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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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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”