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: Folks, The Ides of March are upon us. Tough for Julius Caesar, but good for the rest of us. The Masters is around the corner, Tiger still wears red on Sunday, and Phil is still Phil.
Lots to chew on this week, including a juicy on-air back and forth between Johnny Miller and Roger Maltbie on who is the game’s best player. Johnny said if Phil is hitting it 300 yards and straight, he’s the best player in the world. Roger said he knew a guy who could beat him — last name Woods. Tiger didn’t win this week, but he seemed to get better as the tournament wore on. What does everybody think about Phil’s win and Tiger’s first stroke-play showing of 2009?
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: As far as the Tiger-Phil debate, I got two words: Scoreboard Johnny. These guys have gone head to head for 12 years now, and Tiger owns Phil. I’m not a Tiger lover, but I can’t even see the argument.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I’ve always thought Johnny Miller was a little cuckoo in the best sense of the word. He has a brilliant golf mind as well as the great potential to be completely wrong. On Tiger and Phil, he’s wrong.
Hack: Seems to me like there is some history between Tiger and Johnny, otherwise Johnny wouldn’t keep making these off-the-wall statements. I’m glad Roger called him on it.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: The thing of it is, when Tiger is paired with Phil, other than a few exceptions (at TPC Boston, once; at Doral, once) Phil is less likely to hit it 300 yards and straight, while Tiger is more likely to be firing on all cylinders. There’s just a huge discrepancy between Tiger and Phil, and between Tiger and pretty much everyone else, in the mental game.
Hack: Win No. 36 for Philly Mick, after going to the hospital last night and receiving 2 IV bags, was impressive. I’m not calling it Hogan, Tiger or Venturi, but golf’s favorite punching bag is a man to be reckoned with all of a sudden. With Tiger on the mend, ’09 seems like the perfect year for Phil to end his majorless streak.
Morfit: I said in last week’s roundtable that I thought he’d either win or contend at Doral and Augusta. It seems like Bethpage sort of owes him one after the 2002 U.S. Open. I say he wins either the Masters or the U.S. Open. I suppose both would probably prove Johnny Miller right.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I’m so glad he’s back on his game. Love him or hate him, Phil is always fun to write about. He has as much game as Tiger, just more variance in his intensity and decision-making. But from 2004 until the 72nd hole at Winged Foot, he was a factor at virtually every major, and I think Phil is going to have a monster year in ’09. Don’t forget, since ’03 he’s won more Masters than Tiger, and Bethpage is where the cult of Phil began.
Hack: New Yorkers will be going crazy for Phil at Bethpage. He teased ’em three times — Bethpage in ’02, Shinnecock in ’04 and Winged Foot in ’06.
Hack: And they say Swedes are shy!
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: But he doesn’t do the Full Monty.
Gorant: And who knew Bjorn Borg has his own underwear line? Bet that stuff is flying off the shelves in Stockholm. What are the odds some junior executive at IMG is setting up a meeting with Fruit of the Loom as we speak?
Hack: So Tim Finchem is worried about the length of guys’ hair but not of their short-shorts? Isn’t there some rule about hitting a shot (almost) in your birthday suit?
Gorant: There should be.
Herre: If his club had touched the water it would’ve been a two-stroke penalty.
Shipnuck: I spent a long day with Stenson for a feature a couple of years ago, and I’m not the least bit surprised he disrobed. He is a totally cool dude who quotes “Talladega Nights” and the “Life of Brian” like religious texts. He’s also quite the merry prankster — throwing water balloons off hotel balconies is a favorite activity, and somewhere in Asia he picked up a pen that zaps its user with a strong electrical jolt. He spent a whole tournament walking around asking players for their e-mail addresses and cracking up as they shrieked with surprise.
Herre: Did anyone catch the look on Tiger’s face when he concluded his post-round interview with Jimmy Roberts? Bet Tiger won’t be making Jimmy’s book party.
Hack: Tiger called him “buddy” and looked like he wished he could take it right back.
Gorant: Jimmy talked more in that interview than Tiger. Never a good sign. Gotta love the 15-second question.
Evans: He’s been watching too much Charlie Rose, maybe.
Friedman: I think Tiger’s (unwittingly) rope-a-doping everyone in advance of Augusta.
Morfit: Interviewing Tiger almost always reminds me of a line by a late sportswriter friend: It’s like going to the dentist. One guy does all the talking, and the other guy looks like he’s in a lot of pain.
Evans: Tiger has that Arnie charisma. No one can ever remember him saying anything quotable, but we love to interview him.
Morfit: We do? I don’t. I enjoy watching him play golf, but he’s managed to present himself to the press as a quasi-robot. I enjoyed Chris Jones’s hatchet job on him in Esquire this month, where he says the most depressing assignment of his career was to follow the seemingly pre-programmed Tiger for a month in trying to report a story. One sign of life: In Jack McCallum’s piece in SI, about Barkley’s terrible swing, McCallum writes that Woods is full of good riffs on Sir Charles’s abominable action. That’s a start, I guess.
Shipnuck: No question it’s a chore dealing with Tiger, but he is in fact a funny dude, as Jack McC indicates. I’ve caught just enough stolen moments through the years to know he’s a great trash-talker, to fellow players and the handful of reporters he is comfortable around. Also, a couple Tour pros have told me that Tiger is a killer via text message. I can see him being like Faldo — when his playing days wind down, he’ll be more carefree and finally let the world know that he’s got a little bit of an edge.
Hack: Lost in the debate was Sergio’s play this week. He wasn’t even low Spaniard. With a chance to supplant Tiger as the No. 1 player in the world, he finished well back and well behind Tiger.
Friedman: Once again, Sergio is tantalizing his aficionados … like the Red Sox used to.
Hack: How about our man in Miami this week unearthing the little gem about the muni Melreese by the airport. They charged outrageous greens fees for out-of-towners and then shorted him 13 balls in what was supposed to be a bucket of 60.
Friedman: When Vans posted his blog on the Press Tent, it seemed to strike a nerve. Certainly, to those of us who play a lot of public and semi-private golf, it shows the potential for things to be out of whack in this economy, when fees are high and courses are wide-open. Classic oversupply and underdemand!
Herre: It was interesting to see the response to Gary’s column. Most of the readers agreed with him — anything more than $50 is too much for a round of golf — and revealed places where you could still get a bargain. I’d like to hear more on that subject.
Gorant: Seems like prices have to come down, but I wonder. What if so many courses close that demand stays high along with the prices?
Hack: Aren’t more golf courses closing than opening these days? I guess the height of building was 2000. These days, they are being shuttered like crazy. Even that Doak gem in the mid-Atlantic region went under recently.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: The Melreese range was one of my hangouts during my “Mats Only” days. I always got a fair count, and the parking lot (and the fairways) were usually packed. It sounds like the place has fallen victim to local politics. The anti-golf faction is never satisfied when a muni merely pays for itself or makes a small profit. They’ll push for more revenue, and when big green fees choke off the traffic, they’ll say “told you so” and plow it under.
Morfit: I agree with Jim on the $50 rule, but I haven’t always abided by it. You have to work pretty hard to pay more than that for 18 holes out here in Idaho, but I recall spending closer to $100 every time out when I lived in NYC, and we’d venture to the “high-end daily fee” courses within a 90-minute commute.
Evans: I don’t think taxpayers should ever subsidize a golf course, but munis should be affordable for the median income crowd in any community. But how do we do that and get good margins for the golf courses?
Friedman: In many places, it’s possible that munis will get more play this summer as an affordable alternative. So that may help the bottom line.
Hack: With city and state governments strapped for cash, I just don’t see much money being set aside for muni golf. Probably safe to call muni golf an endangered species, at least for the moment.
Herre: Speaking of endangered, I was sorry to see the curtain fall on T&L Golf. I thought they made the right move by focusing on travel edit. Shows what I know.
Morfit: I once went on a lux boondoggle to Northern Michigan on their dime. May they rest in peace.
Garrity: The tourist boards in Ireland and Scotland will really miss TLG. Sometimes you couldn’t finish a round at Ballybunion without tripping over the photographers shooting the 17th hole at sunset.
Hack: On the other side of the golf spectrum, What’s everybody think of IMG’s continued progress toward world domination? Looks like they’ve scooped up Michelle Wie to go along with all of their other toys. Good for the game, bad or indifferent?
Shipnuck: It’s good she will finally have some pros guiding her career. The only people more clueless than Wie’s parents are those tools at William Morris who were supposed to be watching out for her. IMG has its faults, but I expect things will be much smoother for Wie going forward.
Evans: Greg Nared tried when he was with Michelle Wie at William Morris, but her parents are very influential. IMG is only as successful as its clients allow. Wie will have six people holding her hand instead of one, but the talent has to accept coaching for the IMG team to succeed.
Herre: I’d like to think Wie’s change of agencies is a good move for her career, but I can’t get past the fact that she has burned through three agents and more than a dozen caddies.
Hack: Does this mean we’ll have more or less access to Wie? (Of course, I can’t imagine us getting much less than we have now).
Morfit: The big question for Wie is whether her helicopter parents will ever ease up. I took a trip down memory lane with a round at Stanford Golf Course during the week of the AT&T. I used to drive the tractor that picked up the balls on the Stanford range — pretty much the apex of my career, by the way — and my old friends there said Michelle will be on the range beating balls, and her folks will be standing right there behind her. Still.
Shipnuck: She’s so overdue for some good press I expect she’ll be trotted out for a few longer pieces, which is a good thing because no one really knows anything about her or her life at Stanford. What’s interesting is that even after all these years she has no relationship with any golf writer outside of the Hawaiian contingent, so it’s like starting over for all of us.
Friedman: Alan, maybe this will be a good thing. Maybe she’ll deal with scrutiny better at 19. And maybe it’ll be easier for writers to talk to a 19-year-old than a 13- or 16-year-old.
Shipnuck: We’ll see. One of her LPGA mentors, Christina Kim, told me that Wie’s Facebook page is quite lively and contains evidence that she is in fact enjoying college life. Of course, like everything else about Wie, it is set to private.
Garrity: I’ve got no inside knowledge of Wie’s move, but she’s one of the LPGA stars — Paula Creamer is another — who wanted to brush off the golf media in favor of “broader outlets” like Vogue, Vanity Fair, People and various international venues. They overlooked two points: 1) You have to be HUGE, like Tiger, to command that sort of interest, and 2) Even if you’re huge, Vogue won’t write about you every time a major championship rolls around. I’m guessing Wie and IMG just make more sense from a sports marketing point of view.
Hack: I just wonder who really is going to be running things — Wie’s folks or an agent at IMG? It’s amazing that Michelle can still get the ball airborne with her folks hovering like they do. I thought Michelle was heading toward a Jennifer Capriati-type revolt. Glad that doesn’t seem to be happening.