05/05/2016

It’s time for the rumors to fly and the side-eyes to kick up. Sports Illustrated released its annual Anonymous Player’s Poll earlier this week. Each year, the poll stirs up some controversy as the subjects brought up have to answer questions they weren’t prepared for.

A year ago, that meant Rickie Fowler responded to the “most overrated player on tour” tag by winning the Players Championship in spectacular fashion. Fowler’s good friend Bubba Watson, on the other hand, picked up the dubious honor of being the player fellow golfers would not help in a fight.

It’s a nasty little thing this poll, but it’s something that at least adds interest in the downtime between The Masters and the US Open.

Here are four big takeaways. Remember, PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour players were polled.

The Big Easy Can Throw Down?

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A friend of mine who got to know some personnel involved at the highest levels of golf once told me once that there was a player on tour who maybe didn’t have the reputation everyone thought he did. That player? Ernie Els. Now, I don’t want to substantiate rumors, but the gist was that Els could be quite temperamental. Given his status as a classy professional—and he has been in the sense that none of his blow-ups have been public—the statement was somewhat surprising.

In player’s poll, 15% of responders said they would want Els to back them up in a bar fight. One player was quoted as saying, “I’ve heard some bar stories about Ernie.”

So maybe keep the 8-putt jokes to yourself if you should run into him in public.

The Ladies Don’t Believe In Tiger

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The question that gets asked more often than any other in golf came up again. Will Tiger Woods win again on the PGA Tour? The tricky part is determining whose answers we should put the most stock in. Out of the PGA players, 42% said yes compared to 27% no. The Champions Tour players were more confident—72% believe he’ll win again. Then there’s the women. Just 36% of LPGA players said yes.

On one hand, the ladies can separate themselves emotionally from Tiger. They can work off logic, while a good portion of current male players idolized the 14-time major champion as they moved through the amateur ranks. It’s hard to admit your hero is done even if that man is now technically a rival. Still, there’s something to be said about the Champions Tour participants. Many of them battled injuries into their 40’s that limited their ability. But that didn’t necessarily stop them from winning. They have the experience to back up the confidence.

Either way, a shrug is probably the best answer.

Na Yeon Choi

The Prettiest Swingers

No surprises here. PGA players are impressed by the perfect swings of Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen, who collected 31 and 20 percent of the vote. Those numbers should probably be higher when you consider 27% responded “me.”

The Champions Tour and LPGA, though, produced interesting results to say the least. Google “Tom Purtzer” and “swing” is one of the first subjects to pop out. Purtzer won five times on the PGA Tour and added one more on the Champions Tour. But he’s somewhat anonymous otherwise. Still, 37% of his colleagues chose him for the prettiest swing on the senior circuit. Fred Couples finished in second place with 7% of the vote.

The LPGA response was summarized thusly: “Not the Americans, that’s for sure.” Four of the top five answers—with “Can’t tell” as the lone exception—were South Koreans led by Na Yeon Choi. The Koreans are much more mechanical with their swings compared to the athletic, muscle-heavy efforts of the Americans. It’s all subjective. And pretty doesn’t always mean better.

Can We Leave Kevin Na And Bubba Watson Alone?

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Why is there this effort to humiliate tour players?

It’s hard to read the “Would you rather be paired with Bubba Watson or Kevin Na?” question any other way. Watson is notoriously unpleasant on the course, while Na is slow. So slow in fact, that 62% went with Bubba despite the less-than-stellar reputation.

Na has come public, to Sports Illustrated of all places, about his mental struggles with golf. That doesn’t make him any easier to play with or a sympathetic figure to all golfers. After all, most players have some sort of mental block or another. Still, a simple no comment would have been the most appropriate response.

As for Watson, he continues to battle against public and professional perception. He has his allies. He also has many detractors. It’s telling that 22% of players polled said “neither” to this question. Na and Watson will both surely be asked about it.

See the complete poll here.