For whatever reason, I had never watched the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship before Tuesday night. What an eye-opening experience. Who knew massive slices could elicit roars, not groans?
Jeff Flagg, a former minor-league baseball player, took home the WWE-style belt and $250,000 first-place prize. In a competition that celebrates unfathomably long drives, Flagg edged his opponent by the length of a gimme putt (13 inches).
I found the event … strangely mesmerizing. A few thoughts:
• There is absolutely nothing more difficult for a right-hander than a stiff left-to-right wind – it’s Psych-Out Central.
• The vortex-inducing swings are fun, but I also would have LOVED to see the Long Drive Brigade attempt 30-yard pitch shots from a tight lie to a tucked pin over a bunker.
• Are lefties’ swings too pretty to qualify?
• The perfect Tour player/long-driver hybrid is some combination of Gary Woodland (build), DJ (freakish flexibility), Tony Finau (speed), Tiger (desire) and BillyHo (brashness).
• If ever my mis-hits only go 330, just go ahead and punch me in the face.
• Playing in the group ahead of those guys would be utterly terrifying.
• Long drivers seem like golf’s version of NFL linebackers – they’re fearless dudes who push their muscle-bound bodies to the limit and likely won’t be able to walk in 30 years.
• The secret weapon at your next scramble tournament: Top-Flites!
• The PGA Tour needs to host a REAL long-drive contest – not a silly peg-and-pound during the week of the PGA Championship, when there is no incentive to go full bore because of the risk of injury.
• Would Tiger’s body disintegrate if he swung the club at 142 mph?
Your mailbag questions:
@RyanLavnerGC Couples or Azinger, who do you like for next Ryder Cup?— Wells (@WellsArmes) November 4, 2014
And you thought election season was over! My views on this have changed since Gleneagles. In the days immediately following the Ryder Cup, it seemed like Paul Azinger was the no-brainer choice. And why not? He’s the only successful U.S. Ryder Cup captain this century. He got his players genuinely invested in the process in ’08. And he had the (very) public support of Phil Mickelson, among others.
Now, though, it seems like Freddie is the favorite for the job, especially in light of his recent comments that the entire Ryder Cup team told him they want him to serve as captain for 2016. Couples told Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte that he’s not a “PGA of America guy” – whatever that means – but politics shouldn’t matter in this case. After royally botching the ’14 captaincy, the PGA should finally listen to the players’ advice and begin bridging the sizable gap between the association and the Tour. That means Freddie for 2016. No task force necessary.
Well, the answer to that question depends on which segment of the golf population you’re addressing.
Fans: The wraparound season is great for the die-hard, hard-core dimpleheads, those who want their golf fix every week and enjoy seeing the up-and-coming players and new storylines. But it’s not so good for the casual, fair-weather fans, the people who likely won’t tune in until the Tour heads to Florida in late February or Tiger, Phil and Rory are all in the same field.
TV/media: It’s great, because it gives scribes like me something to write and talk about all year long (thus keeping us employed!). But realistically, these C-level events don’t – and never will – compete with the NFL or playoff baseball or college football, which keeps Ben Martin and Co. out of the mainstream sports discussion. The ratings speak for themselves.
Players: The fall portion of the wraparound season is great for the recent Web.com graduates or 2013-14 bubble boys who are trying to get a head start in the FedEx Cup. But save for this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions – where 40 of the top 50 in the world are teeing it up – it serves mostly as the de-facto offseason for the game’s elite.
#AskLav: Do you expect a tougher course (Sheshan International) than we have seen the previous years? – Andrew Uldaho, via Instagram
Ankle-deep rough and narrower fairways mean scores won’t be nearly as low this year. (Graeme McDowell leads by two after an opening 67.) Since 2009, the winning score at the HSBC has been at least 17 under. DJ won last year’s event at 24 under, and two other players crossed the minus-20 mark. Three of the four winners here have shot all four rounds in the 60s on the par-72 course. Usually, it’s an all-out birdie-fest on a track that measures only 7,266 yards – short by today’s beefy standards. But it seems a 20-under winning score is unlikely this year after a few changes to the setup.