Technology the Reason Elders Not As Long
Nick Price looked amazingly fit at the Verizon Byron Nelson last week. Admittedly, he isnt a Charles Howell with a 32-inch waist, but then, not many players in their 20s look like Howell, either. Price is 45 now, but he is wonderfully athletic. His 6-foot frame distributes his 190 pounds quite nicely. There is just no way he is the proverbial 90-pound weakling.
The PGA Tour rankings show that as late as 1995, Price was fifth in driving length. Today, he stands at No. 143. What in the name of Walter Hagen has happened? Has the rigors of age affected him THAT much?
Well, it hasnt. But modern technology has. Clubs are becoming so much easier to hit on a straight line. A metal head has such a wide array of features built into it that it resembles the old persimmon woods in shape only. And the over-40 set learned the game with persimmon drivers. The 20- and 30-year-olds learned on metal woods.
I feel quite passionate about it, because if you look back 10 years ago, Greg Norman and myself and guys like (Jeff) Sluman, we were among the best drivers in the game, said Price. Now, were very average. And OK, I am 45, but give me one of those old small-headed drivers and I will take on anyone.
And how do those who learned the game on the large heads have an advantage over those who learned on the small heads? Plenty, says Price.
The big difference when we grew up playing wooden drivers ' there was a point where, if you mis-hit that wooden driver, it would snap-hook and miss the adjacent fairway. Lets say you swung at it 85 percent. I can always swing at it 98 percent, but I knew there was a point that if I went to that driver too hard and miscued it, Id (knock it out-of-bounds), he said.
It would snap-hook so bad, so we learned to swing the club at one speed, at like 85 percent of our strength.
Look at the younger generation. They dont have to worry about the snap-hook nearly as much as players who grew up and in the 60s and 70s. Consequently, they routinely bash the ball 290 yards.
The margin of error is greater, Price said. The shots are a lot more consistent, the clubheads are more consistent, more stable, and the ball flies straighter off it. These guys are learning to swing at 95 and 96 percent.
Price mentioned great players over the past 100 years who played their golf with wood ' Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus ' and all swung at 85 percent. Could they swing all-out if they used todays driver? Certainly they could. And they probably would get an extra 20 or 30 yards if they used metal.
Why all of a sudden in 10 years can you go from swinging at it 85 percent, to swinging 95 percent? asked Price. The guys (who grew up in the 80s and 90s) hit it harder. The equipment makes for a much smaller margin of error. Thats the big difference.
Of course, a few of the older fellas have re-learned the swing. Tom Kite hits the ball 20 or 30 yards longer today than he did with his wooden driver 10 years ago, and hes 52 years old. But he is the exception, not the norm. Simply said, it took more skill to hit the old persimmons, and you simply couldnt swing the same was as you do with modern equipment.
Unfortunately, the new technology also is making many of the old courses relics of another era. Merion is the starkest example ' formerly a U.S. Open venue, it hasnt been used for that championship in years. And unless something is done to restrict length, some of the other Open courses will surely follow it.
I dont care what it is, whether we draw the line in the sand right now, saying this is it, or whether we go retroactive and start pulling some of the clubs that are out there ' but I dont know how you go backwards, said Price.
Unfortunately, he was born just a little too early ' or too late, depending on how you look at it. He is a player born on the cusp, starting in the era of the wooden driver, ending now in the era of composites. He knows the percentages ' be it 85 percent or 95 percent ' are against him.
Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey
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.”
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.
Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1
SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.
After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.
With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.
“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.
“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”
Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.
Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'
SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.
“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”
On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”
Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”
Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.
“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.”
Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines
SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.
The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.
Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.
Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.
Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:
• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10
• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1
• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1