PGA Tour Confidential: U.S. Women’s Open; British Open Preview
Every day this week for the British Open, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in every morning for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below. Past Confidentials are here.
WILL STRICKER (OR PHIL, OR TIGER) MAKE A RUN AT ST. ANDREWS?
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Steve Stricker has been rounding into form nicely since returning from injury. Coming off the great win this week, what are his chances in Scotland, considering he’ll be working on a short week with little time to adjust to the time and different style of golf? Note: A complete British Open preview edition of PGA Tour Confidential is here.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: He’s definitely one to watch at St. Andrews. He finished T8 at Carnoustie in 2007 and had a chance to win until his misbehaving putter led to a 74 on Sunday. (He shot 64 on Saturday.)
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Throwing darts in Illinois this weekend and shooting low scores has to boost his confidence, but the weather is going to turn nasty starting Monday afternoon. The wind is already here — it was gusting over 50 miles per hour at times today. I think it’s a lot to ask for him to be in top form here in St. Andrews.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Stricker will do well on the Old Course in his present form. He’s a picker, and that’s a good thing on the tightest-cut, hardest fairways in championship golf.
Dusek: I think his attitude and toughness, and his usually trusty putter, will be valuable tools at St. Andrews. But I think it’s a big disadvantage to get to Scotland on Monday morning when many players are already here and scouting. Tiger, Phil and Padraig, for instance.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Stricker will have to make some adjustments to contend at St. Andrews. The greens at TPC Deere Run were sponges, and even though Stricker doesn’t spin the ball much, he was able to go for the pins. The greens at the Old Course will be firm if not fast. The great equalizer, of course, could be the putter. Stricker may be the best putter in the game.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: But if the wind is howling, doesn’t that advantage on the greens go out the window?
Gorant: What do we make of Phil’s chances this week? At Loch Lomond, he made a 9 on Friday to miss the weekend by one. His consolation prize was a full weekend to play some more links golf and get in a few spins around the Old Course. Did the missed cut actually help Phil?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Phil had forgotten about that 9 by the time he had his first sip at the Dunvegan on Friday night.
Morfit: The missed cut could help, but the weather will hurt big time if it’s as awful as predicted. We may see a situation like the ’09 Bethpage U.S. Open, where one of the biggest factors is which end of the draw you end up on.
Godich: I’m not sure anybody knows what he’ll do — not even Phil.
Herre: I can’t see Phil doing anything special. The British Open simply is not his event.
Dusek: I still don’t think Mickelson is consistent enough with the long clubs. True, you can drive the ball all over the place on the Old Course, but you still want to come in on the ideal angles to set up good birdie chances on these enormous greens.
Evans: You can never tell with Phil. I think there is something to the idea that he only gets up to play when Tiger is in the field. At the Old Course, he could blow away the field or struggle mightily.
Gorant: After playing in a pro-am in Ireland last Monday and Tuesday, Tiger chose not to stay overseas, flying home to Florida. Good move?
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: It’s the right move if it really was to see his kids.
Shipnuck: Good for his kids, and maybe his image, but not for his Open preparation.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Great move, for the part of his life that’s most important to him now, having a real relationship with his kids. I don’t think golf is that important to him right now, until he gets to the course.
Herre: Big deal. It’s only a six-hour flight, and it’s not like he’s flying commercial.
Evans: Why does Tiger need to stay in Ireland to prepare for an Open played at a course that he’s owned?
Morfit: Agreed. What’s a few extra days scouting a course everyone knows?
CREAMER’S U.S. OPEN BREAKTHROUGH
Gorant: With a bum thumb and not much build-up, Paula Creamer put a pretty solid beat-down on the field at Oakmont, winning by four after being the only player to post a score below par. An Open has long been predicted for the medium-hitting grinder. (To quote Alan, she’s the Jim Furyk of the LPGA.) Will this win propel her to a new level, or will it be just one of several highlights in a solid career?
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Thousands of tour pros play in the U.S. Open. A select few win one. She’s at a new level even if she never makes another birdie in her life.
Herre: At 24, Creamer now has a major to go along with eight other wins, plus she’s been terrific in the Solheim Cup, which showcases her toughness. I think she’s a potential Hall of Famer.
Godich: Agreed. She showed her mettle on a demanding golf course. And those shots she hit on the back nine today show what a special player she could become.
Bamberger: She’s done what all the world-class players do: decide what’s not working and improve it. Her fitness, her putting, her driving, her demeanor. And she has done it all incrementally, so she looks like someone who can get better and better and better. I’m guessing she will.
Morfit: If her thumb is O.K., I think this will lead to more greatness. I first saw her play in person at a charity shootout in Boise. She was just 19, playing with Annika, Inkster, Gulbis, Jason Gore and Troy Matteson, but even then she looked like the best player out there.
Evans: Paula is definitely one of the two or three best players on the LPGA Tour. She’ll win another 6 or 8 majors before her career is done.
Lipsey: Another 6-8? That is rare air, to say the least.
Evans: Remember, the LPGA has a few majors, like the LPGA Championship, that aren’t exactly set up for par to be the winning score. I think Paula will win many Kraft Nabsicos and LPGAs.
Hack: Agree that this is the first of many majors. I see her as a modern-day Juli Inkster, a tough, fiery, soul-of-the-Solheim Cup kind of player. Winning her first major at the U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont? Almost feels like it should count as two.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Secret is she learned to quit playing aggressively on an Open setup. Part of that was her smart caddie, Colin Kann, and part of that was playing with a bad thumb that forced her to play more conservatively, anyway. She couldn’t win an Open when she was 100% healthy, but she won her first when she was 60%.
Dusek: I think she’ll be winning majors for years to come now that she’s broken through. But this wasn’t only a huge win for her; it was a huge win for the LPGA, too. Now they can really market around her. She’s cute, has a lot of personality, is a fan favorite, a Twitter-aholic … and now a major winner.
Van Sickle: Second that. Creamer should be the new face of the LPGA. Kerr doesn’t have the same kind of following with the public and certainly not with the media. But Alexis Thompson may well be the future face of the LPGA. She’s 15, she’s played four Opens already, and her average drive was 40 yards longer than Creamer’s. Lexi is like a young Michelle Wie who is mentally tough and has learned to win. Look out for her.
Morfit: Funny how we were all talking at the start of the week about Christie Kerr being the face of American golf. Wonder if Creamer saw all that and thought, Now wait a minute. Mike Whan has to be loving this result, and Kerr’s LPGA win. Both very camera-friendly and get it as far as media and marketability.
Gorant: Are we ready to believe in Lexi Thompson? She looks like the real deal, but we’ve been teased by so many teenage phenoms that didn’t pan out.
Evans: Definitely wait and see. Michelle Wie was a better player at 16 than she is now. So who knows what might happen with Thompson in the next few years.
Morfit: Having just written about Ty Tryon at the men’s U.S. Open, I will withhold judgment on Lexi. She seems pretty fierce, though, for 15.
Herre: Not ready to jump on the Alexis Thompson bandwagon after a tie for 10th in the Women’s Open. Other teens have had nice Opens — Morgan Pressel and Michelle Wie come to mind — and needed a few years to finally win.
Hack: I’m a believer. I was at Pine Needles in 2007 and could not believe a 12-year-old was hitting the ball that way. Golf is the Thompson family business. She has the goods. I see her competing with the stars for majors.
OAKMONT TOO HARD, TOO SOFT, OR JUST RIGHT?
Gorant: Another high-profile week at Oakmont, where they seem to take delight in torturing pros. Early on it looked like the winner might finish double-digits over par before rain softened the course. Was the setup over the top to start, or appropriate for an Open?
Morfit: How can anyone make the over-the-top argument considering the final scores? And 17 looked like a total giveaway to the players. I’m not exactly worried for Creamer as she sizes up a stock wedge approach.
Bamberger: Oakmont is over the- top — and that’s why it’s great. It’s set up for Open play pretty much as it is for member play. Serious golfers only. I love it, for testing the best. I’d quit if I had to play it every day.
Evans: The USGA could have made the winning score 10 over had it wanted to, but it wanted to field a competitive championship for the women. I watched most of the final round, and those pins weren’t exactly tucked in many tough places.
Lipsey: The USGA nailed it this year. An even-par winner at Pebble and a one-under winner at Oakmont. I think that is exactly how they want it.
Hack: On Sunday, 17 of the 18 pins were the same as the 2007 men’s Open final-round pins, according to the broadcast. Paula spent the last year studying tape of the Saturday and Sunday rounds from ’07. Paid off nicely. There is some nice intrigue on the LPGA Tour right now. Fun time to watch it.
Dusek: For what it’s worth, I left the Old Course today and walked the streets of St. Andrews, and not one TV in any pub was showing the U.S. Women’s Open. Scottish Open, Formula 1, Tour de France … but nothing from Oakmont.
Herre: I thought everyone was watching the World Cup final.
Dusek: That started at 6 pm here. It was a big all-around sports day in the U.K.
Gorant: Not sure that’s much of a marker of success for the LPGA. Interesting note, but a casual accounting of the TVs in the pubs of St. Andrews probably doesn’t mean much.
Shipnuck: The Women’s British Open is a very popular event in Europe. Even the pubs of St Andrews carry it.
JUST HOW EXCLUSIVE IS THE 59 CLUB?
Gorant: Nothing against Paul Goydos, a fine man and a solid pro, but by his own admission he’s never exactly been a high achiever on Tour (two wins). Does his entry to the 59 club devalue the accomplishment at all?
Godich: I don’t think so, though he had to be scratching his head when he went to bed that night with only a one-shot lead.
Herre: No, it doesn’t devalue it. Look at the other 59-shooters — David Duval, Chip Beck and Al Geiberger — not a Hall of Famer among them.
Dusek: Obviously the course was really vulnerable, but 59 is 59 in my book. The PGA Tour set up the course, and he made all the shots. As he was coming down the stretch he must have started thinking about 59, and that couldn’t have made the job of shooting it any easier. Impressive stuff.
Godich: A 28 on the back, birdies on the last three holes — impressive, to say the least.
Shipnuck: Fifty-nine is a magic number, anytime, anywhere.
Morfit: It looks great on a card, but the sub-60 accomplishment had already been devalued. It’s been done a handful of times by professionals on various tours — Doug Dunakey, Notah Begay, Chip Beck. The most impressive sub-60 performances were by David Duval and Ryo Ishikawa, since they came from way back to win.
Bamberger: It’s not Goydos shooting 59 that devalues it, it’s the length the ball goes. The long par-4 needs to be about 550 yards to make it the equivalent of 460 in Geiberger’s day. It’s an incredible score and, as Goydos noted, you have to get over a mental hurdle to do it, but it will happen more and more as players hit driver-wedge on 450-yard par-4s.
POT BUST ON TOUR
Shipnuck: More evidence that golfers are real athletes.
Morfit: Not to name names, but I once stayed a few doors down from a pro who made the entire floor of our hotel smell like supersonic hydroponic chronic. I had to go find a vending machine. And caddies — geez, let’s not even go there.
Bamberger: What percent of the 25- to 45-year-old American male population smokes pot on a regular basis? Whatever it is, I expect the percentage among Tour players is right around the same.