Tour Confidential: Did Tiger Woods Make Progress at The Greenbrier?

July 6, 2015

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. Tiger Woods carded his first bogey-free round since the 2013 Barclays and finished tied for 32nd at the Greenbrier, saying afterward it was the best he has hit it “in a long, long time.” What did you make of his last outing before the Open Championship at St. Andrews in two weeks?

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens): Meh. I’d like to say it’s a bold step on the path toward full recovery. But it’s hard to get too worked up about a bogey-free round on an easy course in a relatively low-wattage event. When Tiger starts putting it all together on a weekend in the moments that matter most to him (read: the majors), then we’ll have cause for excitement. For now, getting in a lather over his middle-of-the-pack finish at The Greenbrier is mostly a reminder of how low we’ve set the bar for Tiger 4.0.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Tiger’s physical game is clearly on the upswing. He reduced the number of bad swings, but as Peter Kostis and Nick Faldo pointed out on CBS, he reverts to his old form when he faces a tough driving hole and makes a poor swing. That’s mental more than physical and something Tiger can improve. So he has reason to be optimistic on a course he has played well in the past. 

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@EamonLynch): Tour-level golf is more about the quality of a player’s misses than his good shots. All of these guys can hit superb shots, but how much damage do their poor shots inflict? Tiger’s bad shots are crippling to his score. Greenbrier showed that when Tiger hits it well now he’s an average Tour pro. That’s progress of sorts, given where he has been, but hardly cause for optimism heading into St. Andrews.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@JoePassov): Even the ardent Tiger haters would have to acknowledge he had a good week, with a couple of errant drives and a mildly balky putter likely costing him a top-10. As I suspected last week, getting aboard an easier course where he wouldn’t have to grind so much was good for the confidence. His tempo was better, his major misses far fewer and his iron play stellar. There’s some guy who regularly busts me on Twitter because I try to stay optimistic about Tiger’s prospects; all I can say to him, and to everybody else, is that he looked pretty good at The Greenbrier and in two weeks at the British Open, he’ll take on his favorite course, one where he’s enjoyed remarkable success. 

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: If I had more of an emotional attachment to Tiger, I’d consider this analysis of a fair-to-middling week of golf almost sad. But right now, I’m just bored of thinking about Tiger Woods and the meaning of his golf and life. He’s a name on a list with a lot of other names, trying to improve.

2. This week Donald Trump claimed his inflammatory comments about Mexican immigrants were supported within the golf world because “they all know I’m right.” The PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, USGA and PGA of America released a statement that read “Mr. Trump’s comments are inconsistent with our strong comment to a welcoming environment in the game of golf.” Is that statement sufficient or should golf’s governing bodies further sanction Trump?

LYNCH: Trump’s conduct calls to mind a zoo chimpanzee that delights in throwing its feces at anyone unwise enough to pause and pay it attention. One can’t really be surprised at the actions of the chimp, but it does make one question the judgment of those willing to stand next to it in their smart blazers, hoping not to get spattered during the spectacle.

BAMBERGER: Insufficient. You get thrown out of the NBA for far less.

PASSOV: For now, that statement is sufficient. Donald Trump has been very good for golf in the past several years. During a time of waning popularity, he has helped prop it up with mostly positive publicity. He’s such an easy target right now. Let’s give it a little time to see if he clarifies, retracts or otherwise amends his position on the country of Mexico and its citizens. Otherwise, there’s going to be massive collateral damage between Trump and the USGA, PGA of America and the PGA and LPGA Tours.

VAN SICKLE: Trump will get enough sanctions in the court of public opinion, which will shortly end his pretend presidential run.

SENS: It’s the milquetoast response of an industry that would probably like to forget that Trump has become such a major player in it. Whether he actually believes everything he says is hard to gauge, because his entire brand is built on drawing attention to himself, no matter how much ridicule he attracts. Trump the person and Trump the persona have become so intermingled that you wonder whether he even knows where the line between them lies. In terms of the Tours and the USGA, the right response would be a distancing of business relations. But the most satisfying response would be if the entire world ignored him. Trump can withstand all kinds of other sanctions. But he might not be able to endure that.


3. Bubba Watson announced that he was painting over the Confederate flag on the roof of the General Lee car from the “Dukes of Hazzard” that he owns. What did you make of his move and the reaction to it?

LYNCH: Bubba was denied permission by NASCAR to drive his General Lee around the racetrack in Phoenix in March, 2012. He said then he’d learned a lot about why many people have strongly negative perceptions of the Confederate flag. Over three years later, he acts on it. Maybe he’s just a slow learner.

PASSOV: It’s a complete overreaction to paint over the flag. Just keep as is, as a minor historical relic, and donate it to a museum. We should abhor symbols of hate and oppression, but not necessarily sweep them under rugs. I always go back to what President Dwight Eisenhower had to say about banning books and censorship and such. “How will we defeat Communism unless we know what it is, what it teaches, and why does it have such an appeal for men?” asked Ike. In another speech, he stated, “Don’t join the book burners…Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read any book.” In other words, don’t avoid these symbols, confront them. That said, it’s Bubba’s car. He can do what he wants.

VAN SICKLE: The Confederate flag isn’t a part of history anymore. Now, right or wrong, many see it as a symbol of racism. Since perception is reality, Watson is smart to get rid of it. Nothing good is going to happen if you fly the Confederate flag now.

SENS: At the South Carolina convention in 1860, the Confederates laid out their motivation for secession. They were opposed to a newly elected president, “whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.” In saying he plans to paint over the flag of those same Confederates, Bubba was laying out his convictions just as clearly. And can anyone reasonably argue that he’s not on the side of right? Of course not, which is why those critical of Bubba’s move have resorted to mindless name-calling or to the empty knee-jerk claim that he caved in to “political correctness.”

BAMBERGER: Bubba done good.

4. In a sudden death playoff, Danny Lee won the Greenbrier Classic held at the Old White TPC at the historic Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. Would you like to see more PGA Tour events played at vintage courses like this, even with quirks such as its 18th hole being a par-3? 

PASSOV: As a fanatical advocate for classic courses, I would welcome any and all Golden Age layouts to be a regular part of the PGA Tour lineup. So would most of the pros. The problem, however, is that most of these courses are simply too short, with their strategic value compromised, by the long-out-of-control equipment advances that rendered most of these tracks obsolete – not for 99 percent of us, but for the Tour pros. Cloaking these classic courses in layers of heavy rough do nothing except protect par, an unworthy goal, in my mind, when it comes at the expense of the variety and the thinking man’s options which make these classic courses so special.

SENS: Absolutely. The Tour has plenty of modern venues build for the bomb-and-gouge game. The more variety in the mix, the better.

BAMBERGER: The quirks of these old courses add immeasurably to the pleasure. Yes, for sure: more golden age courses.

VAN SICKLE: We’d all like to see more tournaments at courses we know, especially famous ones. Not many classic old courses can support the infrastructure of a modern tournament – room for corporate tents, parking, spectating, shuttle buses. Riviera and Colonial pull it off, but only with great difficulty. It’s fun to see the Old White in play. Who wouldn’t like to see more venues like that?

LYNCH: Courses with character — and quirks — are seen too seldom in professional golf, not just on the PGA Tour. The more, the merrier.


5. released its ranking of all 50 states based on their level of “golfiness,” with Florida, Arizona and California comprising the top three. What state would receive your nod as the most golfy state in America? 

VAN SICKLE: I’d call it a tie between Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. They’ve got a lot of really good courses in each state and a lot of truly avid golfers despite a shortish golf season due to weather. Anytime a big pro event is played in those states, enthusiastic fans turn out in big numbers. Nobody goes at the game harder in summertime than the residents of those three states.

LYNCH: If Bandon Dunes was in Florida, I’d vote Florida. Since it isn’t, I’m saying Oregon.

SENS: South Carolina – that same state where the Confederates detailed their rationale for secession all those years ago. Nowadays, not many places give you better bang for your golf buck.

BAMBERGER: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois would be my top-three, followed by Pennsylvania, New York, Florida and with a special nod to Rhode Island, which has more good courses per capita than any state I know.

PASSOV: Well, I put the list together, with statistical help from the National Golf Foundation, so I suppose I better stick with the one I picked, Florida. I do reside in Arizona, however, and have attended 29 Phoenix Opens, so I can readily attest that the Grand Canyon State is a very close Number 2.

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