Tour Confidential: PGA Tour Goes Back to Work at Kapalua

Tour Confidential: PGA Tour Goes Back to Work at Kapalua

Bubba Watson tees off at the 2014 Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii.
Getty Images

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. The PGA Tour continues its wraparound schedule with what used to be the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Since the event no longer starts the year, and since many of the big names continue to skip it, is there any reason for it to exist?

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@eamonlynch): Tiger and Phil aren’t planning to show up for your club championship either, but that’s not a reason to question whether you should continue to stage it. The absence of top names speaks less to the quality of the event and more to how little those players are motivated by easy money. Let the event stand instead as a promising beacon to the rest of us watching enviously from colder climes.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Tournaments exist because sponsors want them to, not because there’s a reason. Maybe the field should expand to include winners on the European Tour or in Australia. I bet some of those winners would like to play for world ranking points and cash in a small field.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): I’m not too bugged by its timing, even though it’s no longer the true season-opener. From 1953 through 1985, the T of C was played in April, after the Masters. Still, we all know that this feels like the true start of the PGA Tour. All the best players — or at least every tournament winner — should be there to kick off the season. That means Rory, Tiger, Phil and the others who routinely skip the event. If you can’t get them to Kapalua at that time, then move the event to a time and place where they will show up. Really, though, the T of C was intended to be a bonus for Tour winners. There are enough perks for winners now and enough WGC events where everybody plays. If you can’t fill this field with those who are eligible, open it up to the entire Tour and start the calendar year that way.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): To use Hollywood agent vernacular, golf’s powers that be have decided to focus on the back end, not the front end of the deal. There is no “opening day,” the way there is in other sports — or rather, opening day is where you find it, depending on the player. Of course there’s still a reason for the Hyundai TOC! There are several reasons, actually: soft island breezes, ukulele music, drinks with tiny umbrellas and watching Bubba carve driver off the deck neatly along the shape of the slice fairway on the par-5 18th hole. Oh, and whale-watching.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Since I’m playing in the pro-am Thursday, the event has a vital raison d’etre this season. But on a less self-involved note, the humpbacks! Don’t you love those humpbacks?

Mike Walker, assistant managing editor, (@michaelwalkerjr): Most golf fans still consider the Tournament of Champions the real season opener. I love the course, the views and the cozy atmosphere. It’s also a nice channel-flipping contrast to the cold-weather gladiators of the NFL.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Remember the overseas gent who came to the Masters one year on a practice day with his clubs? They should keep the tournament and let him play.

2. What will be 2015’s biggest golf headline?

BAMBERGER: Name TK Fails Drug Test for PEDs.

VAN SICKLE: Any week Tiger is playing. Same as always. Rory will get all of the pre-Masters attention as he goes for three in a row and the career Grand Slam. Unless, of course, Tiger wins something before April.

PASSOV: Tiger Woods Wins the Open Championship at St. Andrews. Subhead: Amid four days of steady wind, Tiger Woods dips into his deep shot-making arsenal and calls on his extensive experience with the Old Course to win his 15th professional major championship.

MORFIT: Headline: Spieth knocks down major No. 1. Deck: Victory at Chambers Bay validates Texan’s talent and heralds the arrival of America’s next superstar; Phil Mickelson second again.

SENS: With PGA Championship Win, and 7th Major Title, McIlroy, 26, Moving Faster than Tiger Towards Jack’s 18.

LYNCH: I expect we’ll see the continuation of both Rory’s rise and Tiger’s decline, but neither would really amount to a huge headline at this stage. I’ll go for an off-course storyline making major news. A PGA Tour player will be caught up in a personal drama that not even the Ponte Vedra politburo can control. And I think a professional male golfer will finally come out.

WALKER: Phinally! Phil Mickelson Nabs U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. He’s supposedly in great shape, and I think he’s going to win a big one this year.

3. Golf has a tasty lineup of major venues set for 2015 with Augusta National (Masters), Chambers Bay (U.S. Open), St. Andrews (British Open) and Whistling Straits (PGA Championship). What major are you most looking forward to and why?

LYNCH: The Open at St. Andrews. Golf’s oldest and greatest major held on its oldest and greatest course. What’s not to like?

SENS: Sunday at Augusta is my favorite sports day every year, made all the more interesting this spring by our first glimpse at Augusta of Tiger 4.0. Unless he joins Larry Mize in missing the cut. Be you a tireless Tiger apologist or a therapy-needing Tiger-hating Internet troll, you have to admit: he’s the most compelling guy in the game to watch.

PASSOV: As a golf history guy, the Open at St. Andrews is always a special treat. However, as a golf course critic, I’m most looking forward to the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, a first-time U.S. Open site designed by the Robert Trent Jones II firm, which overlooks Washington’s Puget Sound. The course should play links-like, with wind and firm, fast fairways, and fescue greens, but will likely be 20-30 degrees cooler than Pinehurst was in 2014. Lots of course setup questions to be answered, and few of the pros have seen it before, so it will be fun to monitor reactions.

VAN SICKLE: Chambers Bay will be a new venue, so there’s a lot of curiosity there but there’s nothing to match an Open at St. Andrews. The atmosphere, the weather, the crowds, the Auld Grey Toon — it’s all there.

WALKER: Whistling Straits is right there with Pebble Beach as the most beautiful golf course in America and the 2010 PGA Championship was one of the most dramatic in recent memory with Kaymer topping Bubba in a playoff, Dustin Johnson’s bunker mishap and a 20-year-old Rory McIlroy finishing one-shot out of the playoff. Can’t wait to see what happens this time round. Plus, Wisconsin brats and Spotted Cow beer.

BAMBERGER: St. Andrews. The place makes me happy. I think it’s the weather.

4. Tiger Woods made a late-year return from injury in December at the 2014 Hero World Challenge. How many starts does Tiger Woods get a pass on in 2015 before expectations about his performance increase?

MORFIT: Zero. If his first start in the U.S. is at the Farmers at Torrey Pines, as usual, he’ll be expected to win it. He can practically win there on muscle memory alone, and I liked the way his swing looked at the Hero. His chipping? Well…

VAN SICKLE: I’m not sure the expectations are that high. Tiger is coming back from surgery, a change of coaches and what appears to be a little less interest in competition than he used to have. I wouldn’t give him a deadline. If he plays crappy until April and then wins the Masters, is anyone going to care that he played crappy for four months? Doubt it.

BAMBERGER: One round. Doesn’t every golf website have Tigerwatcher or some such thing?

LYNCH: Every Woods start has always been subject to deep analysis. That’s the result of performing at such an impossibly high level for so long. The Honda at PGA National and the WGC-Cadillac at Doral will probably be his third and fourth starts of 2015. That midway point of the Florida swing seems like a fair point to really assess his play. Those two events will also give us a chance to see if he has erased the short-game horrors we witnessed from him on the Bermuda grass at Isleworth last month. That performance was so far short of Tour player standards that it may well have left scars.

PASSOV: It depends on how many starts he makes, and when he makes them. Torrey Pines is a great gauge, because historically, he’s fared so well there. Yet, if it’s his first start, what do we really learn? I’d let him get through the Florida swing before expectations are heightened. Rory, despite his late-season 2013 Aussie Open win, was pretty mediocre for the first four months of 2014. In mid-May, he called off his engagement, won at Wentworth and exploded after that. Let’s give Tiger the time he needs.

WALKER: He’s had so much success at Torrey Pines, Bay Hill and Doral that if he’s not in the mix at any of them, the questions will start. He doesn’t need to win before Augusta, but he needs to look in command of his driver.

SENS: None. Tiger Woods gets no passes. Knowingly or not, that’s the Faustian bargain he made just by being him.

5. Who wins more PGA Tour titles in 2015: Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth or Jason Day? Who wins more majors?

VAN SICKLE: Jordan Spieth has the best short game of those there, so I’ll go with him. He’s also an obvious pick given his off-season spurt. There’s no guarantee any of them will win majors in 2015, however. There’s Rory plus some highly motivated players who know this is the last year they can use anchored putters.

PASSOV: Spieth’s late-season run showed that he could leave quality fields in the dust. His confidence has to be soaring. Fowler showed he could compete at the highest level on the biggest stages on multiple occasions, but he didn’t get the Ws that breed Spieth’s brand of confidence. And don’t we speculate on this every year about the incredibly talented, but injury-prone Day? If he’s healthy, you like his chances in every major, but that’s a big “if.” I’ll take Spieth for most Tour titles. None of the three will win a major in 2015.

WALKER: Finishing Top 5 in all four majors is a pretty big statement. Fowler is going to put himself in position to win the most of the three, and this year he’s going to close a couple times. Butch Harmon doesn’t just teach swing, he teaches winning.

LYNCH: Day. He has the most complete game of the young guns.

SENS: Since majors come easily to no man, my best guest is that there will be a three-way tie at zero. But forced to choose, I’d say Spieth, who has proven to others — and more importantly, to himself — that he can close on a big stage.

MORFIT: I’ll say Spieth wins more Tour titles and more majors. His confidence is sky high after the way he ended 2014.

BAMBERGER: I am not good at such predictions, but I would include the possibility that that threesome could go oh-for-the-year.

6. The Masters increased the cost of a four-day badge by $75 to $325 (though badges sell for much, much higher on the secondary market). What’s the best bargain in golf?

PASSOV: It’s hard to beat the food and drink prices at Augusta National during the Masters. Every item is $3 or less, except an imported beer, which will set you back $4. Best value is the local delicacy, the Pimento Cheese sandwich, which sells for $1.50. That said, my all-time bargain is the green fee at Cavendish, a nine-holer on the Hawaiian island of Lana’i, near the Four Seasons Koele, that dates to 1947. The price to play? It’s free. The expensive part is getting to Lana’i.

MORFIT: The best bargain in golf is Pacific Grove, aka the Poor Man’s Pebble Beach, for its seaside back nine alone. I wish I lived closer.

BAMBERGER: The Walker Cup when it was at Nat’l G.L. The British Open for children. The water fountains at Augusta. (All free.)

LYNCH: At this time of the year you can take your chances on the weather and play the Old Course in St. Andrews for about $120. Not inexpensive, I admit, but value is about more than mere cost. When you see what some dreadful courses are charging golfers, that seems like a bargain. Of course, you have to get there!

VAN SICKLE: It’s still the Masters. Those tickets are still way undervalued. Plus, Masters concessions are the cheapest of any golf event by a mile — sandwiches $3 or less and soda $1.50 per cup. The fried chicken sandwiches used to be a highlight, but they’re not handmade anymore — they’re processed, fakey-tasting and lousy now. The chicken used to be a Masters tradition for me but now it’s to be avoided.

SENS: Lake Chabot Golf Course, a modest muni near me in Oakland, Calif., has a little par three that I can play with my kids for $8. A couple of hours of quality time playing a great game on well-conditioned greens, and no listening to them whine and beg to use my f!&*ing iPhone.

WALKER: You can subscribe to a year of Golf Magazine for just $10 and you get a free gear bag. Basically, we’re paying you to read it.

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