PGA Tour Confidential: Hong Kong Open

Ian Poulter won his 10th career European Tour title and second this season.
Stanley Chou/Getty Images

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.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Lot’s o’ stuff out there, but let’s begin with the actual golf. Ian Poulter held on to win the Euro tour event in Hong Kong, tying a tour scoring record in the process. What do we make of Poulter? Is this who he is, a borderline top 10 guy with attention-getting pants, or does he have what it takes to do more?

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Poulter has a ton of game but has been pretty much a no-show in the majors.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Poulter is a cool dude with big game. I love him.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Poulter has a ton of game, and I’d be surprised if he went 0-for-life in the majors.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: If I can trot out an NFL saying, he is who we think he is: brash, talented, chatty, bratty and, at times, brilliant. I think he’ll nab a major — and have a few more fashion faux pas — before his career is done.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Poulter is another very good player, but he’s not yet a great player. A lot of good players win majors when Tiger and Phil don’t bring their best games. So he has to take advantage when he gets into contention.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Consistency apparently isn’t Ian’s strong suit. You never know when he’ll decide to play well. For that reason, it’s hard to pin down just how good he is. Certainly good enough to win a major, but that doesn’t guarantee that he will.

David Dusek, deputy editor, I think he showed a lot at Royal Birkdale. All the attention was being paid to Greg Norman on Sunday, but Ian stormed back to finish solo second in 2008. Yes, that was two years ago, but in a new era of golf without a dominant player, I think Poulter’s confidence will help him win a major someday.

Van Sickle: I’d agree with that. If you were forced to bet on whether Poulter will win a major, you’d definitely put your money on Yes He Will.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Had to look it up, and I was surprised Poulter is already 34. It’s possible he hits his prime over next few years and maybe snags a major. Hard to imagine he’ll ever climb to No. 1, as he brashly predicted a couple of years ago.

Van Sickle: I don’t know, it’s suddenly not so hard to get to No. 1. At least, not as hard as it used to be. Another thing about Poulter: Give him credit for his crazy fashion stuff because the Tour needs guys like that, Payne Stewart types who have personality and like to show it off. Even if Poulter never wins a major, his colorful aura is good for the game. He’s entertaining.

Dusek: He’s also got a good sense for business. The clothing he wears is made by his own brand, Ian Poulter Design. He’s never going to make Tiger/Phil-level endorsements, but Ian’s accountant has been busy this year.


Gorant: For the second week in a row, Graeme McDowell started the final round with a chance to win. In Hong Kong he shot himself in the foot with a two-over on the front nine. Should we begin to wonder if G-Mack has peaked?

Dusek: No. McDowell is coming to the end of a long, emotional breakout season. Multiple victories, a major win, a Ryder Cup — he’s done it all this season. If he starts to run out of gas down the stretch, in late November, I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. He’s now one of golf’s elite players.

Hack: I agree with Dusek. Graeme is probably more worn out than anything. Kudos to him for scrapping this late into November.

Van Sickle: I don’t think G-Mac was scrapping into November. I think the term is cashing in.

Bamberger: G-Mack’s year was the U.S. Open and the Ryder Cup. So now we know he’s not Tiger, somebody who always has his cleated foot on somebody’s neck, ready to close the deal. I wouldn’t read anything into what he does (or has done) since Wales.

Herre: I think he’s coming into his prime. The numbers show that his stroke average has been trending down for the past several years and hit an all-time low this season. He’ll be one of many Euros to watch in 2011.

Van Sickle: The guy has been a birdie machine ever since his days at Alabama-Birmingham. He’s seemed like a can’t-miss player for a long time, and now he has arrived.

Dusek: I don’t see any reason why McDowell can’t achieve everything someone like Padraig Harrington, another relatively late bloomer from Europe, has achieved.


Gorant: On the other end of the spectrum, the teen sensation from Italy, Matteo Manassero, stormed up the leaderboard with a final-round 62 to finish second. What are the realistic expectations for this kid, and on what timeline? Are we setting him and ourselves up for disaster if we start predicting majors and super-stardom for a 17-year-old?

Bamberger: Yes, we’d be setting him up for disaster, and we’d be contributors to one of the banes of modern life, incessant prognostication. He looks like a great kid and a big talent. Let’s sit back and enjoy the show.

Herre: The short answer to your question, Jim, is yes. The kid is a teenager. We haven’t seen nearly enough of him to project anything. Would be great if he’s a huge success, the more stars the better, but give him a few years.

Evans: As I always say of anybody who has success in Europe (namely Monty and his umpteen Order of Merit titles), you have to win in the States to prove that you have fully arrived on the world stage. It will do Matteo some good to become a top player in Europe and then earn his way onto the PGA Tour by doing well in the WGC events and majors in the U.S.

Lipsey: I’d love to see one of the youngsters — Matteo, Fowler, Rory, etc. — win a major. That’s the only way one of those guys can really emerge as a bona fide star. Everything else they do is nice, but majors are where we learn who’s truly great.

Van Sickle: The rise of English golf, which had become a cliché story on tour, is giving way to the rise of Italian golf. There’s no point in predicting majors for any 17-year-old. Just let him play. When he wins enough to become a superstar, we’ll issue the appropriate proclamation.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Manny looks like a winner to me, but as I always say, “It’s not how fast you get good, it’s how good you get.” (Forgive me for quoting myself.)

Hack: I remember watching him at Turnberry in ’09 and thinking, “He sure doesn’t look or play like a 16-year-old.” I think big things are ahead. Time is on his side. (Yes it is.)

Dusek: Rory McIlroy was a sensation at 17 when he played the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie, and now he’s one of the best players in the world. But not every amazing teenager is going to turn into a player like Rory. The talent is clearly there in Manassero, and you’ve got to love his attitude. (Tom Watson was certainly impressed with him when they played together at Augusta.) But it’s just not fair to heap lofty expectations on a guy who’s still just 17.


Gorant: The Euro tour is moving toward this week’s season-ending Dubai World Championship. Before the economy collapsed, the Race to Dubai looked like it was going to be the colossus that ate golf, as many U.S. players scrambled to take up Euro membership so they could make a run at the cash. Where do the tours sit in relation to each other these days?

Van Sickle: I think they’re both looking over the fence at Asia and plotting ways to tap into the potential rich sponsorship money available. I don’t think either tour is in great shape sponsor-wise; the purses are so high they have priced many potential sponsors out of the market.

Herre: The Euros are coming on strong and could be THE story of 2011. Plus, their far-flung, global tour seems right for the times. That said, there’s still more money on the PGA Tour, which makes it the most attractive tour in the world to most professionals.

Van Sickle: Totally agree. The big question is whether the PGA Tour can keep the big money rolling in.

Hack: The PGA Tour is deeper. The top of the European Tour is better. (See Cup, Ryder.)

Van Sickle: Roger that, Damon. Take out Tiger and Phil at their best (which they haven’t been for a while), and the disparity at the top is even more in Europe’s favor.

Evans: The PGA Tour has the biggest purses and the deepest fields. But the European Tour is truly international. The European guys feel like they have to come over to the States to play with the best. The U.S. players treat Europe and Asia like a buffet for the money they can get in appearance fees. All the players get what they want, and every year we get a Presidents Cup or a Ryder Cup to show how great golfers are all over the world.

Dusek: With so many European players doing well — Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, McDowell, McIlroy, Poulter, Manassero, yadda yadda — the European Tour is certainly gaining strength. With less than six weeks left in 2010, the PGA Tour has yet to release its 2011 schedule. Yes, the overall best players from top to bottom may play in the U.S., but the European Tour has closed the gap.


Gorant: Tiger Woods kicked off his one-year-after charm offensive last week with appearances on Twitter, ESPN radio and Newsweek. (Newsweek?) Verdict?

Hack: Even with his media “blitz,” he’s still a guarded, private person. Maybe the tweets will loosen him up some. Truth be told, I’m much more curious about the state of his golf game.

Van Sickle: It was hilarious when he told the ESPN guys that he’s already talked the Thanksgiving episode to death when, in fact, he’s never talked about it at all. A year ago, I wrote that his post-crash strategy should be a charm offensive, so I have to like the concept. I don’t think he’s charmed anybody yet, but it’s a start. Too early for a verdict but a smart move.

Dusek: The jury will need to deliberate for four to six months to see if the new willingness to be interviewed and possibly share some harmless insights with fans becomes a trend. If it does, success. If this is a flash in the pan, failure.

Van Sickle: Great description — harmless insights. That’s about all, so far. I think he can do better. If he keeps it up, I believe he will.

Evans: Tiger wants to reach out more to his fans, and this seems like an earnest attempt at being more human. Norman and Faldo did their own promotions to connect with the world after shutting it out during their dominant years. Tiger is due for something like this. The sooner the better, before he gets old and nobody cares.

Dusek: Tiger has almost 250,000 followers now and another outlet where he can tell his side of the story or share his views without the filter of the media. As a control freak, he’s got to love the fact that he’s got total control of the timing and the words. I think that’s the appeal for LeBron, Lance and a lot of other people.

Van Sickle: One way to score more brownie points with the media would be for Tiger to start following selected media types on Twitter. They’d be flattered, since everybody can check to see who Tiger is following (so far mostly just sports teams, and Notah Begay), and you’d be amazed how easy it is to play to writers’ egos. Plus, if you know Tiger Woods is following you on Twitter, would you be less likely to blast/ridicule him? Very possibly.

Dusek: Are Tiger and his people that smart (or crafty)?

Gorant: Does the timing of it all, as coordinated as it’s been, make it feel insincere? I feel like he’s still playing a game, and in as limited a way as possible.

Evans: Tiger is a brand. Of course it’s insincere. But it’s real enough for Madison Avenue.

Lipsey: All that matters with TW is his performance. If he wins again, he’ll get big-buck endorsements again. If he doesn’t win, the endorsements will be smaller. Tweeting will do very little to make endorsers happy. Companies want to support winners in the limelight.

Ritter: I agree with Jim. It’s the timing that makes it all seem so contrived. In fact, it’s a page right out of the playbook recently used by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who pre-empted the release of an unflattering movie about his company with a $100 million charitable donation. I applaud Tiger for caring enough to at least try, but does anyone think he’ll still be tweeting when he kicks off his PGA Tour season next year?

Hack: “Just got to TPC Sawgrass. Course looks great! Eating egg-white frittata then hitting gym and range.” I guess I could see that kind of tweet.

Van Sickle: Probably more likely than: “Just sneaked off Privacy using scuba gear. Surfaced at private beach, changed clothes, lost paparazzi. Off to TPC range.”

Dusek: Either of those messages would be more than we’ve ever gotten from Tiger, so I honestly think a lot of his fans (yes, he’s still got some) would enjoy reading them.


Gorant: Speaking of Tiger, word came this week that the proposal to institute a designated events rule, which would have required all players to sign up for at least one of certain disadvantaged tournaments each year, was defeated in favor of a voluntary program. It looked like a sure thing at one point, but rumors are swirling that Tiger and/or Phil helped scuttle it. What do we think of the plan and the rumors?

Van Sickle: I’m sure there’s no shortage of wealthy Tour players who aren’t used to taking orders. Doubt that you can pin the blame on Tiger and Phil; probably 30 others felt the same. It underscores the Tour’s inability to provide sponsors with the product the sponsors want — the big names. A voluntary program is a joke. The designated event (or events) should’ve been tied to a player becoming eligible for FedEx Cup bonus money.

Evans: I think it’s funny how so many players are anti-union, but they get together to organize around issues that will impact their independence. They are acting like workers. But to the question: a mandatory play rule at B-list events would be bad for Tour morale. Tiger in Reno? Come on Man! Talk about a glorified charity event.

Van Sickle: Letting a guy pick one or two events from a list of a dozen would’ve been realistic and workable. And reasonable, if tied to FedEx Cup bonus money. But as usual, players acted in their own interests instead of the Tour’s. Not a surprise.


Gorant: Speaking of Tour biz, it seems the brass has approved the use of cell phones by fans at Tour events next year. Where does that come from and is it a good idea?

Van Sickle: Terrible idea, but it’s realism. You just can’t stop people from bringing them in. If this means events can get rid of the security folks wanding people as they enter, that’s one good thing. But players can look forward to even more rings and clicks in their backswings.

Lipsey: An idea likely borne of necessity and a profit motive. This is inevitable. Phones are becoming like a body part, and keeping them at bay will never be possible long term.

Bamberger: On The Road Hole at the British Open this year, in I think the second round, Tiger played a chip shot practically off the wall. I was on the other side of the wall, a yard from his backswing. I knew I had my phone off, but weird things happen — you bump into somebody and a button gets hit and suddenly it’s on again. I was petrified that it might go off. It didn’t.

Dusek: For purely selfish reasons, I love the idea because I’ll be able to tweet from the course more easily. That said, I never talk on the phone out there and I know enough to keep the damn thing on silent so it doesn’t ring. The first time a phone goes off as a player is starting his swing, there’s going to be a problem. And what about taking photos or videos with cell phones? Is the PGA Tour going to allow that? It was a HUGE issue at a few British Opens I’ve covered.

Evans: Bad idea. How can you make sure that all 30,000 people at a given event are going to keep their phones on vibrate or silent for five hours?

Herre: Allowing cell phones and other devices is a great business decision. The digital age is upon us. Why print a program or pairing sheets when you can access all that and more (for a price) on a mobile phone or a tablet?


Gorant: You know him as the winner of the 1987 Colonial National Invitational, but now Keith Clearwater is the medalist at senior Q-school, which only graduates five players. Does it matter? Is the Champions Tour about good golf or is it about seeing already established name players reliving the glory days?

Dusek: It doesn’t matter. Champions Tour events are exhibitions (there’s no cut) where people can see the greats of yesteryear hit shots, and where drama occasionally ensues.

Lipsey: It was a great thing with Jack, Arnie, Player, Trevino and some folks like Chi Chi mixed in. Now it’s just what Dave says it is, which is slightly more exciting than watching paint dry.

Evans: The Champions Tour still has sponsors. And it gives players like Clearwater a chance to revive their careers. We should all be rooting for that. Nothing is like it was. The great old days weren’t even as good as we imagine them to have been.

Herre: It’s all about the money, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Guys like Clearwater have been playing golf their entire lives. That’s their profession. They’re fortunate to continue making money doing what they do best.

Bamberger: Clearwater’s play was phenomenal. They played that course pretty much all the way back, and in some real Florida wind. He showed real game.