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.
Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Welcome to our weekly conversation, and raise your hand if you picked Y.E. Yang to win the final major of the year, the PGA Championship. I know one person who’s happy tonight — our special guest, Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour executive who spearheaded golf’s push to be included in the Olympics. A huge victory over Tiger Woods by a South Korean could be a game-changer in Asia and is just what the sport’s Olympic effort needed. Would you agree, Ty?
Votaw: Absolutely. I just got off the telephone with the sponsor of our season opening event, the SBS Championship, and we were discussing what a historic week it has been for golf globally. Golf made the cut to potentially be added to the Olympics in 2016, and the men’s game has its first Asian major winner.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: It’s certainly big, but I don’t think it will have the same impact Se Ri Pak’s first major win had on the women’s game. Not as much opportunity in the men’s game.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I don’t know, Se Ri Pak didn’t beat Tiger Woods.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: That’s very true. He beat the man, head to head, playing from behind. Damn.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: South Korea’s mandatory two-year military commitment may be one reason why the pipeline doesn’t open as much as it has on the women’s side.
Votaw: If what you mean is that there won’t be 46 South Koreans playing on the PGA Tour in 11 years time, you may be right, but Yang’s win (along with the potential Olympic spot in 2016) could have a significant impact in other ways — investment in the development of the game, junior golf and overall interest in golf. No one sitting here tonight can predict exactly what that impact will be, but as my father used to say, “It is better than a sharp stick in the eye.”
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: In terms of seismic shock — an Asian player beating Tiger in a major — this could have more ripples, especially in terms of awareness and marketing. Is this Asia’s Francis Ouimet moment?
Evans: Golf in Asia was already big, but to have a man win a major could take it to another level, as far as growing the game with the rest of the world.
Votaw: Not sure you can say “Golf in Asia was already big.” Maybe so in Japan, where 8 percent of the population plays golf, and maybe in Korea, which has 46 players on the LPGA Tour. But in most other parts of Asia, and especially in China, golf is growing, but not big. In fact, golf in China is considered more of a leisure activity than it is a sport. Y.E. Yang’s win and the Olympic news could change that perception overnight.
Hack: That 3-hybrid by Yang has to go down in history with Pavin, Micheel, you name it. How clutch was that shot? And to do it with the dude in the red shirt standing in the fairway, and to do it after three-putting the 71st? Amazing. Wow. Double wow.
Morfit: He said he had nothing to lose and would play all-out, and he really did. All credit.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Gotta give it up to Yang. He played well and didn’t wilt. That hybrid into 18 is the shot of his life. But the real story is that Tiger Woods let him win. If Tiger simply shoots one under par in the final round, he wins. Tiger putted poorly, and he said so. He said he thought he hit it great, but I think his memory is a little selective there. He didn’t look anything like the guy who played the first 36 holes. I wonder if prematurely going to the prevent defense during Saturday’s round hurt his momentum. He never got it back today and never got the putter working. All hail Yang, but if Tiger simply plays dead today, he wins. For the first time ever when he had the lead, he couldn’t do it.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: This has also got to be extremely encouraging for Tiger’s week-to-week rivals, because they have never seen him crack. He’s always, always come through. But a bogey-bogey finish on Sunday at a major to lose to Yang should give them reason to keep fighting. They can now believe that they can beat him too.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger’s bogey-bogey finish, while shocking, didn’t really matter. Even with two pars he’s a shot out. The story here is that a 72-hole golf tournament finally identified somebody who could play his game in the face of Tiger Woods. Tiger blamed his putter in the tent. From his perspective, sure, but Y.E. Yang did a smack-down on this guy, something Ernie and the gang have never been able to manage. What a tournament, and what a game.
Herre: Wonder if Tiger’s strategy of playing the extra week turned out to be a mistake? Winning three weeks in a row would be taxing on anyone, and Tiger looked out of sorts today. Maybe he was pooped.
Hack: I’m not buying it. Tiger got beat today. He didn’t hit the shots (really, the putts) that he so often has. Yang outplayed him.
Morfit: In his press conference Tiger said more than once that he drove it great and hit his irons well but putted terribly (33 putts). But I’m with Gary. Is it me or did he just not look very sharp in any aspect this weekend?
Hack: It’s not just you. His short game was not its usual snappy self. He really struggled with the chips and pitches the last two rounds.
Morfit: Everyone here at Hazeltine is in a state of shock. In the parking lot tonight, at least 100 people watched Woods load into his Buick. It’s like we’re all waiting for him to turn to the crowd and say, “Just kidding! That wasn’t me! It was my stunt double!”
Evans: I think Tiger just putted poorly and got cute over too many approach shots during the round. All day he seemed to over-study every shot. Yang seemed more poised from the beginning than Tiger and less aware of the stage. He hit several drives without even taking a practice swing. Basically, he won the PGA with a ready-golf mentality.
Bamberger: Yep, that’s what I saw, too, Farrell. I saw Yang live at both of his Tour wins this year. He was more relaxed-looking at Hazeltine than he was at the Honda.
Dusek: Feherty had the line of the day when he said that Tiger had tossed enough grass into the air studying the wind this week to sod a lawn.
Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: No question Woods got too cute on several approaches, but in his defense, I think the conservative approach was the right one — he just didn’t execute — and the wind appeared to be really tricky. Tiger said he hit that shot on 17 perfect, but the wind just didn’t do what he expected.
Herre: I thought he peaked last weekend, when he shot a 30 on the back nine on Saturday and then a 31 on his opening nine on Sunday.
Evans: How can Tiger say he hit it great when his ball-striking was so off? On a couple of tee boxes it also looked like he was crowding Yang, who may as well have been playing by himself. He was completely unfazed by the Red Shirt army.
Hack: Tiger said during the week he felt it was already a great year, with five wins coming off knee surgery, no matter what happened at the PGA. I wonder if he still feels that way.
Dusek: If Tiger wins a few more events and $10 million for the FedEx Cup, even major-less, he would probably say it was a very, very good year. No majors means it’s not a great year.
Hack: The major has always been the determining factor, but he seemed to give himself a mulligan because of the knee. Not sure he will now after losing a four-shot lead with 36 holes to play.
Votaw: The biggest thing Tiger can win this year is the FedEx Cup. But if Yang, Glover or Cabrera win the FedEx Cup, who should be Player of the Year?
Herre: I’d probably vote for Yang.
Gorant: Depends. Do they win the Cup by winning an event or two, or do they win the Cup with two top fives and two top 30s?
Votaw: The way we set it up this year, it will be very difficult to win the Cup without winning at least one or two events, and one of them will very likely have to be the Tour Championship.
Bamberger: Let’s get back to the Olympics. I suspect the Korean golf teams, should golf be in the Olympics in 2016, will be superb. But I’m going to guess that Yang and Choi will be supplanted by other players by then. As for the women, who can say? Ty, what’s the next great hotbed for men’s golf? Korea? China? India?
Votaw: China will get behind golf in a significant way if it gets into the Olympics. For many reasons: the credibility that being an Olympic sport brings to the public’s perception of golf there (which also applies to several other countries around the world), and the fact that all of Asia is extremely competitive. There are 46 Korean women on the LPGA tour and only a handful from China, and the China Golf Association will be given a greater profile within the Ministry of Sport. After China, the next great wave will come from India.
Herre: Ty, what’s the next step for golf in the Olympics, and how did you settle on the format?
Votaw: There is a vote on Oct. 9. If a majority of IOC members approve golf for 2016, we’re in. If not, we’re not. As for the format, we have proposed a 72-hole individual stroke play based on the feedback of the top players, who have said they believe it is the best and fairest way to identify a champion in a significant competition, which we believe the Olympics will be.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Ty, I understand why the top players want to play the format with which they’re most comfortable, but is there no chance that Olympic golf will offer us something fresher and more distinctive? I worry that a 72-hole stroke-play event between golfers who play each other in that format 20 or 30 times a year will not be special enough to merit the Olympic brand.
Votaw: I hear you, but they didn’t freshen up the Track and Field Championships this week in Berlin by running a 101-meter race or running the marathon backward.
Garrity: Good point, but most television viewers don’t follow track and field until they turn on the Olympics coverage. Golf, on the other hand, has four major championships watched by many millions around the world on top of a so-called fifth major and numerous continental and international tour events, all looking more or less the same on television. I just think the Olympics needs to find some way to make the product seem fresh. How about playing the final round first?
Herre: I loved golf’s presentation video to the Olympic folks. A bunch of players gave testimonials, and I found myself thinking, 'This isn’t going to work without Tiger.' They saved Tiger for last — perfect ending.
Bamberger: I had the same impression. Tiger at the end, with no logos. It was powerful. I spoke the other day to Glenn Rocha, a veteran producer at PGA Tour Productions, who did that interview with Tiger. He said Tiger came in and was hyper-focused: he knew exactly what he wanted to say about the Olympics. The guy’s got so much more on his plate than we could likely ever know, but when he faces the public, he’s ready.
Herre: Ty, how many countries do you expect to be represented?
Votaw: If we use the eligibility criteria we have proposed — top 15 in the world get in, regardless of country, and no more than two from any one country thereafter until we have a field of 60 — and apply it to today’s rankings, there would be 30-31 countries represented in both the men’s and women’s competitions. If you expand that to no more than three from any one country, there would be around 25 countries represented.
Van Sickle: Global golf is clearly in pretty good shape. Not only Yang’s win, but look at the PGA leaderboard. It’s a United Nations event. No one dominates, least of all the Americans. That’s healthy and a good sign for the Olympics. I hope there’s still time to tweak the format for determining the Olympic field to get some better players and weed out some of the chaff. I’d like it to be the best golf event in the world, but that’s hard to do with only 60 players. I hope the size of the field can be increased.
Votaw: Gary and I have gone round and round about this. Global golf in pretty good shape? On many levels, yes. And yet there is one male golfer and one female golfer from Venezuela in the top 700 in the world. Not too global in that part of the world. What Gary laments is the same thing every Olympic sport faces. Do you really think the fact that the fourth best swimmer from the United States doesn’t make the Olympics makes that competition less compelling or credible just because a lesser swimmer from another country gets in? Of course not.
In most countries around the world, Olympic achievement is the pinnacle, and any athlete who competes is a hero in that country. Golf goes lacking because it isn’t an Olympic sport. Look at today’s finish: A Korean gold, a U.S. silver and a big playoff between Ireland, Sweden, England and the U.S. for a bronze. What would it do if a golfer from a less developed country won a medal? It would be huge. And we need to remember — Korea wasn’t a golf-playing nation, not really, 15 years ago.
Evans: Every other Olympic sport has a qualifier. This seems like an exhibition more than a real Olympic event. Usain Bolt still has to win the Jamaican Olympic trials to get into the 100 meters at the Games.
Votaw: The golf qualifier is playing well to improve your position in the World Rankings. If there are already 2 players from a particular country in the Top 15, and the third best player from that country is 16th in the world, don’t you think that player playing well down the stretch to get into the Top 15 is a “qualifier”?
Friedman: Would you consider spicing up the format by including a team element, much like the NCAA championships? Such as: Have each nation designate three golfers (who would also be playing for the individual medals) and total their scores? That way, nations have two ways to earn medals. Wouldn’t add any stress and strain, and could be a lot of fun. This concludes my lobbying effort.
Votaw: We looked at a lot of different formats and ultimately arrived at the 72-hole individual stroke play because 1) the top players supported that and 2) a format that involved teams, be it two-person or three-person teams, would decrease the number of countries that would be competitive. For example, I think we would all agree that Mexico would be more competitive with Lorena Ochoa in an individual competition than in a team competition. Same with Camilo Villegas and Colombia. Certainly it would be true for Vijay Singh, who says he would want to play for Fiji at 53 in 2016.
Friedman: Hypothetically, Australia or Sweden might or might not have an individual medal candidate, but a threesome might well be a threat for team gold.
Votaw: Players champion Henrik Stenson might take exception to that.
Friedman: Agree! He could win individual AND team golds!
Herre: The final major of 2009 is in the books. None of them went the way we thought they would. Any candidates for story of the year?
Garrity: I think Tom Watson at Turnberry is still the story of the year — even with the dagger-to-the-heart disappointment at the end. If he had made the par putt on the 72nd hole, my entire golf-writing career would have been bookended between Tom’s fifth and sixth British Open titles. That’s unbelievable.
Bamberger: Tom Watson. Fifty-nine. Man-made hip. At Turnberrry. Sober, with the help of good friends and a good wife. For 72 holes, nobody beat him. But maybe I’m prejudiced, as I have a weakness for links golf.
Dusek: It’s a neck-and neck race between Yang winning the PGA Championship and Tom Watson almost winning the British Open.
Friedman: Agreed, David. As the days go on, the implications of the Yang win will get bigger and bigger. Bronze medal: The Bivens departure.
Gorant: Story of the year is The Losers. All those majors were defined by who didn’t win down the stretch.
Hack: Right. The Bridesmaids.