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Scottyrp4: Given how close Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson were at Augusta, do you think any LIV players win a major this year? If so, who do you think it is, and where?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot during the last two weeks. A fascinating summer awaits us, doesn’t it? I’m hesitant to say I think that Phil will contend in majors the rest of the year (Augusta is a place he can think his way around until he’s 60) but I would be surprised if Brooks wasn’t in the mix at the PGA, a place that seems perfect for his game. Major championship golf is really more interesting when he’s in the mix, and as much as the LIV bros want you to think Brooks’ success at the Masters was supposed to upset LIV critics like myself, I loved every minute of it. I wish he’d played better on Sunday so we could have a true duel, but now that he’s gotten a taste of major pressure again, maybe he’ll be better for it. If anything, LIV has made the majors even more entertaining because it’s the only time we see all the best players together, and there is a natural tension as a result. I think a lot of the LIV players are washed, but obviously, many of them are not. Cam Smith seems like a great pick for the Open Championship, but I could also see Sergio or Lee Westwood or Paul Casey having a moment like Darren Clarke or Henrik Stenson did when they won an Open Championship after what was considered their prime.
The interesting question about Mickelson is: Does LACC represent his last genuine chance to win the career Grand Slam? Two months ago, when he couldn’t seem to break 70 on the LIV Tour, everyone would have laughed at the possibility he still had a major in him. But after that Masters performance? It doesn’t seem THAT crazy. We don’t know yet what the USGA setup will look like, but speculation seems to be it won’t have an abundance of thick rough. Recovery shots would favor players with creative minds. Can you imagine if it did happen? Phil would read off the name of everyone who’d ever so much as favorited a tweet talking shit about him. (Hey Phil, it’s pronounced VAN VAUL-KEN-BURG.) It would be a spectacle. I would love to witness it and write about it.
Tron: KVV, an earnest question to ponder for the next mailbag. Did Curt Schilling paint his sock?
This is a fascinating question because, while I think there is absolutely no chance Schilling painted his sock, Schilling is such an unlikeable, despicable person, people would love for this to be true, so the fantasy persists even 20 years after that game that he whipped out a marker to frame himself as the hero. I was actually working at the Baltimore Sun when columnist Laura Vescey wrote a column saying she thought Schilling’s sock was doctored, and of course, he went nuts, so it was interesting to see that battle waged from the inside of my own newspaper.
One thing I think I find interesting is that Schilling was one of the first athletes to realize they could punch back at reporters by blogging in a rage about his various critics. He was basically longform tweeting before it was even a thing. It was kind of interesting when it was a post-modern rewriting of the power dynamic between journalists and subject, but then he turned into a genuine loon who was radicalized by being extremely online and clearly hated everyone and everything who didn’t share his own extreme views. It became much less interesting to me.
It does raise an interesting question though: Can you separate an athlete’s performance from his personal views? I think most people would say yes. I often feel the same. But I also don’t think you have to feel that way. You’re not required to be agnostic. There are plenty of people who dislike LeBron James because of his progressive worldview, and they have every right to root against him for those reasons.
I grew up a Red Sox fan, and the 2004 ALCS is one of my favorite sports memories. Even if Schilling had painted his sock, it wouldn’t change the way I felt about that performance in Game 6. It doesn’t inspire me to consume any of his current garbage takes, but I loved rooting for him at that moment.
TTrentC: What was the greatest sandwich you ever had?
What a great question. As someone who loves sandwiches, I wish I had a better answer to this, but I can’t pin it down to one specific meal. Maybe this is where the advice of Warren Zevon is apt: Enjoy every sandwich.
When I was in college, I got recruited by the Baltimore Sun in my senior year. Someone from the paper called my house in Montana as part of the recruiting process. They wanted to take me out to a fancy dinner in Baltimore and woo me into accepting the job, and they wanted to know what kind of food I liked so they could make reservations. I wasn’t there when the call came in, but one of my college roommates picked up the phone and answered a few of the recruiter’s questions. “Um, I know he likes turkey sandwiches,” my roommate said. It was an earnest answer, but no less true. I do like turkey sandwiches.
If forced to choose, I’d probably pick the Big Bad Wolf sandwich from Big Bad Wolf BBQ here in Baltimore. It’s so decadent that I only eat one every three or four months, but I always eat one on my birthday to celebrate the passage of time. It contains brisket, pulled pork and bacon, and it’s a little piece of heaven. If you ever come to Baltimore, skip the fancy bullshit and visit the little yellow shack on Hartford Road.
The truth is, every city has at least one amazing sandwich, and you usually need some local knowledge to help guide you there. I typically rely on my buddy Wright Thompson, who can tell you where to find the best food in just about any American city. But this is a good example of why you shouldn’t be obnoxious on Twitter. For all its ills, people can point you in the direction of a pretty good sandwich if you’re not a jerk.
I think in either a future mailbag or newsletter I’ll put this question to the NLU crew and make them share their pinnacle sandwich.
Jgolf1: Let’s say money IS a factor but you live anywhere in the US. You have to take your family to a sporting event and pay for everything out of your own pocket (tickets, parking, concessions etc…). This is purely a family night out, not doing anything for work. What are you choosing?
This question feels extremely relevant as I’m taking my daughter to the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble this summer and it is definitely not cheap. But if I was bringing the entire family, I think I’d ultimately choose tennis’ U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, particularly one of the early sessions. You know that line David Foster Wallace wrote about tennis on television vs. tennis in person is like the difference between video porn and the felt reality of human love? That is 100 percent true when you see tennis up close. Night matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium are among the coolest experiences we have in sports. Even from the upper deck, you still feel like you’re on top of the players. The food (while overpriced) is genuinely pretty good at the U.S. Open, and just walking around the grounds is great for people-watching. A couple of years ago, I wrote about watching Naomi Osaka closely at the U.S. Open and it ended up being one of my favorite things I’ve ever written, so I’d want my family to experience that energy at least once.
Dgolfman62281: Is golf the only sport where literally every media member that covers it is expected to at least be a recreational participant of said sport?
Did anyone have visions of Brent Musburger boxing out after a rebound?
First of all, I expect Brent Musburger to be able to box out because he’s one of the only famous media people from Montana, so I expect him to uphold a certain standard for people like me to aspire to. In all seriousness, you make an interesting point. There is some expectation that golf writers know how to golf, but I don’t think it’s as essential as you might think. My friend Steve Politi typically writes the best story every year from the Masters, and he’s been pretty open about the fact that doesn’t play golf. It made for a great column when he teed it up for the first time in 10 years after winning the media lottery at the Masters. Karen Crouse wasn’t a golfer, but she wrote some of the best pieces on the golf beat when she worked for the New York Times.
For the most part, I think playing golf can help you understand the game better, and give you perspective on how thin the line is between good and terrible. But I also see writers and commentators sometimes who think they understand the game the pros are playing and have a casual arrogance about it because they’re a scratch handicap. I cannot express how ridiculous this looks to professional golfers who have been breaking 70 from 7,000 yards since they were a teenager. If you are a scratch golfer, you are probably the envy of all your friends. But in the eyes of a professional, you are like Professor Gerald Lambeau in Good Will Hunting. What you think of as difficult is a joke from the perspective of a prodigy.
The kind of golf writing I love the most focuses on people and emotions, not the mechanics of the game. (Your mileage may vary, which is why there are many different outlets that focus on other areas like analytics or swing theory or architecture, and they’re all great.) Chuck Culpepper of the Washington Post doesn’t play golf, but few (if any) are better at writing about the game from a wider lens. The same is true of Wright Thompson.
MrCutHook: If the PGA Championship decided that they wanted to play at the same course every single year ala the Masters, what would be your top 3 picks for courses to be considered and why?
- Chambers Bay: This course was unfairly maligned in 2015, and it deserves another chance to host a major now that they’ve fixed the greens. The USGA took it too close to the edge with the setup and when you combined that with some unexpected weather, it basically killed the greens. Fox Sports bumbling its way through its maiden broadcast didn’t help either, as everyone couldn’t help but associate the two. But the layout is cool, it gave us a great finish, and the Pacific Northwest deserves a piece of the major rotation.
- Riviera Country Club: The Genesis is already the best event on the schedule that’s not a major (and yes, I think that includes The Players Championship) so let’s make it a major in this fantasy scenario. Every player loves it, it’s hosted PGA Championships previously, and it both challenges the players and drives them a little mad.
- Royal Melbourne: One of the biggest gripes of golfers outside the United States is that America shouldn’t get to hog three of the four majors. It seems like a fair complaint! Even though the name of the organization is the PGA of America, think of how great it would be to watch the best in the game strategize their way around a course that requires more thought than just about any course on earth? In this magical world where I’m named the World Golf Czar, I’d have Royal County Down and Royal Melbourne pass the PGA Championship back and forth from year to year.
Killoc: I'd be really interested in your top 5 “peak” golfers — as in the golfers which have hit the highest absolute ceiling … even if they didn't maintain it. For example, peak Duval was out of this world, peak Vijay was amazing, peak Day… the list is hard and surprisingly there is limited consensus so I’d be keen on your views.
Before we begin this exercise, let’s remove Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus from the discussion. I think we can agree their ceilings would be higher than anyone on this list. As good as some of these golfers were at their peak, even at their best, they weren’t winning the U.S. Open by 15 shots like Tiger did in 2000. They weren’t finishing in the Top 10 in 36 of 40 majors like Nicklaus did from 1970 to 1979. I also feel like we should limit this to the last 50 years, just out of fairness. I could sit here and tell you peak Byron Nelson was better than peak Ben Hogan, but I’d just be blowing smoke. There are historians better equipped to handle that argument.
- Johnny Miller: Nicklaus has said he believes Miller is the greatest short-iron player who ever lived, and that seems like a pretty good endorsement. When he was on, it was hard to imagine anyone better. There are all kinds of anecdotes about how Miller would hold exhibitions where he’d repeatedly rattle the flagstick from 160 yards to the delight of crowds. Tiger and Louis Oosthuizen are the only players to win the Open Championship by a larger margin than the six strokes Miller won by in 1976. It’s fair to say (and he’s admitted as much) that Miller wasn’t obsessed with being great the way Nicklaus was. He enjoyed spending time on his ranch and with his family. But hand him a set of blades and put a balata ball down in front of him and he was a sniper.
- Greg Norman: Is he a blowhard and a buffoon? Yes. Is he one of the most talented players to ever live? Absolutely. I supposed you could define “peak” by saying it can’t be limited to one round, it has to be defined in tournaments. But the man still won 88 times around the world! The fact that he was snakebit in majors can be held against him, but he is the guy who put himself in a position to have his heart broken repeatedly. Jack’s and Tiger’s peaks were still better, but it’s possible no one has ever driven the ball as well as Norman at the peak of his powers.
- Vijay Singh: It’s possible that Vijay’s 2004 season (in which he won 9 times!) is the most underappreciated season in the history of golf. Sounds like a great topic for a deep-dive podcast, frankly.
- David Duval: One thing I feel like we don’t acknowledge often enough when it comes to Singh, Duval, Ernie Els and Mickelson is they all had runs during Tiger’s prime where they were arguably the best player in the world. They didn’t sustain it, but they came at the king and briefly held the throne. Golf is about consistency, but few players were more fun to watch attack pins than Duval.
- Rory McIlroy: The two most dominant performances in a major that don’t belong to Tiger belong to this guy. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t sustainable, that version of Rory could make you believe you were watching one of the greatest players to ever do it.
Honorable mention: Jason Day when healthy; a newly-married John Daly with a steady supply of cigarettes, Diet Coke and Wilson Pickett CDs; Charley Hoffman during Round 1 of a major, Ken Duke on a windy day at The Players.
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