Tour Confidential: Langer’s dominance, Trump as major host, Tiger Woods’ outlook

May 28, 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.

Bernhard Langer outlasted Vijay Singh at the Senior PGA Championship and picked up a record ninth senior major title. Though Langer’s 32 career wins on the senior circuit still trail Hale Irwin’s 45, is it time to consider the German as the best senior player of all time?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: No. Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Hale Irwin, Bob Charles and Tom Watson are all ahead of him. Give Bernhard another decade, though.  

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): I would put only Irwin above him, but it’s easy to imagine in three years that Langer will have smashed all of Hale’s records.  

Bamberger: I’m not just talking about records. I’m talking about excellence as a golfer in one’s fifties, sixties and seventies.  

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Agree that Hale is still above him. Also, Gary Player would have nine senior majors if the poo-bahs recognized the Senior British when GP won three of them (Player still counts them, and so do I). So, Langer still has a little ways to go — but he may get there.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF: It’s Langer. If we’re looking simply at accomplishments after 50 it’s hard to argue against Langer’s record but if you place the careers on a single continuum then Langer of course pales in comparison to Nicklaus, Watson and others. What makes him different from Nicklaus is his full on embrace of senior competition. He has been into it full bore since he became eligible and looks like he will be at it until they unplug the cyborg charger that powers him. Nicklaus was never so smitten with the senior tour. He often sounded ambivalent about wanting to play on it.

Joe Passov, senior writer, GOLF (@joepassov): I’m awed by Langer’s consistency and will put him in Hale Irwin’s class right now for prowess on the senior tour. Sam Snead, however, gets my vote as the best senior player of of all time, in a close race with Gary Player. Snead didn’t have the benefit of a full slate of regular Champions tour events with which to compile old-guy wins and majors. He was nearly 70 when the senior tour took off. The one “major” he could and did play in was the PGA Seniors — which he captured a record six times. But look what else he did as a “senior:” He shot his age (67) at a PGA Tour event, the 1979 Quad Cities, then beat it in the same tournament (66). Anybody else done that? At age 61, he made the cut at the U.S. Open (1973), the oldest to do so. He finished THIRD at the 1974 PGA at age 62, behind only Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus. I could go on. This guy was good — even when he was old.

Jon Rahm proved a bomber can contend at Colonial, but in a Sunday shootout he and Jordan Spieth finished a shot back of Kevin Kisner, who prevailed with a par save at the last. Which event did you follow more closely: the Colonial or the Senior PGA?  

Bamberger: I should disqualify myself, as I was at the Senior PGA, where the many TVs showed only one golf event, and understandably so.

Shipnuck: Vijay’s presence made me much more interested in the Senior PGA, as did Fahrenthold’s breathless tweets about all of the Trumplandia aspects. Still, I mostly tuned in to the Colonial. Rahm has become must-see TV, it’s always fun watching Spieth grind when he’s in contention, and all credit to Kisner, who played a superb final round. Plus, Colonial is so elegant and old-school; someone on Twitter called it golf’s Wrigley Field, which is perfect.

Ritter: Both were compelling, but Spieth’s run pulled me into the Colonial on Sunday afternoon. And Rahm is just unbreakable. It seems like he’s in the top 10 every week. That was a gritty win for Kisner and a fun final round to watch.

RELATED: Kevin Kisner’s clubs that won

Sens: I was toggling between them but the finish at Colonial had my attention with Spieth in contention, to say nothing of Rahm, who is fast becoming one of my favorite players to watch.

Passov: I was back and forth as well, not always successfully. The Langer v. Singh matchup was potentially one for the ages on the senior circuit, but it seemed like every time I turned back to it, Singh was missing a short putt or had just missed one. His flatstick woes kind of deflated things for me. Kisner seemed to have things wrapped up, with a two-shot lead, three to play, on the 16th green, but a 3-putt brought everybody back — and it was really fun seeing Spieth and Rahm in the mix. Credit Rahm for being in the hunt, a la DJ, no matter what course he plays, and credit Spieth for rallying in the second round just to make the cut. Edge to Colonial.

USGA officials says the Women’s U.S. Open, scheduled for July 13-16 at Trump Bedminster, needs to be about the golf, not politics. Is that a reasonable expectation?

Bamberger: Reasonable or not, it’s unrealistic. The surname of the president of the United States will be on every program and souvenir scorecard and in every story about it. Trump’s history as a supporter of women’s golf and as a man who has made vulgar remarks about women will come into conflict. It will be a week, as the ’86 Open winner, Jane Geddes, told me recently, where politics will supercede golf, which is too bad. But having said that, that was not at all the case at the Senior PGA, so maybe I am, as I often am, wrong again.  

Ritter: It may not have overshadowed the senior event, but there were certainly a few politically charged headlines to come out of the week, led by Christine Brennan of USA Today, plus the protests outside the gates on Sunday afternoon. That’s an appetizer for what’s ahead at the Women’s Open.

Shipnuck: The intense backlash to Christine Brennan’s USA Today column is the beginning of a long, contentious run-up to the Women’s Open. Some 30 protesters braved the rain to hold up signs at a senior event, so I would imagine there will be a much more visible presence of the resistance at the Open. No doubt the USGA would love for their national championship to be about nothing but golf but that’s clearly wishful thinking.[tile:13861743]

Sens: It’s unrealistic. Like so much else in these times, Trump will be part of the conversation. Who knows? Maybe it could wind up being a useful conversation about a president’s business interests and where the line should be drawn. More likely is that there will be a lot of shouting by talking heads and a lot of hedging and evasive speak by people who actually have a say in these things.

Passov: It’s probably wishful thinking on the USGA’s part, but for the sake of and respect for the Women’s National Championship, I’m hoping it’s all civil. The game’s best women in their most important tournament deserve that.

The European PGA Championship at Wentworth provided a couple of interesting rules situations in the first round. After chipping in for eagle, Ernie Els called a penalty on himself, saying he feared he might have improved his lie after checking to see if his ball was embedded. Branden Grace was granted a dubious free drop after his ball plugged near the lip of a bunker, after saying his feet were touching the rubber lining when he took a stance. Grace had the lead early on Sunday, but he faltered on the final nine. Were the golf gods talking?

Bamberger: I don’t like when golfers violate the spirit of the rules, and Grace did, but he didn’t violate a rule and on that basis, I think the golfing gods stayed at the bar, waiting for another opportunity. By the way, where were they when Watson was trying to win at Turnberry?  

Shipnuck: The rules can help you as much as hurt you. If Grace’s feet really were slipping on the bottom of the bunker — and I have no reason to doubt that — then he was absolutely entitled to a free drop. Case closed (at least for me).

Ritter: Grace brought in a ref and was given the drop. These 50-50 decisions happen all the time. It’s Grace’s right as a competitor to bring in the official if he feels something amiss, and the official made the call. Nothing to see here.  

Sens: Maybe I’ll be struck down from on high for saying this but I don’t believe in the golf gods. We alone are responsible for our play and no one and nothing else. If Grace felt a nagging conscience (and I’m not suggesting that he did) then that was on him. Not some made up being or beings.

Ritter: Sens, you make a fair point, but I’m going to avoid teeing up with you anytime there’s lightning in the area.  

Passov: I’m not too overheated about the Grace rules dispute, where, as Alan points out, regardless of the fairness or intent, we’re supposed to give credit to a guy who knows the rules and can take advantage of that knowledge. The more important stories from Wentworth are how the course held up as a big-time venue trying to earn its stripes again, and that Alexander Noren, with five wins in the past year or so, deserves a lot more ink than what folks are giving him.

Tiger Woods gave us an update on his recovery from his latest back procedure, calling it a success but adding he won’t be rushing back to the PGA Tour anytime soon. Let’s focus on this comment from Woods: “I want to say unequivocally, I want to play professional golf again.” Does this sound like a guy who will play competitively again?  

Bamberger: Yes, of course. The key word is “want.” And much stems from that. But he won’t really know if it’s true until he puts himself in position to get ready for tournament play and then actually starts playing. He has a long road.

Shipnuck: I was most struck by the the honest tone of this diary entry – it felt like the most candid Tiger has ever been talking about his body. I think his time is up as a competitive golfer but if he can expand upon this openness I’d love to see Tiger as a TV commentator, if such a things interests him.

Sens: I’m with Alan. Seemed like Tiger at his most forthright. Tiger as an announcer is an intriguing idea. Lord knows he rarely reveals anything interesting about himself. But his insights into the game would be interesting to hear.  

Ritter: I expect him to give it another go, and if he does make it back to the Tour my guess is that he would play a significantly reduced schedule to reduce the strain on his body. But as Michael says, it’s a long road, and it’s early.

Passov: He’s such an incredible competitor, it’s hard for me to see his mind giving up, even if his body needs to. I think of Peyton Manning, who could have easily hung it up–and didn’t–and got one more ring. I think Tiger’s in that camp. It’s just too early to say he’s done, so why should he?

Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times tweeted this a couple of days ago: My father-in-law calls a so-so golf shot a “son-in-law” shot: “Not what I was hoping for, but it will do.” What’s your favorite such golf term?

Bamberger: This is more general but deeply true: Where does it go when it goes?    

Shipnuck: “You’re away.”

Ritter: To describe a shot that’s high and stinky: an elephant’s a——.  

Sens: Hmmm. The only ones I can think of are too dumb and overused to mention. A Danny Devito?

Passov: The best ones I’ve heard can’t be mentioned on a family website. However, I did once play with a disc jockey from Dallas who seemed to have one of these expressions for every shot. I remember laying the sod over and taking a huge divot on a fat shot, which he called an “Al Gore” — (Earth first) and later I left a putt teetering on the edge of the hole, which he called a “South America” — (One more revolution).