Worst golf developments of past 50 years

By Brandel ChambleeJanuary 25, 2014, 12:50 pm

(Editor's note: Brandel Chamblee's five best things to happen to golf in the past 50 years will be posted in this space Monday.) 

I have this vision of golf in the near future: My kids are playing a three-hole course in 15 minutes with their caps on backwards, YouTubing every swing, tweeting every thought and partially paralyzed by swing-tip apps they just downloaded. Such is the nature of our over-caffeinated, increasingly distracted youth, as well as some of the proposals to counter the decay of the number of people who are playing golf today. Indeed, the governing bodies are desperate to grow the game. Well intentioned as they are, when I hear these “grow the game” proposals I can’t help but think that golf may not be for everyone. Perhaps it’s just too expensive and hard, but other trends in the game have hurt its growth, too.

This got me thinking about the worst things that have happened to golf in the past 50 years – events or ideas or people that have made the game less compelling by making it more complicated, more expensive, more time-consuming.

Here, then, are my five worst things to happen to golf in the past 50 years:

5. Overly complicated instruction. “The Golfing Machine,” a book written by Homer Kelley and published in 1969, breaks the swing down into numerous components, each of which has three to 10 variables, resulting in an almost endless number of possible combinations. So complicated is this book that it comes with instructions on how to read it, and prospective students are encouraged to seek out “AIs” – authorized instructors of Kelley’s method. Kelley, who died in 1983, seems to have been a well meaning and well educated man, but his book achieved cult status and unfortunately spawned copycat books and teachers both “authorized” and not who want to make the game so complicated that they alone are the ones with the answers. 

4. The Stimpmeter. It’s a device used to measure the speed of greens, which seems harmless enough, but it has led to an addiction to slicker greens. The double-digit speeds of some of these greens are incompatible with many of the well thought-out green complexes of architects old and revered, subjecting their work to redesigns, which inevitably miss the original point – fun. Greens committees put pressure on golf course architects to stress the grasses by mowing them to whisker height so they can brag about their course’s green speeds, oblivious to the fact that putting on such slippery surfaces inevitably slows play to a glacial pace. 

3. The rule against anchored strokes. An effort to quash an unsightly professional trend, this is another blow to the declining base of this game. Golf is supposed to be a game for a lifetime, and the anchored putter was a port in the storm of fraying nerves caused by aging. The USGA and R&A, both of which have done so much good, stood silent on this issue for 40-plus years and then stood insolent to the petitions of many. Bifurcation is a stupid word for what would have been a smart move, to provide for the differences between the professionals and the 50 million others who play at a vastly lower level.  

2. Slow play. It gets blamed for declining participation numbers more than the changing social dynamic of women working more and men playing less. The combination of these two factors has assured that golf, at least in this country, will never experience the growth it saw in the 1960s. Tour players, whose influence on slow play is said to be the root from which this ugly tree has grown, are not the problem. Events have conspired against them – an industry-wide conspiracy, actually. Because of technology, players are longer and far less accurate, so they take more time to size up shots. Holes have reached absurd distances, which take longer to walk, and greens have reached insane speeds, which take longer to putt. Distances from greens to tees are often longer than the holes themselves, which take more time to navigate. Again, bifurcation would have taken care of most of these issues, but combined there is no chance Tour players will move appreciably faster in the future. Because what we see is what we do, the rest of us won’t be speeding up, either. 

1. Losing Tony Lema and Payne Stewart. The deaths of Lema in 1966 and Stewart in 1999, both as the result of aircraft accidents, robbed golf of two of its most engaging champions in the primes of their lives. Lema was just 32 and had from 1963-66 finished in the top 10 in 50 percent of the tournaments he entered, including a 5-shot victory over Jack Nicklaus in the 1964 Open Championship at St. Andrews. By the time of his death, Lema had become second only to Arnold Palmer in popularity. Stewart made the putt of his life to win the 1999 U.S. Open, his third major title. But what he did afterward said more about who he was than that putt. Taking Phil Mickelson’s face in both hands, Stewart tried to ease the pain of the loss by reminding him of the larger picture of impending parenthood. When Grantland Rice wrote: “For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks – not that you won or lost – but how you played the game,” he was writing of men like Tony and Payne.

Coming Monday: Brandel's five best things to happen to golf in the past 50 years. 

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.