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.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Welcome back to PGA Tour Confidential, where we writers face sudden death every week. It’s called editing.
The Colonial wasn’t exactly a thrill-a-minute until the ending and the amazing two-hole playoff featuring Steve Stricker, Tim Clark and Steve Marino.
Clark missed his chance at a winning birdie putt on the first playoff hole, then watched Stricker stick it close on the second extra hole. Clark clanged his shot off the flagstick and watched it roll 20 feet away. Clark missed, Stricker made and there was joy in Cheeseville (that’s the capitol of Wisconsin). Did that playoff grab your attention or what?
Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Nice to see someone make a birdie to win.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Watching that playoff, you can be sure a lot of Tour players were conflicted. (They have rooting interests, too.) Tim Clark is one of the best-liked players out there, and players feel he’s more than good enough to win. Marino’s a kid, so his time will come. But Stricker is a strong Titleist man, and many of the other Titleist guys on Tour were likely pulling for him. When your company wins, it’s good for all the employees.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Too bad Clark missed very makeable putts on the 72nd hole and the first playoff hole.
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Is this Exhibit A of why Clark is still a non-winner on Tour?
Van Sickle: Yes. Clark showed why he still hasn’t won a PGA Tour event. Great ballstriker and iron player, but the putter is a problem, especially in the clutch. Too bad he wasn’t able to finish this one off just to get the monkey off his back. It reminds me of Michael Allen last week at the Senior PGA. He, too, never won on the big tour because of his flat stick.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Clark pulled a LeBron James after the loss. He refused to come to the press room (though he did give a couple of quotes to Tour PR). He said he will take nothing positive from the loss and that he had a lot of work to do in closing out tournaments.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Tim Clark and Lebron, an unlikely duo to be sure.
Friedman: “Pulling a LeBron.” I can see that this phrase is going to have long, long legs.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I feel bad for Tim Clark. He missed a 7-footer to win on the first playoff hole and then had the pin-clanker. The South African is easily the best player in the world without a PGA Tour win.
Friedman: I think that’s damning him with faint praise. And Clark did win the Par-3 at the Masters. That counts as an eighth of a victory.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Clark and Justin Rose seem like they’ve built up winning on Tour as the end-all, be-all of human existence, but on the bright side it seems like Clark is getting closer each time he puts himself in position.
Van Sickle: The shot of the tournament had to be Stricker’s unlikely chip-in at 17 in regulation. That long approach shot looked like the nail in his coffin. Instead, he made lemonade. Out of a coffin? Yeah, that’s what I said. Just trying to avoid a cliche.
Gorant: What’s up with CBS and Clark’s wrists? I always thought it was pretty common knowledge that he has a congenital condition that prevents him from turning his hands palm-up. That’s why it’s difficult for him to chip, but the CBS guys never mentioned that. They just kept saying he prefers to putt from eight feet off the green because he isn’t a good chipper. Is this supposed to be an off-limits topic?
Lipsey: Clark’s collapse and loss is as clear an example of how even the very best players choke. Yipped short putts, bad luck (clanking it off the flagstick), hooking drives at the end after roping lasers all day — Clark made me understand just how hard golf is, even for the best.
Bamberger: On the night — and I mean pretty close to night — before Clark was to play Tiger in the Match Play in February, he was working hard with the long wand on the green. I know guys have won with long putters, and Angel of course won in a playoff at the Masters with the butt end of a grip in his belly, but when crunch time comes it’s hard to bet on the long-wanded.
Van Sickle: One of us should probably whip up a top 10 list of the best players on tour without a win. Clark is surely No. 1. I’d put Marino in there somewhere, too. Skip Kendall may have dropped out of my top 10.
Bamberger: Michael Allen.
Gorant: Isn’t Kendall a Wisconsin guy, too? That should give him lifetime status in your Top 10.
Van Sickle: Any thoughts on Marino? He reminds me a little of Kenny Perry, except he hits a high fade instead of Kenny’s high draw. Has a slow backswing, too. I like his aggressive style but, just like in New Orleans, he got a little shaky at crunch time. He hasn’t had much experience there yet. I like his game, though.
Herre: Marino simply couldn’t make a birdie down the stretch. I like his swing and tempo, too, and the way he takes the left side out of play. He also looks like a pretty good putter. Seems to be so-so with the wedges.
Evans: To me his stuff is closer to Angel Cabrera or Mark Calcavecchia.
Hack: Stricker started crying when asked about receiving a sponsor’s exemption here a few years ago when his game was in the wilderness. Said he felt like Sunday was the completion of a big circle. It was a pretty cool moment. The guy is pure emotion. Can’t think of too many players more popular out here.
Van Sickle: Stricker was in the top five in the world rankings not long ago. Don’t think this win will jump him up that high, but the fact is, the rankings say he is among the top American players. That is kind of a stunning fact.
Friedman: Four top fives and six top 10s this year.
Morfit: In a way, Stricker is one of the Tour’s biggest overachievers. He has a swing that can produce some of the most spectacular driver misses you’ve ever seen, and it’s really hard to play golf that way.
Van Sickle: Stricker’s win means he just accomplished something that Tiger Woods probably never will. He got his name on the Wall of Champions at Colonial by the first tee. With all of the Ben Hogan history there, it’s a shame Tiger has chosen to stay away permanently after an initial bad experience. Tiger, more than anyone, should have a Hogan tie-in during his career. I guess he could settle for winning at Riviera, where Hogan also won, although Tiger hasn’t done that yet, either.
Bamberger: With all due respect … I think 14 majors gets you in Hogan’s ‘hood.
Herre: Tiger always played the Nelson, at least while Byron was alive. And he always plays in Arnie and Jack’s tournaments. Bet he would have played the Colonial had Hogan been around.
Lipsey: Hogan seems more around now than when he was alive. If Woods cared so much about history, like he says, he’d play Colonial and other places.
Van Sickle: Tiger played Colonial once and never went back. I think Hogan was still alive then, but I could be wrong. I don’t think Tiger and Hogan ever met, although I could be wrong about that, too. Mark O’Meara told me last week in Cleveland that he didn’t think Tiger and Hogan ever talked.
Herre: Hogan died in 1997, and was basically a recluse for years before that. I think Tiger cares more about the actual people than their histories. Plus he’s respectful to his elders.
Evans: Hogan was a grinding hard-ass to the end of his life. Tiger knows a lot about that. Kindred spirits.
Lipsey: Now Hogan’s everywhere, on the tip of every golfer’s tongue, in every apocryphal story, etc. Death brings some folks to life.
Bamberger: The books have a lot to do with it, I think. The two Hogan biographies, plus “The Match.” People read the excerpts, or hear about them, and lore is born. For the moderns, with the 24-7 scrutiny, lore is tough to come by.
Friedman: Right. The TV age would have been kinder to some than others.
Van Sickle: I saw Hogan a few times at Colonial in the early ’90s, riding around in a cart to check out the tournament action. To his credit, he didn’t have his driver try to run me over.
Lipsey: A question: Would Hogan have liked Tiger?
Evans: He would respect Tiger’s work ethic and talent, but he wouldn’t get the Tiger mania and all the talk about him “transcending the game.”
Van Sickle: Hogan and Tiger wouldn’t have had a relationship if they were both in their primes. Neither man wants to let the enemy see inside his camp. I think Hogan would like Tiger’s shotmaking skills and the way he approaches the game.
Bamberger: “Like” is not a word that comes to mind with Hogan. But he wouldn’t have called Tiger “fella” as he did Palmer.
Hack: There was a lot of Hogan love here, understandably, and there is a large segment of the population that says he was the best golfer of all time, period, end of story. I’d pay to see Tiger vs. Hogan, straight up, 18 holes. Michelob Light for the winner.
Lipsey: I got the movie rights to this deal.
Bamberger: Even in their primes, I have to think that Tiger is WAY, WAY better from 100 yards and in.
Herre: Hogan would marvel at, and be jealous of, Tiger’s physicality.
Hack: Better putter, too, right? I think Tiger beats him most places, but I like the Wee Ice Mon at Carnoustie, Colonial and Riviera.
Bamberger: Dr. Hack, repeat after me: Tiger Woods is, by far, the greatest putter ever. Greatest lag putter, mid-range, short-putter, crunch-time, Thursday, Wednesday pro-am, etc. George Low, Bobby Locke and all the others RIP. Jack, Billy Casper in his prime, Seve when the mood struck him — forget all them, too. It’s Tiger, by a mile.
Hack: What about the Boss of the Moss? (I kid, I kid!)
Herre: Definitely like Hogan better at the Riv and Colonial, a couple of Tiger killers.
Evans: Hogan would beat Tiger on all the old tracks with slow greens and tight fairways. But on the new King-Kong-sized TPC tour, Tiger would get him every time.
Bamberger: OK, that’s cool. But Tiger wins at the Old Course, Augusta National, Pebble, so they go to … Bethpage all square and Hogan says no fair because he hasn’t played the course. Instead they go to Cypress, and little Eddie Lowery comes back from the clouds, and it’s all level going into 17 and a HUGE MONSTER wind comes up …
Herre: All eyes will be on Tiger this week. Funny how the guy can just drop out of sight for a couple of weeks. I have no clue what to expect.
Van Sickle: One constant with Tiger, even though he always leaves us in the dark, is that he is able to quickly adapt and make corrections in his game. I expect Tiger to show up at Memorial with at least his A-minus game and probably win.
Morfit: I wonder if the bunkers will be furrowed, infuriating the players again. It speaks to Jack’s ability to draw that anybody still plays there.
Herre: Cam, what were all the players complaining about last year at Muirfield Village. Was it the brutal rough? It’s always something there. I think Jack secretly enjoys bringing the pain.
Van Sickle: Those furrowed bunkers were over the top, but they only knocked the sand save percentage down about 10 percent. If Jack was serious about making the bunkers more challenging, he’d put a different mix of sand in each bunker, so players would have to rely on local knowledge every time they had to play out of the sand. That would be extreme, sure, but so are furrows.
Bamberger: Absolutely, different sand, different compaction, and no rakes. Make ’em suffer!
Gorant: Maybe Jack should just let them play and not take low scores as a personal affront to his legacy or course-design abilities?
Evans: Jack won’t play ceremonial golf, so he enjoys tormenting the world’s best players.
Van Sickle: Jack is also responsible for a lot of slow play with the many bunkers, tiered greens and difficult courses he designs. Slow play and high maintenance costs are staples of Jack’s design work, and also many others. You have to put some of the blame for golf’s economic issues on the architects who built spectacular but not necessarily playable or cost-effective courses.
Lipsey: Architects build what the course owners let them build. The course owners are at the top of this food chain and make all the final calls.
Gorant: Don’t forget the excessive pre-shot routine. I think that time killer really took off with Jack, too.
Bamberger: I blame the developers, who all tell the architects, “Build me something that will get me a Tour event.” It’s cool that Jack wants his course to play super-hard. You have your own tournament, it’s your chance to play golfing god. If everybody did it, it would be too much, but too much Hope would be dull too. The variety is good.
Gorant: Hard is one thing. Tricked up for the purpose of being penal is another.
Van Sickle: Speaking of design, was anyone else appalled that among the changes made to Colonial was chopping off part of the water-guarded 13th green and eliminating the bunker where Tom Purtzer holed out with a putter (the classic Texas wedge) the year he won the tournament? That was one change that didn’t fit the course’s traditional look, I thought, and it eliminated a bit of tournament lore.
Herre: Everything I read was bullish on the changes to Colonial. Guess the players have universally adopted the Gary Player method of course critiquing.
Van Sickle: I’d like to hear what the senior tour guys have to say about the changes. They’re the guys who played Colonial when it was a big deal, an important event and somewhat prestigious invitation.
Bamberger: I was stunned. I’ve caddied at Colonial, and I’ve been there several other times as a reporter. It looked like a different course.
Van Sickle: Everybody is wearing pink during the confab, right? Just like many players did on Saturday in honor of breast cancer awareness, especially that of defending champion Phil Mickelson’s wife, Amy. It seemed like a pretty genuine, sincere effort. I’m glad the too-often selfish tour players could come together in a moment of crisis.
Friedman: It certainly serves to humanize everyone.
Herre: Yeah, the Pink Out was cool. Kind of reminded of me of when the players all wore knickers to honor Payne Stewart.
Gorant: It was impressive, and I was glad to see the Mickelson’s didn’t make it solely about them. It’s not any more tragic when a famous person gets sick than when it happens to someone else, although I think the response to Amy has been driven by how nice a person she is. Still, good for them for being aware of that.
Evans: I hope the players realize that breast cancer isn’t purely a woman’s cancer and that although it’s rare, it does happen to men.
Bamberger: I think a big part of it is, as Jim G. notes, that Amy is so widely liked. And a bigger part of it is that so many people have had a connection to breast cancer. Anything that brings us together is a good thing. In an individual sport like golf, where the players have way more of a cowboy mentality than they let on, it’s not easy to find common ground. Pink Saturday was a nice touch, and I’m sure it touched many.
Friedman: The Daly commemorative slacks bobblehead, with the proceeds going to breast-cancer research?
Lipsey: Anybody care about Baker-Finch’s cameo?
Evans: If Finchie were not a past champion at Colonial, I would say that he wasted an opportunity for a young player to play. But he’s done a fine job of staying viable in the game through his TV work. I’m sure they aren’t inviting Rod Curl (the ’74 Colonial Champion) to come back.
Gorant: Good for him that he showed everyone he can still play — sometimes. I was rooting for him because he’s one of my least favorite announcers. The thought of him giving up the mic for the senior tour was exciting.
Friedman: Sorry for you that he didn’t make the weekend, Jim! You are hereby sentenced to listening to a loop tape of Baker-Finch exclaiming, “Beauty!”
Van Sickle: Baker-Finch put up a good number the first day, a 68, and permanently erased some of his bad memories. That second-round 78 probably hurt, but at least he proved he can still shoot under par. If this is a precursor to him playing more, maybe even full-time, and abandoning the broadcast booth, I’ll back him 100 percent.
Friedman: Now that we all will own 70% of GM, what shall we do about the tournaments we sponsor?
Hack: Golf writers receive 15 percent of all winnings.
Lipsey: What happens to the Tour’s Buick-sponsored events?
Van Sickle: Those Buick events were doomed months ago. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Torrey Pines wind up with some kind of Tiger relationship, much like the AT&T National, and honor the military men and women stationed on the West Coast, especially in the Navy-influenced San Diego area.
Lipsey: What about this year’s Buick events? Will Obama, as the de facto CEO, give out the winner’s check and do the corny end-of-broadcast Sunday interview?
Van Sickle: I’m sure you all follow college golf as closely as I do. I thought it was great that the powers who pushed for a match-play team final (when match play is never played the rest of the year) got what they asked for. Oklahoma State, which had a 15-shot lead in the stroke play portion, got eliminated in match play, and two teams who weren’t remotely the best in the country, Arkansas and Texas A&M, squared off in the final. A&M won, good for them. Also, kudos to Jack Nicklaus, who showed up at the championship dinner and did a nice job as guest speaker, even though half of the teams weren’t able to come because rain delayed play and they were still on the course.
Gorant: Seemed like a suspect idea, but at least they got an exciting finish out of it. Kid from A&M hit a wedge to six inches on the final hole to win it.
Lipsey: Mike Van Sickle shoulda won the dang thing.
Van Sickle: Well, he did win the Byron Nelson Award, got his picture taken with Jack at the dinner in Toledo, and was named a first-team All-American the next day. So it wasn’t all bad for Mike, now in Denver for this week’s U.S. vs. Europe Palmer Cup showdown.