Tour Confidential: Wrapping Up Rio and Fowler’s Ryder Cup Chances
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 by tweeting us your thoughts at @golf_com.
1. With the completion of the women’s event in Rio on Saturday, the Olympic golf “experiment” has officially concluded. What was the biggest takeaway from the last two weeks?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): The Olympics added a wrinkle we’ve never seen. Forget Tiger’s mantra of Second Place Sucks. In Rio, second place was big and so was third. Even in a runaway like Inbee Park’s, the race for second and third was enthralling. Regular tourneys don’t have that angle but I liked that bit. Kuchar and Feng were thrilled to finish third.
Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Loved both the players’ emotion and that quirky golf course. It needs a format tweak, but my biggest takeaway was that these two weeks were a success, and golf can work as an Olympic sport.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): The way the players embraced the Olympics. It’s like a light bulb went off.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): Personally, what I enjoyed most was seeing the women get an equal share of the spotlight as the men, playing on the same venue, with the same stakes. It was another reminder of how much fun the best women players are to watch. And unlike the men, pretty much all of the very best were actually there.
Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Without question, the biggest takeaway from the Olympics golf fortnight is that it proved that golf does indeed belong — and can thrive — as an Olympic sport. The interaction of the golfers with other Olympic athletes and their kid-in-a-candy-store reactions were great. So were their reactions while grinding to earn a medal. It proved the prizes actually meant something to these wealthy, jaded pros. The international flavor sprinkled all over the leaderboards was a huge plus — compared to some winter and summer Olympic sports where the same countries dominate every year. I’ll disagree with the overheated pros who claimed the Olympics was bigger than the majors, but to me, Olympic gold proved to be a unique complement, with the potential to be the ultimate world championship.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): That we didn’t miss any of the players who weren’t there but, based on the longing in their texts and tweets, they know they missed out on something special.
2. Gil Hanse’s Olympic course proved to be an excellent test in a variety of conditions and was heralded by players, officials and media alike. What does the future hold for Hanse’s design in a country that has exhibited little to no appetite for golf?
Ritter: It’s a great question. When I was in Rio earlier this year, I was told that this fall the course will host a Latin American PGA Tour event and a state championship, but nothing had been planned beyond that. Will there be a kids clinic? Reasonably priced tee times? More international competitions? You hope this course becomes ground zero for Brazilian public golf, but as of now the future feels murky.
Sens: As someone who used to live in Brazil and still has family and friends there, I’m not overly optimistic for the future of that course. Aside from wealthy expats working for Petrobras and such, I don’t see it attracting much of a local market. A Latin American Tour event would be cool. But I don’t see the course, nifty as it is, becoming a key catalyst in “growing the game” in Brazil. And no one traveling to Rio is ever going to place “golf clubs” as the first item on their packing list. If Vegas were looking for odds on the prospects, I’d set the over/under at 10 years for when we learn that property is being turned into a high-end real estate development.
Passov: For the most part, sadly, I’m with Josh. Rio and Brazil have so many urgent problems, it’s hard to see resources being devoted to establishing and promoting the golf venue. I could see it having a chance, say, if it partnered with a top-of-the-line hotel to offer golf packages with the incentive of playing the Olympics course. For locals to embrace it, some private entity would have to commit deep resources to make it prosper. As for the design itself, I love the playability for all golfers, though I’d suspect officials would want to clear out some of the gunch from the sandy areas that bracket fairways in order to keep play moving along.
Godich: I don’t believe anyone has any idea, and that has to be a concern. And that’s sad to say, because Hanse most certainly designed a very playable course.
Van Sickle: It’s going to be the capybaras’ Fortress of Solitude. It’ll be Rio’s little Wild Kingdom. Unless maybe this Olympic thing makes it a golf destination. That could happen with some savvy marketing. Just don’t make Ryan Lochte the spokesperson.
Shipnuck: You’ll have to read my golf.com exclusive that’s coming shortly. But there is a big commitment, financially and philosophically, to keep the course in championship condition and there are lotsa tourneys in the pipeline: the Brazilian Open will be played there this fall, a Web.com event is coming in the spring and that’s only the beginning. They’re thinking big down here, with dreams of a WGC.
3. Rickie Fowler added the Wyndham Championship to his schedule with the hopes of playing well and catching the attention of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III. Fowler played respectably in Greensboro but was outplayed by another potential Ryder Cupper in Jim Furyk. Does Fowler deserve one of Love’s four captain’s picks?
Van Sickle: Outside of Jim Furyk’s 58, the guys outside the top eight on points haven’t done much. I don’t know who deserves the picks, but I’m pretty sure Love will take Fowler anyway. He’s got a match-play reputation and a resume. A more interesting question might be, should Bubba Watson be a pick? Glad I’m not captain.
Ritter: I’ve always considered Rickie a lock because of his position on the esteemed (cough, cough) Ryder Cup task force. But adding the Wyndham is a clear sign he’s looking to bolster his candidacy, or at least, find better form. I do think Van Sickle is right — Fowler’s match-play rep will serve as a tiebreaker, and he’ll be on the team.
Godich: What match-play rep? Let’s remember that Rickie can still play his way onto the team, but if he doesn’t, this becomes a tough call for Love — and not just because of Rickie’s indifferent play of late. Don’t forget that his next Ryder Cup victory will be his first. (Please don’t confuse the Ryder with the Presidents Cup.) He has been a great ambassador for the game and I’m a big fan, but Rickie has gotten a lot of mileage out of that four-birdie finish to halve his singles match as a rookie in 2010.
Sens: Great point about that mileage, Mark. Any rep of his being a match-play killer does not square with reality. At least not in the biggest match play event of all. Everyone loves Fowler and with good reason. But if he doesn’t play his way onto the team, it would be fun to see the slot go to some young and steely talent without Ryder Cup scars. I dunno. James Hahn anyone?
Passov: Hey, the Ryder Cup is still an exhibition and personalities such as Rickie’s help move the needle. Obviously, he hasn’t been tearing it up lately, outside of his third-round 64 at the Olympics, but in a match-play format, he’ll make you birdies and he’s a good teammate. I’d pick him.
Shipnuck: I love Fowler’s attitude and desire but sadly he’s struggled all year. I don’t think Love picks him.
4. Australian Curtis Luck ran away with the U.S. Amateur Sunday, thumping Oklahoma Sooner Brad Dalke 6 and 4 in the 36-hole final. Did you watch? It’s been 20 years since Tiger Woods beat Steve Scott in a highly rated Am final. What can the event do to generate more buzz?
Godich: I watched a good amount, and it was thoroughly entertaining. How could you not root for an underdog like Nick Carlson? Love the match-play format and how fans can get right on top of the action. And shouldn’t the fact that many of the top amateurs in the world are playing for a spot in the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open generate enough buzz?
Sens: I watched and enjoyed as always. And as long as we’re talking about that epic Woods/Scott match, let’s recall that NBC only covered the final 18 of that match live. Today’s coverage is a lot more expansive than it was back then.
Van Sickle: I watched earlier in the week and got a swing tip from Paul Azinger (with an assist from Brad Faxon) that really helped me out. I didn’t see the final match. Hey, it’s amateur golf and Fox Sports televised the heck out of it. That’s all you can do. It might catch a tad more buzz from ESPN, the greatest self-promoters of all time, but unless the USGA opts out of its Fox contract after this year, the Ams will be on Fox. That’s not all bad.
Ritter: It’s tough to measure anything against that Tiger-Scott showdown, since Woods was already a well-known phenom chasing a third straight title. The Am is a big deal to those who closely follow amateur golf, and in today’s digital/social world there are plenty of ways to track that side of the game. It will take another transcendent star to take the Am back to the mainstream. Give it time. Someday we’ll have one.
Passov: I follow golf pretty well, and am certainly a fan of the Amateur, and the outstanding courses it visits. Oakland Hills was no exception. Fabulous venue for big-time tournament golf. Yet, I can’t say I was familiar with any of the eight quarter-finalists. Unless you’re a junior golf fanatic and/or follow the college ranks intensely, none of these guys are particularly compelling, other than by their superb play. And maybe this week I was over-satiated with televised golf. With the women’s Olympics on for five or six hours, starting very early in the morning out west, I just couldn’t watch any more golf after that. Ritter, I’m with you. We need a transcendent star — or at least a few personalities — to bring the U.S. Amateur alive.
Shipnuck: It wasn’t on TV here in Rio, so no. How much buzz does it need? It’s a nice little tourney enjoyed by purists. That’s how it’s been for decades. Nothing wrong with that.
5. Pebble Beach supplanted Pacific Dunes at No. 1 in GOLF’s latest edition of the Top 100 Courses You Can Play. Did the ranking get it right? Is Pebble the country’s best public-access course?
Van Sickle: You argue about the value, the high price, the struggle to get a tee time and all that. The fact is, Pebble Beach is a golfing experience like no other. Stand on the sixth green overlooking Stillwater Cove and tell me it’s not the greatest spot on earth. The Beach is rightly No. 1.
Godich: Everyone who calls himself or herself a golfer should experience Pebble at least once. I’m not sure what other public-access course you can say that about.
Sens: Man, that’s a tough one. I’m glad to have played Pebble a few times, and would be thrilled to play it again, anytime. But if I’m going hole by hole, on the artistry of the design and the quality of the experience (pace of play; everybody walking; no houses around you), I’d give the nod to Pacific Dunes.
Passov: Josh, while I do think Pac Dunes wins the head-to-head, hole-against-hole battle, Pebble’s highs are so high, they’re impossible to dismiss. Pacific Dunes is the better golf experience, Pebble Beach the better life experience. Flip a coin. This one is a toss-up.
Ritter: Pebble remains on top of my bucket list, but I agree that ultimately a great golf course is about the experience, even if those memories also dent the wallet. One that has always stood out for me is Manele GC (No. 44 on our new list) on Hawaii’s Lanai Island, where you can see the Pacific on all 18 holes. I’d click my heels and play there again tomorrow if I could.
6. The final round of the Web.com event in Tennessee on Sunday featured the serendipitous grouping of Jhared Hack, Adam Schenk and Ryan Yip. What’s the greatest golf name of all time?
Sens: Damon Hack is an old buddy from grad school, and we used to tee it up at Tilden Park Golf Course in the East Bay, where they use a P.A. system to announce each group. Anytime I made a reservation, I’d leave Damon’s name so I could hear the pro shop guys belt out happily: “Hack foursome, now on the tee!” In our case, it was accurate on two levels. Still, it’s hard to beat Robbie Biershenk, a name you don’t even have to be Chris Berman to love.
Van Sickle: Just had this debate the other day with another vet golf writer. We trumped each other’s candidates several times until I delivered the Kent State alum, Ryan Yip, and was declared the winner. Honorable mention to pro Dick Tiddy.
Ritter: I submit Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Craig Shankland.
Godich: You guys are too negative. Give me Birdie Kim any day.
Passov: I always liked European Tour player Domingo Hospital, which brings me to my favorite, Bobby Cruickshank, who was in contention at the 1934 U.S. Open at Merion, when he hit a poor short iron approach at the famous “Baffling Brook” par-4 11th hole. His ball was headed for the water, but hit a rock in the stream, and bounded onto the green. Elated, Cruickshank tossed his iron skyward, and it came down striking him, slicing a gash into his head. Dazed, he took a few minutes to recover, and was never the same, fading to a tie for third. A deed to match the name.
Shipnuck: Dang, you guys took all the good ones! There are some great Thai names on the LPGA right now but clearly the best is Pannarat Thanapolboonyaras. Take that, auto-correct!