REUNION, FL - FEBRUARY 03: Annika Sorenstam pauses between swings during the Annika Celebration "Skins Game" at the Ginn Reunion Resort on February 3, 2009 in Reunion, Florida. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

The Round Table: Waiting for the next Annika

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.

Keegan Bradley won the Travelers Championship birdie-fest on Sunday with a near record 23-under par score. Rory McIlroy called the TPC River Highlands course obsolete and suggested that technology had passed it by. McIlroy said that LACC, where the U.S. Open was played the previous week was an ideal venue with its wide fairways and unique penal areas and that narrowing fairways and growing the rough was not the way to toughen a short course. That led to suggestions about a distance roll-back which McIlroy favours. However, it will be years before any distance roll-back becomes effective. What do you make of McIlroy’s comments?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I mostly agree with Rory’s comments, and I commend him for making them, instead of whining about LACC as so many others did.  It’ll be interesting to see what the roll-back will mean to course design and tournament setup, but you’re right, it won’t be for a few years.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: If Rory wins the rollback debate, he’ll still be the best driver in the world. Distance isn’t his problem. He drove the ball close to 450 yards on the 72nd hole and promptly missed the green with a 50-yard pitch. If the other Tour players would subscribe to the same level of inefficiency, there wouldn’t be a distance debate. His comments about longer rough and firmer greens being an improper neutralizer are beyond silly. Balancing the current distance with course designs we loved pre-2000 would require 9,500 yards. A rollback is 1/4 century too late. Rory should appreciate the $$$$ sponsors invest, and the inconvenience to members who give up their course and concentrate on winning a major, hopefully in Augusta.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I’m not sure TPC River Highlands is obsolete, despite the low scores, 23 under isn’t unheard of these days.  Not all tournaments have to be a battle with even par.  However, I do like courses that set up like LACC, giving guys width but challenging them on the approaches and around the greens.  It brings more players into contention, taking away some of the bombers’ advantages.  You would think that Rory would like the challenging driving tracks given his ranking among the best drivers in the game each year.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Technology has made many shorter courses difficult to protect against PGA Tour players but not obsolete. Fans like birdie-fests. Once again, Rory has opened his mouth and shot himself in the foot. The strength of the Tour is that it offers a wide variety of courses and course set-ups each week and not all will work for Rory. If he wants standardized set-ups, perhaps he should switch to bowling. I believe all the lanes are the same.

Also on Sunday, twenty-year-old Ruoning Yin won the LPGA Championship for her first major. A few weeks back, another twenty-year-old, Rose Zhang, won in her very first tournament as a pro. It seems like LPGA winners are getting younger every year and that veteran status doesn’t bestow much of an edge. In fact, it’s been years since any one player dominated on the Tour for several years or more – perhaps going back to Lorena Ochoa 2007-2010. Was the LPGA more enjoyable when players like Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam dominated or better now with a rotating cast of winners.

Deeks: It would be great if a dominating star emerged from the current crop of excellent players.  And for the sake of the LPGA and its future, that star should be American, pretty and telegenic, to appeal to American audiences.   Personally, I admire and appreciate the continued presence and success of the international players, but I shake my head in dismay at the lack of spectators at LPGA events, because there are fewer and fewer North American women on the leaderboard.

Schurman: The real question is “enjoyable to whom”? I like the LPGA product and even though I get confused by their names, and the spelling and placement of letters which are different from what we learned in school, I like how they play. North Americans are experiencing a high level of competition they failed to identify earlier. Other countries offer their young elite players more opportunities to grow and develop their golf skills. Unless we do the same, what we refer to as foreigners will not only be women but men too! Doesn’t anyone recognize the reason for LIV’s interest in golf? They bought an established company that has plenty of market potential around the world.

Rule: I always believe that a sport is better when there is a dominant player or team.  It plays on the David vs Goliath theme.  The LPGA needs a superstar in my opinion.  I’m just not sure there is one, there are just too many good young players that compete for titles regularly, but not one that dominates.  It surprised me today when I heard that Jin Young Ko set the record for most weeks at No 1 in the world.  She’s a great player, but certainly not a dominant one.  Hopefully someone comes out of the woodwork and dominates the women’s game in the next couple of years. Maybe that could be Brooke!

Mumford: I think all sports leagues benefit from a single dominant team or player that fans can root for or against. The longer they dominate, the more the emotion builds up. Everybody hates the Yankees, the Cowboys and the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge. Or not. The PGA Tour was most interesting to me when it was Nicklaus against the world and for the opposite reason when Tiger dominated. Another Annika Sorenstam would do wonders for the LPGA Tour. Unfortunately, they’re born, not created in the marketing department.

No definitive news yet on the proposed PGA Tour partnership with the Saudi PIF but lots of posturing. To wit: Chesson Hadley, who is the definition of a journeyman player, expects to be compensated for staying loyal to the PGA Tour; Hall of Famer Tom Watson has penned a long letter to players with harsh words about any involvement with the Saudis; and even Patrick Cantlay, who rarely utters a word, is leading a push to kill the deal. In your opinion what’s the best outcome from this convoluted mess?

Deeks: In many ways, the best outcome might have been continuing with the lawsuit between the PGA Tour and the Saudis, which would’ve decided things once and for all.  But I give both sides credit for trying to work out a ceasefire. Chesson Hadley has a point, in my view, although paying players for loyalty is a non-starter, practically speaking.  As for the players who defected to LIV, in the face of a “lifetime ban” from the PGA Tour, I think the only way to allow them back would be to compel them to earn their way back onto the Tour, by going through Q School qualifying.  Also, by paying some sort of monetary penalty, like a percentage of their LIV signing bonus, paid to the PGA Tour Pension Fund.  It’s going to be a mess for a while, I’m afraid.  (But I also stand by my conviction that the Saudis will have limited-to-zero involvement or influence on professional golf from here on, despite what the “merger” looks like on paper.)

Schurman: This is the perfect ‘storm’. LIV created an atmosphere of competition against a weaker adversary (the PGA TOUR). There were/are accusations of greed and lack of loyalty when the real issue is loss of power and control. The PGA TOUR was a monopoly based on a non-profit platform that generated millions for charity through their sponsors who ran roughshod over the Tour owners (the players). Jay Monahan’s mess is he used short-term answers for long-term problems. His answer to LIV would have burned all the Tour’s resources within 3 years and leave many tournaments without sponsors because they can no longer get an ROI for their mega $$$$. He HAD to make a deal. As far as players returning from LIV – who cares as long as they pay their taxes? Gretzky played in the WHA. The best outcome will be a world tour in countries not known for playing golf. And a league that includes teams made of women and men playing against each other.

Rule: I still believe the best outcome is for the PGA Tour to self finance and not have to get into bed with the Saudis. But I’m not sure that’s possible at this point in time.  Money needs to come from somewhere to compete with the purses they are offering through LIV, and I don’t see anyone else stepping up with a big load of cash.

Mumford: If the deal goes through as outlined, it won’t solve one of the issues that led to LIV Golf: a monopoly that restricts player choices. My preference would be for the DP World Tour to say sayonara to Jay Monahan and do their own deal with the Saudis. Two strong independent Tours that would have to compete for players and everything else. All the best would still get together for the majors though.

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

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