Welcome back to the NLU Mailbag. In this space, we’ll address topics big and small, smart and dumb, irreverent and serious. Please consider joining the Nest, where you’ll receive access to our message board, early access to NLU events, a 15 percent discount in the pro shop, an annual gift, plus a members’ only podcast and written work. Click here to learn more about the Nest and how to join. In the meantime, let’s dive into some questions…

James Townsend asks: Should Rory hire Bones? I know this feels like a First Take-level prompt, but it feels like they could actually be a decent match in dispositions (if Rory could accept actual input from a caddie) and would align with Rory’s all-in attitude to majors.

I always feel like questions about caddies and players are difficult to answer, as long as you’re being intellectually honest, which doesn’t always make for a good First Take performance. That’s why this is a better question for print.

I could sit here and tell you that Rory needs to shake things up and get a new voice on the bag, and that might be a very popular answer, but Rory might tell you that Harry Diamond is the reason he’s a more consistent player than he was a decade ago when he was winning majors with J.P. Fitzgerald on the bag.

I think we have a tendency to assume Rory is lacking something right now in his golf game, and that’s why he’s not winning majors, but a more nuanced take might be that the rest of the world simply caught up to where Rory was in his 20s. A commitment to fitness is now the norm in professional golf, not an outlier. Remember when Brandel Chamblee used to get on Rory for lifting weights too much? Now everyone does speed and strength training. I’m sure this will sound to some like I’m making excuses for Rory, but I think it’s reality. His driving was such an advantage back in 2014, and while it remains an advantage, the gap is way smaller.

In 2014, Rory’s Strokes Gained: Off The Tee was +1.367, by far the best on the PGA Tour. Bubba Watson was second with +0.967. In the Shotlink era, it’s the second-best driving performance ever. Only Watson’s 2012 number (+1.485) was better.

In 2019, his SG: Off The Tee number was +1.195, again the best on Tour, and way ahead of the next best driver of the ball, Jhonattan Vegas, at +0.753. (It’s actually fair to wonder why he went 0-4 in majors this year.)

But he’s never had that kind of advantage again. In 2023, for example, he finished 3rd in SG Off The Tee (+.907) trailing both Scottie Scheffler (+1.021) and Ludvig Aberg (+0.982). He’s still one of the world’s best drivers, but the rest of the world closed the gap.

The common refrain when people talk about Rory needing a new caddie goes: I know Bones could save him a stroke a round, and that’s the difference between winning majors and not winning majors. That might be true — no way to prove it is or isn’t without actually putting Bones on the bag — but one of the reasons Rory didn’t continue his torrid major pace is because he stopped having such a two or three-stroke advantage off the tee.

Would Bones want to caddie for Rory? Hard to say. If they did join forces and win a handful of majors, it would solidify their legacies as two of the best at their jobs. But Bones, who turns 60 next year, might not want that life anymore.

Would you fire your best friend if it meant you might win another major? It’s easy to say when it’s not your best friend. It’s not like they haven’t been close. We can point to three majors in the last two years and say that Rory and Harry could have won all three had a break gone their way.

One thing that’s fun to think about too: What if Phil Mickelson had fired Bones in 2003, convinced it was going to get him over the hump? Phil and Bones were 0-46 together before they won the Masters in 2004.

Right now, Rory and Harry are 0-27.

I am confident Rory doesn’t blame any of that drought on Harry. Would a change make a difference? I don’t know. I do think if Rory wants to try something new and Bones is interested, they ought to commit to it in the offseason and build toward Augusta. That feels like a better recipe for success.

On the flip side, if Rory does win a major with Harry on the bag, I have to imagine it would be tremendously rewarding to do it with your lifelong best friend. Part of Rory’s endless dilemma is he wrestles with being human and being ruthless. He’ll probably wrestle with that as long as he’s a great player.

Michael S. asks: If these players never won another major, how would you rank them from least to most disappointed that they "only" won one major: Adam Scott, Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk.

Very interesting question. That is a list of tremendous ball-strikers. It is hard to believe, having lived through all their careers, they each won just one major. I feel comfortable saying I don’t think any of them wins a second at this point. Just to set some ground rules, I can’t really rank their level of personal disappointment, only my own disappointment in wishing we’d seen more from them. So from most disappointed to least, here goes:

  1. Scott: His existence is proof that no one in life can be blessed with everything. A great guy with a great swing, a sharp dresser who looks like a Hollywood actor, think about how different his legacy would be if he was just an average putter. Everyone remembers that he threw away his chance at Royal Lytham with four bogies in the final four holes, but as reader Peter Coyle reminded me recently, he probably could have won the Open Championship at Muirfield the year Mickelson won. He made four birdies in five holes to get to -2 under, then bogeyed four consecutive holes to let Phil waltz to victory. He had a share of the lead on the back 9 at the 2015 Open, and played his final five holes in 5-over. He was tied for the lead on the back nine at the 2011 Masters, but failed to birdie either Par 5 and finished two shots behind Charl Schwartzel. It seems silly to fault a guy who shot 67 on Sunday in the final group, but at the 2018 PGA Championship, he was tied with Brooks Koepka at -14 standing on the 15th tee, and Koepka beat him by three. His career is a series of What Ifs.
  2. Rose: Giving him the nod over Sergio here mainly because he was the No. 1 player in the world at one point, a ranking Sergio never achieved. It seems strange he didn’t give himself more chances, particularly in U.S. Opens. His game seemed perfect for them.
  3. Sergio: Without his Masters victory, he’d go down as one of the most disappointing players of any era. But winning one green jacket — even if he needed an assist from Rose’s terrible drive in a playoff to get it — erases a lot of disappointment.
  4. Day: I have mixed feelings about this ranking. Injuries played a role, but he also built a swing around an approach that was never going to be sustainable. Of all these names, he seems like the one guy who could still bag another so we may need to revisit this list.
  5. Stenson: A truly great ball striker at his peak who also had periods where he was completely lost. That he owns perhaps the greatest performance in the history of majors makes you feel like he was capable of more, but his overall body of work makes it seem like that was a transcendent week and not who he really was.
  6. Furyk: Should he have won more majors? Probably. The 2006 U.S. Open and 2012 U.S. Open come to mind. But I would argue Furyk got a lot out of his talent.

Jeff from Saskatchewan asks: Would the PGA Tour be more entertaining if they got rid of caddies? Surely the world's best golfers are capable of course management, club selection, green reading, etc. on their own. What other professional athletes get an assistant advising them on every shot? As a viewer, I'd like to see not only who can execute the best shot, but who can make the best strategic decision on their own. And maybe less deliberation over every shot would speed the game up too.

I think, in general, golf would be more fun if there were experimental weeks like this, where players had to carry their own bags or they had to play with persimmons. Another reader asked this week if rounds would be more interesting if no one got to see the course beforehand, no practice rounds, just have to react in the moment. (I haven’t asked him, but I have to think this would be Big Randy’s nirvana.) It would be fun to see who would benefit from a scenario where no one was there to save you from your own instincts. I think golf sickos would love this kind of stuff, but players would hate it. A huge part of what athletes love is routine. They want to put themselves in a familiar headspace so they can let their talent take over. Because the players have control over their schedules, these kinds of experiments are unlikely to ever happen. But it is fun to dream.

From Evan: If Tommy Lad had no facial hair and a crew cut would we care about him?

Is there anything harder, as a golf fan, than explaining why you like certain players and not others? This is the Freddie Couples Paradox. On the surface, Couples shouldn’t be as popular as he is. He underachieved relative to his talent. His personal life was often a mess. He was friendly and chill, but not particularly colorful or interesting. But that swing was so mesmerizing, you couldn’t help but feel drawn to him. I feel like Fleetwood has a similar vibe. It helps that he’s friendly and kind, that he has a working-class background and he comes across as thoughtful and humble. But for the most part, the swing is the thing. The beard and the locks are part of his whole aesthetic, but mostly what makes him fun is the way he strikes the ball, how fun it is to see him shape shots and paint with a mid-iron like he’s an artist. Would he be as popular if he looked like Cam Davis? Probably not, but he’d still made a sound with his irons that felt aspirational.

From Just_Some_Guy: Let’s say a merger doesn’t happen any time soon; what would happen if a current LIV player wanted to go back to the PGA Tour when their contract with LIV was up? Would the PGA Tour allow it? What would that process look like?

From what we understand, some of what you’re asking is what’s holding up a merger. There are PGA Tour players who think it’s pointless to punish those who left, and there are PGA Tour players who feel like it’s a deal breaker in the negotiations. They won’t agree to unify without LIV players needing to serve some sort of penance, whether that’s a loss of status or the understanding they’ll have to pay fines or never get any kind of equity in PGA Tour Enterprises. Only the people in the negotiating room know whether the hardliners can be moved from that position. I suspect the process back would have to involve some sort of concessions. If you were a LIV player who got $100 million, would you even bother?

It is clear that some LIV contracts are going to expire soon. If you were a member of the PGA Tour, would you want Bryson or Brooks back? I think there is a good chance Brooks might be interested, but Bryson seems happy where he is. I’m curious to see if LIV will still want its aging seat fillers to stick around, and what will happen to them if Yasir cuts them loose. They may be a man without a country, so to speak.

Which pro golfers would do the best in a presidential debate type setting? Feel free to spend more time on the worst, funniest, cringiest, etc.

The easy answer here is Phil Mickelson would thrive in this type of setting. If I was the Republican party chair in Arizona, I would be checking with Mickelson every six months to see if he was open to running for the United States Senate. Say what you want about the man, but he is a seasoned storyteller and charmer. He’s quick with a comeback. He could work a crowd like a maestro, and he could easily spin his various missteps to feel like part of his everyman appeal. Give him an hour behind the mic and he’ll have 51 percent of voters convinced that all taxation is theft. I’ve never been around an athlete who seemed more suited to the shape-shifting that modern politics demands.

Patrick Cantlay would be fascinating in the way that Al Gore was fascinating, someone who is clearly smart, well-versed on the issues, and interested in the greater good, but also a black hole in terms of charisma. Imagine him and Mickelson in a debate. It would be a blowout, even if everything Mickelson said wasn’t true.

Jordan Spieth would be a formidable opponent, despite occasional gaffes. You can just imagine him shaking his head like Ronald Reagan and saying “There you go again…” when Congressman Billy Horschel started rambling about policy.

Rickie Fowler has the potential to be better than you think. He’d probably need to change his name to Richard, but he would be great at the art of being appealing and also inoffensive.

I’m not particularly familiar with the parliamentary system, but I have to believe Shane Lowry and Bob MacIntyre would be excellent at a grassroots level.

UseTacoFacts: If you putted for Scottie Scheffler this year, what would his FedEx cup ranking be?

Okay, this required a bit of research and a lot of guessing, so take it for what you will. But let’s assume I would be — without question — worse than the worst putter on the PGA Tour. Let’s use 2023 as our benchmark for comparison because we have a full season of stats. In 2023, the best putter on Tour was Maverick McNealy, who gained +0.956 strokes per round on the greens. The worst putter, statistically, was Brent Grant, who lost -1.081 strokes per round. Scottie ranked 162nd on the PGA Tour, losing -0.301.

I think we can safely say I would be a worse putter than Grant. Let’s go so far as to say I would be two full strokes worse. That’s probably a conservative estimate, but let’s do it for entertainment's sake. So by that guess, I’m losing -3.081 strokes per round on the greens.

This year, Scheffler’s total Strokes Gained number is +2.760. That’s better than Xander Schauffele by about half a stroke.

So we keep Scheffler’s driving, his ball striking and his chipping, but I’m his designated putter. Every round, I lose a little more than three strokes on the greens. That’s 12 strokes per tournament.

The total Strokes Gained number for this Scottie VanScheffler character would be -0.321.

This year, Alexander Bjork of Sweden has played in 12 events and has a Strokes Gained number of -0.322. Bjork has made seven cuts and finished T-11 at the American Express in January, his only Top 25 finish this season.

So is it possible Scheffler, with my putting, could still make a living? In theory! Bjork is currently ranked 155th in the FedExCup standings.

But let’s go even further. In 2022, Luke List had one of the worst putting rounds in the history of ShotLink, losing -8.54 strokes on the greens in Round 1 at the BMW Championship. He still managed to shoot 78. I think I would (occasionally) have days like that. Would this amalgamation of Van Valkenburg and Scheffler consistently break 80 without going insane?

I have my doubts. But it’s a fun thought exercise.

GDrake from the Refuge asks: When was the last time you jumped as high as you can and/or sprinted as fast as you can?

Up until about five years ago, I played flag football regularly on Sundays. I was a very good tight end in high school, and those skills had not yet deserted me in my early 40s. I could still find ways to get open and was fairly effective. I gave it up after I dove for a pass, landed hard on my shoulder, and couldn’t lift my arm above my head for two weeks. That was likely the last time I went all out without much care or worry about the consequences.

SterlingArcher on the Refuge asks: What are the unwritten protocols of walking inside the ropes as a member of the press during tournaments?

The main one, and the most important one, is don’t ever be involved in the story. Don’t talk to the players, don’t get in their way, don’t talk or make eye contact with them unless they initiate it, and even then understand that you should not linger. Don’t cheer for or against anyone. If you can’t adhere to that, you’re welcome to step outside the ropes. Some opinions differ, but that one is an absolute dealbreaker for me. I try to stay out of the camera shots, but sometimes it’s impossible with how many cameras there are. The main principle I try to adhere to is that you have ropes access for a reason. Use it to bring some kind of insight to readers or listeners. At the Ryder Cup, inside the ropes access has essentially become a VIP pass for various celebrities and family members. I can understand why players feel claustrophobic at times. It is strange when you’re standing right next to Novak Djokovic trying to do your job, but I doubt I’m the one likely to keep my ropes pass if the PGA of America starts to crack down on access, which is disheartening.

VinnyCal75 on the Refuge writes: Mr. KVV I have recently been tasked with planning a bachelor party. The group is 8-12 guys in our early 30s most of whom are golfers and hold a USGA handicap. The timeframe would be early to mid-October. The group is northeast based but are willing to fly less than 4 hours. As a planner of this, where would you suggest I look? Thanks, I’ll hang up and listen.

Mid-October makes this an interesting question. In early October, I would vote for Sand Valley. It’s only a 2.5-hour flight to Milwaukee from the East Coast, and while you do still have a few hours to drive from there, the payoff would be worth it. But by mid-October, you’re really flirting with trouble in terms of the weather. You do get a nice break on the price if you’re willing to risk frost delays and temps in the 50s.

I think your best bet would be the Pinehurst area. I have a group of friends who drive South from Maryland every February to North Carolina to play Southern Pines, Mid Pines and Pine Needles and I am always in shock at how (relatively) inexpensive it is compared to most golf trips.

3PuttKing asks: Can we get an update on the training aids situation and if you’ve bought any more since the article? How are the golf lessons coming along?

I am hesitant to report that I did buy another training aid. I hated myself for doing it, but sometimes an addict relapses. I ask for your forgiveness, not your judgment. (It did not help, by the way.)

I did take a golf lesson. It helped reverse a free fall, maybe the worst I can remember, but I’m still a work in progress. Trying to lose some weight, which is probably as important as any swing mechanics. I’m eager to continue with a lesson (or three) after I get home from the Open.

Kevin Van Valkenburg is the Editorial Director of No Laying Up

Email him at kvv@nolayingup.com