Golf’s version of March Madness is still a work in progress

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 Dell Match Play kicks off at Austin Country Club on Wednesday and as per usual there is much discussion about the format, notably the round robin play in divisions of four players before the actual match play gets started on Saturday. The Tour is trying to assure an all-star cast for the weekend, but it hasn’t always worked that way. Is there a better format or are you ok with the way they have it now?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I’m okay with it, but in all honesty, I haven’t paid much attention to it. I give the Tour credit for trying new concepts.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I like the format! The only problem I see with it is the complexity of the First Round. I’m not sure the average fan truly understands how everything works. One thing that does bother me a bit is the fact the defending champion (Kevin Kisner) doesn’t get an automatic qualification and he should be the #1 seed. Until someone wins this event, he is the Champion.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I personally like the current format because it guarantees that players are playing at least a second match before being eliminated.  It was a shame when the top players played once and headed home.  It doesn’t ensure that the top players make it to the weekend, there are too many good players to guarantee that, but it does mean they can have one bad match and still make it through.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I miss the pure match play format. Wednesday was always fun – lots of underdog victories and big shots going home early. I’m not a fan of the four-player pods since their make-up relies on world rankings and it’s conceivable two or three good players never make it to match play. I think a better format, if they won’t revert to pure match play, would be 36 holes of stroke play on Thursday and Friday with the top 16 starting match play Saturday morning. One bonus is that you would actually get to see someone play the 18th hole – often a rarity in match play tournaments.

Who would you like to see in the final match on Sunday and why?

Deeks: I guess I’d like to see McIlroy against DJ… but past finals, with lesser names, have still been close and entertaining, and very watchable.  There’s nothing quite like a good match… and nothing more boring than one that’s one-sided.

Schurman: I’d love to see Bryson DeChambeau or Justin Thomas vs Lee Westwood with Westwood winning.

Rule: I was initially thinking DeChambeau and Westwood because, hey, they’ve developed a great little rivalry lately. But then I realized they could only meet as late as the semi-finals, so I’d love to see an all-Canadian final with Mackenzie Hughes and Corey Conners because, hey, why not?  Canadians have been knocking lightly at the door lately, time to bust through.

Mumford: Is it too late for Norman vs Faldo with a Green Jacket on the line? Ok then, let’s go with Bryson DeChambeau vs Dustin Johnson. It will be U.S. Open champ vs Masters champ, physics vs feel, science vs …. whatever. BDC figures everything out and that works great in medal play, but the jury is still out on whether he can figure out his opponent in match play. The strategy is different, and patience is often the key. If both players are at the top of their game, I’d give the edge to BDC but not by much.

Lee Westwood had consecutive runner-up finishes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship. It has been suggested by some in the media that he might have won either or both tournaments had he used a professional Tour caddie instead of his fiancé Helen Storey. How important do you think a caddie is to the success of a player?

Deeks: I think it really depends on the player.  Lee is a very experienced pro, and I can’t imagine that a Joe LaCava or Bones MacKay would’ve been able to make a difference in the outcome.  Lee didn’t really make any mistakes in those final rounds, he just got outplayed by a stroke or two.  Conversely, I would say having Helen at his side calmed him down immeasurably and might well have been the reason he was leader after 54 holes in each event.

Schurman: Professional Tournament golf is a business. The player owns a product people pay money to see. The owner of that business is entitled to do anything he or she wishes as they conduct that business. As with any other business when the owner becomes very successful, they usually share business trips, conventions and other opportunities to include their wife. Why? Because they can afford it monetarily and the company can withstand outside pressures. The media condemn the tour players for a lack of personality. Here is a love story right before our eyes and fantastic golf at the same time. As with other people’s business, a good practice is to mind your own!

Rule: I have had the pleasure of looping for 3 professionals wins in my brief caddying career, so I like to think caddies have a HUGE impact on the player’s performance!  Of course, that’s not always true, I just looped for two really good players in those tourneys, but I do think that caddies can play a significant role.  However, it’s not always technical, swing related, reading greens, calculating yardages.  Some players need that assistance, some just need emotional support, whether that’s calming them down in stressful situations or just generally making them feel comfortable and happy in the situation, and I think that’s what Helen provides to Lee.  At this point in his career, he knows his game, his yardages, the courses, the greens, etc.  He benefits more from her being there and taking his mind off of the game at times and providing that emotional support.

Mumford: I suspect some players could drag a fan out of the stands, give him a bib and be on their merry way. However, the great player caddie relationships are way more balanced than the old “show up, keep up and shut up” instructions we used to hear. Caddies aren’t a bunch of shiftless, drunken louts as they used to be depicted either. Most are extremely professional, and usually work their butts off. They’re part of a “team” and what they do to get the player ready for each shot can be crucial. The info they provide, the reassurance, the cheerleading, the calming down, all helps keep the player on an even keel. That’s got to be worth at least a stroke or two per round.

 

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

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