#AskAlan, Vol. 61
With a look ahead to the Masters, the demise of the Match Play, the BPNTHWAM debate, LIV venues and more
By Alan Shipnuck
What Sunday final pairing are you hoping for at Augusta? @Feralgolfer
There is only one correct answer to this, and it’s Rory-PReed: Tour vs. LIV, good vs. evil, etc. Despite what happened in Dubai, I think Reed is more game for this kind of death match. It reminds me of the Fred Couples-Corey Pavin matchups in the ’90s, when the grittier, guttier finesse player somehow seemed to have the advantage despite being miles shorter off the tee. The earth will stop spinning on its axis if we get this on the back nine on Sunday at the Masters.
Well, I didn’t even include Tiger in the question above because I’m trying to be real. Obviously a Tiger-Phil final pairing would make all of our faces melt. But in your Final Four I’d sub in Cam Smith for Scheffler; I think he’s more fun to watch, and the guy’s short-game genius is uniquely suited to Augusta National. But it is indeed exciting that so many top players appear to be peaking with Augusta upon us.
How can Golf Twitter get the Swilican Patio torn down in less than 24 hours yet we can’t save the Match Play? I know the PGA Tour has their excuses, but you would think/hope the fans’ opinions matter? @ZitiDoggsGolf
Awww, it’s so adorable you think the fans matter. Unfortunately, these decisions are driven primarily by TV and sponsors, and this year’s Match Play was case in point. For four days it provided thrills and chills, lighting up Golf Twitter, but Sunday afternoon was an absolute snooze. I haven’t seen the championship match’s TV ratings, but they promise to be abysmal. Some of this could be solved with a little creative thinking: The final match should be a closeout, so as soon as the match ends the players start a new one over the remaining holes for half the cash. Maybe the six guys who get eliminated from the Elite Eight stick around and on Sunday afternoon play as two-man teams, with a round-robin format featuring six-hole matches that are alternate shot, worst-ball scramble, etc. But in its current iteration, the final day of the Match Play is often a letdown and that, ultimately, is what killed it.
I’m going to miss the Match Play and definitely miss Austin CC. It’s one of the few courses on Tour that makes me say, “I want to play that course!” Which courses on Tour give you that same feeling? #AskAlan @AriSlater1978
A bunch on the West Coast swing (lol): Kapalua, Pebble Beach, Spyglass, MPCC, Riviera. Some others are sprinkled later in the year: Colonial, Muirfield Village, Detroit CC, Sedgefield, Port Royal. But, uh, that’s kind of it.
Who is the best golfer without a major championship win? @justapedn_cob
Recency bias would suggest Sam Burns, but Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Billy Horschel and Will Zalatoris all have to be in the conversation. A crucial piece of this is that said player has to be ascendent, so guys like Lee Westwood, Paul Casey and Matt Kuchar have aged out. Also, the dreaded title of Best Player Never to Have Won a Major has to be earned through some heartbreak in the majors. Zalatoris has endured that but can claim only one career win. With eight Tour victories in the last 5½ years, plus a FedEx Cup title, Cantlay has the best resume but he has never been there at the end of a major, which is disqualifying. I’m going with Schauffele, who can boast a bunch of Tour wins and, crucially, six top-five finishes in a major. Of course, some folks would consider an Olympic gold medal on par with a major championship, but that’s a different question!
Burns is the last big name (ish) GSE guy not to defect? What to make of this? @Hammbear2024
Oooh, you have struck a rich vein here. The management agency GSE Worldwide has sent a whopping 11 players to LIV. Meanwhile, Mark Steinberg’s Excel Sports Management has not a single LIV client. (Well, it did dump Thomas Pieters as soon as he signed.) In my LIV Tour book, I will go into the agent wars in great detail; Steinberg’s role in all of this is fascinating. I hate to be a tease—actually, I love it!—but I gotta save this stuff for the book, Woodward-style.
#Askalan With all the talk about the golf ball, has there ever been consideration for golf courses installing local rules on certain holes where driver or woods are not allowed? They can make rules for grounding clubs in waste areas, etc., so why not clubs? Fixes the problem immediately. @RyanMacCW
I have to say I’ve never thought of this solution. But I can’t endorse it because such a rule would fundamentally alter how the game is played—I certainly don’t want a golf course mandating which clubs the best players in the world can and can’t use. And what about short hitters who need a driver or 3-wood on these hypothetical holes? Restricting the ball by 5 percent seems simpler to me.
How much will the small amount of competition the LIV players have had going into the Masters hurt their chances compared to PGA Tour players? Can’t imagine going from a no-cut event where they play music and guys are in shorts to the pressure of Augusta. How can you be prepared? #AskAlan @legalshieldrob
This is certainly a fundamental question—Dustin Johnson has played only 22 competitive rounds going back to last July! (Others have supplemented the LIV events with starts on the Euro or Asian tours, or both.) It helps that there is a LIV event this week, so all of those players will get some reps. Fairly or not, this Masters sets up as a referendum on LIV’s very existence. If a handful of its players contend, or (gawd forbid!) one wins, we can retire this line of questioning for the foreseeable future. But if the LIV guys collectively struggle, it will be an inescapable talking point… at least until the PGA Championship.
How much stock is put into how players do in individual match play events when it comes time to pick for the Ryder Cup? Not suggesting guys like Morikowa or Zalatoris should get left off the team because they didn’t play their best last week, but do captains look at results in these events? #AskAlan @BigManLeroyHen
It’s a factor, but only minimally. I mean, Kevin Kisner won the Match Play in 2019 and Billy Horschel prevailed in 2021, and both were snubbed for the ’21 Ryder Cup team. More important factors would be a player’s form leading into the Ryder Cup, previous Cup experience and his ability to be a good teammate.
LIV is going this week to a course that by all accounts does not enhance prep for Augusta. Why doesn’t LIV go to courses like Bandon Dunes/Cabot Cove for the first few years? They won’t get a lot of fans on site, but LIV should be focusing on gaining market share. Cool courses would help. @KeithKhorton
There has been so much to digest around LIV’s launch that there has been almost zero discourse about the quality of the venues, or lack thereof. Let’s just say that this week’s host venue in Orlando, Orange County National, is not going to be mistaken for Riviera. I agree with your premise but there is one flaw: The Bandons and Cabots of the world would have to want the LIVers. Many courses have turned them down already, and it would be a surprise if a traditionalist like Mike Keiser, with his allegiance to the USGA, would ever entertain the thought. But I agree that LIV should push hard for unique and interesting venues, which have been lacking so far.
How much money is lost annually betting Rory at Augusta? @LoopersProShop
Trillions of dollars. But not as much as was lost on Tiger from 2006 to ’13.
Down The Fairway, Bobby Jones
The Bogey Man, George Plimpton
The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate, Dan Jenkins
Golf In The Kingdom, Michael MurphyTo The Linksland, Bamberger
In 1994, Alan wrote his first cover story for Sports Illustrated as a 21 year-old intern, and in the ensuing quarter-century he typed two dozen more. He is the author of eight books, including best-sellers Bud, Sweat & Tees; The Swinger (with Michael Bamberger); and Phil. Shipnuck has won 13 first-place awards in the annual Golf Writers Association of America writing contest, breaking the record of Dan Jenkins, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Alan lives in Carmel, Cal.