PGA Tour Confidential: Jordan Spieth keeps rising, Europe rolls at Solheim Cup

August 19, 2013

Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Twenty-year-old Jordan Spieth lost the Wyndham Championship in a playoff to Patrick Reed, ending his bid to become the youngest-ever two-time winner on Tour. Can Spieth – currently 8th in points — win the FedEx Cup?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The question implies an understanding of the FedEx Cup point system. I am unqualified.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Spieth has been impressive, and I expect him to make it to East Lake. But win? Nah, I think it'll be someone a little more grizzled. I'll pick Tiger, Mahan or Kuchar to take the big payday.

Joe Passov, senior editor, travel, Golf Magazine: With seven top 10s and little pressure or expectation, yes, he can win the FedEx Cup. No, he won't however. Great kid, outstanding talent, but he hasn't shined just yet when all the world's best are assembled.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Why not? Spieth is the most accomplished American rookie we've seen in a long time. And he's hot at the right time.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine: Mathematically, yeah. Realistically, no. Spieth jumped from 16th to 8th place in the standings with his win. But have you checked out the guys still ahead of him? Mickelson, Snedeker, Rose, Kuchar, Haas. Oh, and some dude named Tiger. Good as he is, Spieth just has too far to go.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The FedEx Cup is stacked for the top five in points. Spieth would probably have to win all four playoff events. Could he? Anything's possible, as the marketing department says. But no.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Last year Rory McIlroy won two of the four playoff events and still didn't win the Cup, so the lesson seems to be that anyone can win it. The odds are probably against a Spieth win, but I can't imagine many guys arrive at Liberty National this week with more confidence.

2. Outside of the compelling spectacle of Patrick Reed having his petite bride-caddie lugging around his comparatively gigantic staff bag, was there any other reason you would watch the tape-delayed Greensboro event on CBS, knowing he had already won? Why is the PGA Tour virtually alone among sports leagues in allowing its events to be shown on tape-delay?

Van Sickle: Had I been watching, I probably wouldn't have known Reed had won. It's not like I spent Sunday afternoon on the Internet. Some advertiser paid for two or three hours of programming, CBS has to fill that hole with golf. So you get tape-delayed. I could see tape-delayed if there was time to edit the show into a one-hour package. That would pick up the pace of the telecast. But if it ain't live on TV, it's dead.

Lynch: As a Time Warner Cable customer, whether or not to watch the CBS tape delay was a dilemma I didn't face.

Walker: Football, basketball, baseball and hockey fans don't have to put up with tape delay. Why should we?

Passov: Tough break for Greensboro, as I believe weather woes forced them to start and finish early. That said, it's impossible to avoid seeing the results in this day and age. Hey CBS and PGA Tour: No way to move some programming around so we could see the golf live?

Sens: No. Complete snore. But I might tune in with the hope of catching one of those Viagra commercials, whose stars always make me feel young and virile by comparison. As for showing tape-delayed events, I think the Tour clings to the notion that a lot of people watch golf simply to see the astounding skill and precision of the players. And there IS something to that. The rhythmic repitition of their swings, and the consistency of the results — they’re almost medidative. So much so, that when the event is tape-delayed, most of us quickly fall asleep.

Ritter: I don't know much about the intricacies of TV deals, but I do know this is lousy for golf fans. With CBS already blacked out in NYC, I tuned in online to see some holes. Not a great fan experience.

Bamberger: Oh, sure. If you like watching golf on TV, why not? When those old Shell series come on, I love them.

3. The Solheim Cup was filled with controversies, from Stacy Lewis' match on Friday to vice captain Annika Sorenstam telling the Europeans to concede a Paula Creamer par putt Saturday, to Michelle Wie running off the green after making a putt without waiting for her competitors to putt out. (Wie later apologized.) There was also some highly competitive and dramatic golf. Was this a good week or a bad week for women's golf?

Ritter: It was a good week for women's golf because we're talking about it. Most of the rules drama didn't bother me as a golf fan — in fact, it made me even more interested in the action. The Solheim Cup can get intense. Emotions run high. There's a lot of face paint. Things happen. It was fun to watch.

Bamberger: A good week for women's golf. We're talking about it. How often do we do that?

Sens: What’s that they say in the marketing business? Oh, yeah. Any publicity is good publicity. It applies here. Women’s golf could use all of the attention it can get. In this case, a few kerfuffles are a small price to pay in exchange for the buzz the event has generated.

Van Sickle: Team match play is always a good week for golf as long as the matches are competitive and reasonably close. I was glad even Judy Rankin called out Wie and her partner for bad sportsmanship. It happened a second time with another American duo on Saturday. It's not that important which side wins the Solheim Cup, it's important that it's a compelling show. Saturday's action was very compelling.

Passov: Virtually anything that calls attention to the LPGA Tour is good for women's golf, even if they are events bathed in negativity. If it gets sports and golf people talking about women's golf, that can only be a good thing. Women's golf also benefitted from being opposite a lesser PGA Tour event and a U.S. Am that didn't draw much interest. Overall, good week for women's golf.

Walker: Great week for women's golf because of the spirit and passion both teams show for the event. When passions run high, you're going to have controversies. It's all part of the fun.

Lynch: Overall a good week. It's refreshing to see more fireworks between players than hugs. But scheduling the Sunday singles for a late tee off to suit the TV schedule when the forecast was dicey was a lame call, and justly punished with a buzzkill weather delay.

4. Michelle Wie looks so much more confident in the Solheim Cup than at regular LPGA events. What accounts for the difference and does Wie's performance at the Solheim Cup mean she might eventually fulfill her potential on the LPGA Tour?

Sens: Here’s a not-very-well-kept secret: Michelle Wie long ago stopped loving competitive golf. At least the invididual competitions that she started playing at a very young age. Team competitions are a different story. The spotlight isn’t trained so intensely on her and her alone. And, more important, she’s playing for something bigger than herself. Wie clearly enjoys it—the chance to play for her country and her teammates. (Don’t you wish some of the biggest stars in the men’s game showed the same team spirit?) But I wouldn’t look for this to translate into greater success on the LPGA Tour.

Van Sickle: In match play, you can three- or four-putt and only lose one hole. In stroke play, there's no limit to how much you can botch a hole. She made some putts, yes, but I think her confidence is higher because she knows she's not going to have to putt everything out. Monty and Westwood and Darren Clarke turned into world-beating putters every Ryder Cup, too. It's a mystery but I hope Wie found something she can take back on tour and play the kind of golf she's capable of.

Bamberger: I don't believe there's a device that measures potential. You can predict whatever you like, but that's different than potential. Can this Solheim Cup experience help Michelle Wie play better golf? Sure — why not?

Ritter: She just seems to have so much fun at these team events. (I'd say she plays loose, but nothing about that putting stance seems free or easy.) I wonder if playing for herself creates added pressure that holds her back. Still, she was a controversial captain's pick, and she had a strong week. Good for her.

Lynch: I don't know that there's a more dispiriting sight in golf these days than Wie. All of that youthful promise now contorted into a putting stroke that looks as painful as its results. She has been coached to ruination.

Walker: I would guess the team atmosphere of the Solheim Cup makes Wie feel comfortable. That's a lot more like being in college with your friends than the loneliness of tour life. She should talk to Adam Scott about the long putter. Changed his life.

Passov: I don't think Wie's performance in the Solheim Cup will translate into more success on tour. We actually said the same thing in '09, when she rocked it — and little happened afterwards. She was a non-factor in the 2011 match, and frankly has been a non-factor on tour for years, except for her reputation. Wie might take comfort in the team aspect, as some Ryder Cuppers do, as with some who feed off the entire vibe, a la Ian Poulter. However, six missed cuts and two ties for 9th in 2013? Wie didn't deserve to be on the team. The problem is, who else would have been picked? Her name value alone moves the needle — much needed for the LPGA. When Greg Norman picked a then-woeful Adam Scott for his Presidents Cup team, Scott said it helped turn his career around. I'm not seeing that happen for Michelle.

5. Two rules debacles highlighted the first two days of the Solheim Cup. Is it time to change and/or simplify the rules to prevent these future half-hour delays, or were these simply a matter of proper handling, but bad luck for the LPGA?

Bamberger: The rules can and should be simplified. Sometimes, as in Tiger's drop at Augusta, the choices should be more limited, to save time and ease confusion. But once you delve deep into any rule of golf you see there are years and decades of logic and real-life example built into every word and comma.

Passov: Maybe we should bring in Golf Magazine's Rules Guy to answer this. On the one hand, we're now semi-content to wait out football replays that can stop the action for 10 minutes, but on the other, these were such buzzkillers for the golfers and for a golf telecast. "While we're young?" Let's simplify the rules by at least 50 percent, tradition be damned. Golf takes too long to play as it is.

Walker: The rules of golf are in need of an overhaul. Peter Kostis has suggested five good places to start: "The Five Dumbest Rules in Golf".

Van Sickle: There's no excuse for a rules debate to last 30 minutes. That's on the match official for not taking charge and making a decision. After the Fred Ridley-Tiger decision at the Masters, though, I can see how some officials may be loathe to pull the trigger and be wrong. The rules are fine.

Sens: The rules have been around for a long time and they’ve worked pretty well up to now. No need to change them. The snafus this weekend stemmed from human error: on the part of the officials and the players themselves. (As U.S. captain Meg Mallon acknowledged, the Americans didn’t properly challenge the incorrect ruling over Carlota’s Ciganda’s drop). As with many things, the rules are only as good as the people enforcing and following them. It’s up to them to do a better job.

Ritter: Stroke and distance penalties for O.B. shots could easily be wiped off the books. But the big delays at the Solheim were for balls that disappeared in hazards, and officials couldn't figure out where the competitors should take their drops. It was bad luck, but I also wonder if they were properly staffed out there. Those kind of rulings shouldn't take that long.

Lynch: We can't blame complicated rules for this debacle since it was a qualified rules official who botched the call, not an unwitting player. I'd suggest the weather delay did more to dampen an otherwise good week than the rules. There's no such thing as bad publicity for an event in search of an audience.

6. The PGA Tour has nixed the caddie races that took place the past few years at Phoenix and Colonial. A sensible end for a circus-like sideshow, or a shortsighted call on a slice of pure fun for the fans?

Passov: No one is calling either one of those events a fifth major, and for heaven's sake, Mr. Finchem, we're talking Phoenix, where half the fans in attendance are only vaguely aware that there's a golf tournament in progress. Let the caddies run!

Sens: Short-sighted. Granted, the Tour wants to preserve a sense of decorum and prevent tournaments from turning into outright carnivals. But it should pick its battles, and this was not the right one to fight. The Scottsdale event, in particular, is famously raucous, and caddie races feel in keeping with its spirit. If caddie races started turning up at the PGA Championship, I’d be worried. But as they are, the races are just a bit of harmless fun that runs little risk of interfering with the actual play — unlike, say, morons yelling “Baba Booey” in the middle of someone’s backswing. Those are the people the Tour should crack down on. Not a few caddies getting cardio.

Bamberger: I would have said keep them at Phoenix, on a special-exemption basis, but it's hard to have special exemptions in a corporate world. And the PGA Tour is most decidedly a corporate world.

Ritter: Definitely not the kind of move that makes golf seem hip and cool to the masses. (Not coincidentally, most golf legislation falls in the same class.) The races were harmless, except to the occasional caddie hamstring. I'll miss it.

Walker: The Tour should be trying to make more events like Phoenix, not the other way around.

Lynch: Instead of slowing down caddies the Tour ought to start speeding up players.

Van Sickle: Caddie races are fun until somebody shoots their eye out. Nobody will be laughing then.

7. Four unknown, college-age international players reached the semis of the U.S. Amateur, reducing any and all buzz factor for the event. Is it time to yank the "automatic" Masters invitations for both the winner and runner-up of the U.S. Amateur?

Van Sickle: So I guess you're no good unless you're a well-known college player? How many college players are well-known in a given year? Anyone who wins the U.S. Amateur is a national champion. Their marquee value isn't part of the discussion about whether they should be invited to the Masters.

Passov: Our national amateur has lost its juice for me. Perhaps because of match play's unpredictability, we're seeing too many fluke winners in recent years. If you want to tip your cap to the legacy of Bobby Jones and amateur golf, reward a few amateurs who have earned it via a points system over many tournaments, or else tap into the "career" amateurs and give a second spot coming out of the U.S. Mid-Am.

Sens: No. What is this, a citizenship requirement? Last I checked, these guys aren’t running for president. Besides, who’s to say these “unknowns” won’t go on to contend at the Masters and become very well known along the way. Changing the invitation policy in response to dominant performances by players from overseas would be small-minded. It would also ignore the fact that golf has grown into a global game—a globalization that the Masters itself has helped support.

Ritter: Do you want to take even more buzz out of the U.S. Am? I'm still fine with the Masters tie-in.

Walker: The amateurs, along with the past champs, are a big part of what makes the Masters special. The U.S. Amateur is the premier amateur event in the world, which is the reason we have so many international players in the field. I wouldn't eliminate any of those invites.

Bamberger: Losing seldom gets such a grand reward, but the Masters is trying so hard to keep amateurism alive. I'd keep it for now but keep looking for maybe another, better way to get another amateur in the field.

Lynch: Would this question even be posed had an American won or even made the final four? The issue isn't the provenance of the players, nor even the fact that they're "unknown" — most amateurs are unknown to fans until they win big. The real downer for the U.S. Amateur now is the annual absence of a genuine feel-good story of a dogged veteran making a run. The event is a coming-out show for the best college-age players in the world, who are pros in all but name. Accept it for what it is. If we're talking about yanking Masters invites, there are probably a few categories worth looking at. This isn't one of them.