Tour Confidential: Where would a Tiger vs. Phil showdown rank among the biggest golf events of the year?

July 13, 2018

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1. Our Alan Shipnuck broke the blockbuster news that a $10 million match play event between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson is in the works (and nearly happened earlier this month). Would a Phil-Tiger showdown immediately become one of the biggest/most-anticipated events of the year? Where would it rank among the others?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer (@alanshipnuck): The intensity of the news coverage and on social media that followed our story tells me how much interest there is for this. It doesn’t make sense to rank it in the context of meaningful tournaments — this a lark, just a bit of fun. But it would certainly be anticipated.

Dylan Dethier, associate editor (@dylan_dethier): Shipnuck’s right; you can’t really compare this to a Tour event and it ultimately means nothing in terms of legacy for either of the two. But it’s such a simple, digestible concept with exciting characters that I think it would grab the attention of plenty of casual golf fans in a way that only the majors and Ryder Cup currently do.

Josh Sens, contributing writer (@JoshSens): This is like the ice cream on pie a la mode: the extra something for those who just can’t get enough. No doubt there’s a big potential audience for this, and it could be a lot of fun, so long as it gives viewers what feels like an authentic glimpse behind the curtain — a look at Phil and Tiger and their interactions in a fresh light. I’m curious to hear what the charitable element is going to be. In an ideal world, they’d be putting up their own money, as they might in a real-life grudge match. Slim chance of that happening, but let’s hope it doesn’t wind up playing out like a cynical cash-grab and personal brand building exercise. Which of course it also is.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor (@Jeff_Ritter): I remember the original prime-time match between Tiger and Duval being a big deal and a (relative) ratings hit. Phil is of course infinitely more popular than DD ever was. Toss in social media to fan the flames and the match feels destined for success. And Vegas is the perfect backdrop, both for the interesting course and the various wagering opportunities that come with it. Which reminds me: put me down for Woods closing it out before the 16th hole.

John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar (@johnwould): Well, I’m gonna sit back and think about my guys. TECHNICALLY speaking caddies usually receive 10 percent on a win. Now math was never my strong suit (don’t tell Matt) but I would expect some hardcore caddying down the stretch if that equation holds true for this “bit of fun.” Goodness gracious I may go work the parking lot in case Joey or Tim sprain an ankle. Come to think of it, I wonder what Jeff Gillooly is up to these days…

2. Made-for-TV golf showdowns have long been a part of the game’s history but faded years ago. Backed by A-list names like Mickelson and Woods, could you see this potential revival having staying power?

Shipnuck: One of the keys to Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf is that it took viewers to amazing courses around the world they didn’t otherwise get to see. That remains integral, I think. Chicago Golf Club, Fishers, Pine Valley, CPC, Tara Iti, Shanqin Bay, Cabot, Barnbougle, Diamante…we can go on and on. The game is so global now so it shouldn’t be hard to find places where the course is a star, too. Throw in a bunch of appealing young players with old lions Tiger and Phil and it could be great fun to see a revival of this kind of showdown.

Dethier: For golf fans, this has unbelievable appeal. No weekend golfers play 72-hole stroke play events; how fun would it be to see the game’s top stars getting into it in some high-stakes fourball matches on dream courses? Add in the betting possibilities in a simple head-to-head (boxing-style, in some ways) and I think there’s plenty of potential to expand.

Sens: If you haven’t watched the bizarrely entertaining spoof of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf that aired a few years ago on late-night cable, I recommend it. It stars the actors John Daly and Adam Scott competing as the golfers John Daly and Adam Scott. Aside from its quirky niche quality and madcap humor, it taps into a kind of time-capsule age of innocence that those Shell events were part of. That era is gone, but the basic formula still works. So yeah, I could see this having staying power. But to appeal to the younger audience golf is after, it’s going to have to be Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf cranked to 11, with lots of whiz-bang production value and plenty of Twitter age snark. I might even watch it, if I’m trapped in an elevator or stuck on a flight.

Ritter: I think it has legs, especially if they mix in some entertaining undercards. To reach non-traditional golf fans, I like Dethier’s idea to set up Steph Curry-Tony Romo. And for hardcore golf fans, give me Joel Dahmen-Sung Kang II. Or any two pros who don’t like each other.

Wood: I used to love Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, or as we called it in the 1990s and 2000s, “Who’s Freddie Couples Playing Today?” Done right I think the head-to-head made-for-TV matchups are a blast. Big personalities on great courses is never a bad thing, right? But I do agree that some fourball matches would be more interesting AND bring out some serious microphone-ready needling.

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are working on a deal to battle it out on the course for $10 million.

3. Speaking of Phil, he was assessed a two-stroke penalty for the second straight tournament when on Sunday at The Greenbrier he padded down fescue in front of a tee box, a violation of Rule 13-2, which covers improving line of play. Is this, which comes after his Shinnecock Hills fiasco, carelessness by Phil? Or evidence that the rules are too penal/complicated?

Shipnuck: Maybe it’s just a coincidence? Phil just had a brain fart, and within seconds had an inkling he might’ve broken and rule and announced it as such. It’s certainly embarrassing but I’m not sure there’s much more to it than that.

Dethier: This was a strange oversight from Phil, because it seems like a fairly obvious rule to have broken. But it’s no referendum on his character; he called himself on the penalty almost immediately.

Sens: I’ll third those comments. I thought he should have been disqualified at Shinnecock. This was a brain cramp, and he recognized it instantly. I don’t see it as a broader referendum on his character or the rules.

Ritter: Hey, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the past few weeks, it’s that no one knows the rule book better than Phil.

Wood: A coincidence. I don’t think one has anything to do with the other. The first one was, well, I don’t know. I found it funny. This one was a simple oversight.

4. Kevin Na went on a birdie binge and shot 64 to win The Greenbrier by five on Sunday. It was just the second win of his PGA Tour career — the first was in 2011 — and it came in his 370th start. Yet Na has now banked more than $27 million in his career, which is 40th all time, and has 65 career top-10 finishes. Is consistency/longevity, in Na’s case, overrated … or underrated?

Shipnuck: It’s brutally difficult to stay on Tour for such a long time without the exemptions that come with victories. Na’s longevity has been one of the more remarkable accomplishments in golf. Nice that he’s finally been rewarded with another win.

Dethier: The “slow play” thing has always unfairly held Na back in terms of his perception on Tour — a bunch of players have these shortcut labels stuck to them — and he’s long been an insightful guy and really steady competitor. Plus, did you see his post-round interview? This win meant an awful lot to the guy. With 65 top 10s it only feels fair that he should notch a few more Ws, and this one was certainly well-earned.

Sens: Among the many things to admire about Na are his frankness and self-deprecating humor, to say nothing of the grit he showed in fighting back from those squirm-inducing driver fidgets. I don’t know if he’s underrated. But the qualities that make him an appealing character are, I think, underappreciated.

Ritter: Sens nails it. Yes, Na is slow and a headcase, but how many pro athletes would own it to the point of posing in a straitjacket for a magazine photo shoot? He’s probably appropriately rated, but I often find myself rooting for him.

Wood: Underrated. Kevin has been remarkably consistent, especially for someone who doesn’t play the modern game of bomb it, find it, wedge it. It’s very difficult for shorter hitters to win any event these days because even with your A game, there will be someone in the field who hits it 330 who also has their A game. So for Kevin to continue to crank out top 10s with the occasional win is a testament to his game.

5. The biggest story of the week prior to the Tiger and Phil news was a cheating accusation that spilled over from the Quicken Loans National. Sung Kang, who shot 64 and finished 3rd, took a drop on the 10th hole that playing partner Joel Dahmen didn’t agree with. Dahmen later said on Twitter that “Kang cheated.” The C-word is a damning one in the golf world. While we may never know who was in the right, even after talking to those who were on site, do you commend Dahmen for speaking up, or should an allegation this harsh be handled behind closed doors?

Shipnuck: That was the old way — players pulling each other aside, and then word slowly leaking out on Tour, so ruffians knew they were being judged. It was pretty effective. But throughout society, what was once private is now public. Dahmen’s way is the new way. It is certainly effective for making a grievance known but is, I fear, another way golf is being coarsened.

Dethier: After talking to a handful of eyewitnesses and poring over hole map details, I’m very confident Kang took an incorrect drop. But Twitter court and the court of public opinion are each harsher than ever; I do wonder if dodging the c-word would’ve taken the edge off the public reaction.

Sens: I can’t pretend to know what was in Kang’s heart, but I also don’t really know what Dahmen was thinking. By all means, speak up by bringing the incident to the attention of rules officials and let them adjudicate. To issue a Twitter verdict without a trial strikes me as a frustrated and short-sighted blast of immaturity.

Ritter: In the spirit of the game it’s better to air it out privately. In the spirit of informing the public about bitter player feuds to be breathlessly scrutinized and savored, it was handled perfectly.

Wood: It sounds like Dahmen was trying to handle it behind closed doors but was overruled. Week in and week out I think the most abused rule on Tour is where a ball may have crossed a hazard last. I won’t come out and call it cheating, but rarely do I see a player take a conservative drop in regards to distance. Most take the furthest possible point and go with it.

6. The airline lost Graeme McDowell’s golf clubs, so he decided to withdraw from British Open qualifying. Should he have just sucked it up and played with loaners? How difficult would it be for a pro to grab something off the rack and compete?

Shipnuck: That was weak sauce. We’ve all used rental clubs — it’s not ideal, but it’s still golf. What did G-Mac have to lose? If he failed to qualify, he could blame the clubs. If he made it through with loaners he’s a folk hero.

Dethier: Yeah, of course he should have played. Have some fun with it! It’s bummer they lost his sticks, but more importantly serves as yet another reminder that no famous person has EVER complained about air travel on the internet and come out looking better because of it.

Sens: Isn’t that the whole point of rental clubs? They’re a built-in excuse. McDowell passed up a no-lose opportunity. He either fails to qualify and has a reason, or he qualifies and looks all the more the stud for doing so with loaners.

Wood: I’ve got no problem either way, but I would say it would have been nearly impossible for Graeme to qualify with a set of rentals.

Ritter: Rent the clubs and take a shot! Some of my best rounds have been with rentals. It removes all swing thoughts and replaces them with “just make contact.” Speaking of which…

7. Spanish pro Beatriz Recari created a buzz on social media when her foot slipped and she whiffed on the tee box during the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic. What’s the most shocking or embarrassing swing you have ever seen from a Tour pro?

Shipnuck: Easy: Woody Austin going Aquaman.

Dethier: I was standing right behind Steve Stricker at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion when he cold shanked his layup onto the adjacent road. Can’t unsee that.

Sens: It wasn’t necessarily shocking, given the pressure, but Mark Calcavecchia’s meltdown in singles at the ‘91 Ryder Cup produced some shots that I can’t unsee either. Also: Greg Norman’s water-ball on the 12th hole on Sunday in the ‘96 Masters. That one didn’t even sniff dry land.

Wood: Old Tucson Open. It was early in the year and Paul Stankowski had been trying out a few different sets of irons to sign a new equipment deal. I remember on the 1st hole he and caddie Rich Mayo were getting into a discussion about whether the approach required a wedge or a nine-iron. Rich liked the wedge, and Paul liked the nine. Rich talked him into the wedge, or so he thought, and Paul thought he really needed to nail it to get it there. So Paul takes out a club (the nine-iron) and Rich assumed Paul just overruled him at the last moment to hit his club. So Richy says Paul takes this nine-iron and puts a driver-sized swing on the ball and it is still going up as it flies over the green. Paul says, “Richy, there’s your first bad yardage. There’s no way I can hit a wedge that far.” Mayo replies, “I know you can’t, you just hit a nine-ron.” Paul then walks over to the bag, takes out the nine and the wedge, holds them up to his face to look at them and says to Rich, “Boy, the 9 and the P look a lot alike in this set, don’t they?”

Ritter: I didn’t see it live, but TC Chen became a meme before there were memes. That highlight (below!) kills me every time.