The Golf Ball Debate Causes and Effects Meet News Judgment
Not a word about how the defenses of the stadium course at the TPC of Sawgrass may have diluted the argument that the golf ball goes too far, one of my correspondents wrote. The e-mail bore the title, The First Amendment Does Not Balance Itself; the writer is, as you might expect, involved in making and selling golf balls.
The e-mails bring up the thorny but necessary question: Are the golf media miscasting the golf ball debate?
Lets begin by disposing of the issue of intention. As someone who, through some arguable lapses in judgment, has chosen two professions that are generally reviled ' lawyer, then reporter ' I am perhaps more sensitive than most to the notion that reporters skew reporting of the news according to their personal politics. The issues raised by Bernard Goldberg, the former CBS News reporter, in his recent book, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, have been much on my mind lately. Goldberg, hardly a card-carrying conservative, savages his former colleagues (Dan Rather in particular) for being out of touch with the country west of the Hudson and for reporting the news with a definite leftward tilt.
It doesnt matter whether you believe that or not. The implication does the damage. But even Goldberg is willing to admit that theres no conspiracy going on at the big networks. The anchors and producers immutable politics are to blame. (Perhaps that should make Rather and his people feel worse.)
Knowing the members of the golf press as I do, Im inclined to believe there is likewise no conspiracy in the bentgrass segment of the Fourth Estate. And while its not my job or desire to rise to the defense of my competitor colleagues (some of whom have been terribly unfair to my place of business, by the way), I think I know why they play the modern golf ball stories the way they do.
Consider the following sample headlines: Johnson Proposes Special Masters Golf Ball, and Single-Digit-Under-Par Scores Show Golf Balls Not the Problem.
Which story would you read? Headlines such as the first example recently led readers to the story of Masters chairman Hootie Johnson proposing a limited-flight golf ball for his event, essentially making a public play to overcome the current rulemaking inertia in golf.
The second headline, which of course never appeared in any form, it is the golf news equivalent of No Fire Breaks Out at Local Textile Mill. The reader shrugs and moves on.
At least some segment of readers and others affected by press coverage will always grumble about the media because the play assigned to a story ' whether it appears above the fold in the paper or early in a broadcast ' is a matter of judgment, and subjective matters invite debate.
But this isnt a journalism lesson. The behavior of some of the golf media, as well as that of the sources who feed them information, may have fostered the notion that the ball is the problem, instead of the fact, which is that many people say the ball is the problem.
Case in point: As he sat down for a taped interview with me at Sawgrass, Pete Dye used the moment while his microphone was being clipped on to tell me that I had the wrong people talking on the air about the golf ball debate. He offered a statistic to show that so-called ladies golf balls nowadays go further than the best mens balls did just a few years ago. The stat, while intriguing, did not of itself necessarily prove that modern golf balls are ruining either the game or the people who design its playing fields. (Dont blame Dye for ineffective debate. He offered the observation professionally and politely, and we were there to discuss Jerry Pates 1982 dunking of him after the first Players Championship at Sawgrass, not the golf ball matter. So Pete had no chance to continue his point before the red light went on.)
But like many other leading golf course architects, Dye sees the modern ball as the scourge of the game. The American Society of Golf Course Architects, led by president Damian Pascuzzo, has hammered on this message roundly for more than a year. (Perhaps it is a measure of the ASGCAs get-under-the-skin factor that Wally Uihlein, chief of Titleist and a vocal opponent of people he has called anti-innovation Luddites, has hired former Monty Python member John Cleese to lampoon the architects position by playing a wrong-headed, plaid-coated architect in commercials for Titleists long NXT golf balls.)
My respect for Dye and the ASGCA notwithstanding, my antennae go up when I hear such arguments. Its not the substance of the argument so much as its uniform color throughout.
There is a doctrine of historical study we learned in school called monocausation. That clunky, scholarly term referred to a practice to be avoided, the facile but often misleading attempt to pawn off a large event to a single reason. Slavery caused the Civil War, the 1929 stock market crash caused the Great Depression, you get the idea. Real analysis admits of several causes and can live with complexity, even uncertainty.
Extend it to golf, and you can easily list a number of possible causes in the games latest bout of non-growing pains: the ball core recipes (perhaps, for the elite players), mower technology (Sarazen, Jones and their contemporaries never hit off of lies so good), clubhead size and quality control, shaft design and innovation, golfer training, health, strength and abilitygo ahead, you take it from here.
Problem is, monocausation yields better and easier-to-write headlines, even if it encourages trashy analysis.
Leafing through the work product of the golf press, as well as the websites of the major debaters, it seems to me that all sides of the golf-ball-distance debate are reasonably well represented, even if not always to the liking of the combatants. We in the media are far from perfect, and occasionally our judgment about how we play stories can be called into question, despite our best efforts to be fair. Monocausation can tempt even the usually careful mind. Its something we have a solemn obligation to work on, even when were doing well.
But when I hear vociferous arguments that the modern golf ball (or any factor in this complicated game) is the sole cause of a feared descent into driver-wedgedom in the elite game, Im not concerned that its the media miscasting the debate.
Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown
There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.
Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.
She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.
It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.
Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.
"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”
Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.
Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.
Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.
“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”
Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.
“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”
The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.
“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”
Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.
He picked up his clubs three times.
That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.
This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.
Not that he was concerned, of course.
Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.
“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”
At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.
“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”
Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.
Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.
“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”
Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.
In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.
That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.
“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.
“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.
Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”
So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.
Despite results, Thomas loves links golf
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.
Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.
Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.
“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”
Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.
He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.
“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.
“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”