PGA Tour Confidential: Valero Texas Open

PGA Tour Confidential: Valero Texas Open

Zach Johnson won the Valero Texas Open for the second year in a row.
Mike Ehrmann/SI

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: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the often-imitated, never-duplicated PGA Tour Confidential. Seats everyone, please. We have a great show on tap, including a shootout at the Valero Texas Open, Ji Young Oh claiming the Sybase, and Irish amateur Shane Lowry winning the Irish Open in his first start on the European Tour.

I spent most of the weekend watching Michelle Wie at the Sybase, and I can say with full confidence she’s never hit the ball better. Much smoother swing than when she was trying to keep up with the fellas. Her putting, though, continues to be a problem. Can an average putter, like Wie, ever become a great putter? Or is she destined for Sergio Garciadom?

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Her swing looked good, but she was missing a lot of fairways. Could she become a better putter by hitting it closer to the hole? Also known as the Vijay Singh method.

Hack: Some bumps out there, for sure. Seems to me Wie starts to swing faster when she gets nervous, and the fairways become harder for her to hit. When she’s in rhythm, though, she’s frighteningly good. That putter, though, was ice cold for four days.

Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Seemed like everyone was missing three-footers at the Sybase.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Very surprising how critical ESPN announcers were of Wie, often questioning her every move.

Herre: The ESPN announcers are like everyone else: they can see Wie’s talent and are baffled and frustrated by her inability to break through.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: When evaluating Wie, I think it’s helpful to pretend the years 2003-8 never happened. Think of her as a 19-year-old rookie who nearly won her first event and has had two other strong finishes since. If that were Hurst or Lewis, we’d be throwing a parade for them. Yes, we’re all anxious for Wie to live up to the previous hype and her perceived talent level, but she’s settling in nicely on tour, and I fully expect her to win one of these weeks.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Wie’s parents are spending too much time trying to break her every fall. At the U.S. Open one year, I asked Phil Mickelson’s dad how he handled watching his son play golf. He told me that he had figured out a long time ago that he had no control over Phil’s ball, and that all he could do was try to be there for moral support. Perhaps he should have a talk with the Wies.

Hack: I do think Michelle needs some distance from the folks, but then you look at the media guide and see she’s still only 19! Wie’s folks aren’t the only ones hovering around their progeny.

Gorant: Bigger picture, Sybase Sunday began with Wie, Creamer and Lincicome — three young Americans — in the hunt along with a semi-established name, Suzann Petersen. When none of them won, any chance at building a little momentum in the media capital of the world was torched. Nothing against Ji Young Oh, but I doubt she’ll make it onto a lot of highlight shows tonight.

Lipsey: She’ll be on the LPGA’s most watched highlight show, because the LPGA has more TV viewers in South Korea than anyplace else.

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Too bad no one here noticed, because Oh was one cool customer. And she had a hole in one on Thursday.

Hack: She was steady, if a bit dull. The ESPN folks kept showing her putter grip, which had the ace of spades and a casino chip. The best the announcers could come up with was that Oh likes the color green.

Hack: I dug the Valero Texas Open, except for the telephone towers all over the course. (“Just aim your mashie at the reactor,” Old Tom Morris might have said.) But it was tough watching Paul Goydos down the stretch. Bogeys on 17 and 18. Would’ve been a neat story, after last year’s Players loss.

Herre: I think Goydos would be the first to admit that he gagged. A shame.

Gorant: After he parred 15, I thought he was going to walk in with it. But, to paraphrase Feherty, there’s a reason he’s ranked in the 140s in scrambling.

Hack: Absolutely. We’re seeing why it’s tough for the 40somethings. Kenny Perry at the Masters, Goydos at Valero. Short game, short game, short game.

John Garrity, special contributor, Sports Illustrated: Remember that old comedy revue, Beyond the Fringe? Goydos had a long putt from the fringe on 17, and his putt bounced a couple of times and fell way short. Then he landed his lofted chip on 18 on the collar, and it didn’t get “beyond the fringe.” He may have to start flopping those shots to the hole.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Seems like there’s more pressure on a guy at his stage of career/life, since he knows these opportunities will be few and far between, whereas a guy like Zach was winning on that course less than a year ago. Goydos looked tight on that chip on 18. Not a hard up and down, especially not for a pro.

Garrity: Speaking of the Texas Open, I thought it was neat that James Driscoll, after waiting two hours around the clubhouse and range, absolutely striped his drive on the playoff hole. That’s hard to do. He had a pretty good line when he came into the press room after signing his card. Pointing out that he played “pretty good” last year — “ten Top-25s or something” — he realized that his record wasn’t much to brag about. So he smiled and said it just felt good this week to be “somewhat in the periphery of the hunt.” Ain’t that the truth?

David Dusek, deputy editor, Driscoll’s situation is the reason why, as much as the networks don’t want it, the PGA Tour should adopt a 3- or 4-hole aggregate playoff system. Why make a guy who’s waited for a few hours have to do what Driscoll did?

Herre: I’ve liked Driscoll since I saw in the 2000 U.S. Amateur final — strong, smooth swing — but his pro career has been a long and winding road.

Garrity: That long and winding road applies to Bill Haas, as well. Jay’s boy has been pushing his Tour boulder uphill for four or five seasons now, and he just can’t seem to notch that first win. Today it was a bogey at 17, bumping him out of the playoff. I’m sure he would have loved to get the victory in San Antonio. His dad had two Texas Open wins.

Hack: Another win for Zach Johnson, who is quietly putting together a pretty nice little career.

Garrity: Apparently it was just a question of Johnson getting a money putt to the hole. Yesterday he left his bid for 59 short, and he did the same today — by a couple of inches — with his birdie putt on the 72nd hole. But his putt for the win on the playoff hole was pure. Two Texas Open victories in seven months. That has to be a record.

Hack: I think he’s a latter-day Corey Pavin, in grit and lack of length off the tee anyway.

Hack: What did everybody make of Rory and Monty going back and forth about the meaning of the Ryder Cup. Rory called it an exhibition. Monty bit back.

Gorant: Seems like David Duval/Hunter Mahan redux to me. Once these guys play in it, they seem to have a different opinion. Of course, if Rory is taking his cues from Tiger, maybe it’ll never be that important to him.

Herre: I was surprised. Rory took the Tiger approach and then had everyone in Europe apologizing for him.

Lipsey: Boring. Only a desperate Fleet Street headline writer, groping for copy at 2 a.m., would make a mountain out of this mole hill.

Hack: Really? If you’re Rory’s age, you grew up with almost nothing but stirring Ryder Cup victories. ’02, ’04, ’06, etc. Darren Clarke is one of your mentors. Seems to me Rory would be jonesing not only to make the team but also to thrive and kick some butt!

Friedman: It’s like a kid from the Bronx saying he thinks Yankees-Red Sox is overblown.

Hack: Exactly. Our lads sure weren’t acting like it was an exhibition in ’99 and last year. Boo wouldn’t break out his driver/hobby horse just for any old exhibition!

Evans: Rory is wise beyond his years. Nicklaus called it an exhibition. Tiger did to. Monty shouldn’t try to decide Rory’s priorities. The boy should be looking to win majors, not to beat Phil or Tiger in Sunday singles. But I understand that the Ryder Cup is Monty’s major championship.

Shipnuck: I give McIlroy bonus points for being honest and not merely spouting the party line. The glory years of the Ryder Cup, from the late ’80’s to the early ’90’s, were well before Rory’s time. The most impressionable time for a sports fan is your early teens, and for McIlroy those Ryder Cups (2002, ’04, ’06) were dreadfully dull. I thought this imbroglio revealed more about the European press than Rory. The scribes over there always turn rabid any time an American doesn’t pay proper homage to Europe’s holy events, the Open and the Ryder Cup. Yet when the Euro golden boy straight-up disses the Cup, those frothing-at-the-mouth Fleet Streeters all applaud his candor. Talk about flip-floppers!

Hack: Quick aside, then. Is Monty a Hall of Famer?

Garrity: Monty is absolutely a Hall of Famer. He owned Europe for a decade and was a consistent Ryder Cup star. I’ll vote for him.

Hack: Zero majors, zero PGA Tour wins. Are you going to put an asterisk next to that vote?

Garrity: Nope. I no longer believe a player has to do it in America to be taken seriously. And Monty was close in majors, he wasn’t a non-factor like Jumbo Ozaki. I do take Monty’s Ryder Cup record seriously. At Kiawa Island I decided (and wrote) that if the players felt more pressure in the Ryder Cup than they felt in the majors, we needed to show the Ryder Cup stars the kind of respect we accord major winners.

Morfit: Isao Aoki made his record mostly in Japan, Monty made his in Europe. Aoki is in the Hall.

Herre: The Ryder Cup is the best event in golf, IMHO. The intensity of the matches is what makes it special. Some players don’t care for the stress. The winners embrace it.

Gorant: I agree with Damon. I think Monty’s looking at the Christy O’Connor lifetime achievement award.

Lipsey: It’s the WORLD Golf Hall of Fame, not the PGA Tour/U.S. Hall of Fame.

Dusek: As many Order of Merit titles as Monty won, he never won a major. When considering American players, would you count money titles when voting for the Hall? No way. Majors, total wins, Ryder Cup. Monty was a dominant fish in a European Pond that was nowhere near as strong as today’s.

Evans: Garrity, you can’t be serious about giving a Ryder Cupper the same respect as a major winner, on any terms.

Garrity: I didn’t say a Ryder Cupper. I said a Ryder Cup star, a player who wins the big matches and leads his team time after time. Ryder Cup play isn’t enough for me to vote someone into the Hall, but Monty’s Ryder Cup brilliance and European dominance combined make him a lock as far as I’m concerned.

Hack: Did seem like Monty made about a million putts on the 18th green in Ryder Cups. But, man, that pushed iron at Winged Foot keeps popping into my head.

Garrity: I hear you, Damon, but you don’t judge players by their failures and disappointments — that’s the norm. You judge them by their achievements. That’s why we hold Arnold Palmer in such high regard.

Shipnuck: Monty’s record is indeed flawed, but he’s still a Hall of Famer. Bottom line is the guy was a dominant force in the game week-in and week-out for more than a decade. His Ryder record pushes him over the top in my mind. We all obsess over the majors, but there’s a lot more to the golf season than just those four weeks.

Hack: Fine, give him a WGHOF locker with his Orders of Merit and Ryder Cup record, but be sure to put a pair of rabbit ears in that locker, too.

Lipsey: So, is Mr. All America, Kenny Perry, a cheat?

Herre: The evidence is damning (see the video below):

Friedman: Damning…maybe even shocking.

Shipnuck: The Perry video isn’t as damning as it appears. Every golfer is allowed to ground his club behind the ball, even in the rough. In doing so the grass often gets flattened down. The key is intent. Did Perry purposely improve his lie or was it incidental? John Paramour, the top rules official on the Euro tour, says he has looked at the video close to 100 times. By way of Lawrence Donegan in The Guardian, Paramour has rendered this verdict: “Looking at this, I don’t think Kenny Perry did use excessive pressure when he put his club behind the ball. It does look bad, it does look like the lie was improved but, as long as there was no intent to do so, and I don’t think there was, then it is not a penalty.”

Lipsey: If nothing else, the power of the Internet is in full force with the Perry imbroglio.

Evans: It’s probably one of those optical illusions, David Copperfield-style. Regardless, they would have to kill me to get the $1 million winner’s check back.

Lipsey: You guys seen Bethpage lately? It’s going to be a ferocious beast at the Open. I’ve been playing the Black since college (conference tournament, and most years since graduating), and it’s always been awesomely brutal. But the new tees are going to make the Chris Dimarcos of the world weep in submission in June. Some of the new tees are so far back I couldn’t even see them from the old blues. I still love the course (my No. 1 in the world), but it is a monster.

Herre: And with the weather we’ve been having, the grass will be juicy. My lawn is out of control.

Hack: Should be a Tiger and Phil show, part deux.

Friedman: No Angel?

Hack: I’m predicting Angel enjoys himself for a bit (like a year or two) and then comes back strong in 2011!

Lipsey: If New York roars, as usual (see U.S. Open, 2002), it could be a great wake-up and boost for golf, after what has been a sleepy 2009 so far

Dusek: At the USGA’s Media Day at Bethpage two weeks ago, officials made it clear that they want to give themselves versatility. There won’t be a drivable par 4, like there was at Torrey Pines, but they are giving themselves a lot of leeway in terms of pin placements and tee boxes. They want to make the players think more. At Oakmont and Torrey, they seemed to be onto a good compromise.