Each week, senior writer Alan Shipnuck answers your questions on anything and everything golf in his mailbag. This week, Shipnuck shares his opinions on the finish in La Quinta, Tiger’s prospects in San Diego, and why he’ll NEVER condone a five-major season…
Was Adam Long’s great win at the Hope the first time anyone has rooted for the “scrappy white guy from Duke”? #AskAlan -@GolfOutsider
Oh, c’mon, I loved Bobby Hurley at the point! Since no one really pays attention to college golf, university affiliations don’t define Tour pros the way they do other pro athletes. What made Long’s walk-off birdie so delicious was that he did it in Phil’s face. Such a rousing way to introduce yourself to the golf world! So much so we’re willing to forgive his Duke ties.
For years opponents seemed to wilt when they faced Tiger. Why do guys seem to do the opposite when squaring off with Phil? From underdogs like Long and Vaughn Taylor to studs like Stenson, Phil gets everyone’s best punch.
Maybe because his smirking face is so punchable? But, let us not forget Y.E. Yang, Rich Beem, Rocco Mediate, Bob May, Billy Mayfair and sundry other journeymen who gave Tiger the business even as that era’s purported superstars did, in fact, wilt. But I hear what you’re saying. The obvious difference is that pre-hydrant Tiger cared only about winning and was happy to intimidate his playing partners with his glowering presence, while Phil is a schmoozer who cares deeply that his playing partners like him. Against Long on Sunday he was chatty and solicitous and that had to have had a calming effect.
Does a winning score of -26 mean the course was too easy? -@Mark_UNC
Obviously. The Hope is akin to the Slam Dunk Contest: it’s fun to watch the players show-off but after a while it gets a bit tedious. Over and over on Sunday the contenders smashed drivers beyond the bunkers and water that are supposed to be the course’s defense, leaving only little wedges into the green. Tournament golf is most exciting when there is plentiful risk/reward. The once fearsome Stadium Course is now too easy to effectively challenge the players. It was obviously an exciting finish but most of the golf that preceded it was one-dimensional and lacking any dramatic tension.
Seems like Tigermania has died down a bit since the reality of his mediocrity has settled in. I see him making the cut at Torrey, not much more. What are your thoughts? #AskAlan -@DaveR40
I think ‘mediocrity’ is way too strong a word! Last season Tiger had a marquee victory, contended to the bitter end at two majors and had four other top-6 finishes. That’s a career year for the vast majority of players on Tour, never mind a 42 year-old with a reconstituted spine. Yes, he laid an egg at the Ryder Cup and suffered an embarrassing defeat at the Match, diminishing some of the buzz that followed the Tour Championship breakthrough.
But when Woods tees it up on Thursday at Torrey Pines, trust that Tigermania will be in full effect. One lesson we learned from 2018 is that he remains a big-game hunter. So a mediocre performance at Torrey means little as long as Tiger begins trending in the right direction in the run-up to Augusta.
What’s your view on the European Tour playing an event in Saudi Arabia? Obviously money talks but have they gone too far in openly supporting this totalitarian regime? (It may be naive of me asking you this question considering Saudi is a friend of the USA.) #AskAlan -Brian (@bcunningham0)
I don’t think the average American thinks of Saudi Arabia as a friend – more like part of a pragmatic but complicated partnership. Anyway, this whole situation fascinates me, to the point that I pitched my editors on going to Saudi Arabia next week so I could be there to report on this most unlikely new tournament. The trip didn’t happen but hard questions remain. The European Tour is increasingly reliant on the money from oppressive regimes: UAE, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Malaysia, and Oman make up a quarter of the schedule and offer some of the biggest purses of the season, in addition to bloated appearance fees to entice top players. The Tour would be in serious financial trouble if its leadership and players suddenly developed political sensitivities.
Keith Pelley, the Tour’s commissioner and CEO, certainly doesn’t want to entertain this discussion. Just weeks after Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, a frequent critic of the Saudi Arabian regime, was assassinated by government agents, Pelley offered this weak public comment: “As like many global companies, we monitor the situation in the areas we play and the viability of the golf tournament, and I can simply say that the Saudi International is on our schedule in 2019. And I really don’t have anything more to add than that.” I recently requested an interview with Pelley but was told he is too busy to find time for a phone call.
Of course, American pros haven’t exactly taken a disciplined stand, either. Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson are all going to Saudi Arabia to support the event, their allegiance purchased by millions of dollars in appearance fees. No one expects the likes of DJ to emerge as a moralizing diplomat but his recent comments, to Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press, were a beautiful summation of all the players’ apathy and myopia: “I’m going over there to play a sport I’m paid to play. It’s my job to play golf. Unfortunately, it’s in a part of the world where most people don’t agree with what happened, and I definitely don’t support anything like that. I’m going to play golf, not support them. I’m not a politician. I play golf.”
While Brandel’s assertion that The Players deserves to be among a newly minted “Big Five Events” potentially introduces fun new bits of vernacular (ie: “B.F.E.”) what would become of the familiar such as “Grand Slam” -@Lou_TireWorld
Allow me to counter BFE with another acronym: GTFO. The Players will never become the fifth major if only because as long as I’m breathing and my fingers still work I will continue to crusade against such a garish notion. Brandel can parse it any way he wants but there are four major championships and a bunch of other really good tournaments, with the Players at the top of the latter list. The Grand Slam will remain what it’s always been: two pancakes, two eggs, two sausages, two strips of bacon.
Tiger said he’s lessening his schedule because he got too tired near the end of 2018, and wouldn’t play much back-to-back. But it appears to me that the tournaments he did best in (and won) was when he did play a few weeks in a row. Is Tiger making a mistake by dialing it back? #AskAlan -Tej (@boatical)
This is the conundrum that comes with being oldish and a little gimpy. Tiger needs to play enough to be tournament sharp but not so much the he wears himself out with the new, compressed schedule. It’s a very delicate balance and he’s still trying to figure it out, clearly. I think the best opportunity to consistently contend is to play consecutive weeks and he’s doing that twice early in the year: Riviera/Mexico City then Bay Hill/Players. That will give Tiger a chance to assess how his body holds up. Then he can decide if he wants to play the week before the majors or if he’s better off resting. In the old days he chose to take the week off before majors but he would grind hard on his own to get ready. I don’t think Tiger has the stamina (or attention span) for that anymore, so maybe playing 72 holes of preparation is the way to go. We shall see.
Whew! Lydia. I can’t remember the last time she put 3 to 4 good rounds together. This collapse was tough. It’s all psychological now, right? -@Steffi_Latina25
Sadly, yes. Over the first three rounds at the T o’ C, various learned observers were raving about how Ko was swinging and scoring. And then, with the tournament on the line, she dropped a 42 on the final nine holes. To fall apart like that under the gun is metaphysical. The good news is that, in the face of such crushing disappointment, Lydia remains one of the sunniest personalities in the game.
Do you like the LPGA/celebrity format? -@cjcullen56
No, because I hate all celebrity golf with a deep passion.
Serious one: After Celia Barquin Arozamena’s death, many have said they’ll never play alone again. Are courses really any less safe, or do people just feel that way? -@linksplayers
The risks are no different now than they were before Sept. 17, 2018, but for many – especially female golfers – that dark day now follows them like a shadow. That’s a small part of the tragedy, to have lost the illusion that a golf course can be a sanctuary from society’s ills. I can’t remember the last time I played golf by myself; the social aspect is one of my favorite things about the game. But I would still do it, given the opportunity. I would also encourage my tween/teen daughters to play alone, if they were so inspired. When they need some space to think, or just want to be in nature, they already go for bike rides by themself, or walk on the beach alone, or amble through our wooded neighborhood. My hearts skips a few beats every time they set off alone but I don’t want them to be governed by fear. I hope golfers everywhere can embrace the same philosophy.
Is it too soon to be WAY out on Hosung Choi? Or do I just follow too much golf twitter? #AskAlan -@Jbredbeck
I share the same trepidation, that we are about to get too much of a good thing. What has made the Choi phenomenon so fun is that he is doing his thing half a world a way, and we only get tantalizing little glimpses. In the run-up to Pebble, and throughout that week, he is going to be massively overexposed, and the backlash is inevitable (and actually has already begun, including on Tour caddie Kip Henley’s Twitter feed.) But I’m gonna try my hardest to remember that Choi is an authentic original and just enjoy the show. It could be worse: he could be just another bland young American pro.