In this installment of the #AskAlan mailbag, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck answers your questions about pros wearing shorts, how players will deal with the PGA Tour’s safety measures, the elimination of U.S. Open qualifying, and more.
Trousers versus short pants … go! – @JoelSouthall
OK, let’s just dive into the big issue of the day, shall we? I like to play golf in shorts. I’m happy for others to do so, too … except on the PGA Tour. The leg hair, the asymmetrical calves, the dainty little socks … I’m not a fan. The Tour is an entertainment product, and aesthetics matter. This is not a hill I want to die on, but it is my preference.
There are many changes left on the table for Covid play through the autumn that we got a glimpse of on Sunday (no fans, golfers maybe wearing masks, no caddies). Which golfers do you see losing their edge or buckling under new constraints? Are there any you think will play better? – @zuzanryan
The new reality on Tour is going to be a fascinating sociological experiment. The pros vary in temperament from persnickety to obsessive-compulsive. They are creatures of habit and routine, all of which is going to be torn asunder. Who succeeds and who doesn’t will be about a lot more than golf. Families are much less likely to travel in the short- and medium-term, so that will have a profound interpersonal impact on the competitors. The stars who usually roll with large entourages will have that support system taken away, too. An added layer to this is that coronavirus has become politicized, and we know that as a group professional golfers skew conservative. A few weeks ago, I was interviewing by phone a major championship winner, and he went on a lengthy riff about the nation’s response to the ‘rona and what he feels is an overreaction. He didn’t use the word hoax, but it seemed like it was on the tip of his tongue the whole time. Someone with that worldview is going to have to deal with intense frustrations as they are forced to navigate the many new protocols the Tour has put in place and all the attendant hassles. Every player is going to be affected; the most easy-going of them will probably fare the best.
If the USGA can run the U.S. Open why the hell can they not have qualifying? – @BurkeStefco
It’s a matter of scale. Traditionally there are over 100 qualifying sites around the country, across the local and sectional stages, and even in the best of times, it’s a monumental undertaking to pull it off. At this moment in time, it would be overwhelming to try to solve all the logistical and medical issues to do the qualifying the old way, especially given the different rules from state to state. Still, I would have liked to have seen a modified version a few weeks ahead of the Open. Maybe four sites sprinkled across each time zone, where a few hundred players chosen at random from among the 10,000 entrants would play 36 or 54 holes, and the low 10 at each site punch their ticket to Winged Foot. Given the USGA’s resources, that would be manageable while still preserving the openness of our national championship. And it would still provide the USGA way more automatic exemptions than usual to make sure the top 100 or so in the world ranking are all on hand for the Open. Seems like a workable compromise in these unprecedented times.
#AskAlan Will there be invisible asterisks next to the winners of this year’s PGA, U.S. Open and Masters? Will people look at the winner and think “Yeah, but he won it in 2020.” – @War_Eagle1991
Not even close! Whoever wins these events will have overcome all kinds of challenges to get their game to peak at the right time. You can make the argument that winning this year will be much more impressive than in the simpler times, pre-Covid.
How much blowback will Rory receive from the American fans after his Trump comments? #AskAlan – @Pkeen52
So far, very little. Rory has earned so much goodwill with golf fans that even ardent Trump supporters seem willing to cut him some slack. The comments are also on-brand in that McIlroy has defined himself as one of golf’s truth-tellers so fans have come to expect his honest and sometimes blunt assessments. You don’t have to agree with him, but I think most people in golf appreciate the candor, whatever the topic may be.
There has been a great deal made about modern equipment making some of the grand old tracks obsolete for the best in the world. Your thoughts on an event where they play with old school clubs (persimmon) and balata balls? – @SteveThomsonMN
It would be great fun to watch, but what’s in it for the players? They spend all their time training to play the game a certain way, and it ain’t this. None of them want to go out and struggle and have the golf cognoscenti wag their collective finger and taunt them by saying they can only succeed due to modern equipment. So, it’s a fun thought experiment, but I don’t see it ever happening beyond the occasional lark.
What’s the prospect for more made-for-TV matches at unique golf courses? Seems like something that could be a great product, with the right players and some production improvements. – @JayRevell
There’s definitely a market there, especially in the next year when many international tournaments are likely to go on hiatus, leaving players available, bored and eager to please their corporate masters. I’ve also detected a larger shift in the golf culture, where very exclusive clubs seem more amenable to showing off their courses. So many have undergone restorations in recent years, and the architecture nerds in the club leadership positions want to show off the handiwork. Also, the members are now collectively more comfortable with social media and when they see other great courses being drooled over – and Tour players broadcasting friendly matches – it activates their FOMO. So hopefully we can keep peeking over the hedges.
After watching the Seminole gig, I’m wondering if we will see a person stationed at every green to manage the flagstick being taken in and out? And why didn’t the PGA Tour use a cup with something below the rim to keep the players from dipping into it on every hole? Same net effect. … – @spyhillbill
Yes, if you have the resources or volunteers to provide a dedicated flag attendant that is definitely the way to go for tournaments. As for the putting, the Tour wanted the competition to look like “real golf” as much as possible within the various parameters. If you’re careful, it is certainly possible to retrieve a ball from the cup without touching anything else; I think this works for four players, but I’m not sure about 156.
Why did TV have to ruin a perfect opportunity to embrace minimalism? – @ScottMichaux
What, you didn’t enjoy the Bill Murray and Donald Trump cameos? The problem with having only four players on the course, and especially if they’re walking, is that there is a lot of dead time between shots. So the TV folks panicked and felt compelled to fill up all the empty space, instead of just letting us listen in on the mic’d players, which is always morbidly fascinating.
If we someday get to see Pine Valley, will it seem overrated also? #notagolfsnob – @mileredskin
Definitely not. Seminole is so subtle, and that doesn’t translate to TV, especially when it’s a stripped-down telecast without the analysts, graphics and different camera angles that could have brought to life the course’s charms. Pine Valley is the opposite – big, bold, intensely visual, with one dramatic, risk-reward hole after another. It is the ultimate golf porn and would look glorious in any kind of telecast.
I would like to #AskAlan what would be the one thing that you would like to change in coverage this past weekend and why it will/or will not ever happen, stipulating that your golf wardrobe stances are your homages to keep you firmly ensconced in the halls of old man golf media. – @_Qonquistador
I’m still not sure if that last bit is a put-down or not. Anyway, as for the coverage, I love in-round interviews because they are either informative or painfully awkward, and either way the fans win. Same with mic’d players. I don’t think either will become common on the PGA Tour, but I wish they would.
Has Colonial been “obsoleted” by 21st century golf equipment? – @WSoxChamps05
Well, every course on the planet has, so the answer is yes … but less so. Colonial is actually sort of immune to distance gains because so many fairways turn hard in the 240-260 yard range and thus the course can’t really be overpowered unless players take on huge risks by trying to fly the towering oak trees and other horrors on every hole.
Did the Seminole match highlight the importance of caddies in distance control and reading putts? – @jking_NY
Nah, the lack of precision was due mainly to competitive rust mixed with a good breeze and fiddly greens.
If you could create a golf-themed 30/30 for ESPN what subject would you choose? – @SonOfAFitch
Has to be Anthony Kim, right? The War by the Shore would be tasty, too.
What are your thoughts on letting the players bet on themselves? Extremely hard to regulate, but also why not? #askalan – @RyanPM_
It’s a very slippery slope. Would it affect players’ allegiance to the rules? It’s easy to see where the temptation could arise. If they bet on themselves, they’re likely to lose more often than not, and the last thing any tour wants is a bunch of players owing money to bookies, loan sharks and other characters out of a Scorcese film. There are already fabulous rewards available to professional golfers – openly letting them bet on themselves seems to have minimal upside and the potential for serious problems.
Ship, why didn’t the Seminole match feature the top female players in partnership with the top men? Sure, TaylorMade players made up the list, but I am sure they could’ve put some powerhouse male-female teams together? Would’ve been very interesting to watch. … – @cavedoc
Of course it would’ve been great. Just as there should be a mixed-team event sanctioned by the PGA Tour and LPGA. There is no reason why women are excluded from these things except for entrenched biases. Hopefully that will change sooner rather than later.
So, all this raving about Seminole. Is it because it’s so exclusive or because it’s that good of a track? Didn’t look that impressive on TV. – @JoeECervi
This is an important point that often gets confused when discussing places. Seminole is a really good course but an amazing experience. We’re all human and prone to the giddy, holy-cow-I’m-finally-playing-Seminole emotions, which seem to explain its elevated spot in various Top 100s.
They’re different kinds of tournaments. Scottsdale was a classic mini-tour event in that it’s open to anyone, first come, first served, and the purse is derived from the entry fees. Also, it’s a one-off that doesn’t feed into any other tours. The KFT is much more of a closed-shop, and those criticizing Vijay are mostly complaining that he’s potentially taking away from money and the chance at advancement from lesser players. If Streelman, with his $20 million in career earnings, rolled up to a KFT tournament, there would be some squawking, too.
What happened to Hunter Mahan and Sean O’Hair? – @TheBlackWhip
Golf is hard.