Every week of the 2010 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.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Time for another year of PGA Tour Confidential. Before we discuss important matters — such as where’s Waldo (my new code name for Tiger) and the SBS — let’s look at the golfing star turn of the young year. Charles Barkley spoofed himself and “The Haney Project” when he hosted “Saturday Night Live.” That sketch fell a little flat after a promising intro, but Barkley did pretty well as host, especially as a clueless contestant in a movie-quote game show.
I also liked the description of Barkley’s swing looking like that of a man who has a heart attack in the middle of his swing but then recovers to hit the ball. Remember the “Haney Project” episodes where Sir Charles was sweating and supposedly working out? He looked bigger than ever on SNL. Guess he didn’t stick with those workouts. Your thoughts on his performance, waist line and golf swing?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Personally, I’m tired of golf being the butt of every joke, or some kind of political liability. On Tuesday the U.S. Solheim Cup team is going to the White House to meet the President, and I’ll be happy to have all those smiling, telegenic, vibrant young women give the game a better image…at least for a day.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Does this mean we are not supposed to comment on the Charles Barkley-Tiger Woods (Waldo) connection and the fact that Sir Charles tried to call him but found that Waldo has a new cell number? I think not commenting is a good idea, as I welcome the opportunity to talk about Barkley’s so-called swing and take a little Waldo break.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: The real Barkley swing is funnier than the SNL skit.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Funny thing is, when the Haney Project ended it was supposed to be a knock on Haney that he couldn’t fix Chuck. Now H.H. wishes that was his biggest problem.
Shipnuck: Yeah, it’s quaint to remember that the most pressing issue surrounding Tiger used to be whether he should seek out another swing coach.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Honestly, I made a point to avoid watching Barkley’s show on the Golf Channel. We all know his swing is comically bad, and that he’s fat. So he worked with Tiger Woods’s coach for a while? He’s still terrible. I don’t get the appeal.
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: You mean he’s still “turrible.”
Van Sickle: Best line in the SNL Haney Project spoof was the intro in which the co-host acknowledged that any viewers out there were probably watching Golf Channel by accident “and for the last time, but thank you.” As for the real show, if nothing else, Barkley and Haney showed what a mental game golf is. Barkley could hit some 300-yard drives on the range, but as soon as he got on the course he was back to his heart-attack swing. He has full-swing yips.
But let’s pursue Alan’s point. Thanks to Tiger and Stanford Financial and the recession, among other things, how bad is golf’s image problem?
Gorant: It feels to me like Tiger has taken the biggest hit. Golf has been smeared a bit, but I think much more of the shots hit Woods.
Shipnuck: President Obama could be such an important popularizing figure, but instead he has to apologize for loving the game. It’s ridiculous. And don’t forget all the Capitol Hill nonsense, when sponsoring a tournament was equated to one big boondoggle. I still think the stigma remains.
Bamberger: I think the image problem golf has is rooted more in the basic fact that it’s a slow, methodical game that requires outsized devotion and that is foreign to the prevailing culture now. Tiger’s straying is about Tiger, not about golf.
Friedman: The New Republic and The New York Times have taken Obama to task for playing too much golf. It’s not only bad symbolically, but keeps him out of the office! It’s knee-jerk thinking like that that gives us liberals a bad name!
Van Sickle: Enough of Sir Charles. What’s the status of Tiger Woods? He has completely dropped out of sight, yet he was still the talk of the week, even after the SBS Championship got underway. Can we get over him and get on with the season?
Shipnuck: Here at Kapalua, Tiger loomed large in his absence. The players are weirded-out not knowing where he is, when he’s coming back, or if he’ll be the same when he does. Tiger’s return, or lack thereof, will go a long way toward defining the season. Until he’s back we’re all going to continue obsessing about him.
Herre: I can see why the other players find TW’s absence unsettling — it’s weird being in the dark and not knowing. Mark Rolfing said on Golf Channel that everything will quickly return to normal when TW returns. I don’t think so.
Friedman: Yes, it’s a be-careful-what-you-wish-for situation. His first tournament back will be a zoo.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Tiger could have taken some notes from Sir Charles about not taking himself so seriously. Charles is having fun. A less uptight Tiger might relish the opportunity to host SNL.
Van Sickle: That could be a smart option once his marriage situation is settled. Not that Tiger would ever consider it.
Gorant: I felt like it helped to have actual golf this week. (Shock, even without Tiger.) It made visible the fact that the game goes on.
Van Sickle: It wasn’t so bad when Tiger was out the first time after knee surgery because we knew he was coming back. This time, he’s embarrassed and disgraced, and we don’t know for sure if or when he’s coming back. There is no light in the Tiger tunnel this time. That’s a big difference.
Gorant: I’ve reached a saturation point personally. Don’t care where he is, if he’s getting divorced, how many women will come out of the woodwork. When he’s back I look forward to watching him play. Until then, don’t bug me with it anymore, especially since everything out there is speculation. Nearly everyone with a column or a blog is throwing darts at the wall. It’s tiresome.
Shipnuck: It will help mitigate Tiger’s absence if some big-time players step up and take a lead role. Ogilvy has the game and the charisma, he just needs to be more consistent. A hot start by Phil would be huge. AK, Camilo, Sergio — if those guys can win early it will be huge for the Tour.
Evans: We need a compelling human interest story. Great golf from those guys isn’t enough to replace Tiger. He’s been more than simply great, and there is no one else in the game with that WOW factor, like you’d get with Tiger or Ali or DiMaggio.
Gorant: It starts with winning, though. The key to getting the public’s attention is being great. Tiger didn’t really have a great human interest story, hard as his father tried to create one. In fact he was painfully bland, and that blandness allowed people to turn him into whatever they wanted. Be great, the rest will follow.
Bamberger: Tiger is the best human interest story that golf’s ever had. The guy who can explain Tiger’s dominance will make you forget all about the Little Red Book. He did his best to make himself look uninteresting, but his scorecards proved otherwise. People keep saying, “Oh, he made all this money in endorsements trading on his reputation as a family man.” It’s almost funny. He made his money, all of it, on his greatness. As an athlete.
Shipnuck: Phil offers a pretty compelling human interest story. When he wins the Masters and his still-recovering wife and mom storm the final green for hugs, it will be a huge crossover moment.
Van Sickle: Alan is right on the money about Phil. Every Masters preview is going to consider the gallant battles fought against cancer by his family, and rightly so. Phil winning a major this year could be front-page stuff due to his back-story.
Van Sickle: One more Tiger question: will he ever speak with media again?
Bamberger: As long as he has his website — and Golf Channel — he really doesn’t need to.
Evans: Athletes don’t need the media the way they used to. Tiger will shun the media unless we’re talking about his scorecard.
Van Sickle: Tiger can return and go on a charm offensive, or he can return and go total Howard-Hughes-meets-Ben-Hogan, with a little Steve Carlton mixed in. I’d advise the former but wouldn’t be the least bit surprised by the latter.
Evans: Ben Hogan is a more likely character study for Tiger than Hughes or Carlton. Hogan was congenitally unhappy and dissatisfied despite surviving a car crash, winning everything and building a successful golf company. But I don’t think Tiger wants to wear Hogan’s grimace. You can’t sell golf clubs with your head down.
Herre: I think the way Woods has handled the scandal to this point is a pretty good indicator of how he intends to handle things when and if he returns.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: He’s just got to be a human being. How hard is that? Be authentic, be humble and lose the false modesty. Easier said than done, but I’m convinced even Tiger can do it. (By the way, the next time anyone from the Woods camp “handles” anything about this scandal will be the first.)
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I can see Tiger going the Vijay Singh route. Only going into an interview room every few months, whether he’s tied for the lead, in the lead or two shots back. I just don’t see him suddenly opening up. I think he plays golf as a bigger mystery than he was before.
Morfit: If Tiger goes on full radio silence, it’s only going to make it much harder for him. It’s the friction between how public his job is and how public he wants it to be that has most pained him (and others) for the last 15 years.
Van Sickle: How about grading the SBS Championship? Did enough players step forward to make us begin to forget about Tiger? We had Lucas Glover going bonkers, then going south; Rory Sabbatini taking it deep in the final round; and Geoff Ogilvy looking (again) like a contender for the best non-Tiger player in the world. A lot to like this week.
Herre: Quality winner, for sure, but I wonder if anyone but us stayed up to watch? Ogilvy made an interesting point in his post-round interview: He knew what he had to do — catch Sabbatini, who had teed off a couple of hours earlier — by the time he reached the ninth hole, and he was pleased that he could make the required birdies to do it. Bloodless play on his part.
Shipnuck: Kapalua is one of my favorite venues on Tour. The endless views and spouting whales and surfers — how good does that look to a snowy mainland? And the golf is always thrilling. This is such a good way to start the year, and especially this year.
Bamberger: And the wide fairways. Gotta love those wide fairways and big greens.
Evans: Well, it was golf. We had a lot of golf in the 1980s and 90s before Tiger came on the scene. We also had a sport that we hardly saw until 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Ogilvy won the way he always does, bland and boring.
Van Sickle: I’m sure someone will assume that this is the win that vaults Geoff Ogilvy to the highest level. He would be great for golf and could really fill that personality void. He’s just never been able win enough.
Morfit: Interesting that Glover and Ogilvy were paired together Sunday, because both of them have battled negative self-talk and the slumped shoulders. It just seems like Ogilvy is still a few steps beyond Glover in overcoming it.
Dusek: I know that Shipnuck talked to Geoff this week, as did I, and he’s still one of the best interviews out there. Thoughtful answers, doesn’t duck questions. Genuinely a good guy, and WOW did he smoke that 5-wood on 14 today to set up a kick-in birdie. Does anyone stay on balance through the swing better than Ogilvy?
Van Sickle: What else did we take out of the SBS as it pertains to 2010? Optimism? Surprises? Disappointment? Another beer from the fridge.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: That golf is back to being like Muzak, but us diehards will still watch, no matter who’s playing.
Hack: Muzak won’t pay the bills. Golf is in trouble.
Bamberger: I don’t think golf is in trouble. Golf’s a great game. If you want to play, play. If you want to watch, watch. If you want to do something else, do something else. It’s not a business, despite the efforts of many. It’s a sport that some of us like. Everything else flows from that.
Hack: Tiger being away from golf is like baseball without the Yankees, football without Manning, Brady and Brees, and basketball without LeBron and Kobe. Tiger took the game to a level it had never before reached, and now he’s a recluse in a black hat. It’s going to take awhile for the game to heal.
Gorant: Sabbatini came from way back with a 63 to grab the lead, O’Hair and Kuchar made runs, Ogilvy made birdies coming in to win. It was compelling even without Tiger.
Bamberger: One of the many problematic things about the Tiger fiasco is that it robbed golf of its off-season, and we come into the new season without the usual freshness. It’s like we’ve been to the doctor and we’re waiting and waiting on the lab report.
Herre: You’re right, Michael. We’re fatigued because of the Woods saga. It might take some time to pump life into the 2010 season.
Van Sickle: I thought the SBS was energizing. Ogilvy’s potential continues to be exciting. Ryan Moore looks like more of a player than ever. Rory could be an excellent sideshow. Lucas Glover and Sean O’Hair had screw-ups that point to their humanity and the fact that they’re not quite where they want to be yet. I felt this SBS was an event that hinted at a lot of potential for 2010.
Dusek: The way Sean O’Hair hooked his approach on 18, maybe he’s forgotten all those confidence-building speeches that Michael Jordan gave him during the Presidents Cup. One thing’s for sure: don’t bet against the Aussies at next season’s SBS. Between Appleby and Ogilvy the Australians have won five of the last seven at Kapalua. Way too early to take much from this event, but we do know that Ogilvy can win with new equipment. (This was his first week as a Titleist player. New driver, irons.)
Van Sickle: So I take it no one has Sabbatini Fever?
Dusek: I think my H1N1 inoculation makes me immune to it.
Shipnuck: Sabbo is great for the game. He’s flashy in every way, a counter-intuitive thinker with a big heart and a big mouth. I wish the guy would contend every week. Seriously.
Lipsey: TV said he had been at Kapalua since Dec. 16. Maybe some mellow Hawaii time juiced him up for the season.
Morfit: Happy to see him do well. I like that he’s not like everyone else. And I love his swing. I loved that Sabo was playing practice rounds with Joe Bagadonuts resort guests. I’m sure most viewers could identify with wanting to get to Maui three weeks early to practice up for the SBS and get on Pineapple Standard Time.
Van Sickle: Any thoughts, pro or con, on another year of Golf Channel broadcasts? Snazzy new and very blue set at the home office. Kelly and Nick are still in the booth. Seems like the channel continues to improve in a lot of areas, but it still has a long ways to go.
Lipsey: The telecasts are nice, but they still seem so different — not as snazzy or sharp — from network telecasts.
Herre: I thought Faldo was pretty chipper on Sunday night. He was engaging, with lots of energy and insight.
Bamberger: I think Golf Channel has to decide who it really wants to be: the ESPN of golf, or the Cooking Channel? Maybe it can do well preaching to the choir, as it did in its early years. When it started, Arnold Palmer, one of its founders, told me, “People will like to watch golf before going to bed, something gentle, not controversial. Like Johnny Carson.” That was maybe 16 years ago. Maybe they had it right the first time.