FIRE PIT COLLECTIVE
Does Tiger move the needle more than any athlete, ever?
Ask Alan: Alan Shipnuck answers reader questions about all things golf including Tiger's Augusta return, Phil and the Champions Dinner, Dude Perfect and more.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on the Fire Pit Collective, a Golf Digest content partner.
The photos from Woods’ practice at the Masters on Monday were remarkable—it looked (and felt!) like a final round and that he was chasing another green jacket. All the players you cite dominated in a different world. Just as Arnold Palmer’s legend was burnished by the advent of color TV, Tiger is a creature of the Internet age; he is the very reason I signed up for my first email account, in 1997. His turn-of-the-century heroics helped launch innumerable websites, and his sex scandal turbocharged nascent social media platforms. (I got on Twitter for the first time in the days after he ran over the hydrant.) Woods’ innumerable comebacks and subsequent personal setbacks have dominated—and created—news cycles in a way that even Michael Jordan in the 1990s could never have imagined. So the answer to your question has to be no. Tiger is not only a once-in-a-lifetime athlete but he also arrived at a unique moment, when sports was helping to usher in the digital age.
If Tiger is even a semblance of his old self, St. Andrews is his best shot, right? How far would making the cut at ANGC go toward reigniting the indomitable will that has propelled him to countless triumphs? (It never burned out.) #AskAlan @opinionsvary328
The Old Course is certainly a much easier walk than Augusta National, so that alone bodes well. Of course, cold temperatures don’t agree with Tiger’s back. (Let us not forget that was the big issue prior to his car accident.) Woods is now middle of the pack in driving distance, and that tips the scales to the Old Course, where creativity and shot-shaping remain paramount. (They matter at the Masters too, but ANGC is more of a bomber’s paradise.) Not to mention he should get in more reps between now and July. But there is something mystical about Woods’s connection to Augusta National, and we saw on the back nine in 2019 how much know-how matters, to say nothing of not being cowed by the moment; the choke factor at the Masters is much higher. It’s preposterous that we’re even debating this, but he’s Tiger F’ing Woods, so nothing feels impossible, even this week. The lack of tournament play, however, certainly suggests that the Open Championship is a more realistic opportunity for him to make noise.
What’s the second-biggest story this week? @scrambln_hawk
Charlie Woods’ swing changes. Third-biggest story would be some clarity on the ongoing question as to whom is the best player in the world. Jon Rahm has the ball-striking stats but needs more victories. Collin Morikawa has cooled off a bit. But if either wins this week, they are indisputably The Man. Then you have all the stalled superstars: Rory, Jordan, DJ, Brooks, JT, Bryson. It has been a fallow stretch for each of them, but winning the Masters would change that in a hurry and vault them once again to the front ranks of the game. All of this is to say we’ll probably get a random winner, which would only further muddle things.
How could Dude Perfect possibly be allowed to do what they did? @TapInForBirdie
In a word, grandkids. No doubt some of the little rascals got in the ear of the stodgy old grandpas in green jackets and set this in motion. There is no other explanation because Augusta National doesn’t need the money or exposure. That said, its leadership is always looking for ways to expand the tournament’s audience and reach, but club officials have to be fretting about how the game (and their broadcast deals) might contract when (if?!) Tiger exits stage right. So this was a stab at being young and cool. It certainly felt weird, but I guess we have to give the lords of Augusta credit for switching things up.
Will we see a Women’s Masters for professionals in our lifetime, and if not, what is the biggest obstacle? @spooky623
Gawd, I hope so. There are two obstacles: the club calendar and the bandwidth of its members. ANGC is closed during the sultry summer months and it gets rather cold during the winter in Augusta, so the prime season for members is pretty short. And the Masters monopolizes things during the best month. October would be ideal for a Women’s Masters, but that’s when the club hosts one of its four big member shindigs, which are low-key compulsory for the green jackets. So is having a role in running the Masters, and it’s a big effort. Another tournament would double the workload. Obviously, every member has many available resources, but time is the most valuable of them, and do these rather busy people want to have to spend another long week fretting over range balls and concessions and all the other tournament details? But the instant popularity of the ANWA helps create momentum for change: It’s a little contradictory for the club to celebrate all these great young women amateurs but then tell the pros they’re not worthy of their own Masters. Every club chairman wants a legacy project; if Fred Ridley doesn’t pull the trigger on a Women’s Masters, hopefully the next guy (or gal!) will, because there aren’t many more new frontiers left to conquer.
Can you explain the added value of the Masters compared to other majors? It seems too elite, too exclusive, too fairytale (bluest water, blooming flowers), patrons and not spectators, no pictures allowed. Why are we buying it? @PeteKnot
Well, some of us are rather tepid in our enthusiasm for the treacly piano music and all of the hoary traditions. But it is a thrilling tournament course that always produces drama, and there is something undeniably intoxicating about the whole thing, no matter how hard you try to resist the Southern-fried charm. You can’t deny the power of the calendar: All those blooming flowers herald the coming of spring for many snowbirds, and there is now a nine-month buildup since the previous major, increasing the excitement and meaning of the Masters. And let’s face it, there is a cult of exclusivity in this country in general and golf in particular. The things you find off-putting are part of the appeal for many, in a way the other, more egalitarian major championships can never have.
I can understand Phil not playing, but to not attend the Champions Dinner is odd, right? @jasongrant19
I think it would be weirder to attend if he’s not playing. For Phil, it would be torture to get this small glimpse of the grounds, and all the other champions would demand an explanation he might not be ready to offer. And amid this week’s Tiger lovefest, I think it would make Mickelson feel even worse that he’s not teeing it up. So it seems like the longest of long shots that he would jet into town just to break bread.
Make your best case for Spieth winning his second green jacket, and your best case for him missing the cut. (I won’t read the second half of your answer but figured I should ask for balance.) #askalan @MuirFalls
Best case: He remains a premier iron player, his putter can still turn molten, and no one has played the course better over the last eight years.
Worst case: He’s jumpier than a cat on a hot tin roof.
#AskAlan Have you had anyone use ”bull hockey” in an interview to get ON the record? Also, do you agree with the sentiment that putting the ANWA the same week as the Dinah and putting in a contrived cut for the girls is, well, exactly what Christina Kim said?
Ha ha, only Christina. Her critiques are on point, as usual. It royally sucks that any young woman can qualify for the ANWA but not get to play a tournament round at Augusta National. Ditch the cut, and let ‘em all play. And no doubt the creation of the ANWA has had a chilling effect on the Dinah Shore. It is unfortunate, but the LPGA is having to move the Dinah on the calendar for it to have the spotlight it deserves.
I will miss Mission Hills as the venue for the Dinah. Perfect weather, mountains, Dinah Shore’s statue, Poppy’s Pond were all iconic components. What do the players think about the move? #AskAlan @david_troyan
They’re bummed but pragmatic: The new sponsor is good for the long-term health of the tournament, even though it makes us traditionalists sad. All of those elements you cite were indeed part of the tournament, but Mission Hills is never going to make anyone’s top 100. The players are going to miss the pageantry but not the course.
To combat length, do you think ANGC will ever require all contestants to use ANGC-sanctioned, rolled-back golf balls? @bill_lundeen
Only as an absolute last resort because it would change, and possibly, taint the competition. Imagine if the NBA suddenly raised the rims to 11 feet just for the finals. It would still be basketball, but do you really want to make the players change their game at such a crucial moment?
Is it too far-fetched to think Rory either intentionally or subconsciously missed the cut last week in order to relieve expectations and pressure—from others as well as from himself—about Augusta and the career Grand Slam? #askalan @MuirFalls
With him, you never know. But I think Rory should try something new and arrive in Augusta on Wednesday night, or even Thursday morning. Just walk straight to the first tee and let it rip. This place is so deep in his head that I think the shorter the preamble the better.
Why does anyone still doubt Tiger? @ElNino22
It’s a valid question. Given all he went through from 2014 to ’18, I thought it would be a minor miracle if Tiger could win even a Quad Cities Open, but he scaled a much taller mountain. The bottom line is he is an all-time golfing genius. Whatever the limitations of his body, he will still find a way to deliver the club to the back of the ball. We know he has the best head ever for golf, and it’s increasingly clear that nothing short of having his hands amputated can part him from his gift. It’s astonishing and inhuman and, as golf fans, we are lucky to be living through this.