Van Cynical Mailbag: Where Are The Big Three?

February 12, 2014

It’s still early, of course. In baseball terms, the PGA Tour golf season is still in the top of the second inning. Despite that, I can’t help but marvel at the shakeup — or is it a shakeout? — that’s happening in golf.

Like old times, a savvy player with a solid swing who works with Butch Harmon won three times early and built a huge lead on the money list. That player used to be Tiger Woods. Right now it’s Jimmy Walker. He’s a late-bloomer story on the order of Tom Lehman, and appears to be on his way to bigger and better things.

The most amazing thing about Walker, besides the fact that his hobby is shooting photos of deep-space nebulas and galaxies, is that at age 35, he’s never played in more than two major championships in a year. With three wins and $3.6 million so far this wraparound season, he’ll get in all four in 2014. That’s cool.

Back to the shakeup: Harris English, Graham DeLaet, Patrick Reed and Brian Stuard are all among the top 12 on the money list. Go to the top 20 and we can add Ian Poulter, Ryo Ishikawa and Chris Stroud.

Where are The Big Three? Not in the top 75. Phil Mickelson is 77th. Rory McIlroy is 86th and Tiger Woods, who is ahead of only five Tour members on the money list, stands at 217th. That will surely change, but it won’t change this week since none of them will play the Northern Trust Open at Riviera.

You might wonder how Dustin Johnson, last week’s runner-up, got to second on the money list. The explanation is he won a World Golf Championship you didn’t notice, the HSBC Champions held last fall in Shanghai, which is part of the new split season. Harris English, who is third, won in Mexico last fall.

It’s a crazy year so far and that’s good for golf, even if some casual fans may disagree.

On the other hand, sometimes, simple is good.

I saw and wrote about a lot of high-tech, fancy gear at last month’s PGA Merchandise Show. One item that got dished off to me while I walked the floor was a practice aid that was utterly simple. The Dead Zero Putting Disk (DZPD, $24.95) aid isn’t going to change your stroke or your game or your life, but it’s handy. Have you ever putted on a practice green that had one of those extra small cups, the ones that are so small you can barely get your fingers into it to extract your ball? Well, imagine if that cup was filled with metal and you pulled it out. You’d have a round, short cylinder. That’s the Dead Zero Putting Disk. You plop it down on a putting green anywhere and use it as the target.

It works on two levels. The size, obviously, is one. Practice putting to a tiny target makes putting to a normal cup seem easier. The second part is, it’s portable. You pull it out of your pocket and drop it on a practice green and work on any kind of putt you’d like — uphill, downhill, left-to-right. You can putt toward the DZPD from any direction. Any putt that hits the disk or glances off it represents a putt that would have gone in a real cup. The DZPD is useful if a practice green is crowded and you want to putt toward your own target in peace and quiet. I showed it to my son, who plays on mini-tours. He recognized it immediately since a friend of his from the tour who graduated to the PGA Tour this season had a Dead Zero and frequently used it. My son was so impressed that he grabbed my Dead Zero and headed off to Florida. Oh, well. At least he said thank you.

Let’s go to the Van Cynical Mailbag, where Venkat Iyer replies via Twitter to our video roundtable question about why Jimmy Walker isn’t a household name yet.

“I’m not sure,” Iyer writes, “but Johnny Walker sure is in my household.”

Good line. Consider it stolen. I’ll give Michael Ferrentino an assist for offering a similar suggestion on Twitter.

Van Cynical, Who’s having the second-best year in golf? After Jimmy (Tiger) Walker, obviously? — Douglas via Twitter

It’s got to be Dustin Johnson. He won in Shanghai last fall. He was second at Pebble Beach last week and he’s No. 2 on the money list. His amateur partner was The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. And his girlfriend is The Hot One, Gretzky’s daughter Paulina. He’s having an awesome year.

Sickle, Is anybody left to play the World Match Play out in Tucson? Why aren’t the big guns playing a WGC event? — Hammertime via email

Phil and Tiger are out. Adam Scott is out. Justin Rose has a sore shoulder. Rory McIlroy apparently will play. The players aren’t big fans of the course, a great example of what’s wrong with modern golf architecture excesses; the format, where half the field gets sent packing after one round; and the weather, where it has twice snowed in the foothills around the course in the last few years. With Honda, Doral, Bay Hill and the Masters on the horizon, some top players (who have already gone to the Middle East and back to collect appearance fees) would rather enjoy a few weeks off.

Van Sickle, Is Jimmy Walker going to win a major this year? — MichaelR via email

Let’s see, Butch Harmon took one of the better putters on tour and made him one of the better ballstrikers, too. I don’t know if JW wins one this year but I’ll be surprised if he isn’t in the mix with a chance to win one on the weekend. He’s the most consistent player on tour right now. Well, him and Jordan Spieth.

Vans, Did you think Jimmy Walker was going to make that last putt at Pebble to win after he’d blown the one at 17? — PhilSF via email

I was hoping he’d make it because I didn’t want to have a playoff drag on for another 45 minutes. I didn’t know what to expect but when he hit the putt and the ball was halfway there, I thought he’d missed it because I was pretty sure that putt would break left. It had just started to move left when it dropped in the cup. Which just proves, once again, why I’m a lousy caddie.