#AskAlan mailbag: Will the winners of this year’s fan-less majors deserve an asterisk?

A PGA Championship sign pictured at TPC Harding Park on Tuesday.

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In this installment of the #AskAlan mailbag, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck answers your questions about this week’s PGA Championship, whether Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson can win, if the 2020 majors should receive an asterisk and much more.

If Jordan, Phil or Rory complete career Grand Slam this fall with no fans present, will it be considered legitimate or will there be an asterisk? -@MuirFalls

Totally legitimate! This has been one of the most challenging and unusual golf seasons ever. Any player who finds a way to peak at the right time and conquer one of these proud courses should be applauded, not denigrated.

Should club pros be celebrated at this event for all they do to grow the game or should their slots be eliminated to make this a real competitive major? Don’t believe this happens in any other individual professional sport. -@LabLoverDE

Yeah, you’re not going to find a minor league hitting coach suddenly playing centerfield for the Yankees in the World Series. I’ve gone back and forth on this question. It’s true that in the modern game the club pros never factor in the outcome of the tournament, which argues for their spots to be given to full-time touring pros who could conceivably contend. Maybe I’m getting soft in middle-age but I like the human element of the club pros and their longshot stories to make it into the field. The bottom line is that there are many ways for a Tour player to qualify for the PGA Championship and if they fail to do so it’s their fault, nobody else’s. The PGA still has the strongest field of the four majors, so what’s the harm in letting a few dreamers be part of the show?

Rank the five courses that are within 15 minutes of this week’s PGA Championship: Harding Park, Olympic, SF Golf Club, Lake Merced, Cal Club. -@DMar

  1. SFGC
  2. Cal Club
  3. Olympic
  4. Lake Merced
  5. Harding

Who finishes higher, Tiger or Phil? Do either of them finish top ten? – @DavidAStorm

Tiger, because I don’t think Phil (coming off a rousing performance in Memphis) can put together eight straight good rounds. I think Woods will grind out a solid finish but not quite a top-10.

Brooks – yes or no? -@LiamCDigan


Should the PGA be a major? -@GolfFoodAddict

C’mon, man. The PGA has been a big deal for a full century; by 1927 Walter Hagen had won it five times and Gene Sarazen twice. From 1940-51, Sam Snead won it three times while Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan took two apiece. The only major Nicklaus has won often than the PGA is the Masters. Tiger has four PGAs and his gritty win in 2000 is an iconic performance. Phil, Vijay, Rory, Nick Price, Padraig, Brooks, JT–so many of the great players of the last 30 years have triumphed at the PGA. Need I go on?

What would be your ideal 10 course rota for the PGA? -@BradleySmith328

Clearly the PGA has never carved out its own identity. The Masters is history and tradition; the U.S. Open is carnage on grand old courses; the Open Championship is the linksland. The PGA is…lower scoring because the greens had to be watered in the summer heat? Instead of picking off U.S. Open venues I think the PGA should strive to be entirely different, visiting exciting new courses and quirky old ones and visiting parts of the country the Open has largely ignored. So, this is my rota: Pacific Dunes, Sand Hills, Sleepy Hollow, Crystal Downs, Friar’s Head, Prairie Dunes, Pasatiempo, Chicago GC, Ballyneal, Pine Valley.

Is Harding Park the best U.S. Open parking lot to ever host a major? -@StephenGJewell

TPC Harding Park
9 things you didn’t know about PGA Championship host TPC Harding Park
By: Josh Sens

Indeed, Harding was the car park for the 1998 national championship at Olympic, played just around the corner. But plenty of terrific tracks have been sacrificed for tournament infrastructure, including sister courses at Winged Foot, Oakland Hills and Bethpage. During my undergraduate days at UCLA, we played our home football games at the Rose Bowl and parking was on the fairways of poor Brookside Golf Course. I used to eye the green complexes whilst tailgating–it looks like a fun course and the desire to play it has never left me.

Has there ever been a better shot to win a PGA than the 7-iron by Shaun Micheel on the 18th hole to seal the deal at Oak Hill? -@DizzyG1964

Unless someone jars their approach from 150+ yards, there can never be a better or more clutch shot than Micheel’s to win a major championship. This makes me happy. He never built on that win but Micheel deserves to be remembered for that shining moment.

How will Jon Rahm respond after losing the number 1 ranking after only a week? -@SwingTheClubKen

Let us not forget the brief, glorious reign of Tom Lehman, who was number one for one week in April 1997 and never made it back again. It’s a reminder that nothing is guaranteed in this game. But something tells me Rahm will get another view from the summit. He is already intensely driven and ambitious, but if we have learned anything from the likes of Tiger and Michael Jordan it is that elite athletes find motivation in the smallest of slights and indignities. So I’m sure Rahm is feeling a little extra incentive this week to take back what was briefly his.

Will golf have limited fans at Augusta this November? I just watched a tennis match yesterday with socially distant seating. Could this possibly work for a golf tournament? -@double_bogey

The green jackets certainly have the resources and infrastructure to do whatever they want in terms of fans, assuming the various governmental agencies sign off. They can erect even more towering grandstands and fill only every third seat, allowing thousands of fans to safely encircle most of the greens. In the fairways it would be easy enough to color code the ropes, denoting where you can stand and where you can’t. Masters fans are always on their best behavior, out of respect for the venue and a low-grade fear of having their credential pulled. With an army of Pinkertons on hand to offer gentle reminders I think you could have proper social distancing. The usual 25,000 fans a day is probably a non-starter but, say, a third that number would certainly add lots of ambiance and energy.

Jason Day’s trend line of results has my eye on him. Three straight top 10’s. Appears to be peaking. Does Harding Park fit the style of a player like him? -@drew_parker321

I’ve been enjoying his fine play, as well. The Jason Day of 2015 was electric–here’s hoping his back will allow him to approach that form. The key at Harding will be hitting fairways, given the brutally penal rough. When it hosted a WGC in 2005 the driving accuracy for the field was less than 50%; only tight, twisty Pinehurst No. 2, in U.S. Open conditions, was tougher off the tee. Right now, Day is 148th on Tour in driving accuracy, though because of his length he rises to 54th in strokes gained off the tee. But missing fairways at Harding will exact a much steeper price than the traditional Tour setup so for Day to have a chance he’s going to have to drive like it’s 2015.

How has the PGA Championship managed to avoid playing on the West Coast since 1998? -@mvf510

It’s befuddling, if not enraging. West Coast majors allow golf to be played in prime time on the East Coast– that’s a ratings bonanza! And the moderate temperatures are not only more pleasant but they also allow for better playing conditions; all those PGAs in August in the steamy South and scorching Midwest required the greens to be drenched to keep them alive. I can’t remember the last time it rained here in Northern California so there is no excuse for Harding’s greens not to be brick hard, which is really the ultimate test. Per your question, the bigger issue is that the obvious venues–Pebble, Olympic, Torrey, now LACC–are aligned with the U.S. Open.

What would Shippy shoot at Harding Park under current tournament set-up….no gallery should help. Over/under is 100. -@BobbyTeeitup

I want to take the under but it would be close, to put it charitably. With the heavy, cold air the course is realistically playing close to 8K yards. The rough is more penal than any weekend golfer can imagine. If I miss the fairway on a 500-yard par-4 it will be a monumental struggle just to save bogey. But with the course playing so long it’s not feasible to lay up off the tee. I’m used to Poa greens but would have to pour in a bunch of 8- and 10-footers to even have a chance. In a vacuum, I think I could do it. With the Twittersphere waiting to pass judgement it’s a very big ask.

Alan, why can’t I stop picking Jordan Spieth in my easy office pools? -@DonnyPython

The polite explanation is that you’re an optimist. Or a romantic. Or maybe a believer in the law of averages–at some point, Spieth has to bust out of his slump. Right? Anyone? Bueller?

At what length should I consider cutting my hair or should I just wait until my next win? -@PatPerezHair

I’m actually kind of digging Pat Perez’s mane. I myself haven’t had a real haircut since the virus arrived and so I certainly understand the appeal of serious flow.

But given that Perez is 44 and hasn’t won in nearly three years his next W might not be until the Senior Tour, at which point his mullet will look more like a cape.

Is Phil the first major winner in his 50’s waiting to happen? -@BCRafferty

Phil Mickelson is trying something strange with his putting stroke (but it’s working)
By: Luke Kerr-Dineen

I always thought it would be Vijay–don’t forget that he finished 9th at the 2012 Open Championship, when he was 49. (Four years earlier he had won at Firestone.) But Phil is clearly still dangerous, and he has made a career out of pulling off the unlikely. You can never say never with that guy, especially around Augusta National. I’m not sure he’s going to win one but it’s inevitable that Phil will be in the hunt late on Sunday afternoon at another major or two.

Why is 2 time major winner (including the 1991 PGA) @PGA_JohnDaly not in the HOF? -@Dave_Wood1

You buried the lede–Daly’s greatest achievement is winning an Open at the Old Course, which is usually the sign of undisputed genius. But Wild Thing won only two other tournaments in his star-crossed career–how can you enshrine a guy with such a paltry win total? But in the What-If HOF he’s certainly in on the first ballot.

What do you think about DeChambeau living to 140 years old? -@155Marathons

It would be a gift from the Content Gods.

Do you still have the opinion you had in late June that the PGA Tour should pull the plug on its season? Thanks. -@ChanceCozby

A lot changed after I typed that column, beginning with the Tour tightening up its procedures and protocols. It was risky to test players and then let them practice and roam the grounds while they awaited their results; after the rash of virus-related W/Ds early in the week of Hartford (when my column ran) that policy was wisely amended. More important, there was a cultural shift on Tour. Coming out of Hilton Head, there was much loose talk about the relaxed atmosphere on the island. It seemed inevitable that in this environment the virus would explode.

But the withdrawals in Hartford, including two of the top five players in the World Ranking, were a wakeup call for the entire Tour. The players realized their season was hanging in the balance and began policing themselves.

All the while, Jay Monahan and his lieutenants continued to fine-tune the operation. The result is an incredible success story, and every PGA Tour stakeholder should be applauded. Branden Grace getting knocked off the leaderboard of the Barracuda last week was deeply unfortunate but as long as the Tour can keep the infection numbers this low, by all means they should play on.

There remains one thorny issue: the number of rapid-response tests the Tour (and every other pro sports league) is consuming. I have two friends here in Northern California who were tested in mid-July. One waited 10 days for their result, the other waited 12; such lags render the tests largely meaningless.

Think of how many thousands of tests are being used every day by the PGA Tour, NBA, NHL and MLB. Sports are deeply ingrained in our society, and now more than ever we need entertainment. When it comes to testing, should professional athletes be given priority over regular citizens? I’ve accepted that is a question for philosophers, not sportswriters. In the meantime, I’ll continue enjoying the Tour action, like the rest of you.

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Alan Shipnuck


GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck writes longform features and a monthly column for GOLF Magazine and has his own vertical on GOLF.com entitled “The Knockdown,” which is home to podcasts, video vignettes, event coverage and his popular weekly mailbag AskAlan. He is the author of five books on golf, including na­tional best-sellers Bud, Sweat & Tees and The Swinger (with Michael Bamberger). Shipnuck is very active on Twitter, with a following of 50,000.