Augusta National Ahead of the Distance Curve

By Associated PressApril 7, 2003, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Hootie Johnson walked out to Amen Corner during the 2001 Masters in time to see Phil Mickelson play his second shot into the 455-yard 11th hole, one of the toughest at Augusta National.
 
Mickelson had 94 yards to the green -- a flip wedge.
 
That was all Johnson needed to realize it was right to lengthen the golf course by 300 yards, the biggest overhaul in club history.
 
Two years later, some players question whether Augusta went far enough.
 
'I told Hootie, 'You guys were ahead of the curve when you did this golf course last year,'' six-time Masters winner Jack Nicklaus said. 'Now, they're behind the curve.'
 
The Masters isn't alone.
 
Torrey Pines revamped its South Course to measure 7,600 yards for the 2008 U.S. Open. Last year's U.S. Open at Bethpage Black had the two longest par 4s in its history -- No. 12 (499 yards) and No. 10 (492 yards).
 
Why go to such lengths?
 
To protect against the most rapid advances ever in golf technology.
 
It has reached a point where golf's top executives are debating whether to introduce separate equipment standards for elite and recreational players.
 
'I really would not like to see that, but it may be inevitable,' Arnold Palmer said.
 
Whether that would change anything is unclear. But it's not as simple as blaming the golf ball and oversized titanium drivers. Look inside the fitness trailer on tour, or in weight rooms at Kapalua and La Costa, and it's obvious that golf is starting to resemble a real sport.
 
Players are bigger, stronger, more cut.
 
They lift, they run, they watch what they eat.
 
Some are trained by renowned teachers before they graduate from elementary school. By the time they mature, players can generate enormous power by swinging the club at speeds approaching 120 mph upon impact.
 
'I've got a 9-year-old and he plays with all the kids at home, and they're all teeing it as high as a tee will allow and swinging as hard as they can,' Davis Love III said. 'There was only one person doing that on the range when I was growing up, and that was me.'
 
Equipment companies are responding with drivers made of space-age metals that weigh less and have a large hitting area, allowing more room for error.
 
They make balls that combine distance and feel, with aerodynamics that optimize lift and reduce drag. Some balls are customized for launch conditions of various players.
 
Golf is no longer just a game. It's a science.
 
Nick Price learned to play when it was an art. Like most players 30 and older, he grew up using wooden drivers with a sweet spot the size of a pea.
 
'Now the sweet spot is the size of a peach,' Price laments.
 
Swinging for the fences often meant the ball went into the trees. Price figured out he could swing at 85 percent of his total strength before he lost control of his tee shots. Nicklaus was said to have an extra 20 yards when he needed it.
 
Now, it seems as though every player gives it all they have on every drive.
 
'As soon as you give a person a lighter, more forgiving club, guys are going to learn to swing harder,' Price said. 'Guys are pushing the envelope, and that's increased their ability to swing by 8 to 10 percent. That's where they pick up clubhead speed.'
 
He doesn't think rolling back the golf ball by 10 percent would solve anything.
 
'The game is about the ability to swing a 44-inch object 25 feet, to return it back and hit it on a sweet spot,' he said. 'The smaller the sweet spot, the more you test that skill.'
 
Price, however, is in the minority.
 
Most attribute distance gains to the variable that moves -- the golf ball. Nicklaus has been lobbying against golf ball improvements for 25 years, and what happened to him last month at the Ford Championship at Doral only proved his point.
 
When he won the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the defining shot was his 1-iron from 219 yards into a stiff breeze that knocked down the flag at No. 17.
 
Nicklaus had 219 yards into a stiff breeze to the par-5 eighth hole at Doral. At age 63, he hit 2-iron into 15 feet.
 
'What else could it be?' Nicklaus said.
 
He proposes a tournament ball that would restore shotmaking and reward talent. He also fears the power game is making championship courses obsolete, and the only way to test elite players is to pinch fairways, grow rough and make the greens as firm as concrete.
 
Just as Ernie Els uses better equipment than Nicklaus had in his prime, Nicklaus used better equipment than Ben Hogan, who had better equipment than Bobby Jones.
 
'Every generation says the game changes, and the game has changed,' Nicklaus said. 'The only thing that hasn't had to change is the golf course -- until now. How much more can people afford to keep buying land and changing the golf course because of the ego of a ball manufacturer?'
 
Meantime, anecdotal evidence keeps piling up:
 
*Els hit a drive that went nearly 400 yards to the bottom of the hill on the 15th hole the Plantation Course at Kapalua. A week later at Waialae Country Club, he reached the 501-yard ninth hole with a driver and a wedge.
 
*Mickelson nearly drove the green on the 403-yard 10th hole at the Phoenix Open.
 
*Charles Howell III hit sand wedge for his second shot on the 451-yard 18th at Riviera Country Club, the same hole where a plaque in the fairway pays tribute to Dave Stockton for his 3-wood that helped him win the 1974 Los Angeles Open.
 
Still, length isn't everything. Tiger Woods is the world's best player, and he relies more on his short game and course management than hitting the ball as far as he can.
 
'I don't take advantage of technology fully,' Woods said. 'I play with a short driver (43 inches) and a steel shaft and a shallow face, so I've limited myself to what I can do. But I'd much rather control the ball and get the ball in play.'
 
Is distance ruining golf?
 
The fear is that technology will turn even the toughest golf course into a pitch-and-putt. Johnson didn't order changes to Augusta National because the scores were too low, he simply got tired of seeing players hit wedge into almost all of the par 4s.
 
Some worry that golf will become tennis at the highest level -- no longer a game of exquisite shotmaking, but sheer power.
 
Peter Dawson, secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in Scotland, opposes two sets of rules. Still, he is not oblivious to a rapidly changing game.
 
'What's happening now is the gap between the elite player and the average club player has widened,' Dawson said. 'I don't think there's any issue at the club level with technology. But because these guys get so good out here, maybe there is an issue for them.'
 
Related Links:
  • 2003 Masters Tournament Mini-Site
  • Tournament Coverage
  • The Augusta National Membership Debate: A Chronology
     

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    Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

    By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

    ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

    The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

    They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

    Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

    Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

    Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

    ''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

    The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

    In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

    Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

    Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

    By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

    Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

    Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

    Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

    Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

    It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

    The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

    Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

    By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

    ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

    Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

    ''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

    They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

    ''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

    Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

    ''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

    Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

    Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

    Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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    Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

    Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

    Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

    Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

    Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

    The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.