Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Stephen Ames' Campaign Is Working

Prior to the Masters, Stephen Ames said that he thought winning the Players was a bigger deal than winning the Masters because the field strength was better and no one named Charles Coody could be in the field. I laughed and hopefully you did, too, because Stephen Ames' pinnacle career win is the Players.

Well, apparently people are listening to him because a British journalist named Derek Lawrenson went off the deep end today in saying that the Players really IS better than the Masters. (Nothing new for some Brits.)

We're also in agreement that while the Masters has all the tradition, the Players' has all the hype. But which event provides the better spectacle and sheer enjoyment? Here are five reasons why this week's Players' — like last year's Players' — will knock the Masters into a cocked hat.
Let's comment on each reason...

1. Depth of Field. Aren't we all tired of the line-up at the Masters being clogged up by old champs just there for the ride?

With certain amateur invitees who wouldn't make the halfway cut if they practised at Augusta from Christmas to April? Or the relatively new trick of inviting players from the Far East because they might boost the Asian television market?

Contrast that with the Players', where every member of the 156- strong field has earned his spot; where there isn't a single competitor who hasn't got the ability to finish in the top 10.

True, some of them have zero personality. But give me Johnny No-Name shooting 65 to lead rather than — heaven help us — Gary Player announcing he's coming back to Augusta for another year because he happened to break 80.

Personalities have nothing to do with the greatness of an event. What made the Masters great was the course and the inherent ability it used to have for massive birdie and eagle runs. That is kind of possible at Sawgrass. But that is a digression against strength of field. The Top 50 in the world are at both events. Save for the occasional British Open and PGA Championship, guys outside of that ranking do not win majors. They do surely seem to win the Players a lot. How about Craig Perks?

2. No Tiger Woods. Yes, we all revere Tiger and laud his unique achievements. But let's admit to a guilty pleasure.

Isn't it fascinating to be looking ahead to a significant golf event where there is no chance of him winning by 10? Where, instead of one man being odds-on favourite to win, you could throw a blanket over practically the entire field?

Since Tiger really doesn't care about the Players all that much, I guess Lawrenson is right. But why would Tiger's absence really make the Players better than the Masters? Isn't the joy for Tiger haters seeing who will try to challenge Tiger and potentially topple him? Besides, Tiger does not have a lot of success at Sawgrass. He does not dominate there.

3. Sawgrass's island green 17th. Purists, look away now. Yes, I know it's contrived and sticking up for this hole is a bit like cheering for Twenty20 cricket over a Test match.

But even a die-hard traditionalist would have to own up to the compelling nature of a hole where glory and despair are so intertwined that last year Sean O'Hair lost not only his chance of winning by dumping a couple in the water, but the not-insignificant matter of 400 grand.

You're going to take 1 hole out of 18 at Sawgrass and use that as a reason to claim the Players is better than the Masters? Augusta's entire lineup of holes is spectacular. There are way more memorable holes that EVERYONE knows at the National than at Sawgrass. Sawgrass has about 7 memorable holes in my mind - even if they can be considered gimmicks. Augusta has way more.

4. The Gallery. The Players' is the only event in golf where the middle -aged male doesn't comprise the vast majority of the audience. At Sawgrass you're just as likely to be peering over the heads of boys and girls or courting couples as middle-class white men. All are catered for by scoreboards in keeping with a vibrant modern audience. You don't know anything about Jason Bohn? By the time he reaches the green, the interactive scoreboard will have told you everything bar his shoe size.

If you're looking for good looking women, the PLAYERS will tell you that the Players has lots of talent. As for the rest of that paragraph, I don't really see the point.

And finally...

5. Unpredictability. Every year at the Masters it is the same old argument: the course offers an inordinate advantage to big hitters. Nobody says that about Sawgrass. Look at its past four champions — Phil Mickelson, Stephen Ames, Fred Funk and Adam Scott. That covers every base golf has to offer.

You've got one short game master, two fairways and greens men, and one player capable of driving it as well as anybody.

This is hilariously wrong. Unpredictability is the very reason why many people refuse to consider the Players as a legit 5th major. No offense to Fred Funk, but he would not win any of the other four majors - even the US Open with his straight driving. Stephen Ames may never win a major. Adam Scott, I think, will one day. Still, the Players has produced more fluke champions in its 34 years than even the Open Championship in the last 34 years.

Also, Augusta does not seem to be producing only champions that are lengthy hitters. In fact, at the "new Augusta," the Masters produces champions of varying length. Having to play a certain style of game to win at Augusta is a myth.

I do like to do these kinds of tear-em-apart posts from time to time, so I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

4 comments:

The Florida Masochist said...

Ryan,

I agree with most of what you say, but at the same time you're being unfairly harsh about the winners of TPC. Yes Perks wasn't a good one, however what's wrong with the following-

Major Champions- Nicklaus, Geiberger, Wadkins, Trevino, J. Pate, Sutton, Mahaffey, Lyle, Couples, Kite, Elkington, Price, Love, Norman, Janzen, Leonard Duval, Woods, Mickelson,

That's a pretty hefty roster, that combined accounts for winning the tournament 26 of the 34 years its been played.

The non-major champions aren't a bad group either

Peete, McCumber, Scott, Funk, Mudd, Hayes, Ames, Perks.

Perks is easily the weakest of the lot. All the others won other tournaments besides the Players. Peete for a 4 year span(summer of 82 to spring 86) was a top 10 player. Funk has 8 tour titles, McCumber 10, Peete 12 and the 1984 Vardon Trophy, Scott in spite of the hype has only 6 but he's a solid winner. I think the same could be said for Players Champions Mudd, Hayes, and Ames in declining order. Mudd burned out, but was 5th on the 1990 money list. Hayes was a solid golfer in the mid to late 70's, Ames is the weakest winner other than Perks but Stephen is ok. The Masters has been won by Larry Mize, Charlie Coody, and Tommy Aaron.(Not to mention Immelman and Zach Johnson but we don't know for sure where their career trajectories will take them. Honestly I'd rate them with the Peete-Scott-McCumber-Funk Players group of winners.) All have similar win totals to Ames, but were ok journeyman.

Only one outright fluke in 34 years is a pretty good record and even better when 26 of your other 33 events were won by major champions.

Bill

Ryan Ballengee said...

Bill,
Can't argue with that too much. By and large, the winners' roster of the Players is pretty impressive and major-esque.

To get a little nit picky, though, if we take a look at the major winners that have also won the Players, we do see some "fluke" major champions. I would point to Pate, Mahaffey, Lyle, Elk, Leonard, and Duval. That's open to debate though.

The non-major winners haven't been bad ones, but I don't think that they would have won major championships otherwise - save for Scott.

Still, approximately 2/3 winners of the Players have a record above reproach. That is better than a lot of events.

I tend to harp more, though, on the other reasons in the post as to why The Players can't compete with the majors, IMHO.

Ryan

The Florida Masochist said...

Ray Floyd was omitted from that list of major winners by me.



The only one of those you list as maybe a fluke major champion, I'd Come close to agreeing on is with Mahaffey. Tom Watson blew the 1978 PGA sky high. If Tom hadn't, there would be 6 not 5 holders of the career grand slam. With the possible exception of the 93 PGA where Tom was part of a large gaggle of golfers with a chance on Sunday, 78 was the only PGA Watson made a serious bid for.

Watson had somewhere between a 4-6 shot lead on Sunday in 78 and collapsed. Mahaffey who was 7 shots back with 14 holes to go, won the tournament with a birdie on the 2nd extra hole of sudden death.

Lanny Wadkins was given a similar gift by Gene Littler at the 1977 PGA. The Machine blowing a 6 shot lead at Pebble on Sunday.

Lyle, he won the 88 Masters and the 85 British Open. He birdied 18 to take home the green jacket and edge Calaveccia. Two majors to his credit and he's a fluke?(Andy North being the exception to the rule)

Pate birdied 18 from the rough at the 76 US Open to beat Weiskopf and Geiberger. Jerry's career was abreviated, but he was a top 10 player(or worst top 20) from 76 to 82.

Duval's career was also abbreviataed, but remember he did reach #1 in the world for a brief time.

Leonard won the 97 British fair and square. Justin is one of those players like 40 years ago- Don January, Miller Barber, Dave Hill, Gay Brewer, Frank Beard, Al Geiberger, Bobby Nichols, Dave Stockton, Bruce Crampton, and others. They win over 10 tournaments but less than 20. Some take home a major, some don't. They do win tournaments and have good careers. Justin in spite of his short driving distanc. Justin has serious chances to win other majors, 04 PGA, 97 PGA, 02 PGA, 99 British. Leonard has also won in 9 different years going back to 96.

Justin's record is better at Augusta than the US Open. He's only missed one masters cut since 96 and been in the top 20 5 times.

Elkington- 10 tour wins, From 90-99Elk was a consistent force on tour.

The British Open keeps its flukes to second place or one shot out of playoffs. Or we'd have Simon Owen, Jim Bottomley, Van de Velde, Rocca, Levet, and others. Still we have Paul Lawrie, Ben Curtis, and Todd Hamilton.

Ryan Ballengee said...

Like I said, I'm not going to deny that your examples are valid, but it depends on your definition of a fluke champion. One of the biggest criticisms of this generation of golfers (basically, post Watson) is that there are not many golfers with multiple majors. For me, my threshold is backing up a legit major win with another. Sounds like your definition is different than mine and more based on a complete career of solid finishes, decent world ranking, and wins in other events. Mine is pretty much strictly based on major wins over a career. More modern guys like Leonard and Duval - in particular - are flukes in my mind because they were a flash in the pan in terms of reaching true greatness. That just doesn't do it for me. But I agree to disagree.