Longer courses not the answer to distance problem

By Rex HoggardNovember 9, 2017, 7:26 pm

It’s become trendy the last few months to leverage the ongoing debate over how far modern professionals hit the golf ball by warning that unless something is done to stem the distance tide, 8,000-yard golf courses will become the norm.

Jack Nicklaus has warned about this for years, and last week Tiger Woods took a similar message to the masses during an ESPN podcast with Geno Auriemma, who is a wonderful basketball coach but probably out of his depth when it comes to the intricacies of modern golf course architecture.

“The only thing I would say is that we need to do something about the golf ball. I just think it’s going too far because we’re having to build golf courses . . . if you want to have a championship venue, they’ve got to be [7,300], 7,400 yards long and if the game keeps progressing the way it is with technology, I think that the 8,000-yard golf course is not too far away,” Woods said.

To hear Woods talk, you'd think the prospect of 8,000-yard golf courses is a terrifying one, at least for course designers. To them, it's the Keyser Soze of modern golf.

“That’s pretty scary," Woods said. "We don’t have enough property to be designing these types of golf courses. And it just makes it so much more complicated.”

There is wisdom to Woods’ words; on this the statistics don’t lie.

In 1997, Woods was second on the PGA Tour in driving distance with a 294-yard average, just behind John Daly, the only player to average over 300 yards (302) off the tee. Last year, Rory McIlroy led the way with a 317-yard average and a total of 43 players averaged more than 300 yards off the tee. Any way you slice it, whether it be vastly improved equipment, better agronomy, fitness, teaching, whatever, players are hitting it drastically farther than they did just 20 years ago.

What doesn’t seem as obvious, however, is the idea that 8,000-yard golf courses are the answer.

Until they prove otherwise, let’s assume golf’s rule makers, the USGA and R&A, are going to continue to hold the current line when it comes to how far the golf ball travels. Without a fundamental shift to the Rules of Golf, statistics suggest it’s not longer courses that are the answer so much as it is better-designed golf courses.

Consider June’s U.S. Open as Exhibit A. The behemoth Erin Hills was designed to host a major championship, a sprawling layout that played 7,741 yards; and yet Brooks Koepka finished at 16 under and Justin Thomas set a U.S. Open scoring record with his 9-under 63 on Saturday.

To be fair, the winds that normally whistle across that corner of Wisconsin in the summer were nonexistent and Koepka did win by four strokes, but the point is still valid – longer doesn’t always mean harder.

Erin Hills, the longest course on Tour in ’17, ranked as the sixth-toughest, behind the likes of TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, which was the 12th-shortest course at 7,107 yards; and just ahead of Colonial, the circuit’s seventh-toughest that played to 7,209 yards and a par of 70.

In fact, if you crunch the numbers the correlation between more distance and increased difficulty seems mathematically skewed.

If you were to take, for example, the statistically toughest and longest holes last year on Tour and create a composite course, this layout would stretch 8,794 yards and played to a 74.49 stroke average based on a par of 72 (four par 3s, 10 par 4s, four par 5s). That’s just slightly tougher than Quail Hollow (73.46 stroke average), which hosted the PGA Championship in August at 7,600 yards.

By comparison, if you took the statistically toughest and shortest composite course last year, the total yardage would be just 5,578 yards and it played to a 67.54 stroke average.

The difference in yardage between these two manufactured examples would be 3,216 yards and the difference in scoring average would be 6.95 strokes, or about 460 yards per stroke.

If, in fact, the desired outcome is more difficult scoring averages an additional 460 yards per stroke is a zero-sum game and should be considered by all accounts a worst-case scenario.

But then not all holes are created equal. Players regularly vote some of the circuit’s shortest holes among the best. Frames like the par-3 12th at Augusta National, which at just 155 yards ranked as the 10th-toughest par 3 on Tour last season. Or the par-4 10th at Riviera, which at 315 yards was the sixth-shortest par 4 on Tour in ’17 but held its own with a 3.87 scoring average.

The debate over what should be done to “fix” the game will continue to rage as long as players regularly launch tee shots well past the 300-yard barrier, but the notion that 8,000-yard courses are the answer seems wildly simplistic and statistically undesirable.

It’s not longer holes that will make the hard-swinging pro set reconsider the bomb-and-gouge strategy, it’s better-designed holes.

Ogilvy urges distance rollback of ball

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 8:49 pm

Add Geoff Ogilvy to the chorus of voices calling for a distance rollback of the golf ball.

In an interview before the start of the Emirates Australian Open, Ogilvy said a "time-out" is needed for governing bodies to deal with the issue.

"It's complete nonsense," he said, according to an Australian website. "In my career, it’s gone from 300 yards was a massive hit to you’re a shorter hitter on tour now, legitimately short. It’s changed the way we play great golf courses and that is the crime. It isn’t that the ball goes 400, that’s neither here nor there. It’s the fact the ball going 400 doesn’t makes Augusta work properly, it functions completely wrong.’’


Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open


Ogilvy used an example from American baseball to help get his point across to an Australian audience.

“Major League Baseball in America, they use wooden bats, and everywhere else in baseball they use aluminium bats,’’ he said. “And when the major leaguers use aluminium bats they don’t even have to touch it and it completely destroys their stadiums. It’s just comedy.

“That’s kind of what’s happened to us at least with the drivers of these big hitters; We’ve completely outgrown the stadiums. So do you rebuild every stadium in the world? That’s expensive. Or make the ball go shorter? It seems relatively simple from that perspective.’’

Ogilvy, an Australian who won the 2006 U.S. Open, said he believes there will be a rollback, but admitted it would be a "challenge" for manufacturers to produce a ball that flies shorter for pros but does not lose distance when struck by recreational players.

The golf world celebrates Thanksgiving

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 6:01 pm

Here's a look, through social media, at how the golf world celebrates Thanksgiving.

Lexi Thompson:

Baking time!!

A post shared by Lexi Thompson (@lexi) on

David Feherty:

Jack Nicklaus:

GC Tiger Tracker:

Steve Stricker:

Golf Channel:

Frank Nobilo:

Ian Poulter:

Tyrone Van Aswegen:

Happy Thanksgiving: Biggest turkeys of 2017

By Grill Room TeamNovember 23, 2017, 3:00 pm

Thanksgiving brings us golf's biggest turkeys of the year. Donald Trump, Grayson Murray and a certain (now-former) tournament director headline the list. Click here or on the image below to check out all the turkeys.

Tributes pour in for legendary caddie Sheridan

By Randall MellNovember 23, 2017, 2:54 pm

Tributes are pouring in as golf celebrates the life of Greg Sheridan after receiving news of his passing.

Sheridan, a long-time LPGA caddie who worked for some of the game’s all-time greats, including Kathy Whitworth and Beth Daniel, died Wednesday in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla., at 63. He was diagnosed in July 2016 with brain and lung cancer.

Sheridan worked the last dozen years or so with Natalie Gulbis, who expressed her grief in an Instagram post on Wednesday:

“Greg…I miss you so much already and it hasn’t even been a day. 15+ seasons traveling the world you carried me & my bag through the highs and lows of golf and life. You were so much more than my teammate on the course…Thank you.”

Sheridan was on Whitworth’s bag for the last of her LPGA-record 88 titles.

“When I first came on tour, I would try to find out how many times Greg won,” Gulbis told Golfweek. “It’s a crazy number, like 50.”

Matthew Galloway, a caddie and friend to Sheridan, summed up Sheridan’s impressive reach after caddying with him one year at the LPGA Founders Cup, where the game’s pioneers are honored.

“Best Greg story,” Galloway tweeted on Thanksgiving morning, “coming up 18 at PHX all the founders were in their chairs. Greg goes, `Yep, caddied for her, her and her.’ Legend.”

In a first-person column for Golf Magazine last year, Gulbis focused on Sheridan while writing about the special bond between players and caddies. She wrote that she won the “looper lottery” when she first hired Sheridan in ’04.

“Greg and I have traveled the world, and today he is like family,” Gulbis wrote. “Sometimes, he’s a psychologist. Last year, my mom got sick and it was a distraction, but he was great. When I used to have boyfriend issues and breakup issues, he was my confidant. In a world where caddies sometimes spill secrets, Greg has kept a respectful silence, and I can’t thank him enough for that. He’s an extension of me.”

Four months after Gulbis wrote the column, Sheridan was diagnosed with cancer.

“The LPGA family is saddened to hear of the loss of long-time tour caddie, Greg Sheridan,” the LPGA tweeted. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and players he walked with down the fairways. #RIP.”

Dean Herden was among the legion of caddies saddened by the news.

“Greg was a great guy who I respected a lot and taught me some great things over the years,” Herden texted to GolfChannel.com.

Here are some of heartfelt messages that are rolling across Twitter:

Retired LPGA great Annika Sorenstam:

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan in a retweet of Gulbis:

Golf Channel reporter and former tour player Jerry Foltz:

Christina Kim:

LPGA caddie Shaun Clews:

LPGA caddie Jonny Scott:

LPGA caddie Kevin Casas:

LPGA pro Jennie Lee: