Setting the agenda for the week ahead with five questions for tournament golf at large . . .
When is bad really good?
Ask Kevin Na.
There’s genius in being so bad people love you. Na stumbled and slashed his way into a realm of athletic brilliance inhabited by English ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, the Jamaican bobsled team and Charlie Brown.
When Na tees it up this week at the Heritage at Hilton Head Island, S.C., he will no longer be that slow guy with the temper on the PGA Tour. He’s now the patron saint of high-handicappers. As talented as Na really is – he made a run at winning the Northern Trust Open this year and is the 64th ranked player in the world – he has endeared himself to the golfing public because he was so charmingly bad for one hole in the first round of last week’s Valero Texas Open. His score of 16 at TPC San Antonio’s par-4 ninth hole goes down in infamy.
A lot of twentysomethings are making news in golf these days, but Na’s the only one who made the front page of the New York Times last week and created a YouTube sensation. There were probably more water cooler conversations in workplaces over Na’s performance than over 17-year-old Matteo Manassero winning the Maybank Malaysian Open.
Is the best young talent from overseas?
It seems that way with the Italian Manassero winning his second European Tour event before the age of 18.
It seems that way with Manassero dueling Northern Ireland’s 21-year-old Rory McIlroy for the title on the heels of 26-year-old South African Charl Schwartzel’s Masters’ victory. Schwartzel’s first major comes after Germany’s Martin Kaymer won the PGA Championship at 25 and South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen the British Open at 27.
But there are more players from the United States (8) among the top 50 in the world rankings than any other nation.
Here’s how the best players under 30 sit in this week’s world rankings with their ages in parenthesis:
No. 1 Martin Kaymer, Germany (26).
No. 7 Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland (21).
No. 11 Charl Schwartzel, South Africa (26).
No. 12 Dustin Johnson, United States (26).
No. 14 Nick Watney, United States (29).
No. 19 Francesco Molinari, Italy (28).
No. 20 Hunter Mahan, United States (28).
No. 23 Martin Laird, Scotland (28).
No. 24 Jason Day, Australia (23).
No. 26 Alvaro Quiros, Spain (28).
No. 31 Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa (28).
No. 33 Matteo Manassero, Italy (18).
No. 34 Rickie Fowler, United States (22).
No. 39 Kyung-Tae Kim, South Korea (25).
No. 40 Ryan Moore, United States (28).
No. 43 Anthony Kim, United States (25).
No. 45 Ryo Ishikawa, Japan (19).
No. 48 Gary Woodland, United States (26).
No. 49 Bill Haas, United States (28).
So who’s going to break through next on the PGA Tour?
It’s looking like the year of the breakthroughs on the PGA Tour
If you’re into statistics, you should like the chances of Hunter Haas breaking through at the Heritage to become the sixth first-time winner this season.
The average world ranking of the winner of a PGA Tour event this year is 152.9.
Haas is No. 153 in the world.
Brendan Steele was No. 231 when he won the Valero Texas Open last week. He’s the 10th player this season to win a PGA Tour event with a ranking of 100 or higher, and the fifth player with a ranking of 200 or higher.
Who’s going to break out at the Heritage?
The fact that so many players are breaking through on the PGA Tour this season tells you there are a number of established winners looking to break out with their first victories of 2011.
There are reasons to believe Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink, Davis Love III, Boo Weekley and Brian Gay will contend this week. They’ve all won at Harbour Town before.
And there is reason to like Ernie Els breaking out to win for the first time this year with his seven top-10 finishes at Harbour Town.
Is this the PGA Tour’s farewell performance at Harbour Town?
Whispers and rumors give hope that a new title sponsor will be found to keep the long-standing PGA Tour event on the schedule, but its troubling tournament week has arrived and there’s still no announcement.
Arnold Palmer won the inaugural Heritage Classic in 1969. So many of the game’s biggest names have won at Harbour Town. Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Hale Irwin, Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Bernhard Langer and Payne Stewart are among the past champions.
This year’s event is being staged without a title sponsor. After Verizon’s contract expired, tournament organizers bought themselves another year funding the event with $4 million in tournament reserves and another $1 million from local governing bodies. With no title sponsor announcements appearing imminent, the pressure’s on the tournament to put on a good show in hopes of wooing somebody this week.
Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell