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January 22, 2010

Alan Shipnuck's Mailbag: Debating Ping Eye2s, expanding the PGA Tour, Tiger vs. the media and more

Posted at 11:58 AM by Alan Shipnuck | Categories: Alan Shipnuck's Mailbag

I'm unable to summon a clever preamble this week, so let's go straight to the questions:

Alan, Do you agree with Bob Estes that using Ping Eye2s, which are exempt from the new groove rule by court order, is against the spirit of the rule and, if so, do you believe it is important to abide by the spirit or just the letter of the rule in golf? — Al

I like my spirits on ice, with a lime twist. A rule is a rule — I'm not sure I want to start assigning metaphysical properties to it. The pre-1990 Eye2's are legal, so guys are going to play them. Bob Estes can too, if he so desires. It's a silly little loophole born in a courtroom, but it's unlikely to go away so guys like Estes should stop kvetching. Grooves that are 20 years old are sure to have a fair amount of wear and tear so it's debatable as to how much more spin — if any — is being imparted compared to brand-new laser-milled grooves. Time to get over it.

I rarely read interviews with golfers from non-English speaking countries in the U.S. golf media? Are you guys myopic or just lazy? Seriously though, you can't really criticize U.S. players for not expanding the game abroad when the scribes seem to choose the well trodden path. — Rene Andersson

Clearly, Rene, you are not a careful reader of SI. Over the years, John Garrity, Michael Bamberger and myself have gone overseas to produce long features on such non-English speakers as Angel Cabrera, Jumbo Ozaki, Carlos Franco. A decade ago I hired a translator in Hawaii to help with one of the first big features on Shigeki Maruyama. But there's no question the language barrier can be formidable. There are also cultural differences that can torpedo stories. Last February, I was hot to go to Japan to do a story on Ryo Ishikawa, before anyone had heard of him. I spent weeks dealing with his agent in Japan and negotiating by proxy with Ryo's father, who at the time was controlling his career. (IMG has since stepped in and improved media access.) They simply didn't get the kind of story I wanted to do. Reporters over in Japan, as in much of the golfing world, stand in a big pack behind the 18th green, encircle the player for five minutes and then run back to the computers and file basically identical stories.

Ryo's people couldn't conceive of a scribe wanting to spend a couple days with the kid, follow him to school, hang out with his family and friends, and really get to know him and his life in a meaningful way. I had a (non-refundable) ticket to Tokyo in hand but less than 24 hours before I was due to depart the story fell apart, mainly because of his dad's jitters. So while I agree the American media can be lazy and xenophobic at times, it's often the discomfort or lack of media savvy from the foreign-born players that prevents them from having their stories told.

Alan, I am trying desperately to find a list of players competing at Torrey next week. Can you help me out?

The field for every PGA Tour event is not finalized until 5 p.m. (Eastern) on the Friday of the week preceding the tournament. This afternoon go here for the latest update for Torrey.

Alan, do you think that the PGA Tour officials were slow in not expanding the Tour more globally? Now they need to face much stronger competition with European Tour taking the Asia market? And without Waldo, the PGA Tour is losing their main asset to compete in Asia with the Euros... Ten years ago, the gap between the tours was immense. In five more years, the European Tour might be the one attracting the best players. Opinion? —Peter

This issue is certainly top of mind this week with Abu Dhabi having a much, much stronger field than the Hope, including the presence of Palm Springs native Anthony Kim. There's no question that by planting its flag across the Mid East and Asia the Euro tour has become a much more relevant and prosperous tour. Tim Finchem is belatedly trying to get in the game, and I suspect in a couple of years the PGA Tour will have a couple of official-money stops abroad. But players have repeatedly voted with their feet, refusing to travel to WGCs and World Cups that are held overseas. Bottom line is that the PGA Tour's identity is as an American tour, sponsored by companies based in America. There will be a few concessions to other markets, to keep purse levels up, but the Tour's focus is on improving their existing tournaments, not taking on the world.

TMZ and the like never cared about whether Tiger put them on the DNR (do not resuscitate) list so they went after him. Now it seems that golf writers are emboldened to take shots too. How long will you guys stay so bold when the Mighty One returns? Won't you all fear being put on his naughty list? TMZ doesn't need Tiger. They move on. You live and die by the guy. Also, do you fear him remembering how bold you were during his absence and that you might be black listed? —Lenny Johnson

Even before Tiger's crackup, I would get variations of this question all the time. There seems to be a widespread belief that reporters live in mortal fear of somehow being blacklisted by Woods. The truth is that no one was getting much access before and he's going to be even more locked-down in the future, so who cares if doesn't like what we're writing? A couple of years ago John Garrity wrote a long, engaging cover story about Tiger. He was granted an audience with Woods that lasted exactly ten minutes. Those were the good old days? I think Tiger's dealings with the media will be downright Nixonian upon his return.

I recently played with a yellow golf ball and was amazed how easy it was to see in the air and find in the rough, plus I didn't have a problem with another group hitting my ball. Why wont some of the top ball manufacturers make high quality yellow balls, i.e. a Titleist PRO-V1? I think there would be a market for them. Your thoughts? —Mike

Hey, Mike, sorry to hear you're having trouble with your balls. There are already high-quality colored options available for you in the marketplace. They're pink, big guy. Enjoy. The rest of us will stick with the white ones. Some traditions are worth maintaining.

Without naming names, are there some Tour rank and file types having a good chuckle at Tiger's hard fall? He has always been pretty arrogant, and dismissive of the lesser players. I notice he is still getting special treatment in Hattiesburg — do the other patients move boulders for him? —Zeb

Excellent boulder reference ... I don't think anyone is really "chuckling" over Tiger's travails. For all the petty squabbles, the Tour is a very tribal, insular place, and there is a lot of empathy for Elin and the children. No doubt Tiger has stomped on a few guys through the years but he has always been popular with the other players because at heart he's a golf nerd who enjoys talking about the game with other golf nerds. When he felt like it, Tiger could be very generous with advice on the range or practice green. And he followed the game closely and often surprised marginal players with little congratulations about their first win or some random good play.

Certainly there is a little schadenfreude in play, as Woods was always holier than thou in trumpeting his work ethic and dedication and discipline, implicitly criticizing everyone else. But most Tour players are smart enough to know their fortunes are intertwined with Tiger's and they're rooting hard for him to make things right, on and off the course.

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