A mixed bag of Ted Potter, Bill Murray and Rory McIlroy

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.

The golf media in general was struggling last night to find an appropriate explanation for Ted Potter Jr’s victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am. He was called a grinder, a journeyman and a Cinderella story. With a cast of the world’s best chasing him, Potter made 11 straight pars to finish, yet nobody could catch him. What’s your reaction to Potter’s win and what does it say about the PGA Tour?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Every now and then, a Grade A tournament like the AT&T produces a Craig Perks-type of winner, and professional golf is better for it, in my view.  I probably would’ve changed the channel if DJ had cruised to victory with a 68, and Potter shooting 78, as most of us would’ve expected at tee time.  But to see a real journeyman win, with a name only vaguely familiar to even those of us who follow golf, is both interesting  and reassuring.  It also shows that nerves can get to the best of players: DJ was expected to win, but perhaps the pressure got to him (as it so often has in the past); and Jason Day duck-hooks his second-shot into the rocks on 18, when there was still an outside chance an eagle could have made a difference.  Anyway, kudos to Ted Potter Jr., who may never be heard from again, which won’t be a surprise.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I think this just proves the talent out there on Tour, the big names were right there at the end, but they can’t win them all. If it weren’t for Potter Jr’s play, there would have been one hell of a playoff with some marquee players; Day, Mickelson, DJ (no offence to Reavie). Good for Phil sneaking up there, he threw away a few shots on Saturday, but that’s golf for you. Good on Potter for winning; he may never be a household name but he’s won twice on Tour now. He’s no “slouch,” even if his physique suggests he might be!

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: One of the wonders of the PGA Tour is picking a winner every week. Betting odds go from about 5:1 to 10,000:1 but you never know. The truth is we were spoiled with Tiger because once he was in contention, other than crazy driving which he managed to save with luck, he never did anything to cost himself a victory. Now, you just can’t rely on anyone! On the back nine on Sunday the best players in the world miss three footers, chip and two putt, putt off the green into a pond and/or hit  tee shots into the water. Ted Potter did none of these. He simply plodded along and scored a victory. The Tour is full of Ted Potters who have won at various levels to get to the Tour and it’s wonderful to see them get their just reward.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): As a lefty, I am ecstatic about Potter Jr’s win — mostly, because it feels like forever since a southpaw has come away victorious on a Sunday. Potter may not have had too many fireworks down the stretch but considering that three superstars and a Reavie were all pursuing him on Sunday afternoon, the 34-year-old did extremely well to close out the tournament without making a single hiccup over the final 13 holes. I don’t know what the win says about the PGA Tour other than that Dustin Johnson appears to be in contention in every tournament that he plays in nowadays, and that Americans have now accounted for 11 of the 14 wins since the season began in October.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Always nice to see a lefty win on the Tour!  He certainly is a grinder, having been on and off the tour repeatedly over the past few years, and dealing with injuries along the way.  Good to see someone like that break through.  I think he was really steady on Sunday, not making any mistakes and making guys chase him on a course that wasn’t yielding crazy low scores.  His 69 was only three off of the low score on the day, so it’s not like he backed into the victory.  Given the big names chasing him, I think it was an impressive win, and doesn’t really say anything new about the tour other than anyone can win on any given week!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It is now such a goofy spectacle, so out of the norm, that it doesn’t say anything about the Tour. Good on Potter, whoever he is.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Well, Potter has won on the PGA Tour once before so it’s not like he just landed from Romulus 9. Then again, I don’t really expect him to be a regular leaderboard occupant going forward either. There will be fans that like to see underdogs and longshots win but I would have preferred a Jason Day or Phil Mickelson victory – certainly a more colourful finish. One thing it says about the Tour is that when events are staged at shorter courses, anybody can win. Pebble Beach is all about accuracy and small sloping greens and course management. DJ’s 40 yard driving advantage was fun to watch but that length loses its edge at Pebble when the next shot is from the rough to a small rock hard green. Potter just managed his game better than anyone else.

The Pebble Beach event has changed dramatically over the years. Bing Crosby’s original Clambake included lots of movie stars and pals from the entertainment industry. Today’s version is mostly rich guys and CEO’s. The antics of a few remaining comics like Bill Murray’s seem almost out of place amongst the big money crowd. Has the event lost its appeal?

Deeks: As I’ve said for several years, this tournament lost its appeal for me several years ago, when it became an uncalled-for vehicle for the rudest, most obnoxious, most annoying and  least amusing person ever unloaded on a television audience: Bill Murray.  I can’t believe that CBS’s audience surveys reinforce that this guy is popular.  I simply won’t watch the broadcast until about 5:00 on Sunday, when hopefully it boils down to interesting golf (as it did on Sunday).  I do miss the old Bing Crosby, though… it was fun seeing some interesting actors like Jack Lemmon, James Garner, Clint Eastwood (when he was still breathing), and even lightly-talented Phil Harris mix with the Caspers, Finsterwalds, and Venturis of old.  If CBS and AT&T really cared about it, they could refashion this event into something similar but much better, and get rid of the useless crap they keep foisting on us year after year.

Loughry: I think the event has lost a bit of its appeal. I’d much rather see celebs in the pro-am. I haven’t heard of any legendary parties like there were back in the day. I watch primarily for the views at Pebble Beach itself and then for the tournament. It still has great potential but I don’t think the event is struggling financially, so I don’t think we’ll see any changes any time soon.

Schurman: I do agree the event sure isn’t what it used to be. It used to be that once ‘The Crosby’ came it was time to start putting on the carpet, polishing your woods and putting new grips on your clubs. We watched to see the great movie stars and the gorgeous scenery. Clint Eastwood was the sexiest man alive but I thought he was very uncomfortable making commentary. The field is 156 players meaning the last player in could be as high as 175 on the points list and some I had never heard of.  So, yesterday, I enjoyed the scenery and Ted Potter. I’m not a fan of Bill Murray in the tournament.

Kaplan: Without question it has. It’s almost offensive to be forced to watch these multi-millionaires and CEOs shank their way around Pebble Beach through the first three days of the broadcast. I’m not talking about the celebrities. They’re fine, I guess … although the roster seems to be getting weaker every year. But the rich guys piss me off. I don’t want to watch the 1% golfing alongside the best players in the world on a course that I cannot afford to play. Don’t they have enough already?

Rule: It certainly has changed in feel, but I think that’s good for the viewers that are golf fans.  I guess the actors brought some other fans to the game, but I never enjoyed watching Ray Romano hit his eighth shot from the beach when there are real golfers hitting great shots that I’m not seeing.  Given the incredible setting and golf course, it’s nice to have a serious golf tournament there instead of a kiss and giggle event.

Quinn: Had to wait until Monday morning’s paper arrived to find out who won. The Clambake was one of the year’s highlights, a welcome antidote to Toronto’s winter. Crosby’s pals were entertaining — unlike the terminally unfunny Bill Murray and Ray Romano — and Pebble on a Sunday was mystical. Now it’s unwatchable.

Mumford: It’s just another example of big money taking over what was a fun event. I have no interest in watching CEO’s play golf and would be more than delighted if they were limited to a Wednesday pro am. That said, I can also do without the likes of Ray Romano (in what world is he a star?) or Bill Murray (long past his best before date). Next to Augusta National, Pebble Beach is probably the course most golf fans know inside out without ever having played it. It’s an exceptional golf course in a gorgeous setting and doesn’t need much else to make it enjoyable to watch. If indeed there were real stars not too embarrassed to chop it around the Monterey peninsula, who could also add a laugh or two, that would be fine but I’m resigned to the fact that the old Crosby Clambake is never coming back.

Rory McIlroy boldly stated that 2018 was going to be a different year, putting his off-course issues aside and focusing on winning again and especially winning majors. Rory missed the cut at Pebble Beach. Should we be concerned?

Deeks: This question might be more legitimately asked seven months from now, at the end of the season.  By then, we’ll know whether Rory is truly capable of being the master of his own domain (Kramer jokes notwithstanding), or whether perhaps he was just a sunshine supernova who burned brighter than most, for a time.  I can’t imagine Rory will be out of the top 10 for several years, but will he be able to return to Big 3 status again, and win a few more majors?  I sure hope so, but I’m not willing to put more than a fiver down on it.

Loughry: I wouldn’t ever expect Rory to miss the cut, but it happens even to the best of players. Lots of players don’t play well on the west coast – it may be the grass. Same goes for the Florida swing and Bermuda grass. I’m not concerned, he had a bad week, that’s about all I’m reading into it for Rory.

Schurman: Rory’s mind wasn’t on the event. He rented a house on the 4th hole with his family and played in the event with his Dad. With small bumpy greens it doesn’t take much to post a high score. Let’s not panic; just add it up at the end of the year.

Kaplan: I’m not worried. I think he just had a bad week. He looked rather sharp at the Abu Dhabi HSBC and the Dubai Desert Classic a few weeks ago, where he finished in third and second place respectively, and his ball striking actually looked pretty good on Thursday and Friday. Of course, McIlroy’s putting was a different story altogether, but I think that he will get that sorted out at Riviera and PGA National over the next two weeks.

Rule: I’m not concerned.  It was his first visit to the tournament and he had his father playing alongside him. There are so many distractions in that type of event and apparently it was mostly his putting, which isn’t a surprise.  He’ll have bad putting weeks when he doesn’t contend, but if his putter ever gets hot, and it will, he’ll start to win.  I’m looking forward to him having a big year.  Although he did finish behind Mike Weir this week, so maybe there is reason for concern.

Quinn: If I was getting $20 M a year from Nike, and had just cashed a big cheque in Dubai, and then played two 6-hour rounds with my Dad, I’d head to the airport too rather than endure a weekend with that crowd at Pebble. The four-putt and the three-putt would be of concern if they happened in a real event, not this hit and giggle. I think he’s going to make real runs at the tourneys that count.

Mumford: Concerned? Probably not. It’s not like the career is lost and Rory is going to have to become an Uber driver. On the other hand, he made a lot of noise about this being his year and then he stumbles right out of the gate. McIlroy is already a lock for the World Golf Hall of Fame and has more money than even his grandchildren will be able to spend. He still has the skill to be Top 4 in the world but one wonders if he has the inspiration or dedication to get back to that level. He’s played well in Europe but not so in North America. One tournament is not totally indicative of his future performance but it’s a bump in the road that he didn’t need right now.

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