#AskAlan, Vol. 63
With (many) final thoughts on a memorable Masters
By Alan Shipnuck
April 12, 2023
I used to dislike Jon Rahm because he couldn’t control his temper and he’d blow up. That’s changed. Different guy now. What happened? @gwgmtweets
He grew up, and into a golfing gentleman who oozes class and even a certain regal vibe. Rahm is only 28, but he already feels like an elder statesman. He is remarkably eloquent and deep…in his second language. Golf is very lucky to have him as an ambassador.
Should we expect Phil to actually compete in LIV events now or was this just another flash in the pan like the 2021 PGA? @VeryAvgDad
One school of thought on Mickelson’s resurgence at Augusta is that he finally arrived at a tournament that inspires him to care. That ain’t it. I’ve observed Phil at numerous LIV events, and he has never worked harder. Certainly his new level of fitness shows that as well. He has struggled on LIV not because he doesn’t care but for the opposite reason: He’s getting in his own way. I think this Masters performance will free him up and unlock some good golf.
Does success at the Masters change our tune on guys like Phil and Brooks? For Phil specifically, does this allow us to forgive and forget? They say winning solves most problems, and this sure felt like a win for Phil. @StueyStats
It’s always hard to write about Mickelson without invoking Tiger Woods. Consider what Tiger has put the game (and his family) through over the last 13 years with scandal and self- destructive behavior, but ever since he won the 2019 Masters he has never been more beloved. What has Phil been guilty of? Greed, sure, but that’s most golfers these days. Sneakiness, bad judgment, hubris…yes, but again, none of these things compare to Tiger’s indiscretions. It will always be a thrill to see Phil in full flight, as he was on the back nine at Augusta National. He remains a transcendent talent and consummate performer. Judging by the roars that followed him on Sunday, I think fans are ready to embrace him again.
This is suddenly golf’s most tantalizing hypothetical. It does seem like Tiger is still effective at delivering the clubface to the back of the ball, despite his many physical restrictions. He has shown flashes of his old brilliance with his short game and putting. He has impressive clubhead speed with the driver. But I’m not sure I buy Woods’s contention that he is the same golfer and the rigors of walking hilly courses is the only thing holding him back. He hit a ton of loose shots at the Masters before withdrawing. In the first round, when the weather was perfect and Woods was at his freshest, he made five bogeys and shot 74 on a soft course in easy conditions. Even before mangling his right leg in the 2021 car crash, Woods had an injury history that included a fused spine, a rebuilt knee, a frayed Achilles, a ruptured ACL and various other dings. Now, how much can he prepare for the rigors of tournament golf, even at home in a cart? If he could ride instead of walk, maybe Woods would play eight to 10 tournaments a year instead of four to five, but would that be enough to get/remain sharp and tangle with young, hungry, confident, fully optimized megatalents? Woods in a cart would surely be a more dangerous player but I think only occasionally.
How do you assess Rory’s game after another missed cut at a major? It seems like mentally he’s still in a
good place, even if his game isn’t. @tj_snell
I’m not sure the physical or mental aspect is particularly strong right now, given that McIlroy also missed the cut at the Players. He hit a lot of hooks off the tee at Augusta National, which is always a warning sign. And his utter capitulation was dispiriting in the extreme. Rory will find it again, but this Masters left a bruise.
#AskAlan Koepka won’t call him out, but did Patrick Cantlay and his atrocious pace of play cause Brooks a shot at the jacket? Not saying Brooks would have won but gotta think the multiple waits didn’t allow a quick player to find his groove. @EddieK619
One of the pleasures of this Masters was that it united all the warring tribes of Golf Twitter into an unusual consensus: everyone hates Patrick Cantlay. At Hilton Head this week, Cantlay offered a defense of his slow play, blaming the course, the greens, the wind, major championship pressure…basically everything but Patrick Cantlay his own self, which is obviously part of the problem here. But Rahm was playing alongside Koepka and he didn’t let the ordeal derail his concentration. Unfortunately, Cantlay is right, in that slow play is now just part of championship golf, so if you want to prevail you have to learn to overcome it.
Why won’t ANGC enforce pace of play rules unless it’s a 14-year-old Asian kid? @M_Sand09
It goes back to the weird vibe of the Masters, in which the green jackets have absolute power and everyone else is an invited guest. Tournament officials have an almost patronizing attitude toward the players, and penalizing them is considered bad manners. That’s how Tiger escaped a DQ in 2013, Ernie Els got a free drop in the middle of a forest, Rory was allowed to skate on testing the sand and Brooks didn’t get a penalty this year despite very damning video evidence. The green jackets simply don’t want to put a damper on their party. The penalty given to 14-year-old Guan Tianlang in 2013 was handed out by John Paramor, the famously imperious European Tour referee who was out there freelancing, much to the chagrin of Masters officials.
Is OWGR officially outdated for the majors? @ChuckNorris1369
Well, a four-time major championship winner who had won two of his last six starts came in ranked 118th in the world so, yeah, the exclusion of LIV players is looking increasingly silly. There was already pressure on the OWGR to find a solution to rank every player, which is part of its mission statement. After this Masters, that feels like a mandate.
What does this Masters do to the civil war in golf? (Feels to me like maybe it mellows the feud out a bit, but what do I know.) @PeteViles
I think you’re right. The good cheer and even camaraderie between most LIV golfers and Tour loyalists was a welcome development after the bitchiness of last year. The strong play of the LIV crew earned them some grudging respect, and from the beginning, Rahm has been a conciliatory voice calling for compromise. His victory gives him an even bigger platform. So all in all, it was a good week for those who hope to see the game get put back together again.
It’s a crazy thought…but fair. He has played at an exceptionally high level over the last nine years but obviously has a mental block in the majors. The tougher, more exacting setups in the majors also expose McIlroy’s weakness: He’s 172nd in strokes gained putting and 185th in proximity on approaches from 125 to 150 yards. You would think a major will just fall into his lap at some point, but it refuses to happen. Only a handful of players in golf history have gone 10 years or more between major championship victories. McIlroy better hustle.
Cameron Young — future #1? @frazerrice
Well, he should probably win a tournament first: The dude is oh-fer-38! Young has a spectacular long game but ranks 183rd in strokes gained putting, which would explain his inability to win. I think he will have a long, successful career, but the putting will have to improve if Young is ever going to sniff No. 1.
Well, he’s a delightful human and a great looking guy who wears clothes very well, no matter how gaudy they might be. So he brings a certain star quality beyond the results. At 25, Hovland has three PGA Tour wins at B-list events plus two quality victories in Europe and two dubs at Tiger’s Hero Challenge, which features a strong, albeit small, field. So he’s off to a good start! I wouldn’t call him a star, just a very good player. Hovland has now contended in his last two major championships, which is obviously encouraging. I don’t think he’s overrated but perhaps a tiny bit overhyped. Some strong wins will fix that.
Did the Masters brief the press on being respectful as to asking questions about LIV vs. PGA Tour? @JStewGolf
No, nothing like that. But a rotating cast of Augusta National members serve as moderators for the press conferences, and I believe a couple go out of their way not to call on me no matter how vigorously I wave my hand. That’s a more subtle way of accomplishing what you’re asking about.
Yes, it’s a quaint tradition for the champ and his family to dine with the membership in a special pavilion next to the clubhouse built just for the occasion. When Zach Johnson won in ’07 I followed him into the dinner and it was quite a sight to see 100 or more green jackets. Unlike the Tuesday night Champions Dinner, the club handles the menu (lobster macaroni and cheese is a perennial favorite) and covers the cost. But after his breakthrough win in 2004, Mickelson pulled aside then chairman Hootie Johnson. “He was so overjoyed to have won he really wanted to celebrate,” says Phil’s wife, Amy, “so he tells Hootie, ‘Go deep in the wine cellar and pull out your best stuff.’” Augusta National’s cellar is legendary and has been widely described as among the best in the world. A particular favorite among the green jackets is Château Lafite Rothschild, a Bordeaux of which some vintages can retail for up to $15,000 a bottle. “Phil got pulled away, and after he was gone I heard Hootie say to another club official, ‘Do be sure that Mr. Mickelson is presented the bill for the wine.’”
I agree with your line of thinking, but Oak Hill is a tight, brawny, penal old-school design that seems ill-suited to Jordan’s erratic play. Meanwhile, LACC is a non-traditional U.S. Open venue that will reward iron play and a creative short game, two of Mickelson’s strengths. So Phil has an advantage in the short-term, but if he doesn’t pull another rabbit out of the hat this year I think Spieth is the answer, because Rory’s Augusta jinx appears to be metastasizing.
You are Greg Norman for a moment: Are you happy or devastated about what happened at the Masters?
If I’m Greg Norman for a moment, I’m definitely going grocery shopping in bicycle shorts, which I don’t normally do. Per the Masters, he has to be elated as the strong showing of the LIV players gives the circuit a needed shot of credibility. But Norman also has to be wistful of what could have been because Koepka winning would have been a monumental marketing opportunity for LIV. On the whole, they’ll take it.
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.