#AskAlan, Vol. 24

With a guided tour of Phil’s psyche, plus thoughts on Spieth’s brio, the Clambake’s future and (actually!) growing the game

By Alan Shipnuck

So I take it Phil no longer cares about a Ryder Cup captaincy? Tom Watson back in the lineup of future captains? @WayneOW66L67

This is an underrated part of this whole thing. For Phil Mickelson or Lee Westwood or Ian Poulter—players in the twilight of their career—a gilded parachute from the Saudis has obvious appeal as one last chance to cash in. Sure, they would miss a few of their favorite stops on the schedule (Phil at Pebble, the English lads at Wentworth), but they still would have many ways to play their way into the major championships, if such a thing still matters to them. (And Mickelson has an invitation to all of the majors for at least the next five years.) But all three of these players are no-brainer future Ryder Cup captains…unless they blow up the professional golf landscape, in which case they are risking one of the truly great honors that can be bestowed upon a golfer. That certainly is weighing on them as they decide whether to take the Saudi loot.

What is Phil’s endgame given his recent comments regarding the PGA Tour? Is he laying the groundwork for justifying a jump to the Premier Golf League, or is this an attempt to effect real change within the Tour? Also, how do I get my divot in front of the ball? #askalan @kevin_demsky

Phil is, typically, working both sides of the street. For my forthcoming autobiography, we had an hour-long phone call talking about Saudi Arabia, and he was strikingly candid. He didn’t even pretend to be excited about making the Kingdom his professional home, but he recognizes this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the way the PGA Tour does business and he is shrewdly using every bit of leverage the Saudis have provided. However, the money is getting so cartoonish, and enough top players have expressed interest, that Mickelson is being forced to contemplate making the jump. He loves being an iconoclast, and helping to fundamentally change the nature of professional golf holds great appeal for him. (Don’t forget, the insurrection led by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer back in the day is what created the modern PGA Tour.) We’ll see if Mickelson winds up talking himself into doing something he doesn’t really want to do. As for your divots, or lack thereof, have you tried hitting the back of the ball while the club is moving downward?!

For the stones to hit that shot from the edge of the cliff on 8 at Pebble, Spieth has already locked up POY—yea or nay? #AskAlan @HenriDeMarsay

I mean, if he had held onto his lead over the last four holes the award would clearly be his to lose. Even so, that shot is a defining moment for Spieth, not unlike Mickelson’s 6-iron out of a forest over a creek to lock up the 2010 Masters. Of course, Phil did miss the ensuing 4-footer for eagle, just as Jordan lost the lead at Pebble. It adds a layer of melancholy to otherwise electric moments. 

Who do you pair J.T. Poston with in the Ryder Cup? I assume Webb Simpson.  So think outside the box. Or top 40. @WayneOW66L67

I love that we’re conceding a spot on the team to guy who has won once on Tour and has missed seven of nine cuts this season. Are you sure you’re thinking of the right JT?

Something’s missing/not working at the Pebble tournament. How can it be fixed? @PeteViles

Some of it is the cyclical nature of celebrity golfers. Bing Crosby was one of the biggest stars in the world. Clint Eastwood too. Bill Murray and Jack Lemon had tons of box office. They defined the Clambake for decades, but right now there is clearly a lull. A few years from now, when they’re all retired, the tournament could have Steph Curry, Tom Brady, Buster Posey, Klay Thompson, Aaron Rodgers and Andre Iguodala in the field. Maybe Tiger returns, so he can be paired with Charlie in a real PGA Tour event, and he brings Michael Jordan with him to help round out the foursome. All of a sudden the pro-am component becomes muuuch more interesting. Folks who are advocating to drop the amateurs fail to understand a couple of key points, namely that those entry fees funnel $3 million a year to charity. Every year the Clambake is among the top handful of tournaments on Tour in terms of how much money is given back to their community. That means a ton to folks in Monterey County. And AT&T loves the format because it’s one of the biggest weeks of the year for the company to entertain clients. The ams are part of the DNA of the event. And over the next two years, many top pros will be playing Pebble, some for the first time, as part of the bargain that was struck in exchange for releases to this year’s event in Saudi Arabia. Some of these persnickety pros will fall in love with the event, and hopefully the field will improve over time. All that said, the golf courses are the star of the week and the rest is just noise.

Because of Jordan, Pebble Beach’s lawyers are now gonna install a damned railing on the 8th fairway, aren’t they? Otherwise someone is definitely going over while pulling off “Spieth’s shot,” for Instagram, right? @paulkoehorst

Through the years I’ve had a few drives settle within a couple of yards of the cliff, and it is indeed disorienting to stand over the ball, stare down the flag and then feel the yawning void in between. I love that Spieth went for it on that shot, but as you suggest, it’s not a good idea for folks who are less coordinated and lack his supreme balance. There is already a warning sign on the edge of the cliff, but perhaps it needs an addendum: DON’T BE AN IDIOT!

Would you take charity time and money from players who played in Saudi Arabia, knowing where some of their money came from? @nolachgz

Well, sure—this is the best kind of redistribution of wealth.

“Growing the game” has been at the forefront lately whether it’s the NFL or Saudi charade. (Pick your poison.) Do you see any evidence that minority participation in golf has increased in recent years? And if not, what more can we do? @hayhaydrewdoo

I’ve definitely seen it as part of the Covid golf boom. Whether it’s Pacific Grove muni or Bayonet/Black Horse or Monterey Pines, the public courses here undeniably have more diversity. The National Golf Foundation recently reported that people of color now comprise 21 percent of all golfers, a number that has risen a little more than 20 percent since 2017. Particularly interesting is that for those who experience the game away from a course (TopGolf, 5-Iron Golf, driving ranges, etc.), 40 percent are people of color, and the average age is 30. That means there is a huge, diverse pool of aspiring golfers, if they can make the leap to playing the game for real. I’d love to see a national program such as Youth On Course for aspiring adult golfers. No age limit, just sign up and get a year of subsidized greens fees to encourage newbies to try the game with fewer barriers to entry. Would some low-handicap scammers game the system? Sure. But that’s a small price to pay if we can bring a new crowd to the game. 

Ship, what’s your take on Phil’s latest egotistical, spoiled, ungrateful temper tantrum? Have lost all respect for him the past few years from publicly throwing Tom Watson under the bus, to whining about taxes, to crying over driver length, hitting a moving ball at the U.S. Open, etc,. etc., etc. @Dunk2604

The charitable view is that Phil has become golf’s ultimate truth-teller and deserves to be celebrated for repeatedly taking a stand on tough issues. After getting benched at Gleneagles in 2014, Mickelson clearly had a vendetta, but his very public flaying of Watson was also a calculated effort to effect change. It worked. In the ensuing Task Force era, the U.S. has won two of three Ryder Cups after two decades of utter futility, and the Americans are now poised for a long run of dominance. Mickelson deserves credit for some (a lot?) of that. In his comments about taxes, Mickelson was just speaking for all of the Tour players who cluster in Florida and Arizona. Some of his peers loved his antics at the 2018 U.S. Open, because they were equally frustrated by yet another USGA setup debacle and Phil’s, er, civil disobedience didn’t let the blue coats skate. In a certain light, Mickelson’s comments about the cap on driver length were a brave indictment of the contradictions and inconsistencies that have plagued the governing bodies as they have been negligent in controlling the distance explosion in professional golf. Of course, Mickelson never opens his mouth without an agenda. In all of these instances the message is compromised by Phil’s self-serving interests, and, to be sure, his tone and delivery can be obnoxious. But we can’t lament how boring and corporate most Tour players are while simultaneously criticizing Mickelson for using his bully pulpit. I’d rather Phil keep putting himself out there—he might get a lot of things wrong, but at least the discussion is entertaining. 

Has Augusta said how they will handle Masters invites with the Saudi bonesaw tour events? Massive congratulations to HV3. Just wish it wasn’t in that event. Are world ranking points awarded? @mcooney1

Copious amounts of points, in fact, which propelled Varner into the top 50 and may forever alter the trajectory of his career. The Saudi Golf League would be aligned with the Asian Tour, thanks to a recent $100 million investment. That’s exactly what Greg Norman & Co. was buying: World Ranking points. This means any player based on the SGL could still play his way into the major championships, including the Masters.

Given Philip’s blossoming relationship with the House of Saud and said House’s history of dealing with non-conforming journalists in an obnoxiously killy manner, is there anything in this forthcoming unauthorized biography that might merit keeping your head on a swivel? #AskAlan @cdevrieze

Put it this way: I am sleeping with one eye open. Soon enough, you’ll see why.

2 thoughts on “#AskAlan, Vol. 24”

  1. Alan: always enjoy your work. Ryder Cup captain deserved better. Romancing Phil as a change agent is weak. Petulance and avarice are never attractive even when they sell books, smartest guy in the room is a clever bully. Don’t misunderstand, his game is insanely good..

    Surely you could find another biography subject..gotta be a decent and respectful person out there.

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