CROMWELL, Conn. – Cut Line has never been a fan of standardized testing, so we’ll keep this week’s edition simple, starting with a player-caddie relationship that had withstood the test of time, a new era of drug testing on the PGA Tour and Erin Hills passes its major championship test, but at what cost?
End of an era. It’s a measure of how significant Phil Mickelson and Jim “Bones” Mackay’s relationship was that news the Tour had dramatically expanded its anti-doping program and Tiger Woods announcing he’s seeking treatment were the second and third most important stories on Tuesday.
The headlines instead focused on Mickelson and Mackay splitting after 25 years together. To put that relationship in context, Mackay was on Lefty’s bag for 41 of his 42 Tour victories, five majors and 11 starts at the Ryder Cup.
It was the benchmark to which nearly every other player/caddie relationship aspired and set a standard that will likely never be equaled considering the toll the often volatile relationship can have on both parties.
As one caddie mused this week after learning the news, “The fairytale is over. Phil and Bones - they were the honeymoon we all wanted.”
Tweet of the week: @skovy14 (Rickie Fowler’s caddie Joe Skovron) “This relationship helped change caddying. Bones’ professionalism and Phil’s respect for what Bones did was unmatched. What a run they had.”
Michael Greller, Jordan Spieth’s caddie, added “100 percent agree, one of the all-time great golf partnerships.”
Speaking of Jordan. He wasn’t a factor at the U.S. Open, has contended just once since his victory earlier this year at Pebble Beach and arrived at the Travelers Championship answering far too many questions about his normally automatic putting stroke.
Turns out there was nothing wrong with Spieth’s game that a few trips around TPC River Highlands couldn’t cure.
After two solid if not spectacular days, Spieth was atop the leaderboard and, more importantly, gaining confidence with each stroke.
The short, tree-lined course is right up Spieth’s alley and his ball-striking has been impressive, but after a few relatively poor putting events it’s the old story of lowered expectations that may have tipped the scales.
“I put in so much time worrying about kind of what feeling, what technique I wanted at Erin Hills, and this week we spent less time on the green,” he said. “I don't think that's something that would normally work, but it was something where we've been more feel-based this week knowing that on poa annua anything can kind of happen.”
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Full disclosure, sort of. Tuesday’s announcement that the Tour would begin blood testing for performance-enhancing drugs next season was not a surprise. Golf’s reintroduction into the Olympics last year all but assured that eventuality, but it was the circuit’s course change in regard to drugs of abuse that did count as a bona fide surprise.
As recently as January, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan had clung to the company line that violations involving drugs of abuse, like marijuana and cocaine, would remain private. Under the new policy, these types of suspensions will now be made public.
So why the sea change?
“The thinking changed because it was approached way more by the players. They put it in front of the players, they talked about it and we had multiple meetings and discussed it and they were asked how they feel about it,” said Jason Bohn, one of four player directors on the policy board. “Management saw that guys think this is a good idea.”
While many heralded the move as a dawn of more transparency at the Tour, it’s important to point out that Monahan still has the discretion not to suspend a player for a drug-of-abuse violation. Without a suspension, there would be no public disclosure.
The Tour may have pulled back the veil on drug testing, but there’s still room for more sunshine.
Erin (Down) Hills. Lost in what turned out to be a busy news week was the normal post-U.S. Open breakdown, which largely cast a positive light on Erin Hills.
Although some fan reaction seemed to dismiss the course as a pushover, there’s no denying the layout identified the week’s best player, champion Brooks Koepka, and provided a decent measure of drama despite record-low scoring.
“I agree it wasn’t a regular U.S. Open golf course, but you also have to give credit to the guys how well they played,” said Kevin Na, who tied for 32nd last week. “It was entertaining.”
With a few days to digest last week’s action, however, player opinions regarding Erin Hills took on a more nuanced element. It’s not a question of whether Erin Hills is an enjoyable or quality layout so much as it is its place in the major championship landscape.
“It’s not a U.S. Open course,” Lucas Glover said. “I liked the course, thought it was a lot of fun and it was cool, but it was not a U.S. Open golf course. The U.S. Open, to me, is 22-yard-wide fairways, bluegrass rough and fast greens. That’s what I grew up watching, that’s what I grew up playing.”
The USGA scored some much needed style points with last week’s drama-free U.S. Open, but the association seems to have hurt Erin Hills’ future as a major venue in the process.
Uncertain future. There was a sense, at least among those close to Tiger Woods, that his most recent back surgery could pave the way to a long awaited comeback.
Last month Davis Love III suggested that the fusion surgery Woods underwent in April would allow the 14-time major champion to play and practice without pain and could help dial back his swing. Love should know - he won on Tour after undergoing a similar procedure.
But then Woods was arrested for suspicion of DUI on May 29 in South Florida and on Monday revealed he’s seeking “professional help to manage my medications and the ways that I deal with back pain and a sleep disorder.”
Perhaps there’s still a path back to competitive relevance for Woods, but his future has never seemed so unclear.