Who should be on the Mount Rushmore of golf?

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 USGA and Pebble Beach are attracting some belated criticism for the length of the course during the US Open and the width of the fairways, both of which suggest the course was too easy. If the purpose of the US Open is to identify the best golfer, did Pebble succeed in doing that or was there some aspect of the game it failed to test?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Oh, come on!  The USGA gets drawn and quartered for making Chambers Bay, Erin Hills, and Shinnecock too hard, now they’re criticized for making Pebble too easy??  That’s ridiculous!  First of all, the weather was unexpectedly benign; if rain or wind or cold had showed up, the scores would have been much higher.  I think they got it just right… and I think Gary Woodland was a perfectly acceptable winner.  If there was an aspect of the game that wasn’t tested, it’s critics’ ability to shut up and accept reality.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): A -13 winning score isn’t exactly ripping it up. Have a look at the average Tour event in comparison. 13-under is in the middle of the pack on any given week, not a winning score. I thought it was a pretty damn good test of skill. And if you look at the leaderboard, well how could you argue? The best players were pretty much all there: Koepka, Rose, Rahm, Oosthuizen, McIlroy, Scott, Stenson. These aren’t exactly hackers. And Woodland was nearing overdue for a Major win, he’s no slouch either. I think the USGA did a great job of just letting Pebble be Pebble.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: If you want to find something to criticize someone about it’s always easy! This was a good tournament for the USGA after they botched several in the immediate past. Some say that ‘par’ should be protected. Haven’t we found that today’s players have a mindset strong enough to shoot low scores just about anywhere. They will find a way. In every sport and every endeavour in life each generation improves a little based on the education of the previous group. We can adjust courses to minimize it but at some point, you destroy the original. Either enjoy progress and embrace it or build new venues to contain it. But if you build a course to contain today’s players who will be able to play it the other 51 weeks to pay the bills?

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Belated criticism. Give me a break. It was an excellent tournament, a tough test and one of the only US Opens in recent memory that the USGA didn’t leave its mark upon in some way. The people lodging these complaints are just looking to complain about something – I’m sure that they would be complaining that the setup was too difficult if the scores were any higher. Also, the US Open doesn’t determine who the best golfer is but rather who the scrappiest and most resilient golfer is over the course of four rounds. Gary Woodland had never converted a 54-hole lead before over this point in his career. Two Sundays ago, he did it on one of golf’s biggest stages and most iconic courses. What more do you want!?

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Pebble Beach restored the US Open character with narrow fairways, penal rough and slick greens. However, you can only do so much to protect par when the wind doesn’t blow on command. As for identifying the best golfer, many more tournaments are needed for that. Pebble Beach identified the best golfer of the week playing in tougher than usual conditions. And provided wonderful entertainment too. The critics are wrong.

On PGA Tour broadcasts, prize money is never mentioned; FedEx Cup points are the currency of choice. Yet, at the Travelers Championship, when second place finisher Zach Sucher was asked about accumulating all those FedEx Cup points, he replied that he didn’t know how all that worked but the second-place cheque would sure come in handy. Do you think players ever think about points or are they geared to winning and making real money?

Deeks: I doubt if many, or any, players are thinking about FedEx Cup points when they’re on the golf course.  I think they’re thinking of where they’ll finish at the end of four rounds, then how much money that will put in their pockets.  I think it’s right that broadcasts don’t talk about prize money; it would be somewhat crass and would remind the viewing audience just how much dough these guys make, which is a helluva lot more than the members of the Round Table do.  I don’t believe players or fans really give a hoot about the FedEx Cup until it arrives in the schedule, even though I’m sure FedEx pays a bundle to have the announcers promote it during the season.

Loughry: MONEY. The Fed-Ex Cup points are so complicated the players have no idea what each week really means in the end. But cashing a cheque is immediately noticeable. As much as the Tour wants those points to mean something to the players and fans, they just don’t to players in the moment, or fans until the playoffs. Fed-ex Cup points don’t pay the bills directly, MONEY does.

Schurman: This is one more instance of the brilliance of the PGA TOUR’s marketing ability. Essentially, they have replaced the term ‘money’ with the name of a sponsor. How good is that? On the other hand, what will they do if FedEx decides they can no longer gain benefit from an association with golf?

Kaplan: I think it depends on the player and where they are in their career. For those who are trying to establish themselves and their permanency on the PGA Tour, the money is probably of paramount importance. For those guys who have already secured millions in earnings over the course of their careers, the week-to-week money likely isn’t their primary concern. They are playing for points and year-long positioning to hopefully lock down that $10-million payout and a chance to have their names written among select company on the FedEx Cup. Not that the less-established players aren’t also vying for points and the FedEx Cup payout. Of course, they are. But it’s less of a priority and more of a bonus to them. Or at least that’s what I suspect. I’ll never know unfortunately, having never even sniffed the talent level that gets you on to the pro circuit.

Mumford: I’d guess that at least half the PGA Tour players don’t understand the FedEx Cup points system. They know where their standing needs to be to retain their exempt status but the week to week permutations are of little interest. Matt Kuchar has been the points leader for most of this season and other than his wife and caddy, I doubt there’s anybody anywhere that would put Kuchar in the World Top 5, let alone first. That’s why the points don’t matter. To the best golfers, it’s all about wins and majors. To the rest, it’s about money and exempt status. FedEx are the delivery guys that bring new clubs and wardrobes. And the sponsor that writes those big cheques at the end of the season.

If the World Golf Hall of Fame were to build a Mount Rushmore of Golf, which four players would be on it and why? 

Deeks: That’s a very interesting question.  The first inclination would be to pick the four best golfers of all time, and I suppose the obvious answers there would be Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.  But since Mount Rushmore celebrates U.S. Presidents, then my pick for the four most influential GOLFING Presidents would be William Howard Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower, William J. Clinton and (pardon me while I barf) Donald J. Trump. (JFK and Barack Obama get Honourable Mention.)   If you’re adapting the criteria even more, to Most Influential People in U.S. golf, then I’d submit Francis Ouimet, Bobby Jones, Joe Dey, and Deane Beman.  If it’s Most Influential Worldwide, I’d make it Mary, Queen of Scots, Old Tom Morris, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods.

Loughry: This took me an agonizing amount of time to think out. My Mount Rushmore of golf includes; Jack Nicklaus for Most Majors. I think that’s enough. If he’s not on everyone’s list, well I need an explanation. Arnold Palmer: He’s the King, and he had an army! He made golf cool before it was cool. What more needs to be said. Tiger: Best clutch putter and closer of all time, ALL TIME. And he has a few Majors and W’s under his belt. He makes this list, easily. Annika Sorenstam: Best female player of all time in my opinion. 10 Majors and 93 professional wins and dominated woman’s golf for over a decade. No offence meant to Patty Berg or Mickey Right. Serious, and I mean SERIOUS honorable mention to Bobby Jones (ICON – for both play and the gift of Augusta National), Sam Snead (most wins), Byron Nelson (lethal giant gentleman), Ben Hogan (his tenacity and wins), Gary Player (if he played in any other era, we may be talking the greatest of all time).

Schurman: This the easiest question ever posted. Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. There is no ‘greatest of all-time’! Each was great in their time and each for a reason the others can’t duplicate or compare to. Jones – the Grand Slam and 19 of 27 either 1st or 2nd in majors (66%). Hogan – 1945 shot -27 in Portland, which stood as a record for 53 years. 1946-48 won 30 times. 1951 entered five events and won three majors plus a 2nd place and a 4th place. 1950-53 entered ten majors and won six. Career Grand Slam in his only attempt. He also lost three years to the war and one to injuries in the peak of his career. Jack Nicklaus- 18 majors and 19 second place finishes. Three career Grand Slams. Tiger Woods – 9 USGA Championships, 15 majors, 81 victories. Grand Slam. (The hard way). Three career Grand Slams. Most consecutive cuts made. Lowest career scoring average

Kaplan: Wow. That is a tough question. I’d go with Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, and Arnold Palmer, but I feel extremely guilty about leaving Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones off the list. The inclusion of the first three, I believe, doesn’t require much explanation: Nicklaus won more majors than anyone else in history; Tiger has the second most major titles and PGA Tour wins, and turned the PGA Tour into the globe-trotting billion-dollar industry that it is today; and Hogan’s nine majors and ball-striking prowess make him one of the most identifiable players in the history of the sport. I put Palmer on my list because of how popular he made the sport—especially among the working class—and the transformative, trail-blazing effect he had on sports marketing and the overall sports landscape. You could make an argument for either Hagen and Jones, or both, and I’d certainly hear you out. But unfortunately, there’s only room for four faces on Mount Rushmore and those are the four I took.

Mumford: If the question was about the best players, I’d have to go with Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam. Obvious honourable mention to Hagen, Hogan, Snead, Player, Palmer, Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright. But the question doesn’t necessarily ask for the players with the best record. It’s a Mount Rushmore of Golf, not just Golf Victories. When it comes to players that have made the biggest contribution to the game of golf, I’d revise my list to include: Old Tom Morris as the father of course maintenance and design; Bobby Jones for his etiquette and style; Arnold Palmer for his charisma and enthusiasm; and Jack Nicklaus for raising the competitive bar and being the modern conscience of golf.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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