Tour Confidential: Can Jordan Spieth Be Stopped in 2016?

November 30, 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 didn’t defend his title at the Australian Open, but he did finish just one shot out of a playoff, proving yet again that his game travels well. Is there any reason to believe that Spieth won’t have another monster year in 2016?

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens) No. To paraphrase Johnny Miller on Tiger years ago, the only things that might hold him back are a bad marriage, a bad injury or a bad putter. He’s too young for two of those three. And so long as he doesn’t start playing pickup soccer with Rory McIlroy, he should be ok.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): Jordan is here to stay. His short game is beyond good, yes, but he’s just so ridiculously clutch. He’s been that way since he was a kid, he was that way in 2015, and I anticipate he’ll be that way for the rest of his career.

Brendan Mohler, assistant editor, (@bmohler09): A good year? Yes. Another monster year is a lot to ask. Spieth will inevitably regress at some point (similar to Rory McIlroy in 2013 after a big 2012). It’s hard to imagine Spieth not contending in most if not all of the four majors in 2016, but if the bar for a “monster year” is set at two majors and a FedEx Cup crown then we’re setting Spieth up for disappointment in 2016.

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Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Jordan Spieth isn’t going away anytime soon. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t in position to have a chance to win in every major.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Despite falling one shot short, Spieth showed once again what a stud he is. He didn’t have close to his ‘A’ game, and he could have easily stuffed his appearance fees into his money belt and moved on. Instead, he kept fighting and grinding, right down to the final just-shake-your-head-and-grin, over-the-water second into the par-5 18th that yielded a potential tying eagle putt. Hello, Monster ’16.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Spieth is a star, but the law of averages, and the fickle nature of the sport, says he’s due for at least a small correction in ’16. I think he’ll joust with Rory for no. 1 in world all summer, but give me the under on two more majors and another $22 million in prize money.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Well, yes. Because, as we saw in Australia, and as golf shows us every week, no matter how well you play, somebody else can play better. Do I expect Jordan to contend often? Yes. But contending and winning are two different things.

2. Diana M. Murphy was nominated to become the USGA’s next president on Monday, making her just the second woman to hold that role after Judy Bell (1996-97). What is the significance of a female holding this position? And what would you like to see Murphy accomplish in her tenure?

SENS: It’s largely a symbolic gesture, and a welcome one. As for her agenda, I can’t say that’s one that’s going to keep me up at night. But the more she can do to muster support for good, affordable municipal golf, the better. And if she wants to institute a shot clock at USGA events, all the better.

MORFIT: If you look at the demographics of the game a woman president makes sense. The USGA/LPGA Girls Golf program grew from 4,000 players in 2010 to an estimated 50,000 in 2015. The number of high schools with varsity girls’ golf teams rose 17 percent over the past decade. Overall, female participation has been on the rise, reaching nearly 6 million players. I’d like to see Murphy pinpoint what’s going so right here and apply it across all of the game’s demographic groups, which are doing, shall we say, less well.

MOHLER: This is a big deal for the USGA, an organization not exactly known for innovation. Murphy is more of a business mind than a golf mind and has likely been appointed to help manage the USGA’s cash flow that drastically increased with the Fox deal. I’d like to see Murphy tackle slow play, an issue that’s plaguing all levels of the game and that has been recently addressed by new European Tour CEO Keith Pelley. That seems like a job more for whoever succeeds Mike Davis as the USGA’s next executive director.

VAN SICKLE: Yes, it is significant. Golf has largely been a man’s world, to the detriment of the game. That should have changed sooner and perhaps she will speed it up. I’d like to see her urge courses to make a better effort to welcome women to the game. Golf is shrinking and needs more players. Women account for one-fourth of the game’s players, now it’s time for equipment-makers to put the same kind of R&D into women’s clubs and for clubs to actively seek female members with obvious perks such as friendlier tees and, duh, babysitting service.

PASSOV: It shows me the USGA is at least slightly more than a collection of egg-headed, Old Money, WASP-Y, blueblooded males. It includes females as well. That said, I was a big fan of outgoing president Tom O’Toole. I’d like to see Ms. Murphy continue to champion sustainable golf course maintenance practices, double the initiatives to get more women and kids involved, enact some common sense rules that will help speed up pace of play and bang some heads at Fox to deliver a watchable U.S. Open telecast.

RITTER: It’s an important gig, and given golf’s desperate need to attract new players and become more inclusive, Murphy has an opportunity to make some real progress here.

BAMBERGER: The USGA presidency is a significant symbol, and having a capable woman as president can only send good messages. Having said that, there are significant constitutional difficulties in the current set-up, with the president serving only two years, with agendas changing all the time. The USGA has its heart in the right place but does a poor job of letting the world see it. It tries to make the game only better but by image it is stuck, stuck, stuck. Mike Davis has the organization on a good path: water conservation, easier courses, more affordable golf for more people.


3. The R&A and European Tour have declared war on slow play, but can they really do anything? What’s your suggestion for how to curb slow play in tournaments?

SENS: Sure, they can do something. The question is whether they will have the will to rigidly enforce pace of play by meting out penalties, no ifs ands or buts. I don’t see what’s wrong with a shot clock, frankly.

MORFIT: If the idea to shame the slowpokes actually comes to fruition, it’ll be a step in the right direction.

MOHLER: There’s no way to get the point across without penalizing players more often. Slow play is hurting the game from the top down and an example needs to be set at the top level. Fines of any kind, especially those given at the end of the season, simply aren’t enough punishment to fix the problem. If slow play starts costing players shots, which can result in missed cuts and even steeper losses of money, only then may we see the pace on Tour speed up.

VAN SICKLE: Drivable par 4s and reachable par 5s cause backups in tournament golf, not much can be done there. As I’ve written many times, only a shot clock will speed up play. Get rid of the gray area and make it black and white. Either you hit a shot in the allotted time or you didn’t and if you didn’t, it counts as a stroke. Nothing short of that is going to make a difference.

PASSOV: Slow down the green speeds, to stimp readings where they were 20 to 30 years ago. Too much time wasted on chipping and putting on greens where the ball can roll and roll and roll. Stop hiding hole locations simply to preserve the notion of par as a good score. A miss to those targets usually means extra time in planning and playing, while a conservative shot merely promotes a boring 25- to 40-foot two-putt.

RITTER: I’m good with dropping stroke-and-distance penalties for O.B and treating white stakes as lateral hazards, which is how most recreational golfers play anyway. Beyond that new rule, it’s time to fine the worst offenders, and make these penalties public. What if the slowest player in the field was dinged for $10,000 after every Tour event?

4. Our Joe Passov recently pegged the best golfer from every state. Who is your state’s honoree and did Travelin’ Joe get your state right?

SENS: My state’s California, and Joe did some clever gerrymandering of the map, turning Tiger Woods into a Floridian to eliminate him from the running. You could argue the legality of that move, but all things considered, it was an inspired one, as it opened up room for grill room debate, which is what these sort of rankings are all about. His choice was Mickey Wright. Pound for pound, I don’t think you can call her a better golfer than Phil Mickelson, or Johnny Miller. Even Duffy Waldorf would have beaten her 9 matches out of 10. But in the time and place that she competed (a very small circle of players from a very limited range of backgrounds), she was Woods-like in her dominance, so I’ll go along with Joe on this.

MORFIT: Travelin’ Joe declared Babe Hiskey as the best Idaho golfer, and I suppose he might be right. Still, I’m going to nominate my dentist, Carson Mooney, who won the 1997 Idaho state am. I’m thinking I might get a free crown out of it.

MOHLER: As a native of Bethlehem, Pa., I can’t argue with Arnold Palmer. He’s a legend in every state.

VAN SICKLE: Well, Travelin’ Joe put Tiger Woods in Florida when he should’ve been in California, where he grew up. I guess the definition of where you’re from is complicated. Are you from the state of your birth, where you live now, where you lived the longest or what? But Tiger lived in California until he was 20 so to me, he’s a Californian. I live in Pennsylvania, it’s a pretty easy pick to name Rocco Mediate… I mean, Arnold Palmer. Other than Ohio, that had to be Joe’s easiest call.

PASSOV: I’m somewhat biased, but I’ll go with the idea that Travelin’ Joe got my state right. I grew up in Ohio, and Jack Nicklaus is a pretty safe pick. Sure, he’s lived in Florida since the early 1970s, but the Jack Nicklaus museum is in Ohio and they’ve named a freeway for him there–that’s good enough for me. I’ve lived in Arizona on and off since 1978–and currently live there now–and I’ll admit Billy Mayfair was a suspect pick. I wanted to find room for Phil Mickelson somewhere. He attended Arizona State from 1989 through 1992 and lived in Scottsdale/Paradise Valley through 2001, but still, that’s not enough. Mayfair is a lifer in the Grand Canyon State and is worthy of the honor.

RITTER: I was expecting Dave Hill, but Michigan is represented by two-time major-winner Leo Diegel, who I hadn’t even heard of before reading the list. Surprises like that make these rankings a blast.

BAMBERGER: TJ went with Hagen in my native New York. Totally defensible. But I’m going with Sarazen. In the great golf state of Rhode Island, Joe selected my friend Brad Faxon. With all due respect, it should have been Glenna Collett Vare.


5. The USGA has promulgated a new rule that prohibits golfers from posting scores for handicap purposes while playing alone, unless they have a witness. Good call?

SENS: Absolutely. Golf likes to call itself the great game of honor, but golf is no more honorable than those who play it, and some who play it will bend the rules given the chance. Better to limit that opportunity, and this is one easy way to do it.

MORFIT: It’s absolutely a good call, although people will find a workaround by creating invisible-friend witnesses.

MOHLER: Bad, bad call. We should be incentivizing people to play golf, not giving them more reasons why they shouldn’t. Handicaps can only be properly policed at the club level, which is the only place they matter most of the time.

VAN SICKLE: The USGA continues to be a group of point-missers. Are sand-bagging handicaps caused by players posting scores playing alone? No. Handicap-fudging is caused because at most clubs, players post their scores themselves on a scoring computer in the clubhouse. No one oversees that. I could, for example, post 10 fake scores at my leisure. Or after I actually shot 74 playing in a foursome, I could post 76 and no one would know. The USGA is trying to legislate against cheaters but that’s impossible. There was less cheating in the old days when you had to turn in a scorecard signed by you and another player with your scores, then a scoring committee chairman approved it and posted the scores for you. Technology has made score-changing easier and unstoppable. The USGA’s new policy is meaningless and doesn’t change a thing.

PASSOV: This one mystifies me. I’ve played with plenty of knuckleheads who tweak their lie in the rough, who scrape away four-footers even though they haven’t been conceded and who post whatever score they feel like, whether or not they’ve followed the rules to a letter–and nobody calls them out. Now you’re going to tell me you don’t trust me? Sorry, you can keep your Equitable Stroke Control and Adjusted Handicap. Straight up match play is the only way to go.

RITTER: Seems to go against the game’s code of sportsmanship, where players are expected to show integrity and call their own penalties. I realize many golfers don’t play this way and could game the handicap system after solo rounds, but I still don’t love the new rule.

BAMBERGER: Yes. Golf alone is practice.

6. Another Thanksgiving come and gone with no Skins Game. Anybody miss it? If not, what special holiday golf event would you dream up?

SENS: I don’t miss the event itself so much as I miss a more innocent-seeming era when you could get four of the biggest names together to play in that sort of exhibition and give a good chunk of the money away to charity. When a guy like Rory McIlroy says today that he doesn’t get too worked up over $10 million, you know that things have gotten way out of control. But maybe I should stop romanticizing the past. After all, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

MORFIT: I actually did miss the Skins Game this year. That’s embarrassing to admit, but there wasn’t much golf on TV, and I didn’t get that into the Australian Open. Maybe it’s time to revive the Skins, which after all was reality TV before reality TV was even a thing.

MOHLER: Call it youthful ignorance but I had completely forgotten that this tournament existed. That said, exhibitions like this are fun and I wish the PGA Tour hosted more of them. Remember Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam against David Duval and Karrie Webb at the Battle at Bighorn in 2011? I want to see more exhibition events with both LPGA and PGA Tour players involved.

VAN SICKLE: The Skins Game is not missed. The competing players didn’t talk much even though they were miked plus, the $1 million purse they played for has become chump change. If they played for $1 million a hole, I’m not sure that would get fans interested either, not with a $10 million FedEx Cup bonus out there blotting out the sun. A Skins Game could only work if they played for services–like, you win a hole and the other three guys have to wash and wax your car at least once; or mow your yard or give your Yorkie a haircut. Money? Nah. I’d still watch a better-run Skills Challenge, where players were forced to compete in different kinds of shot-making.

PASSOV: As a bout of nostalgia kicks in–or is that heartburn from the leftover turkey stuffing?–I have to admit I enjoyed the earliest versions of the Skins Game. Nicklaus and Palmer dueling for a bunch of money, Watson calling Gary Player a cheater, Trevino slam-dunking an ace at PGA West’s island green 17th. Wow, though–that stuff was 30 years ago. I wouldn’t mind seeing an actual family event–teams of four against four, including mothers and daughters–or else a small give-back event for charity, where four top tour pros play with four lucky amateur lottery winners, on a Pebble Beach-type course, with entry fees and sponsor monies going to charity.

RITTER: How about a coed match play tournament where each nation has its own team? In other words, what the Olympics could’ve been?

BAMBERGER: Late-morning, fast-moving two-ball golf for a friend and me, with Thanksgiving dinner to follow. A man can dream, can’t he?

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