Tour Confidential: Which part of the game will the pandemic most impact?
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 how the pandemic will affect the game, the two upcoming matches, incredible rounds and more.
1. Golf courses are open again in all 50 states, and the PGA Tour is scheduled to resume in four weeks, but in ways large and small, the game looks and feels very different than it did before the coronavirus. When we look back on this period a few years from now, on which part of the game will the pandemic have had the most lasting impact?
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): The optimist in me hopes, with so many other activities ruled out, that golf is going to thrive and new golfers everywhere will try and love the game! The pessimist side of me thinks that courses already struggling to make ends meet may close for good. Let’s hope Person No. 1 is much more correct.
Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): I think both Dylans are correct here. Courses that had serious pre-existing conditions heading into this are likely to shutter, but others seem bound to enjoy a kind of renaissance, especially as golfers seek out more affordable options. Could it be a Golden Age for munis? Competing forces at work here, of course, as city budgets dwindle. But a low-price course that can keep its greens in decent condition will be a hot commodity. An industry consultant I spoke with said he’s expecting what he called “The Great Cleanse.” Cleanses aren’t pleasant, but they can have some healthy results. Let’s hope.
Sean Zak, senior editor (@Sean_Zak): I think some of the smartest-run courses will thrive, and the less smart ones will be wise to follow whatever it is the smart ones do. Is it mowing less? Do accoutrements like flower beds along the course driveways just never get planted? It sucks, but the courses that were already struggling to make ends meet are probably going to struggle even more. Then again, all of us golfers can show a little awareness and play them until the fairways bleed.
Nick Piastowski, senior editor (@nickpia): I see an impact on the camaraderie that the game provides. How long will it be before you feel safe shaking hands again? How long will it be before you feel safe riding in a cart again with someone? How long will it be before you feel safe sitting in the clubhouse and enjoying a burger and beer with 50 people in the room? I really hope it’s a short time, but none of us know.
2. A second charity match was announced this week, this one featuring Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson against Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff. The event will come a week before the match pitting Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning vs. Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady. Which is the more compelling competition?
Dethier: It’s the Tiger-Phil match because of one very important decision: Alternate shot on the back nine. Watching the team dynamics as these legendary QBs put two of the game’s great recovery artists in strange positions will be worth the price of admission. I’m all in on mic’d-up DJ, though.
Sens: For the competition itself, the Tiger-Phil match for the reasons Dylan lays out above. But for the venue, it’s the other event, hands down. A chance for many of us to get our first good look at Seminole and see what all the fuss is about.
Zak: I am deeply compelled by four elite pros playing casual golf against each other without caddies. Do they think their way around the course in the same way? Will they attempt more miraculous shots than normal? If so, gimme four guys doing that at Seminole rather than just the two at Medalist.
Piastowski: I’m really enjoying the dry humor going on among Tiger, Phil, Tom and Peyton, but I’m a bit more intrigued by the Rory, Dustin, Rickie and Matthew match. (In writing that last sentence, it’s pretty interesting that you can identify pretty much all the guys by just their first name. Haha!) The RDRM match will be our first live, televised golf in about two months, and I get the feeling they’ll try to put on a show in order to outdo the older crew.
3. Vijay Singh is planning to play a Korn Ferry event when that tour resumes play in June, meaning the World Golf Hall of Famer will be taking the place of a regular Korn Ferry player on the minor-league circuit. Singh’s decision enraged at least one Korn Ferry player, who called out Singh with a series of sharply worded tweets before apologizing. (Singh’s not alone, by the way — Joel Dahmen and Kevin Streelman are among the Tour players in the field at the Scottsdale Open this week.) Given the current circumstances, should established Tour pros feel sheepish about playing in mini-tour events?
Dethier: I spilled enough ink on this one last week, but here’s the gist of it: Vijay Singh, one of this generation’s greats, has very much earned the right to tee it up that week — or really any week, anywhere. We should appreciate that a 57-year-old legend still has the fire to tee it up against golf’s next generation.
Sens: It does come off as a little ruthless, but, you know, no crying in baseball. Or golf. Singh isn’t breaking any rules to play, or benefiting from any dubious sponsor’s exemption. Don’t like it? Shooting a lower score is a way better response than sounding off on Twitter. On a side note, this whole rhubarb has drawn additional attention to an event that we wouldn’t otherwise be talking about, so that’s good, right?
Zak: I’ll play (what I think is a very reasonable) devil’s advocate and say yeah, KFT pros unquestionably need the start more than Veej. You cannot disprove that. Would it be potentially nicer that KFT player No. 144 or 128 or whoever gets their 36-72 holes instead of someone in the Hall? Again, undoubtedly true. But as always, pro golf has a ubiquitous excuse to clap back with: play better. Play better at any given time, and it will help you out sometime down the road when you need it. Brutally truthful right now, but it still works.
Piastowski: There’s no doubt strong cases on both sides here, but if a player wants to play competitive golf and the player has earned the right to play competitive golf, the player gets to play competitive golf. We haven’t heard from Vijay yet, either (though he did like a few pro-Vijay tweets on Twitter) – there could be something more to the story.
4. The Memorial revealed some of its plans as the PGA Tour’s second scheduled tournament with fans — electronic tracking of fans to prevent congregating, no grandstands and temperature checks. With such precautions, is it feasible that we could see spectators at events as early as July?
Dethier: I don’t see how it will be done safely at a large scale — shuttle buses and capacity crowds both seem like no-nos. If I put on my optimist’s hat, I guess a very limited number of fans could show up, park on site and walk to the course, where they’d stay spread out.
Sens: Feasible? Sure. Wise. I dunno. Seems like the potential risks outweigh the benefits.
Zak: It’s feasible. It could happen. Anything could happen. Just know that one month from now will feel as different (or more different) as a month ago felt. Spectators at a Tour event are still two months away, at the earliest. If I had to guess, the guidelines for spectator access will be even more stringent than the Memorial is planning. These events definitely want fans there, but they also don’t want egg on their face.
Piastowski: The steps are great. And I agree with Sean – they do not want this to flop, so the plan should be airtight. But rule No. 1 on the plan, in bold and underlined and set at 100 point, should be if it’s not clear, if it’s risky, it’s a no-go. Let’s get this thing clear and be done with it.
5. In a column examining some of golf’s new safety measures, our Michael Bamberger posited that the game is better without bunker rakes. “Faster, for one thing,” Bamberger wrote. “More primitive. More penal, for being someplace you shouldn’t be.” Agree?
Dethier: Oh yeah. Pros aim for the bunkers! At many Tour courses, that’s where they’ll find the most predictable lies. A little injection of ruggedness into the game would be a better challenge and make for more compelling viewing.
Sens: I don’t mind (some) unpredictability, and I love the increased pace of play, so yeah, sure. Worth mentioning, though, that not all bunkers are created equal. Tour pros make it look easy from the sand because they are elite players, of course, but also because the sand they play is pretty much perfect. Not just that it’s raked smooth, but the quality and consistency of the sand itself. That’s not at all the case at most of the courses the vast majority of us play. Also, at a high-falutin rakeless place like Pine Valley, most players are at least going to make an effort to smooth the sand with their feet. That’s not going to happen at your local muni, where the “primitive and penal” Michael refers to would simply become a comical minefield of footprints. As much as any features on a course, bunkers reveal the difference between golf’s haves and have-nots. The one-percenters simply have it easier. Long story short: I like the idea of going rakeless, so long as there’s a local rule that allows you to take relief within a bunker on courses where there’s been zero effort to smooth out the sand. As for the fine print of that rule, I’ll leave that to someone smarter.
Zak: I wonder how a world of unraked bunkers would change my approach shots, or perhaps my practice sessions. I think we’d all become better bunker players and understand that the feeling of the sand beneath our spikes is worth something! Suddenly being first out is wayyy better than being last out, right?
Piastowski: DON’T MAKE THE GAME ANY HARDER! Haha! It does add another strategic element to the game, for sure. And something else to consider: You totally know there’s going to be a Trapgate/Sandgate/Bunkergate (trademark) when some pro or some caddie “accidentally” builds a few castles in the trap to hurt the players behind them.
6. Joel Dahmen shot a 14-under 58 (!) at one of his home courses, which included a 12-under blitz over his last 11 holes. What’s the most eye-popping round you’ve ever witnessed?
Dethier: A few months into my pro career, an unnamed player in the group in front of me at a New England mini-tour event took several minutes emerging from the left woods on No. 12. Later, I’d find out that he’d been doing some, uh, dirty work in there after a negative reaction to something he ate. Also, he shot 62.
Sens: For sheer statistical absurdity, I’m going to have to refer to one of my own rounds. Ten years or so ago, I, a 6 or 7 handicap at the time, was 6-under through nine holes at the Links at Spanish Bay, and 7-under through 11, playing from the tips. That span of holes included two hole-outs from the fairway for eagle. It was totally ridiculous. And of course I reverted to the norm and wound up going 16-over for my final 7 holes, low-lighted by a 9 on the short par-3 13th hole. I didn’t break 80.
Zak: Hahahahahha, Sens! That’s incredible. In terms of eye-popping, Spieth’s 64 on Sunday at Augusta chasing after Patrick Reed was pretty damn remarkable. Sunday at the Masters, you can only hope to see every shot from a reasonable distance, so that little white ball is even smaller and yet it continues to just go to the hole like a magnet. The ball just kept going in. 12, 15, 16, etc. Eventually his Titleist hit the center of a tiny branch down the chute on 18. I think the biggest what-if 64 in Masters history. A circle on 18 for 62 and a sudden death match against Reed. My gosh I’ve still got chills.
Piastowski: This one I never witnessed, but just heard about. I was fortunate enough a few years back to get on a higher-end track in Vegas, and we asked the forecaddie about the players who have come through. He said the most incredible thing he saw was Aaron Judge of the Yankees hitting off the tee — upward of 450 a pop! The caddie said that he was hitting it to places that really weren’t supposed to be in play.