Tour Confidential: Charl Schwartzel’s Return, a Florida Major, More
Every Sunday night, GOLF.com 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. Charl Schwartzel picked up his second win on U.S. soil on Sunday when he defeated Bill Haas in a playoff at the Valspar Championship. What has taken the 2011 Masters champion so long to triumph again?
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): I’ve seen a lot of frowns from Charl since he donned the green jacket, and he admitted after winning the Valspar that the drought was mental. I’ve never seen him smile so much as he was Sunday, even before the playoff. The happiest, most relaxed players at the start of the week tend to get on TV a lot on Sunday. That sounds hokey, but attitude counts for a lot; it’s such a fine line on Tour. Just look at Adam Scott. Last year he was washed up. Now he’s riding a 2-1-1 streak.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): Exactly, Cam. Or look at Spieth, who won in Hawaii and has struggled since. Or any number of players who walk that razor line on Tour. The putter goes a little awry. The irons get slightly sloppy. All it takes is one or two dropped shots a round and you go from contending to somewhere off the first page of the leaderboard. Schwartzel might have suffered a bit of a post-Masters hangover. But he also tore a rib muscle in 2012 that sent him into a side spin for a while as well. It’s hard enough to win on Tour. Winning injured just isn’t going to happen. Unless you’re Tiger with a broken leg, I guess.
Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): It’s not like Schwartzel totally disappeared after that Masters win. He has 12 worldwide wins. Granted most of those didn’t have fields that would stack up with a Tour event, but hey, they’re titles. As Sens mentioned, Schwartzel had that rib injury in 2012, and last year he slumped a bit, but overall he’s been a solid Tour member for a while. Winning is tough, and Schwartzel was due to finally get another one.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I don’t know–I have never had the idea that he likes golf that much. But he’s good at it.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): Maybe it’s a South African thing, Michael. Golf doesn’t seem to be a priority for King Louie; it sounds like he would just as soon be driving his tractor on the farm. In his prime, Ernie Els made it look so easy. Schwartzel and Oosthuizen could use a pep talk from one Gary Player.
Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): When I watched what Schwartzel accomplished at that 2011 Masters and watched that golf swing, I just have never been able to comprehend how he hasn’t won much more. I get the injuries and the loss of confidence, but man, he just seemed like a can’t miss for years and years. I’ve picked him repeatedly in office pools the past few years, and he generally seems to flirt with glory for two-and-a-half rounds or so, then putting issues and the really odd wayward shot would do him in. I hope this means he’s back for real, because he sure looked like the real deal.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Charl said his swing got off and he lost his confidence, among other things, and it took him quite a bit to get back. He almost skipped last year’s FedEx Cup playoffs so he could go home and start reworking his swing immediately. He’s got his fade back, his go-to shot, and his putting stroke looks good as ever (if you can even tell on the slow, patchy Copperhead greens). If you’re in a Masters pool, you’d better get him in your lineup.
Morfit: So let’s see: That’s Bubba, Adam, Charl, Phil…basically everyone who’s ever won a Masters is playing well this year. I’m picking Woosnam.
2. The Valspar has attracted increasingly deeper fields in recent years and the players rave about the Copperhead course, which ranks among the toughest and most interesting tests on Tour. Could you see the layout one day landing a major? If not, is there another Florida track that deserves a U.S. Open or PGA Championship?
Morift: It’s a hard test, but this week it was made harder by the slow greens. I overheard Spieth telling Greller as he walked off 17 green, where he’d missed a short par putt, “I just can’t get myself to hit it hard enough.” In that way a U.S. Open at Innisbrook would be a little problematic.
Passov: Don’t forget, Cam (and Jordan), the greens at Innisbrook’s Copperhead were newly re-grassed for this year, so it won’t be until next year when they’re back to proper speed and receptivity.
Morfit: Tee to green it’s pretty great. You have some holes that dogleg one way and the fairway tilts another, and there are overhanging trees. A lot of double-bogeys at the Valspar.
Sens: It might be a little too far from anywhere to be the right fit for a major, but with the proper set up, the Red Course at Streamsong could make for a pretty spiffy test.
Passov: Nice sentiment, Josh, but wow, that’s an infrastructure issue that would never go away. The reality here is that unless the U.S. Open and PGA move away from June, July or August dates, no Florida course is ever scoring a major again. The PGA tried that with PGA National in 1987 and it was a death march in August. Better the PGA repeats its 1971 event, when it moved to February. Then I’ll vote for a U.S. Open at Seminole. And one day, I’d love to see a Ryder Cup at TPC Sawgrass. For its architectural influence, its spectator hillsides and its risk/reward greatness, it would be perfect.
Sens: Fair point about the summer heat, Joe. I guess I was living in climate fantasy land. You know, like most elected officials in this country.
Godich: I believe that Joe has solved the PGA Championship identity crisis. Move to a February date, and suddenly the PGA has more sex appeal. Fill the void between the Super Bowl and the start of the Major League Baseball season. But then we’d have to live without “Glory’s Last Shot.”
Morfit: How about “Glory’s First Shot?” Or maybe, “Something to do while you’re not perusing the SI Swimsuit Issue”? Yep. I think that works.
Passov: Pete Bevacqua of the PGA has looked into the possibility of moving the tournament dates, though I’m not sure how seriously. After all, these are the same folks that wanted to take the event out of America, too.
Ritter: Until the Tavistock Cup is named golf’s fifth major, the four big ones will reside outside the Sunshine State.
Bamberger: Ritter nails it. Innisbrook is not getting a major. Not even if Donald Trump buys it.
Van Sickle: Unless you get a date change you can forget Florida for a major. I would like to see a Ryder Cup at TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, though, just to have the Cup on the line when two luckless souls come to the 17th tee on a windy day.
3. After a disappointing first-round 76 at the Valspar, Jordan Spieth fired back at an Instagram follower who had called Spieth “garbage.” Spieth also admonished the PGA Tour’s Twitter account for bringing attention to a post-round comment that Spieth had made jokingly. (Both the Tour and Spieth later deleted their tweets.) Was Spieth right to stand up for himself, and how much should we read into this public display of snippiness?
Sens: Spieth is likely a bit frustrated by his play of late but the fact that this qualifies as an outburst for him just underscores what a touch of class he is. Like so many spiteful online commentators, the guy who called him “garbage” was, well, you know, like the shrinks say, self-hatred turned outward.
Godich: Snippy? Why wouldn’t he stand up for himself? And he certainly had a point with what the PGA Tour tweeted. He offered plenty of insight, but the Tour opted to use its 144 words on what made for the best sound bite.
Morfit: Good for Jordan for fighting back. I think there should be an app that filters out the haters and the poisonous comments before anyone has to be subjected to it all. I already have a name for the app: Troll Gate.
Bamberger: I don’t think, Cam, that this even rises to the level of “fighting back.” This was nothing. Jordan seems tired. They say you can’t catch-up on lost sleep. I think it’s going to be a hard year for him.
Van Sickle: Agree with The Bamberger. Spieth needs a month off and there’s no room on the schedule for that now. Maybe if he skipped the Match Play and had three weeks off before Augusta … but I don’t think he’ll consider that. You can’t take off in May, either, with The Players. He scheduled poorly and needs to cut back where he can. Social media is a joke. We put our names on our stories but anonymous idiots can take cheap shots. You should have to put your name and address on your dopey tweets and have the guts to stand behind them. That would solve a lot of problems.
Godich: And there’s no rest on the horizon. On Monday he’s in New York for a Drive, Chip & Putt promo and an appearance on the Stephen Colbert show. I do think he’s more frustrated than tired. He’s putting a good streak of golf together here and there (the final-round 66 at Pebble; a Saturday 67 at Innisbrook that was one of only two bogey-free rounds on the day), but he can’t seem to sustain it. He’ll be firing by Augusta. Book it.
Ritter: Agree with Godich: Spieth’s social media spat stems from aggravation with his own game, but Innisbrook showed a few breaks in the clouds. He’s starting to round into form, and the timing couldn’t be better.
Morfit: One odd thing about Sunday was the first thing Jordan said was he faulted himself and Greller for lousy decision making. I don’t know if that’s a result of fatigue, or that they’re pressing, or what. Last year these guys were doing the Vulcan mind-meld all season long.
Passov: I guess I’m getting a little curmudgeonly (not in Gary’s class, of course) but enough to scratch my head over the next generation’s emphasis on social media, when there are so many knuckleheads out there looking to “troll.” I just can’t imagine responding at all to that kind of crap. Jordan Spieth is a class act times 20. Turn the other cheek, Jordan. Get some rest, and move on.
4. The Olympic test event went off seemingly without a hitch on Tuesday, with nine Brazilians making up the field in the 18-hole stroke-play exhibition. (One of the competitors, Alexandre Rocha, called the course “perfect.”) Did the low-wattage outing convince you that the course is ready for its moment on the international stage?
Sens: One thing I noticed about the test event was that ;alskdfj ;aksd . . .sorry. Nodded off at my keyboard. Pretty hard to get excited about this past week’s pre-Olympic gathering, but Gil Hanse knows his way around golf design, and I have little doubt the course will serve just fine. The fact that golf is being played in the Olympics at all is much more the story than whether the course is up to snuff, which I’m confident it will be. As for the rest of the Olympic infrastructure in Rio, hmmm …
Ritter: Sens is dead on regarding Rio’s questionable infrastructure. But the Olympic golf course will be good to go, and Hanse’s creation looks fantastic. I have my doubts as to whether the games will ignite any kind of meaningful golf boom in Brazil or elsewhere, but for those two weeks golf will have a venue worthy of its Olympic return.
Bamberger: The course is really not going to be terribly important to the success of the event. Golf is not part of the Olympic culture, nor is it part of Rio’s sporting life. This is a one-and-done thing, like Chambers Bay. Chambers Bay became the focus because of various outrageous factors. In Rio, the players will carry the day, and who wins medals is all that will matter. Now if a future Summer Games is played in San Francisco, and SFGC is a venue, then that is a whole ‘nother thing.
Morfit: Until further notice I’m taking the same approach to Olympic golf as I take with my dental appointments: ignore it until it’s upon me, and even then let someone else do all the talking.
Godich: Bingo, Cam. Hard to get excited about an event that is still five months away, especially when we’ve got four majors ahead of it on the schedule. And should we be surprised that Hanse has delivered a first-class track?
Van Sickle: I don’t care for the Olympic golf idea the way it’s set up. It’s a real tournament about the way The Shark Shootout is a real tournament. I’m looking forward to the stories about the beachfront sewage and the rise of the zika virus. Good luck to all.
Passov: If Gil Hanse’s name is on the design, the course will hold up just fine. If not, blame it on Rio.
5. The always electric NCAA basketball tournament, which kicks off this week, is one of the highlights of the sporting calendar. Why has college golf struggled so mightily to attract any serious attention, and can you suggest a format for a college golf tourney that might move the needle?
Sens: Two words: Dick Vitale. Ok, a few more words. Amateur golf has a nice rich history that is deeply rooted in other events, and I don’t see the great need to ramp up collegiate golf to the marketing-frenzy level of March Madness. Let collegiate golf keep doing what it does. Do we really need it to do more?
Morfit: I think even the Little League World Series has a higher profile than college golf. How did this happen? Clearly the powers that be have tried to rectify the situation, since they changed formats a few years back. But I’m not sure that change was wise. When it doubt, go with the format that everybody understands: four rounds, stroke play, add ’em up at the end. Oh, and find a good TV partner.
Ritter: I agree that confusing, gimmicky events isn’t the answer. College golf is filled with great stories, but the first thing it needs is more TV time. Where and when can the public watch college golf coverage? I don’t think it requires a Dick Vitale-esque character in the booth — it’s the players, rivalries and competition that drive interest. They’re out there. In an age of 24-7 sports coverage and ubiquitous social media, it’s somewhat baffling the sport is so far off the radar.
Bamberger: Well, men’s basketball and football are the exceptions. NCAA hockey, baseball and golf are all essentially niche sports. Could that be changed, could you create a college golf playoff system that brought in millions of fans via TV? Not without a shot clock, betting, hot-headed coaches, cheerleaders, bright lights and night games. Don’t see it happening.
Passov: If it’s any consolation, college tennis has zero buzz as well. Jeff, I see you’re against “confusing, gimmicky events,” but how about an event that pairs current college golfers with alumni? I remember attending a Fiesta Bowl a few years ago and seeing Tiger Woods on the Stanford sideline and Rickie Fowler on Oklahoma State’s. They met at midfield before the game. The pros are into the college thing as alumni. Maybe they help out with a cool tournament that could ignite the college golf thing.
Godich: They did just that at Riviera, on the Monday of the Northern Trust, with a spot in the field awarded to the collegiate medalist. Barely registered a blip. Golf isn’t alone here. As Bamberger notes, football and men’s basketball are the only sports that are thriving on the college level. Every other sport is pretty much treading water, dying for more exposure.
Van Sickle: The team format kills college golf from a spectator standpoint. I was at many college events and with five guys on a team playing in five different foursomes, it’s hard to keep score. I think college golf only works for TV viewers with individual stroke play. Then it would look like pro golf and individual stars could be developed, instead of teams. But I don’t know, I think TV is pretty well saturated with golf at the moment … although not Monday through Wednesdays. Hmmm …
The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.