Tour Confidential: Mickelson’s Betting Bluster, Snedeker’s Great Round

February 1, 2016

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. Phil Mickelson scolded Aussie young gun Ryan Ruffels for embellishing the tale of a money match the two played, adding that the 17-year-old’s comments were “high school stuff.” Was Phil right to publicly admonish Ruffels? And is there any kind of unwritten rule that says Tour pros should keep details of their on-course wagering under wraps?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Yes, those guys never like to talk numbers.  I know, because I’ve asked many times … and am almost always rebuffed. Phil’s public shaming was pretty harsh, which leads me to believe the young Aussie lad did in fact get deep in his pocket and Mickelson is still bitter about it!

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): It was high school stuff, but as many readers pointed out, the kid did just get out of high school. It was a weird moment, and I don’t think any of us who were there expected Phil to go off on the kid like that. To put it in context: He was already in a fighting mood because he’d just been asked about getting disqualified from redesigning Torrey North due to a technicality.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, SI Golf Group (@JeffRitter): Alan is right: money matches happen all the time during tour practice rounds, but you never hear the actual numbers involved. It’s an unwritten code, and the kid broke it. Bet he never makes that mistake again. 

MORFIT: That’s true, but it must be said this was not just about the bet. Tim Mickelson, the Arizona State men’s golf coach, and just about every other Division I coach had been recruiting Ruffels at one point. And Tim Mickelson was the third member of the group, so the whole episode could have looked even worse for Tim, vis-a-vis NCAA regs, than for Phil. I think that’s why Phil felt he had to say something. 

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): I don’t know if Phil is more ticked off about losing $5,000 to the kid or the fact that it revives his gambling nature, something he’s tried to polish since he unwisely talked about some big NFL bets he won early in his career and unfounded rumors that dogged him for years about having a gambling problem.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens): Taken in the broader context Morfit and Van Sickle have already described, the dress-down does have the feeling of PR-image mending as much as anything. Otherwise, what’s Phil really got to be so, er, ruffels about? 

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports IllustratedPhil should have let it go. The kid will learn without the public reprimand.

2. On Sunday at Torrey Pines, Brandt Snedeker warded off heavy rain and wind gusting up to 50 mph to shoot a 69 that rocketed him into contention. (He called it one of the best rounds of his career.) Where does Sneds’s effort rank among the best bad-weather rounds in recent memory?

SHIPNUCK: It’s definitely up there, though ending play for the day means he has little chance at victory. I’ve always been a Sneds fan. This round throws into sharp relief one of his greatest strengths, which is, surprisingly, toughness.

MORFIT: Zach Johnson and Marc Leishman each shot a final-round 66 when it was raining sideways at the Open at St. Andrews last summer. Having been out there, I’d say those are tied for the clubhouse lead as far as great bad-weather rounds in recent memory. But good for Sneds. Torrey looked miserable.

RITTER: It didn’t end perfectly, but the all-time bad-weather round still belongs to the Bishop.  

SENS: Remember that Caddyshack-like storm that wrecked Tiger’s run at the Open at Muirfield in 2002? That was about as nasty as I’d seen it at a professional event, and I remember watching that gritty pea-shooter Mike Weir shoot a pretty solid round in it. Low-70s, as I recall, despite a quadruple on a hole where he couldn’t even reach the fairway with his driver. Could have sworn I saw Carl Spackler on his bag.

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VAN SICKLE: I don’t know where it ranks but I was disappointed when play was called because watching the best players battle crazy elements like that is a blast. Especially if you’re watching from a couch, not in person and getting soaked. We don’t see many events where they have to play in rain and high wind, Sunday’s action was a gas.

BAMBERGER: It’s extraordinary because usually when golf is played in extreme wind like that it is on a course where you can play the ball on the ground. Torrey is one of the seaside courses where you cannot. I stand in awe.


3. Paul Azinger will join Fox Sports’ golf team in 2016, filling the vacancy created by Greg Norman’s ousting. Can Fox Sports executives collectively breathe a sigh of relief, or is there still more problem-solving to be done?

SHIPNUCK: It’s definitely a big step in the right direction but there are still plenty of other personnel issues to sort out. But not only is Zinger an excellent announcer he’s a strong team-builder (unlike the aloof Norman) and that will have a strong trickle-down effect. 

RITTER: Zinger is a great hire and I have no doubt he’ll be a strong addition. Fox still has a lot of other areas to address, including graphics, putting green stats and cohesion among its many hosts. 

SENS: Smart hire by FOX. He’s a sharp, distinctive and credible voice with something else Norman was never going to be strong on, no matter how hard he worked at it: a sense of humor.

VAN SICKLE: Fox finally got one thing right: Zinger is a home run. There is obviously more problem-solving to be done since the reported Joe Buck-Brad Faxon two-headed host experiment means Fox effectively just benched Buck for half the broadcast. They wouldn’t have done that if they loved what he did in ‘15. And there were too many cooks in the kitchen at times. After the guys in the main booth and Steve Flesch, the rest of the lineup was spotty at best …  needs work.

MORFIT: Fox basically just showed us how much we take a good golf telecast for granted. They don’t just happen; it takes years of trial and error. I don’t expect a flawless telecast in year two, either, but I’ll bet their second effort is a whole lot cleaner than their first.

VAN SICKLE: One big thing working against Fox is no continuity. Every event they do is with a different set of players—men, women, seniors, amateurs—and they don’t get a dozen other chances to hone their skills at tour events like NBC and CBS do. That’s a gigantic disadvantage.

MORFIT: Great point, Gary. As Tiger would say, they just need more reps. And it takes a long time for the reps to build up when you don’t do that much golf. 

BAMBERGER: Golf coverage is about the pictures. I provide my own commentary. But Azinger will be good.


4. In an SI Golf+ story published last week, amateur sensation Bryson DeChambeau explained why his unusual irons—they are all approximately the same length of a standard 7-iron—could be a game-changer. “If you can take out one huge variable—the length of the club,” DeChambeau said, “I believe we could cut in half the time it takes for people to learn to play.” Are you buying the impact single-length irons could have on the game?

SHIPNUCK: As the author of the story I must say I’m a believer, mwhaha. But I got to fiddle around with one of Bryson’s sets and I gotta say, the long and middle-irons were much less intimidating and certainly easier to hit.

SENS: Less intimidating. There you have it: for the average player, regardless of what may or may not be happening with the clubs themselves, if it feels better, it is better. The game is, after all, 90% mental (and 10% marketing).

RITTER: Here’s the thing: for a weekend hacker to try DeChambeau’s system, they have to re-shaft and entire set of irons, a huge hassle. I love DeChambeau’s innovation and am excited to have him around, but unless he wins the Masters I don’t see this as the start of an equipment revolution.

SHIPNUCK: Ritter, re-shafting isn’t the answer; the head weights will be wrong. You gotta invest in a set built this way from the beginning or it won’t work.

RITTER: An even bigger hassle!

SHIPNUCK: Nah, just a bigger expense. But considering how much money folks spend on clubs that don’t really help them, maybe it’s worth a try?

VAN SICKLE: It doesn’t matter whether it’s a good idea or not, the average chop just isn’t going to do it, period. So it’s a mute point, as comedian Norm Crosby used to say.

MORFIT: I disagree, Gary. I think it could be a game-changer, given some time. Playing with a set of clubs that are all different lengths makes no sense at all, if you equate it to other sports like tennis, skiing, pole-vaulting, etc. Why make it harder on yourself? 

VAN SICKLE: I actually like the idea, Cam. It’s really intriguing. But where would you go tomorrow to have your set done? Where would anyone go? I doubt it’ll catch on among the public.

MORFIT: That’s why I said long term. There is no place to go tomorrow to have this done, other than the guys Bryson went to. But long term, an equipment maker might buy in. You never know. 

BAMBERGER: I looked at the clubs in Orlando, with massive grips on them. Pictured myself hitting dead-straight 70-yard shots. I don’t know how you can create speed with them. The kid must be an ox.

5. At the PGA Show in Orlando last week countless golf gadgets and gizmos were on display. What’s the coolest new golf product or innovation you’ve seen in the last couple of years?

RITTER: One word: hoverboard. 

MORFIT: Anything by Sun Mountain is good. They’re always innovating. Jeff, I’m not sure, but I think they may make a carry bag that’s so light it hovers. 

SHIPNUCK: Blair O’Neal.

SENS: For the most part, I find all the stat-tracking, range-finding, foot-step counting technology people lug around today to be an annoying distraction. But the GameGolf system is pretty cool, with those sensors on the butt-end of the club that track pretty much everything but your mood swings and do it without slowing down play.

VAN SICKLE: This year my favorite was the DV8, a backpack that holds your golf clubs, thanks to a shaft that comes in two pieces along with 14 detachable heads. You do have to pop on a new head for each shot but really, your golf bag in a backpack? That’s amazing. I’d love to never drag my full golf bag on another rental car shuttle bus. Of course, if serious golf was to be played, I’d want my own sticks and not DV8’s just-pretty-good components.

BAMBERGER: The Jones golf bag. So old it’s new.

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