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.
DONALD TAKES NO. 1 FROM WESTWOOD
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: What was unthinkable a year ago is now reality. Luke Donald is the No. 1 player in the world. Welcome to the post-Tiger era. How impressive has Donald’s run been? How long can he keep it going? Is he a long-term No. 1, or is he just going to have a cup of coffee in the spot, like Martin Kaymer?
Gorant: I think it’s a pretty nice, sustained run of good to really good golf, marked by consistency more than magic. No doubt a great accomplishment for him, though, after all the crap he took about not wanting it. He feels like a cup of coffee guy, but who else is going to step up and grab it? Lots of guys idling around the top right now but no one gunning it.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I love the fight he showed. He was down two strokes in the middle of the back nine but never stopped believing. And he definitely rattled Westwood with that awesome approach in sudden-death.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I can see a revolving No. 1 among Donald, Westwood, Kaymer and possibly others, but Donald is definitely for real and will be in the mix for months, possibly years to come.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I see the No. 1 ranking staying across the pond for a long time to come.
Van Sickle: Damon, I definitely agree with that. Tough times ahead for Team USA in world golf.
Gorant: Who knows? Kuchar is replicating the Donald plan as we speak. Lots of top 10s, very consistent. If he wins a few, he’s right there.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Luke can definitely be a long-term No. 1. It won’t be sexy or cool (Gene Littler meets Mark O’Meara), but he’s got the game to be a consistent winner.
Herre: We’re entering a transitional period. This has happened before. It’s good for the game, bad for TV ratings in the U.S.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: These guys are so bunched up that it figures to be volatile for a while. But with consistency, Donald figures to be at or near the top for some time.
Van Sickle: Luke is No. 1 for two basic reasons. He’s got a pair of wins and a bunch of close calls. We’ve endured a period of relative parity, and it doesn’t take much to stand out in this crowd at the moment. Luke has done more than anyone else. I’m not sold on him as No. 1, but let’s face it — he’s earned it at the moment.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Donald and Westwood are going to trade this ranking back and forth a couple more times. It was something special to see No. 1 vs. No. 2 in a playoff for the title. All that was missing was Don King. And some major victories.
Gorant: Really? I thought it was stunning how little heat the thing generated. I know we’re an ocean away, but imagine the difference if that had been Tiger vs. Phil in a playoff for No. 1?
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I think as slowly as Luke got to No. 1, he may stay there for a bit. He’s finishing in the top 10 if not top five every week, so it might be hard to dislodge him.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Whatever we think, the world’s best players no longer play on the PGA Tour. They moonlight here, for major titles and cash grabs, but that’s it for most of them. A lot of good players, yes, but not the best.
Godich: The PGA Tour is also the deepest in the world. That makes it harder for somebody to dominate. Funny, but not since Harrington have I seen anybody from across the pond winning multiple majors. Yes, several foreigners have risen to the occasion to win majors. So has Lucas Glover. For all of his greatness, Luke Donald got chased down by Brandt Snedeker at Harbour Town. I repeat: It’s hard to win.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Luke’s game is based on consistency, and his ascension to the No. 1 spot reflected that. As I wrote a few weeks ago in PGA Tour Confidential, what impresses me the most is that he maintained his consistency while lifting the overall quality of his game. I can’t think of a single reason why he shouldn’t be the favorite at Congressional.
Gorant: Did you see the way he drove it today? I think he hit four fairways. That’s a reason.
EVERYONE’S A CRITIC
Van Sickle: Speaking of players to root for or not … Ian Poulter slammed the Ernie Els redesign of Wentworth, the site of this week’s European Tour stop. Earlier in the week, Hunter Mahan said he was skipping the Byron Nelson even though he lives in the area because the course “is a pain in the butt to play.” So much for paying homage to Byron. How do you like these sour grapes from well-fed pros playing for $6 million a week? Do they owe a little more to the sponsors and the fans?
Godich: These guys need to shut up and play. They seem to forget how good they’ve got it.
Dusek: Poulter has the right to knock a course; we’re all entitled to our opinions. However, I think Mahan’s decision not to play the Byron Nelson, in his own backyard, is a bad one. Players should feel compelled to play their hometown events. It’s always the right thing to do.
Godich: A pain in the butt to play? And we wonder why the guy couldn’t execute a simple chip with the Ryder Cup on the line.
Morfit: I like it when players speak their minds. Obviously they’re not going to like every track the same; why should they lie and say they do? And, we’re talking about two different things: golf course architecture and the sad plight of celebrity tournaments (the Hope, the Byron) after the celebrity has passed on.
Herre: That’s the way of the world, Gary. You think everyone will play Bay Hill and Memorial when Arnie and Jack are gone?
Van Sickle: Nope. But if you live in Orlando, it behooves you to play Bay Hill. I think it’s different when it’s a home game. You should show up and play, and if you hate the course that much, make sure to miss the cut by one. But play for your supporters and sponsors and the Salesmanship Club when it’s in your backyard.
Gorant: If you’re picking 25 out of 45 events, some are gonna get skipped. Might as well skip the ones you don’t enjoy. Everyone respects Byron, but they also respect Hogan, and Palmer and Nicklaus, and Tiger and all the WGCs and majors, etc.
Walker: Different cases and different people. The Wentworth redesign is an emotional issue for the European players, so it’s hard to fault Poulter for speaking his mind. Plus, he’s made being a likeable jerk part of his brand. Mahan is obviously tone-deaf on this stuff.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: It’s sour grapes if you wait until after you mess up to blast the course, and that’s what Poulter did. However, the complaints about Els’s work at Wentworth are two years old, and Poulter speaks for the majority. Installing an artificial water feature on one of Europe’s most historic finishing hole was a major misstep. So yeah, I’m glad the pros complain; I need their quotes for my own course critiques.
Lipsey: Every golfer on earth rattles on about courses. Why shouldn’t tour pros?
Hack: Without a mandatory rule that the pros must play certain events every few years, I find it difficult to fault Hunter’s decision. But it is gratuitous to slam an event in your own backyard, especially one with Peggy Nelson standing by the 18th green rooting the boys on. It’s just not very smart of Hunter.
LEE WESTWOOD AND MATTEO MANASSERO
Van Sickle: Any thoughts on Lee Westwood, who let another one slip through his fingers?
Herre: Thought Westwood got hosed in the playoff. He hit a good approach, right over the flag. Tough way to lose.
Hack: That 18th hole belongs at the Van Nuys/Sherman Oaks miniature golf course.
Morfit: That was weird to see his ball spin back in the water. Apparently you can get “Sawgrassed” no matter which fifth major you’re playing.
Godich: It just shows how hard it is to win out there. We should get used to this. I don’t think we’ll see anybody dominate again anytime soon.
Van Sickle: How about the youngster, Matteo Manassero, who had a bit of a meltdown Sunday? All experience is good for the Italian. Are we expecting too much too soon?
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Manassero’s career to this point is pretty remarkable, and his difficult Sunday at Wentworth will only toughen him up. I mean, 17-year-old Jordan Spieth grabbed headlines here when he got into contention for a couple of days at the Nelson, but Matteo won twice on the Euro Tour at 17. This kid could really become a force. If he lived in the U.S., we’d all be declaring him the Next Tiger.
Hack: Great point, Jeff. Renton Laidlaw was marveling at all the shots Matteo has at his disposal, as if he’s been hitting them for years.
Gorant: I don’t think it’s possible to use Manassero and disappointment in the same sentence. Not for years. Westwood? That’s another story.
FUTURE FOR STEINBERG AND TIGER
Van Sickle: Mark Steinberg the Famous is moving on. I’m still unclear about his future relationship with Tiger. What does this mean for Tiger, and for Team Tiger? Is breaking up hard to do, as Neil Sedaka once said? What’s the next play?
Godich: Tiger and Steinberg team up and start their own company. Tiger will be the lead recruiter for an outfit that will attract a slew of big names.
Dusek: Agreed. Obviously Steinberg wouldn’t leave IMG unless he knew Tiger was walking out the door right behind him. It makes sense to hang a shingle together, keep an even greater percentage of the money they collect from the deals that are bound to come in some day, and recruit a few friends to join in the fun.
Herre: I not so sure, David. IMG is the big teat in pro golf. If Steinberg was shown the door — and we don’t know the nature of the breakup — IMG might not be inclined to do him or his clients, including Woods, any favors. I think the entire situation is complicated.
Dusek: If Steinberg was shown the door, then all bets are off. Barring that, I can’t imagine someone in that position leaving without a very clear plan about his next several steps, and confidence that they are going to happen.
Walker: I’m guessing Steinberg is a step away from hiring Renee Zellweger as his assistant.
Herre: The entire IMG situation is intriguing. Ted Forstmann is in bad health. Steinberg’s exit seemed a bit rushed, which makes me wonder. Hard to see Woods with another IMG man. All questions, no answers. Only change.
Van Sickle: It will be interesting to see how Steinberg’s leaving will affect Tiger’s attempt to rebuild his brand (outside of Nike) and his endorsement viability.
Morfit: Tiger’s got to worry about just one thing: winning. If he does that, the brand will rebuild itself no matter who’s working the phones.
Walker: Looks to me like IMG made a big bet against a Tiger comeback.
Morfit: Marital status, swing coach, residence, image, agency, his ability to get the ball in the hole: what else could change for Tiger?
Garrity: Two things about Tiger haven’t changed — his agent and his caddie. I’d be more bullish on Tiger’s prospects if he had cleaned house in the wake of the scandal.
Shipnuck: I expect him to remain loyal to his rainmaker, which means goodbye IMG.
WATSON WINS THE SENIOR PGA
Van Sickle: Some exciting finishes this week. I’m not sure any were better than the first senior major of the year, the Senior PGA at Valhalla. Tom Watson needed up and down at 18 in regulation to edge David Eger but missed the putt. In the playoff, Watson needed another up and down, this time from a bunker, to edge Eger, and he made it. How much will Watson’s win help the Champions Tour get back on the radar in golf? And is it possible that we still underrate Watson’s game at 61?
Lipsey: No help. The Champions tour is a nice little marketing vehicle. Nothing more, and likely never will be.
Evans: Watson may be the best 60-and-over player ever. His ball striking is still on par with the top players in the game. I remember one summer around the mid-90s when he came to practice at Sawgrass. I was amazed at how consistent he was with every club in his bag. He hit every shot solid. But I don’t know if he should carry the senior tour. The guys in their early 50s should be doing that.
Van Sickle: It’s was an absolutely terrible idea, once again, that the seniors were on TV at exactly the same time as the PGA Tour telecast. Talk about splitting the audience. It’s like cutting one of those mini-fun-sized Milky Way bars in half. Not much left.
Herre: How about Hale Irwin? He’s 65 and almost won the thing! I also like Valhalla. Lots of folks think it’s gimmicky, but it’s filled with thrills and spills, and exciting finishes.
Van Sickle: I’m not a fan of Valhalla, but you’re right — the finishing holes make for great TV. What a great showing by Irwin. That’s the kind of stuff that makes the Champions Tour so watchable, at least the majors.
Godich: I was as intrigued by Irwin as I was by Watson. The debacle at the 18th on Saturday was tough to watch.
Shipnuck: Hale Irwin is the baddest senior citizen on the planet.
Van Sickle: By the way, Watson now has six senior major titles. He’s two behind Jack, the all-time leader. Forget Tiger’s chase: Will Watson pass Jack for the most senior major championships? I say he ties Jack at 8.
Herre: Jack’s bad hips finally stopped him. If Watson can stay injury-free, he can catch and pass Nicklaus.
Godich: He’ll pass Jack. Watson hits so many good shots he’ll be contending for a while. This victory will give him a shot in the arm, too.
BYRON NELSON FINISH
Van Sickle: The Byron Nelson also had an exciting finish, if you enjoy watching the pros struggle against high wind. And I do. They can really showcase their skills in bad weather, while also looking very human. Kudos to winner Keegan Bradley of St. John’s University, an unlikely alma mater for a tour player. He made a clutch par putt at the 17th, a clutch par at 18 in regulation and an even more clutch par after a heck of recovery shot from the trees on the extra hole. Did you enjoy the Nelson’s drama, or did the lack of big names have you reaching for the remote?
Garrity: I enjoyed it, but mostly for the reason you gave: the wind. I love it when the pros have to conjure up all kinds of odd shots to stay in contention.
Herre: I was interested in the high school kid. Also nice to see a guy like Keegan Bradley break through. He seemed overwhelmed by what he had just done.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Very happy for Keegan. Now he can be known for something other than “Pat Bradley’s nephew.” But I think the fact that he has such an accomplished family member has been helpful because they talk very often and she has told him what to expect. They also discuss the mental game a lot, which as we know, is a huge part of the game. Couldn’t be a nicer and more down-to-earth guy.
Morfit: Have to admit I was hoping Sergio Garcia would win. The Tour could use a familiar face in the winner’s circle.
Van Sickle: Best part of Bradley’s interview with Peter Kostis was when Kostis mentioned the Masters. It was clear that Bradley hadn’t even thought of that yet. A nice moment by CBS.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR JORDAN SPIETH?
Van Sickle: Jordan Spieth had a rough finish, but he looks like the real deal. He made the cut for a second straight year, and he’s put on some weight and picked up some length. He looks close to PGA Tour-ready right now. What do you think?
Hack: Jordan insists he’s going to the University of Texas, which is a good move. He’s definitely a budding celebrity in that town. He has Tony Romo’s phone number on speed dial and they’ve played rounds together, but the prudent play is college, at least for a little while.
Evans: Jordan played the Byron Nelson course a million times to prepare for this one week. Let’s see how he does week-in and week-out on courses that he only gets to see for a few practice rounds.
Dusek: I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea for a golfer to go to college. This isn’t basketball or football where players are lucky to last until 30. He should mature as a player and a person, and then turn pro. If he’s really good enough, the money is going to be there waiting for him.
Morfit: There are SO many players who at 16 or 17 look like they’re going to be the next Nicklaus, and elite golfers stay competitive for a long time. The only reasons to turn pro at such a young age are vanity, impatience and/or money.
Lipsey: Musicians basically turn pro as teens, going to places like Juilliard. Many other athletes do the same. So why not golfers?
Morfit: Ty Tryon.
Lipsey: Rory McIlroy, Matteo Manassero, Seve Ballesteros.
Morfit: Kevin Na was Mr. Everything as a junior, but it hasn’t really translated on Tour. Then there are AJGA studs like Christo Greyling, whom nobody has heard of. Charles Howell III went to college, but I still believe he peaked at about 17. Sam Randolph peaked at about 20 or 21. You’re better off leaving your options open if the golf thing doesn’t work out.
Godich: I love how candid the kid is. Yeah, he said he expected to win. But he also said that he knew he had a bit of a homefield advantage because the Nelson was the one event he prepared for more than any other. Then he complimented the guys who are able to perform from week to week. Go to school, Jordan. College golf will more than get you ready for your future career.
‘TEE IT FORWARD’
Van Sickle: I was surprised by the USGA’s new ” Tee It Forward” campaign. The USGA usually never does anything so obvious, and it seems like too little, too late for the masses. It also seems like one more spike driven between the game’s elite players and us average hacks. We already temporarily have different equipment rules thanks to square grooves; maybe this should be part of a movement to make it official. Have you watched Dustin Johnson play? I definitely play a different game than he does.
Garrity: Tee it Forward is long overdue. If you’re hitting a 4-iron or a hybrid into every green, you’re not enjoying golf the way you should.
Van Sickle: The USGA says it’s O.K. Let’s all move up to the ladies’ tees! Faster play, lower scores (I think). I’m for it.
Godich: But no Rangefinders!
Dusek: The game is supposed to be fun, so this is a solid, although tiny, attempt to do something good. Purists bash me every time I say this, but I have no problem with the notion of two sets of rules for governing golf.
Herre: Two sets of tees, yes. Two sets of rules, no.
Lipsey: A problem, business-wise, is that guys are willing to pay top dollar to punish themselves and Pebble or Sawgrass, but it’s unlikely they’d shell out big bucks to play a fun little course.
Gorant: The problem to me is that most people don’t know how far they hit it. So they read those USGA guidelines and still play the wrong tees.
Walker: I think the campaign is a little condescending. It’s not like people don’t understand the concept of shorter tees. They’re choosing to test themselves. Who are we to tell them where they should play?