Tour Confidential: Are Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson Ryder Cup Captain Material?

October 19, 2015
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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. Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee created a buzz centered around Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson last week when he said they were undeserving Ryder Cup captains because they have shown a lack of passion as players in the event. Is there any validity in his argument?

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Just look at their losing records in the Ryder Cup. Phil’s teams were 2-8, Tiger’s teams were 1-6. Boo Weekley has played on as many winning American sides as Tiger. Also, their preparation levels when they arrived at the Ryder Cup were clearly far less than, say, the majors. Brandel had valid basis in his point.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Yes, there’s validity. It’s a considered opinion from a person who evidently spends a lot of time thinking about such matters. But I don’t agree with him at all. Mickelson and Woods are the two most significant American golf figures of the last 25 years, by a million miles. All young players admire what they have done with their careers. How could they be anything but inspiring captains? And let’s not even get into how overrated the captaincy is in the first place.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens): There were a number of Cups when both Tiger and Phil gave off the air of players who thought they were above it all, and that was irksome. It didn’t help that their records appeared to support the impression that they didn’t have their hearts fully invested. But I think there’s little doubt that they cared more than their appearance and their performance suggested. And besides, people change. Tiger cuts a humbler profile these days, and if he says he’s into it, why not give him the benefit of the doubt? It’s not hard to imagine players rallying around him, just as they would for Phil.

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Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): I’m in Brandel’s camp a lot, but there’s no validity to this argument. He cited Tiger’s sub-.500 overall Ryder Cup winning percentage as evidence that his passion doesn’t hold up compared to his results in individual events. Records have nothing to do with passion for the Ryder Cup. Davis Love III earned his second captaincy in 2016 and his career mark as a player is 9-12-5. Ditto all of this for Phil. By virtue of their long Cup service, by having the respect of the players and by their ability to lead, Tiger and Phil have earned their nods as captain. Still, there’s only one guy truly deserving of that job–and that’s Larry Nelson. I’m in complete agreement with Brandel on that.


Brendan Mohler, assistant editor, (@bmohler09): In some ways Chamblee is right. Woods and Mickelson have never been able to mesh as leaders on the same Ryder Cup team, let alone as partners on the course. But to deprive two of the game’s legends of a chance to captain simply because their records in the event aren’t superb is wrong. Davis Love III said it best when he cited Ben Crenshaw and Paul Azinger, two successful captains who lacked strong Ryder Cup playing records, as examples of why Woods and Mickelson can work. The bottom line is that both players deserve a captaincy—but probably not in the same year.

2. The PGA Tour kicked off its 2015-16 season this week at the Open (just three weeks after the Tour Championship). Is the wraparound season concept working, or do players — and fans — need a longer break?

VAN SICKLE: Without the wraparound season, you can kiss six or eight tournaments goodbye, along with the young players who would’ve had chances to get on the tour via those tournaments. Like Emiliano Grillo winning in Silverado, for example. Losing the fall season would mean the PGA Tour would probably have to reduce its exempt player list by 30 or 40 players. As long as sponsors want to sponsor tournaments year long, what’s the problem?

BAMBERGER: It’s working because it allows the Tour players to play for more money, so it makes the players happy with Finchem, who invented it. It is, of course, a function of the FedEx Cup non-playoffs. It is not working for us simple-minded sports fans, or I should say the simple-minded sportswriter.

SENS: As Groucho Marx once said, “I like my cigar, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.” A little more scarcity would go a long way toward whipping up interest.


PASSOV: I can’t stand the wraparound season. Every other major professional sport takes a substantial break, not only to give players a chance to rest but to give the fans some time to decompress and let the anticipation build for the start of the next season. I’m a big fan of Silverado, and this week is a nice feather in Johnny Miller’s cap, but between the Mets-Cubs and the start of the Patriots-Colts game, I’m just not that interested in a Grillo-Na playoff. The Tour Championship was great and the Presidents Cup was thrilling. Now I’m really ready for a break until Hawaii in January.

MOHLER: From a fan’s perspective, the wraparound season works. Golf fans don’t get tired of watching golf and there are just enough big names playing in the fall series events to keep the casual fan interested. The better players complain about the lack of offseason, but the tournaments toward the end of the season are so highly valued that playing a heavy schedule in the fall, unless you’re a rookie or hovering in the mid-100s on the money list, isn’t necessary.


3. In his first start as a PGA Tour member, Emiliano Grillo made a clutch birdie on 18 on Sunday to take the clubhouse lead and later won the Open by beating Kevin Na in a playoff with a birdie on the second playoff hole. Earlier this month he won the Tour Championship. What’s your take on the 23 year old?

VAN SICKLE: Grillo grew up playing against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger and the rest. He was going to be a star in pro golf, it just happened a lot more suddenly than anyone–including Grillo–expected. He looked pretty shaky in Sunday’s finale at times, especially in the playoff, but he got the win and is in the Masters. Grillo has the potential to be a very good player but he’s got a ways to go yet.

BAMBERGER: I like his name, know nothing about him and stand in awe of anybody at 23 who has done what he has already done. In ten years, he passed about five million people on the world rankings.


SENS: He’s further proof that PGA Tour deserves the Any Given Sunday slogan more than the NFL. So many young talents that it’s hard to keep them straight. Count Grillo in that ever expanding, if sometimes indistinguishable, group.

PASSOV: Had Grillo lost this playoff, he could have cemented his status in the all-choke Hall of Fame. He missed a near tap-in that cost him the title in Puerto Rico earlier in 2015 and this right-center three footer was ridiculously easy for a professional golfer. So you know what? He still got the job done at the Frys with some seriously great, clutch shots. Grillo has a ton of talent. If he can learn from what went awry on those short ones, perhaps he’s a star in the making.

MOHLER: Grillo has serious game and he seems to have the mental strength under pressure to back it. Surely Kevin Na isn’t the most formidable opponent when the heat is on, but he’s a veteran with a PGA Tour victory to his name. That’s more than Grillo could say, at least until now. Many players have proven their worth on either the Tour or the European

4. Kevin Na hit driver off the deck — and hit it fat — on the second playoff hole, and that mistake allowed Grillo to secure the win. Na has now been second seven times and won just once in his career. What’s holding him back?

VAN SICKLE: Na has a terrific short game, among the best on tour. His ballstriking isn’t quite to that level and he’s always been a little jumpy and nervy. I think it’s hard for him to control the adrenaline down the stretch and in playoffs, just like it is for a lot of players. I think he keeps improving, though, so I wouldn’t write him off.

BAMBERGER: Hmm. I don’t know but a guess would be that he needs to make better decisions and swings late on Sundays.

SENS: You could look at it in the inverse. For a guy who is a long way from one of the Tour’s bigger hitters and who has battled the driver yips, it’s amazing how far he has gotten.


PASSOV: Na’s lack of length hurts him overall. What’s interesting about Na and his game, now that he’s shed the slow-play, pull-the-trigger nightmares, is that he takes a lot of chances, which leads to many birdies but also to many bogeys. Until he can cut down on those aggressive mistakes at crunch time, he’ll continue to be a frequent contender, but not a frequent winner.

MOHLER: Na constantly looks more frazzled under pressure than almost any player who contends as often as he does. Driver off the deck, a shot with almost zero room for error, on the second playoff hole is a ballsy move to say the least, and probably not the smartest play. He wasn’t going to defeat Grillo with a great second shot on 18 but still went for the heroic play. Na’s pre-shot routine seems to be different with every swing down the stretch. A different mental approach that allows him to relax more could be what he needs. Of course, if it were that easy, he’d have 10 PGA Tour wins instead of only one.


5. How would you grade Rory’s 2015-16 debut? A success? A flop? Or not significant either way?

VAN SICKLE: It wasn’t Rory’s kind of course–shortish, tight and not a big-hitter’s track. That said, his putting didn’t look so good and he joked about nearly getting hit by Grillo’s tee shot that, “At least it would’ve put me out of my misery.” Rory played because he had to. Not a good start but not a big deal, either.

BAMBERGER: To quote the great man–and we all know who that is–it was a “baby step.” One that will not be remembered for long.

SENS: I doubt Rory looks at the Frys as a vital barometer, and we shouldn’t either. This is the low-gear stage of the season for him. He’ll be revving up for the events that matter most to him soon enough.

PASSOV: After his comment about playing tournament golf in the Napa region (“It’s a nice event. It’s a beautiful part of the world. There’s a lot of stuff to do off the course as well. Just trying to find a balance between not feeling too hungover when you tee it up the next day.”), I’ll give him an ‘A’ for perspective. Hey, the only reason he was here is because he signed a deal with the Tour that permitted him to play a 2012 exhibition in Turkey in exchange for showing up at the Frys within three years. Others in his position would have missed the cut and been on a private jet on Friday night. At least Rory showed up for four rounds. T26? Not great, but not bad.

MOHLER: Not much should be made of Rory’s debut. He played solid golf after a few short weeks off and didn’t do anything spectacularly good or bad along the way. McIlroy is smart enough to not peak during the Fall Series. I imagine we won’t see his best stuff until mid-spring.

6. Lexi Thompson won in South Korea but Amy Yang stole the headlines when she became the first player in LPGA Tour history to close with nine straight birdies, shooting a 27 on the back nine on Sunday for a 62. What is the greatest scoring feat in golf?

VAN SICKLE: I’m sticking with Johnny Miller’s 63 at Oakmont. It’s possibly the world’s hardest course and he did it with persimmon woods and old blades and a balata ball. Forty-plus years later, nobody has shot lower in a major championship despite the waves of technological advancements. Maybe you’re tired of hearing Johnny talk about it on TV, but that 63 has stood the test of time.

BAMBERGER: For a single round, Johnny Miller’s 63 at the ’73 U.S. Open at Oakmont.

SENS: You mean, aside from Kim Jong Il’s 34-under in a single round? As GOLF Mag’s go-to stat guru has pointed out, from August 1999 to November 2000, Tiger Woods beat the field’s scoring average in 89 straight tournament rounds, which is about three times longer than any streak by his closest competitor. That’s a stretch of prolonged excellence that puts him in DiMaggio hitting streak territory.

PASSOV: Whew, so late at night and so many possibilities. I’ll go with my first two thoughts: Johnny Miller’s final-round, eight-under-par 63 to win the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont strikes me because only three other players broke 70 that day. For sheer domination, I’ll go with Tiger Woods’ 12-under-par 272 total to win the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots–and that was with a triple-bogey 7 at the third hole on Saturday.

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