Augusta National Ahead of the Distance Curve

By Associated PressApril 7, 2003, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Hootie Johnson walked out to Amen Corner during the 2001 Masters in time to see Phil Mickelson play his second shot into the 455-yard 11th hole, one of the toughest at Augusta National.
Mickelson had 94 yards to the green -- a flip wedge.
That was all Johnson needed to realize it was right to lengthen the golf course by 300 yards, the biggest overhaul in club history.
Two years later, some players question whether Augusta went far enough.
'I told Hootie, 'You guys were ahead of the curve when you did this golf course last year,'' six-time Masters winner Jack Nicklaus said. 'Now, they're behind the curve.'
The Masters isn't alone.
Torrey Pines revamped its South Course to measure 7,600 yards for the 2008 U.S. Open. Last year's U.S. Open at Bethpage Black had the two longest par 4s in its history -- No. 12 (499 yards) and No. 10 (492 yards).
Why go to such lengths?
To protect against the most rapid advances ever in golf technology.
It has reached a point where golf's top executives are debating whether to introduce separate equipment standards for elite and recreational players.
'I really would not like to see that, but it may be inevitable,' Arnold Palmer said.
Whether that would change anything is unclear. But it's not as simple as blaming the golf ball and oversized titanium drivers. Look inside the fitness trailer on tour, or in weight rooms at Kapalua and La Costa, and it's obvious that golf is starting to resemble a real sport.
Players are bigger, stronger, more cut.
They lift, they run, they watch what they eat.
Some are trained by renowned teachers before they graduate from elementary school. By the time they mature, players can generate enormous power by swinging the club at speeds approaching 120 mph upon impact.
'I've got a 9-year-old and he plays with all the kids at home, and they're all teeing it as high as a tee will allow and swinging as hard as they can,' Davis Love III said. 'There was only one person doing that on the range when I was growing up, and that was me.'
Equipment companies are responding with drivers made of space-age metals that weigh less and have a large hitting area, allowing more room for error.
They make balls that combine distance and feel, with aerodynamics that optimize lift and reduce drag. Some balls are customized for launch conditions of various players.
Golf is no longer just a game. It's a science.
Nick Price learned to play when it was an art. Like most players 30 and older, he grew up using wooden drivers with a sweet spot the size of a pea.
'Now the sweet spot is the size of a peach,' Price laments.
Swinging for the fences often meant the ball went into the trees. Price figured out he could swing at 85 percent of his total strength before he lost control of his tee shots. Nicklaus was said to have an extra 20 yards when he needed it.
Now, it seems as though every player gives it all they have on every drive.
'As soon as you give a person a lighter, more forgiving club, guys are going to learn to swing harder,' Price said. 'Guys are pushing the envelope, and that's increased their ability to swing by 8 to 10 percent. That's where they pick up clubhead speed.'
He doesn't think rolling back the golf ball by 10 percent would solve anything.
'The game is about the ability to swing a 44-inch object 25 feet, to return it back and hit it on a sweet spot,' he said. 'The smaller the sweet spot, the more you test that skill.'
Price, however, is in the minority.
Most attribute distance gains to the variable that moves -- the golf ball. Nicklaus has been lobbying against golf ball improvements for 25 years, and what happened to him last month at the Ford Championship at Doral only proved his point.
When he won the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the defining shot was his 1-iron from 219 yards into a stiff breeze that knocked down the flag at No. 17.
Nicklaus had 219 yards into a stiff breeze to the par-5 eighth hole at Doral. At age 63, he hit 2-iron into 15 feet.
'What else could it be?' Nicklaus said.
He proposes a tournament ball that would restore shotmaking and reward talent. He also fears the power game is making championship courses obsolete, and the only way to test elite players is to pinch fairways, grow rough and make the greens as firm as concrete.
Just as Ernie Els uses better equipment than Nicklaus had in his prime, Nicklaus used better equipment than Ben Hogan, who had better equipment than Bobby Jones.
'Every generation says the game changes, and the game has changed,' Nicklaus said. 'The only thing that hasn't had to change is the golf course -- until now. How much more can people afford to keep buying land and changing the golf course because of the ego of a ball manufacturer?'
Meantime, anecdotal evidence keeps piling up:
*Els hit a drive that went nearly 400 yards to the bottom of the hill on the 15th hole the Plantation Course at Kapalua. A week later at Waialae Country Club, he reached the 501-yard ninth hole with a driver and a wedge.
*Mickelson nearly drove the green on the 403-yard 10th hole at the Phoenix Open.
*Charles Howell III hit sand wedge for his second shot on the 451-yard 18th at Riviera Country Club, the same hole where a plaque in the fairway pays tribute to Dave Stockton for his 3-wood that helped him win the 1974 Los Angeles Open.
Still, length isn't everything. Tiger Woods is the world's best player, and he relies more on his short game and course management than hitting the ball as far as he can.
'I don't take advantage of technology fully,' Woods said. 'I play with a short driver (43 inches) and a steel shaft and a shallow face, so I've limited myself to what I can do. But I'd much rather control the ball and get the ball in play.'
Is distance ruining golf?
The fear is that technology will turn even the toughest golf course into a pitch-and-putt. Johnson didn't order changes to Augusta National because the scores were too low, he simply got tired of seeing players hit wedge into almost all of the par 4s.
Some worry that golf will become tennis at the highest level -- no longer a game of exquisite shotmaking, but sheer power.
Peter Dawson, secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in Scotland, opposes two sets of rules. Still, he is not oblivious to a rapidly changing game.
'What's happening now is the gap between the elite player and the average club player has widened,' Dawson said. 'I don't think there's any issue at the club level with technology. But because these guys get so good out here, maybe there is an issue for them.'
Related Links:
  • 2003 Masters Tournament Mini-Site
  • Tournament Coverage
  • The Augusta National Membership Debate: A Chronology

    Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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    Ko (68) off to best start of year at Kia Classic

    By Randall MellMarch 23, 2018, 12:39 am

    Lydia Ko didn’t take long to put last week’s missed cut behind her Thursday at the Kia Classic.

    She got off to her best start of the year.

    With a 4-under-par 68, Ko was tied for seventh, just two shots off the lead, with the afternoon wave off at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, Calif.

    “I would say I didn't hit the ball fantastic, but just being able to hole some good birdie putts was key,” Ko said.

    Ko scrambled her way to her low opening round of the year in light rain. She hit just seven of 14 fairways and 11 greens, but only needed 25 putts.

    “This is a pretty tough golf course,” Ko said. ”I think putting is a huge key around this course, where if you do miss a green, making those clutch par putts and then making those birdie opportunities that you get.”

    Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

    Aviara’s poa annua greens have been known to give players fits, but Ko had her flatstick working. After making the turn at 1 over, she made five birdies on her second nine.

    Ko, 20, won at Aviara two years ago but missed the cut there last year.

    “I love Carlsbad,” Ko said “I would say it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s nice to come back to a place where you’ve played well and love the area.”

    Ko, seeking her first victory since July of 2016, has her new coach, Ted Oh, working with her in Carlsbad this week. Oh made the trip to Asia last month, helping Ko to her tie for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship. But, she missed the cut in Phoenix last week in her next start.

    “All I can do is try my best,” Ko said. “Hopefully, I'll be able to keep this good momentum going.”

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    Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Day 2

    By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 12:32 am

    Here is how things played out on Day 2 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play. Click here for Day 1 match results:

    Group 1: Adam Hadwin (38) def. Dustin Johnson (1), 4 and 3: After a dominating performance at last year’s Match Play, where he never trailed in any match, Johnson is already mathematically eliminated. He got routed on Thursday by Hadwin, after the Canadian built a 2-up lead at the turn and then poured it on with wins on the 11th and 13th holes.

    Group 1: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Bernd Wiesberger (52), 5 and 4: Kisner made three consecutive birdies midway through the front nine to set the tone, then kept the pressure on Wiesberger, who knocked off DJ on Wednesday, to earn the full point and stay in the mix to advance.

    Group 2: Justin Thomas (2) def. Patton Kizzire (48), 3 and 1: After DJ’s early exit, Thomas now has a clear path to world No. 1, if he can win the Match Play this week. Thomas did his part, improving to 2-0 after taking a 3-up advantage and then making birdie on 16 and 17 to close out Kizzire. That sets up a winner-take-all match against Francesco Molinari on Friday.

    Group 2: Francesco Molinari (21) def. Luke List (60), 3 and 2: Molinari dropped seven birdies on List and won the 13th, 14th and 16th holes to move to 2-0 this week.

    Group 3: Chez Reavie (43) def. Jon Rahm, 1 up: On the verge of surrendering a big lead against Rahm, Reavie’s par on 18 was enough to secure a 1-up victory. He led 3 up with three to go, but Rahm birdied Nos. 16 and 17 to send the match to the last. But there, from just short of the green, Rahm hit his pitch shot well past the flag and couldn’t make birdie. Now 0-1-1, Rahm, last year's finalist, is now eliminated.

    Group 3: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Keegan Bradley (63), 1 up: Bradley once again kicked away a late lead. One day after coughing up a 2-up lead with three to play, he squandered a 1-up lead with three to play against Aphibarnrat. Bradley made bogey on 17, then was stymied behind a tree after his drive on 18. Barnrat rolled in a 15-footer for birdie to improve to 2-0.

    Group 4: Jordan Spieth (4) def. Haotong Li (34), 4 and 2: Spieth held up his end of the deal, winning the fifth hole with a birdie and never trailing from there. He poured it on late with the Chinese star, winning the 13th, 14th and 16th holes. He'll play Reed, his Ryder and Presidents Cup partner, on Friday in a winner-take-all match.

    Group 4: Patrick Reed (19) def. Charl Schwartzel (49), 1 up: In a wild match that saw that only three halved, Reed hung on to defeat Schwartzel, 1 up. Two up with three holes to play, Reed lost the 16th, escaped with a bogey halve on the 17th and then was out of position on the final hole. But he nearly holed his wedge shot, rattling the stick and leaving his ball on the front edge for a conceded birdie and narrow victory.

    Group 5: Cameron Smith (46) def. Hideki Matsuyama (5), 1 up: One down with five to play, Smith won the 14th with a par, then chipped in for birdie on 16 to take a 1-up lead. At 2-0, he’s now in control of the group.

    Group 5: Patrick Cantlay (30) def. Yusaku Miyazato (53), 1 up: In control throughout, Cantlay bogeyed the 17th hole to return the match to all square. On the home hole, he busted a drive to the front-left corner of the green, then made birdie to win and improve to 1-1.

    Group 6: Rory McIlroy (6) def. Jhonattan Vegas (44), 2 and 1: Needing a victory to avoid an early exit, McIlroy won two consecutive holes before the turn and then added a win on 13 to give himself the cushion he needed down the stretch, holing a 6-footer for par on 17 to close out Vegas. McIlroy now has a chance to advance with a victory over Harman on the final day of pool play.

    Group 6: Brian Harman (18) def. Peter Uihlein (57), 4 and 2: Harman never trailed in knocking off Uihlein, who soundly defeated McIlroy on Day 1. With 1 ½ points, Harman is in the driver’s seat, but he needs at least a halve against McIlroy on Friday (and a Uihlein loss) to advance.

    Group 7: Sergio Garcia (7) def. Dylan Frittelli (41), 2 up: All square with six holes to go, Garcia birdied 13, won 14 with a par and then drove the 18th green for a conceded birdie to close out Frittelli, the former Texas Longhorn, and improve to 2-0 this week. He'll play Schauffele in a winner-take-all match on Friday.

    Group 7: Xander Schauffele (20) def. Shubhankar Sharma (62), 3 and 1: Schauffele improved to 2-0 this week by thoroughly handling Sharma, the darling of the recent WGC-Mexico event, never leading by fewer than 2-up on the back nine and playing 3 under.

    Group 8: Jason Dufner (42) def. Jason Day (8), 3 and 1: Dufner took down one of the pre-tournament favorites with a steady closing stretch. Five of his six wins came after Day bogeys, but Dufner turned an all-square match on 14 tee into a 3-and-1 victory.

    Group 8: James Hahn (56) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 3 and 1: Hahn jumped all over the South African, winning the first three holes and never holding less than a 2-up lead on the back nine. With his victory, each player in the group has a 1-1 record.

    Group 9: Tommy Fleetwood (9) def. Kevin Chappell (33), 7 and 6: Avenging an opening-day loss, the Englishman won the first four holes and needed to make only three birdies in a monster rout of Chappell. The 2017 Presidents Cupper made five bogeys and conceded two other holes but still has a chance to win the group.  

    Group 9: Ian Poulter (58) def. Daniel Berger (26), 2 and 1: Playing this event for the first time since 2015, Poulter improved to 2-0 on the week with a solid victory over Berger, one of many young American up-and-comers. Using the same putter that he put in play at the epic 2012 Ryder Cup, Poulter won three of the first four holes and never backed down. He is guaranteed at least a playoff Friday. 

    Group 10: Paul Casey (10) def. Kyle Stanley (45), 4 and 2: A winner at the Valspar, Casey stayed hot in Austin, taking a 3-up lead at the turn and improving to 2-0 this week. He needs only a halve on Friday to advance.

    Group 10: Russell Henley (51) def. Matthew Fitzpatrick (31), 2 and 1: Shaking off a narrow loss to Casey on Wednesday, Henley took control of an all-square match by winning the 12th and 14th holes and then rolling in a tricky 25-footer on the 17th green to put away Fitzpatrick. Still alive in pool play, Henley needs to beat Kyle Stanley, and hope Casey loses, to force a playoff.

    Group 11: Bubba Watson (35) def. Marc Leishman (11), 3 and 2: Coming off an impressive opening victory, Watson erased an early deficit, then won Nos. 12-14 to put away Leishman, who is now eliminated. Watson is guaranteed at least a playoff Friday.

    Group 11: Branden Grace (23) def. Julian Suri (64), 2 and 1: After a shaky start, Grace made four birdies over his last 11 holes to knock off the surprise Day 1 winner, Suri, who was the last man into the field. Watson is still in control of the group heading into the final day.

    Group 12: Tyrrell Hatton (12) def. Brendan Steele (36), 3 and 2: All square through 12 holes, the Englishman made four birdies and an eagle over his last eight holes to improve to 2-0 this week. Hatton needs only a halve Friday to advance.

    Group 12: Alexander Levy (55) def. Charley Hoffman (22), 1 up: Levy led from the sixth hole, but Hoffman slowly cut into the deficit and took the Frenchman to the final hole. Levy’s par was enough to notch his first point and stay alive in pool play.  

    Group 13: Alex Noren (13) def. Thomas Pieters (39), 5 and 4: Noren made quick work of Pieters in what could be a match of future Ryder Cup teammates. Noren built a 4-up lead after seven holes and then cruised from there, moving to 2-0 this week and eliminating Pieters. In 30 holes this week, Noren has made 12 birdies and no bogeys.

    Group 13: Tony Finau (29) def. Kevin Na (61), 3 and 2: In a contrast of styles, the powerful Finau birdied the first three holes and never looked back against Na, setting up a battle of unbeatens in a winner-take-all match on Friday.

    Group 14: Phil Mickelson (14) def. Satoshi Kodaira (40), 1 up: Four down through seven holes, Mickelson was on the verge of being eliminated before running off a series of wins, including on 16 and 17 to push the match to the final hole. Then, on 18, he pitched to 8 feet and drained the birdie putt to complete the remarkable comeback.

    Group 14: Charles Howell III (59) def. Rafa Cabrera Bello (17), 3 and 1: After knocking off Mickelson on Day 1, Howell pulled away from Cabrera Bello late, winning the 14th, 15th and 17th holes – only one of which with birdies – to take control of the lead. At 2-0, Howell is assured of at least a playoff.

    Group 15: Webb Simpson (37) def. Pat Perez (15), 3 and 1: Matched up against the fiery Perez, Simpson seized control of the match with wins on the 11th and 12th holes, sank a 20-footer on 15 and then won the 17th after Perez put his tee shot in the hazard. Now 1-0-1, he’ll have a winner-take-all match against Kim on Friday.

    Group 15: Si Woo Kim (50) def. Gary Woodland (24), 5 and 3: Kim won the first hole and never looked back, grabbing a 3-up lead at the turn and leading by as much as 5 up after 12 holes. He is now 2-0. 

    Group 16: Matt Kuchar (16) def. Yuta Ikeda (47), 1 up: Though he wasn’t nearly as hot as in his opener against Johnson, Kuchar played solidly, going 3 under (including concessions) and making par on 17 to edge ahead of Ikeda and eke out a narrow victory. 

    Group 16: Ross Fisher (27) def. Zach Johnson (54), 2 up: After a remarkable comeback against Kuchar to earn a halve on Day 1, Johnson couldn’t summon the same magic on Thursday. Though he won the 15th to cut Fisher’s advantage to 1 up, Johnson couldn’t convert birdie putts on the last three holes.

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    Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

    By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 12:20 am

    Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

    Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
    (1) D. Johnson: 0-2-0 (2) J. Thomas: 2-0-0 (3) J. Rahm: 0-1-1 (4) J. Spieth: 2-0-0
    (32) K. Kisner: 1-0-1 (21) F. Molinari: 2-0-0 (28) K. Aphibarnrat: 2-0-0 (19) P. Reed: 2-0-0
    (38) A. Hadwin: 1-0-1
    (48) P. Kizzire: 0-2-0 (43) C. Reavie: 1-1-0 (34) H. Li: 0-2-0
    (52) B. Wiesberger: 1-1-0
    (60) L. List: 0-2-0 (63) K. Bradley: 0-1-1 (49) C. Schwartzel: 0-2-0
    Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
    (5) H. Matsuyama: 1-1-0 (6) R. McIlroy: 1-1-0 (7) S. Garcia: 2-0-0 (8) J. Day: 1-1-0
    (30) P. Cantlay: 1-1-0
    (18) B. Harman: 1-0-1 (20) X. Schauffele: 2-0-0 (25) L. Oosthuizen: 1-1-0
    (46) C. Smith: 2-0-0 (44) J. Vegas: 0-1-1 (41) D. Frittelli: 0-2-0 (42) J. Dufner: 1-1-0
    (53) Y. Miyazato: 0-2-0 (51) P. Uihlein: 1-1-0 (62) S. Sharma: 0-2-0 (56) J. Hahn: 1-1-0
    Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
    (9) T. Fleetwood: 1-1-0 (10) P. Casey: 2-0-0 (11) M. Leishman: 0-2-0 (12) T. Hatton: 2-0-0
    (26) D. Berger: 0-2-0 (31) M. Fitzpatrick: 0-2-0 (23) B. Grace: 1-1-0 (22) C. Hoffman: 0-1-0
    (33) K. Chappell: 1-1-0 (45) K. Stanley: 1-1-0 (35) B. Watson: 2-0-0 (36) B. Steele: 1-1-0
    (58) I. Poulter: 2-0-0 (51) R. Henley: 1-1-0 (64) J. Suri: 1-1-0 (55) A. Levy: 0-1-0
    Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
    (13) A. Noren: 2-0-0 (14) P. Mickelson: 1-1-0 (15) P. Perez: 0-1-1 (16) M. Kuchar: 1-0-1
    (29) T. Finau: 2-0-0 (17) R. Cabrera Bello: 1-1-0 (24) G. Woodland: 0-1-1 (27) R. Fisher: 1-1-0
    (39) T. Pieters: 0-2-0 (40) S. Kodaira: 0-2-0 (37) W. Simpson: 1-0-1 (47) Y. Ikeda: 1-1-0
    (61) K. Na: 0-2-0 (59) C. Howell III: 2-0-0 (50) S.W. Kim: 1-0-1 (54) Z. Johnson: 0-1-1
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    Players lament 'meaningless' Friday WGC matches

    By Rex HoggardMarch 23, 2018, 12:17 am

    AUSTIN, Texas – The drawback of round-robin play at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is that 20 players will tee off on Friday with no chance to advance to the knockout stages.

    Although those who haven’t won or halved a match heading into the final day of pool play can still improve their finish, which means more FedExCup points and earnings, they can’t make it to the weekend, which for many makes it somewhat meaningless.

    “Knowing that you are playing a match that you might get 2 more FedEx points and $20,000 or whatever it is. It's tough. It's hard,” said Rory McIlroy, who is 1-1-0 and can advance to the weekend if he wins his match on Friday against Brian Harman.

    “You try to go out with the mindset that I'm going to maybe try things or if you are working on your golf swing, it's a good round to take advantage of trying different things,” McIlroy said. “[But] there's going to be guys going out there tomorrow that would really just want to be on a plane tonight going home.”

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

    Even more curious, there will be players with no way of moving on who will dictate who does make it to the weekend. Matthew Fitzpatrick, for example, is winless this week and will play Paul Casey on Friday. If Fitzpatrick wins it will set up a playoff scenario between Casey, who is 2-0-0, and either Russell Henley or Kyle Thompson, who both have one victory, to decide who advances out of the pod.

    “It's not technically meaningless,” Casey said. “But it's frustrating when you know you can't possibly win the golf event. None of us turn up here to gain some points. It's to try and win an event.”