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.
BRADLEY WINS PGA IN PLAYOFF
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Welcome one and all to the PGA Championship edition of Confidential. The story of the weekend for a lot of people was, “Who are these guys?” But there was certainly plenty of drama down the stretch. Keegan Bradley defeated Jason Dufner in a three-hole playoff to go one-for-one in majors. Which do you like more about his game, the shots or the mental toughness he showed?
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: It has to be his toughness. How often do you see somebody bounce back from a triple-bogey on the 69th hole?
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I have to go with his length and accuracy off the tee. It sure didn’t look like he was playing a 7,400-yard-plus golf course.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I like the charisma, which is a combination of the shots, emotion and fierce determination he showed. Player.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I like his enthusiasm and guts. He’s a fun guy to watch; another very promising development for golf.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Bradley reminds me a little of Mickelson, as Cameron has pointed out. Lots of smiles, lots of aggressive shots, and even more emotional displays than Phil, which fans love.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I loved Bradley’s resilience. Overcoming a triple — that’s huge. He also has a lot of game. Great to see a young, charismatic American break through. A good way to end the majors season.
Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: That triple at 15 would’ve been all she wrote for most golfers. To bounce back from that is downright amazing. Granted, he got a little help from Dufner, but that was seriously impressive intestinal fortitude.
Godich: Just to play devil’s advocate: Maybe that triple freed him up. He was five back at that point and probably thought he had no shot at winning. Just sayin’.
Garrity: Or maybe he’s a master of “strategerie” and made the triple just to slow Dufner’s momentum. Jason didn’t start giving away strokes until he had to watch and wait.
Hanger: That triple did take a long time to play out, and I bet it did have at least a little something to do with Dufner’s dunk on 15.
Godich: Sorry, but Dufner still managed to make bogey, and with such a big lead he gladly would have signed for that and walked to the 16th tee. Dufner lost this thing on 16 and especially 17, where he gunned that birdie putt about 12 feet past.
Garrity: I like Bradley’s body English. The way he leans on every follow-through reminds me of Arnie, and it adds a little drama.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Toughness, for sure. He tripled the 15th in regulation, then rattled off back-to-back birdies on 16 and 17 and a gritty par on 18 to force the playoff. Impressive.
Morfit: In his presser he said he absolutely smashed his drive on 16, about 20 yards farther than he’d hit it there all week, after the triple. Left himself only 153 in and of course knocked it tight. And guess who he credited for his mental toughness? Bob Rotella, Phil Mickelson and Camilo Villegas. They apparently all came to his rescue after Keegan worked his way into contention but cratered on the back nine at Bridgestone.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Kid’s got serious game, but even more, I love his spunk and apparent zeal for laying it all on the line with every shot.
Garrity: Do you think he was “laying it on the line” with his approach to 18 in the playoff? With a two-stroke lead, I’ve got to think that anything left of the flag was pulled. Still, great stuff.
Morfit: Yes, he said in one of his interviews that it had been so long since he missed a shot, he and Steve Hale, his caddie, figured he may as well just rip it. And yes, he admitted he pulled it a hair.
Lipsey: He basically stiffed all three approaches in the playoff, on three of the hardest finishing holes in major championship golf. That speaks for itself.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: He kept firing at pins and pulling off the shots. I’ve watched him play since the first tournament of the season, and more recently, I’ve noticed that he doesn’t let a bogey get to him, rather it fires him up and he comes back with a birdie. He described himself to me as a “wicked loner” during tournament weeks. He credits good friend Jamie Lovemark for bringing him out of his shell in the last year. Keegan used to play practice rounds by himself, but his friendship with Lovemark, along with other rookies like Nate Smith, helped him feel more comfortable at the beginning of the year.
STATE OF AMERICAN GOLF
Dusek: At the beginning of the fourth round, Brendan Steele, Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley were at the top of the leaderboard. We haven’t written much about them, but given the week and the other talented young Americans out there like Dustin Johnson, Anthony Kim and Rickie Fowler, is American golf’s future brighter than some people may think?
Van Sickle: Bradley looked like the total package this week. If he can putt that well (with the belly putter), he’ll be a force. Steele is a solid player, but he paled a bit in comparison to the other two. Dufner is a superior ballstriker. He’s going to have a lot more chances to win, especially if he can get more consistent with his putter, the only club that’s holding him back.
Gorant: I’ve been making the case for the Americans for a while, although this is certainly the greatest supporting argument yet. Lots of talented young guys out there from all over.
Lipsey: A little brighter, but still bleak in the big picture. D.J., A.K., Fowler and the rest of our massively overhyped young studs have won, umm, a combined zero majors.
Hanger: That’s as many as the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world, both Brits, so I’m not too discouraged.
Godich: Europe’s young guns might have a couple majors between them, but I don’t exactly see them lighting it up every week. There are a slew of outstanding young players on this side of the pond. It’s not easy to win.
Van Sickle: The English golf revolution isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Donald and Westwood are very solid. Poulter and Casey, where are they now?
Gorant: To whom are you comparing the Americans, Rick? Rory has one major. Kaymer has one. Schwartzel and Oosthuizen one each, and Oostie’s is looking flukier by the week. Not a lot of players are blowing the young Americans out of the water right now.
Godich: And Kaymer hasn’t exactly distinguished himself since he won the PGA.
Lipsey: No, but he did win the PGA.
Godich: When supposedly unbeatable UNLV failed to defend its national championship in the early ’90s, John Wooden famously uttered: “A lot of teams have won one championship in a row.” Kaymer has exactly one major championship, just like Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel and Todd Hamilton, to name three.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: I’m with Rick on this one. So far the young Americans are all hat, no cattle. Until Bradley’s win, the closest an American got to winning a major this year was Johnson and Mickelson tying for second at the British. McIlroy and Schwartzel are putting themselves in contention a lot more.
Godich: In addition to the British, Johnson had two close calls in 2010. And speaking of McIlroy, he has won how many times around the world?
Walker: OK. The young Americans have been disappointing in majors except for Dustin Johnson, who’s now crashed and burned in the final round three times. Who else you got?
Garrity: I just think winning majors is a pretty high standard to apply to “young” golfers, no matter where they hail from. There are only four majors a year, and even old farts like Darren Clarke are capable of winning.
Herre: I could see a guy like Bradley on the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup team. He’s had a great rookie year and clearly is a comer.
Dusek: What about Fred Couples’s Presidents Cup team this fall? Length like Bradley’s off the tee and a hot putter could make him tough in match play.
Hanger: I want Dufner on the squad with the waggle, the gut and the dip.
Lipsey: If Woods is on the team and Bradley isn’t, that would make a mockery of the whole selection process.
Van Sickle: I’d definitely take Bradley on a team right now over Tiger. Bradley seems like a guy who’d be great in the team room, and he played strong golf under pressure.
DISAPPOINTMENT FOR TWO VETERANS
Dusek: Majors are tough to win, especially as players get older, but which veteran will be most stung by not winning the PGA: Scott Verplank or Steve Stricker?
Lipsey: Verplank probably already considered himself more or less AWOL, so this won’t hurt too much. Stricker is in full flight. It should sting him.
Godich: Verplank. He was closer to the lead after three rounds. He’s a few years older than Stricker. And he seems to keep getting bitten by the injury bug.
Garrity: I think it’s harder on Stricker because he’s in his prime, because he shot a first-round 63, and because he was right there with a chance on Sunday. Verplank would have been a wonderful dark-horse winner, but he didn’t spend the week thinking he’d win.
Godich: I bet he did on Sunday, though, especially considering the players he was chasing.
Hanger: And at 47, he probably isn’t going to get another chance like this one. That has to hurt.
Garrity: Verplank glimpsed the prize when he holed that bunker shot on 16 — I’m sure he was excited — but he immediately saw it vanish when he hooked it into the water on 17. It was over that fast.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Stricker’s one of the best putters out there, if not the best. No reason why he shouldn’t win at least one major. But now you have to ask if he’s built up too much scar tissue to ever break through.
Herre: Had to be Stricker. I was never confident that Verplank would get it done.
Morfit: Verplank looked pretty stung behind the scoring trailer. I overheard him telling a friend before the tournament that he’d been pretty banged up this year, but today he said he never felt any pain all week. He had no idea why.
Wei: Stricker. He’s still the Best American Without a Major.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tougher on Stricker. He had a 15-footer for 62 on Thursday, has two wins this season and is on the short list of best players without a major. He was there all week, until he wasn’t.
CLOSING HOLES CREATE HAVOC
Dusek: Atlanta Athletic Club proved to be a real challenge, especially the closing four holes. What are your thoughts about the section dubbed “Calamity Lane.”
Lipsey: The course produced an absolutely thrilling tournament. What more could you want? Watching guys have to eke out shots over water was awesome.
Van Sickle: I’m going with Reese’s Pieces or the Impregnable Quadrilateral. They’re stupid hard. I guess they make great TV, but I wouldn’t want to be a member.
Garrity: First, I hate the nickname; but I hate all nicknames. It’s a fabulously entertaining stretch, with most every mistake leading to a double-bogey. But, like Mickelson, I think it’s far too punitive for member play.
Godich: The members ain’t playing those tees, John. At least I hope they aren’t.
Garrity: The members aren’t playing those tees, but show me a tee on 18 that doesn’t leave you a middle to long iron over water, often from the rough or a bunker, to a green providing absolutely no bailout. Amateurs simply don’t have those shots.
Godich: My understanding is that the members play that hole as a par 5. Regardless, what’s wrong with laying up? It worked for David Toms.
Herre: You know it’s a challenging stage for the pros — and likely to be a good show for the civilians — when the pros complain, as they did last week. As for the course being too tough for members, meh. They probably like it that everyone who plays there gets beaten up.
Garrity: Actually, the members can enjoy their River Course and send their guests out to suffer on the Highlands. I don’t know where Mickelson got his numbers, but he said that member play on the Highlands was down 25%.
Lipsey: Which is why chest-thumping guys with the cash would love to play there. Same thing at Sawgrass and the other impossible tracks guys like that frequent.
Garrity: I’ll give you that, Rick, but those chest-thumpers want to play all the tough courses once. Members have to play them over and over again, and if the course is no fun, what are they paying for?
Lipsey: The right to have their friends and associates know they’re members.
Hack: AAC’s final four is a tremendous finishing stretch. You could see the carnage coming from Thursday morning.
Godich: I liked it. Most of these guys are hitting it so far that the length of the hole isn’t an issue. I think it was Mickelson who hit four-iron, five-iron at the 500-yard 18th one day. Plus, this is a major championship. What’s wrong with the golf course being hard?
Hanger: Right. When you hear the yardages, it sounds outrageous until you realize they’re still hitting mid-irons into the 18th.
Dusek: And hybrids off the tee. Would love to know how many players didn’t hit driver at the 18th.
Ritter: The holes lived up to the hype and delivered a wildly entertaining finish. Best of all: Bradley and Dufner went for the 18th green in two both times they played it on Sunday. No laying up to win this time.
TIGER MISSES THE CUT
Dusek: Okay, time for the Tiger Woods portion of the show. Woods says he’s not playing again until November, so this might be our last chance for a while. How surprised were you with his performance?
Herre: Not surprised at all, based on Woods’s so-so play in Akron. His case is getting curiouser and curiouser.
Ritter: Through five holes on Thursday morning Tiger was three under and tied for the lead. Then everything fell apart. I was shocked, and it wasn’t just that he missed the cut, it was how he missed it. All aspects of his game were a mess, especially his driving. He hit more bunkers than fairways over 36 holes. He’s never looked more lost than he did this week.
Van Sickle: Tiger was like the PGA Tour — anything’s possible. I was surprised when, after missing the cut, he admitted that he thought he could just show up and compete, but he couldn’t. He also tried to say it was a positive that he played two full tourneys and was healthy, this after saying in Akron and early last week that he was there for the W.
Garrity: He went bunker to bunker at least seven times, and I understand he was in the sand 22 times in all. That’s 11 per round.
Hack: Or 22 more times than 2000 St. Andrews.
Morfit: I was very surprised. For some reason I thought he’d put it together this week. Now I don’t know if he’ll ever win again. Is he really going to practice with Foley in Florida now? We have no idea with Tiger, as usual.
Godich: Not surprised at all. We got a glimpse of what to expect at the Bridgestone. He said as much himself when he said he was playing well in spurts. His game between those spurts was a disaster. Same story this week, save for the fast start on Thursday. I’ll say it one more time: The guy needs to play more!
Garrity: I wasn’t surprised by his performance, but I was surprised when he admitted Friday afternoon that he has completely lost his natural feel for the golf swing. Swing thoughts are destroying his game.
Reiterman: Don’t mean to brag, but someone (cough, cough) said last week that he’d miss the cut. One out of 1,000 predictions ain’t bad!
Lipsey: I wasn’t surprised at all either. He’s just not a great golfer now.
Gorant: He’s looking very human. Now, he certainly has time and motivation.
Wei: I’m not surprised with his performance, but I am surprised with how defeated he looked. I’ve never seen him look so lost. He was practically unrecognizable.
Hack: The way he was talking Wednesday — finally healthy, here to win, etc. — it was shocking how poorly he played, especially after his hot start. Just shows how far away he really is and how much he’s still doing it with smoke and mirrors at this point. No trust.
FEDEX PLAYOFF FEVER
Dusek: With the season’s final major now in the rearview mirror and no dominant player out there, are you more interested in the FedEx Cup Playoffs this season, or is there no avoiding a letdown?
Gorant: I’ll certainly watch the FedEx Cup events, but it does feel a little flat with no Tiger.
Godich: Here’s my problem with the FedEx Cup. A guy who enters the first week of the playoff ranked 100th or lower can vault to the top with a victory in the opener. There’s something wrong with that.
Garrity: I’m never interested going in, but the playoffs have good fields and the tournaments are often compelling. I’ll be watching.
Herre: Have to admit, not a lot of fizz for the FedEx right now. But we’ve said that before and were then surprised and impressed by the quality of the individual events.
Wei: FedEx what? Once they get to the third leg, I’ll start getting interested.
Hanger: We’ve had all these discussions before, but even with the lack of buzz this year, the next month and a half will still be more interesting than it would have been if the FedEx Cup didn’t exist at all.
Walker: Except that Tiger would be playing. I was disappointed that he didn’t at least try to qualify at the Wyndham next week. If he’s healthy, wouldn’t competitive golf be better for him now than rattling around the mansion with Sean Foley?
Van Sickle: The FedEx Cup is a success only in that it forces the top players to show up and play, which comes at the expense of other events in June and July and, of course, the Fall Series the Tour seems bent on eliminating. Many of the individual events are good, but not because of the FedEx Cup; they’re just good finishes with good fields. I think the Tour would be better off if the FedEx Cup went away in the next TV contract.
RACE FOR PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Dusek: Before the start of the tournament, I wondered if the PGA Championship would provide some clarity with regard to the player of the year race. It seems like there are still several players who could make a claim to the honor. As of right now, who’s your pick for PGA Tour player of the year, and who’s been best in the world this year?
Gorant: Yani Tseng.
Herre: I’ll go with McIlroy as my overall player of the year, on any Tour. His U.S. Open win was the single most impressive performance of the year, plus I think he’s had the biggest overall impact on the game. Now, if Keegan Bradley wins the FedEx Cup…
Godich: Sorry, but as great as McIlroy was at Congressional, I was just as impressed with Schwartzel’s finish at Augusta. One victory does not make a player of the year, no matter how dominating.
Garrity: I still like McIlroy, unless the wrist injury ends his season. Otherwise, a couple of wins, one of them a major, is about as good as we’ve got. And that’s Bradley.
Hack: Like baseball’s Fred Lynn before him, Keegan for rookie of the year and player of the year.
Lipsey: Bradley, a Red Sox fan, would love that.
Reiterman: I still have to back Luke Donald. Three big wins around the world, and he played with a ton of consistency. If we’re only talking PGA Tour, I like Steve Stricker. Two wins, and top-20 finishes in all four majors.
Godich: Keegan Bradley. Think how many majors he would’ve won this year if he would’ve been invited to all four.
Wei: Keegan Bradley. Rookie with two wins, including a major, his first, no less! He’s also just had an all-around solid year, flying under the radar until now.