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 WGC Match Play was played last week in Austin, Texas with its unusual format of round robin play before eliminating anybody. Have you warmed up to the format or would you prefer to see the traditional “losers go home” method?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): For reasons of sheer laziness, and the phenomenally unwelcome sight of snow on the ground on Saturday and Sunday, I watched almost the entire broadcast of the WGC on both days… and found I actually enjoyed it. There truly is a different atmosphere in match play, and different pressure and psychology, and it was a welcome respite from three hours of watching people putting, which is what most medal play broadcasts seem to be these days. That said, I still find the preliminary rounds of the WGC Match Play a little bewildering. But who cares, as long as it gives us all a guaranteed chance to watch the bigger names play before possibly being sent home. If it was strictly a “knockout”, both Tiger and Phil would’ve been watching from home on Friday afternoon. And we wouldn’t have had the fantastic Tiger-Bjerregaard match on Saturday. So, all in all, it works!
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: Not only do I like this format I am beginning to wonder about 72-hole medal play competitions generally. I’ve noticed an increase in the number of PGA TOUR events with smaller and smaller galleries and wonder why. The TOUR is in an ‘off course” betting arrangement to increase revenues and I think they are going to face challenges of a loss of interest in the future. I can foresee a time when major cities each have major league golf teams like other sports made up of a combination of men and women who will play a season-long schedule of week-long matches much like the Ryder Cup. There would be a regular season and season ending playoffs exactly like other sports. Given the more concentrated ‘groups’ play would be easier to follow by walking and for TV. BTW I’m looking for financial backers to get this rolling.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Hate the format. Round robin preliminary rounds are awful. The entire appeal to March Madness is the one-and-done format. Giving players a second and third chance to redeem themselves saps all of the fun out of watching a bracket tournament. And after all these years, I find it amazing that the networks haven’t come up with a solution to all the dead air that takes place between the shots in the final and consolation matches. They are downright unwatchable.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I am not a huge fan of the new format but at least it ensures that the top players get some TV time and play a few rounds, so I understand. It’s almost sudden death anyway, because one loss makes it tough to win your group. But it does give players a chance to advance with one loss and a bit of luck.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Still have my Betamax tapes of the thrilling 1999 final match between Jeff Maggert and Andrew Magee, and the 2002 tourney climax that pitted Kevin Sutherland and his towel against Scott McCarron. Don’t know who won either as I’ve not yet got around to viewing those bits of golf lore. The round robin format — the second or third attempt to make the weekend interesting — may be tedious but it’s better than having stars ousted on Wednesday when no one is watching thus ensuring that no one will be watching on the weekend either. At least this format led to a very entertaining Saturday. The Sunday match wasn’t anywhere close to March Madness hoops, but at least there was a chance.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Mark me down for Traditional Match Play Format. A match with everything on the line is inherently more exciting than one that doesn’t have a finality about it. The third day of round robin play always includes a number of matches where one player has no chance to advance and another looking to pad his lead. That’s not good. Let’s face it, these guys are all good and while Kevin Kisner or Lucas Bjerregaard don’t have the celebrity rating of some of the top ranked players, their matches made for excellent TV. Please go back to single knockout.
In a quarter-final match between Sergio Garcia and Matt Kuchar, Garcia left a putt a few inches short of the hole and before Kuchar could concede the remaining putt, the Spaniard waved at the ball and missed the cup. After conferring with a Rules official, it was deemed to be a loss of hole for Garcia. Retroactively, Kuchar said he would have conceded the putt, but Garcia had acted too quickly. Reaction has been mixed with some weighing in that Garcia let his temper get the best of him (again), while others point to Kuchar’s lack of sportsmanship and dredge up his other recent issue with his temporary Mexican caddie to point out that Kuchar may not be the Mr. Nice Guy he likes to portray. What’s your take on this issue?
Deeks: Totally, 100% Sergio’s fault. It should not be an issue. Suggesting that Kuchar should’ve conceded the next hole “in fairness” is ridiculous. That would simply forgive and condone Sergio’s silly, immature and impetuous behaviour. As much as I was critical of Kuchar’s handling of the Mexican caddie incident, I feel very sorry that his sportsmanship has been called into question on this one.
Schurman: I am not a big Kooch fan, but he is a victim in the latest Sergio debacle. He earned, deserved and wore the criticism re: his caddy but this different! Golf writers and media people scream for tour players to be colourful and less mundane when someone does ‘step out’ of the regimented ‘cookie cutter’ they re all over them. But Sergio’s behaviour is childish and petulant. I’m all for intensity and total effort but not when it affects the opportunity of another player to do their best. Sergio has a history of these kinds of things and it’s time he had a talk with the Commissioner. He should be thankful he isn’t a PGA TOUR member in the Deane Beman era.
Kaplan: This is all on Garcia! He is the one who rushed up to the putt and missed it. If he had just waited a moment, Kooch definitely would have conceded it to him and we wouldn’t even be talking about this whole situation. Plus, the fact that Garcia was furious with Kooch and his caddie for not conceding the next hole to even things up is absurd. The onus isn’t on Kuchar to make things right in that situation. It was Garcia’s blunder—one that he’ll probably never make again—and he should accept the consequences that come with it!
Rule: This is a little ridiculous. In the end, Garcia is at fault because he didn’t look up to confirm that the putt is given before backhanding it. And also, how did he miss that, even backhanding it? Anyway, you can’t fault Kooch although he should have been quick to say “good” when Sergio missed the par putt. Anyway, doesn’t look great for two guys who haven’t had the greatest PR year to say the least!
Quinn: If Garcia was playing another Euro, I’m pretty sure he would have been given the 8th in the spirit of sportsmanship. Sure, Sergio had a massive brain fart, but few sportsmen — certainly not Jack, remember his historic concession to Jacklin? — would want to win the way Kuchar was happy to. Have never much liked his ‘dad gum it’ persona and think the stiffing of the Mexican caddy was very telling. This is another example of the real Kooch.
Mumford: A pox on both their houses. Garcia clearly let his temper get the best of him, so he has to shoulder all the responsibility on this one. But Kuchar gamed the system by calling over the referee and turning it into an interpretation of the Rules. In any other situation, the putt would have been conceded. Kuchar displayed an incredible lack of sportsmanship here. In an odd way, Garcia came out ahead. He was his usual temperamental self, so nothing new to report. But Kuchar showed a total lack of class. When combined with the Mexican caddie incident, it shows Kuchar isn’t at all the Mr. Nice Guy everybody thought he was.
The Masters gets started next week. Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose are the early betting favourites while former champs like Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth are struggling. Right now, would you take DJ, McIlroy and Rose in a prop bet against the field? If not, who do you think will prevail at Augusta this year?
Deeks: I’m not a big fan, but boy, it’s hard not to think that Dustin Johnson will finally lap the field at Augusta. My preference would be McIlroy, who deserves a Masters win and the career slam, but Johnson just seems to be one putt away from winning everything these days. So yes, I’d take your “prop bet”, Mr. Interlocutor. And if the Masters is half as exciting as The Players was, we’ll be in for a great weekend next week!
Schurman: This subject is the easiest one to make a fool of oneself. None of D.J. Rory or Rose are worthy of a “one against the field’ bet but cumulatively they are. However, in doing so you overlook DeChambeau, Casey, Day, Fleetwood, Scott, etc. Give me time to think about it and I’ll send you my ‘picks’ when we’re a little closer.
Kaplan: I would take the field because none of those three have ever proved that they can come out on top at Augusta. I know he’s struggling but I will live and die by Jordan Spieth at the Masters. His record of two wins, two ties for runner up, and a T11 in five career appearances there speaks for itself. If there is one course on earth that can get the Texan back on his game, it’s this one.
Rule: There are so many people that I feel can win the Masters this year that I’d take the field over any group of three golfers you come up with. I hope Rory is in the mix and I think he should be, and DJ would be my pick to win any time, and Rosey should be there too. Maybe I’m talking myself out of this! OK, I’ll take those three over the field!
Quinn: It’s a tough one, but if the Tour condoned gambling — oh wait, it does — my money’d be on the Field. There are now just too many great players capable of winning a jacket that aren’t part of that stellar threesome. That Field prop does include guys like Molinari, Rahm, Oosthuizen, Koepka, Scott, Thomas, and friends — and a winner to be named later.
Mumford: I’ll take the threesome against the field. Augusta rewards great ball-striking and great putting and these three are all at the top of their game. However, Augusta also rewards experience. It’s why players like Jack Nicklaus, Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer were consistently on the leaderboard long after their best playing days. Occasionally a Danny Willett happens, thanks to a flub by a more experienced player, but more often than not, the tournament is won by someone who has won or been in the hunt before. This threesome is overdue for a green jacket.