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Path down the not-so straight and narrow

By Brandel ChambleeApril 24, 2018, 6:30 pm

Try as I might, I can’t remember a single one of my professors at the University of Texas asking me what we would like to be tested on. What I would have given if my freshman classical lit teacher, Miss Gross (really her name), had asked if we preferred Hemingway, the master of the short story, to the Russian novelist who apparently got paid by the word, Leo Tolstoy. The innate laziness of students, individual bias and consensus, runs counter to the academic goals of professors and Miss Gross had the temerity to think she knew better than her students what curriculum would be appropriate for a proper education.

She was right, of course, but “consensus” has become much more en vogue, as the world via social media bows to groupthink. This has become more evident in universities, politics and even golf, where the game has become almost unrecognizable from what it once was. 

The top-five players in the world (Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose) rank 128th, 126th, 108th, 127th and 100th, respectively, in driving accuracy. The top-five players in the world are pitiful at what Ben Hogan called the single most important shot in golf. Hogan looked at his target through a scope, these players use a scattergun. Yes, I know we now have something called strokes gained: off the tee, but given the current status of the game that is just a metric to tell us who is the longest, straightest and most crooked. 

The hardest thing to do in golf is to hit the ball long AND straight. 



Hogan not only understood this, he obsessed over the idea and spent a lifetime building a golf swing that allowed him to hit the ball as far as he could and as straight as he possibly could. His only metric was the ribbon width fairway of a U.S. Open. The reason Hogan would be sick to his stomach if he walked up and down the ranges of PGA Tour events today is because many of the golf swings are built for half of this equation, to hit the ball long. In fairness this is not the player’s fault, at least not as far as they know. 

The most popular golf course architect remains Alister MacKenzie, a man who died over 80 years ago. MacKenzie’s guiding philosophy was to build courses that brought the greatest pleasure to the greatest number and his work, aesthetic gems like Cypress Point and Augusta National, built on ocean cliffs and on a former nursery farm, have gained immense and lasting fame. 

But perhaps more enduring, and I argue more damaging to the professional game, is his philosophy of design to appeal to the greatest number. 

Wanting to imitate links golf, MacKenzie favored little rough, few fairway bunkers, the imitation of nature for aesthetic appeal and rolling greens and surrounds. Testing professional golfers was never the primary objective. Understandable given that when MacKenzie was designing golf courses the game was, besides being much harder than it is now, relatively new in the United States. Making it more popular was the goal. 

Players, professional and amateur, loved the forgiving nature of his designs, and budding architects wanting to imitate MacKenzie’s work, adopted philosophies along similar lines. To this day when having a debate with a group of Tour players or golf course architect nerds, the consensus will be to have little or graduated rough off of the tee, “to allow for the recovery” many will say, followed by “to give the greatest pleasure to the greatest number.”

The year MacKenzie died, 1934, was notable: it was the year the Masters began, it was the first year the PGA Tour began recognizing the leading money winner and, far less widely known, it was the first year of a three-and-a-half decade reign for Joseph C. Dey as executive director of the USGA.

“From the moment I met him I could tell he was in charge of the game of golf,” Jack Nicklaus once said about Dey.

Dey shepherded golf in the United States and almost single-handedly instituted a uniform code of rules for the USGA and the R&A and helped start five USGA championships and four international team competitions. Beyond that, he was the man in charge of setting up the courses for the U.S. Open. 

His course setups were not built around consensus, they were driven by one simple overriding philosophy: to find the one player who was most in control of his emotions, mind and golf shots. U.S. Opens were often punishing to the best players and unforgiving, both off of the tee and around the green. There was no thought to the recovery, which is by definition bowing to the next shot. U.S. Opens were about great execution of the shot at hand, right here and now. The demands of precision were intimidating but they made the best players think. Hogan, in particular, thought longer and harder than anyone about the demands of a U.S. Open, and conquering them. 

Hogan had a Euclidean determination to build a golf swing that would withstand the greatest pressure in the game, U.S. Open pressure. What he built was an immaculate marriage of tenacity and technique, a swing that transfigured the game and remains the single most compelling example of beauty in golf. Now try to imagine what his swing would have looked like if driving the ball straight were of very little importance.

Sure Hogan gets credit for building the golf swing, but Dey should get the assist. If the executive director of the USGA had sought a consensus, it’s doubtful that his setups would have been as demanding. Necessity being the mother of invention though, Hogan invented something nobody had ever seen before or since. 



Which brings me back to the state of the game today, where players flail away with impunity off of the tee, claiming to be great drivers of the ball because of something called strokes gained: off of the tee. The implications here are far reaching, far more than just being able to scatter shots all over a course and still win. 

Because golf course setups have become far more forgiving – owing to the MacKenzie philosophy, complaints and suggestions of the players and to the social media chorus that we want more birdies ­– players seek to launch shots as high as they can, with as little spin as they can, with as long of a driver as they can handle. Distance has become a means to an end so much, that many are crying for a roll back of the ball when all that needs to happen is to roll back to an era when one man had the guts and the acuity to not listen to the players, or the pervading philosophy of fairness.

Imagine if the U.S. Open and other events returned to this demanding philosophy. Players out of necessity would choose balls that spin more, heads that were smaller so they could shape shots, shots that would start lower for more control and golf swings would evolve to find the balance of distance and accuracy. In time an athlete would come along who could solve the puzzle of how to hit the ball far and straight. 

Players are not hitting the ball so far today because that’s the way the game is going, they are doing so because the set ups of golf courses do not make them think. 

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Watch: Rose one-arms approach, makes birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 26, 2018, 7:25 pm

Justin Rose appears to have taken a course in Hideki Matsuyama-ing.

Already 3 under on his round through five thanks to a birdie-birdie-birdie start, Rose played this approach from 143 yards at the par-4 sixth.

That one-armed approach set up a 6-foot birdie putt he rolled in to move to 4 under on his round and 14 under for the week, five clear of the field.

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McIlroy battles back into tie for BMW PGA lead

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 26, 2018, 4:09 pm

Rory McIlroy got off to a rocky start on Saturday in the third round of the BMW PGA Championship, including hitting a spectator and making a double bogey. But after that incident on the sixth hole, he didn't drop another shot, birdieing the final hole to shoot a 1-under 71 and tie for the lead.

McIlroy had gone into Moving Day with a three-shot lead, but Francesco Molinari had the round of the day, a 6-under 66. "It was nice keep a clean scorecard," said Molinari, who hasn't made a bogey since the 10th hole on Friday.


Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship


McIlroy and Molinari will be paired in Sunday's final round. They are tied at 13 under par, four shots clear of Ross Fisher, Branden Grace, Sam Horsfield and Alexander Noren.

The Wentworth course ends with back-to-back par-5s, and McIlroy birdied both of them. He got a break on the 18th hole as his drive hit a spectator and bounced into light rough.

"It was a struggle out there today," McIlroy said. "I think when you're working on a few things in your swing and the wind is up and you're stuck between trying to play different shots, but also try to play - you know, make good swings at it, I just hit some loose tee balls on the first few holes. But I'm proud of myself. I stayed patient. I actually - I'm feeling a bit better about myself after today than I was even walking off the course yesterday."

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Watch: McIlroy hits spectator on hand

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 26, 2018, 2:58 pm

We never cease to wonder at how close fans crowd in to the intended line of some shots, and just how skilled Tour players are in not hitting someone.

But every once in a while, golf ball and spectator intersect, with painful results. It happened to Rory McIlroy during the third round of the BMW PGA Championship, after he had hit a wayward drive on the sixth hole. Attempting to hack out his second shot from under a bush, McIlroy struck a female spectator on her right hand. There was no official word on her condition, but she was clearly - and understandably - in pain.

McIlroy went on to make double bogey but was able to put the incident behind him, as he promptly birdied the next hole.

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Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:54 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – After losing in a playoff last weekend, Nasa Hataoka is making another bid for her first LPGA Tour victory.

Hataoka shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, and the Japanese teenager led by one stroke over Minjee Lee after the second round of the Volvik Championship. Hataoka, who is coming off the first two top-10 finishes of her LPGA career, made seven birdies at Travis Pointe Country Club. She began her round on No. 10, and her best stretch came toward the end, when she birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

''I'm really comfortable playing the LPGA,'' the 19-year-old Hataoka said through a translator. ''I've really got confidence now.''

Hataoka made the cut nine times in 17 starts as a rookie in 2017, and she has made significant strides of late. She tied for seventh at last month's MEDIHEAL Championship and nearly won a week ago at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia.

Hataoka finished the second round in Michigan at 9 under. Lee (69) was also solid Friday. Gaby Lopez (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70) and Lindy Duncan (70) were a stroke behind Lee in a tie for third.

Hataoka did not make a single bogey in last week's three-round tournament, and she didn't have any in the first round in Michigan. She finally made a few Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking sole possession of the lead.

''I kind of feel like not really perfect, but I just kind of try to (be) aggressive,'' she said.


Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship


Lee, who lost by one stroke on this course last year, is in contention again.

''I guess the fairways are pretty generous and I think the greens are a little bit on the trickier side to read,'' Lee said. ''As long as your iron shots are pretty solid, I think you're going to be in good position around this golf course.''

Lee birdied the first two holes, and the only blemish on her scorecard Friday came on the par-5 14th. After missing the fairway to the right, she hit an aggressive shot out of the rough that went straight toward a water hazard well in front of the green. She settled for a bogey after taking a drop.

''I thought the ball was sitting OK in the rough, but it must have been a bit funny, or underneath it,'' she said. ''I made a mistake. I thought it was good enough to hit 3-wood there.''

Lee lost last year in Michigan to Shanshan Feng, but Feng will have some ground to make up in her attempt to repeat. She shot 69 on Friday but is still eight strokes behind the leader.

Ariya Jutanugarn was 6 under after a second consecutive 69.

Lopez made only six pars in the second round, tied for the fewest of the day, but her eight birdies and four bogeys put her near the top of the leaderboard.

''It was a little bit of an up and down,'' she said. ''There's so many opportunities out here to make birdie, that the most important thing to do is just to be patient, to be in the moment and not to get ahead of yourself. I think I came back from a couple mistakes that I did.''

In contrast to Lopez, Brittany Lincicome parred all 18 holes Friday and made the cut at 1 under. Paula Creamer (71) triple bogeyed the par-4 13th. She followed that with an eagle on the very next hole but missed the cut by a stroke.