Tour Confidential: Is Sang-moon Bae Asia's Next Great Golf Star? Plus, the Wraparound Schedule and the Shark's Defining Moment

Tour Confidential: Is Sang-moon Bae Asia’s Next Great Golf Star? Plus, the Wraparound Schedule and the Shark’s Defining Moment

Sang-moon Bae celebrates on the 18th green following his two-shot victory at the 2014 Open.
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Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. South Korea’s Sang-moon Bae captured his second Tour title at the season-opening Open at Silverado Sunday. Which of these young Asian stars holds the most promise: Bae, Hideki Matsuyama, Seung-yul Noh or Ryo Ishikawa?

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Matsuyama has had the biggest impact in the high-wattage events, so he tops the list. Bae's 2013-14 season was kind of a dud, but maybe this win will be a springboard, just as it helped propel Jimmy Walker last year. Bae is now someone to keep an eye on.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Matsuyama still looks like the class of this bunch. Ishikawa is wildly inconsistent, but like Michelle Wie, still young. Matsuyama has the total game. My money is on him to be the first Japanese player to win a major.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@eamonlynch): For now, Matsuyama seems to me to have the more complete game, but this group has many years to settle on its preeminent member. At 28, Bae is the old man by five years.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Matsuyama is my pick. His top 10s in the 2013 majors were amazing – and those were his debuts. He has every tool, from length to rhythm to touch, but since late in 2013, he's been battling wrist injuries, even as he grabbed the title at the Memorial event. If he gets fully healthy, he's a World Top 10 for sure. Bae is close, with that gorgeous swing, though he hasn't made a cut in a major since 2012 and has never done better than T37. A golf industry friend bet $1,000 in 2012 that Bae would win a PGA Tour event that year — at 30-1 odds. He didn't win until 2013, but that's how much my pal thought of his game.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): I'd call it a toss up among the first three, with Ishikawa contesting only in the colorful pants category. That said, is it overly PC of me to think it odd that we're lumping these guys all together because they hail from the same continent?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Ryo has the most flair, but what Bae has done is remarkable. Just seeing those four names in one sentence is a reminder of what a poor job we — and by that I mean I — have done to introduce these Asian golfers to our readers. Ryo we know a little, and the other three not at all. I assume they have to be at least as interesting as, say, Adam Scott.

2. Peter Kostis gave an 'F' grade for the PGA Tour's new wraparound schedule, citing a player's need for offseason rest, injury recovery and practice time. Do you agree or disagree?

VAN SICKLE: Disagree. Nobody is forcing these guys to play the old fall events and most of the top names aren't. Was it better before when Disney was the last official Tour event in early November? No. The difference is the forced late-season play of the FedEx Cup. Hey, the guys who didn't make the FedEx Cup playoffs have had two months off. They're ready to go. If the Tour gives up these seven events in six weeks, it's leaving the last three months of the calendar open — a ripe opportunity for someone to create a rival product. Deane Beman made sure that never happened.

RITTER: Kostis nailed it. In fact, it's almost comical that a new season just started. Casual fans don't get it and it's hard to blame them. I understand the Tour created the wraparound calendar to hold onto sponsors for the fall events, but it seems like there had to be a better way to do it.

LYNCH: Disagree. There is no obligation on players to tee it up in these early events, as most of the stars will demonstrate. There are really two Tours: one for the elite players — the stars who slogged through the four playoff events and the Ryder Cup — and another Tour for everyone else. We won't see most of the stars until 2015, so these fall tournaments offer the lower orders a chance to get a head start on the race to keep cards and earn exemptions.

PASSOV: Though I'm not a fan of the wraparound, I wouldn't give it an 'F.' The stars were going to play anyway in the off-season, in Silly Season events and for appearance cash in Asia, South Africa and Australia. Yet, I'm mostly going to concur with Kostis, especially for a reason he brings up that I had never contemplated — that guys might just want some time to work on their games. How often do we see baseball pitchers come back in the spring, having worked on a new grip in the off-season? Let them rest, heal and practice, and let us as fans come back refreshed to watch them play again.

SENS: From a fans' perspective, there are plenty of valid reasons to gripe about the wraparound season, the soporific events and diminishing return of an uninterrupted schedule among them. But why are we worrying about the players? If they want a break, they can take a break. I imagine most would rather have the opportunity to make a ton of money doing one of the most privileged jobs in the world.

BAMBERGER: Oh, I totally agree. To everything there is a season, and I think we all know this is field hockey season.

3. Jimmy Walker began his breakout 2013-14 PGA Tour season with a win at last year’s Open. Who’s your pick to have a Walker-esque breakout year in 2014-15?

LYNCH: Brooks Koepka, who finished T8 this week, but who may be better known for finishing T4 in last year's U.S. Open at Pinehurst and getting less airtime than Paula Creamer did as a spectator. That kid has game.

VAN SICKLE: Chris Kirk finally got a win late in the season, and he's got the game and demeanor to go out and rack up multiple wins in a season. He's not a complete unknown, but he's ready to break out.

PASSOV: Brooks Koepka has done everything in the past two years except win, in his limited appearances on the big stage. He will break through big-time in 2014-15.

BAMBERGER: Can Rickie Fowler be a candidate? I was talking to Jim Dent earlier this year, and he was reaching for Rickie's name and couldn't come up with it and said instead, "That kid they're trying to turn into a superstar." This new season is the one in which Fowler could double and maybe even triple his career win total.

RITTER: Lots of possibilities, but I'm looking at Brooks Koepka, the young American who's won on the Challenge Tour, Euro Tour and made some waves in the majors; Ryan Moore, who's done everything except become a consistent winner on Tour; and Harris English, who faded in the summer but has already proven that he can hang out there.

SENS: I'm expecting a bust-out campaign from a guy named Eldrick, who will sneak up on the field largely unrecognized, having reinvented himself for the umpteenth time.

4. 97 players earned more than a million dollars in the 2013-14 PGA Tour season. Several of them did so having accrued more missed cuts than top-10 finishes. Is this an indication of the health of the PGA Tour or proof of watered-down competition?

PASSOV: Give Tim Fichem and his team a whole bunch of credit. In the mostly down economy from 2008 to 2012, and in the slightly better one the past two years, he kept sponsors engaged and prize money flowing. The overflow of millionaires is due to the health of the Tour.

VAN SICKLE: The PGA Tour annually shows us the money. Upwards of $275 million. It's crazy money. You win the right major, you take home $1.8 million. You come close but fail to stay in the top 125, you've still scored $700,000 or so, a great year by any normal person's standards. The competition isn't watered down at all. There are more good players than ever before, but possibly fewer great players. With the modern equipment, it's more difficult than ever for the best players to separate themselves.

LYNCH: Years ago, I interviewed Christy O'Connor Sr., the Irish legend who played on 10 Ryder Cup teams. He was invited to the Masters for 19 straight years but never played. Why? He couldn't afford it, since he had kids and would have needed an extended stay in the U.S. to shake off the rust of a Dublin winter. Now, winless mediocrity on Tour is sufficient to pay for a lavish lifestyle. Maybe the Tour should change its slogan to 'These Guys Are Good, Not That They Have To Be.'

BAMBERGER: It is proof that Finchem knows what he is doing, and what he needs to do to keep his job.

SENS: There's no doubt that the talent pool in pro golf is wider and deeper than ever. There's also no doubt that many of the players in that pond are grossly overpaid. But that's the case with all our major professional sports (you can ride the pine all year in the MLB and still make a half a million dollars, minimum), which profit from our lust for tribalism and distraction. But since those distractions and that tribalism help pay my mortgage, I guess I'm in no place to complain.

RITTER: Outrageous prize money is a sign that PGA Tour golf is thriving — but the wraparound schedule still stinks.

5. Due to a chainsaw accident that nearly severed his left hand, Greg Norman admitted this week that he might never play golf again. If this is indeed the end of Norman’s golf career, what's your defining on-course moment for the Shark?

VAN SICKLE: Norman's defining moment will always be a gut-wrenching loss. Pick one, any one. The Larry Mize chip-in. The David Frost bunker shot. The white-towel wave and playoff loss at Winged Foot to Fuzzy Zoeller. The Masters loss to Nick Faldo after Norman had shot 63 earlier in the week. Norman was larger than life as a player, and he won big and lost big — a lot like Arnold Palmer, when you think about it. I'd like to say that 64 at Royal St. George's when Norman won the British Open (a terrific closing round of golf), but the spectacular ways he fell overshadowed his best golf.

BAMBERGER: The hug he shared with Faldo when it was all over in '96. It made the rest of his significant off-course career possible. That Augusta defeat humanized him for eternity.

PASSOV: The Shark had a look, a demeanor, a way of striding and preparing that seemed like he was going to pure every shot, hole every chip, drain every putt. He's clearly one of the greatest drivers in history and won close to 100 tournaments worldwide. He could win on any kind of course, in any conditions. Yet, I'll remember him most for the agonizing losses, first for his flag-waving show of defeat (and good sportsmanship) to Fuzzy Zoeller at the 1984 U.S. Open and then most tragically, his utterly deflating collapse at the 1996 Masters.

LYNCH: The Larry Mize chip-in at Augusta, which was the second consecutive major in which a lesser light had holed from off the green to deny Norman, cementing his snake-bitten image. Sure, he cost himself many majors, but those two majors were daylight robbery. On a more upbeat note: his performance at Turnberry in 1986, in which he mixed a sublime 63 with a gritty fight through some foul weather to win by five.

SENS: That pitying hug Faldo gave him on the 18th green at Augusta in '96. Rare to see such a larger-than-life figure look so small.

6. Two-time major winner Sandy Lyle won the World Hickory Open — an event contested using pre-1935 equipment — in Scotland this week. What’s your favorite golf event outside of the major tour competitions?

LYNCH: The World Amateur in Myrtle Beach attracts over 3,400 golfers from all handicap ranges in pursuit of glory. This year, it was won by a 9 handicap. It is the most democratic event in golf. It just needs cattle prods for the slow pokes out there.

VAN SICKLE: I actually enjoyed that Silly Season event, The Skills Challenge, until they ruined it by bringing in celebrities to compete alongside second-tier Tour players. You saw these guys make shots and hit trick shots and realized just how ridiculously skilled even the worst player on Tour is. Somebody should resurrect that show. I'd still watch.

RITTER: Probably the hotly contested DeNunzio Cup — our inter-office, two-man scramble event. Scrambles are wildly underrated and could easily be incorporated into more pro events, especially this time of year.

PASSOV: I'm a huge fan of those occasional limited club events — be it a one-club tournament or even a 7-club tournament — that lets a serious stick show off his imagination and shotmaking skills. Of the regular, existing events, however, I'll pick the Father-Son Challenge. Timeless concept, and every Hall of Famer shows up for it.

BAMBERGER: Last year, no event I attended was better than the Walker Cup at the National Golf Links. I do love the qualifiers for the British Opens at these funky, seaside courses often near the Open course itself.

SENS: The real Ryder Cup, the one that 11 buddies and I have competed in every fall now for 20 years running, a three-day event pitting six amateur American hacks against similarly "skilled" rivals from the UK and Ireland. If you take part in an annual golf getaway with childhood friends, then you know the feeling. Nothing in professional golf can compare.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.