young, and he’s seeing PGA Tour courses for just the second time now. He has every tool he needs except experience and consistency, and I think he’ll get more of both.
Lipsey: Love Rickie, but each week that passes without a W makes me wonder. Big-time winners don’t usually take too long to bag one win, or a few wins. Rickie will surely make a Brink’s truck of cash in his career, but time will tell if he’ll be a winner.
PETTERSEN TAKES LPGA MATCH PLAY
Gorant: Suzann Pettersen dropped a 15-footer on the 72nd hole to hold off a charging Cristie Kerr. What do we make of Pettersen? She’s looked great at times, but also hasn’t been a consistent winner.
Godich: Not unlike Kerr, I think she can be a bit of a head case. She is a solid ball-striker though.
Bamberger: If there was any, and I mean any, real interest in the LPGA, Pettersen would be a superstar. She’s fun, she’s feisty, she’s super competitive, she looks good, she’s a serious talent, she’s athletic. I don’t know what more you could want from a professional golfer, any gender, anywhere in the world.
Gorant: Until today, she hadn’t won since 2009. That has to count for something.
Hack: With her game, Suzann should win a lot more, several times a year. She could be the best player in the world if she stayed out of her own way. Maybe this win will help.
Shipnuck: Pettersen may be the best athlete on tour. I love watching her swing the club. Putting in the clutch has always been her bugaboo. If she starts willing more putts into the hole, like she did on the final green today, she could be a dominant force.
Lipsey: Hard to make too much when we see the women so little. When we do see Petterson, she’s as dynamic as anyone.
KERR COMES UP JUST SHORT
Shipnuck: What’s the deal with Cristie Kerr? She can be the most dominant player on tour and then have a mini-meltdown the next week. Is she a head case, or, to coin a phrase, that’s golf?
Bamberger: Is it really either or? Golf will make you a head case, and if you’re a head case coming into the game, watch out.
Shipnuck: I think Kerr is totally mental, but it makes her very compelling to follow.
Herre: Kerr can be her own worst enemy. She’s a fierce opponent, a lot like our Dottie Pepper, but she’s always barking at herself. That has to be tiring.
Godich: And she’s been doing that for how many years?
Evans: Kerr is both a head case and a victim of a tour with lots of 20-something stars. But boy does she grind. I haven’t seen anybody like her on that tour since Dottie.
Hack: Cristie is intense, gifted and borderline cocky. She’s not afraid to tell you just how well she’s playing. She loves to mix it up. She wants to stomp on the course and everyone on it. Good traits in a professional athlete, I’d say.
Gorant: Maybe she could coach Luke?
Herre: I feel bad for the LPGA this week. Lots of great golf, but rain every day kept the fans away. The Sunday crowd was so small that, for the final match, they could have let the fans follow behind the players in the fairway, ala the U.S. Amateur.
Godich: Too bad, because it’s a fabulous golf course.
Spearman: They do that at the Tavistock Cup. It’s a great way to see a tournament with so few players, and an obvious choice for the LPGA final.
Hack: Good suggestion. The LPGA has to keep trying new things to stay on the radar of golf fans. As Jim mentioned, the weather hurt. So did Yanks-Mets.
Herre: I’ve long been impressed by Cristie’s putting stroke. She looks so solid over the ball and always seems to make great contact, which produces a tracking kind of roll.
Spearman: It must be tough on someone like Kerr. She is so competitive, but the LPGA doesn’t have a tournament every week. What to do on weeks off?