PGA Tour Confidential: The Verizon Heritage


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: Welcome everyone. We have a guest this week — Jack McCallum, the longtime SI hoops scribe and Charles Barkley Boswell. Jack, what do you really think of Anthony Kim? Nice to see two of the good guys, Brian Gay and Nick Price, kick some butt. We’ve been waiting forever for Price to finally win as a senior, but I bet no one made Gay his/her fantasy league pick this week.

On other fronts, Rory McIlroy took a pass on PGA Tour membership; looks like Ollie and Lanny, two Ryder Cup stalwarts, will be entering the Hall of Fame; ticket and corporate sales for the U.S. Open at Bethpage reportedly are sluggish; and, most important, Stewart Cink’s Twitter followers have grown to an army of 55,000.

Jack McCallum: I hate to swing at the first pitch in such an august group of golf scribes, but since you asked … Damn, I found Anthony Kim obnoxious. He came out to one of the Barkley-Hank Haney sessions I was covering for the SI story a few weeks back and acted like a 13-year-old. Then again, Charles acts like a 17-year-old, so it was kind of a draw.

I was glad to see Nick Price win. In one of the few golf stories I’ve written for SI, I met him on a Friday at the British Open. He gave me great stuff for five minutes, and every time I saw him the next two days he’d say, “Hello, Jack.” We love it when people remember our names.

Herre: That’s an old Jack Nicklaus trick. The story goes that Jack was coached, by Kaye Kessler I believe, to mention the reporter’s name in press conference settings. Stuff like that goes a long way with lowly press types.

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Which was the bigger surprise beatdown this week — Gay’s 10-shot win at Harbour Town or the Indians’ 22-4 pasting of the Yankees on Saturday?

McCallum: Stewart Cink having 55,000 Twitter followers.

Friedman: It’s up to 61,298 and growing faster than the national debt. Last tweet, two hours ago: “Time to head back home and dry out the Tundra.”

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Hard to believe that many people even still play Twister. Aren’t those little plastic spinners broken by now?

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: I was going to open with some crack about how a10-shot victory by a poker-faced golfer wearing wrap-around sunglasses didn’t make for exciting television — but you broke my train of thought with the news that Cink has an army of Twits. Man, that shakes me to the core.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: You know Twitter has jumped the shark when middle-aged sportswriters have discovered it and one of the least cool people on the planet, Stewart Cink, has become a voice of the medium.

Friedman: You’re so 20th Century, Vans. Is son Mike Van Sickle on Twitter?

Van Sickle: I’m not sure. I’ll ask him the next time I write him a letter.

Friedman: The semi-serious question is whether it’s affecting Cink’s golf. He’s had a mediocre season and shot 72-73 over the weekend to finish T62.

Garrity: The semi-serious answer is that Tweeting is probably good for Cink, who fights a tendency to brood over his imperfections. If you’re thumbing updates to your Twits, you’re probably not stressing over the island-green par-3 later in your round.

Anne Szeker, producer, Well, he’s not tweeting during the round! I think it’s a great way for him to connect with his fans, and you get a fun look into his life — hanging out with Ben Crane, going to hockey games, watching the rebroadcast of the Masters to see how much camera time he got. And if Stewart’s Twitter isn’t enough, his wife, Lisa, is also on there, tweeting “Hoping Stewart finds his golf happy place again!”

McCallum: Sorry to inject hoops, but the big hoops tweeters are Shaq and Steve Nash. Both missed the playoffs. Lance Armstrong is big into it, too. And he fell off his bike. Perhaps Fairway Friedman is onto something.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: If I’m a tour player, I’m doing whatever Tiger is doing. I’m guessing that he will not be twittering any time soon.

Van Sickle: Clearly Stew is onto something if he has 61,000-plus readers. I’m not sure what he’s onto, but it’s kind of funny that he’s the tour player on the cutting edge of new media technology. Maybe he heard about it from some of his kids.

Ryan Reiterman, producer, Actually, he got it from watching Wilbon and Kornheiser on PTI. Even more alarming.

McCallum: Cink is Tweeting … and I’m thinking about going back to my persimmon 3-wood off the tee.

Van Sickle: Wonder if any other pros are Tweeting and we just haven’t noticed yet?

Herre: Bet some LPGA players are — or will be soon after seeing how much publicity Cink has been getting.

Szeker: Natalie Gulbis already is — — with lots of pictures from her “Celebrity Apprentice” experience.

McCallum: Hard to believe Gulbis is not — as we speak — tweeting about her dinner plans. I swear I didn’t see this before my entry. It just figures that a “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant would tweet.

Herre: Did you read about the Denver reporter who tweeted a funeral for his — now dead — newspaper? A dangerous weapon in the wrong hands.

Van Sickle: This week should be a real ratings bonanza for CBS, he said sarcastically. A guy wins a tournament by ten shots. No Sunday excitement whatsoever. And the runaway winner is Brian Gay, a pretty good golfer that most of the public knows nothing about. That’s a double whammy for CBS.

McCallum: I actually prepared for this discussion by Googling Brian Gay. Turns out he’s one of Sligo’s top clothes horses. They’re heavy into pastels, explaining the lime-green trou.

Van Sickle: I liked the lime green slacks. I’d also like to see him walk into a biker bar wearing that outfit.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Greetings from Hilton Head, and a special prize to anybody who can tell me what the phrase “spanking the blond monkey” refers to. Hint: it involves special guest Jack McCallum of Bethlehem, Pa., and your better NBA hotels. With his gaudy 10-shot lead and fashion-forward look, Brian Gay, bored with the proceedings, went into one of the many condos bordering the course and tweeted thusly to Tiger: “U, me, Angel, p-round, B’page Black. Bring $.” I always thought this was a most unassuming and pleasant young man, in the Mark Wilson tradition, but it turns out he had the balls to win by 10. Some of these Tour players are experts at hiding who they really are. Like Fred Couples being so uptight and nervous on the course, but floating along. Fred’s still not picking up the phone. But he’s gonna have at least one new-ager on his Presidents Cup team: Mr. Brian Gay.

Shipnuck: I have been cultivating a Gay feature for our Players preview and going back to February have spent a lot of time with Brian and his wife, Kimberly, who is loud and funny and theatrical and gregarious — in other words, the opposite of her hubby. The interesting thing about Brian is that in his late 30’s he’s getting better every year. He’s always had a spectacular short-game but a couple of years ago he revamped his swing by watching the videos at Now Gay is one of the straightest hitters in golf, and he still has that short game. He’s definitely not a fluke — going back to the mini tours the guy has never had a fear of going low. He’ll be a great foursomes player at the Prez Cup and I expect him to play well at U.S. Opens and PGA Championships, now that he’ll finally be exempt.

Evans: Gay is sort of a throwback winner from the Curtis Strange era: not real sexy but very well-rounded and consistent. As a fan of Homer Kelley and the Golfing Machine, it’s also nice to see one of his disciples get a win.

Herre: So the final score this month is: Golfing Machine 1, Stack and Tilt 0.

Shipnuck: Another thought on Gay: It’s refreshing how much he and Kimberly appreciate their success after 15 years of toil. There’s many ways they express this but one anecdote will resonate with this crowd: I took them out for dinner the week of the L.A. Open and the next day Kimberly hand-delivered to me a thank-you note which said they were “humbled” and “flattered” by the attention.

Herre: So, did Rory mess up by saying no to the PGA Tour?

Evans: Rory showed a lot of maturity and worldliness in not taking the Tour’s bait with the special temporary card. He’s a world player who can get into the important U.S. events with his world ranking. The FedEx Cup is not a priority for every player in the world.

Herre: Agreed, Farrell. And he’s just a kid. Playing in Europe first will probably be better for him in the long run. Look what happened to the last Euro teen who focused on the PGA Tour too soon.

McCallum: I thought Michelle Wie was from Hawaii.

Van Sickle: While Rory may eventually want to take a PGA Tour membership, a la Padraig Harrington and Ian Poulter, he doesn’t need the 15-event obligation right now. Especially when he is probably more comfortable on his home continent, and when he can start loading up on lots of appearance money since he’s become a star.

Shipnuck: Rory McIlroy is smart to spurn the PGA Tour. I got a glimpse of his girlfriend at the Masters and if I was young Rory, I, too, would spend as much time as possible close to home.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Rory is not dissing the U.S. tour by not taking the temporary card. He enjoys playing in the States, and he’s been coming over here since he was a kid, and you could easily imagine him someday owning a home here and calling the PGA Tour his home. But not now. Even before he cashed his first check here, his father and managers were saying that, for now, Rory wants to make the European tour his home circuit, and that 10 or 11 events in America are plenty. I don’t think he’s as wed to Northern Ireland as, say, Olazabal is to Spain, but it’s something like that. In other words, he’s Irish and he’s proud. But Rory is also a child of the universe. He’s already played all over the world. He’s not a Ryder Cup nut. He thinks there’s way too much fuss over a friendly competition. For a lot of kids today, the old walls that we grew up on are coming down.

McCallum: Maybe young Rory was just skeptical of terms like “special temporary membership” and “deed of consent.” They sound like something the U.S. Border Patrol would come up with.

Evans: Jack, golf is not an urban game like basketball, so the terms do tend to sound like they were formed by an accountant from the burbs.

Herre: Did anyone catch Feherty’s remark about Wadkins and Olazabal? He said they were the two most feared Ryder Cup players ever. Personally, I’d take Lanny and Seve.

McCallum: Monty’s not bad. And he gave a glimpse of how interesting the next Cup will be by blasting a photographer and questioning China’s sense of etiquette.

Van Sickle: Don’t think you’d want to play any of those three guys, especially Seve and Ollie together. Raymond Floyd in his prime was not somebody you’d be keen to play, either. Not to mention Percy Alliss and the Whitcombe brothers.

Herre: Yeah, those Whitcombe brothers were tough.

McCallum: Surprisingly, the Whitcombes — all of them — were on Twitter.

Friedman: Wait till Monty gets on Twitter!

McCallum: One final thing: I see that Lefty turned down a chance to buy into the Padres. I can’t believe he would miss the chance to call himself in from the pen for an inning or two. When I interviewed him several years ago, the first thing he did was throw me a glove and tell me to catch him. He then described the three types of sliders he throws.

Herre: Jack, you had the perfect description of Phil in that memorable story: The smartest kid in the class. It has been used by others many times since.

Friedman: Concerning Jim’s remark about the Open tickets at Bethpage selling slowly. We’re seeing the same phenomenon here at the new Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, with premium seats going begging (and looking conspicuously empty on TV). I have a feeling that a lot of the same corporate folks have also decided to take a pass on the golf. It’ll be interesting to see what the final tallies are in a couple of months.

Van Sickle: Even though the Lamborghini dealers are willing to cut you a price, I’ve decided to stick with my ’02 Camry. Same thing. Am holding off on buying Pirates tickets until Pittsburgh gets a major-league franchise.

Herre: It’s gotta be killing the USGA, which likes to hold the Open in the NYC area as often as possible because that’s where the money is.