Welcome back to the NLU Mailbag. In this space, we’ll address topics big and small, smart and dumb, irreverent and serious.
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Manhattan: You get to play an 18 hole pro-am with one professional golfer of your choice. It’s a true alt-shot format. The field is filled with other notable pros and capable amateurs, and if you don’t finish top 5 you both have to give up golfing for 5 years.
Who is your current active player pick? Who is your historical choice?
Examples of historical picks:
—2000 Tiger, hope he doesn’t rip your throat out after you spray one in your 6 hours together?
—2004 Phil, hope his creativity, positivity, and overall game keeps you close enough to in contention that he doesn’t mail it in for the last 4 holes?
—2014 Rory, and assume at minimum some sort of back-door top 5 will happen? Some historical version of Jack, Arnie, Seve? Or someone else?
This question has haunted me since I read it, particularly with the current state of my short game. The burden of having a great player’s career in my hands is a heavy one. Do I choose based on skill set? What about a personality fit? And what course are we playing? I have been wrestling with it for days. I would love to play golf for the next five years so I can’t even go full troll and pick a player I loathe just to potentially keep him from the game. This is true nightmare fuel.
Before I choose, I want to address your historical examples. I think peak-Tiger is an interesting answer because I suspect he’s the player most likely to overcome whatever garbage shots I threw at him. And as great as he was, no one has ever been better in the history of golf at turning what should be 5s into 4s. HOWEVER! — shoutout to my old colleague Stephen A. Smith — he’d also have the most to lose, and he’d likely stop speaking to me after the third time I skulled a chip across the green. Can you imagine the historical pressure I’d be under? Tiger won 8 majors between 2000 and 2005. If he and I couldn’t get it done, he’d spend five years of his athletic prime with little to do besides play NAVY S.E.A.L. I don’t think I want that on my conscience.
Phil would be interesting because, you’re right, he’d be the most encouraging. One underrated element of his career — and I suspect one of the reasons he’d felt underpaid for 30 years — is that no one has ever been better at ramping up the charm and enthusiasm when it comes to interacting with those who need to whip out their checkbooks. Watching Phil ham it up during various versions of The Match, cracking jokes, playing to the camera, hat-tipping the sponsors, but also encouraging and instructing Tom Brady when he was potentially unraveling, was a great window into this. He could make a 13-handicap feel like the next shot was going to be flush, even after three or four hosel shanks. Plus, his 2004 season is really underrated. I’d totally forgotten that he just barely missed the playoff between Ernie Els and Todd Hamilton in the Open Championship. He was in serious contention in four majors that year!
I’d love to pick Rory – can you imagine what I’d shoot from where he hits his drives? (Don’t hate, Randy. I’m just trying to project confidence.) Rory and I would also talk prestige television between shots to keep things light, and he would likely be more forgiving than some players when I left him in a brutal spot. Plus, if he had to sit out of golf for five years, it would not emotionally cripple him the way it would some players. I wouldn't be ruining his life. Hell, he could go to college or write a novel.
The correct answer here, however, is Jordan Spieth.
To paraphrase Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, I may think hitting nervy recovery shots from absurd places is my ally, but Spieth was born into that life. Molded by it. He didn’t see a green in regulation until he was already a man, and by then it was nothing to him!
I think Spieth has lived so much of his life in the golfing darkness, he would feel right at home with some of my misses. Plus, imagine our banter! We both talk a bit too much for our own good and could use a good editor.
It would be, at the very least, a spectacle.
Professorlefty: Which golf legends would definitely have gone to LIV?
It pains me a little to say this, but I think Seve would have 1000 percent gone to LIV. In a different lifetime, he probably would have played the Mickelson role. Remember, Seve spent the better part of his career extremely frustrated at the European Tour, feeling he was never compensated fairly for the value he brought to events in Europe. (He was almost certainly correct.)
I think he would have also seen LIV as an opportunity for him to be a showman. The team concept likely also would have appealed to him. He wanted appearance fees, but the European Tour wouldn’t allow them (much like the PGA Tour) and that’s essentially what LIV’s financial model is. I suspect he also would have loved pushing back on reporters over the whole thing.
I haven’t heard it referenced much in this debate, but the issues surrounding LIV aren’t so different from the issues raised in the 1980s when South Africa was hosting lucrative golf tournaments despite the fact there was an international sporting boycott to protest Apartheid. In 1981, five of the world’s best golfers (Seve, Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Trevino) competed in a golf competition at Sun City, South Africa. Miller won the top prize of $500,000, which was an enormous sum considering Tom Watson got $60,000 that year for winning the Masters.
Some people's primary motivation is money. The suffering of others doesn’t factor much into their calculus. Gary Player’s argument — at least after he went woke, by today’s standards — was that he was trying to bring about change through dialogue and participation.
“I really don't understand how you can say that you must penalize an athlete for the policies of his country's government,” Player told the New York Times in 1979. “I mean, what would Americans have said if somebody had suggested keeping Jack [Nicklaus] or Arnold [Palmer] out of the British Open because of the war in Vietnam? Besides, if you're going to talk human rights, why stop at South Africa? What about the Russians, the Cubans, some of the black countries in Africa?”
As you can see, the WhatAbout Caucus has existed for many years, and will likely be around indefinitely. Their arguments would resonate more if they wanted to actually discuss human rights everywhere, but mostly what they want is for people to stop talking about any of it so they can count their blood money without being annoyed by criticism. They don’t actually care about what’s going on in China; the misdirection is the point.
So while I can’t say for sure who would have gone to LIV or their reasons for doing so, those trips to South Africa at the height of Apartheid offer at least a clue.
Dmcpherron: How many strokes is a good caddy worth to a pro? What about an amateur? Do we undervalue or overvalue caddies?
Your film room playing lesson really got me thinking about the true value of having a true pro be there for every shot. I’ve played with caddies a couple of times and always felt like I this value is way higher then we truly believe.
I think we overvalue certain things about them, but undervalue others. I think caddies often become an easy punching bag when players don’t play well. It allows us to call for change, deflecting some of the blame from the player. Rory experienced a lot of this with J.P. Fitzgerald early in his career. Everyone wanted Fitzgerald gone and assumed as soon as he was, McIlroy would win more majors. Six years later, McIlroy and Harry Diamond have had a lot of success, but no majors. It doesn’t mean it was the wrong move, it just means the caddie is only part of the equation.
Most people in golf believe that Steve Williams is the greatest caddie ever and that he truly did know how to save a shot per round. But how many majors would Tiger have won with a different caddie? The same is true of Bones. I think Jim “Bones” McKay is a truly great caddie, easily one of the best ever, and yet he was on the bag for some of the most memorable major collapses in history. Would any caddie have been able to talk Mickelson out of hitting driver on 18 at Winged Foot? Or convince him to hit his second shot way right of the green instead of trying to carve it around the tree, at least getting him into a playoff? I think Mickelson was likely going to make those decisions no matter what. That’s his nature.
I used to think Dustin Johnson could benefit from having someone other than his brother on the bag, but here is the reality: He won two majors with Austin, and zero with Joe LaCava, one of the best caddies in the game, who was on his bag for four years. Sometimes comfort is better than logic.
In the end, the caddie can be a therapist, a strategist, or a motivator, but if the player is someone who doesn’t listen or is stubborn, they might as well be a donkey who can schlep a bag. The relationship needs to be collaborative.
I do think caddies can definitely help marginally-talented players like you and me because it takes our dumbest decisions off the table. As someone who makes a couple of dumb decisions per round — as you’ll see in an upcoming film room — that’s crippling when you do it.
I do love having a caddie at a course I’ve never played before, but sometimes I also feel added pressure in not wanting to let them down.
Because I don’t play golf competitively, I decided to tap in Soly for his thoughts here on what makes a good caddie, and why I wasn’t one. I actually caddied for him last year in our Nest Invitational Tournament, and we came up a little short and finished 2nd. I probably suffered from “Trying to do too much” syndrome, but it was a fun experience that we both took too seriously when we probably should have been pounding High Noons and enjoying ourselves more.
Soly: When I caddied for Hueber in a Monday qualifier, I got yardages, carried the clubs, raked the bunkers, and held the pin. I didn’t even help him with wind direction. Was there when he asked any question, but gave up nothing unprovoked because there was nothing I was going to pick up on that he was not.
The dynamic of having a caddie that is not the same level player as you is always difficult. Like, I’m sorry to say it KVV, but there’s just no shot in golf that I feel like I need your golf advice on. When Hueber tells me to add 10 to a shot into the wind, I know he’s compensating for whatever he feels like I need to compensate for, and also he has a massive amount of experience in judging what wind does to a well-struck golf shot. If I’m approaching a shot, and not asking for input on the club/yardage, a player does not want to hear “165 playing 175.” In my head, I already may be thinking it’s actually playing 180, but I need the loft of my 190 club to get through the wind, blah blah blah. But now it’s been put into my head that the wind isn’t as strong as I think, and it didn’t come from someone that knows it better than me. When caddying, it’s hard not to give advice to feel like you’re doing something. And as a player, you never wanna tell a caddie to do less, because then you’re just an asshole.
Rapport is the most crucial thing with a caddie, and it’s more important than the actual “skill” of the caddie. I can have a relatively quiet caddie that I find super helpful because I know when to ask for help, and he knows when to just let me do my thing. I hate getting a read that’s unasked for. I’m always gonna see what I see, and if I’m told something different than what I see, I’m gonna marry the two thoughts together and hit an uncommitted putt. Yet if it’s with a caddie I trust, it can obviously be super helpful to be saved by the local knowledge. At times even at the Gasparilla, I was calling Hueber off putts because I was putting so poorly and we just weren’t speaking the same language. Absolutely zero fault of his (I’ve had my hottest putting round ever with him on the bag), but I needed to just see my own read, trust it, and hit it. (It did not help).
My advice for the situation in the future is to be as in touch as possible with what your player needs from you, and maybe even ask your player on the first hole what it is they want. Do they want to be pumped up when things are going bad? Do they want you to ask them questions? Do they want you to give you what the wind is doing and where you see the putts are breaking even without asking? Do they want you to step in only if you see something jumping out at them that’s going wrong (slow your tempo down!)? All things that a player should be responsible for but rarely takes responsibility for. (Hand up here.)
Thekid33: With the series finale of Succession now in the books, what are your favorite and least favorite series finales from your favorite all-time shows and why?
Let’s start with favorites: The Leftovers is probably my top spot. Just beautiful and weird and ambiguous. If more people had watched, we’d still be arguing over it, which is essential for great art. Justified has maybe my favorite walk-off line of any series. And Coach Taylor coming down the escalator to find his wife and ask matter-of-factly “Will you take me with you to Philadelphia, please?” in the Friday Nights Lights finale absolutely gutted me. It’s such an earned moment in five seasons of observing their marriage. A great series finale gives you callbacks to earlier seasons or characters, but it also surprises you and leaves you feeling like the writers had a plan and they honored the journey and the audience.
I liked The Sopranos ending but have grown weary of debating it over the years. To me, it doesn’t matter if Tony lives or dies at that moment, only that the rest of his life is going to be full of dread and anxiety.
As for least favorites: How I Met Your Mother and LOST are obvious ones, but just thinking about them gets me worked up all over again. I could write (and have written, on our message board) thousands of words about these shows and why they dropped the ball with the game on the line like Lee Evans in the AFC Championship. But essentially my frustration with LOST comes down to this: Every story in history could end with “...and then they died and went to heaven.” It’s truly weak shit. The writers kept upping the ante on the story and when it got too big, they bailed rather than find a satisfying exit. Designing an intricately-plotted show and then saying “Psyche! It’s actually about your feelings and the friends we made along the way” was absurd.
As for HIMYM, I don’t hate Ted and Robin ending up together as much as some people do, but the pacing of it was so poor, I still can’t believe it was actually greenlit by rooms full of people. Ted may have had a decade to grieve the death of his wife, but the audience gets all of 30 seconds to do it before his kids give him permission to chase their Aunt Robin. It’s among the most insane things ever put on television, erasing the investment the show asked you to make for 10 seasons in under a minute.
Game of Thrones was extremely dumb by the end, but by that point, my expectations were very low. I expected LOST and HIMYM to redeem themselves.
Duckhunter07: In your opinion, what is the best month for golf in Maryland?
I’ll go with October. The heat of the summer has broken and the leaves have changed but mostly haven’t started to fall. The gloom of November is looming, but my favorite kind of golf is when the weather is a little crisp in the morning and cool in the evening. If I lived somewhere else, I’d pick August because there is nothing I like more than golf at twilight, especially when it’s 9 p.m. But August can be like swimming in mushroom soup in Maryland.
Dmmcgaha: You can become a member at any US Open course, but that’s the only course you can play for the rest of your life. What course is it and why’s it the Myopia Hunt Club?
I’ve never been invited to play Myopia Hunt Club, but judging from the photos, my goodness, that would be an incredible pick. If we stick with places I’ve actually been, I’d probably land on Pinehurst No. 2. It’s a delightful walk in an area of the country you can (mostly) play year-round. It has a great porch to have a beer afterward. Pebble would be cool, but I don’t see how you play six-hour rounds for the rest of your life. I’d go insane. The contrarian in me wants to choose Chambers Bay because I think it’s a really cool course in a great city and it was unfairly maligned, but the walk up No. 8 and then to the No. 9 tee is a bear. I’m not sure I’d be able to make it when I’m 70. I’d probably stick with Pinehurst in keeping with my belief that all U.S. Opens should be held at public courses. (That’s a topic for another mailbag.)
Killoc: How do you (singular or plural) balance friendship with players (ie. Rory, Max et al) with your work as a sportswriter / content creator? I think there is 100% room for fan-dom in covering sports but I wonder how you approach it?
This is an interesting question and one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. When I worked at ESPN, the calculus was simple. I was a journalist. My job was to have detached objectivity about my subjects. I think true objectivity is kind of a myth, because every decision in reporting and writing is made by a person, and people are subjective, but oftentimes I was trying to let the reader decide what he or she wanted to think about a subject. The piece I did about Aaron Rodgers is probably the best example of that kind of journalism.
Moving into a different role at NLU (not only writing stories but appearing regularly on podcasts, offering my opinion on players, rule changes, courses) has admittedly been a bit of a change. Relationships with people like Rory and Max is probably part of that. I like them as people, they seem to like and respect me, and enjoy having occasional conversations that are not about golf. One thing I’ve always admired about Rory is he does not bristle at commentary about his golf game. He expects it, in fact. He wants people like me and my colleagues to hold him to a high standard, even if he’s willing to do stuff like join us on the Trap Draw to talk about Succession. I’ve written critical things about him in the past (observant readers will remember he was an equal part of my infamous Justin Thomas column at Southern Hills) and wouldn’t shy away from doing so in the future, because my loyalty has to be to the audience, not him. And he understands that. (I suspect Max is similar, although I haven’t had as much opportunity to write about him because his rise came at a time when ESPN didn’t have me writing about golf.) I’m also not ashamed to admit that I like him personally and would enjoy seeing him win more majors.
Some of what’s going on here is the evolution of sports media. If someone feels I’m not objective about Rory McIlroy and I’m in the tank for him, they have every right to say so. They can (and often do) seek out other perspectives. I’m open about what my biases might be, and so are my colleagues. You can choose how to view it from there. I find that to be a more honest approach — especially when engaging in commentary — than I do pretending you have the same emotional investment in everyone.
If Max or Rory won the U.S. Open, would I be happy? Of course. But at the same time, I would enjoy a great deal if Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau won, even though I don’t have a personal relationship with either of them because either would be a great story.
For the most part, I pull for the best story. Phil Mickelson winning would be, by far, the best story at Los Angeles Country Club. It would delight me, even though we don’t agree on many things. There is a lot more nuance to this stuff than the bots (or Phil) would have you believe.
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