PGA Tour Confidential: St. Jude Classic

PGA Tour Confidential: St. Jude Classic

Phil Mickelson finished T59 at the St. Jude Classic.
Michael Cohen/Getty Images

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.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I knew U.S. Open week had arrived when I saw Phil Mickelson on a Rolex billboard on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. New York, it seems, is ready to host the national championship. It was quite a warm-up week: Phil Mickelson and John Daly returned to the PGA Tour, Brian Gay continued his renaissance, and we learned that the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens will be played, back-to-back, at famed Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014. What a great coup for a golf-crazed region and a neat thing for golf. What’s everybody think of the idea? It’s going to be brutal for the greenskeepers, I know that much.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: The 2014 men’s and women’s U.S. Opens on the same course in back-to-back weeks? Seems like only a matter of time before Michelle Wie announces she intends to play in both.

Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: The Pinehurst Opens make sense for the USGA — it’ll save millions — but there will be complaints about course conditions the second week, especially if they have weather.

Hack: I know it’s the 21st century and all, but whatever happened to ladies first? I’m sure Lorena, Paula and company won’t love hitting out of Sergio Garcia’s divots.

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Will this be too much of a good thing? I think it might. Kind of like the Super Bowl being played in Glendale the week after the Fiesta Bowl.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Women get short shrift, as usual. Publicly, LPGA players will probably express delight at the Pinehurst double, but inside I bet they’re seething. You think it will be anything but a graveyard, all cleared out, that second week? Will the women enjoy hitting out of the men’s divots? If you’ve ever seen a course the week after a Tour event, you’d know why nobody would want to play that second week.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Unless the USGA can roll the greens with some technology yet to be invented, I don’t see how the USGA can maintain the course.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: People at the USGA believe the course will hold up fine. It will get far less play during these two weeks than it normally does. They also realize there will be some empty seats, but they didn’t want the place to look like a construction site by taking down grandstands, so they’re willing to live with it. And think about this: What if Tiger wins the Open at two-under, then the following week Wie wins at six-under. Sure it will be shorter and softer, but for the women to step out onto the same course and in some measurable way play it better will earn them a lot of credibility. In many ways it’s a huge opportunity for them.

David Dusek, deputy editor, For me, Pinehurst No. 2 is a holy ground of golf, a tiny click below St. Andrews, Pebble Beach and a few other courses. I think the concept will be a hit but agree that the USGA could be rolling the dice. Does the public want to watch pros play those greens for two straight weeks? On the positive side, knowing the women will be playing the course the following week should encourage the USGA to avoid going over the top with the guys.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I’m surprised by all the negativity surrounding the Women’s Open at Pinehurst. Yes, the other Open will get more attention, as it always does, but I’m guessing a lot of media folks will stick around for week two who otherwise wouldn’t be there. As for divots and bumpy greens, don’t forget that Pinehurst is public and therefore used to the abuse. Bottom line is that playing a big-time, brand-name venue is huge for the women and gives their Open a big dose of credibility and should attract more casual golf fans to the telecast.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The USGA can solve any agronomy problem with money and water. I love the idea. I’m writing from the McDonald’s LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock, Md. Women’s golf needs all the help it can get right now, and if this inspired idea happens, it will help. Better yet would be to use the two courses at Winged Foot. One’s better than the other, but you’ll get a lot of argument as to which one.

Dusek: The East is better, but the West handles crowds more easily.

Hack: It’ll only be successful if the course remains playable and the fans stay in town.
If all of a sudden you have empty grandstands and a pockmarked golf course, it could be a huge disappointment. Seems to me you don’t play the main event before the undercard, but that’s what this is. No way the men would play a course after the women, though. Not a chance.

Lipsey: If Tiger wins the U.S. Open, what’s the best guess on when he ties and then breaks Jack’s 18-major record?

Hack: Next year: U.S. Open at Pebble (tie) and British Open at St. Andrews (break).

Hack: Speaking of Tiger, both he and Mickelson took divots out of the Black last week. Phil also had an emotional press conference in Memphis before struggling in his return. How much will the New York fans carry him at the Black? I’ve got to think his mind and body are really tired right now with the concern for his wife’s health. What does everybody expect from Phil this week?

Bamberger: I think Memphis gives us no tea leaves to read for his Bethpage chances. I think he’ll be there at crunch time. Asking for a win is downright greedy, plus he’d need a lower score than Tiger to do it. I find it hard to see that. He already beat Tiger once this year, head-to-head, on Sunday at Augusta.

Lipsey: If Phil wins at Bethpage, he’s my early pick for Sportsman of the Year. The W would be as emotional and impactful a victory as golf (sports too?) has ever seen.

Herre: I’ll second that.

Hack: I think Roger Federer might give Phil a run for his money, but I think Phil would have to get consideration if he won.

Friedman: Phil will struggle but make the cut and play indifferently on the weekend.

Morfit: I’m on record as saying he’ll win, based on the whole karma/good vibes/he’s-due kind of thing. I think it was hard for him to keep his focus for four straight days in Memphis, because it’s, um, Memphis, and he hasn’t been playing. But I think he’ll be able to lock it in at Bethpage.

Hack: At the U.S. Open, you need everything in order, including your mind and your emotions. At an Open — and at Bethpage specifically — things can get away from you quickly.

Lipsey: Remember Phil in ’99? His mind was clearly elsewhere, on that baby beeper.

Evans: I think Phil will be Phil. It’s always a crapshoot with him. I don’t think he would be playing if he couldn’t handle the extra burden of Amy’s cancer. They have expert medical care, and Phil is doing what all good breadwinners do — going to work through good times and bad.

Lipsey: Crazy as it sounds, would Amy be there on Sunday if he’s in contention?

Hack: Phil said in Memphis the plan was for her to stay home. That doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent, though.

Down in Memphis this weekend, Shipnuck’s buddy Brian Gay thrashed another field. He won the St. Jude Classic by five shots and played his way into the U.S. Open. Can he win at Bethpage, or is that adult swim (TW, Phil, Vijay, Ernie, Angel) only?

Evans: Gay is not long enough to win at Bethpage. Of course he’ll hit all the fairways, but I don’t think he can hit it close enough with his approaches to offset the certain bogeys with occasional birdies.

Herre: Bethpage is gonna be a long slog. Our spring has been good for one thing only: Growing grass. And there are more thunderstorms in the forecast. I don’t think Gay’s game is dynamic enough for a course like the Black.

Dusek: Gay averages only about 280 off the tee, so he’ll have no margin for error on the greens. Short hitters will have to be lights out with the flat stick. Paul Casey hit 5-wood into the 525-yard, par-4 7th on Tuesday when the course was wet. Running dry, he told me it’s a 3- or 4-iron. Enough said.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Yet Jeff Maggert, a short hitter, was in the mix until late Sunday last time at Bethpage. It’s counterintuitive, but short hitters stay on Tour because they’re pretty good with their hybrids, long irons and fairway woods. And they’ve damn sure got more practice hitting them into greens than Phil, Paul Casey and John Daly. Well, they’ve got more practice at everything than Daly, but you get the point.

Hack: OK, time to fire off the rest of our U.S. Open thoughts. Frankly, David Duval has my attention. He played his way into Bethpage. Can the former No. 1 be relevant again? I’m starting to believe he can.

Van Sickle: It’ll be interesting to see who (if anyone) gets written about the first three days other than Tiger or Phil. They’re going to dominate the buildup. Not even Duval is going to get a lot of publicity — not that he wants it.

Herre: Damon, I’ll give you 10-1 on DD.

Lipsey: All it takes is one week, and every golfer of Duval’s ability has one week in him.

Van Sickle: It’s tough to write anyone off, even Duval, in a sport where your performance level can change so dramatically. Like Ian Baker-Finch, Sergio, Ralph Guldahl. You can get a lot better or a lot worse. There are fewer examples in other sports. In baseball, a .280 hitter is a .280 hitter, and that usually doesn’t change, barring the occasional Super Joe Charboneau and Big Papi. The knee-jerk reaction is to say that Duval is finished. But he’s still working at it, which tells me that he still wants something out of golf, and he has a chance to get it.

Dusek: Can Duval play four solid rounds in a major right now? I don’t see it. One or two, yes, but four? No.

Hack: There was a time when David Duval was the only guy who could look Tiger in the eye — and Tiger knew it, too. That ship might have sailed, but I’d love to see Duval win again. Still, Bethpage probably isn’t the venue.

Herre: I don’t think Tiger winning the Open is a foregone conclusion, but I wouldn’t pick Ian Poulter, either. Shockingly, Peter Kostis is picking Paul Casey. And we’d all like to see Phil have a big week. Any other contenders?

Lipsey: Stricker. On paper, he’s as good and red hot as anybody (save TW) heading into this week.

Evans: Stephen Ames or Ben Curtis.

Dusek: Casey is playing with Ogilvy. Being close friends, they are going feed off each other’s game. If Ogilvy avoids train wrecks, he could win his second Open on a Tillinghast course in the New York area.

Friedman: I’m with Kostis! Mighty Casey has three wins (two in Europe) this year and a batch of other top finishes. I’ll throw out his weak showing at the Memorial and think he’ll bounce back from that.

Shipnuck: I like Casey and Ogilvy, too, but beware of Vijay — he had a great May, with top-10s at the Players and Colonial and a ton of birdies at the Nelson. Bethpage favors the ball-bashers, not those wimpy putting wizards. Sounds like the Big Fijian, no?

Lipsey: Too long a track for Zach?

Hack: You’d think, but then so was Augusta National, right?

Dusek: Remember, there are only two par 5s for the pros at Bethpage. Zach and shorter hitters will be hitting longer clubs into a lot of greens running at 14 on the Stimpmeter. That’s going to wear those guys out.

Lipsey: Yesterday at Westchester, people were trying, unsuccessfully, to give away Open tickets. I wonder if it’ll be jam-packed this week, or lighter than usual for an Open?

Herre: Thursday through Sunday rounds finally sold out today, and practice-round tickets are still available. I don’t see a repeat of 2002.

Hack: New Math: Bad economy + HD televisions = Stay at home and watch NBC.

Friedman: Add pricey tickets to that sum. This is the New Math for all sports. Your flat screen is your new luxury box.

Hack: Really sad story this week about Ken Green, whose brother and girlfriend died in a car accident last week. Green was injured and on Monday will have his right leg amputated below the knee. He was quite a character
back in the day, once sneaking his friends into the Masters in his trunk.
He led the 1986 Masters after one round, won five tourneys and made
the ’89 Ryder Cup team.

Bamberger: I first wrote about Kenny for SI 20 years ago, when he had a beautiful, smart, feisty wife and one of the best wedge games I’d ever seen. A writer’s dream, and the stuff he said about Augusta National, among many other subjects, was the stuff other people were afraid to say. He had more talent and more confidence than his buddy Mark Calcavecchia, and it all slipped away.

How very sad, and a reminder that you’re not going to last long on golf’s biggest stages without having your head on straight. I met his girlfriend at the Savannah event this year. She was enjoying cocktail hour, but Kenny was on the range. I found myself hoping for a second act. Now, who knows? Ken was not one to make friends everywhere he went, but I think he’s going to find people pulling for him as never before. What’s does your status on the Champions tour matter compared to the struggle to carry on with the rest of your life? It’s heartbreaking.

Herre: Green is one of the game’s characters. Some would call him a truth teller. Others would claim that he simply had issues. Remember the 26-inch putter? The guy didn’t care what anyone else thought.

Hack: His baby sister caddied for him at the ’86 Masters. That’s pretty cool.

Evans: He was a lively staple of the 1980s Tour scene. Even after his career turned sour, when he had a tough time getting into tournaments that he’d previously won, he never let us forget him. I hope he can make a return with the aid of a prosthetic.

Hack: Seeing Anna Nordqvist win the LPGA in her Ping train-conductor cap has to give Ryan Moore (who wears the same lid) hope that his first win is coming soon.

Bamberger: Anna Nordquist=Annika Jr. You don’t win this convincingly on a course this hard with so little experience unless you’re the real deal.

Friedman: This is the second year in a row that the McDonald’s has been the first LPGA win for the champ (Yani Tseng last year). The newbies will miss those happy meals next year!

Hack: What is going on with Lorena Ochoa? She finished 14 shots back, tied for 23rd.

Lipsey: Seems like she lost her focus when she got engaged. Now that she’s going to be a stepmother to three kids and wants to have kids of her own, are her LPGA days numbered?

Anne Szeker, producer, Let’s not just focus on her personal life. Plenty of golfers get married, have kids, and still dominate — like Tiger Woods.

Friedman: True, but let me be chauvinistic here: A wedding consumes the bride much more than the groom. We just nod our head and say, “Whatever you want, dear!”

Hack: I would think parenthood/marriage affects people differently. Jack, Tiger and Juli Inkster, for example, were able to handle it all beautifully. Steve Stricker, on the other hand, has spoken often about how much he missed his family and how being on the road negatively affected his game. Kenny Perry talked about it, too. Maybe Lorena isn’t having such an easy time with all of this.

Lipsey: Few women have been top-notch players and moms at the same time. I did a story about moms on the LPGA, and most players said it was nearly impossible to play top golf and be a top mom. Tiger jets off 25 weeks a year with not a diaper to change. Most LPGA moms take their kids with them every week, and change every diaper too.

Van Sickle : Nobody plays well all the time. Not Jack. Not Tiger. Not Bunky Henry. Not Lorena. It’s natural to have a down period at some point, especially during major life changes. It’s not like she’s forgotten how to play golf permanently. She’ll win again. Will she dominate? That’s a different question and harder to answer. Give her some time.

Hack: While 49 of the top 50 money winners were in Springfield, Ill., two weeks ago,
playing a tough Panther Creek course, Ochoa was in Mexico to fulfill
some off-the-course obligations (she told Rich Lerner) and practicing with her coach. I wonder if she’s being pulled in too many directions right now.

Lipsey: Christina Kim was miked up this week on the Golf Channel. She seemed like a big baby.

Friedman: I thought this was an interesting and fun experiment. It certainly allowed Wie, Kim’s playing partner, to open up and show a sunny side in the post-round interviews. On the other hand, maybe it’s a cautionary tale: Kim shot 77 on Friday and missed the cut. Was being on stage a distraction?

Lipsey: She’s smart to try it, but in a major?

Shipnuck: I can say with some certainty that Christina Kim knew being mic’d up would interfere with her ability to concentrate on her golf but she said yes for the same reason she’s volunteered to be a player director on the LPGA — she loves the tour and will do anything to try to help it. She definitely added some fun to the telecast while also doing the impossible: making Michelle Wie seem normal. Wiesy smiled and laughed more during those two days than the previous six years combined.

Herre: Frankly, Golf Channel could ask the LPGA players to do just about anything and they’d do it. They are desperate for some buzz.

Hack: Microphones are for kicks and pro-ams, but it sure doesn’t sound like a major.
Then again, the LPGA must do everything it can to stay afloat, relevant, etc.

Szeker: The LPGA could only help the broadcast by miking the outspoken Kim. The tour is not really in a position to worry about whether or not it’s a major. It needs to take advantage of the times its tournaments are broadcast.

Van Sickle : Why doesn’t Kim have her own show on Golf Channel? It would have to be more interesting than Big Break XXIV in Keokuk, Iowa.

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