Who can tame the Monster known as Winged Foot?

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 ANA Inspiration showed us that the future is now on the LPGA Tour, as the Sunday leaderboard showcased some of the best young talent available. Even though several South Korean stars were no-shows due to coronavirus concerns, Brooke Henderson, Nelly Korda, Lexi Thompson, Lydia Ko, Nasa Hataoka, Minjee Lee and Danielle Kang all finished in the Top 11, not to mention a couple of amateurs that impressed. These are some of the most personable and talented golfers in the world, male or female, and you could add Sophia Popov and a few others to the mix too. The LPGA has a great story going. Is it getting the respect it deserves?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): The LPGA has not been given the respect it deserves for a very long time.  That’s partly true in the level of media coverage, but overwhelmingly so in the level of spectator and viewer support.  And it’s ironic, because the level of play exhibited by the Tour has never been better, and the “internationality” of the Tour is unmatched by any other professional sport that I can think of.  But unfortunately, the success of foreign-born, and particularly Asian, players over the last 15 years has turned off so many xenophobic American fans and journalists.  I’d bet that 99% of viewers of yesterday’s playoff (there were no spectators because of COVID) were disappointed with the result, because the more “approachable” and telegenic stars Brooke and Nelly didn’t win, and an Asian did.  Yes, the LPGA has a great story going.  But no one’s really paying much attention.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I know it doesn’t fit the theme of the question, and I do agree youth is being served right now on the LPGA Tour, but I would watch for Stacey Lewis. She finished 5th just three shots back, I wouldn’t underestimate her talent and rounding back into former #1 form. That said, there is a pack great talent that will dominate the next 10 years of LPGA golf. Sadly, the LPGA Tour is not getting the respect it deserves. I would like to see more co-sanctioned events and venues. The USGA had it right hosting the US Open and US Woman’s Open at Pinehurst #2 a few years ago in back to back weeks. I’d like to see more of that. Do I see an amalgamation of the LPGA Tour and PGA Tour? Not in the short term unfortunately (but I hope I’m wrong).

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame member, PGA of Canada: Ladies who compete in any sport at the professional level fail to attract recognition worthy of their abilities. Lots of individuals watch and enjoy those events but the most influential group is the sponsors. Without the $$$$$ for TV, and tournament sponsors who determine the monetary benefit of marketing their products, nothing will change. Things are changing very slowly but they are changing. My advice is to attend these events while you can still buy a ticket.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): You’re right! The LPGA Tour has an exemplary group of athletes and personalities, and definitely isn’t getting the attention or respect it deserves. The sports media, golf and generic sports channels alike, should be doing more to pump up the women’s side of the game and that starts with more prominent coverage of each year’s majors.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): It still doesn’t get the respect it deserves but it’s fun to watch in my mind.  The girls near the top last weekend are easy to like, which is great for the tour.  Of course, it helped that Brooke was in contention, hopefully she continues her great play.  The Tour has a great leader who seems to get it, and it bodes well for the future.  It will never compete with the PGA Tour in terms of popularity, but it’s a growing brand these days.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It’s getting exactly the respect and attention it deserves. This is a multi-million-dollar organization that fumbles its best PR opportunity in years by crushing the storybook Popov Open win, then sets up Dinah’s Place with a backboard at the 18th — the Tour’s best impersonation of mini putt golf in a while. It allowed Lee to hammer a 5-wood into it and get a drop which led to her chip in to get in the playoff instead of demanding each and every player make a great shot into 18 — especially since there were no spectators and no need for the putt-putt backboard. BTW, it was a so-called Major! If the LPGA Tour wants more attention — read money — then it has to up its game from the top down.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Women’s sports in general don’t get the same level of respect, attention or financial support that the men get, and golf is no different. Entire books could be written about why, but decades of conditioning backed up by multi-billions in marketing have cemented male sports as dominant; with the various female sports scrambling for scraps, and only if they have a vivacious marketable star. The LPGA is on the right path and maybe current social attitudes will alter viewing patterns and media attention. One thing the LPGA should not do is merge with the PGA Tour. That would only lock in their status as second tier and keep the attention level behind the men.

The USGA announced that it would invest up to $25 million in new facilities at Pinehurst Resort and committed to holding the US Open there five times in the next 25 year. The plan is part of a scenario that sees the USGA developing a “rota” of courses much like the R&A uses for the Open Championship. Do you like the idea of a US Open rota? 

Deeks: Yes, I like the idea of a US Open rota very much.  If they could choose 9 or 10 venues in different areas of the country, and put them on a set annual schedule, I think it’d be more convenient for everyone — players, administrators, fans and the media.  Not that you’ve asked, but I could see Shinnecock, Bethpage, Oakmont, Merion, Pinehurst, Seminole, Medinah, Whistling Straits, Southern Hills, Olympic and Pebble Beach as a great collection of “permanent” sites, and few would be unhappy with that roster.

Loughry: Yes, I love the idea of a US Open rotation. That’s not to say I want it t be a handful of venues ONLY. I do want to see the odd changeup, which I have no doubt the USGA will do. But who doesn’t like seeing Oakmont, Winged Foot, Pebble Beach, Pinehurst #2, Shinnecock, Olympic Club beat up the best? Some honorable mentions might be Southern Hills, Merion and Oakland Hills who I could see on the rotation from time to time. Some of the other US Open venues like Bethpage and Baltusrol that seem to have slid to the PGA family of Championship hosting. We may not see them back as a US Open site. But I still like a steady dose of those historically infamous US Open hosts, we just don’t get to see them that often, and there isn’t one that doesn’t have MAJOR appeal as a host.

Schurman: There’s nothing wrong with a ‘rota’ as long as the list is about 8 to 10 courses across each geographic section of the USA. Another approach, if the list is 6 or 7 courses would be to have a ‘wild card’ course every 4 years. The choice of Pinehurst as the site of the USGA Museum for $25M confirms the price of a “white elephant” in 2020 $$$$$. The World Golf Hall of Fame was a dud there and this will be too. Pinehurst is a wonderful golf destination, but people go there for a 4 to7 day trip. By the time they play every day, play a few hands of ‘gin’, and go for dinner, they will have zero time or interest in a museum. As far as ‘drop-in’ traffic is concerned, this beautiful little town is a gazillion miles from nowhere.

Kaplan: Not really. One of the appeals of the US Open is that it is not part of a rotation. The USGA selects a course and then turns it into an absolute monster, regardless of the location. Even regular season PGA Tour tracks are turned into brutes. I love seeing that transformation. Yes, we’ll get more US Opens at Pinehurst but as a result, we’ll miss out on some truly unique and terrifying tracks.

Rule: Absolutely.  It’s time to get the US Open into a rotation of great courses that provide the proper challenge to the players that the tournament deserves.  I like watching majors on courses that I know.  Let the PGA move around a bit, but it would be nice to get a 5-8 course rotation, and keep it to the old, traditional courses.  I’m excited to watch them at Winged Foot this weekend.

Quinn: My guess is that the dues paying members of the USGA are just delighted that a portion of their annual stipend is going toward sprucing up one of the most successful and lucrative resorts in the history of tourism. The best part of the U.S. Open is that it moves around, recognizing great established courses while being aware enough to acknowledge that relatively new layouts (private and public) can be great too. The last thing the US Open needs is a rota.

Mumford: There’s already an unofficial rota for the US Open with about 10 courses. I could see locking in five of them (Pinehurst #2, Shinnecock, Pebble Beach, Winged Foot and Oakmont) in a seven-year rotation and leaving two years open for a change, an outlier like Chambers Bay, an old favourite, or a newer course. The US Open should be contested on courses that truly identify the best golfers; not be an experiment, or a concession to geography or political pressure. A rota allows for long-term planning and builds greater fan interest. I’m all for it.

Dustin Johnson is T2, 1, 2, 1 in his last four starts on the PGA Tour and the #1 player in the world. Phil Mickelson is 50 and gave away the US Open last time it was played at Winged Foot. He’s not one of the top ranked players anymore but may be a sentimental favourite, not to mention an interesting betting line. Winged Foot is expected to be brutally tough and may not yield any scores under par. Brooks Koepka is not in the field. There will be no fans. These are but a few of the more intriguing topics making the rounds at the US Open. Which storyline do you find most compelling and who’s your pick to win the US Open this week?

Deeks: The number of under-the-radar foreign players who are just bubbling under the surface has caught my attention over the last few months, but this story has been overshadowed by Dustin Johnson’s success, and by the indifferent, pro-American golf media.  But I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see someone like Joaquin Niemann, Sungjae Im, Hideki Matsuyama, Abraham Ancer, Byeong Hun An, Sebastien Munoz, Tyrell Hatton or even a resurgent Rory McIlroy pull it off this weekend… all of whom are currently in the top 30 money winners of the season.   But if I were a bettin’ man, I’d still be puttin’ a quid down each on Johnson and Jon Rahm.

Loughry: For me, its going to be what the US Open is always known for, which I look forward to, DIFFICULTY in setup. And the rough looks mean this week which I like, there should be a premium on hitting the fairway. Most weeks on the PGA Tour that’s just simply not the case, but it’s a MUST at the US Open. Unless DJ worked out his issues with his tee ball from two weeks ago, I’m not sure I can favour him. Rory or Adam Scott, those are two I like this week. They both hit tee balls long and in play, and I think that will be key this week. My wildcards are Brendon Todd or Chez Revie, who are exceptional at hitting the fairway, and are pretty descent putters too. I’ll be glued to every shot this week. Winged Foot will be wicked.

Schurman: A few months ago, when the new schedule was announced somebody observed that “if a player got ‘hot’ for a short period he could win 4 or 5 tournaments, close to $25M and promptly retire”. JD is well on his way to becoming that player. Or maybe Morikawa wins the Grand Slam. I’ve played Winged Foot and couldn’t believe Bobby Jones began the back nine with 5 consecutive ‘3s’. He ‘hit’ a par-5 in two and ‘eagled’ the hole. Today’s players will certainly get close to the green but not with wooden shafted clubs. I’m picking all long-shots. Kevin Na, Daniel Berger, Patrick Cantlay and Tommy Fleetwood. My extra longshot is Branden Grace who is a last-minute replacement for Scotty Scheffler who had to W/D when he tested positive for Covid.

Kaplan: Give me that nasty golf! Bring on the four putts and the shanks and the cursing and tossed clubs. I hope the winning score is over par and it’s someone nobody expected because I’m getting tired of picking Patrick Cantlay and looking like an idiot. That being said, my pick for this week is Patrick Cantlay.

Rule: One of the top stories will have to be DJ, to see if he can finally win a second major, at a time when he’s playing the best golf of his life.  If he isn’t in contention, there will be more talk about how he doesn’t show up for the majors.  I love that there are four Canadians in the field, and hope that at least one of them can be in contention on the weekend.  With Mackenzie Hughes’s recent form, I like his chances at being somewhere in the mix on Sunday, but my pick is Xander Schauffele, he’s due.

Quinn: It will be a good thing that the yobs and yahoos won’t be shouting inanities from outside the ropes, though Winged Foot ain’t Bethpage, still. And it will be interesting in this TV studio setting if the USGA decides to produce a horror show or just a drama. Is this the time, in the middle of a pandemic et al to have a +7 champ? Or could the set up allow the cast to show some flair? We’ll see. It would warm the heart to see Rory win, gladden it if Rahm pulls it off; not upset the gut if Justin Thomas navigates the challenges; not surprise any part of the equation if Daniel Berger does it all on a big stage. Any which way, this should be fun.

Mumford: As always, the US Open is the sternest test of golf, and it sounds like Winged Foot is up to the task. Survival is the compelling storyline, as all that other stuff is largely forgotten once the first tee shot has been struck. I’ve picked Jon Rahm as my favourite to win every major for the past two years and I don’t see any reason to change now. He’s almost as hot as DJ over the past two months and maybe it’s his time. My sentimental pick has to be Mickelson. Completing his personal Grand Slam at the age of 50 on the course where he gave it away 14 years ago would be an awesome accomplishment, and a legendary golf story.

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

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