Was Miller too critical of Rickie Fowler?

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.

During the telecast of the Honda Classic on Sunday, Johnny Miller remarked a couple of times that Rickie Fowler was limping to the finish line and he has to learn to close like a champion to be considered an elite player. Is Miller correct or is winning good enough?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Much as I respect Johnny Miller, I don’t agree with his comment.  Nobody’s going to remember how Fowler finished, only that he won… and the number of wins he racks up will determine whether he’s an elite player or not.  I certainly don’t think he’s there now, but he’s definitely one of the better players, with amazing talent, and I hope he can build on this victory.  (But I think I said almost exactly the same thing after his Players Championship win a couple of years ago, so let’s hope I’m more accurate this time.)

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Johnny may be right but I’m a little confused because Rickie won by 4 on a really tough track, especially those last few holes. He was the only player in negative double digits, so what the hell was he supposed to do Johnny, lap the field in the win? I’ve never been a huge fan of Miller but have grown a tad more tired of him over the past few years.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I don’t agree with Miller.  Rickie did not have an ideal closing round with four bogeys and a double, but it’s not like anyone was nipping at his heels. He built up a big enough lead that he was able to drop a couple of shots towards the end without it jeopardizing his chances for the victory.  Plus, it’s not like he was the only one struggling at PGA National in the wind on Sunday. That course is tough as nails! Beside, it’s not Rickie’s inability to close out tournaments “like a champion” that holds him back from being considered elite. It’s the fact that he never wins! That was only his fourth career PGA Tour victory at 28 years of age. Spieth, 23, already has 9! Thomas, 23, and Matsuyama, 25, both already have four! That is how I distinguish the elite players from the pack.  Rickie is not elite, he is just really popular!

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): He won by 4 shots, I think he did just fine!  He didn’t have to be aggressive, obviously the course wasn’t giving up many birdies on Sunday, so he played it safe and won easily.  That’s what winners do, enough to win.  So I think Johnny’s remarks were a bit harsh.  Now it will be nice to see Rickie get back to his form from a couple of years ago that saw him finish Top 5 in all four Majors!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Given that Miller’s ‘best before’ date was 1992, the year he started irritating thinking viewers, his opinion on Fowler or anybody or anything is not worth the air time he wastes on it. Remotes have mute buttons for reasons, and a primary one is Miller. On the PGA Tour with today’s fields — so much more talented and deeper than any Miller contended with —  winning is extremely tough and certainly enough.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): As Kaplan noted, Fowler is popular, not elite but I was still quite surprised to learn that he’s only won four times on Tour. There were a couple (few?) notable wins in Europe and Asia and some other close calls but for someone who has been as visible as Rickie for a lengthy period, I thought he had a better resume. Still, a win is a win and there’s no room on the scorecard for a description. He got the job done. I get what Miller is trying to say and he’s right, the true elites would have crushed their opponents instead of limping in. But Rickie isn’t there yet and may never be. He may hang with Jordan Spieth on holiday but isn’t in the same class when school starts.

Rory McIlroy made headlines last week by playing a round of golf with Donald Trump. This follows on the heels of Ernie Els playing with the President. Clearly McIlroy’s politics are not the same as Trump’s, so what’s the right thing for a player to do: accept the privilege of playing with the President, in spite of philosophical differences or make a stand and stay home?

Deeks: Very good question.  By playing with the President, though, you’re being seen to be paying respects to the man… and by extension, to his policies.  If you don’t agree with his policies, or his character, then I think you should stay home.  Assuming the world doesn’t blow up in the next four years, there’ll be lots of future Presidents for Rory and Ernie to play with.

Loughry: They’re just playing a round of golf right? Of which it’s clear they all like to do, and maybe they don’t mind each other’s company too. So, why does it have to be a statement? If they want to play, play. If you want to turn it into a political stand, help yourself, but probably best to just say no and leave it at that. You don’t have to make a media story out of it.

Kaplan: I wouldn’t play with Trump because he’s a douche and I wouldn’t want to spend 4+ hours with him anywhere. However, I’m not McIlroy or Els and I doubt there is an invitation waiting for me to fill out the President’s foursome anytime soon. I understand the whole ‘it’s a privilege and honour to play golf with the most powerful man in the world’ argument, but when that man is as controversial and toxic as Trump is, you almost have to expect a significant backlash if you do decide to play with him.  Fortunately, it’s not that big of a deal and I think we’ll all forget about this pretty soon unless Rory starts wearing a Make America Great Again hat during his press conferences.

Rule: I suppose playing with the Prez shouldn’t make a political statement, but it’s hard to think that way, so if Rory doesn’t support his philosophies, he probably shouldn’t have played golf with him.  But it seems to me that Rory has been friends with the Donald for a while, so that’s likely why he accepted the invite, not to support his political position, or at least I hope that’s the case!

Quinn: Before so many ‘Internationals’ made the cuts, the Tour was dominated by card-carrying Republicans like Azinger who bitched about going to the White House when a Democrat held office. In most cases through the centuries, with the exceptions of Nixon and the Bushes and The Drumpf, it would be an honour (honor) to tee it up with the Golfer in Chief. In this case, Rory should have played the injured rib card and quickly declined.

Mumford: Unfortunately, most athletes are motivated by dollars, not an obligation to speak out about injustice. So while it may be tempting to publicly proclaim that the Prez invited you to play but you turned him down because he’s certifiably insane, because he’s a lying, illiterate lout, because he’s a dangerous demagogue, it’s more prudent to decline and keep your mouth shut. Or you could play the round and proclaim it’s just golf. But it’s more than that Rory. A public appearance with Trump is tacit approval of the man and his policies. Elite athletes are role models in so many ways and what they say and do is critical. For his entire career, Tiger Woods took the money and said nothing when his status and celebrity could have made such a positive difference in so many ways. Other athletes, like Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali, risked everything for what they believed and are remembered not only as great athletes but as great human beings.

The R&A is making an attempt to improve pace of play in this year’s British Amateur by imposing a “ready golf” rule. There’s no doubt that PGA Tour pros take way too long to play and presumably the R&A thinks that elite amateurs do too but is pace of play an issue for the rest of us. Many people already play “ready golf”.

Deeks: I’m conflicted.  I like the tradition of “honour” but I agree that it can get in the way of orderly pace and common sense.  In my view, honour should continue to be applied to the tee box — that is, he/she who “won” the last hole should play first.  This order of play can actually have a significant psychological effect on all players, if it’s a two-ball or four-ball match.  But after the tee shot, I’m all for ready golf, match or not, pro tournament or not.  In professional tournaments, this may not speed things up much… Ben Crane and Bernhard Langer are not going to play faster, whether their playing partners have hit or not… but it simply makes sense and sets a better example for amateur players who drink molasses for breakfast.

Loughry: Pace is almost universally bad on both sides of the pond at all levels. Everyone tries to emulate what they see on TV, including Judge Smails, which is slow, methodical play. What you don’t want to know/hear is that it is a researched fact that the more time you take the more likely your score is to be a low one. Shhhh! Let’s not let that cat out of the bag. I like the R&A’s idea and applaud them for taking the lead – whether it’s used/practiced by others remains to be seen.

Kaplan: Pace of play is definitely an issue. A major issue! I spend so many rounds — and I play hundreds of rounds each season — behind groups that all play TV golf. Instead of going to their own balls and hitting up to the green, one player will hit while the rest of the group stands behind him/her and watches … for every shot! And it’s even worse on the putting surfaces.  I see way too much inaction on the greens: standing around and talking; reading each other’s lines and discussing hypotheses; re-hitting putts after misses … and still, with all of that wasted time, no one manages to fix any ball marks!

Rule: I applaud the R&A for trying something to speed up play, and if they are playing 3 or 4-somes, it will help a bit.  It wouldn’t help on the PGA Tour on the weekends when they are playing in 2-balls.  In general, golfers who understand the game already play ready golf, I know we do at Scarboro, and thus pace of play has never been an issue. It is embarrassing that the pros play 5 hour rounds, despite hitting way less shots than the rest of us!  The pre-shot routines are out of hand, there needs to be a strict shot clock in my mind.  But we’ll never see that sadly.

Quinn: Being a charter member of the school of thought that Fat Jack invented slow play (with graduate courses from Cary Middlecoff) the impact of televised slow play cannot be discounted. Ready golf is the norm for good amateur golfers, but they comprise a distinct minority among the daily fee players clogging munis across the land. My worst golfing friends are the slowest and most deliberate. The ones with only the faintest idea of how far they hit each club are the ones spending the most time with range devices. The problem is compounded by the painful fact that the worst players and the GPS addicts have the greatest opportunity to puzzle and dawdle because they hit the ball so many times in a round. The R&A pushing along a field of highly skilled amateurs will have absolutely no effect. Speeding up the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players with penalty strokes will.

Mumford: Are we still talking about pace of play? Four and a half is the new norm for amateur groups and that’s not going to change until golfers move up a tee deck or three and courses slow down the greens. But let’s face it, not all golfers are unhappy to play slowly, chat with friends, either on the course or the phone, get some fresh air, drink a few beverages and smack a few balls around – no scorecard required. Ready golf, penalty strokes or marshals with live ammunition are not going to speed these folks up. Some see golf as a sport and play accordingly. Others see it as a way to fill an afternoon in a nice setting with friends. The former should be charged by the hole, the latter by the hour – preferably on different courses.

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

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