Michael Bamberger’s 7 best things in golf right now, ranked

October 23, 2018
Brooks Koepka tosses a ball at the CJ Cup.

Every Tuesday GOLF senior writer Michael Bamberger identifies — and ranks — the absolute, undeniably, very best things in golf right now.  


Through the kindness of friends, I got invited the other day to sit between Tom Watson and the golf teacher Todd Anderson at a Q&A at Sea Island in an event sponsored by Polo. My job was the Q’s. I packed my Joseph A. Bank blazer (buy one, get three free!) in my suitcase and boarded a plane in Philadelphia, bound for Jacksonville. My clubs made it. My suitcase did not. Driving to Sea Island, about 90 minutes north of the Jacksonville airport, I called Davis Love, to see if I might borrow a blazer from him. He was happy to oblige. A Ryder Cup made-for-Paris Polo blazer, as it turned out. Fit like a glove and feels like silk. I will never look at my old blazer quite the same way again. Sorry, JAB. It’s not you. It’s me. Thank you, Davis.


They didn’t need me in Sea Island. Todd could talk about the golf swing all day, without anyone serving up questions for him. Watson, the same. He could talk about golf all day. He played with Gene Sarazen and Jordan Spieth and everybody in between. He said some memorable things at that Polo event, but the one thing that made the biggest impression on me was these two short sentences: “I’m a golfer. That’s who I am.”


Watson will tell you that the greatest links golfer ever was Peter Thomson, who died this year. But Watson has five British Opens and three British Senior Opens. He loves everything about golf in the kingdom, including the form of the game seldom played in these parts, what used to be known as Scotch Foursomes and what we typically call Alternate Shot. I played in another event recently, a 27-hole one-day thing in which 18 holes were played as modified alternate shot. The modification was significant and purists will detest it but I thought it was great: both members of each two-person team play tee shots, one of the shots gets selected, and then you alternate shots all the way into the hole from there. Play moves. You quickly develop, for good or for bad, team chemistry. You get to play more shots but you also find yourself all-in on what your partner is doing, in a way you might not be in a typical better-ball match. I urge you to try it.


The nine-hole course referenced above, the St. Martins course at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, does not have a driving range. I play there a lot. My warm-up consists of about 18 long slow swings with an Orange Whip I keep in the back of my car, with my other valuables. For those who don’t know it, the Orange Whip is a fly rod with a heavy orange tennis ball on one end and a golf grip on the other. It’s the plank of pre-round golf. It makes you use every part of your body, and if you rush an Orange Whip swing you could wind up on the ground. I’m not selling a thing here. But it helps me. Here’s a better endorsement: you’ll never see Vijay Singh on a range without it.


Todd Anderson runs the golf instruction program at the Stadium Course, on the spectacular driving range (practice area) there. I asked him how often he sees Vijay there. “ALL the time,” Todd said. Some people just love golf, and trying to get that golf ball to do what you want it to do. It’s an odd and interesting pursuit, if you think about it. The seniors are playing this week at Sherwood Country Club, in Los Angeles. Vijay’s playing, of course. He’ll be packing his Orange Whip. At some point, we’ll hear something about his suit against the Tour. Man, has that thing gone on forever. Yet there’s Vijay, more often than not, wearing out that TPC Sawgrass range. He’s entitled.


I mean, way fewer. I played in a little, informal event the other day, just nine holes, on a short course, and you could only carry four clubs. OMG, was it fun! (I brought a driver, putter, sand wedge and 7-iron.) The PGA Tour should have a four-club event. Not seven clubs. Four. The equipment companies would maybe hate the idea, but TV would love it and it would be absolutely fascinating to see what the players would do if they had to manipulate one shot after another after another, by way of stance and swing. Seven clubs, a number discussed now and again in this context, is not extreme enough. I can’t tell you how many bad decisions I made over the course of these nine holes, typically when I had to decide between the sand iron and the 7-iron. The event was in my head. It was great.


If you’re a player, the World Golf Ranking is the most powerful list in golf. If you’re trying to get into the Masters, or the Players championship, you better know exactly where you stand on that list. It’s a trick of marketing that it has captured (to the degree it has) the imagination of the golfing public. For starters, it’s based on a formula that nobody, save maybe Steve Sands of Golf Channel, could really understand. Also, it’s not true. As of this week, Rickie Fowler is No. 9 on the list and Jason Day is No. 10. Does that mean that Rickie Fowler is a better golfer than Jason Day? Of course not. He just has accumulated fractionally more points based on . . . a formula that nobody (except Steve Sands) could really understand.

But then there’s the No. 1 ranking. To be ranked first has tremendous cache, and can be valuable to the players, because of incentive clauses in their equipment deals. I’m not worried about the personal finances of Brooks Koepka, the new No. 1 player on the WGR. If he manages well what he has made already in his career, he and his unborn children and grandchildren should be set for life. But I do think it’s fitting that he is the No. 1 player in the world. Because, for one thing, he actually is the best player in the world right now, and we all know that without the aid of a calculator. More to the point, Brooks Koepka strikes me as the sort of person who wants the validation that comes with that ranking, and he’s going to use it to rise to even higher heights. He’s going to show that he belongs right there, on the top of the mountain. Mazel tov, Brooks.

Michael Bamberger may be reached at mbamberger0224@aol.com