PGA Tour Confidential: Is Phil playing fair? When will Tiger return? How’s Golf Channel doing? What will happen by 2020?

September 21, 2010

To start the new decade, we reconvened a panel of SI golf experts — senior writers Michael Bamberger, Damon Hack, Alan Shipnuck and Gary Van Sickle, plus contributing writer John Garrity and deputy editor David Dusek — and a PGA Tour pro (who participated on the condition of anonymity) to answer those and other questions

Shake Your Grooves Thing

Van Sickle: First it was John Daly and Dean Wilson in Hawaii resurrecting square-grooved Ping Eye2 clubs; then it was Phil Mickelson at Torrey Pines. The clubs are grandfathered in as legal because of court settlements, but is using them against the spirit of the rules?

Shipnuck: Somewhere, Karsten Solheim is smiling. Twenty years after the Eye2 issue was sorted out, he’s once again haunting the USGA.

Anonymous Pro: Hey, the guys from Ping did a study and those old Ping Eye2s don’t spin the ball any more than the new legal grooves. They’re square grooves, but they’re little slits of grooves, not nearly as wide as on the modern clubs. So Phil and these guys think they have some great find, but they don’t.

Dusek: The spirit of the rule is to reduce spin, especially on shots from the rough. Using the grandfathered Ping wedges—in Phil’s case, a 60-degree bent to 64 degrees—definitely goes against that. If the clubs are legal for competition, I don’t have a huge problem with players’ using them. I bet this infuriates the USGA.

Garrity: All the pros should follow the spirit of the rules, and I’m surprised that Phil doesn’t agree. This could tarnish his squeaky-clean image and undercut his immense popularity just when he’s been handed the keys to the PGA Tour penthouse, so to speak. What happened? Did he hire Mark Steinberg as his agent?

Hack: Time to buy stock in Ping! Seriously, this is only the beginning. Once a player of Phil’s caliber grabs an Eye2, it will encourage the rest of the guys to do the same, no? You know, the “I’ll have what he’s having” phenomenon.

Shipnuck: The irony is that Ping can’t really benefit in the marketplace, as it can’t manufacture more of these wedges. But this is a real boon for eBay.

Anonymous Pro: All the players I’ve talked to feel that Phil and Daly and the other guys are purposely skirting the rules, cheating through a loophole, and it’s wrong. If that club is illegal to produce today according to the USGA, then it shouldn’t be allowed. The Tour is considering taking action on this by issuing a local rule against it.

Van Sickle: The knee-jerk reaction is that using square grooves when square grooves are banned is dirty pool. Upon further review, don’t take it out on Mickelson. Blame the USGA and the PGA Tour for agreeing to this obvious inequity and that ill-advised settlement because they didn’t have the guts to fight Karsten’s lawsuit to a conclusion some 20 years ago.

Bamberger: It must kill Phil that Daly got to this before he did—but you can be sure that Phil thought of it first. You know that because in his spare time Phil figured out how to make the moon habitable. Using the old Pings does violate the spirit of the rule, and the fact that Phil doesn’t care tells you that he’s even more of an iconoclast than we knew. For some reason it seemed desperate when Daly did it, but when Phil did it—hypocrisy alert!—suddenly it seemed retro and cool and outlawish.

Garrity: I would just add that, as a rule, it’s a mistake to follow John Daly’s example in practically anything.

The Wait of The World

Van Sickle: Never mind where he’s been or what he’s done—might Tiger Woods actually miss the Masters?

Garrity: I think he will, and I think he should. For p.r. purposes, if nothing else, Tiger needs to show he has served some kind of penance. I’d be very surprised, though, if he let Pebble Beach and St. Andrews go by. He has to miss a major to indicate that this is a big deal. If he simply misses some events he doesn’t give a damn about anyway, it doesn’t show anything.

Van Sickle: If he’s getting divorced, why does he need penance?

Garrity: Fine, if he’s divorced and announces, I’m a single man and on the make again. But if he’s going to rebuild his image with corporate America, he needs to do some penance.

Anonymous Pro: I don’t think he’s going to miss the Masters. I think something happened to him where he doesn’t want to be seen publicly, whether it’s due to surgery or missing some teeth. There was a reason beyond simple embarrassment that he disappeared.

Dusek: As long as Tiger is in limbo, not knowing whether he’s still married, he can’t come back. If he and Elin try to make their marriage work, it’s not all going to be hunky-dory by early April. If she walks away, that frees him up, and then he may play the Masters.

Anonymous Pro: Like Jack Nicklaus said, “You only have so many majors left.” Tiger has had great success at three of this year’s major sites. My gut feeling is that he’ll surface in Florida in March. If he doesn’t, then the Masters is 50-50 at best.

Hack: I think he might come back for the Masters, a tournament that isn’t going to have tabloids and on the credential list. Golf has been the one constant in his life, bridging his TV-star toddler years, his thick-glasses teenage years and his amateur and professional iconic years. He will come back to its familiar embrace.

Bamberger: People ask, Why is he in hiding, why is he not playing? I think it’s because he really is concerned about his kids.

Shipnuck: The stories out of Mississippi would explain Tiger’s vanishing act. If he’s willing to open up about such deep problems, you have to assume that he’s sincere about trying to heal himself and his marriage. So I think he may be out of action longer than we thought. I originally predicted a return for the U.S. Open, but now it could easily be 2011.

Daly Show Redux

Van Sickle: John Daly is surprisingly relevant. He pulled out some old Ping wedges in Hawaii, complained when the Hope didn’t give him a sponsor’s exemption, has another reality show on Golf Channel and said he was quitting golf after he missed the cut at Torrey Pines.

Shipnuck: Every beat-down pro thinks about quitting at some point. Daly is crazy enough to do it.

Bamberger: Daly will play another PGA Tour event before Tiger does. He’s not quitting golf. He’s going to wake up and realize, What else can I possibly do? And if he is quitting, he should be cool about it and not tell anyone he’s quitting—like Ben Hogan did.

Garrity: I won’t hold Daly to his postround comments. He’s never been particularly rational after a bad performance. That aside, he can’t quit golf. Not unless he’s brushed up on his singer-songwriter skills. He is addicted to attention, can’t stand to be alone, and without celebrity and the money that comes with it, he won’t be able to attract babes and support his family … uh, families.

Van Sickle: If Daly is going to quit wasting all the sponsor’s exemptions he gets, I don’t have a problem with him retiring.

Anonymous Pro: How many years has John been living off exemptions? What’s he done for any of these tournaments in the last five years? He withdraws from half of them. He may still be a draw at some level, but I think it’s like a car race. People go out there to see John crash. John’s had his chances. He shouldn’t expect any more handouts.

Hack: He has no right to bitch about exemptions. He’s gotten enough for 10 golfers. He needs to earn his way back.

Dusek: Based on his comments, Daly sounds like he has a sense of entitlement— I’m John Daly, I should get sponsor’s exemptions. That shouldn’t be the case.

Bamberger: No matter what you think about Daly, to me he is the single greatest golf talent I ever saw. He won two majors on two good courses. Really, it was tragic the amount of talent he let go to waste.

Shipnuck: At this point, a Daly show just feels like exploitation. We all know he has demons. Why does Golf Channel have to bring this into our living room again?

Garrity: I’m really uncomfortable with his new show. It’s enabling his same old destructive behavior. Besides, his goodbye came in front of Golf Channel cameras so I suspect he was performing. Threatening to quit the game at the very start of your new reality series is a calculated act, not a legitimate cry for help.

English Channel

Van Sickle: More PGA Tour events keep falling onto Golf Channel. How is the network doing?

Garrity: I’ve heard a lot of criticism, but that’s the nature of the beast. I think they’ve been improving all along. The style of coverage seems to be nonstop gab, but I’ve always liked that. That’s a more European approach, with a couple of voices prevailing, as opposed to the American network approach of nine-second sound bites from 12 guys out on the course. That’s too choppy. I prefer the longer, slower, gabbier Golf Channel approach.

Van Sickle: They seem to think viewers really, really care about whether a putt is into the grain or breaks a half inch instead of an inch, and where the player will be in the FedEx Cup standings should he make the putt or miss it. I don’t.

Anonymous Pro: I’m more critical than most, but Golf Channel is getting worse. They’re trying so hard to generate interest in the FedEx Cup and how important this year is because, without Tiger, they know their ratings will stink. On Thursday or Friday, Golf Channel is unwatchable. If I do watch, I turn off the sound.

Bamberger: I agree. There’s too much hyperventilating. If you’re watching golf on Thursday, you’re already a believer. Talk to us like we’re adults, even if we’re not.

Garrity: I’m very conscious of the anchors’ pushing the drama. It’s a natural reaction to Tiger’s absence, but they seem to be forcing it this year.

Dusek: You can’t manufacture drama on Thursday or Friday.

Bamberger: Just like you can’t make Sunday at Honolulu feel like Sunday at Doral, which isn’t at all like Sunday at the U.S. Open.

Garrity: I like Nick Faldo. He babbles, and he’s not afraid to be silly. He actually responds to what is happening on the screen.

Van Sickle: I loved that moment in Hawaii when they were showing idyllic shots of surfers and sailboats and crashing waves and then switched over to tournament coverage, and Faldo blurted, “Oh, no—not back to the golf!” That was brilliant and funny. Overall, I’m a little tired of him because he’s on the air so much—CBS and Golf Channel—and spread too thin. He’s better when he has someone pushing him, like Paul Azinger did at ABC.

Anonymous Pro: Nick was at his best with Azinger. He had to be sharp because he knew Azinger would call him on stuff. Nick doesn’t have anyone doing that at Golf Channel. Nick is a lot better on CBS because he has to step up his game to compete with the talking heads—Peter Kostis, Gary McCord, David Feherty, Peter Oosterhuis and the rest. Those guys have game. Brandel Chamblee is by far the best talent at Golf Channel, and they don’t use him enough at tournaments. Frank Nobilo is really golf-smart too. Either one of those guys sitting next to Nick or filling in for him would be a welcome improvement.

2020 Vision

Van Sickle: Finish this sentence: Ten years from now….

Bamberger: Tiger will be 44 and stuck on 17.

Dusek: Women or major championships?

Bamberger: Ouch! Majors. Also, U.S. Open courses will be 8,000 yards long and take 6 hours, 15 minutes to play.

Garrity: Golf Magazine’s list of the Top 100 Courses will become the Top 100 Course Renovations.

Hack: Tiger will have 20 pro majors and been retired for four years.

Shipnuck: I agree. With 20 majors, Tiger has cut back his schedule; Rory McIlroy is Number 1 in the World Ranking; and Alexis Thompson is the best player on the LPGA.

Garrity: Not Michelle Wie?

Dusek: We’ll read that the groove rule change 10 years ago wasn’t a big deal, and McIlroy will own some majors.

Van Sickle: The PGA Tour schedule will feature an American swing, kind of like the West Coast swing now—an eight- or 10-week stretch of tournaments in the U.S.—before heading to Asia for the rest of the season.

Bamberger: The Chinese will be to men’s golf what the Koreans are to women’s golf in 2010.

Van Sickle: Y.E. Yang will be a pretty good PGA Tour commissioner.

Anonymous Pro: The major TV networks have phased out their golf coverage; the PGA Tour has shrunk to 35 events; and Tiger needed the whole first half of the decade to finally pass Jack’s record, but he didn’t get past 20 like we once thought he would.

For more insight and analysis from SI Golf Group writers, go to