The Golf Ball Debate Causes and Effects Meet News Judgment
Not a word about how the defenses of the stadium course at the TPC of Sawgrass may have diluted the argument that the golf ball goes too far, one of my correspondents wrote. The e-mail bore the title, The First Amendment Does Not Balance Itself; the writer is, as you might expect, involved in making and selling golf balls.
The e-mails bring up the thorny but necessary question: Are the golf media miscasting the golf ball debate?
Lets begin by disposing of the issue of intention. As someone who, through some arguable lapses in judgment, has chosen two professions that are generally reviled ' lawyer, then reporter ' I am perhaps more sensitive than most to the notion that reporters skew reporting of the news according to their personal politics. The issues raised by Bernard Goldberg, the former CBS News reporter, in his recent book, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, have been much on my mind lately. Goldberg, hardly a card-carrying conservative, savages his former colleagues (Dan Rather in particular) for being out of touch with the country west of the Hudson and for reporting the news with a definite leftward tilt.
It doesnt matter whether you believe that or not. The implication does the damage. But even Goldberg is willing to admit that theres no conspiracy going on at the big networks. The anchors and producers immutable politics are to blame. (Perhaps that should make Rather and his people feel worse.)
Knowing the members of the golf press as I do, Im inclined to believe there is likewise no conspiracy in the bentgrass segment of the Fourth Estate. And while its not my job or desire to rise to the defense of my competitor colleagues (some of whom have been terribly unfair to my place of business, by the way), I think I know why they play the modern golf ball stories the way they do.
Consider the following sample headlines: Johnson Proposes Special Masters Golf Ball, and Single-Digit-Under-Par Scores Show Golf Balls Not the Problem.
Which story would you read? Headlines such as the first example recently led readers to the story of Masters chairman Hootie Johnson proposing a limited-flight golf ball for his event, essentially making a public play to overcome the current rulemaking inertia in golf.
The second headline, which of course never appeared in any form, it is the golf news equivalent of No Fire Breaks Out at Local Textile Mill. The reader shrugs and moves on.
At least some segment of readers and others affected by press coverage will always grumble about the media because the play assigned to a story ' whether it appears above the fold in the paper or early in a broadcast ' is a matter of judgment, and subjective matters invite debate.
But this isnt a journalism lesson. The behavior of some of the golf media, as well as that of the sources who feed them information, may have fostered the notion that the ball is the problem, instead of the fact, which is that many people say the ball is the problem.
Case in point: As he sat down for a taped interview with me at Sawgrass, Pete Dye used the moment while his microphone was being clipped on to tell me that I had the wrong people talking on the air about the golf ball debate. He offered a statistic to show that so-called ladies golf balls nowadays go further than the best mens balls did just a few years ago. The stat, while intriguing, did not of itself necessarily prove that modern golf balls are ruining either the game or the people who design its playing fields. (Dont blame Dye for ineffective debate. He offered the observation professionally and politely, and we were there to discuss Jerry Pates 1982 dunking of him after the first Players Championship at Sawgrass, not the golf ball matter. So Pete had no chance to continue his point before the red light went on.)
But like many other leading golf course architects, Dye sees the modern ball as the scourge of the game. The American Society of Golf Course Architects, led by president Damian Pascuzzo, has hammered on this message roundly for more than a year. (Perhaps it is a measure of the ASGCAs get-under-the-skin factor that Wally Uihlein, chief of Titleist and a vocal opponent of people he has called anti-innovation Luddites, has hired former Monty Python member John Cleese to lampoon the architects position by playing a wrong-headed, plaid-coated architect in commercials for Titleists long NXT golf balls.)
My respect for Dye and the ASGCA notwithstanding, my antennae go up when I hear such arguments. Its not the substance of the argument so much as its uniform color throughout.
There is a doctrine of historical study we learned in school called monocausation. That clunky, scholarly term referred to a practice to be avoided, the facile but often misleading attempt to pawn off a large event to a single reason. Slavery caused the Civil War, the 1929 stock market crash caused the Great Depression, you get the idea. Real analysis admits of several causes and can live with complexity, even uncertainty.
Extend it to golf, and you can easily list a number of possible causes in the games latest bout of non-growing pains: the ball core recipes (perhaps, for the elite players), mower technology (Sarazen, Jones and their contemporaries never hit off of lies so good), clubhead size and quality control, shaft design and innovation, golfer training, health, strength and abilitygo ahead, you take it from here.
Problem is, monocausation yields better and easier-to-write headlines, even if it encourages trashy analysis.
Leafing through the work product of the golf press, as well as the websites of the major debaters, it seems to me that all sides of the golf-ball-distance debate are reasonably well represented, even if not always to the liking of the combatants. We in the media are far from perfect, and occasionally our judgment about how we play stories can be called into question, despite our best efforts to be fair. Monocausation can tempt even the usually careful mind. Its something we have a solemn obligation to work on, even when were doing well.
But when I hear vociferous arguments that the modern golf ball (or any factor in this complicated game) is the sole cause of a feared descent into driver-wedgedom in the elite game, Im not concerned that its the media miscasting the debate.
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.
Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.