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.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It’s time for PGA Tour Confidential, when our merry band of analysts (some in need of analysis) discuss the week in golf. Lots of interesting issues, but let’s start with Quail Hollow.
Sean O’Hair made up for his Bay Hill failure by playing near flawless golf and getting the win. He outplayed Tiger Woods, who alternately looked like his old self and a man fighting swing issues with his driver. Tiger actually got outplayed by a lot of players Sunday, including the likes of Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner and Lucas Glover.
The course also merits some discussion. If Quail Hollow ever loses its tour sponsorship, the USGA ought to jump in and get this track in the U.S. Open rotation. It’s already tough enough for an Open, even without six-inch rough.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I’m with you, Gary, on endorsing Quail Hollow for a U.S. Open. I caddied there 30 years ago in a Kemper Open, and nothing about it is the same. Shades of Augusta and even the Old Course, with the creeks, and the only penalty that means anything to Tour players: water in play.
Van Sickle: We raved in our Players preview issue about the finishing holes at the Stadium Course. I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather try to par those three than 16, 17 and 18 at Quail Hollow. Imagine watching today’s finish with the pressure of the Open on the line. I’m starting to drool.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: According to Golf Channel, Quail Hollow will get a PGA Championship and Ryder Cup in the next 60 days or they’ll withdraw. The club says it won’t go for an Open because Pinehurst is the USGA’s in-state go to, and they wouldn’t want to mess with that.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: I heard a rumor that the club might not re-up with the PGA Tour in 2014 in hopes of landing a future major or a Ryder Cup.
Gorant: Exactly. If they get the PGA nod, they’ll stop the Tour event. If they don’t get it, they’ll continue as is.
Bamberger: Quail Hollow would do well to keep the Tour event, and get something else, as Congressional does. They don’t need to play hardball like that.
Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Didn’t get the sense they were just playing hardball, that’s just the time frame for when it will or won’t happen.
Van Sickle: Sounds like it’s easier to host a major than to find a sponsor willing to drop big bucks on a tour event. Another bad omen for the tour.
Gorant: Wonder if more courses will go to this kind of setup? Light rough favors the guys who hit it long and have a good short game, almost guaranteeing that Tiger and Phil will always be in contention, and bombers like Bubba Watson will get more shots.
Dusek: Increasing the entertainment value should be reason enough to consider cutting some of the rough down. We love the U.S. Open because it’s so tough, but who wants to watch 20 weeks of survival of the fittest?
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Golf fans and sports fans in general should be thanking their lucky stars that, as major season heats up, Tiger and Phil are showing signs of having their A games. With the economy in the doldrums, the entertaining diversion that is the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world going head-to-head (or at least the tantalizing prospect of it) could not come at a better time.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: It seems like the Tour wants to set up courses that suit Phil and Tiger: layouts where you can hit it all over the place and still score. I’m bored with everyone needing Tiger and Phil to be there at the end for the TV numbers. Just let them play.
Van Sickle: These courses absolutely should go to less rough. The pendulum swung too far the other way. The Florida swing is like U.S. Open Lite these days. What players want that in March? They’d like to go to PGA National and Doral and make some birdies and eagles like they used to. I’ve heard the Players has less rough this week. I hope that’s true.
Bamberger: In recent years, the Tour has done a good job of moving tees, getting holes in tough spots, getting playable rough. It’s a tough balancing act, and I think they do it well. The pro-am pin placements are so simple guys think they should shoot 66 on Thursday, too — and they get whacked.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Kym Hougham, the Quail Hollow tourney director, said the membership agreed to cut the rough, in part, because of the recession and to bring some excitement to the gallery. “We think that, especially in this year’s environment, this needs to be entertaining,” he said. “People are spending hard-earned dollars to come out here, and we want to reward them with birdies and eagles and roars and smiles.”
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Cutting the rough because of the recession? That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Only a country club meeting could produce such a goofy decision.
Van Sickle: I agree with Rick. Again? Yes. Cutting the rough means more mowing, more gasoline and more expense. That’s total club-meeting gibberish.
Dusek: “Come one, come all … pay $50 for a ticket and a chance to see the pros suffer!” Does that sound fun to anyone?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: What the Tour needs is a mix. I love to watch the pros suffer, but it becomes tiresome week after week with unimaginative setups of narrow fairways and deep rough. That definitely has its place, but Quail Hollow offered a different template. With the right track, firm and fast is always entertaining.
Evans: Tiger has demonstrated throughout his career a disdain for tight little golf courses like Westchester Country Club. I don’t know why I’m fretting over this because the Tour is going to do whatever Tiger wants. It’s really sad that we’ve started packaging golf for entertainment value. I can watch Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf on re-runs if I want entertainment.
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated : I don’t know — especially with that TV contract coming up for renewal soon, you want to have some sizzle with your steak in non-major weeks.
Van Sickle: All sports on TV are entertainment. That’s what funds them. And unfortunately, most golf tournaments have turned into TV shows. What we do is entertainment, hard as that may be to believe.
Herre: I recall having a discussion with a college basketball coach years ago, when Pistol Pete was in his prime. I maintained that Maravich was entertaining and good for the sport. The coach maintained that Maravich was selfish and turned the competition into a travesty. I respect the coach, but sports, especially pro sports, are entertainment, otherwise they wouldn’t sell tickets.
Shipnuck: Golf’s appeal to many fans, including me, is that it is not loud and crass like most pro sports. It’s OK to counter-program. Otherwise, are we going to wind up with cheerleaders behind the 18th green in slinky outfits (by Ashworth, of course)?
Gorant: Tom Verducci had a great line in one of his stories last year: The World Series used to be a sports event that was televised; now it’s a television event that involves sports.
Dusek: The Super Bowl is the same thing. A corporate outing where a football game breaks out.
Morfit: I don’t know what’s going on with his game, but Tiger’s lighthearted demeanor after the round was fun to watch. He was laughing about something with his playing partner George McNeill as he left the 18th green, laughed when CBS’s David Feherty jokingly called him a loser on-air, and was even shown playing with O’Hair’s kid in the parking lot. This is not the same guy who had steam coming out of his ears at Augusta. I guess that’s the difference between a major and a non-major. Either that or someone told Woods it doesn’t matter — his legend is pretty secure no matter what happens from here on out. I like lighthearted Tiger better.
Herre: You could almost hear the fear in Nantz’s voice — oohhh, Feherty called Tiger a loser three times and lived to tell about it.
Gorant: The most amazing thing was that Feherty cut him off in the post-round. Tiger wanted to keep chatting and DF threw it back to 18.
Bamberger: What did you think of CBS down the stretch? I loved Feherty’s you-loser-Tiger interview and that weird nostril shot of Kostis and O’Hair from the on-the-ground camera during the victory interview. And the strangeness of the turd-removal before Johnson holed-out. Kids calling Tiger’s name when O’Hair made his way to 18 after he had won. O’Hair continuing to putt after he had won. Just a weird 10 minutes.
Hack: Twas wacky on the grounds this week at Quail. Tiger shoots 65 on Thursday, doesn’t break 70 the rest of the week, misses fairways by 50 yards … and still finishes fourth. Tiger can finish Top 10 blindfolded.
Friedman: Tiger is losing a lot of strokes at the ends of rounds. A function of all those months off?
Hack: Tiger admitted his short game is well ahead of his long game at this point. As we’ll read in SI this week — and as Dusek unearthed on GOLF.com — he’s been tinkering with driver shafts. He had some off-the-planet misses this week. Not the kind of uncertainty you want to bring to Pete Dye’s digs.
Van Sickle: Hard to be critical of anybody not scoring well at Quail. Not a lot of birdie holes out there. I’d agree with Tiger’s assessment — actually Feherty’s — his driver and his putter killed him, everything else was solid. I’d guess his pleasant demeanor at the end was because he never made a serious run on the back nine and was never really in it.
Herre: Tiger remains a mystery, although I’m inclined to cut him some slack — the guy didn’t do a thing on Sunday and still finished fourth. Interesting that he’s tinkering with his driver shafts. Kind of a Phil thing to do.
Lipsey: In post-round interviews on Sundays, Tiger always, and only, talks about himself, how he didn’t have it, couldn’t make a putt, etc. He never just congratulates the winner. We saw this today, in his chat with Feherty, and at the Masters, when Tiger analyzed his Sunday back-nine breakdowns. (Mickelson, on the other hand, fell apart but had the grace and good spirit to congratulate Cabrera.)
Evans: Tiger is a bad loser. Why couldn’t he congratulate O’Hair and the other players who managed to put together good rounds? There doesn’t seem to be a gracious bone in his body.
Bamberger: Farrell nails it: Tiger’s a bad loser. That’s why he’s Tiger. He hates it more than anybody else. He likes O’Hair, I think. When it was Phil and O’Hair down the stretch at the Players a couple years ago, Tiger was rooting like crazy for the kid. Or does that say more about his take on Phil?
Shipnuck: I think Tiger is usually a classy loser. He just runs very hot right after he steps off the course, and he’s still sizzling during those TV interviews. Once he cools down a bit he says all the right things. Whether or not he means them, that’s another story.
Lipsey: I’d take a graceful loser like Phil any day over a snarly winner like Tiger. For me, Tiger’s rude interviews reveal more about him than his great shots. If my kid became a Tour pro, I’d much prefer him to be a graceful loser than a rude winner.
Friedman: Maybe Tigers favorite golfers are himself and whoever can beat Phil.
Dusek: And what’s so bad about that? We love rivalries, but when we suspect bad blood, members of the media knock guys for not bending over backward to congratulate the guys they are trying to beat.
Gorant: I like my Tigers snarly. Adds something (as Dusek points out) and shows how much he wants it.
Hack: I’ve got to think that if a television interviewer had asked Tiger about Sean, Tiger would have talked about Sean. Later, Tiger was asked about Sean, and he talked about how much he had overcome and that they were friends and constant text-message pals. Then he left us and walked over and embraced Sean in front of the masses. Seems pretty congratulatory to me.
Friedman: Yup, agree. TV wants sound bites, so we get Tiger on Tiger. It’s true with most of the other post-round interviews too.
Bamberger: What he did at Bay Hill was amazing, but I continue to think that ordinary Tour events will be increasingly less important to Tiger. Of course he wants to win every time out, but the majors have never meant more to him than they do now. That all-out snarl at Augusta said to me, Damn, I can’t tie Jack this year.
Evans: I think Tiger needs to be swinging that driver at 80 percent for control. He’s 33, and the competition gets better every year.
Friedman: Well, he seems to hit the 3-wood straight and long enough. Why not just leave the driver in the bag altogether?
Herre: Too much loss of face if he did that, Dick.
Dusek: Nowadays, 280 in the fairway ain’t good enough to win.
Shipnuck: Tiger’s driver is becoming like Shaq’s free throws. It keeps him humble and makes him work on something. It also shows his mortality to the competition. If Tiger was driving it straight, every week would be a rout. I hope he keeps fighting his swing because 1) his recoveries are often the most thrilling shots of any tournament week, and 2) it adds some suspense to the buildup. If he hits it crooked like this there’s no way he can win at Bethpage. Will he figure it out that week? Stay tuned!
Van Sickle: It wasn’t all bad for Tiger. His finish moved him up to 10th in the FedEx Cup standings, according to CBS. Woo-hoo!
Van Sickle: What does Tiger’s showing and Phil’s late-but-meaningless rally portend for the Players? Both guys have won this event, but their track record in other years isn’t so good there. Who do you like to win next week now, and why? I’m guessing Hack is sticking with his man, O’Hair.
Dusek: If he could just make a couple more putts, I would go with the Anonymous Pros pick, Jim Furyk. I’ll go with Alan’s main man, Geoff Ogilvy.
Van Sickle: Little noticed finisher at Quail: Boo Weekley went low in the last round and got near the top 10. He might be rounding into form just in time for the Stadium Course this week. Or maybe Bethpage. Just thought I’d provide a Boo alert.
Bamberger: Boo loves another Pete Dye: Harbour Town. A great pick for the Players. Boo in the house!
Evans: I’m picking O’Hair to win the Players. Anybody who putts that bad and wins is hitting the ball better than anybody in the world.
Shipnuck: Furyk hasn’t made a putt in about two years. He can’t afford any slippage in his game, which explains why he’s been a non-factor for a good long while.
Van Sickle: I’m getting concerned about Furyk. He’s too cool not to keep contending in the majors. I’d miss him.
Shipnuck: Furyk? Cool? He’s as cool as Urkel! Nice player, but c’mon!
Dusek: Has Furyk made a big-time putt since he missed on 18 at Winged Foot on Sunday? The more I think about that tournament, the more I believe it crushed more people than simply Mickelson. Anyone heard from Monty lately?
Van Sickle: Look for Monty to get into the Hall of Fame next year. I kid you not.
Friedman: And speaking of guys who putt bad but hit it good: Sergio, in a repeat!
Bamberger: I like Sergio and a journeyman-to-be-named later in a playoff. J-man wins.
Shipnuck: Phil at the Players all the way, baby. He’s getting back to circa 2004, where he looks like he expects to win when he turns up on Thursday. He just has to avoid any train wrecks, and he’ll win by 2 or 3.
Herre: Phil’s gotta lose that white lasso he wore around his waist on Saturday. Not a good look. He doesn’t have the bod to get cut in half like that.
Gorant: Geoff Shackelford’s been tracking the trend of Phil’s scores when he wears the white belt. He’s averaging something like two or three over when he puts it on.
Evans: The white belt works for me on Phil. Everything else is a gimmick. Why shouldn’t he have a piece of this new trend?
Shipnuck: Because he’s got, like, a 42-inch waist. Like a lot of fashion trends, it’s for skinny folks only.
Evans: Maybe they don’t have pimps in Salinas, Alan, but I know a lot of chubby hustlers down Harlem way who wear white belts in the summer with alligator shoes.
Van Sickle: Paul Goydos changed my mind about the Players playoff starting at 17. He pointed out that it’s an equalizer and he likes it, even though he lost. I’m now in favor of the playoff starting at 17. Its a great way to build the Players’ identity and brand. As for ruining a serious competition, hey, it’s a non-major golf tournament.
Herre: It’s that entertainment thing again. I like the playoff at 17.
Friedman: Yeah, sudden splash, baby! It’s like hockey — blink and you miss it.
Evans: The Players playoff should be the Par-5 16th. Give a guy a chance to hit a shot. The 17th is a gimmick. Not taking away anything from Alice Dye, a real sweet woman who encouraged her husband, Pete, to build the island green, but I hate it as a major-level hole.