Tour Confidential: Was Tabbing Tiger Woods as a Ryder Cup Vice Captain a Good Move?

November 23, 2015
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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. What do you make of Davis Love’s decision to appoint Tiger Woods as one of his vice captains for the 2016 Ryder Cup? And could making the appointment nearly a full year before the event in any way demotivate Woods to try and make the team as a player?

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): Tiger’s motivation or theoretical lack thereof isn’t going to keep him off the team. His long, arduous rehab from back surgery will. If he rushes back too soon he will have learned nothing from the last few years.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Tiger clearly wants to be part of the Ryder Cup and not left out, in case he doesn’t make the team. I think this means he’s put himself in line to be a future captain. It’ll be motivation for him because he told Love he wants to be a vice captain AND a player. Maybe Tiger just misses being around the only guys who pass for being his friends. Good for him.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): I’m still surprised Woods agreed to the role 11 months before the Cup. I believe Tiger would love to play in it, but by accepting this gig he’s acknowledging that it might be his only way onto the team. I would’ve expected Woods to take a stance similar to Mickelson, who said his sole focus is to make the team, and assistant captaincy is plan B.

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Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens) It does have the feeling of an early retirement gift, like being given a rocking chair long before you’ve left the office. But Woods himself had lobbied for the position, which seems less like lack of motivation than like a guy facing reality.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think the PGA of America is doing what it said it would do, which is to use this Ryder Cup, and all future Ryder Cups, as a training ground for future Ryder Cup captains, and Woods will be one before you know it. I think Woods was eager to take the job because the Ryder Cup is so high profile and Woods is making a continuing effort to rehabilitate his image, with his fellow players and with the golf-watching public.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): When we last tackled this possibility, I couldn’t understand why Tiger would point for this role, rather than embracing the prospects of a massive comeback as a player. Permit me to flip-flop. Perhaps this is the smart route. The move displays Tiger’s willingness to be a team player, in contrast to what many felt about him in his Ryder Cup past. It also puts him in line for proper ascension to the Captaincy. Finally, maybe this takes the pressure off him to mount a Ryder Cup-inspired rally in terms of performance. This way, if it happens, great. If it doesn’t, he’s still an integral part of the team.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): I think it’s great — it gets Tiger more invested in the run-up to the Cup. If he’s so inclined, he can offer counsel/pep talks to younger guys trying to make the team, and Davis can be more forthright in talking about how the team is shaping up. Woods is motivated to get back and win tournaments, not make the Ryder Cup team. If he can somehow find some form, the Cup will take care of itself.

2. Woods will join Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Tom Lehman and another vice captain to be named later. Love already has proved he’s a capable captain. Are five assistants really necessary?

MORFIT: The most important thing for the American side is to foster continuity rather than throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall every two years to see if anything sticks. A bunch of vice captains will help with continuity, as long as the cast of characters in the team room doesn’t change too drastically every two years.

VAN SICKLE: Do you need five vice captains? No. But if the other side has that many, you’ve got to balance the scales. Paul McGinley made good use of his fifth captain, who babysat the four guys each session who weren’t playing, and that was perceived as an advantage. So now the U.S. will even up this arms race.

RITTER: I have no problem with five because each session has a least four matches to monitor before they overlap and bleed into the afternoon set. The number of assistants isn’t that important (in fact, you can make a strong case that assistants hardly matter at all), only that it’s mutually accepted by both sides, as was the case here.

SENS: It’s the sort of overkill that bad jokes are made of: How many captains does it take to oversee a losing American Ryder Cup team? Six. Five to blabber into walkie-talkies. One to take the blame.

BAMBERGER: Not necessary at all, but the goal is to send an assistant out with every group on Friday and Saturday, so in that sense it makes sense.

PASSOV: Overkill on a scale that I can’t comprehend. How in the world did the U.S. manage to capture past Ryder Cups with only two, one, or even zero vice-captains? Perhaps we’ll finally reach the stage by 2020 where we have more vice captains than players, sort of like CNN does with its post-game analysis of the Republican Presidential debates. Do we really need 16 pundits trying to explain what just happened, when they’ve all been wrong about everything for five months?  

SHIPNUCK: Five is actually a good number – one vice captain to follow each match and another to float around and, if necessary, tend to the bruised egos of the benched players.


3. Rory McIlroy skipped the BMW Masters last week to rest up for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, which he won. Before the event, Englishman Danny Willett said that because the European Tour didn’t force McIlroy to play the mandatory 13 events (the Tour gave McIlroy an allowance because of his ankle injury), he had an advantage of being better rested than other players. Was the Euro Tour’s preferential treatment of McIlroy warranted?

MORFIT: He was quite clearly injured if he missed the Open at the Old Course, one of his faves. Willett is an awesome player. I watched him quite a bit at the WGC-Match Play at Harding Park. In fact I’d say he’s too good a player to be worried about such things as Rory’s relatively fresher legs because he traveled less. If Willett wants to go that way he might as well complain that Rory gets to every tournament fresher because he has his own plane. Be the ball, Danny. And play better.

VAN SICKLE: There are different rules for the superstars. Greg Norman once didn’t play the mandatory 15 PGA Tour events and didn’t lose membership, he was simply told to make sure he made up the difference the following year. This is the entertainment business. Maybe you don’t like preferential treatment but Rory’s presence makes it a bigger, better event for everyone.

RITTER: Injury-related exemptions are common on both tours, so I don’t see Rory’s case as anything too egregious. That said, I’m sure the Euro Tour was careful not to tick off its biggest star.

SENS: McIlroy’s real advantage was being the best player in the field. The injury allowance seems reasonable to me. As does the idea of the Tour taking steps to keep a big name happy at a time when big names have been deserting it.

BAMBERGER: You cannot have preferential treatment when it comes to the required qualifications to get into any of these tournaments. Having said that, the U.S. Tour has some exceptions based on a player’s medical needs and I imagine the European tour does, too. You’d really need to see the Euro Tour’s bylaws to answer this question.

PASSOV: Unless it was previously in the by-laws to allow for medical exemptions, it was wrong of the European Tour to have granted Rory this preferential treatment. Still, Willett’s “extra rest” theory is bunk. Rory wins–and won this time–because he’s the better player, not because he got to re-charge the batteries. 21-under? This wasn’t exactly a U.S. Open grind. And Danny, no disrespect to the fine year you and Andy Sullivan enjoyed, but if Rory hadn’t been on the leaderboard, nobody would have cared about this tournament.  

SHIPNUCK: If it weren’t for Rory McIlroy, Danny Willett would be making about 40% less than he is today. He should personally be icing down Rory’s ankle, to say nothing of other services he could be providing.

4. On Sunday, 18-year-old Lydia Ko won the Race to the CME Globe for the second straight year and has already totaled nearly $5 million in earnings. Whose teen resume is more impressive: Lydia’s or Tiger’s?

MORFIT: I give the nod to Tiger for his three straight U.S. Junior titles followed by his three straight U.S. Amateur titles. That’s pretty hard to do, given the fickle nature of match play, and speaks to his freakish mental fortitude at such a young age. Ko doesn’t seem to be intimidating everyone out there–yet.

VAN SICKLE: Tiger winning three straight U.S. Junior Amateur championships followed by three straight U.S. Amateur championships remains one of golf’s most remarkable achievements. Lydia has achieved amazing success but the level of men’s golf is higher, no 17-year-old can go out there and consistently compete and win. In women’s golf, we regularly see teens tee it up and compete and do well. The women don’t have the high-level minor-league feeder systems the men have, such as the, PGA Tour Canada, China and Latin America. There are a lot more men competing in pro golf globally than women, a lot more, and that makes a difference.

RITTER: It’s an apples to oranges comparison, but both resumes as 18-year-olds are incredible. I might give the edge to Tiger for his six straight amateur titles (three mens and three juniors), which will absolutely never happen again, over Ko’s 10 wins. The way young players continue to break out, there’s at least a small chance Ko might one day be surpassed by another teenager. Tiger’s amateur record is stamped in granite.

SENS: Hard to compare since Woods’ teen achievements were as an amateur. But I’d say Woods’ three straight U.S. Amateurs—a signature achievement in the history of the game—gives him the edge.

BAMBERGER: Tiger’s. Those six straight USGA title he won as a teenager is golf’s equivalent to DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.

PASSOV: No comparison here–Lydia Ko’s teen resume is the far more impressive. She’s a deserving Number 1. What she’s done at that age against every great professional in the world is incredible. However, if you swap out the word “talent” for “resume,” then it’s a toss-up. Tiger remained an amateur throughout his teens, so he wasn’t testing himself week after week against the game’s best. If he had, he might have compiled similar results to Ko. And we all know girls mature faster than boys. At least that’s what my sisters kept saying to me.

SHIPNUCK: Ko by a million miles. Tiger’s cameos on Tour as a teen were nothing special at all, though it must be noted he was an amateur, not a seasoned touring pro like Ko. But what she’s doing is mind-boggling, and it’s an absolute pleasure to watch her play.


5. Paul Casey has opted not to rejoin the European Tour for next season, meaning he will forfeit his eligibility for the 2016 Ryder Cup. Given the Euro Tour recently lowered the minimum number of events its members must play to only five, is this a shortsighted, or even selfish, move on Casey’s part?   

MORFIT: Paul has a life, just like all these guys do. And they plan accordingly. He’s a pretty new dad, and he’s played for Europe and gotten a taste of that madness. He’s got some years on McIlroy, Willett, Andy Sullivan and others who look like they’ll be the backbone of Team Europe for years. Good for Casey.

VAN SICKLE: Living in Arizona, as Casey does, adds five more hours to any trans-Atlantic flight. Until he starts winning golf tournaments again, the Ryder Cup doesn’t need to be on his radar. I think he’s being practical and realistic. If he wins three times in the U.S., then he might change his tune.

RITTER: Seems like Casey is sending a message. It may be retaliation for being snubbed as a 2010 captain’s pick, as Justin Rose suggested, or a response to how he was treated when announcing his decision to split from the tour a couple months ago. Either way, scratch Casey from your Ryder Cup lists.

SENS: It’s certainly a clear reflection of his priorities, which sound pretty well-aligned to me. He’s a new father and he’s said he wants to spend as much time as possible at home with his family. He’s had his ride on the Ryder Cup. Hard to call a guy selfish for wanting to be a devoted dad.

BAMBERGER: Smart. Reading between the lines, he’s making his family his highest priority. That will never hurt you.

PASSOV: I’m not quite sure why Casey’s move has generated this much controversy. Last time for Casey in the Ryder Cup glare, it was because he said “We properly hate them,” referring to American (players). Now he’s jumped ship? He knew exactly what he was doing. If it’s not a priority in his life to meet the requirements for Euro Ryder Cup status, he must have his reasons, and I’m fine with that.

SHIPNUCK: It’s selfish in that he wants to travel less, spend more time with his young family and play American courses that are better suited to his game. Casey may or may not still be bitter about being snubbed in 2010 but he’s had a very up-and-down career and I don’t blame him for choosing stability and less wear-and-tear now that he’s finally in a groove.

6. It’s Thanksgiving week! In the spirit of the holiday, who was golf’s biggest “turkey” of 2015?

MORFIT: Robert Allenby turned up in two of the more bizarre golf stories of 2015: his abduction and assault, or whatever it was, in Hawaii, and six months later the near fisticuffs with his caddie, Mick Middlemo, who quit on their fourth hole of round one, in Canada. I don’t see how the voting can even be close here.

VAN SICKLE: For a guy who was supposed to cash in with a big year before the anchored putting ban takes effect, Adam Scott had a dismal year. He didn’t win in the U.S. and finished 70th on the money list and was generally irrelevant. He needs to get it together in 2016.

RITTER: Robert Allenby. No further explanation required.

SENS: Hmm. As long as Steve Elkington has a Twitter account, he’s always going to be in the running. But Robert Allenby might have snagged the honor this year with his concocted-sounding explanation for his misadventures on Oahu.

BAMBERGER: I think Dustin Johnson and the PGA Tour for continuing to perpetuate the myth, upon Johnson’s return to the Tour, that his six-month absence was somehow voluntary. It made no sense then and continues to make no sense.

PASSOV: Gobble, gobble, Dustin Johnson. Yes, you still enjoyed a superb season, but two putts from 12 feet and you have a chance to play off for the U.S. Open.

SHIPNUCK: DJ and Scott are excellent choices but I think Allenby has retired the category.

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