Every week of the 2010 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 and join the conversation in the comments section below.
WILL ATWAL’S SUCCESS INSPIRE INDIANS?
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It wasn’t pretty, but Arjun Atwal has become the first Indian to win on the PGA Tour. Is this just a nice one-day story or can Atwal become the Se Ri Pak of India, which is to say, a figure that changes the demographics of professional golf?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: At 37, it’s a little late for Atwal to become a big star unless he goes on a tear and wins a bunch. Maybe a major. But his success fits with golf’s continuing storyline of globalization. Lots of good players all over the world, and they’re coming here to play.
Shipnuck: But maybe this will inspire more Indians — and younger ones — to come to the U.S. Like Atwal, Jyoti Ranhawa has topped the Asian tour Order of Merit, and Shiv Kapur was the Asian tour’s rookie of the year in ’05. It’d be nice to see more of them over here.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Golf’s growing at a fantastic pace in India without Double A’s win. It’s an American-centric view to think this is really big for India. The U.S. is just not the golf superpower it once was, not even close.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Great story and happy to see Atwal win, but I think it’s a one-off. The guy is 37 and had been fighting to keep his Tour career alive. Lucas Glover has to be kicking himself — 29-38 — 67 on Sunday? That’s no way to impress Corey Pavin.
Van Sickle: Atwal was playing for way more than the average tour player. He was playing for his job. A top 10 gets him in another week — not next week, though, because that’s the FedEx Cup. The win got him in the Masters and on tour for two more years. That means way more in his position than the cash for first. It’s a lot of pressure that most Monday qualifiers can’t handle. You have to say, the guy just played fantastic. Every time I looked up Saturday, Atwal was hitting 4-iron to six feet or something.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Having been to India several times and played scores of rounds there, from Kashmir to Calcutta to Bangalore, I can confidently say that nothing will change the demographics of golf in India, at least for the foreseeable future. Golf in India is a game for the rich (and a handful of Army officers). Indians love cricket, cricket and cricket, and golf is so far off most everybody’s radar that even if Atwal wins the Masters, golf will remain a hyper niche sport in India. The thing that Indians will love most about this victory is that India beat China to the winner’s circle on the PGA Tour.
Shipnuck: Good report from the front lines, Rick. It is hard to believe India and China have together never made a splash on the global golf scene. All this talk about growing the game — that’s 2.5 billion potential golfers right there. If I’m Callaway or Titleist or Tim Finchem or Golf Channel of Nicklaus Design, I’m making a big deal about Atwal’s victory, in both countries.
Lipsey: Literally the front lines. In Kashmir, one of the courses I played was so close to an Indian Army artillery range that after one shot I ducked for cover because I thought we were being attacked. My hosts didn’t flinch and explained there was no danger, because it was just target practice.
Herre: There may be 2 billion people, but a very small percentage of them are golfers. As the middle class and leisure time grow, perhaps that will change.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: They have been playing golf in India for a few hundred years, and there is an Indian golf tour and an Indian presence on the Asian Tour. Arjun Atwal is one of many good Indian players who are competitive worldwide. The demographics of golf as exclusively white, elite and male have long been a thing of the past. Atwal is just one piece of this sea change.
Van Sickle: India has produced some decent players. China is late to the game, but with the number of courses they’re building, they’ll produce some elite players within a decade. Maybe sooner if the world’s golf tours start playing more in Asia, which is all but a given.
Herre: Rick, How many golfers are there in India?
Lipsey: Some estimates range as high as 500,000, but a realistic number is probably 100,000-150,000, and half of those are very infrequent players.
Shipnuck: My wife loves the movie “Monsoon Wedding,” and there’s a throwaway scene with four guys playing a modern-looking course, driving golf carts. If Rick’s numbers are right, that scene must be befuddling to the movie audience over there.
BIG SUNDAY FINISH FOR A MONDAY QUALIFIER
Van Sickle: It’s more impressive that Atwal won as the ultra-rare Monday qualifier. Now that’s a story.
Shipnuck: It is refreshing to see a Monday qualifier win a Tour event. It proves there are more avenues onto the Tour than many think. How big of an accomplishment is it to go from four-spotter to champion?
Evans: It’s not that big a deal to me that he’s a qualifier because he’s won on the European Tour and is a proven player. Nowadays, with the depth on the tour, a four-spotter could be a former major champion or Ryder Cup member.
Herre: A qualifier wins from time to time on the Champions tour, but it is very rare on the PGA Tour. It has been 24 years (1986) since it last happened.
Shipnuck: It’d be great if Tour events set aside more spots for Monday qualifying. There would be more Cinderella stories and colorful characters. And having to play for your livelihood on a weekly basis would toughen up these overpaid wussies.
Van Sickle: I agree. Unfortunately, tour events are already oversubscribed due to Q-school players, Nationwide players and past champions. No spots to spare. The Q-school grads, in fact, earn tickets to nowhere. They don’t get in a lot of good tournaments. It’s an uphill fight. So don’t hold your breath waiting for more play-in spots on Mondays.
Evans: How are the players “overpaid wussies?” Players pay their own way, and they play for money provided by sponsors. The Top 125 has made the tour a stable and comfortable place. It’s a good thing for people to have job security. And unlike in other sports, pro golfers don’t get paid if they don’t work.
Lipsey: Bring back the rabbits! John Updike, bless his soul, would be very happy.
Shipnuck: So would many old-timers who think the all-exempt tour has more or less killed pro golf.
Evans: Name one old-timer who believes that. The tour was tough back in those qualifying days. We think there is a star system now with Mickelson and Woods, but the old tour helped only a couple of handfuls of top players, who got into everything.
Bamberger: I agree with Alan — more Monday qualifiers, fewer players on the all-exempt list would make golf more topsy-turvy and dog-eat-dog. It would feel less like a closed shop and bring back a sense of desperation the Tour once had, which many found exciting.
Van Sickle: It sounds good in theory, but it won’t happen. The tour would probably rather have no Monday qualifiers and make every would-be tour player support the Nationwide Tour, which is a modest brand name.
FEDEX CUP: LOVE IT, HATE IT, OR IGNORE IT?
Shipnuck: OK, it’s FedEx time. Heaven help me, but I enjoyed the points projections today, seeing the hole-by-hole changes to who was in and who was out. I think this is going to be the best FedEx yet — Ryder Cup spots are up for grabs, Tiger’s advancing may be a weekly cliff-hanger, and player of the year is likely to be determined. Anybody else have FedEx fever?
Van Sickle: No. Are you daft, man?
Herre: We complain that the FedEx Cup is killing the weekly events, but the four playoff tournaments are always great. I think the long view is that the FedEx Cup has and will deliver.
Van Sickle: The playoff tournaments aren’t great because they have anything to do with the FedEx Cup points; they’re great because they’ve been fortunate to have good winners and exciting finishes. And yes, the name winners are more likely because most, if not all, of the top players feel compelled to play. So the Cup has been successful in attracting quality fields (at the expense of regular season events) but has utterly failed in creating interest in the whole confusing points things.
Bamberger: My FedEx Fever is the fear that my expense report won’t make it from my house to the Time & Life Building.
Lipsey: The Tour brass who will soon have to convince FedEx, or somebody else, to fork over tens of millions to sponsor the playoffs again must be very queasy. This could be the swan song for this moneypalooza.
Van Sickle: I agree with Rick. It’s hard to see this event continuing at these money levels. On the other hand, wouldn’t it work just as well if the final bonus was $5 million instead of $10 million?
Bamberger: The FedEx is four straight good golf events, with good fields, in great cities, on pretty good courses. But as a “playoff” concept, when the real season is over, I’m not feeling it and I don’t know a single golf fan who is.
Herre: I agree, Michael. There’s no real suspense or playoff feel, but the individual tournaments are all quality, and that’s a good way to wrap up the season, far superior to the post-PGA-Championship schedule pre-FedEx Cup.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I didn’t understand the FedEx Cup math the first year, and I don’t understand it now.
Lipsey: Probably better for FedEx that nobody understands, because it means folks have to talk more about it as they try to learn.
Evans: I think the Fall Series is more interesting, but all the stars shine during the FedEx Cup. I’m for anything that brings attention to the game. And does it matter that no one really understands the point system?
Van Sickle: That’s just it, nobody has to learn the system. Just enjoy each week’s tournament as a stand-alone event. That’s good enough.
Shipnuck: There’s no doubt that the perception problem began in year one when the Tour badly oversold the “playoff” concept. I agree with Gary. Just enjoy the four really good events and don’t worry about the rest.
WOODS AND THE PLAYOFFS
Shipnuck: In the old days the question was how many FedEx Cup tourneys Tiger would skip. It will be fascinating to see if he can survive and advance. And if he plays poorly he could blow his Ryder captain’s pick. Ridgewood is not the ideal ballpark for Tiger, either. It’s fairly tight, with tall trees. But if he gets to the second week, the TPC of Boston is a good place for him to be long and little crooked. Somehow, it’s always about Tiger.
Herre: If Woods somehow does not advance to his own tournament in Boston, I can’t see him being picked by Pavin.
Evans: Pavin has to pick Woods. He made the cut in all four majors and he had top 10s in the Masters and the U.S. Open.
Van Sickle: In another year, Woods would probably have welcomed the break if he missed the playoffs. Not this year, though. I think he’d like to cobble together some game, make a splash, play well and do something in the Ryder Cup just for his own peace of mind, not to mention shutting up a lot of the public and/or media.
Lipsey: Honestly, the only interesting thing to me will be watching to see if Tiger can advance. How freaky would it be if he gets axed during week one?
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Shipnuck: How about player of the year? I’d like to know the putative favorite heading into the final four tourneys. Who would you vote for this minute?
Bamberger: Overall, on any tour? Langer is the player of the year.
Shipnuck: Great call on Langer, smarty-pants. How about the PGA Tour? In this year of parity I’d vote for Phil, simply because the Masters is golf’s Super Bowl, and he played the most indelible golf, with his eagle-eagle-birdie stretch on Saturday and the 6-iron on 13 on Sunday. Thrown in all the emotion with Amy, and it was by far the biggest win of the season.
Bamberger: I’d vote Phil if I had a vote and today were election day. But I have a hunch that between now and the end of the year, McIlroy will prove himself to be POY. We should have our own player of the year, here at the Confidential, where players from all tours are welcome, and Ryder Cup play can count as much as, say, a PGA Championship. With no boundaries, it really is Langer, just as it might have been Lorena last year.
Van Sickle: I’d vote for No Award right now. If some multiple winner can score in the FedEx Cup series, it’ll go to him, whether it’s Ernie Els or Steve Stricker or Justin Rose.
Hack: I’ll give a nod to Justin Rose for POY. He’s won at two muscular venues in 2010.
Herre: How about Dustin Johnson? The guy has certainly been the story of the year.
Lipsey: For sure, but can the POY be somebody who imploded (in very different ways) at the end of two majors?
Shipnuck: Can anyone even name which tourneys Els won way back in March?
Evans: Not right off, but he’s also atop the money list. That’s enough for me.
Herre: And Els wound up topping the FedEx Cup points list.
Shipnuck: Ernie was a non-factor at the Masters and the PGA, shot a Friday 79 to miss the cut at the British and threw up on himself on Sunday at the U.S. Open. Can’t vote that guy POY unless he has a monster FedEx Cup. And maybe not even then.
INKSTER’S MISTAKE AND GOLF’S WORST RULES
Shipnuck: Ai Miyazato’s win at the LPGA Safeway Classic will be overshadowed by Juli Inkster’s being disqualified on Saturday for using a weighted club while idling on a tee box mid-round. What does everyone think about golf’s latest rules controversy?
Evans: Juli Inkster made a stupid mistake. What was she thinking using a swing aid in the middle of a round?
Van Sickle: This seems like a bad rule. Inkster wasn’t hitting shots or practicing on the course; she was merely loosening up with a swing weight. Still, she has no excuse for not knowing it.
Herre: I wasn’t aware of the rule Inkster violated, but you’d think a veteran pro would be. Also, I think it’s cool that someone watching on TV called in the infraction. Golf is the only interactive sport that way, something that should be celebrated, not criticized. The people who complain about viewers or anyone, really, being able to call an infraction simply don’t understand the rules and the game.
Hack: Funny, as a duffer with a million gadgets in his bag (Swingyde, Right Angle, Laser Finder, 2 by 4), even I knew they were forbidden during tournament play. Whether it’s a good rule or a bad one, Juli broke it.
Bamberger: I don’t get it. You can make practice swings with a headcover on, which does the same thing, right?
Van Sickle: Marketing opp, Bamberger: Weighted headcovers!
Shipnuck: Should golf rethink its rules in the 21st century and make wholesale changes, with a Common Sense Committee overseeing a drastic reduction in the number of subsets to every Rule?
Evans: The rules of golf are like the Constitution. You can amend them, but you can’t just throw them out. I’m not against a yearly review of the rules by the two top governing bodies — the R & A and the USGA — but you can’t get mad at them just because you break one that seems silly.
Herre: The rules are reviewed routinely by the USGA and the R&A, and you could argue that they are already based on common sense.
Lipsey: Jim is correct. The rules are based on very common sense, although it doesn’t always look like they are when gaffes occur on a pro tour on TV.
Shipnuck: If you have to argue they’re based on common sense, that might be a problem!
Van Sickle: How about the rule that forces you to take a drop and a penalty from a flooded, unplayable bunker? What, it’s my fault there’s a flood? Now that’s a bad rule. And how about the rule where you can’t play defense on the green?
Bamberger: I’d make OB just stroke, not distance, for starters. Simplify the game and speed it up.
Van Sickle: One thing nobody brought up in Dustingate at the PGA: Was grounding his club in the bunker worthy of a two-shot penalty, or is that excessive? Hitting yourself or your equipment with your ball on a shot, as Jeff Maggert once did from a bunker in Augusta, was reduced from a two-shot penalty to a one-shot penalty. This one is worth re-thinking too.
Herre: Here’s one you’ll get a kick out of: A friend who is a club pro told me that Johnson should have been penalized on 18 for having a spectator move so that a ray of sunlight would not shine on his ball in the bunker. The club pro said that moving the fan to block the sun aided Johnson, same as if someone had held an umbrella over him in the rain. Crazy?