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.
COLONIAL VS. THE SENIOR PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Talk about splitting your audience. What’s your take on the Senior PGA Championship, the year’s first senior major (pardon my oxymoron), being televised on NBC at exactly the same time as the Crowne Plaza Championship at Colonial? The golf audience is small to start with. I don’t know what the tours were thinking. Further, did you watch one over the other, and why? I went with the seniors, since Colonial went to a storm delay. Also, it was a thrilling finish.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: It’s a no-brainer. Both events wanted and needed network coverage. The golf audience is small, but not so tiny that it can’t accommodate two tournaments. It all depends on what the networks have guaranteed the advertisers. It happens all the time.
Van Sickle: Too bad they couldn’t have staggered them, especially with the seniors playing in the Mountain time zone.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Seniors were the ones to watch all the way. Tons of starpower on that leaderboard all week long.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I was watching the seniors even before Colonial went into a rain delay. Better names, and the course looked intriguing.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I was glued to the seniors — great finish to regulation, not so good playoff. Was fun to see Boom Boom and the boys on a fresh new course. And you’re always going to get a guy like Jay Don Blake in the mix at Champions events to add an interesting, unexpected storyline.
Van Sickle: Agree. Hard not to like seeing Couples go eagle-eagle to tie for the lead. That’s great stuff on a wild-looking course.
Godich: Loved the way he shaped those two shots into the par-5s. You have to love the on-course mikes as well.
Herre: Good point on the on-course mikes. Frost’s little S-bomb during the playoff got my attention, and it was fun eavesdropping on LaCava and Couples.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I was watching Colonial. Seniors are for rain delays or commercial breaks.
Van Sickle: Alan, you’re there. Did it have the feel of a major, albeit a senior major? The leaderboard certainly had that major feel.
Shipnuck: Yes, it felt big-time. The players were grinding their tails off.
FRED COUPLES: A STAR IS (RE)BORN
Van Sickle: Fred didn’t win this thing, but is his reincarnation as a senior star really registering with the public and creating interest in the Champions Tour, or is it all in the minds of us golf-centric magazine types? I thought the finish was great TV. I liked having a couple of underdogs in the mix like Jay Don Blake and that little old winemaker, David Frost, to the end.
Godich: You could tell that Fred was really soaking it all in when he walked to the 18th green in regulation.
Evans: It was weird seeing Freddie miss left in the playoff. I thought he could take the left side of the golf course out of play with his eyes closed. He looked tired to me.
Herre: Fred’s wonderful, languid, unique swing is all about timing. Looked to me like he got a little quick on the tee shot in the playoff. Back in his heyday, he was an awful closer. Anybody else remember all those close calls in the early ’90s? It was frustrating to watch him blow so many chances to win.
Van Sickle: He was a poor short putter then, and still is. His ball-striking and his short game have always been pretty classy. Who knows what more he might have achieved with a little more motivation and a lot healthier back?
Shipnuck: Fred is the most popular golfer of the last quarter century — more than Shark, more than Tiger, even more than Phil. People want to watch him play, period.
Herre: I don’t know about that, Alan. I’ll give you Norman, but not Woods and Mickelson.
Evans: Alan, you’re wrong as hell about Freddie being more popular than Tiger. Do you really believe that?
Shipnuck: I’m not talking about global awareness or endorsements or stuff like that. Just pure, undiluted ardor across every demographic of fan.
Evans: I don’t know where you are getting your market research, but it’s not reality based.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I know it’s sort of sacrilegious to say it, but I never really got the whole “Freddie” thing. Good guy, good player, but often seemed to come up short. Leaves me wanting, but everyone seems to love him and gush over him, which I suppose supports Alan’s point to a degree.
Van Sickle: Fred has always had a certain appeal. Some of that faded when players like Phil and Tiger and even Vijay built their resumes on top of his fair-to-middling career.
Shipnuck: I’m not comparing resumes, just emotion.
Herre: The rap on Couples is that he has trouble maintaining relationships — with men and women — and has a bit of a narcissistic streak.
LEHMAN WINS ANOTHER MAJOR, SORT OF
Van Sickle: It was a great finish for the seniors. Well, until the playoff. Frost made two big birdies coming in, Couples made back-to-back eagles, Lehman made clutch putts. Then Frosty and Freddy hit it into the shrubbery on the playoff hole and it was all they could do to even finish the hole, handing the title to Lehman. It’s Lehman’s first senior win. Surprised that he hasn’t done better on that tour? He looked pretty good with the putter when it mattered.
Godich: Not so much. That tour is all about making birdies. Lehman had most of his success grinding out one par after another on tough venues, especially at the Open.
Evans: Godich is right. Lehman doesn’t putt well enough to dominate on the senior tour. He only won five times on the regular tour.
Lipsey: Lehman doesn’t play a full schedule (only five senior starts in 2010), so he’s not going to be as sharp as he could be. Still, he’s been top five in four of his five 2010 starts.
Herre: I like everything about Lehman, but always thought he was a bit overrated as a player. Not a great closer.
Lipsey: His mind isn’t all in golf. The Sunday morning when he had the 54-hole Masters lead, I was in the pews at a church watching him give a sermon. I’m guessing he’s the only 54-hole Masters leader who ever worked as a pastor on the Sunday he teed off for the final round. Between religion, family and who knows what else, I think Lehman has too much other stuff he’s keen on to be as great in golf as he might otherwise be.
Van Sickle: Mark Lye said on Golf Channel that Lehman now has two majors, one on the regular tour and this one in senior golf. That’s not how we count majors. The ones on the regular tour count. Ones on the senior tour are NOT added to your total.
Shipnuck: Agree, but it’s still a big win and very meaningful to Lehman.
ZACH JOHNSON PUTTS HIS WAY TO VICTORY AGAIN
Van Sickle: How about Zach Johnson’s display of putting on the final nine? He ran in a batch of long ones. Very impressive. I think you can pencil him in on the Ryder Cup dance card right now.
Godich: He’s no Luke Donald.
Gorant: Exactly. He’s the anti-Donald. Does more with what he’s got rather than less.
Van Sickle: Yeah. He’s already won a major.
Shipnuck: I think Zach is the most underrated player on the PGA Tour.
Evans: I don’t know about the most underrated player on Tour, but he definitely gets more out of his golf swing than anyone on tour, save Corey Pavin, who had another good week.
Lipsey: He has Tiger’s fist-pump, and he seems to have a similar drive and a heck of a lot of talent. Thankfully, that’s where the similarities end. Zach is as good a guy as golf has ever had.
Godich: He makes a ton of putts with that funky putting method.
Van Sickle: Definitely the most underrated player on tour who’s won a major. Although Trevor Immelman might give him a race.
Herre: A course like Colonial is perfect for a player like Johnson. He’s short but hits tons of fairways and greens and is an all-world putter.
Van Sickle: I’m not sure what this means, but at the tournament that awards the crazy plaid coat, Mr. Plaid Slacks, Ian Poulter, finished dead last. Food for thought.
Gorant: Laws of nature. Like matching poles of a magnet, they repel each other.
PHIL AND TIGER AT JACK’S PLACE
Van Sickle: Jack’s tournament is this week. Let’s not even check the weather forecast. This was once a contender for future fifth major. That’s long gone. Now it’s a big U.S. Open preview. Where do you see the Memorial in golf’s grand scheme? Any thoughts about whether Phil or Tiger might appear on the leaderboard?
Evans: Tiger will probably win and force us to write that he’s back and the man to beat at the Open. The Memorial is Jack’s time to celebrate his well-earned place in golf history.
Van Sickle: This week Phil proved what we already knew, that we can rarely count on him for a great week at a certain time. He missed the cut and missed Saturday’s cancer pink-out. It’ll be interesting to see how his game looks pre-Open. Tiger is a much more interesting question. Will his swing look different? Will he play well? Will he struggle again? We don’t know, but a lot will be read into his performance as it regards Pebble Beach.
Evans: Tiger will be back. You don’t have to like that he’s the dumbest cheater since Gary Hart, but you have to respect him as the greatest golfer of all time.
Van Sickle: No doubt about that. None.
Herre: I would add “one of the” greatest golfers of all time.
Lipsey: Greatest works for me. Even if TW never wins again, what he’s accomplished on the course in a relatively short time makes him No. 1 in my book.
Godich: It would be interesting to see Tiger win the Memorial just to see what kind of reaction it would get.
Herre: I agree. I’m curious to see how he performs and if there’s any improvement, and what happens and how he’s received should he win.
Van Sickle: Based on what I saw at Charlotte and the Players, he’d get a very favorable response. People still want to watch him play and win. They don’t really care about his marital and family issues.
Evans: People will love Tiger after his win, any win. This is America!
Lipsey: I think the victory celebration (by the public and media) could be much mellower than expected. The fawning days might be over.
Gorant: I was reading somewhere the other day that Phil only seems to play well these days when Tiger’s in the field. That, combined with his wake-up call at Colonial, should put him in contention. Tiger’s tough to read, but I have to think, as he often says, he wouldn’t be out there if he hadn’t gotten a few things worked out on the range.
Van Sickle: That’s a good point. I wasn’t sure Tiger was going to enter. You’re right, he probably got something straightened out or figured out, prompting his entry.
Godich: Remember the days when Tiger and Phil were never in the same field (save for majors, of course)? Some even speculated that Phil was ducking Tiger. Not anymore. Here’s a question: Tiger has a two-shot lead with a couple of holes to play, and a weather delay hits. Does CBS do what it did at Colonial and pass coverage over to Golf Channel?
Gorant: They ship Andy Rooney out for the post-round interview.
TAKING ATTENDANCE FOR TOP PLAYERS
Herre: I think the idea that’s being floated of having designated tournaments — a top 50 player would be required to play in one of four or five designated events — is a great idea whose time has come.
Godich: Couldn’t agree more. Hard to believe it has taken this long to come up for discussion.
Van Sickle: I’d take it a step further and require players to play three out of a dozen Tour events (a list that would include the Hope, AT&T, Honda, Byron Nelson, Colonial, Hartford and others) to be eligible for FedEx Cup bonus money. Players would then have a choice. If they didn’t play, they could still compete in the FedEx Cup events, they just wouldn’t be in the year-end bonus pool.
Lipsey: The whole “independent contractor” excuse has lasted way too long. The pros are entertainers, and the Tour provides them big venues and big purses. The players should do what the Tour says and be grateful for whatever they get.
Gorant: I think other plans have come up, like the LPGA’s one-in-four approach, but they’ve been shouted down. Until now there hasn’t been enough desperation to really push something forward.
Lipsey: It’s not desperation. It’s a reality check.
Godich: Maybe everybody got a little more comfortable with the concept now that it appears Tiger won’t be running off and starting his own tour anytime soon.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: It would be great if the players did what the Tour wanted. But the PGA Tour is a case of the inmates running the asylum, and Woods is Hannibal Lecter. Who’s going to tell him he has to play in Hartford next summer?
Herre: I don’t think TW has the juice he had seven months ago. He’d go along to get along.
Lipsey: Tim Finchem should tell him to play. The NFL plays hardball, and it’s the richest and best-run sports league on earth. The Tour would probably end up richer and more popular if it adopted more of an NFL/Goodell management style.
Gorant: Goodell works for the team owners. In golf, the players are the owners. Finchem works for them.
Lipsey: That’s the problem. The Tour has always been cast as having the commissioner working for the players. Beman realized everybody got richer, and things were better, if it was the other way around. Now the Tour is like a financial bubble waiting to burst because the stars play so infrequently, so maybe only half of the Tour is doing really well.
DONALD FINALLY GETS A VICTORY
Van Sickle: The big news in Europe was that Luke Donald finally won a Masters. Ok, the Madrid Masters. It’s Luke’s first win in four years. Got to be a good sign for Monty’s Ryder Cup team. Is Donald going to reclaim his status as a potential star in waiting and become a frequent winner? Is he a potential contender at Pebble Beach, given his straight driving and good iron play?
Godich: Did I hear somebody say that he will move into the top 10 in the World Rankings by virtue of his win? How can a guy who hadn’t won in four years be in the top 10?
Van Sickle: Hard to believe, but Donald was quietly ranked 13th going into last week. He’s had a second, a third and a sixth already this year. Who knew?
Lipsey: How could a guy win $4 million and be seventh in earnings and win zero times? Furyk did it last year. You know the joke about close counting only in horseshoes and hand-grenades? Well, it also counts in pro golf.
Evans: Donald is already a star. It’s hard to win consistently at that level. He’s also had a nagging wrist injury. And his chances at Pebble Beach are as good as any qualifier. Majors are a crapshoot unless your name is Tiger or Phil.
Shipnuck: A star?! A British paper coined the term “Luke Donald Disease” to denote underachievement. He’s been a non-factor for years.
Lipsey: The Chris DiMarco of Europe.
Van Sickle: As Godich pointed out, Donald will be in the top 10 in the world rankings. You’d have to call that a star in this day and age.
Shipnuck: If he stays in the Top 10 for a couple years, maybe he’s a star. Getting there for a week or two doesn’t cut it.
STATE OF THE FEDEX CUP
Van Sickle: Let’s take a look at the most important event of the season — uh, the FedEx Cup race. Do you follow the points, dutifully detailed each week by the TV networks, and do you think it’s been reasonably successful? And be honest: Can you name the FedEx Cup points leader?
Shipnuck: Is there still a FedEx Cup? That’s news to me.
Gorant: I’m guessing, but I think it’s Els? Don’t follow it too closely during the year, but I’m aware of that four-tournament run at the end of the year and what it means. Definitely think of the season as Masters, Players, U.S. Open, British, PGA, playoffs, team Cup event to be named later. Does that make it a success? A limited success, I think, because it does not necessarily cause me to be any more or less interested in the average regular-season event.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I believe Els leads that thing, and I don’t think most fans care.
Herre: I have no idea who’s leading and probably won’t pay attention until the final qualifying tournaments, mainly to follow the guys on the bubble.
Shipnuck: The Cup is really only interesting for the final few tourneys of the “regular” season and the “playoffs.” But for those six weeks, it’s good fun and creates top-notch events.
Gorant: I do think it’s a bit of a traffic jam in August and September, though. In a short span you’ve got Bridgestone, PGA, bubble events, playoffs, Cup. Seems like you have to wade through a lot of second- and third-tier stuff to get to a stretch of events that step all over themselves and come too late in the year.
Van Sickle: Golf Channel breathlessly gives us the standings every week, but the failing of the FedEx Cup is that there’s no race to get in it, not like the NCAA basketball tourney, for example. This fake buildup doesn’t work and never has.
Herre: I’m sure the Tour requires its TV partners to hype the standings.
Evans: As long as there are four majors, no playoff series will ever be compelling regardless of how much money it shells out. I think the Tour knows this, but it has to try to give some life to the schedule beyond the majors.
Lipsey: Nobody cares a lick about the thing or knows much, if anything, about it. Fans like watching golf and stars, so they’ll tune in. But not to see who wins the FedEx Cup, just to see fun golf.
Van Sickle: The only carrot the tour has to dangle for the players is money, and they have to dangle $10 million to make this thing work. It’s nice to have most of the top players getting together for four weeks, and that makes it work for TV, so maybe that’s good enough. I have to believe the format will be altered for the next TV contract.
Morfit: It is, however, one more way to make money, so the Tour’s rank and file seem to pay attention to it. Some of them seem to see it as a more realistic way to pick up a couple million than winning a major.
Godich: Don’t know and don’t care about the current standings, though I do get amused when the network announcers start running down the projected updated standings in their “do we really have to talk about this?” tone.
Walker: The points race is about building those four end-of-season playoff dates and creating a reason for fans to watch golf after the PGA Championship. It’s been reasonably successful at that. There’s zero interest in FedEx Cup points as a season-long race. Even the announcers sound like they can’t be bothered to feign interest in it. Is Jim Furyk leading? I swear, I haven’t looked.
Van Sickle: Bonus points for those who said Els. FedEx has two more years on its deal with the Tour. It’s hard to imagine the company coughing up anything similar to the same kind of money ($300 million over six years). Further, have you guys heard any grumbling from tournament sponsors forced to put up FedEx signage at their events in competition with their own stuff? I believe Jack and Arnie were the only two guys who successfully held out against that.
Gorant: I wouldn’t be that negative about it. Going into the last TV deal, the Tour had to try something. This succeeded in making a lot of people a lot of money. Is it perfect? Not even close, but what is? Hell, we gripe about the Masters, so we’re not an easy crowd to please.