Tour Confidential: Does John Daly still move the needle?

May 8, 2017

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 by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. John Daly won for the first time on the Champions tour, at the Insperity Championship, which was his first victory since the 2004 Buick Invitational. Does this move the needle for you on Daly and/or the senior circuit?

Shane Bacon, golf analyst, Fox Sports (@shanebacon): Anything John Daly has done his entire career moves the needle. He’s the anti-modern golfer in every possible way and that fits perfectly on the PGA Tour Champions. In a stretch of golf where the PGA Tour, the European tour and the LPGA tried out different formats, a man in American flag pants with a cigarette dangling took down his first trophy on the 50-plus tour. It seems to fit all too perfectly. There are few names in golf that force the general public to do a double-take when scrolling the Internet like “John Daly” does. Good to see him close that one out.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF (@JoshSens): Agreed on all of the above. Another way of saying anti-modern golfer is to say that all his flaws and vulnerabilities are in plain view, and he doesn’t try to hide them. A little bit of humanity goes a long way. And Daly is as real and raw as anyone who has ever played the game. Compare that to so many stars whose every word and deed seem agent-scripted, designed either to deflect or defer. Who doesn’t root for Daly?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): It’s a fun one-day story because, as Shane and Josh make plain, Daly still has his fans. But nothing associated with the Champions tour really moves the needle. I guess if Daly went on an Irwinesque run we’d all have to pay attention, but given his chronic instability that seems highly unlikely.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The only thing I get from it, and I have been mocked for saying this by people who know of what they speak, that Daly, along with Fred Couples, is likely the single most talented natural golfer I have ever seen.

John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar (@johnwould): I guess relatively it moves the needle for the Champions tour. If there’s one guy outside of Freddy who will sell tickets and get people to their television sets for a Champions event, it’s John Daly. It would be a big boon for them if he starts winning and competing consistently out there.

2. Days after saying that PGA Tour players who go off in the early weekday groups are more likely to get timed for slow play, Brian Harman played his way into more favorable tee times, making birdie at the last two holes to win the Wells Fargo Championship. What surprised you most: Harman’s win? Dustin Johnson’s flirting with a fourth straight victory after a four-week layoff? Jon Rahm’s near victory? Or the inability of Patrick Reed to close the deal?

Bacon: Is it OK if I say none of the above? Harman has been trending toward a victory with two top-13 finishes in his three previous non-team tournaments on Tour, DJ is DJ, Rahm is Rahm and Patrick Reed’s season has looked a lot like this with one step forward and two steps back. With a packed leaderboard like we had Sunday at the Wells Fargo, the man that makes the final putt, or in this case, putts, is going to walk away with the trophy, and that was Harman.

Bamberger: Sir Bacon! All four of those are interesting developments. Rahm just looks like a guy who hits it TOO FAR and then he does. That shot into 18 was crazy. On Saturday, I heard a good one: Harman was playing in the Walker Cup at Merion. On 14, he holes out a ridiculous pitch from the rough. He tips his hat and says, “Brian Harman, ladies and gentlemen. Brian Harman.” Can’t vouch for it but it sounds right and reminds me of this: these guys know they are good. That putt. OMG.

Sens: And the putter has always been Harman’s strength. No major surprises here. But I can’t say I was counting on DJ to reenter the fray post-injury and immediately contend. I thought he might ease his way back with a middle-of-the-pack finish. I thought wrong, which is also not surprising.

Shipnuck: The big story for me is that Dustin is still playing lights-out golf, despite missing a month. I can’t wait to see what he does this summer at the majors.

Wood: I’d say Harman for sure. At the moment, Dustin is unencumbered by thoughts a mortal golfer would have. Dustin’s genius is that he keeps it simple. There’s the ball, there’s the hole. I’m quite sure it never even occurred to him that he shouldn’t win this week in his first start after an injury. That’s just how good he is. Rahm pretty much plays well week in and week out and that should be no surprise. Harman beating all those guys with that stellar finish is the Big Story.

3. The USGA and the R&A don’t appear to be crazy about the paraphernalia that players and caddies are using to read greens. These books didn’t just hit the market yesterday. Why the sudden concern?

Bacon: Two words: slow play. The governing bodies are trying really, really hard to speed things up, and a lot of time is spent stalking putts from every angle and checking the book like a Harvard senior studying for a final exam. Maybe this isn’t going to turn golf into a Nascar-paced sport, but it’s a start, and that is all we’ve really been asking for.

Sens: Right. And slow play on Tour should matter to all of us because the golf the rest of us play is never going to get much faster until the pros lead the way. How many rounds have you had ruined by someone in your group who plumb-bobs three footers because he/she saw someone doing it on TV? That’s the kind of slow play that kills the game for most of us, and mindless imitation is to blame.

Shipnuck: Meh. The USGA has now taken on a bunch of stuff that no one was really worrying about: grooves, anchored putters, freaking yardage guides? The biggest reasons for slow play are courses that are too long and greens that are too fast. Both are now needed to combat the nuclear equipment Tour players are wielding. Yet the USGA is afraid to do anything meaningful about the ball or how hot drivers are. It’s baffling.

Bamberger: Really hard to ban the green maps. They are just an extension of what is being done tee to green. You have to be some kind of savant to make them work for you.

Wood: Completely agree with Ship up there. #AnythingButTheBall seems to be their raison d’etre currently. While they came out with an exhaustive statistical study to show how the ball REALLY wasn’t going that much farther—to show why there was no reason to roll it back—I see no such study here. Are putting stats soooo much better in the last five years? And is it obvious the greens books are the reason? Well, we have no idea, but it looks bad. OK, Devil’s advocate, they ban the greens books. I can go out there with a digital level while walking a course and, although it would be extremely time consuming, basically come up with something very similar to the greens books we can now buy week to week. Will I be banned from putting arrows in my yardage book? Will Matt Kuchar be assessed a penalty because he makes a 20 footer and it’s later determined on a replay monitor that yes, his caddie DID have an arrow in his book for that putt?! The HORROR. I don’t know how you word a rule that says you can’t use this book, but if you make one on your own, it’s OK. And they want to start allowing rangefinders? THIS will really cause play to slow down on Tour (OK, I’m on several tangents, reeling it back in). Slow play is caused by slow players, green speeds that are waaaaaay faster than greens of yesteryear, and wind. It ain’t the books.

4. The LPGA Shoprite Classic turned to Twitter to hand out a sponsor’s exemption, inviting fans to vote on one of four players. Like it?

Bacon: Golf is the hardest sport on the planet to be a successful professional, and we all know dozens upon dozens of men and women who were ohsoclose but couldn’t make it. This year alone I know extremely talented players on the LPGA who can’t land a spot in tournaments because of their conditional status. Giving out a spot in a beauty and popularity contest instead of to the players who are right outside the number isn’t just wrong, it goes against everything that sports really stand for. We all know this world is built on opportunity. Instagram follower numbers shouldn’t trump scoring average in my opinion. I think it’s embarrassing.

Sens: Well said, Shane. I’m not sure golf is the hardest sport on the planet to be a successful professional in but I’m sure you’re right that this is a ridiculous form of pandering. It smacks of a desperate ploy to pump up public interest, but what it really does—to use a popular phrase in today’s hyper-commercial culture—is dilute the brand.

Bamberger: It’s a joke. Golf is so the opposite of this cheap ploy.

Shipnuck: It’s an outrage.

Wood: Uh, no. But we are discussing the LPGA in a way that doesn’t involve a rules controversy, a Groundhog Day-inspired playoff, or deliberate slow play. So, I guess it’s a win?

Shipnuck: JWood for the win!

5. TPC Sawgrass, site of this week’s Players Championship, has undergone more changes. Most notably, the par-4 12th is now drivable. Course architect Pete Dye says he’s not a big fan of drivable par-4s, contending they are nothing more than longer par-3s. Where do you stand? And what’s the best short par-4 on Tour?

Bacon: Sawgrass is tough enough, so any scoring opportunity and excitement early on the second nine is a good move to me.

Bamberger: If Pete Dye were trying to break 90 like the rest of us, he’d welcome the drivable par-4. If he were putting on a TV show as NBC will be doing next week at the Players, he’d welcome the drivable par-4. They are one of the coolest things in golf. Merion had one at the U.S. Open on Sunday, the 3rd hole. The only problem was that they called it a par-3.

Shipnuck: Yeah, Pete is apparently getting a little crotchety—everyone loves drivable par-4s and they make for great TV. Riv’s 10th is great, even though the green has gotten too extreme. I’ll go with the 17th at TPC Scottsdale. The fact that it comes so late in the round makes it the ultimate risk-reward hole.

Sens: Par is just a number, so I could pretty much care less how the hole is labeled. Short par-4s, when designed well, are great because they call for savvy strategy and yield a wide range of results. See the 10th at Riviera, for example.

Wood: Having seen it just today as I walked the course—I really like the look of it. Standing on the tee, the most attractive option visually is to hit driver or whatever club gets you up around the green. The layup doesn’t appear to be an easy shot, with a sloping fairway and a target that just doesn’t look that big. I’m a big fan of drivable par-4s—they’re usually the holes that can really frustrate both caddies and players. These guys are so good and so long, it’s my opinion that the best way to defend a course is with options. “Am I making the right play here?” It is more difficult to make a good swing and execute with that thought in your head than with the voice that says, “This is a long hole. Hit your driver really hard.” But I do think a large percentage of the field will hit driver every day. The best par-4? It’s still the 10th at Riviera, but as Alan said, the green there has just gotten too extreme. PLUS, 10 at Riviera is the site of perhaps the greatest caddie-player exchange in the history of the Tour. This is the gist of it. Geoff Ogilvy and his caddie, Alistair Matheson, or Squirrel, as everyone calls him, were playing the 10th at Riviera on Saturday, their third round of the L.A. Open. In the first round, after consulting with Squirrel, Geoff hits a 3-iron off the tee, wedges it close, and makes a birdie. In the second round, Squirrel again suggests laying up. Geoff agrees, lays up, wedges close and again makes birdie. Day 3, Geoff consults with Squirrel before hitting his tee shot, and based on the day’s pin location, Squirrel answers Geoff with, “I actually quite fancy driver today.” Geoff took the advice, hit driver, and while I’m not exactly sure HOW it occurred, I know a double bogey was the result. Geoff and Squirrel were walking off the green, and Geoff was letting it be known he was displeased with their decision. Let’s just say it was an animated conversation. All of a sudden, their exchange is broken up by a phone ringing—from inside the bag. It was Squirrel’s. Geoff is gobsmacked, and Squirrel (you have to know him to understand completely) calmly puts the bag down, unzips a pocket of the bag and ANSWERS the phone. “Hello? No. No, I can’t talk now I’m working. OK? OK, bye.” Geoff, in awe, says “Squirrel, who was that?!” Squirrel, with a slight smirk on his face, says: “That was my mum. She wanted to know why we hit driver on 10 today.”

6. Tour players made a splash at the Kentucky Derby, so in keeping with the spirit of the Triple Crown season, who are your win, place and show bets at the Players? Longshots like Lookin’ at Lee welcome.

Bacon: I’ll Go Jon Rahm, Adam Scott and Justin Thomas to win, place and show.

Bamberger: Sergio, Zach Johnson, Dustin Johnson.

Sens: Sergio, Kuchar, Rahm.

Shipnuck: Spieth, DJ, Fowler.

Wood: Kuchar, Sergio, Spieth. (That’s the PG version. My real version is: Kuchar, Who Cares, and Who Cares, Jr.)