#AskAlan, Vol. 27
With thoughts about Scottie’s future, Rory’s whining, bomb-and-gouge, the SGL coming back from the dead, J.Y. Ko playing against dudes, my next-next book and, yes, a little more Phil
By Alan Shipnuck
By the time this youngest crop of superstars closes out their prime (let’s say 2040), what number of majors does the top guy in that group have? Hard to imagine anyone getting to 5 anymore, with as much competition as there is (and as much as is around the corner, too). @luke_peacock
It would have been helpful if you defined your terms more precisely, but I assume we’re talking about players currently under 30? It feels like Jordan Spieth has been around forever but, at 28, he’s only a year older than Jon Rahm and three years older than Collin Morikawa. Wait, does Brooks Koepka, 31, count? What about Rory McIlroy, 32? They are simultaneously aspirational and cautionary tales. Koepka has pushed his body so hard he is now golf’s most brittle superstar, and over the last three years he has squandered a handful of golden opportunities to burnish his resume. Eight years ago McIlroy owned four major championship victories and there was talk he was headed for a dozen. He is proof that a lot of life can get in the way: high-profile breakups, business lawsuits, injuries, sponsor divorces, ennui, marriage, kids, existential crisis. Still, I refuse to believe Spieth won’t summon the magic at least one more time during the right week, which would get him to four majors, tied with McIlroy and Koepka. Can Rory and/or Brooks figure it out again and win one more? That would tie them with all-time geniuses like Seve Ballesteros, Lord Byron Nelson and Peter Thompson. Phil Mickelson has been a keynote player for three full decades, and this unmatched longevity got him to six majors. That’s a big ask. The game has never been deeper, or younger; at this moment the top five in the World Ranking are all under 30, the first time that has happened. Winning majors has always been hard. Greg Norman and Ben Crenshaw are two all-time (albeit flawed) talents, and they only copped two apiece! Every major is precious, and increasingly so. The answer to your question is five, and Morikawa is the guy who is going to get there.
With the new style of bomb-and-gouge, have too many players abandoned the safe play, especially when it is warranted? Watching Woodland take dead aim at the pin on 17 was mind-boggling. @opinionsvary328
More than a decade ago, Mickelson distilled his entire worldview into one quote: “Sometimes you’ve got to take risks to win the golf tournament, and a lot of times people will wedge that out and play safe, and they don’t put themselves in position to win. If you want to win tournaments against the best players in the world, you’ve got to take some chances. The weeks I’m able to pull them off I have a chance at winning, and the weeks that I don’t, I get ridiculed. But you have to take chances to win.” After his double bogey-bogey finish, Woodland said of his tee shot on the par-3, “I felt good about 17. It was a good number.” He had a perfectly flat stance, his ball was on a tee and he had only an 8-iron in his hands. He knew one more birdie would slam the door. He was playing to win, and he knew other contenders were playing the reachable par-5 16th, a hole he had just eagled. Of course, in hindsight, a par-par finish theoretically would have been enough to get it done. But I don’t fault Woodland for trying to put the tournament out of reach.
Is the Saudi Golf League dead? @kevinp613
Not even close. The firestorm surrounding Mickelson’s blunt and callous comments were a mild setback, but to say the least, the Saudis are used to bad publicity. In fact, I’m hearing from well-placed sources they have doubled down and are accelerating their timeline, now hoping to launch the SGL in early summer. The thinking is they want to force the hand of the PGA Tour to follow through on its threat to suspend players who compete in the SGL, touching off a legal challenge the Tour very well could lose and thus make it much easier for the SGL to do business. The insidious thing about sportswashing is that it works, and the Saudis know it. Sure, they’d love to have launched with Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau in the fold, but the key is to get the SGL off the ground. If they can, the objections and moralizing will slowly dissipate, and in Year 2 or 3 they can buy more and better players. Fealty has an expiration date.
More likely major winner this year: Scottie Scheffler or JT? @shea_verbush
Ooh, good one. It’s funny how quickly we’ve forgotten about Justin Thomas, who is, in fact, the defending champ at the Players this week. But he laid an egg in the ensuing majors, which too often has been the case since his breakthrough at the 2017 PGA Championship. Thomas (below) still has a ton of game, but he seems edgier and more fragile in the tournaments that matter the most. (Let us not forget his egregious triple bogey on the 13th hole of the third round to blow himself out of last year’s Masters.) Coming off his rousing win at Bay Hill and spectacular play at the Ryder Cup, Scheffler clearly has more momentum and more confidence. He seems to relish the big moments. Scottie is my answer to this question, but it would be folly to count out Thomas long-term.
What is better golf to watch: a sunny, beautiful Riviera or carnage at Bay Hill? (Based off this year.) @Jame5F
They were both wildly entertaining, but Riv offered much more interesting golf. Bay Hill asked the same question over and over: Can you fit your ball into this very narrow, proscribed opening? It demanded execution but left no room for imagination or improvisation, both of which are required at Riviera. There were no real decisions to make, and around the greens, the brutally thick rough negated talent and touch and forced players to play the same slashing shot over and over. So I loved watching the pros get their teeth kicked in at Bay Hill, but Riviera is more my cup of tea.
Who are you taking for the next 10 years?
1- Spieth and Thomas or
2- Viktor and Collin. @HighFades
I watched a lot of J.Y. Ko this week. Incredible back-nine charge to be sure, but am I crazy or did she just win with her C-game most of the week? Nelly (Korda) and Danielle (Kang) and Lydia (Ko) can win with their A-games. But if J. Y. can win with her C-game they are all playing for second. @gmsolomon
Ko is the quintessence of a player who just appears to be puttering along and it feels like she shot 71… but it was actually a 66. She is so smooth and efficient she almost makes it look too easy. So what you think was her C-game might have been her B-game, or maybe even her A-game. But it’s hard to tell!
I enjoy watching carnage like we saw at Bay Hill. Rory completely melts away on the weekend then whines about the setup. I can’t figure him out — has he gotten softer with time or was he just frustrated, or…..?? #Askalan @TheGhostofhogan
Yeah, it makes me pine for the halcyon days when Rory was complaining the European Tour setups are too easy. Frustration was certainly a factor, but McIlroy’s critique was also revealing: He has never won a tournament in which the winning score was single-digits under par. A firm, fast, fiery setup exposes his flaws a bit too much. We all love Rory’s candor, but sometimes he would be better served to hold it in. On Twitter, @MrEdwardLight reminded me of the great Peter Alliss’s thoughts about course setup: “This is the week’s exam paper. Don’t moan about the questions, try to figure out the answers.”
Pretty close! The key difference is that Shinneock has much more wickedly sloped greens.
With the imminent return of Bryson, I’m wondering what happened to the single-length club idea. Does he still use them? Do any other pros? And are you still using them? @paulkaps
He still uses them. I don’t know of any other pros who do, but you’ll have to pry the single-lengths out of my cold, dead hands. Why would you possibly want every iron to be a different length and weight, with a different-sized head? And you have to stand taller or closer to the ball from swing to swing? It’s madness! The game is hard enough as it is.
Big talent, Viktor… but with that sand game no way he was going to the Saudi League. Zinger mentioned Viktor needs to change his coaching/technique—do you think he will? Or double down with his current team? @WayneOW66L67
Hovland is the rare Tour pro who has some self-awareness. His game is so rock-solid from tee-to-green, and he has been candid about his struggles with a wedge in his hands. Bay Hill has to be a tipping point for him to reassess everything. It’s clearly time for a fresh perspective.
Not so much a question as a statement: J.Y. Ko would make the cut at the Masters and finish top 10….. discuss. @YGlyn
Augusta National is the wrong example because it’s 7,500-plus yards and rewards power like few other courses. But put Ko (above) in a U.S. Open field at, say, Pebble Beach—where precision, patience and finesse are rewarded—and she could hold her own against the guys.
I love a good golf conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, but the PIP results were not publicly announced. They were privately revealed to the players, as they had to be. Because the PGA Tour is basically high school with money, the secret was kept for about 13 seconds. But you bring up an interesting point. Mickelson purposefully made a false statement about winning the PIP, and he was just as sneaky when it came to his secret dealings with the Saudis. If he were, hypothetically, to get involved in a dispute with a veteran reporter in which fans had to weigh which one was more likely to be telling the truth, Mickelson’s recent behavior would suggest he is not always entirely transparent. Just spit-balling here.
I have long harbored the fantasy of moving to Cruden Bay for a year, playing that wondrous links every morning and spending the rest of the day eating chocolate and working on the Great American Novel. My youngest kid is a little over four years from graduating from high school, so let’s revisit this in 2026. But I have another book coming out in September—I helped my friend Jack Grandcolas with a memoir about losing his pregnant college sweetheart, Lauren, aboard United 93. It’s called Like A River To The Sea, and it is a wrenching but beautiful story, honoring a wonderful woman who deserves to be remembered as an American hero. And the book has a happy ending, as Jack found love again and he and his new bride, Sarah, saved each other in a really profound way. I’m always looking for non-golf stories to tell. I will say that recently I got a phone call that I’ve craved for the past decade: Michael Bamberger announcing he’s finally ready to collaborate on a sequel to The Swinger. We had soooo much fun doing that novel, and I’ve been low-key badgering him ever since it came out to get back in the saddle. Seems likely the Will Martinsen character will get himself into some mischief this time around.