Worst golf developments of past 50 years

By Brandel ChambleeJanuary 25, 2014, 12:50 pm

(Editor's note: Brandel Chamblee's five best things to happen to golf in the past 50 years will be posted in this space Monday.) 

I have this vision of golf in the near future: My kids are playing a three-hole course in 15 minutes with their caps on backwards, YouTubing every swing, tweeting every thought and partially paralyzed by swing-tip apps they just downloaded. Such is the nature of our over-caffeinated, increasingly distracted youth, as well as some of the proposals to counter the decay of the number of people who are playing golf today. Indeed, the governing bodies are desperate to grow the game. Well intentioned as they are, when I hear these “grow the game” proposals I can’t help but think that golf may not be for everyone. Perhaps it’s just too expensive and hard, but other trends in the game have hurt its growth, too.

This got me thinking about the worst things that have happened to golf in the past 50 years – events or ideas or people that have made the game less compelling by making it more complicated, more expensive, more time-consuming.

Here, then, are my five worst things to happen to golf in the past 50 years:

5. Overly complicated instruction. “The Golfing Machine,” a book written by Homer Kelley and published in 1969, breaks the swing down into numerous components, each of which has three to 10 variables, resulting in an almost endless number of possible combinations. So complicated is this book that it comes with instructions on how to read it, and prospective students are encouraged to seek out “AIs” – authorized instructors of Kelley’s method. Kelley, who died in 1983, seems to have been a well meaning and well educated man, but his book achieved cult status and unfortunately spawned copycat books and teachers both “authorized” and not who want to make the game so complicated that they alone are the ones with the answers. 

4. The Stimpmeter. It’s a device used to measure the speed of greens, which seems harmless enough, but it has led to an addiction to slicker greens. The double-digit speeds of some of these greens are incompatible with many of the well thought-out green complexes of architects old and revered, subjecting their work to redesigns, which inevitably miss the original point – fun. Greens committees put pressure on golf course architects to stress the grasses by mowing them to whisker height so they can brag about their course’s green speeds, oblivious to the fact that putting on such slippery surfaces inevitably slows play to a glacial pace. 

3. The rule against anchored strokes. An effort to quash an unsightly professional trend, this is another blow to the declining base of this game. Golf is supposed to be a game for a lifetime, and the anchored putter was a port in the storm of fraying nerves caused by aging. The USGA and R&A, both of which have done so much good, stood silent on this issue for 40-plus years and then stood insolent to the petitions of many. Bifurcation is a stupid word for what would have been a smart move, to provide for the differences between the professionals and the 50 million others who play at a vastly lower level.  

2. Slow play. It gets blamed for declining participation numbers more than the changing social dynamic of women working more and men playing less. The combination of these two factors has assured that golf, at least in this country, will never experience the growth it saw in the 1960s. Tour players, whose influence on slow play is said to be the root from which this ugly tree has grown, are not the problem. Events have conspired against them – an industry-wide conspiracy, actually. Because of technology, players are longer and far less accurate, so they take more time to size up shots. Holes have reached absurd distances, which take longer to walk, and greens have reached insane speeds, which take longer to putt. Distances from greens to tees are often longer than the holes themselves, which take more time to navigate. Again, bifurcation would have taken care of most of these issues, but combined there is no chance Tour players will move appreciably faster in the future. Because what we see is what we do, the rest of us won’t be speeding up, either. 

1. Losing Tony Lema and Payne Stewart. The deaths of Lema in 1966 and Stewart in 1999, both as the result of aircraft accidents, robbed golf of two of its most engaging champions in the primes of their lives. Lema was just 32 and had from 1963-66 finished in the top 10 in 50 percent of the tournaments he entered, including a 5-shot victory over Jack Nicklaus in the 1964 Open Championship at St. Andrews. By the time of his death, Lema had become second only to Arnold Palmer in popularity. Stewart made the putt of his life to win the 1999 U.S. Open, his third major title. But what he did afterward said more about who he was than that putt. Taking Phil Mickelson’s face in both hands, Stewart tried to ease the pain of the loss by reminding him of the larger picture of impending parenthood. When Grantland Rice wrote: “For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks – not that you won or lost – but how you played the game,” he was writing of men like Tony and Payne.

Coming Monday: Brandel's five best things to happen to golf in the past 50 years. 

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

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“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.