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.
BYRD’S ACE IN THE HOLE
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Jonathan Byrd makes a hole-in-one in the dark on the fourth playoff hole to win Justin Timberlake’s event in Vegas. Who said the Fall Series is boring? First Rocco holes out all four days, now this from Byrd. Unbelievable.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Never seen anything like that before — Byrd wins with an ace!
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: That’s two weeks in a row that a crazy hole-out has determined the winner.
Van Sickle: Byrd saved somebody’s butt. Without that ace, it might’ve been a Monday finish for no good reason. Why were they aiming for 8 p.m. EST, which left them only a modest window for a playoff? It’s not like it’s the Masters or the U.S. Open on a major network hoping to pick up a big prime-time audience. No reason you can’t get 75 guys around a course in daylight. But it ended up being one of the most amazing finishes I can remember. Like when Craig Parry holed out on 18 to beat Scott Verplank at Doral.
Herre: It was so dark that Byrd couldn’t see his ball go into the hole.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Pure Vegas.
Morfit: Looked like there were about six people and a sparrow around the green to go crazy when it dropped.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: I think it was an owl.
Van Sickle: That ace has to be a nominee for Shot of the Year. Nice coverage by Golf Channel at the end of an otherwise flat telecast. I liked the touch of showing his ball in the cup. It lent a feel of authenticity. Also, it was pretty interesting when the rules officials let the players decide if they wanted to go to a fourth playoff hole. Golf Channel had cameras in their faces and we could hear the chatter. Laird asked if they could quit if it was too dark when they got to the green. When the official said yes, he said, let’s go play.
Morfit: It was funny that those guys had to make the decision on camera. Who’s going to be the stick-in-the-mud in that scenario?
Van Sickle: Exactly, Cam. That was great TV by Golf Channel. I criticize them for a lot of other stuff, but they were right there when they needed to be.
Lipsey: That’s more than the nominee for shot of the year. Make an ace to win a Tour playoff? To me, that tops Mickelson’s 6-iron at 13 at Augusta.
Morfit: No way it tops Phil’s 6-iron through the goalposts, Rick.
Herre: I don’t think so, Rick. The tournament was pretty routine until the ace, which was dumb luck, like all holes-in-one. I’ll take Mickelson’s 6-iron at 13. Much higher degree of difficulty, plus it came on the back nine on Sunday in the Masters.
Lipsey: Last week, we said Rocco’s hole out was lucky. Now Byrd’s ace is luck. No luck. Just great shots.
Dusek: Byrd said he hit a great shot, but the fact that it went in the hole was just dumb luck. As Jim said, same is true for nearly all holes-in-one.
Van Sickle: Yeah, one of my holes-in-one happened when I missed the green with a 5-iron. It doinked off a bank, bounced onto the green and went into the cup. Stupid dumb luck. Byrd’s shot was better, even great, but still lucky.
Lipsey: Call it what you want. Byrd hit an ace to win a Tour event in a playoff. That is freakin’ amazing.
Van Sickle: Byrd didn’t hit his ace off a mat of pine needles between a couple of trees, but the walk-off factor is impressive. I felt rewarded for watching for the previous several hours.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Byrd hit the shot of the year in terms of pure golf. Forget the Fall Series setting. The lights were dim, and he went lights out.
SCRUTINY FOR ANTHONY KIM
Van Sickle: Let’s move on to Anthony Kim, who sparked Internet reports of wild partying in Las Vegas before he withdrew. SI’s Alan Shipnuck smartly talked to Kim, who said the stories were greatly exaggerated. Do you buy Kim’s version? And in the bigger picture, was his foray into a Vegas casino something that should’ve been reported as news in the first place? Is making a big splash in a casino a good idea given Kim’s past image issues?
Morfit: Any time a guy WDs from the Vegas tournament, there are going to be questions and rumors aplenty. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. In the end, it’s actually worse for Kim if the thumb thing is true. A hangover is over within a matter of hours, or at worst a day or two (or so I hear). A thumb injury that won’t get better is more worrisome.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: You know, these guys get killed all the time for having no personality, and then when they show a little flair we kill them for that, too. The guy is 25, single and wealthy. If in fact he already knew he couldn’t play, as he claims, then I don’t see any harm in going out with his friends and having some fun. There was likely a lot of alcohol consumed, but not necessarily by him. He just picked up the bill.
Morfit: Good point, Gorant. I think that’s what kids in his situation are expected to do. That’s not to say it’s not potentially problematic for Kim. If we get 10 years down the road and the guy still only has a few Ws and no majors, we’ll know the partying was an issue.
Van Sickle: For the old-timers out there, the AK story so far sounds remarkably like the young Raymond Floyd story. He turned out pretty well.
Herre: The initial report came from a gossip columnist, Norm Clarke of the Las Vegas Review Journal, whose source was a casino dealer. Amazing how so many “journalists” took such a flimsy story and ran with it.
(Editors’ note: An earlier version of this story said that the LVRJ source was a tweet from a DJ.)
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Alan said it in his story and many of us have seen it: AK likes the low lights, the heavyweight fights, courtside seats, good-looking women, shiny rides, and why shouldn’t he? A lot of people do. He knows the deal: what happens in Vegas is on Al Gore’s World Wide Web within minutes. He’s not pretending to be something he’s not. I don’t care. I’d like to see him get all he can out of his golf talent, but if that’s not important to him now, that’s between him and his sticks. Too much damn judgment these days about how other people lead their lives.
Evans: AK should own his reputation as a party animal. He’s not married or a member of a team that holds him accountable. Giving Alan some spin just makes him look lame. What’s the point of being at a casino with a pocketful of money and a lot of chips on the table if you can’t act wild?
Dusek: Athletes have always known their actions on the field are going to get scrutinized, and I think the media only has a right to go into their personal lives as it relates to their professional performance. Kim withdrew from a golf tournament and cited an injury while rumors were circulating about late-night partying and expensive champagne. I haven’t heard that he did anything illegal, so maybe the Morality Police should relax on this.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: The thing that worries me about Kim is that he seems to have all these “friends” helping him spend his money. It’s relatively easy supporting a wife and children on a Tour player’s income, but there’s real pressure if you’ve got a posse counting on you.
Van Sickle: It’s doubly amazing how far removed we are from AK being any kind of a force in golf. As young guns go, he’s way back in line now behind the Molinari brothers, the Italian teen who just won in Europe, Martin Kaymer, Rickie Fowler, Jeff Overton, Rory McIlroy, Ryo and a few others. Kim is going to have to re-prove himself next year if/when he’s healthy.
Herre: The thing about Kim is that he’s clearly a big talent and fearless on the course. Fans are attracted to his aggressive style of play. He’ll be back.
Dusek: The best thing that could happen is that Kim uses this as motivation and joins that pack of players. He’s got the talent, so if he’s practicing and working as Alan reports, a healthy Anthony Kim should be fun to watch in 2011.
Gorant: I think he’s still in that group, it’s just that he basically missed the entire year, so there hasn’t been much to talk about.
Morfit: I agree that the wave of great young players is pretty astounding. As soon as you forget about one of them, he wins. I think Kim seems like a lock to win the Masters, and you can’t say that about many players.
Van Sickle: I’m not ready to pencil him in for a Masters, Cam, or any other major. It wouldn’t be a surprise, but I don’t think he’s a lock to get a green jacket in his career.
Bamberger: I totally agree. Nobody has ever won a Masters while healing, or with a broken body. Nobody has ever won a Masters without his head on straight. AK’s got loads of game. No signs now that that’s enough.
Evans: We’re talking about AK because he handles himself like a star, but he’s never won a tour event with Tiger in the field.
Lipsey: Anna Kournikova’s in a similar league.
Gorant: And also an AK.
Dusek: With the fireworks generated by Rory, Dustin Johnson, Kaymer and the Flying Molinari Brothers, AK picked a bad year to miss.
FUTURE OF THE FALL SERIES
Van Sickle: The players now have only one more tournament, the Disney in mid-November, to crack the top 125 on the money list. What about this buzzkill break in the PGA Tour schedule? The next two weeks are dark, and the Fall Series is now down to five events, which seem to be on shaky ground. What’s with the break, and what does the future hold for the Fall Series?
Herre: Don’t see much of a future for fall golf, at least not on the PGA Tour. There was a time when the Tour had sponsors waiting in line. Those days are over. There’s a reason we have yet to see the 2011 schedule.
Bamberger: The golf season ends after the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup. It begins again for real about a week before the Masters. Nothing wrong with that. What was foolish of the Tour was trying to sell every event as a BIG INTERNATIONAL GOLFING EXTRAVAGANZA. These fall events, truly local events with players who can do unlikely things with golf balls, are still great golf.
Morfit: I was talking with Jay Williamson last week and he put it best: “I don’t know where golf is going right now. I don’t think anybody does.” Justin Timberlake has added a lot to the Vegas event, and the McGladrey is at the beginning of a three-year deal. Last I heard Viking was noncommittal about re-upping. Disney is such a storied stop it’s hard to imagine it going away.
Dusek: They should re-work the regular season schedule so companies that want to be involved with golf are there. The McGladreys would be ideal after/before Hilton Head. Put Disney in the Florida Swing. The Justin Timberlake event could be in the West Coast Swing.
Van Sickle: I don’t think the FedEx Cup is going to get any fewer viewers in mid-October going against the NFL than it gets in mid-September going against the NFL. Put these fall events back in the mix and make them count for something instead of hanging them out on the end of the schedule like an exhibition season. I said when the FedEx Cup first started that the Tour left the fall events out there to die, and it’s happening, slowly.
Gorant: I agree Gary, sort of. Left them to swim or drown. I’m sure I’ll get hell for this, but I always suspected that the tenuous future of the Fall Series was behind the 15-year Golf Channel deal. Seemed like the Tour gave Golf Channel a lot for a long time — Thursday and Friday and the fall events. But if those Fall events go away, then the Tour made a really savvy deal. That’s not to say they want them to go away, but if they do it makes their deal look a lot better.
Bamberger: I feel the opposite, Jim. The Tour cannot afford to look like they pulled a fast one. The business of golf has always been about long-term, mutually beneficial, relatively even-handed relationships. Witness CBS and the Masters, Mark McCormack and Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Herman Mitchell, Annika Sorenstam and Callaway, Herb Kohler and the PGA of America.
Morfit: If the Fall Series were completely obliterated, wouldn’t the rank and file types simply have to get inside the top 125 sometime in August or September rather than October or November? In other words, maybe we wouldn’t lose much in the way of drama. It would just be moved up in the schedule.
Dusek: Full disclosure: The “drama” surrounding who makes the Top 125 doesn’t make me reach for the remote. These guys had all season to do something to ensure they would have a PGA Tour card in 2011. Serious golf fans may love golf enough to watch the Fall Series, but clearly there are not enough of them to move the ratings needle. The Fall Season should go the way of Balata.
Van Sickle: Actually, they don’t have all season to get their cards. Lots of guys get shut out of the invitationals, the limited-field WGC events and the FedEx Cup events. The Nationwide Tour event in Pittsburgh gave up 10 of the 14 Monday qualifying spots to PGA Tour players who were shut out of FedEx Cup.
Dusek: There are opposite-date events during the WGCs for the guys who don’t get in. And sorry, if you didn’t make it into the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs, you didn’t have a good season.
Van Sickle: If you didn’t get in the playoffs because you only got into eight events by August, is that fair?
Herre: I hear you, Gary, but if you shoot low scores and make the most of your opportunities you will succeed on Tour. If not, there’s always the Nationwide tour. Generally speaking, I think less is more on the PGA Tour.
Dusek: Econ 101: Scarcity creates demand. And to use Finchem-ese “That demand would translate into a more entertaining, more compelling product.”
Van Sickle: Less is more … how’s that working for the LPGA these days? If you’re among the bottom 15 from Q-school or the Nationwide Tour, there are very few fields to squeeze into before May.
Dusek: With all due respect to guys who’d whip me on the course playing their worst golf, the PGA Tour shouldn’t set policies or schedules around guys who were among the bottom 15 from Q-school or the Nationwide Tour.
Van Sickle: The fact is, they just give out too many cards to too many guys who get shut out of too many fields. You say they have plenty of chances, but the fact is that a lot of them don’t. The numbers say so.
Herre: Then the Tour should give out fewer cards.
GRAND SLAM, HOLD THE GRAND AND THE SLAM
Van Sickle: Did anyone watch the Grand Slam of Golf? Oddly enough, Ernie Els (who hasn’t won a major since ’02) beat David Toms (who hasn’t won a major since ’01).
Evans: Now that’s an event that should be put out to pasture. No doubt about it. Two of the four major winners didn’t even show up.
Dusek: No one, including myself, watched that event. Dead, dead, dead.
Herre: The Grand Slam was never much of an event, but it was better off in Hawaii during Thanksgiving week. The players took family and friends and made a holiday out of it. Now it’s totally irrelevant and lost in the baseball playoffs and still-young football season.
Bamberger: What if you had a Grand Slam of Golf that was not grand and was not a slam? You’d have your Sunday morning game with better golfers.
MANASSERO BREAKS THROUGH, AND INKSTER JUST MISSES
Van Sickle: Nearly had bookend record winners in golf. Matteo Manassero of Italy, 17, became the European Tour’s youngest winner while Juli Inkster bogeyed the final hole and just missed becoming the LPGA’s oldest winner in the Malaysian event. Which achievement was more impressive?
Lipsey: Manassero. He has a shot to become a big-time winner in a league with Watson, Ballesteros, Norman, etc. The kid’s been winning like mad at every level for many years. Who knows what’ll happen, but Manassero has a potentially huge upside.
Van Sickle: Maybe Italy is the next England, with the Molinari brothers and Manassero, who is 17 and now ranked among the top 100 in the world.
Morfit: Manassero had the better week because he actually got it done, and 17 is quite young. If you take good care of yourself, there’s no reason why you can’t play great golf into and through your 40s and even 50s and beyond.
Dusek: Agreed. A win by a 17-year-old beats an impressive near-win by a 50-year-old.
Bamberger: Love both those players, and those accomplishments. Seventeen is the new 23. Fifty is the new 35. If you want to last in the game, you have to really, really want it because kids are coming up every month. It’s close to a toss-up, but I’ll go with Inkster.
Herre: I’m looking forward to seeing more of Manassero. He fits right in with the current storyline of emerging players.
Morfit: Interesting that he’s a relatively short hitter. Doesn’t fit the prototype.
Evans: Manassero is an impressive kid, but the verdict is still out until he plays well in the U.S. Inkster is still one of the best players on the LPGA.
COUPLES DOES IT AGAIN
Van Sickle: Bamberger’s been touting Fred Couples all year. Well, Fred got his fourth Champions tour win Sunday by roasting the field with a final-round 63 to win by seven! It’s his first win since March, but he finished sixth at Augusta and had four runner-up finishes on the senior circuit. There aren’t many players who had seasons as good as his, relatively speaking. But those reports about Fred saving the Champions tour? Sadly premature. It’s fun to watch Fred, but I don’t think the Champions tour boosted its viewership this year, maybe because Golf Channel is jammed up with all its other tournament coverage. What do you think?
Bamberger: Well, I agree with that, Gary. Fred’s terrific play didn’t do what I thought it might for the Champions tour. But the fact is, if you were watching the Fred Show in person or on TV, you saw some really great, fun golf, even when he lost (to Watson and Langer).
Morfit: It hurt that Couples disappeared as quickly or more quickly than he arrived. The oldies had momentum, and then all of a sudden it turned into the Bernhard Langer victory tour. Didn’t do much for the buzz in the U.S., just as Kaymer’s win in lieu of Bubba or Dustin left American fans cold at Whistling Straits.
Evans: The Champions Tour should play longer golf courses with more 3-shot par 5s. The courses are set up too easy for the top players.
Van Sickle: They probably have to make some compromises to get some of the more senior members of the tour around the course without embarrassing them.
Bamberger: I agree with Farrell. More second-shot, mid-iron par-4s as well.
Lipsey: You’d get a lot of bitter complaining if they toughen the courses. Guys expect lots of wedges and guaranteed paychecks on the Champions tour.
Herre: Back to Fred. We just finished the reader research on the August issue of Golf Magazine, which featured Couples on the cover. The issue had one of the highest ratings of the year. Fred is still the people’s choice.
Van Sickle: If you were voting for which player had the best respective year on his/her tour, I’d probably go with Martin Kaymer (four wins including the PGA) in a close race over Fred and the LPGA’s Ai Miyazato. But Fred had a great year.
Bamberger: Broken record alert: you cannot overlook Langer winning the British and U.S. senior opens against superb fields on great (playing) fields.
Lipsey: Miyazoto in a landslide. She won five times on the LPGA. If somebody won five times on the PGA Tour, we’d be prepping him for Mt. Rushmore. Give Miyazoto and the women the honor they deserve.
Morfit: I’ll take Kaymer. Seemed like he won every time he teed it up until the Ryder Cup.
Lipsey: He won that too…
Evans: Kaymer won all over the world, and he did it by playing steady, no-frills, low-stress golf. He’s my pick.
Dusek: Tough to vote against Kaymer. A major, a run at No. 1, sweet string of impressive wins. The kid has major momentum going into the Race to Dubai.