Tour Confidential: Homa’s hometown win, a Tiger sighting, golf’s new boss
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss the exciting Riviera playoff, the odd call to clear the course Saturday and Mike Whan introduced as USGA CEO.
1. The USGA named outgoing LPGA commissioner Mike Whan as its new executive director and CEO, replacing Mike Davis. Whan, who will assume the role this summer, was largely regarded as a transformative figure in the women’s game as he helped increase the total purse money for the LPGA and oversaw the addition of 10 tournaments to the schedule. Whan takes over the job during a period in which the USGA and R&A are hatching plans to combat the distance boom. In what ways, if any, do you think Whan will most influence the governing bodies’ tactics on this matter?
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: I think he will recognize that the USGA needs to be broadly WAY better liked by, and more popular with, golfers of all stripes, and that will empower the USGA to pursue its agenda.
Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): He won’t seem like an opponent in the way Mike Davis was often viewed by many of the game’s best players. That’s step 1 and it’s probably already accomplished by him being on social media, being somewhat self-deprecating (see his TV work during the LPGA season last year) and amicable with media. Between hiring him and Jason Gore, I don’t anticipate any of the “Justin, we need to talk” moments we’ve had in the past.
Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): I wouldn’t expect Whan to shake things up too radically on the distance-capping front. The USGA will continue to inch toward some semblance of reform but never put too many shackles on the manufacturers. Remember, Whan worked for Wilson and TaylorMade before jumping to the LPGA so he has a soft spot for the equipment builders.
Luke Kerr-Dineen, director of game improvement content (@lukekerrdineen): It’s hard to know what Mike Whan will do at the USGA. The job ahead of him is a very different one, with an entirely different set of problems to address and powers to solve them. But while the specifics remain to be seen, the value of bringing in the previous commissioner of the women’s game shouldn’t be understated. Women’s golf at the professional, amateur and recreational levels, done right, are huge potential growth opportunities for the USGA. And now, in Whan, they have the perfect person to fuel it.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): Honestly, I have no idea. I’m still unclear on what direction the USGA is taking the distance dilemma, and while they’ve laid plenty of groundwork for some sort of rollback/bifurcation combination, I don’t know whether the wheels are fully in motion and Whan just has to keep the train on the tracks or whether he’ll dictate a vision of his own.
2. What other issue would you like to see Whan make a priority in his first 100 days?
Bamberger: Introduce and sell the idea that serious golf and recreational golf really are different forms of the same sport, so that recreational golf can be played far faster and much more simply.
Zak: Couldn’t agree more. Prove Rory and JT wrong with their initial distance comments. Show that the USGA isn’t just thinking about the .001% of players like many pros have insinuated. There are two hilariously different subsets of players on this planet and the USGA cares deeply about both, as well as courses, records, etc.
Bastable: Surely further promoting the women’s game will be near the top of his agenda, as it should be. Girls under 18 represent the fastest growing demo in the U.S. golf population — there’s a huge opportunity (and responsibility) there for the game to foster those young players and ensure they become a thriving and exciting part of the golf’s near-term future. The USGA should lead that charge.
Kerr-Dineen: To forget about the elite levels of the game, and focus instead on the rank-and-file. The new golfers. There are more of them flooding into the game than ever before, and the USGA needs to welcome them them with open arms.
Dethier: Continue to elevate the U.S. Women’s Open in every way possible. It’s such a fun event with so much potential for growth. While Luke is right about the golf industry being so much more than the professional game, I’d love to see the biggest event in the women’s game continue to draw more attention.
3. What a finish at the Genesis Invitational, at storied Riviera. Tied for the lead on the 72nd hole, local boy Max Homa, seeking his second PGA Tour win, stuffed his approach to three feet to seemingly edge Tony Finau, who closed with a rousing 64 and was also in pursuit of his second Tour title. Alas, Homa lipped-out the shortie, setting up a playoff that he went on to win on the second hole. What’s the key takeaway from this Sunday at Riv?
Bamberger: That watching good golf on a good course in good weather featuring appealing players is a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon when your own course is buried in snow.
Zak: That — *shouting for the golf fans in the back* — the most exciting shots are almost never drives. There’s a weird little corner of golf viewing that is so hyped about distance that they think long drives are the most exciting shots in golf. Look at Homa’s approach into 18, his pitch from the base of a tree on 10, his approach into 14. All of that was as exciting as golf gets, and in the span of one hour.
Bamberger: Well said, Sean. I still think that the Presidents Cup at Melbourne was such an example of golf’s little shots being so much more interesting than its big ones.
Bastable: Homa’s recovery shot from the base of that tree on 10 was a once-in-a-lifetimer. He probably couldn’t have done better if you gave him a small bucket of range balls. Staggeringly good, and it must have been so deflating to Finau, who had to be thinking about his victory speech when Homa’s ball came to rest where it did. The Homa Experience is something to behold. Dude is an absolute breath of fresh air (ironic, yes, in that he’s an L.A. native), and not just because of his Twittering. In his post-round interview, he was speaking of the power of positive affirmation and how he reminds himself 5-6 times a day — and especially when he gets in nervy situations — how good he has it (loving wife, loyal dog, the whole thing). It’s just golf, right? You blow a three-footer one hole, keep that chin up, because a couple of holes later you might be winning your second Tour title in your hometown.
Kerr-Dineen: Homa has some serious mental toughness. To stuff a wedge shot seemingly for the win, only to throw it away, only to then get wildly unlucky on his ensuing tee shot, but come through anyway is hugely impressive. Lesser players would’ve buckled.
Dethier: Listening to Max Homa talk about his golf game makes me feel a little better. Not about his game or my own game or the professional game — just better, period. There’s a real irony to Homa’s fame, which has come through his Twitter swing roasts, when in reality he’s arguably the Tour’s most positive thinker. There’s a version of golf that’s cynical, defined by frustration and bad shots. Homa’s in pursuit of the other kind. The happier kind. What a satisfying hometown champ.
4. A few hours into the start of Saturday’s third round in L.A., the Tour made a highly unusual decision when it suspended play for four hours due to high winds. (The moment that best exhibited the wild conditions was Keegan Bradley putting his ball off the 10th green.) Was halting play the right call?
Bamberger: Yes. Na’e wind, na’e gowf is great when the greens are 3s, but not when they are 13s.
Zak: In this instance, yes. With the sun shining in SoCal, unfortunately the optics weren’t great, but they cut the greens to run at 13 on the Stimp before thinking that winds would howl as early as they did Saturday. The forecast lied or it was interpreted incorrectly. That’s what we get for playing outdoors! Sometimes it goes over the edge and this was clearly one of those moments.
Bastable: If Twitter was any indication, it was a largely unpopular decision. Let ’em suffer! was the general sentiment. Of course, unless you were on site at Riv, you really had no understanding of whether the course was or was not playable. J.B. Holmes had a stationary ball move on him. When that starts happening, it’s time to think hard about blowing the horn. One fair criticism was that the Tour shouldn’t have rolled the greens. That might have made enough of a difference that they could have played on. The R&A caught the same heat at the 2015 Open at St. Andrews when wind led to a nearly all-day suspension on Saturday. On shaggier greens, many felt, the field could have soldiered on.
Kerr-Dineen: No chance. The amount of terrible weather I was forced to play through during my junior golf career means I have exactly zero sympathy for weather-induced suspensions. If the greens are flooded, fine. Suspend it. If balls literally cannot stay still on the green, that’s okay, too. Anything outside of that is fair game.
Dethier: Once the conditions were what they were, I guess they had to take them off of Riviera’s slippery, slippery greens. But as caddie-turned-reporter John Wood said on Twitter, “Shouldn’t have cut the greens today. Roll them, but don’t cut them. Bad decision. Slow em down a touch and you could’ve played.”
5. Tiger Woods, who hasn’t played on Tour since his latest microdiscectomy in late December, made an appearance in the CBS booth on Sunday afternoon. When asked whether he’d be healthy for the Masters in seven weeks, Woods said, “God I hope so. I’ve got to get there first. A lot of it is based on my surgeons and doctors and therapist and making sure I do it correctly. This is the only back I’ve got, I don’t have much more wiggle room left.” What did you read into Woods’ answer and overall demeanor?
Bamberger: That he has surgeons, plural. He looked and sounded exhausted. Low hat, all dark clothes. He looked like he was in hiding.
Zak: That he isn’t playing golf anytime soon. It sounds like a lot of his immediate future depends on this ominously-referenced MRI. Then there’s competitive golf, which is different. We are officially on Tiger Back Watch earlier than we expected. It’s not going to be fun.
Bastable: The remark that most caught my ear had nothing to do with his back. Tiger revealed he’s using a new putter shaft that is the same length as his sand wedge. Why? Because he does putting drills with his wedge in which he tries to blade the ball in the equator. “I figured if I do a lot with that, I’ll lengthen my putter to the same length and it helped,” he said. Don’t look for this to be a trend that will take off in the weekend-hacker ranks.
Dethier: My first instinct was to agree with you all; it doesn’t sound like he’ll be suddenly playing golf in a couple weeks. But I also think he’s just learned that it makes more sense to manage expectations rather than pretend he’s in perfect health all the time, even when he’s not, which was his team’s longtime M.O. He’s setting us up for a big-time comeback come April. Let’s hope he can deliver the goods.
Kerr-Dineen: I can’t get a read on Tiger whenever he talks about injury stuff. After so many years of him being evasive on questions like these, nowadays he seems to be more honest and forthcoming about it than those asking him the questions. My gut tells me there’s no way Tiger isn’t playing the Masters this year, but my head remains scrambled.
6. Phil Mickelson’s team is in talks with networks about the possibility of Mickelson becoming an analyst, according to a report by Front Office Sports. If it had to be one or the other, would you rather see Lefty in the booth, or continue to split his time between the PGA and Champions tours?
Bamberger: Booth. He could redefine how talking-about-golf-on-TV is done.
Zak: Booth 100%. I want him still fresh from his playing career and acting like he can still compete (which he can) in the way NBA vets have discussed the game on TNT. It’s better for the viewer, better for the broadcast, and it’ll continue endearing us to Uncle Phil. Benefit all around.
Bastable: If Phil lands a TV job, I don’t want him in the booth. I want him pacing the fairways, getting in guys’ ears, maybe even carrying a laser pen to point out players’ swing mechanics to viewers. Gotta let him roam. His performances in the last couple of televised charity matches was showman gold. More of that, please.
Kerr-Dineen: Booth, all day every day. The guy’s got a gift for it, and everybody wants him to scratch that itch. It surely can’t be easy for a guy like Phil, who’s been playing golf so much for so many years, to actively choose to play less of it. But if he does, he could truly transform the quality of the coverage.
Dethier: I endorse both these visions. Mickelson could end up as golf’s slightly unhinged answer to Tony Romo. If I’m setting up Lefty’s schedule, we’d get him calling a half-dozen events and bringing a breath of fresh air to those broadcasts — but still playing at least a dozen events on the PGA Tour, too. Then he can pop up to the PGA Tour Champions a handful of times to remind everyone just how much game he’s got. Over time, the announcing gigs increase and the tournaments decrease accordingly.