PGA Tour Confidential: Honda Classic

PGA Tour Confidential: Honda Classic

Along with a big paycheck and a two-year exemption, Y.E. Yang earned a trip to the Masters after winning the Honda Classic on Sunday.
David Walberg/SI

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: Greetings from Florida. Your grapefruit and baby alligator will arrive shortly. Meanwhile, the weekly Tour Confidential is now in session.
Anyone besides me ordering Rosetta Stone to start working on my Korean?
The invasion is imminent. Y.E. Yang (honk if you hadn’t heard of him before last week) just won the Honda, Jiyai Shin won the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore. (I stand by my earlier prediction that she will overtake Lorena Ochoa as the No. 1 golfer in the world in less than two years.) And Korea beat China in that lame world baseball tournament.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated:
I renew my suggestion that Asian players should adapt nicknames in the manner of Birdie Kim — anything but initials! If Yang calls himself
Ying he’ll gain instant name recognition.

Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Just finished this week’s Golf Plus Big Play session with Eric Johnson, the director of instruction at Oakmont. He’s a Yang fan — loves Yang’s tempo, temperament and iron play. Eric’s tip will be a good one — how to control distances with the scoring irons. Eric says Yang is good at this, but Tiger Woods is the best.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Eric Johnson was just visiting Mike Bender at his Korean teaching school around Orlando and Eric was blown away by the intensity, dedication and skill of the hordes of Koreans — kids, adults, pros, amateurs, boys, girls — working there.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: It’s hard to find a compelling storyline from this week’s slate of events.
However I enjoyed seeing Erik Compton, a recipient of two heart transplants, make it to the weekend at the Honda Classic.

Van Sickle: Guess we’ll be seeing more of Yang. Not only does this win get him in the Masters, but he’s in next week at Doral, too. He’s moving up. I was glad to see him two-putt for the win. It’s never fun watching a guy three-jack it to potentially lose, the way Boo Weekley did in a past Honda.

Herre: We all cringed when we heard NBC bring up the possibility of a Yang three-jack. Why go there?

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: ‘Twas a 50 foot putt, though, no? Stuff happens.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Plus, it goes back to various Asian baseball closers who have given up some big home runs. There is the lingering stereotype that Asian athletes are susceptible to choking. Maybe Yang’s gutsy performance will help explode that myth.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Don’t know if that tracks in golf, though. Anyone who even casually follows the LPGA couldn’t believe that anymore. Those women have proven themselves many times over.

Shipnuck: It was only a matter of time before Korean men (beyond K.J. Choi) started making a splash on the world golf scene. There is too much fanaticism for the sport in that country for only female golfers to be inspired.

Gorant: Yang certainly talked about a win serving as a Se Ri Pak moment for Korean men. The highly touted Danny Lee considers himself a Kiwi, but he was born in Korea and lived there until he was 8.

Hack: Charlie Wi was also born in Seoul, but I think he claims the Cal Golden Bears above all else. Let’s not forget Kevin Na, either. Also born in Seoul and playing a lot better this year.

Shipnuck: Talking to Padraig Harrington about Ryo Ishikawa, he had an interesting take on why Asian players have always struggled outside of Asia. He said it had nothing to do with golf but was cultural — Paddy’s played a lot around the world and thinks many of the Japanese and Korean men feel out of sorts in the U.S. and Europe. Their home tours are very collegial and over here they’re all alone. Now that more Asian players will be teeing it up in the biggest events that should only help them assimilate their games.

Evans: Alan, your assessment of Paddy’s assessment of Asian golfers in America is pretty lame. Asians dominate Ivy League admissions and Silicon Valley. I think they can assimilate to a darn golf course.

Shipnuck: That was Paddy’s theory, not mine, but I think it makes sense. One of Ryo’s people told me he was happy to hobnob with the Japanese owners at Riviera because it made him feel more at home, as he was otherwise a tad overwhelmed being in LA. Granted, he’s only 17, but I don’t think Rory McIlroy felt the same dislocation going to Tucson.

Garrity: The culture argument with Asian golfers is not new. Ayako Okamoto, who won 17 LPGA tournaments, said that Jumbo Ozaki and the other Japanese men couldn’t win abroad because they suffered from “doting mother syndrome” — that is, they were so spoiled that they couldn’t function on their own. Or as she put it, “They can’t make it without their cup noodles.” It’s pretty clear, though, that Asian cultures have become more international in their outlook.

Shipnuck: No doubt the LPGA screwed up the details, but English is a must if Asian players are going to be a continuing force on the PGA Tour. Everyone loves K.J. because he has become proficient enough in the press room to allow his cuddly personality to shine through. It would’ve been a shame if the golf world never got to know him.

Hack: Se Ri Pak was asked about the dearth of Korean
men on the PGA Tour when she won the LPGA Championship
a few years back. She basically said it was because they
were too small and didn’t hit the ball far enough to compete.
K.J. (with his big, baby Nicklaus cut) and Y.E. (with his 300-yard
tasers) are exceptions to the rule, I guess.

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Does the military obligation also hold the men back?

Hack: Could be. Yang talked about that at his post-round presser today, said
that Korean men have to serve for two years. They are taken away in their 20s,
“prime of your golfing career,” he said.

Van Sickle: One thing the Honda didn’t do was add any clarity to the pre-Masters picture. Who’s hot that can win the Masters? Well, there’s Geoff Ogilvy. (Already claimed on waivers by Shipnuck.) And, um, well, that’s it.
Tiger Woods could put himself back in the picture with a decent showing at Doral. And by decent showing, I mean win by a small margin. A good showing would be a win by five shots or more.

Is anybody else going to step up? This is a very strange run-up to the Masters. Where, by the way, the economic meltdown has badges going for $3400, down from $4000. What a bargain.

Shipnuck: I think this is the most wide-open Masters of the Tiger era. Of course, if Woods blows away the field in Doral that might change, but I don’t see that happening, adding to the intrigue.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I look for Phil Mickelson to shock the world at Doral, and contend at the Masters, or possibly vice-versa. (My crystal ball needs a shot of Windex.) I sense that Phil realizes he’s been forgotten about, and we all know he enjoys surprising people. The fact that he won at Riviera with something less than his “A” game bodes well, too. Yeah, he didn’t get too far in the Match Play. I try not to read too much into that tournament.

Evans: There is too much Masters talk. There is only so much buildup that we can stand. Remember that Trevor Immelman, whom none of us picked last year, won the Masters in pretty convincing fashion.

Van Sickle: There’s too much Masters talk? There has been hardly any. And what are we going to talk about? The Honda Classic? The Transitions Championship? Mark Wilson’s big win at the Mayakoba Classic? We may be looking at a whole bunch of new Masters contenders, as the old group of usual suspects seems to be moving on.

Evans: What I mean is that we shouldn’t get in the habit of treating the other 30-odd weeks as a preamble to the majors. The sponsors, our sponsors, want to build interest in the game on a weekly basis. No one shelling out $5 million wants to be so easily discounted. The Masters doesn’t need any unnatural speculation.

Van Sickle: Our sponsors are our readers and they’re interested in all things golf, but especially the Masters. It’s not our job to promote tour events. It’s our job to present interesting, relevant news stories. And in this venue, discuss what’s hot. Clearly, Asian golf is hot. But I haven’t read anyone writing about how great the Honda Classic was. Feel free to start.

Herre: [SI senior writer Michael] Bamberger’s down there and he loved the Honda. Said it had the feel of an old-timey tour event — older, but large crowds; good course; and even though the top-ranked players didn’t do much, the field was the Honda’s best in years. Michael also said he had terrific access to the players. He really enjoyed his week there.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Speaking of old school, Jim, one reason some of the guys like to play the Honda is because on the Monday after there’s a member-pro event at Seminole, where Nathaniel Crosby is a member. Davis Love is playing this year with his old friend Bill Jones III, the owner of the Sea Island Resort. Last year, Fred Couples played with N.Y. Times columnist Tom Friedman. Jack Nicklaus is playing this year, as a guest. Raymond Floyd has played in the past, as a member. Justin Leonard has played in it, as has Ernie Els, Brad Faxon and other guys who like playing where Hogan played a great many winter rounds with Butch Harmon’s father, Claude, the longtime Seminole professional. At Seminole, Hogan prepared for Augusta. If you can find it, James Dodson has written a terrifiic history of Seminole.

Evans: All I’m saying is that I want the PGA Tour to succeed every week, not just a few weeks a year. The Masters is always hot. That’s a silly point, not worth arguing. I’m saying that let’s wait until Arnie’s event to see where players are. How, in early March, do you know what a guy can do?

Hack: I agree with Vans. There is no such thing as too much Masters talk, in the same way there is no such thing as too much Halle Berry talk, Nobu sushi talk,

David Dusek, deputy editor, Not to pile on, but the Masters is the most prestigious and significant tournament on the schedule. We’re a month out. After a lackluster West Coast Swing, and with so much negative news flying around the Tour and society every day, the Masters can’t come fast enough.

Herre: Back to Tiger: Did anyone see the Wall Street Journal piece claiming that he lacked “golf stamina” at the Match Play? Interesting theory, although in the past Woods has always come out smoking after a layoff. I look for a better showing at Doral.

Gorant: He didn’t even play 50 holes at the Match Play.

Van Sickle: After Tucson, let me say that I’m momentarily Tigered out. However, did anyone see any significance in Woods waiting until the last minute to enter the WGC event at Doral, which we all pretty much knew he basically had to play in? Late entries are usual for him, but why hold off on a WGC event? Or was it Tiger being Tiger? (Sorry, Manny.)

Herre: I think it was Tiger being Tiger, Gary. Might have something to do with his feeling of being exploited by tournaments, although I never understood that.
Why shouldn’t he help promote the events?

Gorant: Maybe it was Tiger being Manny?

Evans: Tiger has the majors mentality that I think hurts the game, overall. Who can fault Tiger when every question we ask him is about Augusta? He’s selfish in not promoting events because we engender an environment for that kind of thing to fester.

Gorant: Looking westward — does anyone know anything about what’s going on at Harding Park? It’s supposed to host the Presidents Cup but reports say it’s in bad shape.

Hack: It’s a beautiful track. Played it before the redesign. That said, its greens are bumpier than Flatbush Avenue.

Morfit: I played it at media day last fall, and it was not great. It certainly didn’t feel like I was playing a Tour course. But with all the basics in alignment (the great old trees, the course design), I figured the powers that be would dump enough fertilizer to fix everything. Perhaps I was overly optimistic. On another, sort of related subject, I’m told by a source at the USGA that Bethpage Black, despite all the play, isn’t all that far from its condition at the 2002 U.S. Open. Amazing, if true.

Herre: The Presidents Cup is a long way off, and don’t courses in NorCal typically get chewed up over the winter?

Shipnuck: Yeah, the fall Indian summer should lead to perfect conditions when the Prez Cup rolls around.

Gorant: I would think there’s time, but apparently Chris DiMarco played there recently and expressed concern about whether or not it could be ready.

Shipnuck: I don’t think he’ll have to worry — dude hasn’t won in seven years and is not exactly a lock for the Prez Cup.

Van Sickle: There’s lots of anti-golf sentiment in the Bay Area. They’ve let Lincoln Park, another muni, go to pot, and play has dwindled, prompting calls to turn it into — well, every special interest group has its own idea. Don’t forget, the AmEx Championship was the only reason the old horribly run-down Harding Park was ever rescued in the first place, and it faced heavy criticism before, during and after the tournament. That’s California.

Shipnuck: Easy, Turbo. That’s San Fran, which is a country unto itself. Here in Monterey County, 90 miles south, we love our golf.

Hack: San Francisco has a great golf history. Harding, Lincoln, Sharp, the Presidio. Gems all of them. (OK, scuffed up gems, but still gems).

Friedman: Is the anti-golf sentiment financially driven — or because the sport is considered elitist?

Van Sickle: I’m not sure what’s behind the sentiment. Sandy Tatum did a great thing resurrecting a Bay Area treasure in Harding Park. Maybe it’s just taxpayers being Manny. They don’t realize that a well-run golf course should be profitable (which is why munis should lease them out to somebody who knows how to run them).

Evans: I think a guy who is getting downsized by the city has a problem when it pumps millions into a golf course. When you ask taxpayers to do anything you’re going to have a problem, regardless of the sport. But to your
question: the anti-golf sentiment is about money and privilege, money and privilege that most Americans don’t have.