#AskAlan: Carnoustie is baked out. Which player does that favor at the British Open?

July 13, 2018

Twas a big week in what is otherwise supposed to be a slow spot on the schedule…

What is the difference between a detailed topographic map of a green and using a compass to make sure the pin is as advertised on the pin sheet? Besides the fact the USGA thinks the latter is cheating, that is. #AskAlan -@CountDownDave

This is almost as mystifying as the USGA addressing out-of-control distance gains by banning square grooves on wedges. The compass doesn’t tell you anything about the course itself; what’s next, is the USGA gonna ban Indio during the Bob Hope? The contradictions are astounding. Reading greens is an art and a science and yet those infernal books have largely destroyed this mysterious skill. Meanwhile, the USGA precludes the use of rangefinders, which merely give you a number but doen’t tell you how the ball will be affected by the wind or lie or stance or myriad other factors. It’s getting harder and harder to look at the USGA as stewards of the game when the blue coats repeatedly make the wrong call.

Name five of the “good guys” on Tour who you root for when checking scores. -Steve @simglass

This was in response to my tweet celebrating Na’s victory and calling him “one of the good guys.” You know how Alfred Hitchcock used to always fall in love with his leading lady? In a non-weird way, feature writing can be the same way, where you become invested in the story and success of your subject. The superstars don’t need my quiet cheers in the press box. I’m partial to random underdogs whom I’ve spent a good chunk of time with and gotten to tell their tale: Na, Brian Gay, Pat Perez, Chad Campbell, J. Vegas, Aaron Baddeley, Tom Lovelady…guys like that.

How do you think the rest of the players on Tour feel about a Tiger vs. Phil event? -@GregSchwem

Mildly nauseated, but who cares? Without Tiger, none of those schmoes would have third homes in Bakers Bay. And when they’ve won 43 tournaments, including five majors, they can whinge about Phil all they want. But Woods and Mickelson are far and away the most popular, controversial and needle-moving players of the last quarter-century. They’ve earned the right to do as they please.

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are working on a deal to battle it out on the course for $10 million.

What clicked for Na this week? He seems to always have good weeks but doesn’t convert. -@AmandaGolf59

On some level, it comes down to the law of averages. If you put yourself in position to win that many times eventually you’re going to have a Sunday where some 30-footers fall and none of the other contenders make a move. But with Na you can’t underrate the mental aspects. He’s now married with a baby girl and when we sat down for a podcast earlier this year I’d never seen him so relaxed and carefree. I think he’s finally taking that between the ropes. Na has always had a lot of game – if he learns to get out of his own way there could be a good number more victories in his future.

Who would you want as your Ryder Cup partner, Tiger or Phil? -@MarkTownsendNCG

Tiger is like a stern father who you’re desperate not to disappoint and cuts you with one bit of side-eye. Phil is a goofy bro pumping you up with smack talk and corny motivational aphorisms. I’ll take Mickelson every time.

Who is more tedious: third major titular scold or “MISTER Hogan” conspicuous honorific weasel? -@Lou_TireWorld

Man, this is tough. Hogan happens to be dead, so I don’t think it matters either way to him. But all these young players who insist on calling Big Jack “Mr. Nicklaus” are doing a disservice to the man himself, who is as low-key and casual as a living legend can be. Same was true of Arnie, who never seemed to enjoy being addressed as Mr. Palmer – at Bay Hill in the ‘90s I heard him gently chide one suck-up employee by saying, “Mr. Palmer was my father.” The Open Championship/British Open thing is nettlesome, too. A Google search of “British Open” returns nearly a billion results, so clearly that is common useage. At the same time, I appreciate that the proper name is the Open Championship…except when persnickity Brits are shoving it down the rest of the world’s throat. Basically, this is a question with no right answer — both archetypes are obnoxious.

All reports from the U.K. say The Open is going to be a baked-out festival like Hoylake in 2006. Does that favor any particular type of player? #AskAlan -Amol (@amolyajnik)

Firm greens demand talent shots: shaping the ball both ways, employing various trajectories and spins, playing the ball on the ground at times. Strong winds ask the same questions, while also testing course management. And Carnoustie is already a demanding, tactical track. So, in short, it’s going to take a helluva player to survive this test.

#AskAlan Have you ever played Carnoustie? If so, what did you shoot? Bonus question: who wins the (British) Open? – @ViniciusAlvarez

Only once, a few years ago. I bombed over to Scotland on a kamikaze, 48 hour trip to hang out with Tom Watson ahead of his last Open. It was such a short journey I didn’t bring my clubs, but I managed to sneak out to Carnoustie with a rental set. In this week’s Tour Confidential I gave Graeme McDowell a hard time for W/D’ing from Open qualifying because his clubs were lost by the airlines, and the Carnoustie experience informed that view — I had one of my greatest ballstrking rounds ever with an old set of TaylorMade rentals. I think I shot 81 in high winds and was quite happy with that. I expect the champ this year will better that score. I’m going with Justin Rose.

It is getting boring watching these weaker- field cookie cutter courses every week. The equipment (ball,drivers,irons) are mostly to blame for guys tearing up these courses. When will we see courses counteract against the equipment technology revolution and bite back? -Bill (@DJohnsonsSWAG)

There’s no doubt that the stretch between the Opens is the most brutal time of year on Tour, with weak fields and four straight TPCs, though I like Hartford and Deer Run and love the Greenbrier. But the architectural subtleties of Seth Raynor, among others, are largely rendered irrelevant when guys are smashing drivers over every bunker and dogleg. And playing for the correct angles into the green is meaningless when the putting surfaces are softish and players are hitting mostly short-irons or wedges. There’s not much the courses can do other than grow really long rough and bake out the greens; that happens once a year, at the U.S. Open, and the players still bitch and moan. So this is what we get.

Since 2000, what has been the best (calendar) year for major championships? My rogue opinion: 2013. For starters, sick rota. Merion, Murifield, Oak Hill. Angel-Adam Scott Masters showdown, Phil’s U.S. Open heartbreak (again), Rosey’s first major, Phil’s redemption at the Open, Duf’s ballstriking clinic at the PGA…so many cool things happening that year. -@WillTweetsGolf

This question originally included the Players but good taste and proper decency compelled me to excise it from consideration. I like 2013 and, in fact, it makes my top 5:

5. 2005…So much Tiger: his iconic hole-out on 16 keys his Masters win, he battles unlikely underdog M. Campbell to the wire at Pinehurst and then Woods with another vintage performance at the Old Course. And Phil puts an exclamation point on the year with a win at the PGA.

4. 2011…One of the craziest Masters Sundays ever, Rory’s redemption at Congo, Darren Clarke’s sentimental win at St. George’s and all-time nuttiness at the PGA with Keegan-Dufner.

3. 2013…see above.

2. 2006…Phil with defining performances: a blowout win at Augusta and then epic heartbreak at Winged Foot. Tiger with maybe his greatest performance at Hoylake, and then a Sunday clinic to take the PGA.

1. 2002…Tiger goes back-to-back at the Masters then dusts Phil in a triumphant performance at Bethpage. Ernie enters the pantheon at Muirfield and then one of the all-time underdogs, Rich Beem, holds off Tiger at the PGA…turning “Bud, Sweat & Tees” into a national best-seller.

Why do LPGA professionals all love you so much? Is it the hair? -Tim (@tjstaffing)

Like hitting a driver long and straight, a headful of thick, luscious hair is an advantage in all conditions. But if LPGA players enjoy my presence I think it’s entirely because for more than two decades I’ve covered the tour not as a minor league curiosity but as one of the most important tours in the world, bursting with good stories. I went to Australia to profile Karrie Webb, Mexico City to write about Lorena, hung out with Michelle Wie in her dorm room in Stanford, rode in a sagging Econovan with Christina Kim and her family, bopped around New York City photo shoots with a 16 year-old Lexi Thompson, took a boat to Alcatraz with Lydia Ko. I’ve covered Solheim Cups as far away as Scotland and all of the LPGA majors, including the defunct du Maurier, and played in pro-ams. Now, in this podcast era, I’ve tried to give LPGA players a voice that isn’t heard in many other places. So, I think if you treat LPGA players with the respect they deserve they will return the favor.