How legit are the handicaps used in this week’s Pro-Am? Are they taken directly from each player’s USGA index or is a fudge factor involved? [email protected]

They’re pretty legit. Each amateur must submit lots of data about their index, but it can go deeper than that; it’s a golfy crowd, and the committee that oversees the tournament handicaps is extremely well-connected, so sometimes calls get made to head pros, friends of friends and others for additional intel.

Generally, each amateur will get a bump, so a 6.3 will play as a 7 for the Clambake, or perhaps an 8. (Conspiracy theorists note that the celebrities always get the maximum bump because the tournament folks want them to make the cut.) The bump is a nod to the difficulty of the host venues, the pressure of playing in front of crowds and pros, the lack of mulligans and gimmes, etc.

But it’s not an exact science. For his first Clambake, in 1997, Andy Garcia was a 15.5 index who was bumped to an 18. In the month before the tournament Garcia played golf nearly every day and took lessons on the swing and short-game. “My game really accelerated,” he once told me. He wound up shooting some low scores, especially during the second round at Poppy Hills, during which Garcia made three natural birdies and contributed nine strokes to what would be a Pro-Am record score of 43 under par. The next year, and every year after that, he played as a 10.


Given that the rightful outrage seemed to have died down quite a bit, and the names that are willing to line their pockets are becoming bigger: is the sportswashing by the Saudi regime a success? [email protected]

Clearly. There has been plenty of outrage over the last year plus, but at some point it gets repetitive and we all move on, which, of course, is exactly what the Saudis are counting on. Professional golfers, by definition, play for money. Saudi Arabia has taken it to the illogical extreme. But as I’ve noted before, without the filthy lucre from authoritarian regimes, the European Tour might go out of business. Do we want pro golfers to entertain us every week or to develop a conscience? For the modern Tour pro, these two things are increasingly mutually exclusive.

You’ve played and covered tournaments on the world’s best courses, what is your favorite par-3, par-4 and par-5? Just one of each. [email protected]

Par-3: 16th at Cypress Point. It’s not an original answer but the anticipation of playing it, the long walk to the tee culminating in the crescendo of the view, the do-or-die nature of the shot…nothing really compares to the thrill of this hole. Sorry, Steve, but I feel compelled to provide a few honorable mentions: No. 5 at Royal Melbourne West, the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon, the 11th at MPCC Shore, No. 3 at Pasatiempo, 15 at Cypress Point, 10 at Friars Head, 11 at Shinnecock, and 9 at Turnberry.

Par-4: 14th at Cruden Bay. The blind approach to this incredible sunken green is enough to compel a man to cross an ocean. Honorable mention: No. 3 at Tara Iti, 8 at Pebble Beach, the 1st at Machrihanish, 2 at Pine Valley, 3 at North Berwick, 16 at Spyglass Hill, 17 at the Old Course, 16 at Pasatiempo, 5 at Bethpage, 18 at Cape Wickham, 7 at Ballyneal, 14 at Sand Hills, 17 at National Golf Links, 16 at Merion, 4 at Spyglass, and 15 at MPCC Shore.

Par-5: 18 at Pebble Beach. It begins with one of the most heart-pounding drives on the planet. The second shot asks a very difficult question: hug the left side, bringing sand and ocean into play but offering the best angle, or bail out and have to deal with the tree right of the green. Then a tough little shot to a green full of subtleties. Honorable mention: 7 at Pine Valley, 13 at Augusta National, 6 at Pebble Beach, 6 at MPCC Shore, 1 at Doonbeg, 14 at Friar’s Head, 18 at Kapalua, and 12 at Kingsbarns.

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