#AskAlan, Vol. 18

The Old Course dilemma, where Bones ranks among the caddie greats, Tony Finau as a Long Driver, peeking ahead to the 2023 U.S. Ryder Cup team and more

By Alan Shipnuck

Are changes being made on the Old Course? @ESPN_SwingCoach

This sacred piece of earth is always evolving. This century alone a bunch of tee boxes have been added, on land borrowed from neighboring courses. This is, of course, driven by the continued onslaught of the increased driving distance. The bitter irony is that R & A officials have refused to touch the issue, forcing them to monkey around with the Old Course in a doomed effort to protect par. I don’t really care what the winning score is at most majors, but I worry about next year’s Open. If the wind doesn’t blow, the Old Course will be utterly defenseless and the birdies will come too cheaply. I’m sure the dandruffy gents at the R & A will try to make a few tweaks ahead of the Open, but they’ve pretty much run out of land.

Alan, with the news that Bones is taking on JT’s bag, seems like there might have been more to the story about the Phil-Bones breakup than I had originally heard.  Any inside info on that?  #AskAlan  @ChrisChaplain1

Oooooooh, yes. But I’m gonna have to pull a Bob Woodward and save it for my book. Sorry. Not sorry!

Bubba Watson and his caddie Ted Scott split up after 15 years. (Bubba hasn’t won since 2018.) How many times has replacing a caddie really mattered? It seems the go-to fix nowadays that you never saw 20-30 years ago. #AskAlan @LaBeets50

Thirty years ago caddying was still the province of ruffians and scoundrels. The money was just OK, so there wasn’t nearly the same competition for bags. Therefore, capriciously firing a looper was riskier because there was no guarantee of finding a competent replacement. Now tons of good caddies are doing apprenticeships on the various developmental tours and the huge money at stake on Tour has weeded out the slackers, so players have many more options. It’s analogous to how dating apps have changed romance: Plentiful options makes it hard to commit!

Your take on sour grapes Shane Lowry? @JoeHorowitzMuse

Recriminations, bitching, whining, finger-pointing and scapegoating follow every Ryder Cup, which is a big part of the fun. I’m a little surprised it was Lowry who popped off, but I suppose it shows how much he cares. And I absolutely agree with his critique of Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas whining about having to hole shortish putts.

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Is Danny Willett BACK?! @robmillertime

Did he ever go away? Willett (above) is never going to be a weekly force, but when he puts himself in position he has proven to be a ruthless closer. After his post-Masters 2016 win swoon it became trendy to call him a fluke, but Willett’s win at St. Andrews was his eighth on the Euro tour, a tidy haul for a guy who is only 34.

If Tony Finau devoted his life to pursuing distance, how would he compare to Bryson—or for that matter—Kyle Berkshire? @opinionsvary328

He would certainly be longer than Bryson, who has admitted as much. Berkshire is a force of nature, but given Finau’s speed and the length of his arc I think he could get there if that’s all he cared about. By the way, can we take a minute to appreciate what DeChambeau did at the Long Drive Championship? That’s an entirely different sport than tournament golf, and it turns out DeChambeau is pretty damned good at both. Respect.

Careers end today, whose was better: Zach Johnson or Justin Thomas? @BobRoge321

Go to your room, Bob, you’re in timeout. Johnson is only the sixth man to win a Masters and an Open at the Old Course, joining Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods. Thomas has only one major, and it came at a tricked-up PGA Tour venue. 

If Sam Burns had beaten Abraham Ancer in the WGC playoff, would he have been on the plane to Whistling Straits? #AskAlan @martincbrennan

Maybe/probably? Though it’s certainly hard to quibble with any of Capt. Stricker’s six picks. This is the truly scary thing looking ahead to the next few Cups: The U.S. is only getting deeper and deeper. Let’s assume that in Rome the Americans will have all of their superstars: DJ, Spieth, Koepka, JT, Morikawa, DeChambeau. Plus youngish ballers Xander, Cantlay and Big Tony. To fill out the final three spots it will be a dogfight among Burns (above), Scottie Scheffler, Will Zalatoris, Billy Horschel, Max Homa, Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed, Matthew Wolff and gawd knows who else. Yowza.

More likely to be on 2023 Ryder Cup, Sam Burns or Billy Ho? @eggbeker

Burns, because Horschel won the freaking WGC-Match Play this year and his colleagues still didn’t want him in the team room!

Give us your all-time Mount Rushmore of caddies. Is Bones on it?  #AskAlan @luke_peacock

He has has to be. I’ll also take Fluff, Steve Williams and Bruce Edwards. Honorable mention to Andy Martinez, Angelo Argea, Carl Jackson, Herm Mitchell and Tip Anderson.

Should more events explore moving final rounds like the Farmers is? If feasible I could see a tournament ending on Memorial Day or the 4th of July if on Saturday or Monday. @minorwc

Thursday through Sunday gets so tired I fully support anything to shake it up.

What’s your definition of a journeyman pro, and which one gives you the best quotes/stories/background? @1beardedgolfer

To paraphrase Justice Potter, you know it when you see it. But if you need a strict definition I’d say a player who has been a pro 10-plus years and has fewer than two PGA Tour wins. A lot of them are great talkers because they’ve been kicked around by life. Among my favorites are Luke List (below) and Peter Malnati, both thoughtful guys who tell it like it is.

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