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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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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).

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.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.