SI Golf Group convened a panel of experts — senior writers Michael Bamberger, Alan Shipnuck and Gary Van Sickle, as welll as special contributor John Garrity and a PGA Tour player who took part on the condition of anonymity — to tackle this week's big questions as we approach the U.S. Open. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
1. What do you think of the USGA’s novel experiment to play the two Opens at the same venue in consecutive weeks?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): No matter how the events turn out, it’s already a success. We’ve spent more time discussing the Women’s Open than ever. For sheer exposure, it’s brilliant. If this were American Bandstand and we were rating records, I’d give it a 95.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): I totally agree. If you ask LPGA players to name the best tournaments they’ve ever been part of, they’ll say the Open at Oakmont or the British Open at St. Andrews. When they get to play the iconic courses, it elevates the tournament. We feel it, they feel it, and the viewers at home feel it.
ANONYMOUS PRO: The only way it’ll be a disaster is if the men are playing Monday because of weather or a playoff. The USGA should’ve had the Women’s Open run from Friday through Monday just to build an extra day into the schedule. Let the women finish on Monday. That way they won’t be on TV against baseball or men’s golf.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Women’s golf has improved tremendously since the Nancy Lopez era and maybe even since the Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb era. There are more good players now than ever. When you see these women playing the same approach and bunker shots that the men do, the public will have a much deeper appreciation for their talent. That’ll be a great thing for women’s golf.
John Garrity, special contributor, Sports Illustrated (@jgarrity2): I agree, but someone needs to point out the concerns, like the women may end up putting on shag carpeting or sand if the weather is extreme for the men.
SHIPNUCK: At majors, the courses are the stars as much as any one player. Why was Stacy Lewis winning the British Open such a big deal? Because she birdied the Road Hole to win. Every golf fan knows what that means. So having an Open at Pinehurst is huge.
ANONYMOUS PRO: I’m not so sure. I don’t think the women’s ratings will be any different than usual. The LPGA has a loyal following, and the same people who always watch it will watch it, but that’s it. If the women played Augusta National the week after the Masters, yeah, the ratings would be a lot higher because of the course. It has an aura. Nobody is going to tune in because it’s Pinehurst. It’s nice, but from a recognition standpoint, it’s no Pebble Beach, Oakmont or even an Olympic Club.
2. Sentiment says this should be Phil Mickelson’s Open. Can he really do it?
GARRITY: If you’re asking me if the guy with the best Open record over the last 15 years can win the Open, yes, I think so. Especially since it’s been less than a year since he won his fifth major. I get that he’s been in poor form lately, but he’s still gone low a few times and he’s still Phil.
BAMBERGER: This is perfect, for Phil to go in with super-low expectations. He loves to prove people wrong. Going in playing poorly will work to Phil’s advantage in a weird sort of way.
ANONYMOUS PRO: Sorry, but I’m a naysayer. Really, what has Phil done this year to give anyone reason to think he can win? He says he’s never driven it better, but his numbers aren’t any better. And he’s putt-ing worse than ever.
SHIPNUCK: His early-season struggles weren’t a big deal, but the Masters was a huge red flag. He looked lifeless, and that’s his favorite tournament.
VAN SICKLE: He keeps changing putters and putting grips—that’s another red flag. That club is a problem. You can count on two hands the number of guys who kept putting great into their mid-40s.
BAMBERGER: I wish he would come to me for a putting lesson because he looks like he’s overdoing that forward press, more than I remember him doing in the past.
SHIPNUCK: To be so up and down indicates that Phil’s problem has got to be mental. His head just isn’t in the game.
VAN SICKLE: I’d like to be wrong, but that British Open win carried the faint scent of a curtain call.
ANONYMOUS PRO: Phil’s form around and on the greens is the worst it’s been in 10 years. He’s really screwed up a lot of holeable chips and routine pitches and even Mickelson-esque lobs. Remember the 12th at Augusta when he went back and forth in the bunkers? That and his putting will keep him from winning the Open.
3. What was the best U.S. Open you ever attended and why?
ANONYMOUS PRO: At Oakmont in 1994, I happened to be near the 18th green when Arnold Palmer broke down as he walked off at his last Open. There was a thunderous ovation before he got to the green and then again when he left, all the way underneath the stands to the scoring area. There was this white noise around the scoring area, but when he came in, a hush fell over the place, as if a cop walked into a bar and the music stopped. The silence was eerie.
VAN SICKLE: Pebble Beach in 1992 had it all. No-name Andy Dillard set a record by birdieing the first six holes, Dr. Gil Morgan set a record by being the first to get to double digits under par, and then strong winds on the weekend combined with rock-hard greens — another USGA screwup — to create more pileups than Talladega. There weren’t many scores under 80 the last day, and Jack Nicklaus prematurely congratulated Colin Montgomerie on winning his first Open. Nope, Tom Kite got that monkey off his back, not Monty.
BAMBERGER: I’ll go with the 1986 Open at Shinnecock Hills. Not only because of the impressive play by Ray Floyd and Greg Norman, but it was also such a wake-up call for -really traditional golfing values in course setup and architecture. It may have contributed to this renaissance of interest in classic American golf courses being presented in a simple way, not all tricked up.
SHIPNUCK: You can make a case that 1999 was the greatest Open ever and losing Payne Stewart the way we did later that year seared it into our memories. David Duval was No. 1, and he burns his fingers on a kettle. Phil and Duval, the best players without a major, are both right there. Tiger had just mastered his swing changes with Butch Harmon and won the Memorial a few weeks before. But it had been two years since his Masters breakthrough, so he had something to prove. It was a dream leader board, and then you had Payne with this wild scorecard of so many birdies and bogeys.
GARRITY: My favorite was 1958 at Southern Hills. You guys were there, weren’t you?
BAMBERGER: Was Oklahoma even a state?
GARRITY: I got to see Ben Hogan up close, and I stood right behind the winner, Tommy Bolt, when he hit his approach shot up the hill to the 72nd hole to win. They had killer ice cream sandwiches on the course, which was a nice commodity because it was about 103° and very humid. It was my first Open, and I watched it with my dad and my brother. So I’ve got warm memories of that event.
SHIPNUCK: John, that’s one of my favorite answers in the history of the roundtable.
4. Tiger isn’t No. 1 anymore. Who will be No. 1 by the end of the year?
GARRITY: I’m tempted to say Jordan Spieth because of his consistency, but I think Adam Scott will hold onto it. The majors count for bonus points, and Adam still has last year’s Masters on the books. Plus his win at Colonial convinced me.
BAMBERGER: After Rory McIlroy wins these next three majors, he will clearly emerge as the No. 1 player in the world.
SHIPNUCK: Whoever has it now is a mere caretaker. Bubba Watson is about to go on a sustained run. The fates are aligned for him. Pine-hurst isn’t a traditional Open venue, which is good for Bubba. Chambers Bay next year is good for him. If John Daly can win on the Old Course, so can Bubba. And next year we go to Whistling Straits for the PGA, where Bubba lost in a playoff in 2010.
VAN SICKLE: I agree with all of that about Watson . . . as long as you meant Tom Watson.
SHIPNUCK: I’ll be amazed if Bubba doesn’t have a couple more majors by the end of next year.
ANONYMOUS PRO: I like Scott, even though I don’t look for him to play great at Pinehurst, because his short game isn’t up for it. But he is putting better, and he’s more comfortable at No. 1 than anyone thinks. Even if Tiger plays the final two majors, Adam keeps the top spot.
VAN SICKLE: I like Alan’s theory, but I’m less optimistic that anybody is going to pile up multiple wins. That’s why Matt Kuchar is going to be No. 1 by top-tenning everyone to death. By the end of next year, though, I won’t be surprised if Tiger is No. 1 again.
SHIPNUCK: Wow, that’s wishful thinking.
VAN SICKLE: Retief Goosen is playing again, and his back feels great after disk surgery. Tiger may bounce back much quicker than you think and win five more times next year, as he did in 2013. There is more Tiger coming your way. Let the shock and awe of that soak in, fellas.
5. And the winners are . . .
VAN SICKLE: Who do you like on the women’s side?
GARRITY: I’ll go with Stacy Lewis. She just bumped Inbee Park off the mountaintop with her win on Sunday. This seems to be a season of American resurgence.
ANONYMOUS PRO: I like Lewis too. What a great story for the all-American girl to win at Pinehurst. She’s got a pair of victories this year and a lot of near misses. She’s a great driver of the ball and third in greens hit in regulation on the LPGA — that’ll be huge at Pinehurst.
BAMBERGER: Karrie Webb. Pinehurst will require an older golfing head, and she’s played some beautiful golf this year.
SHIPNUCK: I’m going with -Michelle Wie. She’s pounding her driver long and straight, which will give her shorter clubs into the greens. And her precision with her irons is key, given that Pinehurst is all about the approach shot. Then there’s the fact that this is the most anticipated Women’s Open ever. It needs a big-time winner, and Wie will move the needle like no other.
VAN SICKLE: I’ve got Anna Nordqvist. She has two wins this season, she hits a lot of greens, and she holes putts. The fact that I frequently mis-type her name is an added bonus.
BAMBERGER: On the men’s side I’m going with Rory -McIlroy because it’s a wide-open driving course, similar to Congressional and Kiawah. And he’s a very talented golfer. I think his head is clearing. Not clear, clearing.
SHIPNUCK: Somebody has to pick Phil. We all know he’s a very emotional golfer, and I believe you have to love a course to play it well. Phil attended a golf camp at Pinehurst when he was 13, so it’s a place that’s important to him. It would be too perfect to return 15 years later and have this be his ultimate victory lap. Phil can find the magic. It’s still in him. He can’t not win a U.S. Open.
VAN SICKLE: Double negatives aside, he’s going back to Pinehurst, where he coulda-shoulda won in 1999, but now it completes the career Grand Slam for him.
GARRITY: I’m with Alan for all the same reasons. Phil will probably miss his usual quota of fairways, but because of the renovation he’ll be hitting out of waste areas and love grass, which he’ll prefer to the usual Open rough. Plus, Phil is a drama king, and he’s very good at it.
ANONYMOUS PRO: Wow, you guys are taking all the sentimental picks. I like Matt Kuchar. He fits the profile of a good iron player and a great scrambler. He’s top five in scrambling stats, and if it’s remotely firm, you have to be an unbelievable scrambler because half of those greens repel balls.
VAN SICKLE: Phil will cause a total eclipse of the media, which means Justin Rose will come in under the radar, usually impossible for a defending champion. I like him for the same reasons the Pro likes Kuchar. He’s precise with the irons, and his short game is very, very good.
BAMBERGER: Is it too late to change my pick to California Chrome?
The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.