Don't knock Lefty's accomplishments
Each week, golf writer Bob Harig will take your questions and answer a few select ones on ESPN.com. Below are this week's selections.
The last question you received (in last week's mailbag) related to Phil [Mickelson] and Tiger [Woods]. In particular, the poser of the question asked why we keep putting Phil in the same category as Tiger. Below is part of your response:
"What Phil has done in the Tiger era is pretty impressive. He's won more tournaments since Tiger turned pro than anyone but Vijay Singh. And you mention his age (he's actually five years older than Tiger), all of which simply highlights how good Tiger has been in his career."
This statement fails to take into account some other considerations (one of which you mention earlier in this article). First, you need to look at the quality of Phil's wins. Remember, early in his career Phil was pulling a Vijay and playing in lots of tournaments, some considered to be lower tiered events (meaning the field is not that strong). I am willing to bet that Phil has at least 25% of his wins come from these types of events.
Tiger, on the other hand has less than 10 total out of his 71 wins coming from lower tiered events. You could probably discount a couple of them given they were at the end of 1996 (think Fall Series events) when he was trying to secure a card after turning pro.
Second, the expectations on Phil are not nearly as much as Tiger (you state as much -- "Woods plays with pressure every week because so much is expected of him, no matter his form. I don't think it compares for anyone else.")
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Sure, people expect Phil to win and do well, but there is not the crushing "backlash" when he doesn't (lone exception being his bonehead play at the U.S. Open in 2006). Third, while Phil does have four majors to his credit, if he truly was in Tiger's class of player, he would have dominated during the years that Tiger struggled while making swing changes.
From the end of 1997 through 1998, how many majors did Phil win? None. From 2003 to 2004, how many majors did Phil win? One. Matter of fact, Phil failed to win a tournament in 2003. Again, two opportunities for Phil to dominate in the prime of his golfing career and he came up way short.
Finally, last year was a golden opportunity for Phil to overtake Tiger as No. 1 in the world. As the expectations started to ratchet up for him with each successive chance, Phil folded every single time. Heck, as recently as this year's Farmers Insurance Open, he had a chance to get ahead of Tiger in the OWGR and failed again. All of this provides back up to the original question, why do we keep elevating Phil? He is not much better than Ernie, Vijay, et al.
Don't get me wrong, I think Phil has had a good career. But to elevate him to Tiger's level, mostly on the basis of Phil's family values, is not paying attention to the facts. I sincerely hope that you take the time to publish some or all of this email in rebuttal to your article.
-- Anthony Conley
Harig: Consider it done. But a couple of points. No question, Tiger has done a majority of his winning against the best fields. The 14 majors, 16 WGCs alone account for 30 victories. He also won against stellar fields at the Memorial, Bay Hill, etc.
I don't think anyone was suggesting that Phil be elevated to Tiger's level, but nobody has to apologize for 38 victories and four major championships. No active player other than Tiger has more wins or majors. Mickelson's next victory will put him among the top 10 all time on the PGA Tour and he is just seven behind Walter Hagen. Pretty impressive, no matter where the victories were achieved.
There is no doubt that Phil missed an opportunity last year to supplant Tiger as No. 1. And yes, he didn't take advantage of Tiger's downturn in 1998 or 2003. However, you are forgetting something pretty important about that 2003 season when Phil did not win: his wife, Amy, nearly died during childbirth. It meant for a tough year and a pretty good reason for struggling.
Since then, Phil has won four majors and a total of 17 PGA Tour events. During that same time, Tiger has won 31 PGA Tour events and six majors. Nobody else is in the same league.
Saw the update on St. Andrews and it's somewhat timely as I just booked a family vacation to Scotland in May. I'm really excited to go for the first time, but I'm the only golfer in the family and am worried about being able to get onto the Old Course by myself as I can't enter the lottery. Do you have any sense of how likely it is that as a single in late May that the starter would be able to slot me into a group?
-- Jeff Geisler
Harig: Jeff's question is in response to an item last week about the Old Course beginning a new policy next year in which players can enter the daily lottery two days prior to their hoped-for tee time as opposed to a day prior -- a practice that has been in place for more than 100 years.
He will have to adhere to the one-day lead time, and it's true that you must have at least a twosome to enter the lottery. My suggestion is to inquire at the hotel, local pubs and restaurants to see if anyone is looking for a game through the lottery. Perhaps they only have two or three players. Or maybe there is another single like you. Try signing up for the lottery that way.
That gives you another alternative to the other choice, which is to show up at the starter's shack before dawn, explain to the starter you are a single and hope that he can fit you in. My guess is there will be groups that are not full. And he'll get you on. But the ballot is obviously a sure thing if you get picked.
At the Disney Tournament last year, the pro-am is played during the first two days of the regular tourney. My uncles were lucky enough to play in it (even got paired with a red hot Roland Thatcher in Thursday's round). I was thrilled to be able to follow them around while the pros were playing for real! Why don't more tournaments use this format?
-- Clint P.
Harig: There are just three on the PGA Tour that use a pro-am during the actual competition. The Bob Hope, which has four amateurs play with one pro on four different courses before a cut is made for the final round; Pebble Beach, which has one pro and one amateur play as a team for three rounds over three courses before the cut; and the Disney event you mentioned, which has two amateurs and two pros in every group during the first round over two courses.
It is somewhat surprising that more tournaments don't do it this way (although a few on the Champions Tour do, also). These pro-am formats are huge money-makers for the tournaments, and in no other sport can you actually play alongside an athlete as he is competing in the event.
The downside is, frankly, some players just don't like it. They dislike the distraction a pro-am can present. The rounds typically take longer, and the courses have to be set up differently to handle the amateurs. So there are numerous considerations.
I wish someone would tell the powers that be that this is the 21st century and golf rankings should reflect how players stand now, not 6 or 12 months ago. Golf writers are the only people that think they're important and no one else understands or cares how they are computed. World and national rankings in all other sports are current and up to the minute. Golf is still mired in a pre-1970 fantasy world.
If Tiger had not captured everyones imagination, I doubt the PGA Tour would still be on TV except for the majors and a few other big tournaments. I have been an avid golfer and golf watcher for 30 years and if I'm bored there cannot be many of us left. If corporate execs were not golfers and stop seeking tour stops named after them, the thing collapses.
-- Bruce Lawton
Harig: Well ... let's tackle the world rankings first. Admittedly they are difficult to follow. They are complicated. But to say no one cares about them other than golf writers is nowhere close. All four of the major championships use the world rankings to help determine their fields, as do the World Golf Championship events. I would say those tournaments, and those trying to get in them, care a great deal about the world rankings, regardless of how they are construed.
As for golf not being on TV without Tiger, I'd have to again respectfully disagree. Golf was doing just fine before Tiger came along, and although he has brought enormous attention to the sport it will do fine after he leaves. The sport still delivers an audience to sponsors willing to pay for the privilege. And despite all of the economic hardships of recent times, the PGA Tour still somehow remains fully sponsored and has seen purses increase.
What is your favorite tournament to cover?
-- Bruce Lape
Harig: It is a toss-up between the Masters and British Open, and I usually say the one I'm at I like better. Both have great tradition and history, and you can't beat the golf courses.
This summer I want to take my nephew to a tour stop. Which events -- other than the three summer majors -- would you recommend? A top field is hard to come by with the top pros on a major prep-rest schedule, so this is not a priority. The biggest criteria is environment -- getting close to the action, good fans, exciting venue. How is the Connecticut stop (I still think of it as the Greater Hartford Open) for spectators/fans? Are there any others that come to mind?
-- David Troyan
Harig: You didn't say where you live, so it is hard to pin down by location. I would have a hard time dissuading you from attending any PGA Tour event. The Travelers Championship outside of Hartford is on a TPC venue that is designed with spectators in mind. They all have their good qualities. Yes, some are more spectator-friendly than others, but none are horrible for that. If you're wanting to catch Tiger, the only sure bet is the AT&T National at Aronimink outside of Philadelphia in early July.Have a question? Send it to Bob Harig's mailbag at BobHESPN@gmail.com to see if it gets used next week.
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