PGA Tour Confidential: The U.S. Open

PGA Tour Confidential: The U.S. Open

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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.

Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: I bow to the person who said this last week on Confidential: “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.”

Well played, Damon Hack. OK, let’s get started. Wow! What a Monday.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I just had a feeling Duval was getting it together. I’d seen him make some awful swings with the big stick in past years, from Shinnecock to the Sony Open, but once he started pounding fairways, I figured it was only a matter of time. Once he got in the heat at Bethpage, all of his competitive instincts took over. It’ll be fun watching where this week leads him.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It was nice that Lucas Glover at least offered a little smile and half-wave. He didn’t exactly look like a guy who just won the Open.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Glover didn’t need to do big high-fives and a Hale Irwin dance. He has a yeoman’s swing and modesty. He was the best golfer this week. Maybe he’s not on the level of Phil or Tiger, but he’s definitely now in that group of guys who will be remembered for stealing a major during their primes.

Shipnuck: Yeah, Lucas is a nice winner. He has a bright future. But that stoicism doesn’t exactly play well at Bethpage.

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I think hard about this 'what if': What If Tiger had been in the afternoon-morning tee-time groups in rounds 1 and 2? I think he, among others, got screwed by the luck of the draw. I know he had his chances afterward, but that opening 74 put him behind the eight-ball.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Not buying the Tiger-got-screwed angle. He played a full 18 on Saturday in prime conditions and did nothing.

Shipnuck: Good call on Tiger. The chances were there and he couldn’t take them. Every time he doesn’t win a major now he blames the putter. Either he’s too prideful to find flaws in his long game or his putting is slipping a tiny bit in his 30’s, which is normal. Tiger has been making meaningful putts for three decades. Sooner or later the nerve endings have to get a little frayed. It happened to Watson, Palmer and many, many other great champions.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Tiger’s tournament was decided on his final four holes of the first round — Was that Thursday or Friday? They’re all running together. Going four over on the last four holes haunted him the rest of the tournament.

Hack: I’m shocked that Tiger stalled the way he did, but I agree with Dusek. That four-over finish was his tournament. Those four shots were the difference between a Monday evening-Tuesday morning playoff and a tie for sixth.

Anne Szeker, producer, Let’s place the blame on Tiger’s performance where it belongs — his putting. He really struggled on the greens, missing putts that I would have considered Tiger gimmes.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Was interesting that Padraig Harrington, who played with TW for the first 36 holes, said his strength, putting and chipping, became his weakness this week. Woods hit some putts out there today that didn’t even come close to hitting the hole. How often do you see that?

Gorant: I’m with Alan. Tiger had a lot of “green light specials,” to steal a Johnny Miller phrase — 150-yard approaches from the fairway — and didn’t put the ball anywhere near the hole. Harder to make putts when you’re not getting snuggly with the approaches.

Dusek: Say what you will about the weather and the delays, but the recipe for winning a U.S. Open has always been to hit fairways and greens. Glover led the field in greens in regulation coming into the fourth round and he hit 77% of the fairways. Solid stuff.

Shipnuck: Glover does indeed have a lovely swing. How the heck has he won only one other tournament before today?

Gorant: I feel the same way about Mahan, but I guess all those three-putts today explain that.

Morfit: Glover used to get down on himself, slumped shoulders, but the big key was this week he didn’t. He doubled his first hole of the tournament, and after looking like he was shooting himself out of it in both the third and fourth rounds, steadied himself on the back nine. The Open is about resilience, and Glover was the most resilient player out here.

Dusek: You do get the feeling that Glover is a lot further along as a player that Shaun Micheel was when he won at Oak Hill, or Ben Curtis at Royal St. George’s back in 2003. But people are going to lump him into the group of “Guys Who Won a Major That You’ve Never Heard Of.” I think he’s a lot more solid as a first time major winner than they were. More like Mike Weir at the 2003 Masters.

Shipnuck: Hopefully Glover won’t mess with his swing like Weir did and fritter away five years.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Maybe this gutty finish will get Glover over the hump. Why hasn’t he won more often? Because until this week, he hadn’t been very good at closing. It’s hard not to be happy for him. He’s one of the nice guys on tour. He’ll call you by your first name without having to check your badge first.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Glover’s the same guy he was before Bethpage. He just had his “I got it all together” week at the right time.

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Shipnuck: Yes, but the question is whether Glover will be the same guy going forward. So many first-time major winners lose their way with off-course distractions and self-inflicted pressure to justify their breakthrough. He’s such a solid guy I think he’ll be fine going forward and continue to build a very nice resume.

Van Sickle: I don’t know that Glover is destined for greatness and multiple majors.
Maybe, maybe not. I like that he looks like a feel player, but in the heat of the moment in the past, that may have hurt his technique. He could have a Lee Janzen career, win a couple more majors if the breaks fall his way, and win every so often on tour when the putter gets hot. Glover is definitely going to have a very good career. As of now, he already has.

Lipsey: Everyone predicts greatness for most every major winner, and what do they deliver? Phil, probably the second best guy behind Tiger, has won all of three majors, despite the mind-boggling hype. If Glover ends his career with two majors, that would be far above the curve.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: You could easily see Mahan winning a U.S. Open. Lucas will contend in more Opens. Stenson will almost assuredly someday win one. All are lesser players than Phil, but you wonder if Phil ever will. Flamboyant golf, and flamboyant personalities, just never seem to get it done at the U.S. Open. And don’t tell me Tiger plays flamboyant golf, or has a flamboyant personality. He’s a grinder just like Jack, Hale Irwin, Andy North, Scott Simpson, Tom Kite, Corey Pavin … and Lucas Glover.

Shipnuck: I think Phil’s ugly finish sucked a lot of energy out of this Monday. He’ll be replaying those little putts in his mind for as long as he lives, if not longer.

Morfit: I was standing behind the green on 15, where he three-putted from the back fringe. That first putt was such a terrible, tentative effort that just never got on line. I had the same thought everyone else had at that moment: Uh, oh, here we go again. It would have been a fantastic story, and everyone would have forgotten all about the rain-outs.

Van Sickle: It’s sad to say, but this is one for the thumb for Phil Mickelson. Five runner-up finishes in U.S. Opens, five U.S. Opens he coulda-shoulda-woulda won. This tournament has officially become to Phil what the PGA was to Arnie and Watson. To let it slip away again after a great charge, much like his back-nine rally at Shinnecock, has to hurt for Phil.

Lipsey: Who hurts more: Norman for his failure at the Masters or Phil for his agonies at the U.S. Open?

Van Sickle: Norman still has a lock on the Agony Cup. He was supposed to win the Masters. That course set up perfectly for him. The Open shouldn’t really be Phil’s cup of tee. Even he admitted that — hitting fairways isn’t his specialty and the deep rough around the greens limits his innovative wedge play. His Open record is pretty terrific considering.

Shipnuck: Definitely Phil. He just bookended a decade of heartbreak and pathos, beginning with Pinehurst in ’99 on the final green. Norman’s losses were about a loose swing and inability to throttle his natural aggressiveness. With Phil I think it’s more about being overwhelmed emotionally by the moment.

Lipsey: Norman’s shank at 18 in the 1986 Masters wasn’t about being overwhelmed? His 78 final-round collapse with Faldo in 1996 wasn’t caused by emotion? I respectfully disagree: Shark is the most snake-bitten (shark-bitten?) golfer alive.

Shipnuck: Norman has said his fore-iron on 18 in ’86 was the result of his loose lower body, which led to blocked shots under pressure. He never really fixed his swing. Mickelson seems to have addressed a number of his flaws with Butch. Again, Amy’s recovery is much, much more important than golf, but it’s too bad Phil can’t keep this momentum going through the summer. It seems like he’s on the verge of playing some of his best golf. Who knows where he’ll be physically and mentally when he returns, which may not be til next year.

Friedman: If Amy is fully recovered, upon Phil’s return he almost certainly will be back to his old self — for good and not so good.

Van Sickle: Just came back from Phil’s flash-area interview, and he was remarkably upbeat. His most telling comment was, “Certainly, I’m disappointed. Now that it’s over, I’ve got more important things to focus on and, oh well.” I think he’s taking this one better than his other four Open runner-ups because, as he mentioned later in the press conference, he has “perspective.” Cancer makes losing the Open irrelevant.

Shipnuck: Obviously his wife’s health is more important than a golf tournament. But you can’t tell me Phil didn’t want to win this one badly, for Amy and his many fans as much as for himself.

Evans: Phil has wonderful perspective on life, but I think he knows he let another one get away. He’ll beat himself up the same as the others.

Van Sickle: I’m sure Phil did want to win very badly. It’s just that five minutes after it’s over, he has to move on to another, bigger issue.

Shipnuck: In a weird way I was impressed by Barnes. We all knew he’d come back to the field, but he kept fighting and hit a lot of good shots on the closing holes.

Friedman: Will we now see painter’s and/or Castro hats sprouting on courses nationwide?

Herre: I liked Barnes’s candor in his post-round interview. He admitted he was feeling the heat and that led to some poor shots.

Evans: Barnes plays golf like John Rocker pitched — you never know what you’re going to get. But I was also impressed by his tenacity and will down the stretch. All he needs going forward is a tighter, more consistent swing. Glover’s compressed and efficient golf swing is a delight to watch. He’s natural and effortless, a move reminiscent of the gloveless, free-swinging era of the ’40s and ’50s.

Gorant: Barnes is sort of the complete opposite of Glover: odd swing, but extroverted in a way that makes him easy to pull for.

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Friedman: How about Duval? Can we expect to see this type of performance (allowing for normal variation) henceforth?

Gorant: He said all the right things, and was downright expressive in his post-round interview, but the question remains if lesser events can hold his attention for four rounds.

Shipnuck: Duval’s been saying forever that he’s hitting it great on the range and just needs the confidence to take it to the course. Those stellar late birdies should be the exact jolt of self-belief he’s looking for. I don’t think he’s all the way back to where he was, but I expect he’ll make some more noise this summer.

Van Sickle: Duval sure looks like he has enough game to claw his way into the top 50 and get back on that gravy train of World Golf Championships and majors. I liked the way he seemed to stay cool even though he was back in the Open mix after all these years, which had to be disconcerting and at the same time mean so much to him.

Shipnuck: You know who was probably pulling the hardest for Duval? Ian Baker-Finch, who offers perspective on the devastating effects of a long slump. If Duval continues his return to respectability, it will be one of the greatest mid-career resurrections in the history of sports, not just golf.

Evans: Maybe that’s an overstatement. Duval hasn’t had Tommy John surgery or overcome cancer or a near-fatal car accident. Duval does just about everything possible wrong in the golf swing. He’s got to be perfect to play consistently, and he was perfect for a handful of years. Talent only takes you so far at this level. I’ve known him since his first year on the Nationwide Tour. He’s always been capable of shooting 59 or 79. That trend will most certainly continue unless he rebuilds his golf swing for endurance.

Shipnuck: Tommy John surgery heals in a year. Duval had injuries of his own, but more to the point, he spent five years accumulating massive amounts of damage to his psyche. That’s harder to bounce back from.

Friedman: That’s true, Alan. Once guys lose it, like Steve Blass, they almost never make it back.

Herre: Must admit, thought I’d never again see Duval put together four good rounds.

Evans: Duval will tell you that he’s the happiest he has ever been in his life. The damaged psyche stuff is hogwash.

Lipsey: Does Bethpage get another U.S. Open? If yes, when? Bethpage would be an ideal place for a concurrent men’s/women’s Open: Men on the Black, women on the Red or Yellow, or a combo package of other courses. That would be the ultimate golf blowout bonanza.

Shipnuck: It’s hard enough to get in and out of Bethpage with one tournament going on. Consecutive weeks, maybe, but not concurrently. Unless SI buys a helicopter for its scribes.

Gorant: Can’t imagine many people would go see the women if the men were playing at the same time. Not a fair fight.

Szeker: I think it’d be the exact opposite. It’d be great exposure for the LPGA, to be playing alongside the men and have their tournament accessible to fans who maybe have never come out to see them before. Sure, there’d be logistics to work out, but other sports do it, why not golf?

Dusek: I’d love to see Bethpage Black host an Open when it’s sunny and the course is playing fast. Two rainy Opens are going to give it a reputation that it doesn’t deserve.

Bamberger : Does Bethpage get another U.S. Open? Absolutely. First, it’s where the USGA is going now, to public courses. Second, it’s a great course. Third, Tiger and the USGA and Rees Jones and everybody else are dying to see how it will play if it’s fast and hard and dry. Even par could win by six.

Van Sickle: Could be another nine years now. The ’16 Open is in the East at Oakmont, and ’17 should be Erin Hills, Torrey Pines or Cog Hill. That means ’18 or ’19 will probably go to Bethpage. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.

Shipnuck: It is a shame that the weather took all the fire out of Bethpage. But it tells you what a monster the course is that even with receptive fairways and very soft greens only a half dozen guys finished under par.

Evans: I wasn’t impressed with the golf knowledge of the New York fans. I think if you ask the players they would tell you the same. I heard lots of cheers over shots that were mediocre by even weekend golf standards.

Shipnuck: No one ever said they were knowledgeable. Or, if they did, they were just sucking-up. Bethpage fans are merely loud, and occasionally obnoxious, and that’s what makes it fun.

Dusek: New Yorkers are sports fans. Golf is a sport and the U.S. Open is a spectacle. It’s entertainment. If you like what you see, clap and cheer. If you don’t, well …

Van Sickle: New Yorkers are loud. After that, I’m not sure what they are. But they make the atmosphere at the golf tournament fun.

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