Every week of the 2010 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts 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.
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT RICKIE
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Whew! Who else is ready for the Ryder Cup? Give me Rosey and Rory and Rickie, too. We’re going to start this party like they do at the Miss America contest — with the first runner up, Rickie Fowler. The former American Junior Golf Association kid wowed us in Papa Smurf blue and orange sherbet. He was barreling toward his first victory until that nasty double on 12 and a closing 73. His swing got a little quick, but, man, did he battle. What did we learn about Rickie that we didn’t learn from his near miss in Phoenix?
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I like the way he approaches the game — makes a decision and pulls the trigger. Doesn’t get in his own way.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It felt familiar, like he got tentative again. He’ll learn to win but it’s a process, as he’s proving.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Little Rickie has a lot of game but he’s going to go cold from time to time with that beautiful but timing-bound swing. His Memorial performance is further proof that he’s on his way to becoming a top-20 player in the world.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: It would’ve helped if Tim Petrovic and Ricky Barnes had played a little better. It helps to see other guys in the group hitting quality shots. Until Barnes holed that shot at 15, Fowler didn’t see many of those.
Hack: I think Fowler got a little quick — missing those shots to the right, especially the killer on 12. That green is gigantic, east to west. Gotta aim center-left there.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Fowler is a thrill ride. The handwriting’s on the wall: he’ll win a bunch and he’ll lose a bunch and all of it will be fun to watch. Just in time.
Morfit: I spent some time in Fowler’s orbit on Friday, and learned that he’s got big-time star power. Lots of female admirers, and lots of talk about how well he pulls off his outfits and brings badly needed sizzle to the Tour. Phenomenal putter, too. He needs to just point and shoot, which he’ll learn.
Hack: Is Rickie a no-brainer captain’s pick for Corey Pavin if he doesn’t qualify on his own? (He might even give Lisa Pavin a few ideas for the team unis!)
Herre: Don’t think so, Damon. He’s a Tour rookie and hasn’t even qualified for the U.S. Open. I do think that given a little seasoning he will be a killer in the Ryder Cup — gets along with others, lots of shots, good putter, no nerves.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Heading into this week Fowler was 13th on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list. Pavin gets four wildcard picks, so you’ve got to think that Fowler gets serious consideration if he has a decent summer. Who wouldn’t want a fearless putter who makes birdies in bunches?
Godich: Careful. The guy does have six missed cuts this year. A little more consistency would be nice.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: He putts well, which is a huge plus. You can’t have enough deadly putters on the team. And he has swagger. Fowler reminds me of a young Lanny Wadkins.
Evans: Rickie would be a popular captain’s pick but not the smart one for Pavin, unless the kid can pull off a win in the next couple of months. I think you need to have won a pro event to be on the Ryder Cup team. That’s just me. There must be examples of guys that did well in the matches who have never won.
Herre: I can’t think of a U.S. Ryder Cupper who has never won.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: The Ryder Cup is all about winning, closing the deal. You’d have to be zonkers to pick somebody who hasn’t done the one thing you MUST do to excel at the RC. If Fowler hasn’t won, picking him would be up there risk-wise with the Curtis Strange pick, and we know how that turned out.
Morfit: I am going to predict that Fowler wins before the Ryder Cup. He’s just got that look. I thought he was going to do it this week, but he seemed to go into a prevent defense too early.
Godich: How long were we saying that Justin Rose was going to win any week now?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Rickie has that extra something. He has to birdie 14 and 15, right? He does. At 15, he pours that putt right in. At 16, he hit 7-iron and he’s still trying to figure out how it flew 200 yards. Now that he’s got his putter working, I agree with Cam, I like his chances of winning. He’s even better in a match-play format. He might be a tough pick if he doesn’t win by then but if he has enough seconds and thirds, he’s probably as good a pick as any.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: I’m not sure Fowler’s ready for the Ryder Cup. Germany’s Martin Kaymer said that in retrospect he was glad Faldo left him off the 2008 European team because Valhalla would have been too much for him at that stage in his career. I did watch Fowler at the Walker Cup last year and someday he’ll be a great Ryder Cup player and teammate.
Dusek: To that point, Kaymer went to Valhalla as an observer with the European Team. I think bringing along one or two observers who might be Ryder Cuppers in the future — to get a real taste of the event — would be a smart move by Pavin. Ricky Barnes, Rickie Fowler, etc…
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Fowler already dresses like a mascot, so why not?
WHAT’S THE STATE OF TIGER’S GAME?
Hack: What did everybody take from Tiger’s week? The experts said he was standing a little closer to the ball, making his swing a little more upright. Maybe he’s somewhere between Hank Haney and Butch Harmon now. Hank Harmon? I actually thought I saw some flashes of his old self. Can he figure things out between now and Mike Davis’s Pebble Beach?
Gorant: Definitely seemed like a step forward. He was hitting some shots this week. Just the fact that his neck didn’t drive him off the course is progress.
Dusek: I don’t think Tiger is going to pull a 180 and get everything in order before Thursday at Pebble Beach. He’s just too wayward with the driver, and inconsistent with his irons.
Bamberger: At Augusta, with Tiger on the leaderboard on Thursday, Butch said to me, “He’ll do well to make the cut here.” That’s how out-of-whack Butch felt Tiger’s swing was. Nothing much has changed since then. He’s Tiger Woods — he’ll tough out something at Pebble, but my guess is in the end it will be somewhere between the Masters and the Memorial.
Morfit: Tiger hit some good shots and was in a much better mood the whole week, which makes me think he believes there’s reason to be optimistic. He has to get close on Thursday and Friday and then hope history repeats itself.
Godich: He did seem to hit more quality shots, but every time it looked like he was going to get a roll, he would hit a poor shot. And the driver remains a big problem — missing both ways.
Evans: Tiger appeared to be playing not to hit bad shots and not make bogeys, which is no way to make birdies and win tournaments. He incessantly tinkers now even during the rounds, so it’s hard to say with any certainty what his swing is really like.
Herre: Obviously, TW’s long game has a long way to go. Can’t see him getting well at the Open.
Hack: You have to wonder if Tiger Woods is going to jump headlong into Sean Foley’s arms in earnest now, no? With Rose, Sean O’Hair and Hunter Mahan, Foley is the game’s hot coach right now.
Bamberger: It’s hard to know now when to take him at his word, but I have to think Tiger really does plan to go it alone for a while, maybe a long while. You can make a case for Sean Foley, but I think the fact that’s he not old and grizzled works against him, for Tiger.
Lipsey: Tiger’s never been alone as a golfer, starting from age 3, so he’ll find somebody to be his sounding board. No way will he go it alone for too long.
Dusek: I still say Woods is a lone wolf through the rest of the 2010 season.
Evans: Tiger doesn’t go near Sean right now. I think Tiger doesn’t make a move on a coach until after the season is over. What Sean would need to do to get Tiger on track is not something good for a world-class player still trying to win tournaments. Tiger needs a month with Sean to just work without trying to get ready for a tournament.
Godich: Agreed. He’s tired of getting advice (and a lot of it bad) from others. You know he wants to win so badly, so he can say he fixed it on his own.
Lipsey: He can’t fix the real problem, which has nothing to do with his golf swing. It’s his mind. Once he signs those divorce papers and some dust settles, watch out.
Walker: Do we really believe Tiger’s by himself in his Windermere man cave watching video of his swing by himself? He might not have a new “coach,” but I bet he’s got someone he trusts watching those videos with him.
Van Sickle: Maybe Tiger should just play Tiger Woods EA Golf and watch his old swing on computer and get it back through osmosis.
PHIL TO THRILL AT PEBBLE BEACH?
Herre: Woods wasn’t the only one having some trouble with the driver. Mickelson had some wild tee shots Sunday, but I loved watching him hit a metal wood off the asphalt cart path. Would any of us try that?
Van Sickle: Hell, no. We don’t get free clubs.
Dusek: Only with Damon’s fairway wood.
Gorant: It’s almost like the shot on 13 at Augusta has freed Phil up to do whatever he wants out there. No second guessing, just going for it all the time.
Lipsey: Phil didn’t even have any sparks, which was impressive.
Morfit: The thing with Phil is those greens at Muirfield drive him batty for some reason. He had that faraway look on Friday, like he was somewhere else, and I think it was the putting.
Van Sickle: There’s a reason Phil hasn’t won at Muirfield Village before, just like there’s a reason he’s played in the Memorial only five times since 1999.
Hack: Mickelson was hitting 124-yard lob wedges and 163-yard pitching wedges. I sure didn’t like the way he was swinging that driver Sunday — way too hard, bringing in OB left — but is Phil the favorite at Pebble to the same level that Tiger used to be on the eve of majors?
Van Sickle: How many holes does Phil have to hit driver at Pebble, anyway? Probably not that many. That’s why he’s tinkering with a 2-iron in his bag this week, to see if he wants to put it in the bag for Pebble instead of a hybrid.
Morfit: Mickelson is the favorite. Keep in mind he’s never won at Muirfield, but he’s gotten it done at Pebble. Of course it’ll be an adventure, as always. I saw him hit that 2-iron as far as other guys hit 3-wood on the third hole.
Hack: Tiger’s still searching and all of the kids we’ve been raving about
are going to be overwhelmed. Davis Love III? Jim Furyk? Phil is going to be a huge favorite
Lipsey: I like a Monty-type at Pebble: straight, kinda long, clutch putter, deft chipper. How about Lee Westwood?
Herre: Maybe a Euro breaks through. It’s only been 40 years.
Evans: Phil definitely is as prominent a favorite in the majors as Tiger was back in the day, but without the Tiger fanfare and glitz.
Dusek: Bones Mackay [Mickelson’s caddie] told me the 2-iron will be in the bag if the rough is down at Pebble, but reports are that it’s already a cabbage patch out there. The hybrid will be in.
Gorant: My understanding is that they’re planning to cut it before the Open, although no one’s saying how much. However, even if it’s short, it will be thick.
Godich: I don’t know how Phil can’t be a solid favorite. Anybody seen any Vegas odds? Might be the first time Tiger isn’t the favorite since who knows when.
Dusek: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are currently co-favorites at 6-1. Els and Westwood are next at 14-1.
Hack: Well, Tiger was the lone favorite at Augusta. If he’s been downgraded and now he and Phil are co-favorites, the oddsmakers must have seen Tiger’s swings at the Players and/or Pebble’s rough.
SHOULD VIJAY SINGH HAVE GOTTEN U.S. OPEN EXEMPTION?
Hack: Did you like the USGA exemption into Pebble for former World No. 1 and all-time range rat Vijay Singh? While I’ve never been a fan of how he handles the fourth estate, his work ethic and resume are iron-clad. I was fine with the exemption, especially since he was grinding through an injury to stay in the Top 50. You guys cool with it?
Van Sickle: Vijay’s resume is worthy of at least one Open exemption. The only odd thing was waiting until less than a week before 36-hole qualifying to award it.
Dusek: Vijay has earned the right to get a few perks.
Evans: Vijay earned his U.S. Open exemption with his career record. Period.
Morfit: He’s got a better shot to win than half the guys who get through sectionals this week, but the USGA should be careful not to take for granted the “Open” part of the equation. For the most part the USGA is very good about honoring that.
Gorant: I thought Singh earned his exemption, but when he said he wasn’t going to bother trying to qualify it made me wonder. If he doesn’t care about the Open, why should they care about him?
Lipsey: I wonder if the USGA refunded Vijay’s sectional fee …
SHOULD THE TOUR REQUIRE TIGER AND PHIL TO PLAY SMALLER TOUR EVENTS?
Hack: It never gets old listening to Jack Nicklaus in the CBS broadcast or seeing him walk down the hill to the 18th green to greet the players as they come in at the Memorial. Thing is, every tournament can’t have Jack. Or Arnie. Or Justin Timberlake. What’s everyone think of the proposal to compel these pros to patronize one out of a handful of events each year — the Memphis, New Orleans, Tampa ilk? The Yankees play the Mariners and the Orioles every year. It’s about time this happens for golf, isn’t it?
Dusek: It certainly is.
Morfit: Past due.
Herre: Definitely. It’s either something along those lines or the PGA Tour downsizes.
Bamberger: It’s time to spread the wealth. The players should have some sort of requirement to play different events. Give ’em a lot of space, but do something to help the lesser events.
Gorant: I’m still not sure downsizing isn’t the best idea. Although that also raises the question of how many guys will be able to earn their living as PGA Tour players.
Walker: I agree with the sentiment, but in practice this is a tall order. As Jack Nicklaus said this week, it’s a world tour now and the marquee names you want to compel to play the smaller events see it as a world tour.
Evans: It’s a bad idea to force guys to compete in places where they don’t want to go, unless you start giving them money for making the field. If we are going to call them independent contractors, let’s let them be that. The Tour has survived all these years without such an arcane and undemocratic rule. Yes, players should be encouraged to play in smaller events with incentives, but don’t make it mandatory. I wouldn’t want anybody at my tournament who wasn’t genuine about being there.
Gorant: That’s because you’re not actually paying the bills. If you were, you’d be happy to have a grumpy Tiger or faking it Phil.
Godich: The independent contractor label needs to be retired. What other independent contractors get the kind of perks these guys do.
Hack: Grumpy Tiger, Faking It Phil, out on DVD or $1.99 on Netflix.
Van Sickle Simply require players to compete in two events from a list of 10 or 12 to choose to be eligible for the big-buck FedEx Cup money. That’s your buy-in, fellas, to play for the $10 million.
Evans: Unlike you, none of the pros get paid every two weeks. What perks do they get that are so special? It’s not job security.
Godich: Well, when they get to a site, I think we can all agree that they get taken care of pretty nicely.
Gorant: Are tours gonna start paying for travel, for medical visits, for surgeries? Gonna keep paying guys who are out with injuries? When you’re employed by a league you get all that.
Dusek: A free car every week they play, lots of free food, clubs and schwag. Sure, they pay for travel, coaching, etc., but let’s not be naÃ¯ve. Every pro gets treated well while they are at work.
Godich: Don’t forget about the day care, and while not necessarily a perk, an early-in-the-week corporate outing here and there sure helps pay the bills.
Herre: What the Tour has is a pension plan that is far better than anything offered by any league, plus the possibility of a long, long career.
Evans: But the Tour’s pension plan is based on cuts made. In other sports all the guys have to do is stay on rosters for a certain amount of years.
Gorant: No question it’s a sweet gig, but the independent contractor label cuts both ways. There is something to the designation.