Tough course, a verbal spat and boring analysts
Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
This year’s Players Championship looked like golf’s version of a demolition derby with tournament leaders self-destructing on a regular basis. Is TPC Sawgrass too difficult or does the Tour have it set up too hard? Is this the way the PGA Tour’s marquee event should play out?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I believe I predicted a relatively obscure winner for TPC here last week… but I mistakenly said Seung-Yul Noh, when Of COURSE I meant to say Si Woo Kim! Nonetheless, despite the fact that Kim was probably unknown even to his caddy on Thursday morning, he played a stellar four rounds and outplayed and outlasted everyone else, so he deserved the victory fair and square. I like the fact that the golf course brings out the best in everyone who wins… usually a marquee player, but every three or four years, someone not so famous like Fred Funk, Craig Perks or Tim Clark. It’s a great course, set up fairly, and you have to bring your best game, period.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I think it is a difficult golf course, but let’s not forget the Tour is in charge of setup. They could ease up if they wanted, but that doesn’t seem to be in their plans. Otherwise, the Tour could make the greens more receptive, shorten some holes/course a little by using different tees. But if you look at the Champions from the Players the last 10 years, it’s a good mix of players, not just bombers, but those with well rounded whole games.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I may be alone on this one, but I enjoy how difficult the Stadium Course plays and I hope that the PGA Tour does not dial it back in future tournaments. The venue is amongst the toughest in the game and only those players who have their games absolutely dialled in for 72 holes come away with victories there. Besides, I rather enjoy watching the best players in the world making quintuple and sextuple bogeys all week long. Don’t you?
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): As you said, it’s a marquee event, so I don’t have a problem making it tough, someone still got to double digits, so is that really that much tougher than most tracks? When guys win at 20 under people complain about the course being too easy! I don’t have much of an affinity for the golf course, and it doesn’t excite me, but I think it was a fair setup, giving the guys chances at eagles on 12 and 16 (or double eagles!), and obviously has a great finish that adds excitement and drama for the fans.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: As we were incessantly reminded by the boys in the booths, the Awash in Money Tour massively renovated Sawgrass. But aesthetics and the millions of dollars spent aside, I don’t think it improved the event. Having the opening hole playing as the layout’s hardest — as it was in the opening rounds — makes no sense at a muni or a wanna-be Major; the slope into the pond at the front of the redesigned 12th is too severe; and the whole course was set up too hard and fast for the wind conditions. The Tour managed to transform what has long been one of the most anticipated tourneys of the year into ‘what else is on?’ TV.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): TPC Sawgrass is one of the most demanding courses on the PGA Tour schedule. Players don’t have a lot of options other than laying up on the par 5’s. They have to hit shots that Pete Dye designed in order to have any chance at birdie or sometimes even par. Players don’t like that and it weighs on their mind because they know there are no let-ups – just unrelenting demands to perform as ordered, especially when they come to 17 and 18. Add wind, ultra-firm greens and the fact that any mistake is usually compounded by penalty strokes or no possible recovery shot and it’s no wonder players self-destruct, even when leading. The course is the ultimate survival test. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee criticized Ian Poulter for “playing it safe” over the last few holes when he actually had a chance to win. A verbal spat ensued on Twitter. What’s your reaction to Chamblee’s comments?
Deeks: Disagree. If there’s one golf course where discretion is the better part of valour (whatever the hell that means), TPC is it. It’s so possible for someone to screw up 16-17-18, that I think the smart guy just plays those holes very conservatively, and waits for the other guy to blow a tire. I never would have mistaken Poulter for a smart guy, and in the end, HE blew the tire with a shank on 18, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles (whatever the hell THAT means!).
Loughry: I think Poulter was simply playing the course. Look at the final round scores, not one player lit it up and only a handful were under par. Clearly that’s by design in terms of setup. So, easy for Chamblee to say.
Kaplan: Chamblee is a moron and his comments were completely unwarranted. No one expected Poulter to compete in this tournament, let alone finish in a tie for second place! The Englishman was obviously nervous coming down the stretch and I think he did a damn good job of steadying his nerves and competing until his final shot. I don’t blame the guy for that shank on 18. I would have done the same thing! And that recovery shot was incredible! Chamblee should take a rest from Twitter for a while.
Rule: I hardly listen to what Chamblee has to say any more. I like the fact that he speaks his mind, but so many things he says now is just for shock factor. As mentioned in the previous question, the course was set up tough, so it was hard to be aggressive, and playing it safe wasn’t the worst decision, since most guys were backing up on Sunday.
Quinn: Is shanking it on 18 playing it safe? After taking a drop, is flying it over the trees and almost canning it on 18 — just yards from the lake — playing it safe? And Poulter’s lie in the rough on 16 made going for it impossible. I like Chamblee, but he’s way offside on this one.
Mumford: I enjoy Chamblee’s analysis but he got it wrong this time. Poulter was playing two tournaments out there. Sure he wanted to win but he also knew a top two or three finish would restore his playing privileges for the rest of the year and next season too. On 16, he had a high risk second shot so laying up was the most prudent thing to do. 17 and 18 are no place to get aggressive. In fact, making pars there will often gain you strokes on the field. The shank on 18 showed Poulter’s nervousness, which must have been building the entire back nine. I say congrats to Poulter for the recovery shot and the recovered career.
Greg Norman suggested that some golf analysts are boring, which caused a reaction from Nick Faldo. Is Norman correct and if so, what changes would you make to golf telecasts to make them more appealing?
Deeks: I do agree with Greg, especially with the CBS crew, which I’ve commented on ad nauseam before. Faldo and Nantz are like a double dose of Sominex for me. The whole CBS crew is sleepworthy… except for Gary McCord, who’s like battery acid for my ears. CBS needs to stop thinking that its whole audience is in their 60s or older, and totally resistant to change; and find some younger, fresher, more original talent. NBC is better, and I personally like Johnny Miller’s analysis, but I wouldn’t mind a reboot on that crew too.
Loughry: Well he’s not out of line. A few commentators I could do without, but I prefer to be entertained, and that includes inside information on either the player or shot he or she is faced with, or to get a good chuckle. Pretty tired of bland player interviews, so I usually tune out when they appear. In terms of telecast, I’d certainly bring some drones in. They have some new ones that are virtually soundless. That would provide some cool angles. I’d give a little more airtime to McCord and Feherty, or bring in a comedian who knows and loves golf, and to catch the other audience (traditionalists) keep Faldo, and maybe Miller too.
Kaplan: I’ve been saying it forever — let’s get some comedians in the booth. Golf is straightforward and the information is right there on the screen. It does not need narration. The telecast needs jokes … funny ones! Get Bill Murray in there or Bill Burr! Rotate them weekly. This week, it will be Dave Chappelle; next week, Louis CK. The less the comedian knows about golf, the better!
Rule: As a hard core golf fan, I like most of the announcers having high golf IQ, and not necessarily having to be entertainers. Of course if you can find the odd Peter Jacobson or David Feherty who can combine both, then great, but it’s important to me to have guys who know the game and can get us into the minds of the players, and analyse their swings, thought process, etc.
Quinn: I’m with Norman, diving for the mute button as soon as the broadcast starts (not quite as quickly as when Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler open their yaps). But the Shark forgot to mention that besides being boring (and being compulsive interrupters and over-talkers like Koch), they have only a passing acquaintance with the English language, its structure and meaning. With Kelly Tilghman losing her battle with lucidity in the Live From segments (“Revelation. Dye does it throughout the course.” or “He has a birdie and eagle on each of his last two holes.”); there was the always irritating Koch (“Time to throw his name in the hat.” Hmm, hat in the ring? Nah.); the lucid and insightful Notah Begay (“For some reason, even par feels better than shooting over par.” Didn’t know that.); and the always supposedly fun Peter Jacobsen (“He has to play it short and have it bounce forward. It bounced forward but the wrong way!”) Really! That would mean backward or sideways but not forward. NURSE! And the great and courageous Johnny Miller’s sage insight in the final round? He said “nerves” on every shot that wasn’t perfect. Good night Johnny. And if anyone tuned in to hear Mike Tirico’s thoughts from his various perches, they should relinquish all rights to the remote, and seek professional help.
Mumford: Boring doesn’t come close. Faldo won six majors so someone at CBS decided he must be entertaining. He isn’t. And by the way Nick, it’s not about you anymore. While we’re at it, can someone please check the Best Before date on Gary McCord. One of the larger problems is that most golf telecasts deliver a non-stop series of shots but not much in the way of a story. It’s jump here to see someone putting, then jump there to see another putt, then jump again. Too much jumping. It works OK on Thursday and Friday when the story is unfolding but not on the weekend when you need more focus on the leaders coupled with analysis that lets viewers understand the player’s motivations and strategic thinking. Only a couple of analysts are needed for that. On today’s telecast we see everybody all the time but only for a moment. And every analyst and colour guy wants to add his own little bit of wisdom to every shot. The late, great Henry Longhurst once said, “If you can’t improve the picture, keep quiet.” Most of the talking heads would be wise to follow that piece of advice.