PGA Tour Confidential: Lexi Thompson wins Navistar LPGA Classic, Justin Rose wins BMW Championship
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.
THOMPSON’S PRESENT AND FUTURE
Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: One thing I learned today: It’s much easier to get into fall golf and the FedEx Cup playoffs when your NFL team stinks. Thank you Kansas City Chiefs for not distracting me from Lexi Thompson’s historic win and the final round of the BMW! Thompson has been on this track for some time, but where do we think she’s headed, and how does her game compare to other phenoms, like Michelle Wie, at this age?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: She’s headed to No. 1; it’s just a question of when. She has as much talent as Wie but none of the demons and a fraction of the external pressure.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I’ll second that. Youngest winner in 61 years of the LPGA Tour, and she has two years to spare? She’s the real deal. I love her game and her family dynamic, with older brothers who have helped shape her competitive spirit.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Wie seems to be a really engaged person who’s about more than golf. Lexi seems to be all about the game, which I think gives her greater upside. Her swing isn’t as beautiful to look at as Wie’s was, but she’s tall like Michelle, long, and she’s got the pedigree. I think she’s going to tear it up.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The difference between Wie and Lexi is simple. Wie wanted to experience real life and go to a real college, Stanford. Lexi wanted to play pro golf, period. Lexi has the kind of power, like Wie, to dominate the women’s tour. She seems more driven, too. If she continues to improve her short game and putting, she’s got No. 1 potential. She’s certainly going to be the No. 1 American woman player in short order.
Shipnuck: Wie has always been focused on technical precision and never really learned to win. Lexi grew up trying to beat her brothers. Their competitive makeup is very different.
Van Sickle: Alan is right on the money. Lexi has a lot more experience winning than Michelle does. Michelle, at the moment, has a lot bigger bank account. That, too will change.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Michelle Wie had a better swing, a better putting stroke, a more polished program behind her at 16. And Lexi’s better in every other way. She’s dog-eat-dog. I love watching her play.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I don’t think there’s ever been a question that Lexi was going to be a huge star. Hopefully she keeps winning consistently because the LPGA could really use a marketable American star. And like Van Sickle said, Lexi doesn’t have any outside interests other than playing golf, so she can focus all her attention on that.
Hanger: She certainly seems to have the talent to do whatever she wants, but I always worry about burnout for someone who accomplishes so much so young.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I don’t see burnout as an issue for Lexi. She can’t get enough. Wie may have been burned out before she escaped to Stanford — a lot of pressure from the parents in her case.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Right now there are not enough events for her to burn out. Hopefully she’s the next superstar because a dominant American is something the LPGA really needs.
Wei: Thing is, winning doesn’t automatically earn her a Tour card for next year, and she may still have to go to Q-school. That’s lame. I mean, she just became the youngest winner on the LPGA by two years!
[Editors’ note: To be granted membership for this win, Thompson would have to petition the LPGA to waive the 18-year-old age requirement, which the tour already waived for qualifying school.]
Hack: Her petition should be granted. The LPGA needs Lexi.
Reiterman: They should just tell her she can join next year when she’s 17. Making her go through Q-school is a waste of her time.
Herre: Bet the ranch that Lexi is an LPGA member in 2012, one way or another.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I bet the Solheim Cup team wishes they had her. She’s got more game than some women on the U.S. team.
Van Sickle: The LPGA is out of its mind if it doesn’t exempt Lexi. For one, it’s a simple matter of fairness. Two, she’s already the next best thing the tour has to an American star. (Wie still has the marquee name and drawing power.) If you let a player compete on your tour and she wins and doesn’t get the exemption that others would have gotten, you’re going to get killed in the court of public opinion. And if it came down to it, you’d lose in a real court, too.
Lipsey: Whan and the LPGA are just being careful about this, not wanting to move too fast and set any grand new rules. It looks like a no brainer to give her the green light, but there are A LOT more bad stories from teenage prodigies in sports than there are good stories. Whan wants have this one end up in the good category.
Wei: I agree with the concerns on teen prodigies, especially girls, but it’s not the LPGA’s job to parent. The tour’s job is to give the best players in the world a place to play.
Van Sickle: And golf is unlike many other pro sports because there’s no subjectivity. If you shoot good enough scores, you win. You qualify. How can they possibly keep her out? Unlike Maurice Clarett and his failed NFL suit, Lexi would have a very strong court case if she is denied membership. Not that she’d likely pursue it. As Jim said, it’s a moot point. She’ll be in next year.
Lipsey: I don’t think she’ll generate very much interest. Nice player, but unless she wins many majors, not a Q-rating maker.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Good point, Rick. We’re talking about her like she’s a big star, but that’s a long way off. Plus, Lexi can only be a marketing machine and attendance/ratings draw if she’s promoted as the female Tiger Woods, but those expectations are impossible and can be damaging, especially for a 16-year-old. It wasn’t just Wie’s parents who put all that pressure on her.
ROSE WINS BMW AT COG HILL
Hanger: Justin Rose, who has had trouble closing out tournaments in the past, hit some funky shots on the back nine but chipped in on 17 and managed to hold on at Cog Hill for the victory. Rose has now won three times on the PGA Tour and six more times internationally, and at 31 he has a lot of years left. What’s your take on his career so far and his future prospects?
Shipnuck: A good but not great player. He’ll win a few more times here and there, but I don’t think this is the start of the Justin Rose era. He is a golfing gentleman with a nice, droll sense of humor, so I’m glad to have him back in the press room.
Hack: I can see Justin winning a few more times in his career with an outside chance of reaching 8 to 10 PGA Tour wins and one major.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Rose is a solid player who hits a lot of fairways and greens. He’s a borderline Ryder Cupper for Europe, but I don’t see him ever being a dominant player either across the pond or here. Still, he’s going to win more events and make truckloads of money, and he’s a good guy.
Van Sickle: I thought it was funny that Johnny Miller kept talking about Rose not being able to finish strong, as if he’s never done it. Justin won twice within a month last year, finishing flawlessly at Memorial and, after fumbling in Hartford, winning the AT&T. I guess those weren’t NBC tournaments. Rose hasn’t been hot this year, but I hate to break the news to the NBC guys, he had already shed his reputation as a weak finisher more than a year ago.
Wei: Rose is one of the few genuinely nice and classy guys out there. He always gives thoughtful answers. I think sometimes that might be the problem on the golf course — over-thinking.
Herre: Rose kind of reminds me of Stuart Appleby: beautiful swing, pleasant guy, sometimes winner.
Van Sickle: Justin is a solid player. He could be top 10 in the world material but may not get there until he finds better consistency, if he ever does. A guy with a good short game and an excellent putter is always going to pop up and win every so often. Rose has lived well off his short game for years. He gets the ball in the hole. It’s that simple. He might even snag the right major one of these years.
Lipsey: He’s fantastic. Huge ups, huge downs, and lots of rebounds. He has a big heart and no quit.
Hack: Reminds me of an English Steve Stricker.
Bamberger: The most famous thing Rose has ever done, by far, is contend in that British Open as an amateur. His pro career to date, even with all his success, is so workmanlike. Has anyone mentioned Wayne Levi this week yet? He could be Wayne Levi. He could be better.
Wei: Rose went on a buddies trip last week and played Sebonack, National, Garden City Men’s Club and Friar’s Head. His caddie, Mark “Fouch” Fulcher, said that Rose had different caddies at each of the courses, and the information they gave him was simple — just the yardage, and then he’d pick a club. This week, he decided to do the same thing and get rid of all the other information.
Bamberger: That’s very interesting. I’ve sometimes wondered if the players are swimming in information, too much information.
Wei: I think they’re getting too much information sometimes. It depends on what kind of player you are, but as Rose proved this week, keeping it simple isn’t a bad strategy. When you have all the other extraneous info, like distance to that bunker or that hazard, it isn’t always a good thing. I’m a feel player, so maybe I’m biased, but keep it simple: yardage, pick a club, target.
Hanger: The top 5 in the FedEx Cup standings are as follows: Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar. Which of those five has the best chance to bring home the $10 million, or will the winner be one of the other 25 to make it to Atlanta?
Lipsey: Donald, but it’s hard to get excited about who will win another bucket of gold.
Shipnuck: Luke. He’s always around the lead and he really, really wants to be the first guy to win the Cup and the Race to Dubai.
Herre: Winning the FedEx and Dubai seems like a weird goal to me. How about winning a major?
Shipnuck: Well, he tried to win a major, and he’ll keep trying. But being the king of both tours would be pretty cool in the interim.
Bamberger: With 10 super large on the line, you have to look at a major, major grinder and somebody who has endured the pressure of winning a U.S. Open or a Masters or a PGA Championship. If the choice is Simpson, Johnson, Donald, Rose or Kuchar, I’m taking the field. David Toms, maybe.
Van Sickle: Sorry, PGA Tour, the goofy FedEx Cup points system makes it impossible for me to generate any interest in who’s going to win a make-believe title. Let’s just hope we get a close finish in the tournament. Last year’s playoff with Furyk’s making a great up-and-down from a bunker was excitement enough. I’ll take another one of those, please, and I don’t care which of the 30 players is in the mix. It’ll be a good show.
Dusek: Luke and Webb were both just a few shots behind Rose this week. As much as I’d like to see Webb finish his hot streak with a win in Atlanta, I think Luke rises to the occasion.
Herre: I’ll go with Mr. Georgia Tech, Matt Kuchar, to win the Tour Championship for his first W of 2011, and the FedEx Cup. I’ll bet he’s played East Lake hundreds of times.
Van Sickle: It’s actually common for a player with a semi-home game to be dragged down by distractions like getting tickets for friends, etc. Kuchar finished 25th out of 30 players last year in his Tour Championship debut, and he’s not exactly riding a hot streak at the moment. Still, he’s as good a pick as any.
WHO WILL YOU MISS NEXT WEEK?
Hanger: Some big names failed to make it to the Tour Championship, including Charl Schwartzel, Camilo Villegas, defending champ Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler and Ernie Els. Who will you be missing most next week?
Shipnuck: I’m not gonna miss any of them. All those guys had a chance to play their way in. Better luck next year.
Walker: Shipnuck’s right. No reason to miss any of them. Big names going home is the only thing that makes this feel like the playoffs.
Bamberger: I know I will be shot for this, but the player I will miss most is Tiger Woods.
Gorant: It’s obviously not the same scale, but I think Fowler’s absence hurts. He turns heads and brings something of a younger crowd, and the sooner he wins the better for everyone. I like his style of play, too. He fills a void no one else out there does right now.
Van Sickle: There’s no question Tiger adds something to the game. But if you’re a real golf fan — and as I’ve said many times, there are apparently a lot fewer of those than we think, even among the golf media — you still enjoy the competition. At some point, you’ve got to move on. Otherwise, your answer might as well be, I miss not having Nicklaus and Norman and Trevino in the Tour Championship.
Bamberger: I see your point, Gary, but Tiger’s 35 and should still be in his prime. I actually do miss Nicklaus and Norman, and Trevino especially, but Tiger’s absence now is a tragedy of self-destruction, not the simple aging and moving-on process.
Van Sickle: No one is bigger than the game forever. Tiger was bigger than the game for a decade, and now the game is suffering for that. It’s time to re-brand the PGA Tour as the place to see great golf, not the place to see Tiger and Phil. There was an NBA after Jordan. There will be golf after Tiger, even if the audience is smaller.
Wei: I’m still trying to figure out how the Masters champ didn’t make it to the Tour Championship. Missing the Barclays must have hurt him, but we all know it’s possible to skip an event and still WIN the FedEx Cup. I know the Tour’s response would be that the FedEx Cup rewards consistency, but Schwartzel was T9 at the U.S. Open, T16 at the British and T12 at the PGA after winning the Masters.
Van Sickle: It’s weird to be missing the Masters champion, but that’s supposed to be the exciting part of the so-called playoffs — eliminations. You never miss the players you don’t see.
Reiterman: I was glad to see Charl miss the Tour Championship after he pulled a Tiger and skipped a playoff event on purpose. He cost himself a ton of cash and a shot at player of the year.
Hanger: That is an odd decision, and even as successful as he’s been, it seems like $10 million would make a difference to him. Another 10 is no big deal for Tiger or Phil, or even Furyk, but you’d think that would be enough to get Schwartzel’s attention.
Van Sickle: If you’ve hit the wall and you know it, you take the time off. Charl doesn’t need $10 million. He’s got a green jacket. This all gets back to the fact that the FedEx Cup title, other than the money, doesn’t mean a whole lot.
PRESIDENTS CUP PICK?
The U.S. Presidents Cup team qualifiers are set (Kuchar, Stricker, Johnson, Simpson, Watney, Mickelson, Watson, Toms, Mahan, Furyk), and Fred Couples has already pledged one of his captain’s picks to Tiger Woods. Who should get the other?
Dusek: Keegan Bradley. You win a major two months before a Presidents Cup or a Ryder Cup, you have to be on the team.
Van Sickle: That didn’t work for John Daly, but I agree. It has to be Keegan Bradley, the only guy with a major championship.
Shipnuck: It’s Keegan. He played well this week, showing that his post-PGA swoon is over.
Hanger: I think you have to look at Rickie Fowler. He was great at the Ryder Cup and would add some buzz to an event that sorely needs it.
Reiterman: I hope it’s Rickie, but clearly Keegan deserves it.
Wei: Keegan. He only had one year to accumulate points, and he’s won two events, including a major. I mean, you look down the list, and who are the other options? I love Rickie and think he’s a great player, but he’s had two years to make it on points, and he doesn’t have the greatest scoring average on Sundays when he’s been in contention.
Van Sickle: I don’t know how anybody can seriously look at Rickie, with no wins, and Keegan, with two wins, including a PGA, and come up with an answer other than Keegan.
Walker: I imagine the choice is between Fowler (who showed grit for Team USA at the 2010 Ryder Cup) and Bradley; the team has enough 30- and 40-somethings. Both picks are good, but I’d take Fowler because I like him in match play.
Bamberger: If the choice is Fowler or Bradley, it’s Bradley all the way. Fred made his career on the basis of winning one major, the same number as Bradley. He’s earned this spot. The second choice would be Bill Haas, chiefly because his father, Jay, is Fred’s deputy. But Bradley’s the right call, and I’d be shocked if Fred doesn’t make it.
Walker: I feel we’ve done this “captain’s pick” topic to death, but that’s what it means. Ten guys qualified for the team on points. Despite his win at the PGA Championship, Bradley wasn’t one of them. Couples can use his wild card picks on Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, Tom Watson or anyone else he thinks gives the team the best chance to win. We’ll only know if it’s the “right” pick when the results are in.
EVERYBODY WAS COG HILL BASHING
The players — including Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and the mild-mannered Steve Stricker — were brutally honest when talking about Cog Hill and the Rees Jones renovation this week. It’s always easy to hear the players’ complaints as sour grapes, but this time it seems to be nearly universal. Is Cog Hill really that much worse, and does Rees Jones deserve all this criticism?
Bamberger: I’m guessing I’m speaking for about 99% of our readers: we’d love to play Cog Hill for four straight days. Having said that, I do take Geoff Ogilvy’s criticism seriously. You can take his course opinions to the bank, they are so well considered.
Van Sickle: It used to be a badge of honor if players complained about a course or a setup, especially at the U.S. Open. That meant the course was getting to them. Sure, Cog Hill has awkward holes, way too many uneven lies and is dreadfully over-bunkered (bunkers are the architect’s crutch), but I have to think this is a case of piling on. I think there’s more to this story, I just don’t know what it is.
Shipnuck: Some guys like blondes, some like brunettes. Who cares if Phil doesn’t like Cog Hill? Shut up and play. Or don’t show up. But please, stop all the whining.
Van Sickle: I agree with Alan. Any player who doesn’t like a course should stay home.
Gorant: I think Rees feels a little bit like he hasn’t done his job if they’re not complaining. Not sure if that means the redo is a disaster or not, but I’m just saying the Tour pros’ complaints might have an ulterior motive. When their comments focus on how hard it must be for the members, I smell a rat. Like they care how hard the course is for anyone but themselves.
Dusek: It seemed curious to me to hear Phil Mickelson sounding worried about the playability of Cog Hill. Had Cog Hill been awarded a U.S. Open, as the owners had hoped, the changes might have made more sense. But it didn’t get an Open, so now maybe they don’t.
Reiterman: It would have been nice if Phil had started this “playable for the members” crusade 10 years ago before all of these long, boring courses were built!
Van Sickle: Anybody checked out the course Phil designed at Whisper Rock? They had to go back and make changes because the original was too difficult. It seems like Phil is mainly worried about the members (and Cog Hill is a public course, FYI) at tracks that his pal Rees Jones has worked on. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.
Wei: I think other pros might have agendas. (Mickelson wants his friends to get design jobs, and he’s getting into it himself; Donald wants the BMW to move to his home club of Conway Farms in 2013.) But I think Stricker does care about how the course plays for others. If you didn’t see his press conference, then his comments sounded even more harsh than they came across. He clearly felt sorry for the Jemsek family. He also mentioned how tough it was for his pro-am partners who were “living in the bunkers.” Those super deep bunkers aren’t easy for the pros, and for the average weekend hacker, they’re very frustrating.
SOLHEIM CUP EXPECTATIONS
Hanger: The Solheim Cup starts this week. It was a great event last time. What do we expect this time out?
Reiterman: If it’s anything like last time it should be great. Oh, and Christina Kim will tick off all the European players, and Euro writers will tweet plenty of ugly American references. Hopefully she doesn’t hold back.
Shipnuck: Another great week. It’s one of the best events in golf.
Van Sickle: Only die-hard women’s golf fans will be able to name more than two players on the European team. We can look for a serious uphill struggle for the Solheim Cup to get any attention whatsoever against football and, oh yeah, the FedEx Cup.
Wei: An LPGA player told me the Americans are pretty ticked off at the Europeans after a run-in between Sandra Gal’s caddie and Michelle Wie’s parents the week before last. It was a very public blowout that included Gal’s caddie telling Wie’s parents to f— off. The argument started, evidently, when Gal’s caddie accused Wie’s mom of giving her advice on the course and intentionally trying to put Sandra off. When B.J. Wie suggested they go talk to the LPGA officials about it, Gal’s caddie declined and cursed them. Michelle’s reaction? “Excuse me?”
Bamberger: All that, plus Christina Kim’s war paint.