Tour Confidential: South Korean dominance at Women’s Open and British Open preview

July 16, 2017

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 by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. What, you thought he actually wouldn’t show? President Donald Trump went straight from Paris to his Bedminster, N.J., club to spend three days at the U.S. Women’s Open. Was the president an unwanted distraction? Or did his appearance give a much-needed boost to the event?

Sean Zak, associate editor, (@Sean_Zak): Yes, he was an unwanted distraction. The players are the only source that matters with this question, and a number of them seemed annoyed at all the Trump hoopla that surrounded their event, and specifically all the non-golf questions that prefaced it. So no, I can’t consider this appearance a boost for what is already the premiere women’s professional golf event in the world. He did send some (atypically) nice tweets, though!

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Totally disagree – the sitting President of the United States turned this tourney into a big deal with his presence, both here and in the Twitterverse. And all things considered he kept a low-profile and let the players have the stage.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I agree with Alan. I thought he would be a big distraction, but he really wasn’t. At all. It was actually amazing, how little buzz his presence created.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF (@JoshSens): Wait. He showed up? I hadn’t heard. It was kept so quiet. Meh. Politicians have a long history of showing up at sporting events, so no surprise there. And to my mind, whether he was a distraction to the tournament or not is not really the issue. The far more important question has nothing to do with golf. It’s whether it’s right for a sitting U.S. President to maintain such close family ties to business interests while in office. I know, I know. Shut up and stick to golf.

Marika Washchyshyn, multimedia editor, (@Marika_AW): I was with Brittany Lincicome in my hopes that the Commander in Chief would hang out in D.C. for the weekend, but I think we all knew better. I was actually surprised at how demure most of the crowds were around the presidential viewing box Sunday, though the marshals did struggle with keeping them quiet as players were putting on 15 and teeing off on 16. More than once I felt that everyone’s backs were turned to look at the president than at the golf going on around them. So, while it wasn’t a boisterous, wild distraction, it still did shift attention away from some players.

Joe Passov, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@joepassov): Isn’t the obvious answer, “both?” Yes, the specter of the President and then the actual appearance of the President was a distraction–welcomed by some, unwelcomed by others. To me, anything that takes away from the preparation and execution for the game’s best players in their most significant event is problematic. Yet, this could very well be the exception. Look at the media hordes for a women’s golf tournament! Look at the world’s attention focused on these great players. By contrast, in 2016, the only memories that remain are a handsome setting next to some vineyards and a delayed penalty being called on (I had to look up her name) Anna Nordqvist. No one will forget the spotlight that shined on the 2017 event. It was worth the distraction.

2. Between the ropes, the dominance of the South Korean contingent was the story of the week. Sung Hyun Park finished at 11 under to win her first major title by two, edging out amateur Hye-Jin Choi, also of Korea. Overall, eight of the top 10 finishers were Korean. Can you recall a single nation so thoroughly owning a major leaderboard?

Bamberger: Maybe at early British Opens. But not since.

Zak: Never, and it’s remarkable. If you entered the week still needing a visual of the dominance Korea holds over women’s professional golf, that leaderboard should suffice. If that STILL isn’t enough, our colleague Marika Washchyshyn has even more visuals for you with this video piece.

Sens: It definitely grabs your attention–a remarkable sign of dominance in this modern era of global golf. But it is hardly unprecedented in the history of the game. Take one randomly selected example. The 1971 U.S. Open at Merion. Look at the top 12 finishing spots on the leaderboard. All Americans. For that matter, look at the U.S. Women’s Open from that same year. Top 10? All American women. It has happened plenty before. We just comment on it more now because the flags on the leaderboard aren’t the stars and stripes.

Shipnuck: But in those examples, Josh, I’m guessing Americans were the overwhelming majority. There were only 28 Koreans in this field, which makes their feat even more impressive.

Sens: True. That’s what I was trying to get at the with the global game. Back in the day, so few countries were represented in the big events. It’s part of the reason multiple major winners today are more impressive, I think, than their pre-Tiger forebears.

Washchyshyn: I thought it was a coincidence that the Koreans were so good until I saw how golf-crazy that entire country is. It doesn’t surprise me that so many young Koreans are dominating the tour — they get involved early and aggressively thanks to their parents’ obsession with Se Ri Pak in the 90s and early 2000s. But they aren’t just numerous, they’re good. Our colleague Jessica Marksbury pointed out something interesting: of the 64 players to make the cut, 21 were American and 15 were from Korea… the only difference being that the Koreans swept the podium and had seven others in the top-15. That’s insane.

Passov: While the sheer numbers of Koreans in the top 10 was amazing, it wasn’t exactly startling. Doesn’t this seem to happen most weeks on tour? My thinking while I watched the last two rounds, actually, was, “Where are the Americans in their national championship?” I’m not going to pick on Lexi, because she’s been stellar, nor question Michelle Wie, who was injured, but, what the hey? With all of our resources and outstanding AJGA and university programs, where are the young Americans who should be filling those spots in the Top 10?

3. Bryson DeChambeau, the eccentric 23-year-old whose highly scientific approach to the game has drawn its share of eye rolls and raised eyebrows, stormed from four strokes back at the John Deere Classic to pick up his first PGA Tour win. “I like doing it my way,” he said after the round. Is this indisputable evidence that there’s a method to DeChambeau’s perceived madness?

Zak: I think it’s further proof, more than anything, that he’s one helluva talented golfer. I’m not that impressed (or surprised) that his analytical approach to the game produced a Tour win against a less-than-stellar field. He’s really only a statistical deviation or two (see what I did there?) from the likes of Spieth or others on Tour who know their 8-iron maxes out at 172.5 yards. Again, I’m really just impressed at the talent showing out during the same season in which he had some really low lows (14 missed cuts, including eight in a row entering the Travelers).

Bamberger: Well said, young Zak! You gotta be good to win. His clubs, some of them, are one length. But it’s not like he is some freak. He plays good golf. To some degree, they all do it their own way. He’s just further out on that spectrum.

Sens: Agreed, Sean. Further evidence of his talent. It’s refreshing to see an idiosyncratic approach, especially nowadays, when so many swings are hard to distinguish from a distance. But you get the sense DeChambeau could be a successful golfer playing a lot of different ways. He’s onto something. For him.

Shipnuck: It’s funny how Bryson rubs so many people the wrong way; don’t we want our golfers to have personality and quirks while being candid about all of it? The kid has passion, too, which we saw after the putt on the 72nd hole. I can’t wait to see where he goes from here.

Washchyshyn: Good for him for getting his first win on tour at a time when the ‘golf scientist’ hype had all but worn off. The test for Bryson now will be whether or not he can keep winning to prove to everyone it’s not just a one-off. I don’t think it is, for the record, because he’s entertaining to both watch and listen to.

Passov: When he dominated the amateur ranks, winning the NCAAs and the U.S. Amateur in the same year, I was as impressed with his attitude as I was with his golf game. We should celebrate the diversity DeChambeau brings. It’s a great story for our sport. But I’m with Marika. Let’s see if he can continue this run with any consistency before we determine that his science works.

4. This week the golf world’s attention will shift to Royal Birkdale in Southport, England, for the British Open. The active streak of first-time major-winners is now at seven—Day, Willett, DJ, Stenson, Walker, Sergio and Koepka—which is the second-longest run of that kind since the Masters began in 1934. Which major-less player has the best chance to join the group at Birkdale?

Zak: You have to love Ian Poulter’s chances, especially at a course he loves and where he has had success in the past. We don’t include him in the best player to never win a major (BPTNWM) conversation, but he’s playing some of the best golf in his life (Sunday Scottish Open collapse be damned).

Shipnuck: Matsuyama. It’s a macho golf course that demands manly ballstriking.

Sens: Rahm is one obvious answer, but take your pick of massive major-less talents. Justin Thomas. Paul Casey. I expect Lee Westwood to make yet another appearance down the stretch.

Washchyshyn: Rickie! I just think he’s so close, especially after his close call at the U.S. Open. Erin Hills beat him up on Sunday, and everyone is saying he can’t close. But links golf with windy, British-y weather and Rickie go like crumpets and tea. I’m ready for first-timer number 8 to be wearing joggers and high-tops as he hoists the claret jug.

Bamberger: I’m with Marika. He’s overdue. Fowler reminds me of Sergio in many ways (as a golfer). He hits his irons so, so flush. Always the first thing to look for when looking around for an Open winner.

Passov: Michael, can I join you and Marika, or does “two’s company, three’s a crowd” apply here? Rickie played well this week at the Scottish Open, he likes the challenge of links golf, and he seems to be knocking on the door a lot lately. You now expect him to contend on Sunday. It’s Rickie’s time to break through.

5. Former Ryder Cup star and British Open winner Justin Leonard was recently featured in Sports Illustrated and on in this year’s edition of Where Are They Now. Leonard, as John Garrity writes, left his Texas roots to start a new life in the Colorado Rockies. Which former pro golfer would you most like to track down and spend a day with?

Zak: Can we call Tiger Woods a former pro? That seems too sad. Rather than play Call of Duty with him, I really want to hang with Lee Trevino. The guy has lived quite the life, put together quite the career, and from what I hear, he’s quite the comic. I’d have so many questions for him, though, so he’d probably become annoyed with me.

Shipnuck: I’m calling dibs on AK. We already have some history, and dude without a doubt has a great story to tell.

Sens: I’d say Mac O’Grady but since I don’t have a vehicle that would get me to that planet, I’m going with Jack Newton, the Australian great who lost his arm in a freak accident at the height of his career. I’ve only interviewed him on the phone, but he struck me as a bright and interesting guy, and the way he found ways to continue contributing to the game is pretty inspiring.

Washchyshyn: Mickey Wright. The 13-time LPGA major champion has often been called a recluse after retiring at an early age and generally staying away from the spotlight. She’s done little in the way of mentoring as some of her older Founder peers have, and even less media. She had a heck of a swing and won four U.S. Women’s Opens to prove it. She beat breast cancer and is still alive at 82. I’d like to have a long phone chat with her.

Bamberger: Oh, Marika–great call! I’ve had maybe a half-dozen or more long phone interviews with Miss Wright and I’m sure they were the tip of the iceberg. But she wouldn’t let me come see her. I hope you get there, Marika. Check out her locker at the Hall of Fame–there’s one thing in it. Her book, “Play Golf the Wright Way.”

Passov: Tom Weiskopf is fantastic company. He has incredible stories about dueling with Jack and hanging with Arnie, has super-strong opinions on players today and course design and can look back at his own shortcomings and mis-steps with honesty–very refreshing. I’ve done a bit of it, and would gladly go back for more.

6. Roger Federer won his 19th major title Sunday at Wimbledon in a performance so dominating (he didn’t drop a set over the entire championship) that even a bunch of golf writers must doff their caps to him. Whose major accomplishments are more impressive: Federer’s or Jack Nicklaus’s?

Zak: This is difficult to analyze for a number of reasons, the first being that Nicklaus staves off entire fields instead of winning matches against single opponents like Federer does. At this juncture, considering Federer has just the lone French Open title (admirable in the Nadal Era) I’m giving Jack the nod as he’s won the career grand slam three times. THREE of each! Not to mention producing those victories over the course of 24 years. With Federer at 35, I gladly reserve the right to change this thought if he adds another major or two.

Shipnuck: That’s a key point, Sean, that Jack won ‘em all. But the intensely physical nature of tennis favors youth more than golf does, giving Jack a longer window. (Theoretically, at least.) I’d say it’s a dead heat. But Federer’s win already had me thinking of Tiger. Back in ‘08 they were tied with 14 Slams a piece. That Tiger burnt-out so spectacularly and Federer is still a boss a decade later puts all of it into perspective for me.

Sens: Such a tough comparison but I’m with Alan on the longevity point. Golf allows for that. Tennis much less so. And there was a four year stretch–2013, 2014, 2015, 2016–when Federer was majorless. At that point, it was easy to think his arc was complete. But now here he is again, running off two majors already this year. So I’ll take Roger by a nose.

Washchyshyn: I’m in the Federer camp too, I think, but only because I’m going to make the argument that Federer has had to consistently beat players who were just as good or better than him at many points in his career. I think Jack ran away with a lot of his competition because he was so talented, which isn’t to say I take anything away from Jack’s incredible resume. I just think that at (almost) 36, to have constantly upped the top players in the sport from Rafa Nadal to Novak Djokovic to Andy Murray and a slew of others in between (like Agassi, Roddick, Wawrinka and more), that’s pretty damn impressive.

Bamberger: Really, really tough to say. Their similarities are the most striking thing: the intelligence, the grace in winning and losing, their ability to get away from their sports. They have both spanned eras. Jack loves tennis and Roger, chiefly because of his relationship with Tiger, is interested in golf. As an iconic figure in a sport, I think Nicklaus made have a slight edge on Federer because Jack’s 18 to Tiger’s 14 is such an enormous chasm. I have loved watching them both. They give you hope for humanity.

Passov: I’ve been an enormous Fed-Fan since I saw him win his first Wimbledon in 2003. He was astonishing in his combination of grace and power. Nevertheless, Jack’s major achievements are more impressive. All of Federder’s major matches are played as three out of five sets, which means he can shank backhands and miss first serves for two hours, over two sets, and still win a match, and move on. In Jack’s world, he couldn’t afford a 76 or a 79 and still win those majors. King Federer looked ageless today–absolutely scary–but Jack’s career majors achievement pips Roger’s by a slender margin.