Eric Silfer of West Chester, Pennsylvania, not far from where my 10-handicap friend Friedman lives and where, hopefully, he and I will play soon, has a problem with our US Open Contest Final Five choices:
I am highly disappointed to see that the 5 golfers you selected for the final don't really meet what I understood the basic premise of the challenge to be in the first place: that a 10 handicapper couldn't break 100 on a U.S. Open course and set up. The highest legitimate index in the group seems to be an 8.0, with one "estimating" his handicap at 10. Wow.
Not only will I not be voting for any of them, as nice as they may be or as interesting as their stories may be, but I won't be watching the telecast of it either. I was looking forward to seeing how someone meeting the general classification, i.e. a 10, would handle the course, but you don't have that anymore.
We mailed Dean Knuth, the handicap expert, and he tends to agree with you, Eric. Let me give you our justification, for what it's worth:
First, as you know, the indices of the finalists are not their handicaps. Handicaps are derived from indices based on the course being played. Knuth says the most a 5 handicap such as Erik Norton would get is three shots, making him an 8. John Atkinson, who is an 8.0 index could get more (as would Phil Dembure, a 7.9), taking him well over the 10 mark. So let's say we have an 8 and a 12 as our high and low players.
When Tiger made his statement, he was talking about the difficulty of the course (and specifically, about the difficulty of Oakmont). But the course was key. He was not referring, as far as I can tell, to cameras or crowds, he was talking about nasty rough, narrow fairways and slick greens. Not television cameras, playing with three celebrities, or having the focus of a 60,000-entries contest and our magazine focused squarely on your head--and your game. So let's say low man Erik Norton starts as an 8. Add those other factors and I think he's close to what Tiger was talking about.
We wanted a bit of drama in this, Eric. We played with these guys in Texas. There are no slam dunks to break 100 here. Indeed, if you took a poll of the staff (teachers and editors) it would be 4-1 against any of them breaking 100. We've interviewed a few tour pros about this. Most say, no way.
The only pretty sure bet to break 100 in the foursome is Tony Romo. And we eliminated many "Tony Romos" in our selection process because they were just too good. They really were not what Tiger was talking about. Example: James Doing, the Wisconsin voice coach who made the hilarious "Oh what a beautiful morning!" video you've probably seen. Doing was a plus handicap.
So we get your point and it's a fair one. But ask someone who watches the show if in the end it wasn't pretty close to the original idea.