Tour Confidential: Should the Pros be Afraid of Chambers Bay?

May 25, 2015
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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. Some PGA Tour pros recently disagreed with Mike Davis by saying they don’t need to spend any more time practicing at Chambers Bay than they do for any other major tournament. From what you have seen or heard about Chambers Bay, are they right?

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Players are still mis-reading putts at Pebble Beach and TPC Sawgrass and those are courses they play every year. You think you’re going to learn all there is to know about Chambers Bay’s wacky greens in two practice rounds? Those two shots you waste may cost you the Open. This is a tough league, gents.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, SI Golf Group (@JeffRitter): The world’s best golfers won’t feel unprepared when they hit their opening shots at Chambers. I wonder if some of this talk is just bluster or gamesmanship. I expect that as the Open approaches, many pros who can work an early reconnaissance trip into their schedules will do it—as often happens at Augusta and other majors.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens): I’ve played Chambers Bay. It didn’t strike me as any more complicated or subtle than any number of courses I’ve played. But since when is more course knowledge ever a bad thing? If I were a Tour pro with extra time on my hands, I’d be heading up there every chance I had.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@JoePassov): What a goofy debate. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if you’re seeking success at one of golf’s most prestigious events, and it’s being contested at an unusual venue that few Tour pros have ever seen, it would behoove you to spend some extra prep time there? Of course. That said, is it mandatory? No. In 1964, Tony Lema ventured to St. Andrews, a course that requires more studying and inside knowledge than almost any other, and won the British Open in his first look at the Old Course. True, he borrowed (an absent) Arnold Palmer’s caddie that week, which helped, but the point is, these guys are good. They’ll figure it out—but they’d surely have a better shot at Chambers Bay if they had extra familiarity.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Nicklaus used to play six or more full rounds, sometimes much more, on Open venues in the fortnight before the tournament. Seemed to work well for him.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit):  I think Davis’s point is that the ground game will factor into it more than usual. He may have gone a little overboard in talking the place up, but he’s excited about those giant teeing areas and all the various ways he can set up a single course. Having played the course, albeit long ago, I’ll just say it’s not the surface of some undiscovered planet. It’s a golf course.

2. Tiger Woods’ language received the majority of FCC complaints during golf telecasts over the last few years. Should Tiger be fined or penalized in some manner, or do we just chalk this up to the impassioned language of a guy who really cares?

VAN SICKLE: The TV folks are welcome to televise with a seven-second delay so they can bleep out unsightly words. Forget Tiger’s mouth, swearing doesn’t hurt anybody. Rory McIlroy flinging clubs is dangerous and nobody’s talking about that. Rory should be fined and or suspended for his actions.

RITTER: I’m fine with fines—hey, there’s a marketing slogan—for anyone caught going blue on a televised golf broadcast. It’s a family show, isn’t it?

SENS: People love getting their knickers in a twist over nothing. Or at least feign outrage over things that really aren’t that surprising or offensive. So Tiger swears. Big deal. Turn the volume down if it bothers you, because you know that’s what you’re going to get when microphones are trailing him every step he takes.

PASSOV: Do you see what kind of television shows the commercial networks broadcast during the once-sacred family hour? And we still have folks outraged by four-letter words uttered by athletes in the heat of the moment? I cannot imagine in these times that anyone could be surprised or offended enough to register a “language” complaint with the FCC. I also can’t see that the younger generation will ever stop blurting F-bombs. Maybe it’s time to institute the 5-second delay on golf telecasts. Maybe that brings golf in line with other sports and awards shows.

BAMBERGER: Woods likely has been fined, repeatedly, by the PGA Tour. It doesn’t seem to be much of a deterrent. Regarding his profane language, who the @#$% cares?

MORFIT: Tiger has spent so much of his career on camera it’s hard to say whether or not he has an especially vulgar tongue. I assume he already has been fined or at least spoken to about it.


3. Chris Kirk picked up his fourth PGA Tour win at the Crowne Plaza Invitational and quietly earned his third straight top-20 finish. Are you surprised he emerged from the crowded group or more surprised that others who had a shot didn’t close?

VAN SICKLE: Most of the contenders at Colonial were players who haven’t won much. Winners win, that’s why they’re winners. Jordan Spieth and Brandt Snedeker made just enough mistakes to cost themselves and Kirk was able to plod to victory. The other guys, there’s a reason they haven’t won or don’t win much, and they proved it again.

SENS: The talent pool is so wide and deep that I’m never surprised by any winner. And the game itself is so fickle that it’s never really all that shocking when someone fails to close. Especially when that someone is Ian Poulter, who pretty much never does.

PASSOV: Credit an honest Brandt Snedeker for putting it in perspective, saying after the round that Kirk “made the putts he needed to and I didn’t.” Kirk didn’t get it done during the final round of the Players, but he showed in 2014 that he’s a really cool customer at crunch time and he proved it again at Colonial. Contrast that with always twitchy third-round leader Kevin Na, who usually seems to find a way to lose. A bunch of guys went sufficiently low on Sunday, but Kirk made the most putts late—for birdies and pars—and that’s what gets it done.

BAMBERGER: I don’t know, but Chris Kirk has to be the most underrated player in the game. Or is underrated/overrated no longer fit for public discussion?

MORFIT: I thought this was Na’s week, having spent a bit of time talking to him before the tournament. Given how often he is contending these days I wouldn’t be shocked to see him win very soon. But good for Kirk. It would have been interesting to see what he did at the Ryder Cup last year, but maybe he’ll make the 2016 team.

4. Ian Poulter was just one off the lead heading into the final round at Colonial, but he was one of three players that finished in the top-20 to shoot even par or worse on the day. Are you surprised he struggled again on a Sunday, and why has it been so hard for him to get that first stroke-play win in the U.S.?

VAN SICKLE: Poulter usually isn’t among the top ballstrikers. He lives and dies with his short game. He plays better on courses where par is a good score. You saw it Sunday, he couldn’t keep it between the trees when he had to or stick an iron shot close when he had the chance. In stroke play, you have to live with your mistakes. Poulter has been making too many.

RITTER: Don’t know why he’s winless in U.S. stroke-play events but here are three theories: 1) He feels added pressure because he’d like to get the monkey off his back. 2) He doesn’t feel enough pressure because he’s financially secure and has built his brand on Ryder Cup success. 3) It’s just a silly coincidence. You can talk me into any of these.

SENS: Not surprised. He’s never been a deadly ball-striker by PGA Tour standards. You can get away with that in match play if your heart is big enough and your putter gets hot enough. But it’s not going to cut it all that often over four days of stroke play at that level.

PASSOV: I am surprised Poulter didn’t play better. It would have been a great story to see both Poults and Rickie Fowler smash the “Overrated” tag over the wall in the same month. It’s almost ridiculous—pure envy—for PGA Tour regulars to label Poulter that way. He’s got a dozen Euro wins, two match-play triumphs and has been a complete stud in several Ryder Cups. “Most Disliked?” Maybe. But not “Overrated.” Yet, on Sunday at Colonial, he drove the ball terribly all day long. Only his short game led to a respectable finish. Very disappointing. You know what, though? Colin Montgomerie never won a regular PGA Tour event either, but was a Ryder Cup stalwart, was one of the best Euro Tour stars ever and is now cleaning up on Senior majors. Do we continue to diss him because he didn’t win on our tour? I know Poulter would dearly love to win on the PGA Tour, but I don’t look at him any differently merely because he hasn’t.

BAMBERGER: I defer to Ted Bishop on this question.

MORFIT: As to why he hasn’t won more, it’s just the vagaries of sports, plus his tendency, I think, to get annoyed at himself and others at inopportune times. Too much is made of his match play prowess compared to his stroke play record. He can and should win stroke play events, too.


5. With soggy conditions at Colonial, the players played ‘Lift, Clean and Place’ all the way through the greens on Sunday, and because of that we saw a lot more scores in the red. Is that something the Tour should do more often when it has to deal with below-average conditions? 

VAN SICKLE: To see players lift, clean and place in the rough and get a lie they could do something with, well, that just looked awful. If not wrong. I was at Colonial, though, and the course was goo. The only wetter course I’ve seen where play continued was the Ryder Cup at Wales. It was a perfect storm of bad conditions and with Monday’s forecast not looking all too spiffy, either, the Tour made a call. It’s a miracle that Colonial got 72 holes in by Sunday afternoon. It never looked like a possibility.

SENS: I have no problem with it. Everyone enjoys the same advantage. Nothing wrong with a birdie barrage at a course like Colonial, where people expect a shootout. The pros have been tearing up that course in all kinds of conditions for years.

PASSOV: I hope not. I could live with it this week, because it was well documented that Texas was under siege from historically horrible weather. They were lucky to get the tournament finished on time. That said, if you’re paying big-time prize money on the best tour in the world, fans and players want the integrity of competitive championship golf to be upheld and that means a proper penalty for missing the fairway and missing the green. “Play it as it lies” is one of the hoariest, most ancient rules of golf. It should be followed to the fullest extent possible.

BAMBERGER: Oh, no. LC&P should be avoided like the plague. Tough conditions is what separates the men from those aspiring to manhood. Or, on the LPGA circuit, the ladies from the ladies-in-waiting.

MORFIT: Whenever mud balls start affecting the tournament, it’s time for LCP. Simple decision.

6. Colin Montgomerie defended his Senior PGA Championship title on Sunday and has now won three of the last six senior major championships. Why is Monty having so much more success on the Senior PGA Tour than he did on the PGA Tour?

VAN SICKLE: The pressure is off Monty. If he wins or loses in senior golf, it doesn’t matter. I think he took the pressure and criticism of major championship golf too hard and let it affect his play. Senior golf is fun time, maybe less so in the so-called majors, but Monty’s got nothing to lose. And apparently some forgot, he was one of the best iron players in the game. He led the European Order of Merit seven straight times. That was no fluke. The fluke was that he never won a major. Winged Foot was the one he let get away.

RITTER: Monty just seems more relaxed on the Senior tour, and fans have embraced him. The new mojo is working.

SENS: Is it overly simplistic to say that the competition is not as stiff, the courses aren’t as tough and the pressure isn’t as great?

PASSOV: This guy was a phenomenal ballstriker in his prime. So great with woods and irons. His issues were between the ears and that’s what prevented him from contending and closing in majors. He didn’t play enough on the regular PGA Tour to be a frequent factor, but his nerves and temperament let him down during majors. The Champions Tour is his mulligan, and he’s taking full advantage. There’s simply far less pressure in these events than on what weighed him down during actual majors.

BAMBERGER: I posed that question to Sir Monty last fall. I asked, “Had you embraced America and Americans more then, could the results have been different?” He said, “Yes, I’ll be honest, they could have been. But I was a little too tightly wound then. Now I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

MORFIT: He said in the pages of GOLF Magazine that he made his peace with the fans here, and I think it has clearly helped him as a senior. I hope a similar truce comes for Sergio Garcia before it’s too late.

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