Tour Confidential: The best swing in golf

January 22, 2014

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. It was a great week for great swings. Sweet-swinging Louis Oosthuizen won in South Africa while Adam Scott finished T8 in Hawaii with surfing buddy Benji Weatherley on his bag. Who has the best swing in golf?

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Adam Scott always looks like there's nothing out of place and nothing moves that shouldn't. It's like looking in a mirror for me. Not.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Well, great swings are overrated. Watson, Nicklaus, Trevino, Floyd, Woods in 2013, you can find serious oddities in all of them. Steve Elkington had about as beautiful a swing as I ever saw. King Louie does too. Karrie Webb, in her prime — what a swing. Luke Donald swings the club beautifully. The best swing in golf? Well, you have to define the term: what makes a swing best? Aesthetics? I could watch Ernie all day long, for the sheer awesomeness of the timing. But you'd have to say Woods' swing is more effective, going off the win column.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): I'll take King Louie. I just wish his passion for the game matched that swing of beauty.

Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): So many gorgeous swings in at the top level, but I'll go with Adam Scott, because his repeats the most.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@eamonlynch): Beauty is in the eye of the ball holer. There are plenty of beautiful swings on Tour but pretty alone doesn't make a career, unless you're Anna Kournikova. To my mind the best swings are those that are trusted when it matters most, no matter how funky it looks. The swings of guys like Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd and Arnold Palmer never won any beauty contests, but they won plenty of golf tournaments.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): It's tempting to go off the board and pick Tiger because he won the most often last year. But I remember watching Woods and Adam Scott go head-to-head in the final round last year at Muirfield, and after Scott teed off on the 10th hole a fellow scribe blurted out, to no one in particular, "How does that guy ever lose?" Scott's swing really is that good, especially in person. He's my choice.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Hard not to go with Scott's. Looks a lot like Tiger looked when he was near-unbeatable, several swings ago.

2. Zach Johnson followed up a win at Kapalua with a T8 at the Sony. Is Johnson successfully proving that you don't have to be a bomb-and-gouger to win on the PGA Tour these days?

BAMBERGER: He is, just as Luke Donald and Brandt Snedeker have in different ways. But length is always an advantage. The closer you are to the hole after each shot, the better.

LYNCH: (Note to self: Don't refer to Johnson as a “journeyman” this week.) Class is still capable of winning on Tour, even if the course setups are dismally repetitive in favoring the long ball. We've seen a handful of short ballers win in the last year — Ken Duke, Boo Weekley and D.A. Points, to name three — but no one outside the top 100 in driving distance is compiling a record like Johnson’s.

SENS: He's confirming what we already knew. Mike Weir and Zach Johnson both won green jackets after Augusta was Tiger-proofed. Jim Furyk won the FedEx Cup a few years back. Jason Dufner won the PGA last year.

RITTER: He's proving that deft irons and grit can make up for shorter tee shots. Still can't say he's a favorite at the longest courses on Tour, but this has been impressive. The Ryder Cup can't get here fast enough for Zach.

PASSOV: Had to do some research here. Zach being "short" is a media myth, just like the myth that the bombers now dominate the PGA Tour. Just because he's great with his wedges doesn't automatically imply he isn't sufficiently long off the tee. It's not like he's Corey Pavin-short with his driver. Zach finished tied for 153rd in 2013 in driving distance, at 278.8 yards and had an excellent year. Brandt Snedeker had a phenomenal year and finished 137th in driving, at 281.3 yards. Webb Simpson enjoyed terrific success in '13, yet placed 111th in driving distance. Jason Dufner won the PGA and he finished 107th, at 285.9 yards. Gigantic hitting has its place, but these players and others prove that ball-striking, wedge-play and putting can give a player elite status.

GODICH: He's been doing that for years. Let's not forget how he won the 2007 Masters, by laying up on all of the par-5s in all four rounds.

VAN SICKLE: I've said it before but Zach remains the most underrated player in golf. He's quietly sneaking toward Hall of Fame territory, especially since Fred Couples got in with one major and 15 total wins. Zach has his major. What Zach is proving is that golf is a game of scoring, not a game of (sorry, Mr. Hogan) hitting.

3. Given the history of folks like Phil Mickelson breaking his leg while skiing, Paul Casey derailing his career in a snowboarding accident and Ernie Els missing half a season after a tubing-behind-a-speedboat mishap, is Adam Scott crazy for surfing during a tournament in the prime of his career?

VAN SICKLE: Even if you're a golfer, you've got to live a life. You can blow your knee out playing pickup basketball. Since he's an Aussie, I'll assume Scott has got some medium surfing skills. It's still risky, but if something happens, oh yeah, he's still got more money than he can ever spend. I would definitely recommend against chainsaw juggling, however.

PASSOV: If I were Adam Scott, I'd leave the surfboard in the garage until I'm 50 years old. But I'm not Adam Scott. He's likely already earned enough money to last him the rest of his life. If surfing keeps him sane and happy and motivated to help him practice and compete, let him hang ten whenever and wherever he likes.

BAMBERGER: No, he's living his life. If he didn't live his life, it would likely result in poorer golf.

LYNCH: He'd be crazy not to. Even for talented athletes, life should not a joyless trudge through the record books. It's not all about protecting a golfer's career potential. If it was, we might as well caution him against driving near fire hydrants. He seems to have the right balance.

RITTER: Guys can unwind any way they choose. Sure, some hobbies are riskier than others, but what out there doesn't pose at least some element of danger? Have you ever tried to cross 86th St. in Manhattan in rush hour? I'd rather take my chances on a surfboard in the Pacific.

GODICH: These guys get criticized for having no personality and being robotic on and off the golf course. What's wrong with having a little fun? Good for Adam Scott — as long as he's not taking on 20-foot waves off of Oahu or trying his hand at cliff-diving.

SENS: Not unless you think he should also stop driving, flying, cooking and breathing the air when he plays in China. There are risks in everything. He plays golf for a living, but it's not his life. I guess he could take precautions, like wearing a helmet. But that would get him laughed off the island.

4. Rickie Fowler said that he'd rather be known as a great player than for what he wears on the course. Are there any other Tour stars you think are recognized for the wrong reasons?

BAMBERGER: Brian Gay is recognized for being a short-knocker. He's a good player. Boo Weekley is recognized for being a redneck. He's a better player. Vijay Singh is recognized as a misanthrope. He is one of the best players ever.

SENS: Lee Trevino. The "Merry Mex," but not so merry in many off-course encounters. John Daly. So many off-course train wrecks that it's easy to forget he won two majors.

PASSOV: Ian Poulter is best known for his spiky hair, flashy outfits and outspokenness, as well as for his insanely impressive Ryder Cup performances. He never seems to show the consistency or closing skills to ascend into the Top 10 and stay there, but he's been a legitimate Top 20 to Top 30 player for several years. He probably deserves more credit for being a really good player than we've been willing to give him.

LYNCH: Sports is marketing, and Fowler might be the most famous one-time winner on Tour. But there's nothing wrong in Fowler being known more for his clothes than his play since he draws plenty of kids to events. He at least has a positive effect, which is more than can be said for Steve Elkington, a blowhard fool who is now known more for his obnoxious Twitter ramblings than his on-course accomplishments.

RITTER: Too many to list. Many pros are known for looks/style over substance, like Rickie, Freddie and half the LPGA. Others are known for coming up short in majors, which overshadows otherwise stellar careers, like Stricker and Westwood. Then there are players who are defined by an epic blunder. For example, Roberto de Vicenzo had a great career and won a British Open. Who knew?

GODICH: I'll go with Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald — best players never to have won a major. You could also take you pick on any number of players who need to do something about their pace of play.

VAN SICKLE: Fowler is the poster boy for endorsement success. Before him, who even knew Puma was still in golf? The Fowler mystique is difficult to quantify or explain. He's a little like Freddie Couples, he's just cool and people want to hang with him. Ian Poulter is very well known for the few wins he's managed to score. Fowler so far has been a modern-day Marty Fleckman or the male version of Laura Baugh or Natalie Gulbis but let's not forget, he's still young and still getting better.

5. The Tour moves from Hawaii to the continental U.S. this week for the Humana Challenge in Palm Springs. We all know that the PGA Tour season now officially starts in October, but what is the unofficial, real-world start of the PGA Tour season.

VAN SICKLE: The obvious answer for people who don't actually like golf that much but do care about Tiger (hey, that's a majority of the media!) is Torrey Pines, where Tiger will open his season. I'd say this week at the Hawaiian Open. Second choice, the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

GODICH: It has to be the Honda. The Tour heads east, and the buzz officially begins about the Masters.

LYNCH: Whenever Tiger shows up to play.

PASSOV: The Sony (fka Hawaiian) Open has been an early-season, full-field staple since I was a kid, so I could argue for that. Realistically, though, it's the Farmers (fka Andy Williams San Diego Open) at Torrey Pines, the first tournament of the year where Tiger and Phil are in the same field.

RITTER: I think Torrey kicks the season off — great field, sweet course, fun event — but the Florida swing kicks it "in," because that's when everything begins building toward the Masters.

SENS: If you go by fan interest, it's when Tiger first tees it up at Torrey. But to me it started a few weeks ago, when I heard that syrupy Masters theme song seeping from my TV.

BAMBERGER: Same as forever: the Masters. The PGA Tour marketing department can't fool all the people all of the time. In mid-April, the flowers come up, screen windows come down, the clubs come out and we watch the Masters. Everything before that is foreplay.

6. Our own Travelin' Joe Passov has just named his Top 10 Wish List Courses. What course is No. 1 on your wish list? (Fill in your own Top 100 Courses Pegboard on and share it with your friends on Facebook.)

PASSOV: I said it three years ago and I'll say it again: Casa de Campo's Teeth of the Dog tops my list. Admittedly, I've played some pretty decent tracks in my travels, but this is Pete Dye's favorite of all of his designs — and all of those holes that are practically sunk into the Caribbean Sea look really enticing.

BAMBERGER: I look forward to playing the Cabot courses in Canada, but the No. 1 course on my wish list is the one I am designing now. It's on an oceanfront, windswept parcel on a remote island with a friendly native population and the tightest Zoysia-grass fairways you've ever seen. No rough, unraked traps, no tee markers, no cart paths, fast greens, fast play, open-air clubhouse. When the course is ready I will raise a flag.

LYNCH: National Golf Links. Then Oakmont. Then the West course at Royal Melbourne. I strolled around that beautiful property with Tom Doak 10 years ago, but we didn't have time to play it. I've never been so miserable leaving a golf course. Well, I have, but not for the same reasons.

GODICH: Augusta National. I don't think this requires any explanation.

VAN SICKLE: Merion was No. 1 on my list but I played it last year and it was every bit as good as advertised. Now I've got a tie between every course at the Bandon Dunes resort and Ben Crenshaw's Sand Hills. National Golf Links right up there, too.

SENS: Bethpage Black. Every time I try to book a last-minute tee time, a computerized voice tells me to fuhgeddaboutit.

Congrats to Jimmy Walker, whose thrilling Sony Open win came too late for our roundtable. The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.