Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
PIERCY SCORES ONE FOR JOURNEYMEN
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: I wouldn't classify Robert Garrigus, William McGirt and Scott Piercy as a Murderers' Row, but clearly they've got some game. Piercy now has two PGA Tour wins. Forget the modern ball and equipment: Do you agree with the prevailing wisdom that says today's "journeymen" are better golfers than the middle-of-the-pack guys from 20, 30 and 40 years ago? Or does the lack of a dominant player (Woods, Nicklaus) just make it look like more guys are capable of winning on any given week?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Garrigus and Piercy are two of the top three bombers on Tour, so that sets them apart somewhat. Metal woods teach you to swing hard. Persimmon drivers taught you to hit the sweet spot or lose 20 or 30 yards in distance and send the ball way, way offline. No way to compare, really.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: No, I don't. Guys today play an entirely different game from the one that was played decades ago. Most everyone worked the ball back in the day. Not anymore. The older guys had way more shots than today's players — journeymen on up.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I'm not really in a position to make the comparison, but I will say that I suspect it's about the same. Different skill sets, but if you look through old lists of Tour winners, there are lots of guys you never heard of.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Today's golfers, from journeymen to Tiger Woods, are almost all way more experienced, coached and trained than golfers of yesteryear. I caddied in Tour events for some of the old journeymen — Ernie Gonzalez, Ted Schulz, Terry Snodgrass, to name a few — and those guys didn't have the skill or the "I'm gonna take over the world" attitude that lower level players seem to have today. Heck, Nicklaus didn't get serious about golf until the age at which Tiger Woods was already hitting the New York Times front page.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: I agree with Gary that it's hard to compare eras, especially when you factor equipment into the discussion. I think one of the strongest statistics that supports the case for parity today is the recent list of major champs: in the last 16 majors, we have 16 different winners. Several of those guys were journeymen until they won that first major (Oosthuizen, Yang, Glover, Cink). Come to think of it, some of them are still journeymen. So maybe today's middle-of-the-pack Tour pro is a little more dangerous than he used to be.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I don't know if today's players are better, but they are better prepared, with a team around them to help maximize their talent, and high-level competitive experience going back to the AJGA. No one learns to play on the PGA Tour anymore; they arrive as finished products.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think they play a different game. They play smashmouth golf.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Are today's journeymen better players than ever before?
ELS MISSES CUT, EYES PGA
Dusek: Ernie Els shot 70-72 to miss the cut at the Canadian Open. Expectations this week couldn't have been too high after his win at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, but how long do you expect his hangover to last, and what are your expectations for the Big Easy as we head down the stretch of the 2012 season. Another W?
Van Sickle: Great question. I'd expect Ernie to be rested and ready for the PGA. He'd dearly love to win the career Grand Slam, and he hasn't won a PGA. He's definitely a contender there.
Lipsey: If Ernie gets some rest and recharges, he could win again, for sure. He's not going to be the next Darren "Disappearing Act" Clarke.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: At his age, it's all about the majors with Ernie. And with his ball-striking ability, I fully expect him to be right back in the hunt at the PGA.
Ritter: Agreed. Ernie's motivated and riding the wave. All he has to do is putt, and he should be right there at Kiawah.
Herre: Will be interesting to see which way Els goes. Seems like he has worked hard this year to get his game together. That work paid off at Lytham. Will he keep pushing? I hope so.
Gorant: I think Ernie's going to need another course with the kind of subtle greens they had at Lytham, so he's probably not going to do it at Kiawah. I could see him doing well at Bethpage, though.
Mick Rouse, Golf.com contributor: I wouldn't be shocked by another win, but I don't expect Ernie to catch fire and win more than once more this season. I'd say about four weeks of pitter-pattering until he makes another statement.
Shipnuck: He's certainly going to have a better 12 months than Clarke did after his Open victory. Els has always said his goal is a career Slam. I think he'll come strong for the next 2 to 3 years in an effort to snag those missing majors.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I agree that Ernie will use his Open win as fuel. I don't count his Canadian Open missed cut. I'm more confident that he will be dangerous.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What do you expect from Els at the PGA? What about the rest of the season?
CRITIQUING THE CLOSING STRETCH
Dusek: This week marks the start of a pretty impressive closing stretch for the 2012 season. All eyes will be on Akron, Ohio, this week for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and then it's off to the PGA Championship at Kiawah. That's followed by Greensboro, and before the Ryder Cup at the end of September we've got four rounds of the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Is this the best time of year to be a golf fan?
Van Sickle: Nope. The best time is the mid-June to mid-July stretch — two Opens. Akron isn't all that crucial, the PGA is last major for eight months, and the FedEx Cup is a series of ever-smaller outings. The Ryder Cup is always compelling, at least when it's close, and the best thing about the FedEx Cup is that it has forced top American players to keep their games sharp through September.
Gorant: I think the April to mid-June run might top it, especially in a non-Ryder Cup year.
Van Sickle: Actually, maybe it gets good in May. Quail Hollow and the Players, then the Memorial and the U.S. Open. The John Deere is the ultimate small-market tour stop, and then the British. That's a fun run.
Shipnuck: Yes, for a sustained golf-a-thon, this stretch is tough to beat. But the best time to be a golf fan is the four days in April when the Masters is conducted.
Herre: It's pretty darn good, for sure. It used to be that the season was pretty much over after the PGA. Now there's a Murderers' Row of quality events, capped by a fun team match every year. You have to give the Tour credit for creating the FedEx Cup and working the schedule into this position. Golf will never compete with football in September and October, but true blue fans of the game will be paying attention.
Bamberger: This time of year is not even close. The Masters through the British Open is the real season.
Godich: I don't think so either. The PGA is the least appealing of the majors for me. It's too easy to get in the field, and the event lost much of its charm when it took so many of those spots from the club professionals back in the 1990s. It's hard to get excited about a FedEx playoff that kicks off just when the football season is starting. The Ryder Cup? That's another story. Even the casual golf fan gets pumped about that.
Van Sickle: The FedEx Cup still has two problems. One, there's no race to the FedEx Cup playoffs, no matter what Golf Channel or CBS tries to tell us. Everybody who can play dead gets in. And then there's the points system, which is too complex to follow. Remember Simpson and Donald waiting in the clubhouse last year at East Lake because it appeared they might win? I still think a cumulative score to par system would benefit FedEx Cup weeks, but Jim is right, the Tour has gotten the best guys to tee it up for four straight weeks. Can't argue with that.
Lipsey: The Masters through the British Open is where it's at. The buildup to that is interesting. Everything that happens after the British is not so compelling, though the PGA and the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup are always interesting.
Van Sickle: As a lifelong Midwesterner/frostback, I've always enjoyed the West Coast swing just to see some greenery and sun and ocean and/or desert in between snow-shoveling. It's even better when I cover those in person.
Herre: So true, Gary. I remember watching the Clambake in the dead of winter. Almost ached to be there.
Lipsey: Huh? I figured true cold-blooded Wisconsinites like you and Vans would rather be ice-fishing, or doing something else (cheering at a Packers game?) in ice-fishing conditions?
Ritter: This stretch is better than it's ever been. But for my money, I like March through early April — the run-up to the Masters, capped by that week at Augusta. All the plot lines and possibilities for the season just feel fresh and interesting early in the calendar. But the stretch we've entered now is still a good one, especially because the Ryder Cup in Chicago is looming.
Morfit: I agree with Ritter that the early season is more interesting. Even though there's a lot of golf left, it somehow feels like we've mostly seen 2012.
Lipsey: Yesterday afternoon in the Westchester C.C. clubhouse, golf wasn't even on any of the big screen TVs. They had the Olympics and a baseball game playing.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is this the best time of year to be a golf fan? If not, what stretch of the calendar is your favorite?
Dusek: Firestone Country Club is filled with big trees and long, relatively-straight par 4s and par 5s. As they say, "It's all right there in front of you." That won't be the case at Kiawah, so how good will Firestone be for helping players prepare for the PGA Championship? If it weren't a no-cut, free-money event for the top players, would many of them skip it this year?
Shipnuck: Form is always important when predicting success in a major. Good golf is good golf, regardless of the venue.
Morfit: It's interesting to note that Els had a nice break before his Open win, as did Simpson before he won the U.S. Open. Phil could benefit from such a break.
Lipsey: I'm surprised so many guys are playing this week, not resting from the British and travels. Apparently, big (guaranteed) money is a big draw, even for kajillionaires.
Herre: No, they wouldn't skip. Tour pros don't pass up free money.
Bamberger: Akron is a dull golf course, but hitting shots with a pencil in hand will always tell you the most about where your game is.
Van Sickle: I think a lot of players would consider skipping Akron if only because they're being squeezed to play seven weeks out of nine or 10 from the British Open on. There's the British, Akron, the PGA and four FedEx Cup events in that run. That's more than almost any of the top 20 players in the world would otherwise schedule. That's a lot of golf late in the year.
Godich: I don't think the PGA venue matters. There aren't a lot of courses like Firestone, with so many of those (straight) holes running parallel to each other. The no-cut format is enticing, and most of these guys think they can win. But how many of them will start to think on Saturday afternoon, what am I doing here?
Lipsey: Finchem and other Tour leaders have brilliantly created a system in which guys, as Vans notes, are compelled to play much more than they probably want to play in the chase for points and dollars.
Rouse: I'd rather be out on a course in competition as opposed to deconstructing my mechanics and getting too many thoughts in my head prior to a major.
Van Sickle: Would sitting at home practicing be any better prep for the PGA than playing in Akron? No. Too many world ranking points are being handed out to stay home. Plus there's the wild Akron nightlife — going to Akron Aeros baseball games.
Ritter: Hey, the Aeros are tough this year!
Van Sickle: I hear they have a great package deal for tickets, dogs and drinks!
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is Firestone the best way for a pro to prepare for Kiawah?
CREATION OF 'THE D.J. RULE'?
Dusek: The PGA of America announced last week that all the sandy areas on The Ocean Course at Kiawah are going to be played as "through the green," and players will be able to take practice swings, ground their clubs and remove loose impediments. Will this affect play at the PGA Championship, and would this announcement have been made public so early if Dustin Johnson hadn't made a mistake on the last hole at Whistling Straits?
Herre: The PGA did a good job getting ahead of this story by making this local rule public well in advance. Plus, this rule was in place in the past at the Ocean Course, so the decision is hardly controversial.
Shipnuck: It's an indictment of Pete Dye's design work that we have to clarify what's what on his golf courses. At least there won't be any confusion this year, but it makes me pine for the days when a bunker was just a bunker.
Van Sickle: It's a logical ruling given that many of the sandy areas are outside the ropes and fans will trample through them, like at Whistling Straits. It's called learning from your mistakes. A good call.
Rouse: It's the right call. Good to see that someone is paying attention and will hopefully prevent another situation like DJ's.
Gorant: I hope what it means is that it won't affect play at the PGA. The PGA of America, wisely, wants to avoid the kind of misunderstanding that took away from what was a great event at Whistling Straits. Say it early and say it loud.
Godich: And yet how many players will have to be reminded about how the sandy areas will be played?
Bamberger: It has D.J. written all over it, but it won't make a difference in scoring.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Will the bunker rule affect scores at the PGA? Are you happy to see the PGA put this rule into place before the event starts?
COUPLES WINS SENIOR OPEN
Dusek: Fred Couples won the Senior British Open after sinking a 25-footer (with a belly putter) on the 72nd hole to cap his 67 and win by two. What do senior majors mean to Couples, and now that he's in the field at Muirfield, could you see him pulling a Tom Watson and being a factor in next season's Open Championship?
Lipsey: Fred seemed genuinely juiced after winning. It's fun to see how excited the old-timers still get about golf. They clearly still love it, no matter how much they gripe about bad backs and the yips.
Van Sickle: We've seen Fred contend in the Masters in recent years. If an over-50 player can win a Masters, it's Fred. Not sure he can still pull it off, but I wouldn't count him out. He still hits the center of the clubface as well as anyone. And yes, I think Fred could pull a Watson and squeeze onto a British Open leaderboard next year, or any year.
Herre: Couples could be a factor at the '13 Open, if his back is right. His game doesn't need a lot of maintenance, and Els proved that even a yipper has a chance.
Morfit: Yes, for sure. Couples would've done well at Lytham, where it was all about the ball-striking and not so much the putting.
Bamberger: Fred is one of the best players in the game. He could contend on any Tour venue.
Godich: If Fred's going to win anywhere, it's on a British Open layout with flat, slow greens. The fact that he even made the trip overseas speaks volumes.
Shipnuck: I'm not sure how much they mean to Freddy, but they might nudge just enough Hall of Fame voters to get him in. The Senior U.S. Open and Senior British Open are, in my mind, pretty significant tournaments.
Dusek: Do they nudge any voters in this forum?
Shipnuck: I'll let you know after I fill out my ballot tonight!
Van Sickle: Fred will get in the Hall of Fame. We'll soon be running out of obvious candidates, and the Tour will have to induct someone. (Otherwise they wouldn't be able to have their annual TV induction show.) He's a lock for that reason. So are Love and O'Meara. Just be patient.
Lipsey: I agree, but it kind of devalues the place, no?
Godich: Love has five more Tour victories than Fred and matches him in major victories. O'Meara has one more Tour victory than Fred and twice as many major titles . And who do you think is going into the Hall first?
Van Sickle: Davis Love will be next up, in my opinion.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Could Couples contend at next year's Open? Do you think he's a lock for the Hall of Fame?
OLYMPIC SCHEDULING CONFUSION
Dusek: And finally, watching athletes march through the stadium with flags and smart-phone video cameras reminded me that golf will be an Olympic sport in Rio. The dates for the 2016 Olympics conflict with the time period when the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol would traditionally be played, so re-scheduling is inevitable. But with the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine outside of Minneapolis, no one wants to push things too late on the calendar. If you were in charge, what would you do to the PGA Championship and the FedEx Cup Playoffs in order to make everyone happy but not have a snowy Ryder Cup?
Bamberger: You can play the PGA and the Ryder Cup with sweaters on. No biggie.
Van Sickle: I'd get golf out of the Olympics. (It's too late for that, I know.) I'd play the PGA as scheduled. It's only 60 players, and possibly only 30 of them will be among the top 100 in the world rankings. Room for more club pros!
Shipnuck: Do whatever it takes for all the best players to be in Rio. The Olympics is a huge opportunity to grow the game and has to be given preferential treatment.
Lipsey: Move the 2016 Ryder Cup to someplace down South so they could play it in late October or even November. It's a one-off scheduling thing they need to do to.
Godich: And with Whistling Straits scheduled to get the 2020 Ryder Cup, who's going to be the one to tell Hazeltine, "We'll see you in 2024!"
Ritter: Not sure if it would fix the Olympics issue, but I think the PGA and Wyndham should swap spots on the calendar, which would push the season's final major back one week. As it stands now, the PGA comes up far too quickly after the British.
Dusek: Interesting to note that this issue will only affect Ryder Cups played in the United States. European Ryder Cup years don't match up with Olympic years.
Van Sickle: When you've got a major championship open to the best players in the world, doesn't it make the Olympics, a tournament for some of the best players in the world and about two dozen others, seem irrelevant? As I said, golf isn't needed in the Olympics.
Godich: The Games end on Aug. 21. Push everything back a couple of weeks. The PGA of America will have no problem with this when it calculates how many sweaters it can move through the merchandise tents.
Herre: Not a big deal. Push the PGA back a week, or maybe move the WGC and push the PGA up a week. Everyone in golf is committed to the Olympics, so this will not be an issue.
Dusek: We also don't know when, during the two and a half weeks of the Olympics, the golf competition will be played. If the IOC moves it to the front of the schedule, guys might be able to take part in the opening ceremonies, play, and then come back for the PGA. Remember, it's just two guys per nation, so it won't affect the entire PGA Championship field.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below: How would you alter the schedule to accommodate the Olympics?
Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the PGA Tour was involved in the real estate development of land near the World Golf Hall of Fame. The Tour was not involved in those real estate ventures.