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.
FEDEX CUP PREDICTIONS
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: The last two events in the FedEx Cup are coming up, starting with the BMW in Chicago this week. Any predictions?
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: If Dustin Johnson is putting even half decent, he’ll defend his title at the BMW this week.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I was surprised to hear mild-mannered Midwesterner Steve Stricker trash Cog Hill. He must REALLY hate Rees Jones’s renovation to be so candid with his criticism.
Gorant: Trashing Rees has almost become a sport in itself. Seems like whenever they play a Jones course these days it’s a race to the nearest tape recorder to have at it. Maybe one of these days Geoff Shackelford will get his big shot.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: A pro who teaches at Cog Hill gave me a similarly unflattering review of the new layout.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: It seems like every time we get to this point with Phil Mickelson — close to writing him off as too analytic, too inconsistent — he surprises us with stunning golf like he played in Houston this year. With a week off to practice with that belly putter, I wouldn’t be shocked if Phil has a really, really good week in Chicago.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Only that it’s going to unpredictable like pretty much everything in the AT 2.0 (After Tiger 2.0) era. However I would be surprised if Steve Stricker doesn’t play himself in the mix in one of the last two events.
Herre: I predict that someone using a belly putter will win.
Gorant: Good call, but I’m with D.J. Although I’m not sure if that’s a wish or a prediction.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: It will be interesting to see how the belly/long putters fare these next two weeks. If Adam Scott, Webb Simpson or Phil Mickelson takes home $10 million, then it will be like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” The long putters will instantly be everywhere.
Gorant: What about the whole thing, who do you like to take home the $10 mil in Atlanta?
Dusek: My head tells me Dustin Johnson should overpower East Lake, but I still have trouble picking him. I’ll be fascinated to see what the off-week does to Webb Simpson. Hot players want to keep playing, so how is he going to handle the spotlight that comes with being in contention to win $10 million? We know what we’ll get from Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar.
Herre: Total long shot, but I’m gonna say Matt Kuchar, this year’s version of 2010 winner Jim Furyk. From start to finish, Kuchar may have had the most consistent season of anyone. All that’s missing is a win.
Reiterman: I don’t know all the possible scenarios, but I hope there’s one where Luke Donald can win the FedEx Cup without winning a playoff event.
Walker: Adam Scott. The long putter has given him confidence, and so has his familiar-looking caddie.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Adam Scott loves East Lake. I’ll pick him to win the $10 mil.
Lipsey: Adam Scott. Steve Williams will be the first caddie to win FedEx titles with two different players by his side, as Stevie might say himself.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I’ll take Webb Simpson. He’s atop the standings, he’s won twice in the last month, he has a slew of top 10s. Plus, the way this season has gone, we’ll have first-time winners in the last two events.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I’ll predict that the awards ceremony will be awkward as there will be two different champions — the Tour Championship winner and the FedEx Cup winner. And the Tour Championship winner will get short shrift. How many people — even us golf watchers — can even name the top five in the FedEx points list? That’s still a problem.
Lipsey: Does it really matter? I’ll revert back to the old and trusty Ice Capades analogy, but in a positive way. The FedEx Cup is like an a series of all-star games. It doesn’t really matter who’s contending. Fans just know it’s big-time guys competing for big-time cash, and that in itself is a big-time draw.
MCILROY RACKS UP ANOTHER TOP 10 ON EURO TOUR
Gorant: In Europe Simon Dyson won his third KLM in six years. Not much to say there except he clearly likes the course. Rory McIlroy finished third, two shots back. Are we impressed by European top 10s for Rory or has a reached a point where he has to win to move the needle? Same for Lee Westwood, who grabbed a back-door top five with a Sunday 66?
Herre: If your goal is to separate yourself, winning is everything. If it’s to rise to the top of the World Ranking, top 10s are OK.
Van Sickle: Rory hasn’t won enough tournaments yet to be happy with top 10s. He needs to build his resume.
Dusek: The third-place finish reinforces to me that Rory’s wrist is fine after the PGA Championship, but he’s set the bar high with his win at Congressional. I had him No. 1 for a while in my SI Golf Ranking, so I expect him to win. A lot. Westwood getting a back-door top five doesn’t move me either way, which probably shows my expectations for him.
Reiterman: It’s just nice to see Rory playing well after his bone-headed shot at the PGA. That could’ve sent his career down a different path.
Wei: Yeah, I’d say the course fits Dyson’s eye! It’s impressive that Rory finishes near the top of the ‘board so consistently on the European Tour, but I feel like he can almost do that with his eyes closed. Good job, but gotta get the win to catch more of my attention.
Godich: Yes, Rory was lights out and Congressional, and, yes, if you’re selling stock, he is the first guy I’m buying. But I sure would like to see him win again before we anoint him as the Next Big Thing.
Walker: Tough crowd. McIlroy is separating himself from the pack. He’s the clear-cut world player of the year, and he’s only 22 years old. Don’t worry, more wins are coming soon.
Dusek: No doubt. Unlike his girlfriend, I think Rory’s is going to develop a taste for winning big events, not just contending on the weekends.
Wei: And like his girlfriend, no doubt in my mind Rory will reach No. 1 in the world rankings in the next six months.
DOES THE SOLHEIM CUP NEED AN ASIAN TEAM?
Gorant: Yani Tseng just won the NW Arkansas event in a playoff. She’s dominant in women’s golf right now. Does her absence (as well as that of all the Korean players) make a mockery of the coming Solheim Cup?
Lipsey: Not having the dominant world No. 1 is not a good thing for the Solheim Cup.
Herre: Mockery is a little strong, but as we’ve said again and again, the LPGA needs to find a way to get the rest of the world involved. The tour is missing an opportunity here.
Reiterman: Doesn’t make a mockery of the Solheim Cup, but why isn’t there a Presidents Cup-type event for the ladies?
Wei: Impressive comeback by Tseng in the last five holes to tie things up and force a playoff. For most of the day, it looked like Yani couldn’t get anything going and Amy Yang was going to cruise to the victory, but I had a sneaky feeling that she might make a few coming in. After all, she’s No. 1 in the world.
Herre: Having spent time in NW Arkansas, I can attest that it’s a perfect market for the LPGA. Not too big, not too small. Just right. Aside from Razorback football, the LPGA was the hottest ticket in town last week.
Van Sickle: It looks like the new Corning Classic of the LPGA.
Dusek: The Solheim Cup is still going to be a good event. What the absence of the South Korean players does is highlight the need for an event like the Solheim Cup that includes them.
Van Sickle: Solheim Cup is already a little bit of a mockery. American golf isn’t all that strong. Neither is European golf. This is like having the Diamondbacks and the Indians in the World Series while pretending the Yankees don’t exist. The rest of the world needs to be included, either with a third team. The Solheim Cup was always a bit shaky when Karrie Webb and Lorena Ochoa were excluded, too. Solheim Cup needs an off-year match between the Solheim Cup loser and the yet-to-be-created Asian-Australia team. The winner of the off-year event advances to the Solheim Cup proper the next year to face the reigning champs. But that means America wouldn’t always be in the Solheim Cup. Tough.
Wei: Mockery is a little strong. The Solheim Cup is about a competition between GB&I and the US. To say that her absence makes it a joke is like saying the Ryder Cup wouldn’t have been complete with Vijay in ’04. I say it just calls for the LPGA to come up with a match-play competition, like the Presidents Cup (even if it is contrived).
Gorant: Maybe we should start one. The SI Cup, anyone?
Walker: The USA-Asia rivalry in women’s golf is another reason that Olympic golf is going to be really, really cool.
Herre: Good point, Mike. Could be that the women’s Olympic tournament ends up more compelling than the men’s.
Van Sickle: I’m not sure how much USA-Asia rivalry there will be in the Olympics. Might be six or eight Asians in the field and only two or three Americans.
MORE TROUBLE FOR U.S. GOLF? GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND WIN THE WALKER CUP
Gorant: The GB&I team beat the good ole U.S. Of A (on 9/11 no less) in the Walker Cup 14-12. What do we make of this? Dark omen for the future of American golf or a good performance by the home team in tough, windy conditions.
Herre: Home team has a big edge in the Walker Cup. Doesn’t mean a thing one way or the other vis a vis future of American or GB&I golf. Kind of cool to see Peter Uihlein go to 4-0 in WC singles — one win short of the record set by Bobby Jones.
Walker: Yeah, and that home-team advantage is extra potent when GBI is playing a links course in 30+ mph wind. The ominous part was how difficult this was to watch on TV.
Wei: Big help to the home team to have home-course advantage in links golf, along with the tough conditions, it’s not a big surprise the United States lost. Also, I believe that every major amateur event in the UK this summer was played in adverse weather. Not making any excuses for the Americans, but it’s tough to adjust and adapt to the wind and links style — but it also perhaps implies how one-dimensional American golf is.
Dusek: Some players have gone on to have excellent professional careers after playing Walker Cup; others haven’t. We won’t be able to really answer the question for another five to eight years.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Two weeks ago most of the U.S. team hit the links at Erin Hills for the U.S. Amateur. Obviously it doesn’t fully make up for the Euro’s home-team advantage, but I thought the U.S. side deserved to be favored in the event.
Wei: Erin Hills is “links style,” but it ain’t links golf.
Van Sickle: Right about Erin Hills not being a links. Think the definition of links is a “seaside” course. Don’t think Pewaukee Lake counts as seaside.
Gorant: Yep, good showing by Uihlein and also by Jordan Spieth, who led the U.S. with a 2-0-1 record. Who do you think has the great upside, Spieth or Patrick Cantlay?
Herre: Cantlay seems to be the consensus choice, based on their play in pro events. Spieth was sort of a one-trick pony.
Van Sickle: Spieth really grew and improved in the past year, got bigger and longer. Cantlay looks almost ready for PGA Tour play right now. They’ve both got great upsides. You’d like to be either one of them. Then again, you’d just like to be 19. That wouldn’t suck.
Godich: More upside? I’ll take Cantlay, based solely on his summer of success on the PGA Tour. But I love Spieth’s perspective. He was candid about his success at the Byron Nelson, saying he had an advantage over the Tour pros because he knew the golf course like the back of his hand. He added that he admired how Tour pros perform week in and week out. Kid’s got game. Just as important, he’s got a level head on his shoulders.
Wei: I haven’t seen Spieth play in person, but I saw Cantlay when he shot that 60 at the Travelers Championship a few months ago. Standing in the 18th fairway, he knew he had to jar it to shoot 59 and he nearly did! His worst finish in four PGA Tour starts is T24, which interestingly enough, came at the Travelers!
Dusek: You can’t make a sweeping statement about American golf or British golf based on the Walker Cup. Plenty of excellent pros never competed in the event. And how many golfers who are currently playing in college, or are of college age, are not fairly one-dimensional?
Gorant: Good point about the TV. With not a lot of other golf on this weekend did the Walker Cup miss a chance to grab the spotlight or is the event better off unsullied by the commercialism that comes with broadcasting? Did anyone watch it online?
Herre: The Walker Cup is impossible to see on TV, really. This event is near and dear to the USGA and hard-core amateur golfers but the general public hasn’t paid much attention since Tiger Woods was getting whipped by 1995’s It Kid, Gordon Sherry.
Wei: Tough to compete with the U.S. Open tennis and the NFL’s opening weekend.
Godich: The Walker Cup will always be a tough sell in September. It is particularly tough on the opening weekend of the NFL season and the 9/11 anniversary.
Walker: I was disappointed by the lack of coverage. I was going to watch it online, but when I had to submit my email to my cable company for permission to watch it online, I gave up. Tried to catch the highlights on ESPN2 on Sunday afternoon, but it was pre-empted for U.S. Open women’s doubles. Isn’t the point of all these channels to serve hard-core fans?
Gorant: I agree. It was definitely one of those times where I wanted to tune in but found the barriers to entry to high.
Ritter: I intended to tune in, but when I saw I had to submit my email address online to watch it, I got sucked into checking my fantasy football team instead. The force of the NFL is strong.
Van Sickle: The Walker Cup just goes too fast. Two days, and it’s all over. It could really benefit, TV-wise, from a third day like the Ryder Cup. Still, Americans don’t follow amateur golf much, anyway. Look at all the so-called golf fans bitching because Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson are new stars, two players they weren’t familiar with. These fans are even less keen on players they’ve never heard of.
Lipsey: I’ve not heard anybody “bitching” about Bradley or Simpson.
Wei: I think we should talk about the real marquee event this week — the U.S. Senior Amateur…
Herre: Yeah. How’d you make out, Vans?
Van Sickle: I got killed on the greens. My practice round was rained out–no one allowed on the course Friday so I had to play the course without setting foot on the greens. Couldn’t match the speed with the lines. Struck it great the first day and turned a 70 into 77 with poor putting. Didn’t hit it as well the second day, made nothing again, had a freak lost ball, and finished double-double (when I needed birdie-birdie to make cut) for 81. Disappointing. But my track record on fast greens with a lot of slope isn’t good. Buzz Fly smoked me.