Every week of the 2011 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.
THE ’16’ HEARD ROUND THE WORLD
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: The story of the week, I’m sure you’ll agree, was Kevin Na carding a PGA Tour-record (for a par 4) 16 in the first round of the Valero Texas Open. (The YouTube video has already been viewed more than 600,000 times.) Was Na’s meltdown a purely random event, or did we witness a genuine Tin Cup moment?
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: No, John Daly’s 18 at Bay Hill in 1998 was a Tin Cup moment — you know, brainless bravado. Na simply couldn’t extricate himself from a bad situation.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Not Tin Cup, just golf. The type of hole that can jump up and bite any player, at any level, at any time.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: He was wearing a microphone for Golf Channel. I think that had something to do with how he decided to play it, in every respect.
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: As someone responsible for about 10 of those YouTube viewings, I think it was pretty random. Na hit two tee shots into the trees, found one, and I think let pride get in the way of returning to the tee for a third time. The rest is Internet video history.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: That was just a horrible spot. Rocky ground, thick branches everywhere. Most amateurs would have used a trusty foot wedge.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The funny thing was how fast one of the Tour’s slowest players racked up those 16 strokes. You could sense some panic, probably exacerbated by the mic. I have to admit I’ve watched the YouTube video three times. It’s too fun.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: It was out of character for Na, who’s so methodical and slow on the course but just became completely unwound. He rushed, hacked at it and showed terrible judgment. Really weird.
Herre: Speaking of Na, I was somewhat surprised by the amount of coverage his 16 received. Front page of The New York Times, no less. I thought it was interesting that the coverage was positive in that Na showed integrity by not giving up and then counting every stroke. Golf hasn’t been getting a ton of good pub recently, so I found the coverage refreshing even though it brought to mind the old Bobby Jones chestnut about being praised for not robbing a bank.
Gorant: Yeah, SportsCenter was all over it too.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Could’ve been an aluminum cup moment at least. I’m sure Kevin doesn’t want to hear this but, well, it was strangely fun to watch on the highlights. Every golfer has been there. Just not on TV where he or she can’t pick up and say, “Just gimme a 7.”
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I saw on Twitter that they played Na’s 16 on the Jumbotron at the Oakland A’s-Detroit Tigers game. From the response I’ve seen, it seems rather refreshing for the weekend hack to see a pro endure something they can even relate to — getting lost in the woods while trying to whack a ball out.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Na had a meltdown but he handled himself like a pro afterwards. He didn’t throw his mic off and run to his courtesy car. Like many us he was amused by the whole event and probably not surprised at his rather immature actions. But his caddie was definitely pouting.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: He got more attention for the 16 than anything else he’s done in his career. Hopefully, he can eclipse this cause cÃ©lÃ¨bre with something happier.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I had no idea Kevin Na could play so quickly — or seem so likable.
Wei: Na had a random meltdown. He had nowhere to go after he took that first whack (maybe he should have re-teed again), but he handled himself really well all things considered. I thought it was pure hilarity that he was randomly mic’ed up for the debacle. Can’t believe no f-bombs and a semblance of a tantrum through all 16 strokes. He tried to crack a joke to his caddie, saying, “How are we going to count all those strokes?” But his caddie didn’t bite, unfortunately. Love that Na has become a folk hero and good news is that he’s now known for something other slow play!
Evans: I think the fact that he’s having a decent year had something also to do with how he handled himself. Na has won over $800,000 this season. It’s easy to keep perspective when you’re not playing for your card.
Van Sickle: Agree with Jim. I, too, would like to praise Bobby Jones for not robbing banks.
ANOTHER TOUGH LOSS FOR MCILROY
Garrity: Sticking with the failure theme, young Rory McIlroy flew to Asia last week as the poster boy for catastrophic performances, having blown his four-stroke Masters lead with a final-round 80. Rory bounced back with a final-round 69 and a third-place finish in the Malaysian Open, but he made double-bogey on the 12th hole and failed to birdie the par-5 18th hole, when it looked like a birdie would get him into a playoff. Does the kid gain confidence from this, or do the voices of doubt in his head get louder?
Morfit: Louder. At a certain point losing tournaments like that starts to become a habit.
Herre: Rory has to be toast, what with the Masters disaster and then this. He probably needs to take some time off. After that, my guess is that he will be fine.
Shipnuck: The kid doesn’t need any more moral victories. He’s in the top 10, yet has only two victories. Time to start getting it done on Sunday.
Lipsey: Appearance fee, ka-ching. Lots of birdies. Smile.
Evans: McIlroy is putting himself in contention. At his age he can afford to have some missteps. But I fear that he could go the way of Sergio Garcia — long on potential and hype with a slim resume — unless he starts to close some deals.
Wei: Sounds like fatigue set in for McIlroy Sunday. On 18, he blew his first putt way past the hole because it was a must-make, so that three-put can be kind of excused. I’ve been saying this for a while, but I don’t think it’s really his head that needs to be examined — instead his short-range putting has always been a little suspect…
Hack: I don’t see Rory building any scar tissue from the last two weeks. He’s too young for scar tissue. I’m more impressed that he played his way into contention in Malaysia than worried about the third-place finish.
Van Sickle: There’s a couple of voices of doubt in Rory’s head. One is that it appears he can miss a putt left from just about any length: 18 inches, two feet, three feet. He shuts the putter-face and the putt just goes left. It’s not dissimilar to the other voice in his head about the sudden tee shot that suddenly goes WTFL — way the heck left (as seen at Nos. 10 and 13 Sunday at Augusta). I said it after the Ryder Cup and I repeat, his putting under pressure is suspect. The actual mistakes won’t haunt him — not the 80, not the double at 12. The recurring bad shots at crucial times — missed short putts, drives into jail — they will definitely haunt him if they continue.
Reiterman: Right, Gary. His short putting has become a glaring weakness and now he’ll be asked about it every time he’s in contention. Lee Westwood still gets asked about his chipping.
Bamberger: McIlroy gains confidence, for sure. Tournament golf is all about contending. Contend enough you’re going to win. Even Sergio proved that to be true.
Shipnuck: It’s true he has time on his side, but so did another young maestro, Sergio Garcia. Both hit it pure but struggle on short putts in the crunch. That can make you old in a hurry.
Van Sickle: It’s just a good thing there wasn’t a PGA Tour Confidential when young Tom Watson was frittering away tournaments and majors. It’s not so easy to have a spotlight on you all the time, as modern players do today.
Lipsey: I’ll bet my fourth child’s first-year college-tuition stash that Rory wins a major in the next few years.
Bamberger: You really are rich, aren’t you, Rick? I thought it was just a rumor. Are your Nassaus car-house-house?
TEENAGE FAN CLUB
Garrity: Speaking of kids gaining confidence, the winner of the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur was Italian teenager Matteo Manassero, who turns 18 on Tuesday. This is his second European Tour title, putting Matteo on a pace to match Martin Kaymer’s career victory total before he’s old enough to rent a car. Or am I exaggerating this kid’s potential?
Wei: He’s got tons of potential. Two wins on the European Tour before turning 18! That’s impressive. His short game is awesome. He could use some more distance, which is something he’s been working on. I’m pretty sure he’s still growing, so maybe he’ll gain 10-20 yards in the next few years.
Bamberger: There’s no exaggerating his potential. He has more golf charisma, to me, than any of the other 25-and-under crowd. And he’ll be in that club for another seven years!
Van Sickle: Two wins already means there’s no exaggeration. Manassero isn’t a big hitter, like the Lama. But the guy could hole putts in a thimble. Good iron play and great putting will carry you a long way in this game.
Lipsey: American kids playing college golf might want to ditch their programs and get on the programs that have launched tyke stars like Manassero and McIlroy!
Hack: At 15 years old, he played like he was 25. He is the real deal and then some.
Evans: Manassero is good, but I want to see how he does in PGA Tour events. To me that’s the litmus test.
Herre: Cool that a teenager has won twice, but the Ws were in Spain and Malaysia. I’ll wait until he does something on a bigger stage before comparing him to a major champion like Kaymer.
Morfit: Impressive, but I wonder about him trying to add distance, as so many people say he must do. Isn’t it easier to start with incredible power, like Davis Love or Dustin Johnson, and dial back?
Shipnuck: Manaserro is the real deal. He hits it very straight and has a great short game. He’s also added 10 yards lately just by getting more physically mature. Now he has to win a major by age 20 or we’re gonna label him the next McIlroy!
Lipsey: The foreign stars like Manassero don’t typically play PGA Tour events. They play majors and WGCs, and they do darn well in them, as we’ve seen lately.
Morfit: Didn’t Ian Baker-Finch do himself in by trying to add yards with the driver? I know Luke Donald did. It set his career back a couple years.
Wei: Yeah, I don’t know if I’m in favor of him “changing” his game because everyone says he should. That actually might screw him up. Sergio Garcia said in Tampa that Matteo needs more distance, but wasn’t sure he should change the way he plays.
Tell us what you think: Flash in the pan or the next big thing? Has 17-year-old Matteo Manassero established himself with two wins on the European Tour or are you waiting to see what he does at events with more competitive fields? Join the conversation in the comments section below.
THORPE OUT OF JAIL AND BACK ON TOUR
Garrity: Jim Thorpe returned to the Champions Tour after serving a one-year prison term for income-tax violations. He was warmly received by his fellow pros and spectators, reminding us that most golfers don’t consider tax evasion a crime. Nevertheless, Jim is now a 62-year-old ex-con with a depleted bank account and a rusty swing. Is it wishful thinking to picture him making a comeback?
Bamberger: He made his comeback just by teeing it up, ‘fessing up, and posting some decent scores. He remains one of the most likable and real people in the game, and he’s still strong as an ox and able to hold that Palmer-like finish.
Lipsey: Violations? Dude didn’t file for three years! As for a comeback, he owes big jing to the Feds, so he might have the drive to make money out there and defy the odds stacked against him coming back.
Van Sickle: Only a handful of over-60 guys have won on the Champions tour. On the motivation scale, Thorpe is probably capable. But his putting stroke was never a thing of beauty. It’s hard to recapture that score-ability once you get away from the game. But you’re right about the tax-evasion thing — it’s not just golfers who don’t consider it a crime, it’s probably most Americans.
Hack: Thorpe is one of the great characters of that tour. I’ve missed the Foxwoods hat and the funky angles of his swing. With his popularity out there — and the no-cut rule — I can see him bringing home a little cash.
Shipnuck: I love Jim Thorpe. He brings so much color to pro golf. He’s paid his debt to society and I’m glad he’s back.
Van Sickle: Thorpie is just plain fun. One of the most popular guys on the tour. Everybody wants to hang out with him. He’s a blast.
TEXAS OPEN, WIND AND THE NEW SCHEDULE
Garrity: Wind will always be a factor if you play the Texas Open in April. That scares off top-ranked pros and produces surprise winners like Brendan Steele, the tour rookie who held off fellow rookie Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman for this year’s title. Personally, I think the ability to play in a gale is a genuine measure of golfing skill and should be recognized as such. Am I right, or am I wrong? (Hint: I’m right.)
Gorant: You might be right, but I’m not sure Steele proves your point. Guy has missed six of 12 cuts so far and hadn’t finished better than 17th. Not the prettiest swing to look at either. That doesn’t mean he won’t be successful, but he seems to have journeyman written all over him.
Van Sickle: Robert Karlsson is the world’s best wind player. (Hint: John Garrity confirms that with a red check.)
Bamberger: Wind is the least expensive and most environmentally friendly obstacle golf has. There should be more of it. Van Sickle and I are working on a golf-course wind machine, among other excellent ideas in the Too-Much-Time-On-Our Hands Golf Lab.
Van Sickle: Jane, you ignorant slut … you’re right as usual. The telecast dragged a bit but watching the contenders play 18 was worth it. Steele, the leader, lays up at 18 when he could’ve reached in two with an iron. Then he misses the green with his wedge, makes a poor chip for a tour pro that ran six or eight feet past…then he poured it right in with confidence. I met Steele in Phoenix and was very impressed. He wasn’t averse to cracking a joke about using the belly putter, either. Gotta like that.
Herre: Wind and those severe Greg Norman greens were a killer combination, but I liked Steele’s game. He swings like a poor man’s Geoff Ogilvy and looked pretty stout with that 48-inch putter, especially on the 72nd green.
Van Sickle: I think you’re right there, Jim. That Texas Open course, wind or no wind, looks like just about no fun whatsoever. San Antonio is nice though.
Evans: It’s hard to tell anything from the Texas Open. The 35-mph wind made a mess of things, but Steele and Chappell didn’t aspire me to add them to the SI Golf Ranking.
Shipnuck: The Texas grind-a-thon was the last thing these guys needed after the Masters stress-fest. You could see that Scott and Ogilvy and others were overmatched by the test.
Bamberger: The biggest thing about the Texas stop was its horrible spot on the schedule. I love the Hilton Head event and it was the PERFECT thing to have the week after the super-tense week at Augusta. It completed a mini Southern Swing in such a lovely way and it was a fixture on the schedule and a way of life for a lot of players and caddies. I know there were serious sponsorship issues and I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs, but if I were the boss — or Davis Love III –I would have done everything I could to get the Hilton Head event to stay put.
Garrity: I share your nostalgia about Hilton Head. I particularly liked the breeze off the Sound.
Van Sickle: I disagree with Garrity. I particularly liked the sound of the Breeze.
Herre: Right, Michael. Lots of guys tee it up the week after the Masters just to play Harbour Town. If this year’s field is any indicator, the players are less sentimental about hard-edged TPC San Antonio.
Hack: Well said, MB. Hilton Head was the perfect place for the Tour to downshift after Augusta. Everyone drove there. It was a natural coda to the Masters. Kind of tough going from a course with Amen Corner to a course with a Marriott.
Evans: Only the geezers are sentimental about anything. These kids just play the schedule.
HOPE ALTERS CLASSIC FORMAT
Garrity: The Desert Sun newspaper reports that the Bob Hope Classic is switching from a five-round, four-course, pro-am format to a four-round, three-course, pro-am cum barefoot-golfing format-or something like that. Scott McCarron has already questioned the change, saying, “Some guys who played the Hope kind of like the fact that you had four days to play (before a cut) and get your game in shape early in the year.” What do you think? Does this save the Hope?
Gorant: Hasn’t Scott McCarron had about six years to get his game in shape? Another round probably isn’t going to do it. And I say that knowing I’ll be dropped from McCarron’s X-mas card list.
Bamberger: The only thing that could save the Hope is the return of Hope. Four rounds will be an improvement, but a very modest one. You need spectacular ams to make that thing work.
Van Sickle: A sponsor saves the Hope. You have to go with whatever format the sponsor wants. It’s a little surprising that Bill Clinton is stepping in, whatever his role, and hooking up his foundation. The Hope always seemed more like a Gerry Ford-George Bush 41 kind of event. Whatever works.
Evans: Lord knows you can’t satisfy everyone. But the five days does test your mettle at the beginning of the year.
Herre: Apologies to Scott McCarron, but the Hope simply had to make a change. The old format wasn’t working, and everyone knew it for years. Only the presence of Bob Hope kept the tournament afloat. Palm Springs is a solid golf market. The new group has a long-term sponsor. I’m bullish on the Hope.
Hack: The Hope doesn’t need snazzy ams. It needs Tiger and/or Phil. Phil won the thing twice, but hasn’t been back since ’07. Tiger never goes. The golf season starts at Torrey, folks.
Van Sickle: Disagree, Damon. The golf season starts when the golf season starts, not when Tiger and Phil feel like starting. There is golf without them, contrary to opinion. It says something about Phil and the Hope that he’s a two-time winner and hasn’t gone back in four years.
Herre: I agree, Gary. And the fact is, Palm Springs could very well regain whatever status it lost in recent years. Nothing is forever on Tour. Fave players and hot stops come and go.