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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.

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J.Y. Ko wins her first start as an official LPGA member

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2018, 4:09 pm

Make way for Jin Young Ko.

The South Koreans keep delivering one new star after another to the LPGA ranks, and they aren’t going to disappoint this year.

Ko made some history Sunday winning the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, closing with a 3-under-par 69 to claim a wire-to-wire victory. She became the first player in 67 years to win her LPGA debut as a tour member. Beverly Hanson (1951) is the only other player to do so.

Hyejin Choi, an 18-year-old who just turned pro, is yet another emerging South Korean star looking to crack the LPGA ranks. She finished second Sunday, three shots back after closing with a 67. She played on a sponsor exemption. She is already No. 11 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and likely to move up when the newest rankings are released. Had Choi won Sunday, she could have claimed LPGA membership for the rest of this season.


Full-field scores from the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open


Ko, 22, moved herself into early position to try to follow in Sung Hyun Park’s footsteps. Park won the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year awards last year. She joined Nancy Lopez as the only players to do so. Lopez did it in 1978. Park shared the Player of the Year honor with So Yeon Ryu.

Ko said winning the Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year Award is a goal, but she didn’t come into the year setting her sights on Player of the Year.

“I haven’t thought about that yet,” she said.

Ko finished at 14 under overall.

It was a good week for rookies. Australia’s Hannah Green (69) finished third.

Ko claimed LPGA membership this year based on her victory as a non-member at the KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea last fall. She’s already a star in South Korea, having won 10 times on the Korean LPGA Tour. She is No. 20 in the world and, like Choi, poised to move up when the newest world rankings are released.

Former world No. 1 Lydia Ko closed with an even par 72, finishing tied for 19th in her 2018 debut. She is in next week’s field at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

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Luiten takes title at inaugural Oman Open

By Associated PressFebruary 18, 2018, 3:25 pm

MUSCAT, Oman - Joost Luiten of the Netherlands won the inaugural Oman Open on Sunday to break a title drought of nearly 17 months.

The 32-year-old Dutchman shot a 4-under 68 to finish on 16-under 272, two shots ahead of his friend, England's Chris Wood (69).

It was Luiten's sixth European Tour title and the first since the 2016 KLM Open.

Frenchman Julien Guerrier (71) virtually assured that he would not have to go to qualifying school for the 12th time with a third-place finish after a 13-under 275.

Luiten started with three birdies in his first four holes, but bogeys on the seventh and eighth set him back. On the back nine, he made three birdies, including a key one on the 16th, where he made a 30-foot putt.

''It feels great. I didn't know what to expect when I came here but to play a course like this which is in great condition - it's a great technical golf course as well - it was beyond my expectation and to hold the trophy is even better,'' said Luiten, who is expected to rise to No. 65 in the new rankings on Monday.

''I had a great start, that's what I was hoping for. I hit some nice ones in close and rolled in a couple of nice putts and that gets you in the right position, where you want to be.


Full-field scores from the NBO Oman Golf Classic


''Unfortunately, I had a couple of bogeys as well on the front nine, but I recovered from that with a couple of nice birdies on the back nine and it was a good battle with Woody.''

Playing one group ahead, England's Wood was right in the mix and tied with Luiten at 15-under when their fortunes went in opposite directions almost at the same time. On the 17th hole, Wood drove his tee shot into the hazard left and could do no more than chip his ball out for a bogey. Luiten, meanwhile, drained his 30-footer birdie putt on the 16th for a two-shot swing.

Recovering his form after a series of disappointments, Wood was let down by the loss and said: ''It's golf isn't it? You are never happy.

''I played poorly for six or eight months. Would have never thought I would have put myself into contention. And when you do, you feel gutted when you don't win. I am pretty down really, but in the grand scheme of things, when I reflect after a couple of days, I will think it is a big step in the right direction.''

Luiten's win also got him into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai, securing him a start at the WGC-Mexico Championship in two weeks.

Frenchman Alexander Levy (70), who was hoping to finish in the top five to push into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai and grab the WGC-Mexico spot himself, did manage a joint fourth place at 11 under, but Luiten's victory kept him 11th.

The European Tour next moves to Doha for the Qatar Masters starting on Thursday.

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J.Y. Ko wins Women's Australian Open by three

By Associated PressFebruary 18, 2018, 3:10 pm

ADELAIDE, Australia - South Korea's Jin Young Ko shot a 3-under par 69 Sunday to clinch a 3-shot, start-to-finish win the Women's Australian Open.

Playing in her first tournament as a full LPGA member, Ko shot 65, 69, 71, 69 to lead after all four rounds and to finish with a total of 274, 14-under par at the Kooyonga Golf Club. She is the first player to win her first tournament as an LPGA member in the tour's 67-year history.

Ko started the day four shots clear of 21-year-old Hannah Green, who was bidding to become the first Australian to win her national crown since Karrie Webb won the last of her five titles in 2014.

Green played solidly in the final group with Ko, shooting 69 and missing a birdie on the 18th which cost her a share of second place.

The stiffest challenge Sunday came from Ko's compatriot Hyejin Choi who closed within a shot at the turn, carding four birdies on her first nine holes. Ko began with birdies at the first and second holes, then stumbled with bogeys on the par-3 third and seventh holes.

But just as her lead came under threat, she found another gear, birdying the ninth hole to regain a two-shot lead. She then pulled away with birdies at the 13th and 17th in what seemed a nerveless finish, showing the experience gained as a 10-time winner on the Korean LPGA Tour.


Full-field scores from the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open


She ended with a regulation par on the 18th to claim her second LPGA title after previously winning the co-sanctioned KEB-Hana Bank Championship.

Ko said she felt ''lots'' of nerves over the final round. Asked her reaction when she holed out on 18, she said ''relief.''

''I thought I could do it but I felt I had to play my game and enjoy the game,'' Ko said. ''My goal this week was firstly to make the cut and second to enjoy the game.

''But I won this week so I don't know what that might mean. My goal is Rookie of the Year.'' Asked by a reporter whether Player of the Year was a realistic option, Ko replied: ''No, not yet.''

Ko started the tournament ranked 20 but could be close to the top-10 by the start of the next LPGA tour stop in Thailand next weekend.

Choi was relentless in pursuit, the only player other than Ko to beat par in all four rounds. She shot 69, 71, 70, 67 on the par-72 layout, finishing at 277, 11 under par.

Green, in her rookie season, had rounds of 69, 74, 66, 69 to finish third at 10-under, one shot ahead of compatriot Katherine Kirk, who finished with a 7-under 65, the day's best round.

''I started off really well,'' Green said. ''My goal was to get into every major and I know that's quite hard being a rookie this year. So hopefully I've made enough money and keep making money to ensure I'm definitely in.''

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G-Mac has Ryder Cup on mind with Genesis in grasp

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 2:12 am

LOS ANGELES – Graeme McDowell is four years removed from his last start in a Ryder Cup and golf is more than seven months away from this year’s matches, but then it’s never too early to start daydreaming.

Following a third-round 70 that left him tied for third place and just two strokes off the lead at the Genesis Open, McDowell was asked if the matches are on his mind.

“I feel like I've got a lot of things to do between now and getting on that team,” he said. “Standing here right now it's probably not a realistic goal, but if I continue to play the way I'm playing for the next few months, it may start to become a realistic goal.”


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


McDowell began his week at Riviera Country Club fresh off four consecutive missed cuts and has drifted to 219th in the Official World Golf Ranking. But his play this week has been encouraging and the Northern Irishman has always relished the opportunity to play for Europe.

“Deep down I know I'm good enough, but I've got to show, I've got to put some results on the board, I've got to take care of my business,” he said. “The greatest experience of my career bar none, and I would love to play another couple Ryder Cup matches before it's all said and done.”

McDowell does have a potential advantage this year having won the French Open twice at Le Golf National, site of this year’s matches.