PGA Tour Confidential: John Deere Classic
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.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: We have a new U.S. Women’s Open champ. We had a shootout at the Deere. We have a father caddying for his son. And we have a golfing association in search of new leadership. But before we get to all that, it is British Open week. Let’s hear everyone’s picks.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I like Martin Kaymer, who won this week at the Scottish Open on the European Tour. He’s the best player across the pond right now.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Kaymer is hot but links golf is a different kettle of birds. That’s why it is so hard to predict Open winners. But it won’t be Garrity’s buddy, Robert Karlsson, because he withdrew. So did Trevor Immelman.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I’ll take Stricker. He’s the American Kaymer.
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Just when you least expect it … senors and senoritas, riding out of Spain to redeem his wayward season … (trumpet flourish) … Sergio!! Especially if conditions are such that driving is paramount.
Van Sickle: Links golf requires more imagination and shotmaking. Tiger is the best shotmaker in golf, by a mile. You have to like his chances every time he tees it up, even more so in a major. I would not bet against him at Turnberry, or at Hazeltine for the PGA.
Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: So, Gary, you’re picking Tiger, as always.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Definitely NOT Greg Norman. How about Ben Curtis? He does nothing to catch your eye, what with that funky Furyk-esque swing, except make lots of money, win once in a while and contend under insufferable pressure. Ben would become the Andy North of the British Open.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: How about this for a sucker pick: Padraig Harrington for the hat trick. I know it’s crazy, because Paddy’s sucked all season while working on his swing. But he’s just won the Irish PGA for the third straight time, and the European Club is a classic links course with really thick rough, exactly like Turnberry will be this week. Harrington himself doesn’t sound like a believer — he was very skeptical of his prospects despite winning by seven shots — but Jack Nicklaus wasn’t exactly puffing up his chest when he showed up for the ’86 Masters. So give me Paddy.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I’m with John: I like Paddy. My real pick — everyone’s real pick, I would think — is Tiger. If you were betting your own money, you’d take Tiger, right? But if Tiger doesn’t win, I like Paddy. Links golf — Open golf — is not for everyone and repeat winners are common: Harry Vardon, Peter Thomson, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, Padraig Harrington.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I’ll take Lucas Glover, for no real reason other than the fact that he drives it well and he may as well win that Open, too.
Hack: I like Ian Poulter, who played well at Bethpage but, like Tiger Woods, got the bad side of the weather draw. Poulter will have strong support on these shores. He’s wired for the big events. Played well at Winged Foot in ’06 and Birkdale in ’08. Turnberry ’09 will be his time.
Herre: I like the Stricker pick, but I’m going with Geoff Ogilvy. Seems like the dude would really want to earn this merit badge.
Ryan Reiterman, producer, Golf.com: Look out for Lee Westwood. He’s finished in the top 10 in the last two events, and he’s been playing pretty solid for more than a year.
Garrity: Our Irish friend Dermot Gilleece, writing in the Sunday Independent, points out that Tiger’s three Open wins all came on dry, burned-out links courses. Turnberry’s rough is lush and long, more like Carnoustie and Muirfield, where Tiger hasn’t had as much success.
Friedman: Brandt Snedeker (T2 this week, T5 last week) is on a nice run.
Hack: Carolyn Bivens, who only weeks ago was in the offices of Sports Illustrated trumpeting her vision for the LPGA, was taken down in a dinnertime coup by the biggest names in women’s golf. Her tenure was short, eventful and rife with tension. What’s everybody’s take on what went wrong with Carolyn?
Friedman: Losing the Kapalua was the obvious tipping point. In more general terms, Bivens had very grand ambitions for her game, but by not sticking to her knitting — that is, failing to maintain traditional stops like Corning, even at a reduced prize structure — she alienated her base.
Morfit: Her lack of golf background hurt, and her brash style. And the economy prevented her from leveraging what everyone agrees is a very promising bunch of personalities.
Evans: The LPGA Tour players who went after Bivens don’t understand the golf business or the history of women in sports. I don’t care if you had Pete Rozelle or P.T. Barnum or Jack Welch to cut the fat and streamline the business, selling female athletes in one of the worst economies in recent memory is a very difficult proposition. Carolyn Bivens is not a great commissioner, but how can anyone be a great leader of a sports league without great stars to attract marketing and sponsorship dollars?
Those disgruntled LPGA players need to get a grip on the realities of sports marketing or let the business people take care of the business of the Tour. They should just play golf and try to learn lessons from the women who came before them.
Van Sickle: Bivens had the right idea at the wrong time. She wanted to upgrade and enrich the tour at a time when a recession/depression hit. It just wasn’t going to happen, and she didn’t adjust her hardball tactics. Having not gone out of her way to build support among players, media or sponsors during her tenure didn’t help. She clearly didn’t know anything about public relations. Every time an issue came up, she ran and hid.
Herre: Have to agree with Gary about Bivens laying low when the going got tough. She needed to speak up, make her case and stand her ground. In the end, her duck-and-cover strategy only sped up her demise.
Hack: Her outsider status didn’t help her. (Neither did her strong-arm tactics early in her tenure, when she cleaned house at the LPGA). Golf is such an insular, cliquey game. Once Bivens started making mistakes (and long-time sponsors started checking out) it was only a matter of time. She barely seemed to have an ally in the game.
Garrity: It didn’t help that her American superstar, the up-and-coming Michelle Wie, stumbled out of the gate. Bivens thought she had leverage, that Wie was going to be a transcendent international figure along the lines of Tiger Woods. That’s one of the reasons she overplayed her hand.
Hack: Where does the LPGA go from here? Who is the best candidate to replace her?
(Editors’ Note: The LPGA announced on Monday morning that Marsha Evans, a retired Naval officer, will be the interim commissioner.)
Shipnuck: The next commissioner will face a daunting task, but it’s also a great time to ride in as a hero and save the schedule/tour. The players basically fired Bivens, so they should be very motivated to do everything the new boss asks of them.
Lipsey: I don’t think it matters whom the LPGA selects. The tour is in an almost impossible spot: a women’s tour in a game totally dominated by men; in the worst economy in over 50 years; minimal TV and media coverage; with a drastic dearth of American talent at the top. I hope the LPGA is just at a low point, and not caving into the abyss. A new commissioner can help, but it’ll take a collective effort — players, execs, and some dang good karma — to resurrect the tour.
Evans: Donna Orender, the present WNBA commish, did all the great TV deals for the PGA Tour in the 1990s. I like her for the job, but I think she understands the business too well to take a leap into such a shallow pond.
Friedman: Hmmm … the WNBA is an even shallower pond. For commish, Alan Shipnuck suggested Judy Rankin. At least on an interim basis, that might be a good way to go — a beloved/respected former player who can restore some good feelings with sponsors. Others in that category: Nancy Lopez and our own Dottie Pepper.
Herre: I also don’t see Orender going there. She’s much edgier than Bivens. Plus, I think she has bigger ambitions. I think Bivens’s heart is in the right place — health insurance and pensions for the players are laudable goals. I hope the LPGA doesn’t backslide.
Shipnuck: We’re not going to have to wait long to find out — the LPGA has to make an announcement Monday or it will look even more clueless/rudderless than usual. The big suspense is who is going to take over as commish and whether they are an interim fill-in or long-term solution.
Herre: Has to be Rankin.
Shipnuck: I don’t think it’s Rankin. They don’t want an interim commissioner for a few months. This is a big, tough job, and will be for the next few years. Lopez has been talking about wanting to play more tournament golf. It’s now or never at her age, so I don’t think it will be her, either. Expect a businesswoman, not a ceremonial figure.
Herre: I disagree, Alan. The LPGA needs someone NOW, on an interim basis, to undo the damage. The search to find the ideal long-term candidate will take months. The 2010 schedule is hanging in the balance. The right person needs to go in NOW and re-sign Corning, Wegmans, Farr, etc.
Friedman: An interim commissioner might be like Gerald Ford was to the presidency — kind of a restorative.
Hack: Is Judy Rankin really ready to leave her announcing gig and sit in business meetings, shake hands, lead discussions, etc.? She has always struck me as a bit of an introvert. The job has a lot of demands/ceremony/minutiae.
Evans: No one has ever had an easy time selling women’s sports. Nancy Lopez might be as qualified as some wiz understudy of Tim Finchem.
Van Sickle: Maybe the LPGA needs a feel-good figurehead leader, plus a behind-the-scenes savvy business person. The former could be any number of ex-players. I’d include Beth Daniel in that mix. Also Helen Alfredsson. I don’t think Meg Mallon would be interested but she’s very popular among her peers also.
Hack: I think Meg Mallon, if interested, would be the perfect choice. Close enough to the players, a name, respected throughout the game.
Herre: And as the Bivens soap opera played out, it completely overshadowed the Women’s Open. The final round was quite entertaining, and the course and the setup really fun.
Friedman: The setup was fun. Best part for me was standing behind some of the fairway bunkers and watching as the smaller players hopped around as they tried to see over the lip to gauge their direction. Of course, I’m shorter than most of them, so I was flummoxed, too. And the rough, thanks to all the rain, was gnarly.
Herre: Johnny made me laugh on Saturday. During one of the endless promos for NBC’s “meteor-that-destroys-the-earth” show, he blurted out, “That’s real nice.” I bet he heard about it after the broadcast.
Shipnuck: Not sure if you guys saw the reader comments to the Bivens column I wrote late last week. It wasn’t something I even mentioned in the piece, but there were numerous posts about the Korean influence on the LPGA, and, to put it kindly, GOLF.com readers are not enthusiastic about their dominance. But two blond-haired, blue-eyed Americans were in the mix today — Cristie Kerr and Brittany Lincicome — and neither got it done. Is that Ji’s fault?
Friedman: Exactly. And Paula Creamer was right there going into the weekend, then shot a 79 on Saturday.
Herre: Thing is, Alan, millions of fans at this moment are celebrating Eun Hee Ji’s victory. They’re just not Americans.
Evans: I remember the Martina Navratilova-Chris Evert era of tennis, when the WTA begged for more Evert and less of the openly gay Martina. But Martina kept winning, raising the level of the women’s game and ushering in Steffi Graf and the Williams sisters. In short, bigger tennis. Hopefully the Korean women will continue to do the same thing for women’s golf.
Van Sickle: This goes back to our previous weeks’ discussions about the LPGA having a more promising future in other countries than in the U.S. Maybe the next commissioner needs to be someone who can bridge the Korean and American cultures. Maybe he or she needs to be Korean or Asian. (Anyone who suggests B.J. Wie is fired.)
Hack: I vote for Grace Park.
Shipnuck: Bivens certainly made her mistakes, but there are two big achievements that will be her legacy: The Golf Channel deal and making the tour more international. The Koreans celebrating Ji, and their corporations and the money from Korean TV broadcasting rights, are what will help the LPGA weather this stormy moment. Without international/Asian money, the tour might be out of business next year.
Hack: What of Cristie Kerr’s demise? She had control of the championship and a chance for history. Then those fairways got a little tighter.
Herre: Dottie was first to see that something was wrong.
Van Sickle: That’s what a tough setup, and the Open pressure can do to almost anyone. That margin for error is small; the margin for embarrassment is large.
Shipnuck: Second major in a row — recall she also lost a late lead at the Dinah. And she and Creamer are supposed to be the best Americans? Maybe the Solheim Cup won’t be such a snooze after all. That 79 by Creamer might be reputation-altering. She looked completely overwhelmed mentally, just as she did in blowing last year’s Open on Sunday. She’s not quite in the Sergio realm, but she’s definitely beginning to look like someone who is star-crossed at the majors.
Van Sickle: I’ve never been sold on Creamer as a would-be Hall of Famer. She’s a nice little player who can win some tournaments, maybe even the odd major or two. I just don’t see her as any kind of dominant force in golf, just one of several leading American players. She’s very good, but when it’s time to get tough, I’ll take Cristie Kerr.
Evans: Cristie got really nervous on Sunday. It doesn’t help that she can’t pull the trigger without an affirmative from her caddie. How can he know how she feels over a shot, especially in the heat of the battle?
Herre: That “hit it” shout out from Kerr’s caddie was kinda bush.
Shipnuck: Creamer’s pre-shot routine is even lamer than Kerr’s. Her caddie sticking a club on her forehead during a practice swing then lining her up over the shot? Ridiculous. That kind of hand-holding is indicative of some kind of weakness. If you can’t stand over a shot without help, then take six months off and sort it out alone.
Lipsey: American women golfers should start listening to what virtually every Top 100 Teacher tells me: Korean women (pro, amateur, kids, adults) simply outwork everybody else, especially Americans. That, the teachers say, is why the Koreans have taken over the LPGA.
Hack: I thought Dottie had some expert analysis this week. On Creamer’s struggles Saturday, she talked about seeing her on the range “working” to figure stuff out, not simply warming up. Great little nugget.
Garrity: Remember Betsy King’s putting preparation? She used to set the putter and then crouch behind the ball to check the line while holding the putter upright with one hand. Very strange. Probably the reason she won only six majors.
Herre: John, my mother used to do that.
Garrity: And she putted better than I do, I’m sure.
Herre: Gary, I understand Jerry Kelly and Steve Stricker have a secret plan to save the GMO. Any inside info? Also, how about a quick skinny on Mike’s play at the Quad Cities and what he’s working on this week, for Milwaukee.
Van Sickle: No real inside dope, but the way to save the event is to get out from under the conflicting date with the British Open. It appears there will be some openings on the Tour’s schedule next year. The Buick Open near Flint, Mich., certainly seems doomed. Can’t see Buick staying on at Torrey Pines, either, and not sure what the status of Memphis is. Jerry Kelly and Steve Stricker are trying to line up a major sponsor to help the tourney move into a plum date, presumably early August in place of Flint.
It was a great experience for Mike to play a Tour event. Even he admitted the second round felt more normal, a little more routine. During the first round, he said later, he had an adrenaline problem. Normally, he can turn it off between shots, but he couldn’t during the first round. After three and a half hours, though, he ran out of adrenaline and began hitting some ragged shots. That’s how he went from 4 under to 1 under. A good thing to learn. Also, if you’re going to play a serious competition, you need a serious caddie. It was great for Dad to be there for the first one, but he could do better caddie-wise.
Herre: Really interesting point about the adrenaline. Who knew? Good luck, Mike, at the U.S. Bank.
Bamberger: Gary, I’m sure I speak for many of us when we say it was great to follow Mike (and you) for your two very solid rounds. Whether Mike goes on to play thousands of Tour rounds, or not, how great for you to be out there with him at his start. When baseball was the national pastime people wrote books about fathers and sons playing catch. Golf is now the national recreation and for a father to caddie for his son, as you did, in the early going, it makes you the envy of millions. Congratulations to you and to Mike.
Evans: Vans did it the old-fashioned way with Mike. He took him to the golf course, let him swing the club, helped him get better, didn’t make him a pro golfer at 12, stayed out of the way, watched him get his college degree, watched him hit his first shot in a PGA Tour event. Many parents have done it differently.
Van Sickle: This week was my first Deere. A very underrated TPC track. Pretty good actually. And a very well-run event by a bunch of typical Midwesterners who want to put on a good show and take care of their guests. I would rate it a top 10 on the tour as a taking-care-of-the-players event. Even better, the Deere got a nice-guy winner in Stricker and a name player in a field that didn’t have a lot of name players. A success all the way around.
Herre: Sure, Mike Van Sickle misses cut; Stricker wins; Petrovic blows chance to qualify for British Open (even though he’d rather be in Milwaukee anyway) on final hole; Brett Quigley instead gets final spot (he would also rather be in Milwaukee); biggest per capita charity donation on tour (whatever that means).
Evans: Steve Stricker is a top player without the window dressing of Sergio and the rest of the so-called young guns. He will win again this year.
Lipsey: The Deere is more dear to the Tour than people realize. That type of event — solid fan base, players like it, some history — are the bread and butter of the Tour. Without them, the Tour becomes the Ice Capades — an endless series of star-studded exhibitions (isn’t that what the World Championships really are?) that make money but lose touch with their sporting essence — competition. The Tour needs to work hard to keep second-tier events like the Deere alive.