PGA Tour Confidential: Sony Open

September 21, 2010

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.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Welcome back, full-field golf — we missed you! Waldo may still be MIA, but he doesn’t play the Sony in Hawaii anyhow. What a pleasure, to watch golf balls being putted through the shade of swaying palms. We’ll get to Ryan Palmer’s win in Hawaii, but let’s get a quick Tiger fix here at the top and call it a day on that subject. OK, here we go. Steiny has called you. He’s granted you a one-question interview with Woods, who will be sedated by a heavy dose of truth serum. What are you going to ask him? I’ll steal mine from Jay Leno: Tiger, what were you thinking? Weigh in, please.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Where ya been?

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Tiger, what really happened Thanksgiving night?

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: When did you sleep?

David Dusek, deputy editor, If Elin admitted to being unfaithful with multiple men, would you try to patch things up and save the marriage, or would you file for divorce?

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Tiger, why weren’t you more disciplined, discreet and selective with your choice of women?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Is your swing still too flat, and if so, what have you been working on to improve your driving?

Morfit: I went to Hawaii and all I got was this stupid T-shirt. Can’t they spell your name right? I don’t get it.

Bamberger: Moving to Hawaii, Dean Wilson and John Daly found a loophole that would allow them to play with the old grooves. They used 20-year-old Ping Eye2 irons, which were grandfathered approval from the old Ping-PGA Tour lawsuit. Years ago, Karsten Solheim told me that Ping never made a better iron than those Eye2s. Bob Estes, for one, had a problem with Daly and Wilson, questioning whether they were acting within the spirit of the rules. What’s your take? You think there’s anything wrong with playing those Eye2s?

Morfit: Lots of excitement with the grooves this week, that’s for sure. Joe Ogilvie probably spoke for a few players when he told me he thought the USGA’s rollback was a stupid move. Bob Estes is playing with a Titleist Pro V1 “S” for extra spin, a spinnier ball that’s not yet available to the public, and he thinks most players will adopt that or a similar orb to counteract the USGA’s new mandate.

Shipnuck: They’re playing within the rules, so you can’t blame them. And anyone else can use the same wedges. But it’s a ridiculous loophole.

Bamberger: That’s certainly true, Alan, but you win with those old Pings and guys will talk about it forever, so it’s really a pretty bold move on their part. It says a lot about Wilson and Daly, really.

Morfit: I don’t see how you can argue Daly and Wilson aren’t exploiting a loophole. That said, I’m not sure how much difference it makes to play with old Ping wedges. Daly missed the cut and Wilson was never in contention. I watched Wilson hit a pitch shot from a perfect lie after short-siding himself on 18 on Sunday, and his ball ran out, reacting no differently than it would have if it were hit with V grooves. I don’t think those old Ping grooves are very sharp.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Playing those old Eye2’s was genius! They were controversial then and now they are again. Wonder if Ping will start cranking up the old production line this week.

Morfit: Joe Ogilvie said he’s going to try and find some Ping wedges and see how they feel. I’ll bet he ain’t the only one on Tour to do that

Herre: I still have my Eye2s. Best Christmas present ever from the wife, then the fiancee. I don’t see it as a big deal.

Evans: Neither Dean Wilson nor John Daly is exempt on the tour this season. Softer or sharper, these guys still can’t make cuts. Yet Bob Estes is wrong to judge them. No laws were broken. That’s the point of a loophole.

Bamberger: Well, Estes is interesting, talking about the spirit of the rule. Like when Tiger had that army move that boulder. I have no problem with them using the Eye2s, but you could say it’s outside the spirit of the new rule.

Dusek: Tim Herron still plays an entire set of Eye2s and he hasn’t exactly been knocking down the flag sticks recently. I see this as more of a symbol of the cat and mouse game that will be taking place this season and in seasons to come. Staying within the rules, players will experiment with anything that might give them an edge. The USGA will then react, and so on.

Morfit: Here’s the weird part. After Wilson’s rather inflammatory comments toward Estes in the paper this morning, which Estes read, neither man even raised the subject when they played together today. Estes played terribly, making three double-bogeys on the way to a 78, so I’m wondering if he felt weird about it all. When he made a sort of conciliatory gesture to Wilson in passing after their round, saying he hadn’t meant anything personal, Wilson gave a terse “I know” and went back to talking to me.

Bamberger: Regarding Estes, and Allenby talking about Anthony Kim, and Jesper talking about Tiger: are we entering a new age of candor from Tour players? Is this good?

Morfit: Yeah it’s good. Absolutely. For us.

Herre: Could be. Not having the big dog around seems to be liberating on some level. I doubt that Bob Estes feels the need to pick his words. Now if someone had asked about Tiger playing Eye2s …

Dusek: We’ve been begging for personalities and more colorful characters on the PGA Tour. Part of that is openness with the media and being willing to talk. It’s refreshing.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Certainly fun and amusing. No different from old days, except now the locker-room chatter is spilling out into public. Shows how un-collegial the tour really is, how there are so many conglomerates (i.e., players) battling for pride, ego, dollars, etc. Just like the business world.

Morfit: Reminds me of the old yarn about lamenting your bad round in a Tour locker room: Half the people don’t care, and the other half wish you’d played worse.

Bamberger: Or, every shot makes somebody happy.

Gorant: With the exception of the Parnevik thing, which was a situation unto itself, I think the candor only extends as far as the self interest. As it gets a little more cutthroat out there, defending yourself by going on offense might become more common.

Lipsey: Yes, especially with sponsorships shrinking. Guys need to make news and get noticed to get attention.

Bamberger: Traditionally, an excellent way to get noticed was to say nothing and make putts. I think we’re getting into a new era here for golf, where if you’re outside the norm it won’t be held against you, but the opposite. See Rickie Fowler’s whole look and demeanor.

Dusek: I agree. There are so many guys who are perceived to be interchangeable. Guys like Fowler or Anthony Kim stand out.

Morfit: I was asking the Sony winner, Palmer, what happened in ’09, when he finished 150th on the money list. He said he had shoulder surgery in the 2008 off-season, but he also mentioned that he and his wife, Jennifer, had a baby last August. 'Baby years are almost always hard,' he said. I think that’s true. Seems like Chris Riley and others have seen their games crater right after having kids. (Not that I’ve got anything against having kids.)

Lipsey: Baby years didn’t slow down Tiger; they sped him up. …

Dusek: Does that bode poorly for Geoff Ogilvy? He and his wife Juli are expecting No. 3 in about three weeks.

Gorant: Nah, by the third one you don’t care anymore.

Dusek: Yeah, by No. 3 the pros know how to hire a good nanny.

Morfit: I think you have to be a bit bloodless, like Tiger, to have it not affect your game at all.

Bamberger: Now we’ve now seen one full-field tournament in the new year. What do you take from it? Ernie? Retief? Allenby? What’s the one impression the Sony event leaves on you?

Lipsey: The guys we think are still stars — Ernie, Vijay, Retief, etc. — are no longer stars. They have flashes of brilliance, but nothing more.

Herre: Rick, you can probably add DL3 to that group.

Shipnuck: Stricker can still be shaky down the stretch. At No. 3 in the world, he should owning guys like Ryan Palmer.

Gorant: Interesting post-round interview, where he said he was overthinking on the greens, getting caught up reading the grain, etc. You’d think he’s beyond that by now.

Lipsey: Strange that Stricker still talks like he’s no. 142 in the world, humble and unassuming, like he was in the interview today on TV.

Herre: Waialae looks great on TV. Wish I was there.

Dusek: I got HDTV just in time. This was the first event I’ve watched at home in hi def. I could almost smell the poi.

Lipsey: Nos. 17 and 18 are awesome finishing holes — 17 is a great par 3 with views to boot, and 18 is a super fun (if easy) par 5, which always provides drama. Proves you don’t need Oakmont brutality and lore to have a great Tour event course.

Morfit: I watched a lot of Rickie Fowler and Troy Merritt, who were in the same threesome Thursday and Friday. Fowler was struggling, but boy can he move it off the tee when he wants. I like his homecooked move, and that he’s not obsessed with mechanics. He moves the ball right to left, sometimes too much. Merritt doesn’t play a draw at all, and said he has trouble moving the ball right to left. Seems like a lot less can go wrong that way. And I love his putting stroke. He was low rookie this week, T20 after a two-under 68 on Sunday left him at six under for the tournament. His round could have been better if his 12-footer for eagle hadn’t spun out of the cup on 18. Fellow rookie Graham DeLaet, like Merritt a former Boise State player, also did well, finishing five under (T25).

Evans: Sony had a good field. All those guys will be on leader boards throughout the year. But I don’t know what we can really take away from it. When Phil comes back will see how the cream rises.

Morfit: Allenby made an interesting point in his press conference here: He said he was telling Vijay Singh that the V grooves might actually help the players this year. The reason being, a guy can now hit 6- or 7-iron out of, say, the first or second cut of rough at the U.S. Open, get a 'jumper' and watch the ball roll out all the way to the green. Whereas before, with square grooves, he might have had to hit a 4- or 5-iron out of the same lie because the grooves put so much spin on the ball even out of the rough.

Dusek: Ogilvy told me the same thing. He said that big hitters who spin the ball a lot will now be able to attack back-of-the-green hole positions because the ball won’t spin back and away from the hole. Players will be able to release the ball from the rough and feed it to back pins.

Morfit: That said, I don’t think a lot of players are used to the new grooves yet. I watched wedge after wedge land 15 or 20 feet behind the pin on the 9th hole and just stop. It’s going to take some time to get used to the fact that those balls aren’t going to back up. Unless you’re Davis Love III on 16 today. Somebody check those grooves!

Dusek: Davis spins the ball so much he used to have Titleist intentionally dull his new wedge grooves by about 25% before he started using them. Davis told me that the new groove rules would not affect him.

Evans: This groove thing is not that big a deal for these guys over the long run. Now, if they roll back the ball and bring back persimmon heads…

Bamberger: Waialae is an absolute gem. I don’t know if there’s a Tour course I’d more want to play, except of course Pebble. Others have thoughts? What Tour course would you want to play?

Shipnuck: Riviera or the Stadium.

Bamberger: Riv’s too hard. Good for those guys, but not for a shaky 13. Waialae you can play.

Herre: Played Sawgrass recently — from forward tees — and it was a lot of fun. Sort of a roller-coaster ride of a course.

Lipsey: Forgive the question, but a report on your total at 17, please.

Herre: Routine par. For whatever reason, the 17th didn’t play as scary as it looks on TV.

Evans: For the record, I’ve played the Stadium course probably 50 times, and I hardly ever played the 17th when there was wind, which puts all the teeth into the hole. No wind and it’s like playing darts with a 9-iron.

Dusek: Of the non-major venues, Spyglass Hill is one of my favorites. The first five holes are amazing and the forest holes are under-appreciated.

Morfit: I’d want to play Colonial or Merion because I might be able to reach some of the par-4s in two, and they’re not Pete Dye courses.

Gorant: I’d probably go Stadium course. Maybe Alan will let me walk with him when he talks his way on.

Shipnuck: Hello, media rate!

Bamberger: I can’t put my finger on it, but there was something missing in Golf Channel’s coverage at the Sony. Part of it was the lack of crowds, which detracted from the excitement. But when NBC and CBS do events, the whole thing feels big-league. Speaking of which, NBC announced this week that Brad Faxon will be doing some work for the network. Brad’s been a friend for a long time, so consider the source, but I think he will be an excellent addition. He understands the mind of the pro as well as anybody — at the elite level, at the rookie level, and at the level of the journeyman looking to snatch a title. That’s been missing. What do you all think of the hire?

Dusek: Brad is as nice as the day is long, but if he is made to pander to Johnny Miller like the rest of the Johnettes, then his insightful eyes and experience will be wasted.

Lipsey: You never know until the player gets in front of the camera and starts talking. Lanny was the best announcer in history, in the locker room. He was never himself on TV, though. People sometimes react in strange ways when the camera rolls.

Morfit: I’m not crazy about guys having one leg on Tour and one leg in the broadcast booth. I think it diminishes them both places. To be good on TV, you’ve got to speak about pro X without fear of what might happen the next time you’re paired with pro X.

Bamberger: Very true, Cameron. That was one of Ben Crenshaw’s problems — that and he was too nice.

Herre: Brad could be a good one. He’s smart, thoughtful and well-spoken. We’ll see if he can also be candid, which many other player/analysts have found to be difficult.

Evans: Faxon can’t hurt the lineup, but I’m wondering if he will be another Mike Hulbert, nice enough guy on TV but not a great personality. Bobby Clampett already owns that coveted identity in the golf world.

Bamberger: Who would be the guy you’d want on TV? My vote is Monty.

Shipnuck: Pat Perez.

Herre: I’d vote for Paul Azinger. Still don’t understand why someone hasn’t hired him.

Morfit: Goydos could be all-world.

Lipsey Fluff, or most any caddie

Evans: Fred Couples. In these hard times we need guy who is in a steady chill mode. Serious is boring.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Good luck trying to decipher what the hell Couples is talking about. He would be a trainwreck on tv.

Morfit: Agreed. Plus I’m sure he has no interest whatsoever. He should clean up on the old-guys tour.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Actually, Fred was stunningly good during his brief stint on ABC a few years ago. A real surprise.

Bamberger: Could this be the year of the Champions Tour? Fred Couples? Tom Lehman? Corey Pavin? They all won/contended in majors, played on multiple Ryder Cup teams, are part of the fabric of the modern game. Plus they have Tom Watson. I think there are hours of TV pleasure ahead for me, I really do.

Herre: Wonder how much senior golf Couples plans to play? Plus guys like Couples, Lehman and Pavin are all a little yippy, which of course Michael B. can relate to.

Gorant: The young hotties that make up Freddie’s gallery on the senior tour will be cougars to the rest of the world, but he will drag eyeballs along.

Shipnuck: I smell a new ad campaign: The Cougar Tour!

Morfit: With Tiger missing from the regular Tour, the old guys have a way better chance at elbowing their way into the spotlight. So do the LPGA-ers.

Dusek: Too bad the LPGA season doesn’t start until what …. July?

Morfit: Is that July of this year?

Lipsey: The old guy tour hasn’t been the same since Arnie, Gary, Lee and Jack left, and it’ll never be the same. They had a magical combo that attracted hordes.

Gorant: Rick, that’s such an old guy thing to say. Now tell us how much bread was when you were a kid.

Lipsey: I bet a helluva lot of people haven’t tuned into that tour since those guys quit playing full time.

Evans: Look out for Tommy Armour to take that tour by storm this season. He’s got some status on the big tour, but he’ll play some with the old guys.

Herre: Good call, Farrell. Armour’s just the kind of 50-something who does well on the mulligan tour.

Bamberger: Before we go, a nod to the Hope. Bringing in Yogi is a nice touch, but it won’t mean much to the under-60 crowd. Giving a sponsor’s exemption to Arnold’s grandson is beyond me, no matter how much Arnold did for that event back in the day. As for the so-called celeb list, Joan Rivers wouldn’t go out of her way to interview any of them. This is a tough one. Anybody have a radical suggestion to help the Hope? Bring in Bill Clinton and his posse?

Herre: Cut it back to four rounds and set up the courses for 59s.

Morfit: Get Phil back in the mix by whatever means necessary. Maybe move the tournament near a cool theme park or hire magicians or promise pony rides, so his kids make him go.

Lipsey: A W by Phil or Tiger would cure everything.

Shipnuck: Leave the celebs to Pebble. Do like Vegas and make the field smaller, and focus on golf, not glitz.

Evans: Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan, as co-hosts.

Bamberger: And maybe they could get Tiger to play — if they get his new cell number.

Dusek: I think Pebble Beach should be the only celebrity event on the West Coast Swing. If the celebrities are anything but A-list, they bring down the event for me. Seriously, enough Kenny G, Don Cheadle and Huey Lewis!

Lipsey: Turn the Hope into Phil’s personal hosted even, like Tiger had at the AT&T National. Let Phil and Amy be the hosts, Barclays the sponsor, Tina (Phil’s sister) the tournament director. They could make it into a blowout Tour event

Dusek: All the money goes toward breast cancer research.