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. A furor erupted on Saturday at the Honda when PGA Tour caddies, denied access to the clubhouse, were forced to wait out a rain and lightning storm in a temporary metal shelter designed to hold 15 people. An isolated incident, or does it seem like PGA Tour caddies are treated like “second-class participants in the game,” as their lawsuit alleges?
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: That was a bad situation, ridiculous and totally unnecessary on Saturday for the caddies. Parking at some tournaments could be improved. I personally would not want to be required to be a walking advertisement for a corporation. But in general, from what I see, I think the caddies are treated well and with respect.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): The caddies have some legit grievances, given the kind of money that changes hands on Tour. The Tour’s argument that caddies are employed by players and not the Tour doesn’t mean the tour couldn’t take a little better care of them. A metal shelter in a lightning storm, where the caddies sat out the storm, is a bad idea waiting to be a tragedy.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): There can’t be many other professions on the planet where guys make six-figures but are still treated like bums. It’s true that in the Tour’s old days the caddies were a very scruffy lot and probably would have started a food fight in any clubhouse they entered, but these days it’s practically a white-collar job. Time for the Tour to recognize the evolution and treat these guys with more dignity.
Coleman McDowell, assistant editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@ColemanMcDowell): Everyone should be inside during a lightning storm, regardless if you’re carrying the bag or your name is on it. As Bob Estes pointed out on Twitter, venues change from week to week, so there is no universal solution. The more top players that voice their opinion on the matter, the quicker those possible solutions will materialize.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): That was pretty embarrassing, wasn’t it? What, were officials afraid they were going to steal the silverware? I don’t know about “second-class” in the legal sense, but clearly they are seen as being of secondary importance. Which, let’s face it, compared to the players, they are.
Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Considering how important the player-caddie relationship is these days, with huge piles of cash riding on critical shots and decisions every week, I’m stunned that there isn’t more respect given to the bagmen. In olden times, sure, many of these guys were just week-to-week vagabonds, but in the past few decades, they’re practically teammates. Yes, I hear the argument that they don’t actually hit a single shot. However, it wasn’t that long ago that pros were barred from clubhouses. Walter Hagen helped change that around 1920. Caddies are professionals themselves. They deserve better — at the very least, to be safe during a storm.
2. Rory McIlroy missed the Honda cut by three shots. Any reason to be concerned, and is McIlroy your early Masters favorite?
SHIPNUCK: The only concern is that, as high as his ceiling is, Rory’s floor is still pretty pedestrian. He has so much game a bad week for him should be 17th place, not a missed cut. But he remains the Masters fave and will be for at least the next decade, barring a bad injury or bad marriage (to paraphrase his ownself Dan Jenkins).
VAN SICKLE: Rory was in the half of the field that got the worst of the crazy blustery weather. All it took was one mis-hit shot on the wrong hole in a gale and you had a triple bogey here. Rory is fine. He’s probably the Masters favorite … unless Patrick Reed is.
RITTER: Even the best player in world can have a bad week, so, no, not sounding the alarm after one MC. Rory remains the Masters favorite.
BAMBERGER: No, I am not worried about Rory McIlroy missing the cut by three shots in the Honda Classic. If his missed cut doesn’t cause Rory McIlroy to worry, why should it worry me? If I was forced to make a wager about one player winning the Masters, I would not pick Rory McIlroy. I would pick Louis Oosthuizen.
Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): By his own admission, Rory’s not a happy bad-weather competitor. He proved that again in the wild winds and rain that visited PGA National during the first two rounds at the Honda. No concern at all here. He’s still my Masters favorite, provided there are no hurricanes in Augusta that week. I’ll see how he fares at Doral before I do any reassessing.
MCDOWELL: Plenty of quality golfers (Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell, Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson) were watching the Honda on TV this weekend, but obviously, and for good reason, Rory’s bar is a few notches higher than everybody else’s. Last year, we were wondering why Rory couldn’t break 75 on Fridays, and he turned in an historic season. No one should bat an eye, unless it’s to realize how utterly phenomenal Tiger’s 142 straight cuts made were. As for Augusta, it’s Rory versus the field.
SENS: Yeah. I’m so concerned that I may only wager half my mortgage on him at Augusta, as opposed to the whole thing.
3. Ian Poulter, Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald and Paul Casey were all in contention at the rain-delayed Honda this week. Which former European Ryder Cup stalwart do you see making the biggest comeback this year?
PASSOV: Great to see these big/distinctive personalities on the leaderboard this week. They’ve been missed. Casey is my pick. He always had immense game and was almost shockingly long, given his size, when he arrived in 2001 after a superior college career. Folks forget how good he was seven to 10 years ago, mostly because he’s been so unlucky with injuries since. With his personal life now settled (he’s happily remarried after a 2011 divorce), his professional career stabilized (he’s given up the European Tour to play full-time in the U.S.) and with a recent runner-up at the Northern Trust at Riviera, it seems there’s a lot of blue sky on Casey’s horizon right now.
RITTER: Harrington is a nice story, but at his age it’s hard to envision him consistently contending anymore. Casey had fallen the furthest, and after a sustained run of good health, it looks like he’s on the upswing. I could see him winning somewhere this season and working his way to the ’16 Ryder Cup team.
SENS: Casey. Aside from Harrington, I think he is the most sizable natural talent, with the power to keep up more easily with today’s long-bombing Tour.
BAMBERGER: Of that group, and without knowing much, I would think Paul Casey is the hungriest and has the fewest distractions. The one I am rooting for most is Harrington. Greatest golf talker since Trevino.
SHIPNUCK: Of the four I’d say Casey has the most firepower even though he’s done the least with it. Maybe he’s now finally going to become the player we always thought he’d be. I hope so.
MCDOWELL: Is none of the above an answer? These four have combined to miss 9 out of 14 possible cuts to kick off 2015, and right when I was about to make a case for Poulter, he hit a cold, cruel shank in the final round of the Honda when the pressure was turned on.
VAN SICKLE: I like Paul Casey’s chances the best. He’s got a superb combo platter of power and touch that the others don’t have. He’s back from injuries, he’s got a stable home life, he’s got golf in perspective now and he’s living and playing fulltime in the U.S. instead of hop-scotching across the Atlantic and trying to keep tour memberships on both sides. He looked like a superstar in his late 20s before some injuries set in. He looks as good now as he did in 2009.
4. Lydia Ko won the New Zealand Open on Sunday, her second win in a row and her 10th win at a professional event at age 17. Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy all notched their 10th wins at age 24. Is it too soon to call Ko golf’s next superstar?
SHIPNUCK: No, it’s overdue. Lydia has been doing really special things for awhile now. It’s amazing we get to watch her and Rory come of age at the same time.
VAN SICKLE: It’s not too soon to say that based on her talent. It is too soon to say it based on this win. The field was pretty weak in New Zealand since the LPGA had a tournament going on at the same time in Thailand. So let’s not get carried away. Still, Ko is the brightest young talent the LPGA has seen since Michelle Wie. She has superstar potential and we’re going to be lucky enough to watch her go after it.
BAMBERGER: Lydia Ko is absolutely extraordinary. But I don’t think we’re serving her, golf or ourselves by having any expectation of what she might become. It’s not like she’s a senior in high school being recruited to play college basketball and a coach has to make a guess as to what kind of player she will be in two or three or four years. We’re lucky. We can just watch her career unfold and enjoy it.
RITTER: Ko has absolutely arrived, but somehow the mainstream hasn’t latched onto her yet. Where are the Jimmy Fallon appearances? Where’s the billboard in Times Square? If she was an American she’d likely be more of a household name — but it’s time to crank up the marketing machine here. A clever Callaway TV ad with Ko alongside fellow pitchman Phil Mickelson can’t be far away. Fallon will find her eventually.
MCDOWELL: You don’t have to look far to find a comparable teen prodigy, even though she has a two-year headstart. Lexi Thompson — who just turned 20 — qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open at 12, won on the LPGA Tour at 16 and nabbed a major at 19. That last one is most important to Ko becoming the superstar. Does Ko — who’s about to turn 18 — have to win a major in 2015 to be considered a superstar? For most pundits, yes, and when she does this year and becomes the youngest major champ in LPGA history, there won’t be any more debate.
SENS: Based on what’s she done on the course, no doubt. But if we’re talking “superstar” in the modern media sense, which requires all sorts of needle-moving qualities that have nothing to do with the sport itself, then no. And I get the impression that that under-the-radar quality may be one of her long-term strengths.
PASSOV: First, very cool for her to play in her home country’s national championship, rather than go for more cash and competition the same week in Thailand. Second, we’re THIS close to calling Ko golf’s next goddess — but not quite there. Mind you, I’m a big fan, and have been so since March 2012, after sitting next to her at a pre-tournament dinner at China’s Mission Hills. She was 14 years old, quiet, but personable. Most of all, she had presence, a calm confidence, something I saw in her with her win later that summer at the U.S. Women’s Amateur and then again when she won the LPGA event in Canada a few weeks later. Ko has phenomenal talent and her influence is already tremendous. She just needs to contend in some majors — and win a few — before we fully anoint her.
5. Monday is the Pro-Member at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla., one of golf’s most exclusive tournaments. Last year’s Pro-Member at Seminole — won by Rickie Fowler and Buddy Marucci — had six of the world’s top 10 players. What’s the coolest off-the-radar golf event?
VAN SICKLE: The Seminole Pro-Member is it. It is the big dog among off-radar tournaments. The Crump Cup, a two-man team event at Pine Valley, would be on my list, too. It’s one of those events that makes you wish you were young, long and a plus-three.
PASSOV: This is it. You get one of the world’s greatest, most exclusive courses, Seminole, past champions such as Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer, and pent-up demand from some of golf’s greatest stars, who actually want to play golf on their day off, for no pay.
SENS: To call the Seminole event cool is to fall into the same elitist mindset that denies caddies access to the clubhouse in the rain. It’s “cool” for about one-half of one-half of one-percent of the golf world. What about the solstice event at Bandon Dunes, in which participants play 72 holes on the longest day of the year? You don’t have to be ultra rich or ultra connected. Just really, really into golf.
RITTER: It has to be the World Am in Myrtle Beach, which features more than 3,000 golfers from around the world. There’s nothing else like it.
SHIPNUCK: Up in Alaska a bunch of lumberjacks and oil rig workers and other salt-of-the-earth types play for 24 hours straight on the summer equinox. I’ve always wanted to go be a part of it. Attn. SI editors: are you listening?
BAMBERGER: If I told you, it would no longer be off-the-radar cool.
6. The PGA Tour will move the WGC-Match Play to Austin Country Club in Texas for 2016, Harvey Penick’s old haunt. The course is currently undergoing a complete makeover by architects Pete Dye and Rod Whitman. What other courses would you like to see host the Match Play?
VAN SICKLE: How about this for a daring doubleheader: The Match Play goes to the TPC Stadium Course at Sawgrass the first week of May, then The Players follows it the next week. Who doesn’t want to see a close match go to the island-green 17th? That would be a killer double-dip that would make the USGA’s two weeks at Pinehurst last June look like summer camp.
BAMBERGER: Royal Dornoch in Dornoch, Scotland, if the event could be taken out of the Lower 48.
MCDOWELL: It is the World Golf Championships, right? How fun would it be to watch players battle it out on the Old Course at St. Andrews over the course of five days, with the unpredictable weather potentially making it a different golf course each day. The 16th hole is a common hole for matches to finish on, and with the match on the line, I’d like watch players challenge the bunkers on the Old’s 16th with driver or choose to lay back with an iron, all the while with out of bounds running along the entire right side of the fairway. If the match continues, the Road Hole awaits.
PASSOV: I like both TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium) and TPC Scottsdale (Stadium). Both possess fantastic risk/reward holes, plenty of room for spectators and are easy to walk for both players and fans. For a course that isn’t a current PGA Tour venue, my fantasy pick is the National Golf Links of America on Long Island. Tons of wind, scenery, history and variety, and it proved to be a worthy match play venue for the 2013 Walker Cup.
SENS: Cypress Point would produce a birdie barrage, and it would give fans a glimpse of an incredible course that we haven’t had a televised glimpse of since the Crosby went bye-bye.
SHIPNCUK: Cypress Point and Pine Valley. Both of these proud old courses are too short for the modern game and the persnickety members don’t want to see them torched with a bunch of 61s, but that’s a non-issue in Match Play. Also it’s a much smaller field that gets progressively smaller and could more easily be accommodated at a couple of intimate venues with limited infrastructure. Best of all, either course would be a bigger star than any player in the field.
RITTER: Is Cypress Point available? Sorry, I couldn’t hear you: was that a “No” or a “No, thank you”? From the current crop of Tour courses, TPC Scottsdale would be great for the Match Play (or Ryder Cup), not only for the atmosphere, but also for the risk-reward holes and fun possibilities with the setup.
The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.