While the PGA Tour is in the midst of California Swingin', CBSSports.com senior writer Steve Elling and Augusta Chronicle columnist and golf writer Scott Michaux take the lay of the L.A. land.
Ben Crane just won at Torrey Pines on Sunday and the first words out of his mouth after the last putt dropped were, "Did I win?" By choice, he never knew how he stood until after he'd finished. Is that a sound technique?
ELLING: Talk about putting on the blinders. Crane basically played the whole tournament without eyeballing a scoreboard (note to Torrey tourney officials -- he didn't have a choice at the 18th, because, ridiculously, there wasn't one visible within 300 yards of the final green). Hey, some of us live our entire lives in denial, and for Crane, not having a clue about his status seemed to keep him from being distracted. We all know stories of guys who have been burned by this tack -- Jesper Parnevik arguably lost a British Open because he didn't know his standing down the stretch -- but as his three-shot lead was whittled to one, Ben Cranium kept his noggin empty of negative thoughts. Just as well, because about a half-dozen guys had a shot at catching him over the last two hours. Who needs sports psychologists? Ignorance not only is bliss, it can be richly rewarding. Speaking for Scott, we use the Crane methodology all the time as columnists -- we write stories extremely slowly and never have any clue how they are going to end.
MICHAUX: Whatever works. Guys have different philosophies about this, and if it helps a guy to keep his mind clear of distraction, then bully for him. The only thing that seems a little too risky is not knowing what you need to do on the last hole. If you absolutely, positively have to make birdie to get into a playoff or something, playing it safe and settling for par wouldn't be too prudent. Neither would taking unnecessary risks when a par or bogey would be fine. I like the way Zach Johnson confronted this scenario at the Masters in 2007. He knew by the crowd reactions that he was in the mix and that things were happening around the course, but he ignored the scoreboards throughout the final round until he had safely teed off on the 18th hole. Only then did he ask his caddie where he stood, and with a two-shot lead he was told to enjoy the walk. At some point a golfer has to trust his own skill and take the tournament into his own hands.
In the biggest U.S. tournament so far this season, in the tour's first network appearance, name-calling, cheating allegations and the loopholes in the grooves rules devoured the plot-line at Torrey Pines. How should the PGA Tour have better handled this situation?
ELLING: Oh, boy, is this a Pandora's Box Grooves issue, or what? The tour didn't do a darned thing in the offseason, when it knew the Ping Eye 2 wedges might cause a controversy and a rift among the players, then sat back and did zero for two days as Phil Mickelson was characterized as a cheater for using one of the loophole-legal Ping clubs. There has been considerable discussion as to whether the tour has the right to ban the Ping clubs from tour competition going forward, but it needn't have come to this. In the offseason, the tour should have sent a letter to every playing member and advised them that, while the 20-year-old Pings had been forcibly grandfathered in as conforming clubs as the result of a 1993 lawsuit, the tour was discouraging their use in live play for reasons relating to fairness. Then, any player who elected to ignore the recommendation and use the controversial wedges would have been rightly criticized for breaking ranks and seeking an ill-advised advantage. We are not privy to the details of the '93 suit, but eight guys used the old Ping wedges last week. I bet the number would have been zero had the tour merely asked players not to use the clubs. Frankly, it would be a great public-relations move for Ping if it let the musty old lawsuit particulars slide, opening the door for the clubs to be put on the USGA non-conforming list.
MICHAUX: Admittedly I'm arm-chair assessing this controversy from 3,000 miles away, but it sure looked to me like Mickelson wanted to be thrown in this briar patch. He put that club in his golf bag for a reason, and it attracted exactly the kind of lightning Lefty wanted. The flash firestorm gave Mickelson the platform he sought to criticize what he feels is poor governance by golf's ruling bodies over this groove regulation. I don't think he expected to be "slandered," but the fact that he did allowed him to state his case not only in the interview room but on national television. The tour's slow reaction kept it going for several news cycles. Of course the tour handled this issue wrongly. That's what it does best these days. But I don't think merely suggesting that players don't use the grandfathered clubs was the answer. Either they are within the rules or you make a local rule banning them. It's that simple. There are a lot of things that fall into gray areas regarding the "spirit of the rules." Those long-putters that Scott McCarron and many others rely on come immediately to mind. I wonder if any of them ever used them to make a two-club length drop before hitting the ensuing shot with their wedge. The only thing that will really settle all this is for golf to finally commit to a bifurcation of the rules with different sets for competition and recreation. Then they can address the ball technology and fix everything once and for all.
You guys are pretty blunt with opinions on how the PGA Tour runs its affairs. What should the commissioner do, if anything, about what Scott McCarron said last week?
ELLING: For background, McCarron said of Mickelson's decision to use an old Ping wedge, "It's cheating, and I'm appalled Phil has put it in play." We all know that there's nothing worse in golf than to be considered a rule-breaker -- ask Colin Montgomerie -- so for McCarron to knowingly use that term when he was fully aware that Mickelson was within the rules is a benchable offense. McCarron, a veteran player whose opinion I wholly respect, should be allowed and encouraged to render his viewpoint, but he wrongly besmirched Mickelson's reputation. Google the terms "Mickelson and cheater" and count how many references surface in your search engine. McCarron, a former member of the Policy Board and a current member of the Player Advisory Council, should have handled his beef about the rules loophole through channels and by assailing the game's rule-makers, not by savaging Phil's reputation. The tour should fine him, order him to apologize publicly, suspend him this week and then announce the sanctions publicly. I'm not holding my breath on any of the four.
MICHAUX: Whoa, Judge Judy. If this is a hangin' offense, let McCarron hang himself with his own words. I'm a big believer in the First Amendment and have spent years decrying the heavy-handed muscle that athletic associations use to muzzle their personnel. If a referee or umpire blows a call, I believe the coaches and players should have every right to call it like they see it. The last thing we want the PGA Tour doing is regulating what its independent contractors say. We spend all of our time as journalists wishing we could get players to give us honest and unfiltered answers, we don't need to beat a guy up for doing just that. Start fining guys for their quotes and you'll never hear another honest assessment of a course setup or other such things. I think McCarron knows he crossed the line by slinging the C-word around and muted it on subsequent references as a "spirit of the rules" issue. He'll pay for his frankness in the court of public opinion. McCarron's a good guy and a good quote and I'm sure he'll do the right thing himself and address it with Mickelson directly. The tour has enough trouble dealing with everything else on its plate.