Bigger Not Always Better

By Rex HoggardFebruary 17, 2011, 3:01 am

Northern Trust OpenFor some a perch and an adult punch adjacent TPC Scottsdale’s infamous 16th hole is manicured heaven, while others may consider that stretch of magical surf and turf at Pebble Beach Golf Links' 18th hole the ultimate arena. But for pure architectural artistry, to say nothing of timeless relevancy, count Riviera Country Club’s 10th among the Tour’s best reasons to call in sick to work.

Short, drivable par 4s are professional golf’s version of black pants: smart, stylish and, thanks in no small part to the efforts of U.S. Open set-up man Mike Davis, back in vogue. And few, if any, on Tour are as good as No. 10 at Riviera.

Consider the math: of the 557 par 4s played on Tour last year, only four were shorter than Riviera’s 10th hole, and yet at a mere 315 yards the L.A. gem played to a virtual par push with a 3.932 stroke average, two eagles, 109 birdies, 56 bogeys and 14 others. All total for last year’s Northern Trust Open 153 attempts were made to drive the green. Only seven succeeded.

The 10th wasn’t the toughest par-4 on Tour last year –  it ranked the 419th hardest, in fact – but it made every Tour type think, and that is largely a lost art in the bomb-and-birdie era.

“Easily one of the best par 4s we play all year, long or short,” Steve Flesch said. “Length is totally overrated anymore.”

To Flesch’s point, 21 par 4s measured over 500 yards last year, whereas a decade earlier just two of 597 par 4s came in at over 500 yards. In short, the Tour landscape has been on an HGH drip for a decade in response to advances in modern equipment and improved fitness, or vice versa depending on one’s point of view.

There are now 11 TPCs in play on Tour which would explain much of the yardage explosion. And unless the powers in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. have plans to co-opt Harbour Town or Colonial into the TPC fold, longer may not be better, but it is what we’ve got so deal with it.

The Tour is not alone in the art of ever-expanding tee boxes. In what has become a major championship trend the last decade, the line between par and performance has been blurred. For last year’s U.S. Open, Pebble Beach had a par 5 (the 523-yard sixth) that was just a hair longer than a par 4 (the 505-yard ninth). But, at least for the USGA, that tide seems to have ebbed somewhat.

The par-4 fourth hole at Pebble Beach last year played to a tantalizingly short 331 yards, just 43 yards longer than the par-3 fifth at Oakmont played for the 2007 U.S. Open. For this year’s national championship at Congressional, Davis plans to actually increase par (from 70 to 71) by converting the nondescript par-4 sixth hole into a par 5.

“I looked at it and thought this is just not a good par 4. It would be an overly hard, somewhat boring par 4,” said Davis, who plans to play the sixth between 530 and 570 yards. “We’re going to keep forcing the issue until a large portion of the field can go for it. It’s kind of like 18 at Torrey Pines (for the 2008 U.S. Open).”

It is curious that Davis and the USGA, the same organization that stretched Torrey’s South Course to 7,643 yards in ’08 and Bethpage the next year to 7,426 yards, have embraced balance over pure brawn while the Tour is content to combat every increasing swing speeds with more real-estate.

Yet bigger is not always better, particularly when compared to the erstwhile likes of Riviera’s 10th. The hole is something of a museum piece on the bomber’s Tour – short and subtle. A chess match in what has largely become a bar brawl.

“Every course needs a reachable risk/reward (par) 5, drivable (par) 4 and a tough 150 yard or less (par) 3,” was Arron Oberholser’s take when asked this week about the 10th at Riviera.

It’s why Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors.

If one size fit all there would be no need for 14 clubs, yet just 26 par 4s on Tour last year measured south of 350 yards.

Tour brass will say distance gains have rendered anything less than a pitch-and-putt not worthy of the world’s best, but the real culprit here seems to be modern architecture. How else would one explain a 3.932 scoring average on the fifth shortest par 4 on Tour last year?

Bubba Watson and his ilk weren’t flying the ball 330 yards when George C. Thomas cut Riviera’s 10th hole into a hill in 1926, bunkers littered about the lot guarding a heavily pitched putting surface, yet somehow No. 10 remains relevant.

Maybe that’s the ultimate compliment for any architect, or maybe it’s an indictment of the modern game that gems like Riviera’s 10th have gone the way of the Dodo. Either way, this week’s Northern Trust Open will once again prove that bigger is not always better.

Getty Images

Country singer Owen shoots 86 in debut

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:51 pm

Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.

Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.

Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.

Full-field scores from the Nashville Golf Open

Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.

While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:

Getty Images

New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:30 pm

After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.

The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.

"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."

The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.

"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.

Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.

"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."

Getty Images

McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 24, 2018, 6:56 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.

Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.

The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.

McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.

''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''

McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.

After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.

Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.

Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.

Getty Images

Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 6:45 pm

After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.

The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.

"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."

Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."

Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.

Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.

"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."