Vol. 5

Reflecting on Nelly, aces, and the longest playoff in recent memory

#AskAlan, Can Nelly be for the LPGA what Serena has been for women’s tennis? I know that’s a crazy high bar… I mostly mean can she be compelling/dominant enough to make people tune in to LPGA events? Amazing and compelling performance this week!  @72holesaweek

 The answer to your first question is no, because Serena is one of the most dominant athletes in history, across every sport. She had overwhelming physical advantages coupled with an iron will and insatiable need to win. Nelly is a much more free-spirited personality. As good as she hits it, there are a handful of other players whose ball striking is comparable, so it will be much tougher to separate herself from the competition as Serena did. All that said, the answer to your second question is a resounding yes. Nelly has an ephemeral but unmistakable star quality. There is an elegance to her game and how she carries herself that appeals to male and female fans. Nancy Lopez has often said that one key to popularity on the LPGA Tour is to look like a woman and play like a man; there is certainly something thrilling about watching Nelly overpower golf courses and she is obviously telegenic. Throw in the remarkable two-generation sports success of her famous family and there is zero doubt that Nelly can be the compelling crossover figure that elevates the entire tour. The only question is how Nelly will embrace that burden. There is a lot of Fred Couples in her swing and demeanor and he absolutely hated the attention/time-suck that came with being No. 1. He quickly retreated. But I think Nelly will do well in the role. After all, she’s been groomed for this her whole life.  

#AskAlan, How do we understand guys like Na, and now Kokrak and English, who disappear for months on end but win at as good a clip as some of the stars? English did nothing for five months until last week, but now has beaten two big-time fields bookending that. @brianros1

 The pat answer is that winning is hard. It’s also possible that these non-stars get distracted by the fabulous riches and opportunities that follow a victory and it takes a while to regain their equilibrium. Or, their regular games are very good but not quite good enough, yet something physical, mental or metaphysical clicks every now and then and takes them to an entirely different level for four days. I guess guys like these are part of what’s fun and maddening about following the Tour: it’s pretty much impossible to guess what’s going to happen week to week. 

Hey #AskAlan,Why don’t they use drivable par-4s in playoffs? Number 15 at Hartford would’ve been the perfect drama for this one! @minorwc

Yeah, that was a big miss. The basic issue is that golf orthodoxy demands a long, hard hole as the finisher while there is a huge bias toward using the 18th hole for playoffs because all the fans and support staff are already standing there at the end of regulation. So, tromping back to the 15th tee at a place like Hartford becomes a chore and a distraction for those on site. Of course, the PGA Tour is a TV show. I agree they should select the most dramatic hole(s) for a playoff and everything else will work itself out. 

Man, I was pulling for Lizette but happy for Nelly. As, my dad and I were wondering why there has never been a men’s or women’s major played in Hawaii. I feel like the primetime ratings would be record breaking but understand due to potential hurricane threats. @derrickq42

 I’m not sure the ratings would be that much better than a West Coast major championship. The real issues are the lack of a course that feels grand enough and, more to the point, money. Selling hundreds of corporate tents and packing the course with 40,000 paying customers a day are high priorities for the USGA and PGA of America and it seems unlikely that Hawaii has the population or corporate support to make the numbers work.

#AskAlan Would you have considered it a legit hole-in-one, with the funnels? @HogansBookLied

 I love the enigmatic nature of this question. I assume this is in reference to some of the pin positions during my 100 Hole Hike at the Hay? The answer is an unequivocal yes because 1) you still have to hit a good shot toward the funnel and 2) get lucky. The 9th hole at the Hay, with its thumbprint in the middle of the green, was an enticing opportunity and three guys did dunk one (below). But the hole was playing uphill and dead into the wind and it took a solid pitching wedge to get there. A lot of folks were missing the green entirely. The last two times I played the hole I flushed shots dead at the flag; they were two of my best swings across a very long day. But my ball didn’t take the slopes exactly right and the ace remained just beyond my grasp. Damn right I would’ve counted it because to dunk one there demanded both a good shot and a gift from the golf gods.

#AskAlan How would you rate the Hay if it wasn’t on Pebble Beach property? @DanZimgolf

 It’s a kick in the pants! That would be true if it was sited anywhere on the planet. Obviously the sweeping views of the ocean don’t hurt, but it’s everything a short course should be: fun yet challenging. 

#AskAlan If Koepka can’t get motivated to play the week after a major, why does he? Take the week off instead of badmouthing the tournament. @BradleySmith328 

For those who missed it, after his near-miss in Hartford, Koepka said, “It’s all mental. I’m going to be flat out honest: I can’t focus. A major, I get excited and I feel stuff on the first tee. I just struggle to do that in regular events. The focus and discipline is there in a major where it’s not here. I kind of go for everything.” This was part of Tiger Woods’s genius: he brought the heat every single time he laced up his spikes. And no one cared more about majors than he did. I understand Koepka’s point, and certainly we are all guilty of obsessing over the majors, but his nonchalance is disrespectful to the week-to-week sponsors and fans who pay a lot of money to support his lavish lifestyle. One of my favorite sports quotes is from Joe Dimaggio, who, according to legend, never dogged it on a flyball across his entire Hall of Fame career: “The reason I play so hard is that somewhere out there is some kid who has never seen me play before, and I don’t want to disappoint him.” If Koepka is going to show up, he should absorb some of that professionalism. As to why goes through the motions at all, most endorsement contracts require a minimum number of starts and the Tour’s humongous retirement plan is also pegged to starts and made-cuts.

#AskAlan I saw Jerry Kelly eating uncooked baked beans straight out of the can on the telecast today. Is this a sponsorship thing or what? @HungwellB

 I think that’s a Midwest thing. Or, more specifically, a Wisconsin thing. Er, maybe it’s just a Jerry Kelly thing. But I can’t imagine Big Bean decided the way to take over the world was to have Jerry F’ing Kelly wild out on national TV with a spoon and a tin can. 

#AskAlan Besides people falling over themselves to nominate Hov as the Open favorite, who is the REAL Open favorite in your mind? @SNESdrunk

 This is the age of parity, so there is never a real favorite. But I have a sneaking suspicion Jon Rahm is going to mess around and snag another big, glittering trophy. 

#AskAlan Are Harris English and Hudson Swafford the same person?  @jrmdbl07

 I can’t decide–I’m still too busy trying to figure out which one is Nick Watney and which one is Bill Haas.

#AskAlan The Open Championship is at Royal St. George’s next month. The golf media and players consistently rank it as their least favorite course in the rota, but the course always ranks high on Golf Magazine’s 100 greatest in the world. Why does it get bad reviews from reporters/players? @War_Eagle1991

I think it’s a cool, quirky course. Those are often my favorites, especially if we’re talking about linksland. Tour players don’t like quirky. In general, they don’t even really care about architecture; what they care about is shooting good scores. Royal St. George’s, with its strong gales, myriad blind shots and some pretty wild greens, can bedevil the obsessive-compulsives who hone their craft on launch monitors. As far as the “golf media,” I think one Tom Doak, in the Confidential Guide, had a great take on St. George’s: “Whatever petty criticisms have been leveled over the lack of visibility on some holes, or the need for good fortune to master its difficulties, [St. George’s] has the four prerequisites of great architecture and it has them in spades: Challenging golf holes, beautifully crafted greens and bunkers, a character of its own, and stunning scenery.”

#askAlan Royal

–Alan Shipnuck

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