Tour Confidential: Who is the best player on the planet right now?

August 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.

1. Dustin Johnson took down Jordan Spieth in a playoff to win for the first time since he won three straight starts from February to March. On Sunday he trailed Spieth by five through five holes but eventually forced a playoff with a clutch par putt on the 18th, and then won on the first playoff hole. Forget the rankings—who is the best player on the planet at this very moment?

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, (@Jeff_Ritter): Spieth has had the steadier season, but DJ’s shot across the bow in sudden death was a reminder that he’s the most absurdly talented player out there. When he’s right, DJ is the choice, and at the Northern Trust he got right.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): The best player on the planet debate reminds me of high school chemistry and lessons about free radicals. I think they were called free radicals, anyway (I wasn’t paying close attention). Bottom line: something to do with electrons coming and going so quickly and replacing one another in such quick succession you almost couldn’t measure the time it took them to swap spots. I digress. But the point holds. Not so long ago, it was Rory. Then it seemed like Jason Day. Then DJ. Then Jordan. DJ was the better man today. But if my life depended next week on one guy winning, I would go with Spieth.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): I think Spieth and Dustin has separated themselves as the two best players in the world. What DJ did today was a statement. But Spieth is the guy who has figured out how to win the Masters and both Opens, so I give him the nod.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: When the chips are down and the moment is big, I’m going with Spieth. Unless I get a better vibe off Johnson.

Ritter: And for about five minutes earlier this month it was Hideki. Man, those five minutes were exciting!

Sens: Oh, right. Hideki. Happened so fast I forgot all about it.

2. The clock is ticking. Phil Mickelson has played in 22 straight team events (11 Ryder Cups and 11 Presidents Cups) but will need a captain’s pick to be on this year’s Presidents Cup team at Liberty National. We’ll find out if he’s done enough after the picks are made following next week’s event in Boston. Should Phil get the nod? Or is it time to let younger, in-form players take his spot?

Ritter: The debate isn’t just about whether Phil belongs, but who should be selected instead of him. The current top 10 looks formidable and I’d take each of them over Phil. But from the guys currently outside looking in, no one has really stepped up over the summer, other than maybe Brian Harman. I think you add Phil for leadership and the “fun factor” and hope he finds his game along the way. And not that anyone asked, but I think I’d take Harman with him.

Sens: I’m with Jeff here. This is supposed to be an exhibition, right? Phil is an exhibit most fans want to see. He’s worth a pick. Maybe it’ll light a fire under him. And if not, you can sit him until singles. If the past is any indication, the U.S. should have a decent lead by then anyway.

Shipnuck: I’d love to see Pat Perez in a team event like the Prez Cup, but larger point holds: who among the other guys is more deserving? I don’t see anyone playing well enough to overcome the many intangibles Mickelson brings.

Bamberger: I would be beyond surprised to see Phil get picked. The run has been incredible but all good things must pass.

3. Farewell, Mr. Chairman. Augusta National Golf Club announced last week that its sixth chairman, Billy Payne, 69, is retiring from his post in October after 11 years of presiding the club and the Masters. Payne’s accomplishments at the club have been well-documented. What will his legacy be?

Ritter: Payne accomplished many things, as Bamberger eloquently described in his piece this week. But nothing was more significant than opening the club to women members, reversing a policy that had become an embarrassment and a distraction that made the club’s other grow-the-game initiatives ring hollow. It was overdue, but Payne got it done.

Sens: More than admitting women, which I think came off to a lot of people as a kind of token gesture from a club that was under longstanding pressure to make the move, what comes first to mind for me is the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship. I’ve covered a few of them and have seen and felt the genuine excitement they generate. A grow-the-game initiative of the finest kind. I’ll also think of Payne’s force of personality and the authority he held over the club. One story that sticks out for me comes from a guy I know who played Augusta with a member. For some reason known only to him, the guy forgot to turn his cell phone off, and at one point during the round, it rang. As he scrambled furiously to find it and turn it off, his host said to him, in a calming drawl: “Ah, don’t worry about that. We only have two rules around here. Billy Payne is God. And don’t talk to the media.”

Shipnuck: Payne has reshaped Augusta National in his image, taking a nice little club and turning it into a kind of upscale Disneyland. The relentless expansion has massively upgraded the infrastructure and given ANGC unprecedented autonomy going forward to maintain its carefully curated artificial reality.

Bamberger: The Disneyland features do nothing for me, because, and this is obvious, the Masters is really always about the golf and nothing Payne has done changes that. BUT I think he has wisely used the Masters as an invitation to the game across the globe and that I think is his biggest accomplishment.

4. Next on the tee, Fred Ridley. The former USGA president and U.S. Am champion will take over for Payne as the club’s newest chairman. What one topic or issue would you love to see Ridley address?

Ritter: Augusta serves as a model and inspiration for golf clubs around the world. It’s pure and absurdly beautiful, but I’d like to see them roll back the clock by removing a few trees and the “second cut,” to set up a course that plays the way Bobby Jones intended. It would also signal that ANGC is on board with today’s “less is more” trend, which would be welcomed by the countless courses that struggle with maintenance costs.

Sens: I like that one, Jeff. And in keeping with the less is more theme, what about Augusta as the grounds for further discussion of a limited-flight golf ball? A tradition unlike any other, with a ball of its very own?

Ritter: They haven’t been invented, and yet they’re already sold out in the merch center.

Shipnuck: He doesn’t need to remove a few trees; he needs to remove the forest that Hootie Johnson planted. Augusta National is supposed to be a wide-open canvas allowing for artistic expression, not a course of penal, prescribed playing corridors.

Bamberger: Shipnucketh speaketh for me. Get rid of the shag carpeting, the forest, move UP the tee on 11, leave five as it is, leave 13 as it is, get Watson and Crenshaw to the first tee Thursday morn and let ‘em play nine for old time’s sake.

5. The Rules of Golf received quite the makeover earlier this year, but there’s still time to voice your approval — or disapproval — over the proposed changes. The deadline for golfers to submit their feedback to the USGA is Thursday. Be a sport and submit your thoughts below for the good folks in Far Hills.

Ritter: We’re getting there, USGA! I like the proposed changes, but we still need to do more to address the one true scourge of golf: slow play. How about a shot clock on Tour—just for a trial period to see how it goes?

Sens: Hate to sound like Ritter’s pet parrot, but I’ll agree with him again here. I just played a weekend round that took five hours and 50 minutes. Inexcusable. And clearly the result of too many people emulating Tour pros in all the wrong ways. Put the pros on a tighter shot clock and enforce it. Playing quicker just becomes a necessary skill to be successful, like a QB who gets his passes off before the rush hits. In the meantime, that pesky stroke-and-distance matter could still use some addressing.

Shipnuck: Yeah, ditching O.B. and making all of it red stakes would be a great start. While we’re at it, how about a free drop from sand-filled divot holes in the fairway, too?

Bamberger: The rule changes are so minor they will make no impact on the game as we play it and only a slight impact on the elite game. Getting out some red paint would have been a real change and I think an improvement.

6. Our Josh Sens recently profiled 82-year-old Joe Galiardi, a relentless autograph-seeker whose collection of famous signatures on golf balls — athletes, celebrities, politicians, musicians, etc. — is the largest collection of its kind, according to The Guinness Book of World Records. You have one golf ball and can get anyone to sign it, past or present, who do you pick?

Ritter: I’m not a collector of signatures, but you don’t see an Old Tom Morris autograph every day, do you? But the answer here is obvious. The coolest signature in golf, now and forever, belongs to Arnie.

Sens: Signed impeccably, every time.

Shipnuck: Old Tom Morris. Coolest cat who has ever lived.

Bamberger: Moses, Einstein, John Lennon, Herb Wind, in that order.