Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler: Who’s Best Prepared for the British Open?

July 13, 2015

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 in the comments section below.

1. Jordan Spieth won the John Deere Classic on a traditional American-style course. Rickie Fowler won in Scotland on a links-style layout. How much value do you put in preparing for the British Open on a links course?

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@EamonLynch): It depends on the vagaries of the weather. Two years ago it was dry and fast at Muirfield, so Phil benefited greatly from playing (and winning) the previous week in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. But it’s been wet over the last few weeks here in Scotland, so links prep is of less value. The Old Course is soft and ripe for the picking. Prediction: before this week ends, the R&A will be hiding pins behind bunkers or someone is going to easily crack that 63 barrier in a major.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): The best preparation is winning, whether its on linksland or American golf or at Pirates of the Caribbean miniature golf. I don’t think Spieth lacked confidence before but now, he’s got to feel like he made a great choice.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@markgodich): I’d put more stock in how Spieth and Fowler won — with strong closing kicks. They’re both riding a wave of confidence. Links golf often comes down to a bounce here and there, a gust of wind and/or the Thursday-Friday draw. No amount of preparation can ready you for that.

Brendan Mohler, assistant editor, (@Bmohler09): Winning is winning, whether it’s in wind on the coast of Scotland or still humidity in the Quad Cities. Jordan Spieth’s decision to play the John Deere was admirable and smart from the moment he made it; flying to Scotland with a trophy only validates that. Confidence is key in this game and what builds that more than a win?

2. Does World No. 1 Rory McIlroy’s absence from the British Open field this week diminish the accomplishment of the eventual champion?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Not in the slightest. For whomever wins it will be a career pinnacle, regardless of how clumsy Rory is.

GODICH: Of course not. The game is bigger than Rory McIlroy, so the champ won’t get an asterisk next to his name on the Claret Jug. And there are plenty of intriguing story lines in play. Sit back and enjoy.

VAN SICKLE: Rory is missing in action and will be a big pre-tourney topic but once the golf starts, he won’t be missed at all. You can only beat the players who show up. It won’t have any effect or even be a footnote in the Open champion’s victory.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Not at all. It’s a footnote, as it was when Padraig Harrington won without Tiger Woods in the field in the 2008 British Open and the 2008 PGA Championship. But all a winner can do is beat the assembled competitors.

Alan Bastable, digital development editor, (@alan_bastable): Not to the degree that a player’s accomplishment was diminished by winning a Tiger-less major from 2000-09. (No offense, Paddy!). Rors is a force, but his dominance comes and goes. He’s not guaranteed to be in the mix late in every major, as Tiger was in his prime.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@cameronmorfit): The absence of McIlroy hurts the field, but even more than that it kills some of the buzz heading into the week. We all want to see a McIlroy/Jordan Spieth clash, but it’ll have to wait at least until the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. As for whether McIlroy’s absence will diminish the accomplishment of the winner at the Open, we can’t really know that yet. What if Louis Oosthuizen goes out and shoots four straight 63s and wins by ten shots? Are we really going to sit here and say Rory could have matched him?

LYNCH: Tiger Woods was absent when Padraig Harrington won two majors in 2008. I asked Harrington a few months later if he felt those wins were in any way diminished. “You can only beat those who show up,” was his response. Whoever wins will be remembered as the Champion Golfer of the Year. There are no asterisks on the Claret Jug.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens): Anytime the odds-on favorite and defending champ has to pull out of an event, the results have an asterisk beside them. But given that this event is the Open, the asterisk is a small speck in the big picture, and whoever (OK, whomever, for all you sticklers out there) winds up winning isn’t going to give it a second’s thought.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, SI Golf Group (@jeffritter): What hurts most is the lost possibility of a Jordan-Rory weekend showdown. But it’s still the Open at St. Andrews, and whoever wins will have earned his place in golf history. Rory’s absence looms large today, but by Sunday it will be a footnote.

MOHLER: No. Even though he was the British Open favorite before the ankle injury, Rory McIlroy would still be riding second fiddle at St. Andrews to the real story: Jordan Spieth. The Masters and U.S. Open champ is making history and might be playing his best golf of the season after the third-round 61 and victory at the John Deere Classic. That’s a scary thought. Regardless of who wins this week, McIlroy’s absence shouldn’t be a story. And if Spieth wins, few fans will even miss Rory.


3. The PGA of America pulled its year-end Grand Slam of Golf from Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles after the Donald made controversial statements regarding illegal immigrants earlier this month. Is Trump’s position in the golf world forever damaged, or can he rehabilitate his image?

BAMBERGER: The question implies that Trump wants to rehabilitate his image. I think he likes exactly where it is. If the USGA parts ways with Trump — which could happen but likely won’t — Trump will go even deeper into his rhetoric. Eventually, I imagine, he’ll turn his golf properties into high-end housing developments and if he doesn’t his children likely will. As for the PGA’s position, it makes no sense. Why dump Trump for just one year of the deal? Make a real statement or don’t make any at all.

VAN SICKLE: After Trump’s comments, his popularity bumped up a few notches in New Hampshire polls. It’s fair to say that a segment of the population is not in favor of massive immigration. Trump tarred an entire people with one swing of his dumbass brush and he hasn’t apologized. Unless he clarifies his point or apologizes, he’s on a trajectory to become the next Ted Nugent. Big mistake. He’s radioactive right now and his comments are spreading the radioactivity to the whole Republican party.

GODICH: The sooner that golf’s governing bodies distance themselves from Trump, the better. Yes, I’m talking to you, USGA. I’m hoping the only reason the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open hasn’t been been pulled from Trump National in Bedminster is because the USGA didn’t want to steal the ladies’ thunder during their week in the spotlight. Speaking of which, what a fine event that was at Lancaster Country Club. Spectacular golf on a classic track. More, please.

RITTER: People have a way of forgiving and forgetting, but first Trump would need to show some semblance of remorse. Until that happens, his place in golf is forever marred.

SENS: Rehabilitating a damaged image is pretty much a birth right of anyone in American public life. So, yeah, he could. But would he want to? More to the point, does Trump even see himself in need of rehabilitation? A large part of his brand is built on his polarizing persona, and it’s hard to imagine him ever feeling the urge to apologize for it. If he keeps it up — and you’ve got to figure he will — he will continue to lose standing in the golf world, and the number of people in the industry who are willing to align themselves with him — or join his clubs — will shrink. But there will always be a contingent who find his act compelling. Or who are at least cowed enough by his money to keep mum.

LYNCH: Trump is what he is: a buffoonish carnival barker. He has no decent reputation to rehabilitate. A more valid question is whether the major golf organizations who embraced him can cleanse that stain. The Tour must be thankful that Doral is so far away.

MORFIT: I don’t see Donald Trump going on an apology tour anytime soon. He is who he is, and the bombastic side of him is a big part of the Trump brand. Good for the PGA of America, but no one should be particularly surprised by the latest developments, and it’s disingenuous to act as if this isn’t the same Donald Trump we’ve known all along.

MOHLER: Everything about Donald Trump’s presidential run so far has backfired — his publicity stunt of a campaign has only hurt his public image. While his contributions to golf have been undoubtedly substantial, they’re rooted in nothing more than bottomless funds. As a figure in both golf and politics, his goals seem misguided. Trump’s image both within the golf space and outside it is forever damaged, which may be his first problem to date that he can’t simply throw money at.

SHIPNUCK: I think the whole world, including golf, has been looking for a reason to divest from Trump and he finally offered the perfect chance. I have no doubt he’ll become even more of a pariah in the coming weeks/months as he undoubtedly says more stupid things.

BASTABLE: Beyond repair. Ted Bishop was excommunicated from the game’s inner circle for calling Ian Poulter a “lil’ girl,” How does Trump bounce back from calling Mexican migrants rapists?

4. Scott Stallings was suspended for three months by the PGA Tour after he told officials last February he had taken DHEA, an over-the-counter supplement banned by the Tour. Does this prove players can be trusted to self-police their sport, or does the Tour’s drug policy still need an overhaul?

BASTABLE: Absolutely, I whole-heartedly trust a couple of hundred of players who are competing for millions of dollars every week in a distance-crazed game and spending increasing numbers of hours in the gym and battling fatigue and various nagging injuries to self-police what they put into their bodies. Don’t you?

BAMBERGER: Oh, no. Self-policing on drug use? Nothing promotes deception like drug use. The Tour should likely scrap its drug program, get out of the Olympics and let the legal system and player pride and performance and sense of ethical behavior take its course. In every sport, the cheaters are always ahead of the medical detectives, unless the athlete does not know how to follow basic instructions.

SHIPNUCK: What policy? The Tour seems to make it up as they go. Stallings self-reported in February but kept playing for four more months?! It would’ve been a fiasco if he had won a tourney in that stretch and then was outed as a PED user. The Tour needs a fundamental leadership change when it comes to how they handle everything involving player discipline.

VAN SICKLE: This proves nothing good. DHEA is over-the-counter stuff, how is that banned? There is no apparent benefit. You can applaud Stallings for his honesty but if he hadn’t turned himself in, no one would be the wiser. A 90-day suspension is another example of a penalty that doesn’t fit the crime. And I’ll say right now that if something is available for purchase off the rack in a drug store, it probably doesn’t belong on the banned list. The fact that Stallings had to turn himself in proves that the tour’s drug policy is a failure. And the tour tests aren’t even up to Olympic drug test standards.

SENS: One of the myths surrounding golf is that it is somehow intrinsically more “honorable” than other sports, that those who play it are by nature more upstanding than the middling swaths of humanity. Bulls–t. Sure, a good number of players can be trusted to do the right thing. But there will always be those willing to bend or break the rules. So why not have a clear, fixed policy in place and enforce it equally and openly across the board?

MORFIT: The drug-testing protocols should either be expanded to include blood, and not just urine, or abandoned. If you’re going to do something, do it right.

GODICH: Kudos to Stallings for turning himself in, even if he did take a few months to come clean. It doesn’t diminish the fact that the Tour needs to overhaul its drug policy. The first step is being more transparent.

MOHLER: The Tour’s policy has never been transparent enough to be considered trustworthy; Scott Stallings is only just the latest example. What happens off the golf course can’t be left to self-policing. If Stallings had won an event between the incident and when the suspension kicked in, this would be a huge public issue for the tour. Ty Votaw is lucky Stallings hasn’t sniffed a leaderboard since February. The policy needs an overhaul and that will only become increasingly evident.

LYNCH: The fact that he took a banned supplement for two months — and passed a drug test during that time — shows the Tour’s drug testing regimen is porous and insufficient.

RITTER: Good for Stallings for falling on the sword, but this was another sign the PGA Tour’s doping program is woefully inept. How did Stallings pass his test while taking the banned substance? And if he self-reported in February, how was he allowed to compete until July? Was he appealing? How can you appeal when you self-report your own violation? The Tour needs to get with the program, and I mean an Olympic-level program, ASAP and stop with the secrecy and shenanigans.


5. What’s your favorite St. Andrews memory?

LYNCH: Wandering up the 18th fairway at sunset on the Sunday night before the 2005 Open, amid locals walking dogs and kids playing (the Old Course being a public park on non-tournament Sundays). I turned around to see Seve Ballesteros strolling with a friend, speaking animatedly in Spanish. He stood on the green, unnoticed by most everyone, and gave his friend a little mock fist pump, reliving that conquering matador gesture from his win there in ’84. Seve had presence, even if his game had long since gone. He was a lion in winter, but a lion nonetheless.

BAMBERGER: Joining a threesome of locals minutes after arriving at the starter’s shed by myself in 1991, then playing 18 holes with one ball. That, and watching Woods in a moment of silent meditation in 2005, observed for victims of a terrorist attack in London. He showed more humanity in that minute than any other time I had ever seen him.

MORFIT: I decided one year, I think it was 2005, that it would be fun to follow and write about the last group of the day as they played in amid the fading daylight. I think it was Thursday, and I don’t even remember who was in the last group — no names. We got all the way out there (after the eighth hole you’re as far from the clubhouse as you can possibly be) and the rain started and it became impossible to take notes. I got drenched; I don’t think I ever wrote the story.

BASTABLE: Showing up late for an Old Course tee time for no other reason than my blase´ colleagues and I didn’t leave enough time to get to the first tee from another golf course not 10 miles away. (St. Andrews rush hour traffic can be worse than L.A.’s), then having the poise to shake off the monumental gaffe and birdie the first hole. Don’t ask about my performance on the other 17 holes.

GODICH: Just having the opportunity to experience a British Open at St. Andrews. I had been on the job at SI less than a month in 1995 when Mark Mulvoy, then the managing editor at the magazine, said he thought it would be a good idea for me to attend. Twist my arm.  

MOHLER: Having yet to set foot on the game’s sacred home, my memories are reduced to television. I was 10 years old when Tiger Woods completed the career Grand Slam at St. Andrews with a carefully plotted strategy, avoiding all 112 bunkers in an eight-stroke victory. At that age I didn’t fully comprehend what any of that truly meant, but I’ll never forget that golf swing. It’s amazing to think that 15 years later we may see a portion of an even greater accomplishment on the same grounds.

VAN SICKLE: I played in the pro-am before the 1989 Dunhill Cup, in which each country fielded three-man teams. My pro was Eduardo Romero of Argentina, he was little known then and this was his first round at the Old Course. He holed a putt from the road for birdie at the Road Hole 17th — unbelievable! — and overpowered the course for a routine 66. No one had heard of him yet but he was a player. I lipped out my approach wedge shot at 18 for eagle, tapped in for birdie and got applause from a few dozen diehard fans still in the stands. We were the final group on the course and upon finishing learned we’d won the pro-am by one. That was a cool feeling.

RITTER: Been fortunate enough to play the course twice — followed by drinks at the quaint Jigger Inn along the Road Hole. Every hole is a special memory, and I can still recall every shot. It’s like playing golf in a museum. There’s nothing else like it.

SHIPNUCK: My first time over there, in 1997, Matt Ginella and I didn’t know we needed proof of handicaps to play the Old Course. This was essentially pre-Internet so the starter demanded we have a fax sent. It was morning in St. Andrews, which meant the middle of the night in NYC, where we lived, and very late in Cali, where we had potential advocates. Fortuitously, Matt has a brother who lived in Hawaii so we rang him up. He made up a phony letterhead for the fictitious Turtle Bay Country Club and not only supplied our bogus handicaps but also a long, flowery letter detailing all of our fake titles and initiatives at the club. (I recall that I was giving lessons to blind children. Or they might have been orphans. Possibly they were blind orphans. It’s been a while.) The Old Course starter was duly impressed and we went out and had an epic round of golf.

SENS: The time I showed up mid-morning, peak season, looking to get on as a single, and the starter gave me long stare and a good, hearty laugh.

6. It’s time to make a pick. Who wins this week at St. Andrews

BAMBERGER: Louis Oosthuizen. Winner of the 2010 Open at St. Andrews. Finished a shot back at the U.S. Open. Possessor of one of the most beautiful and simple swings mankind has ever seen. Excellent demeanor. Excellent nickname (Shrek).

SHIPNUCK: Dustin. After all, it suited another mega-long wild child, John Daly.

RITTER: Dustin Johnson has a great opportunity at redemption from Chambers Bay and his other major blunders. But this venue has a way of identifying greatness. If you count Tiger as a Hall of Famer, the Old Course has produced the second-highest percentage of HOF champions of any major venue — only Muirfield has a higher rate. So, I’ll take a guy with a great shot at a Hall of Fame career, especially after he wins this week in front of a hometown crowd: Justin Rose.

MORFIT: I’m going to go with the same guy who won the last St. Andrews Open: Oosthuizen. He’s still hugely underrated, and over the last 54 holes at the U.S. Open at Chambers he outplayed the field by a wide margin.

VAN SICKLE: This feels like the Year of Jordan Spieth. Everything is falling his way. He easily could have not won the U.S. Open but every domino toppled for him that needed to topple. He’s on a roll of great play and good fortune. Good karma just follows him around and I think it will continue. I think Louis Oosthuizen is back on his game, too, and will be a strong contender.

BASTABLE: Bubba. He can “John Daly” the Old Course into submission, and he has done all right at Augusta, Mackenzie’s inland ode to the O.C. Also keep an eye on Zach Johnson and not just because of his play at the Deere. Two top-10 finishes in the last three Open Championships indicates he’s begun to unlock the secrets to scoring in links golf. He’s also proven he can win in tough conditions, which you can assume we’ll see on at least one day at St. Andys.

GODICH: I don’t know how you can pick anyone but Jordan Spieth, and I said that even before he posted that sick 61 at the John Deere on Saturday on the way to winning. His run-up to the British is eerily similar to that of the Masters and the U.S. Open. Spieth makes weekend charge (first Houston, then the Memorial), then wins major. I’d say he’s peaking at just the right time. Again.

MOHLER: Who could be hungrier for a major victory right now than the guy hurting the most? Some may be concerned that Dustin Johnson hasn’t competed since that fateful three-putt at Chambers Bay, and that the wound is still too fresh. But four top-10s in the last six majors and two British Open top-10s since 2011 will ease lingering nightmares of that 72nd hole collapse. And if St. Andrews is as soft as reported, that only helps DJ’s case.

LYNCH: Arnie is showing up to play in the Champions event the night before the first round. He’s 85 and may never be back. He wins the week.

SENS: I’ll take JB Holmes for $25 at 100 to 1, Alex.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.