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Longer courses not the answer to distance problem

By Rex HoggardNovember 9, 2017, 7:26 pm

It’s become trendy the last few months to leverage the ongoing debate over how far modern professionals hit the golf ball by warning that unless something is done to stem the distance tide, 8,000-yard golf courses will become the norm.

Jack Nicklaus has warned about this for years, and last week Tiger Woods took a similar message to the masses during an ESPN podcast with Geno Auriemma, who is a wonderful basketball coach but probably out of his depth when it comes to the intricacies of modern golf course architecture.

“The only thing I would say is that we need to do something about the golf ball. I just think it’s going too far because we’re having to build golf courses . . . if you want to have a championship venue, they’ve got to be [7,300], 7,400 yards long and if the game keeps progressing the way it is with technology, I think that the 8,000-yard golf course is not too far away,” Woods said.

To hear Woods talk, you'd think the prospect of 8,000-yard golf courses is a terrifying one, at least for course designers. To them, it's the Keyser Soze of modern golf.

“That’s pretty scary," Woods said. "We don’t have enough property to be designing these types of golf courses. And it just makes it so much more complicated.”

There is wisdom to Woods’ words; on this the statistics don’t lie.

In 1997, Woods was second on the PGA Tour in driving distance with a 294-yard average, just behind John Daly, the only player to average over 300 yards (302) off the tee. Last year, Rory McIlroy led the way with a 317-yard average and a total of 43 players averaged more than 300 yards off the tee. Any way you slice it, whether it be vastly improved equipment, better agronomy, fitness, teaching, whatever, players are hitting it drastically farther than they did just 20 years ago.

What doesn’t seem as obvious, however, is the idea that 8,000-yard golf courses are the answer.

Until they prove otherwise, let’s assume golf’s rule makers, the USGA and R&A, are going to continue to hold the current line when it comes to how far the golf ball travels. Without a fundamental shift to the Rules of Golf, statistics suggest it’s not longer courses that are the answer so much as it is better-designed golf courses.

Consider June’s U.S. Open as Exhibit A. The behemoth Erin Hills was designed to host a major championship, a sprawling layout that played 7,741 yards; and yet Brooks Koepka finished at 16 under and Justin Thomas set a U.S. Open scoring record with his 9-under 63 on Saturday.

To be fair, the winds that normally whistle across that corner of Wisconsin in the summer were nonexistent and Koepka did win by four strokes, but the point is still valid – longer doesn’t always mean harder.

Erin Hills, the longest course on Tour in ’17, ranked as the sixth-toughest, behind the likes of TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, which was the 12th-shortest course at 7,107 yards; and just ahead of Colonial, the circuit’s seventh-toughest that played to 7,209 yards and a par of 70.

In fact, if you crunch the numbers the correlation between more distance and increased difficulty seems mathematically skewed.

If you were to take, for example, the statistically toughest and longest holes last year on Tour and create a composite course, this layout would stretch 8,794 yards and played to a 74.49 stroke average based on a par of 72 (four par 3s, 10 par 4s, four par 5s). That’s just slightly tougher than Quail Hollow (73.46 stroke average), which hosted the PGA Championship in August at 7,600 yards.

By comparison, if you took the statistically toughest and shortest composite course last year, the total yardage would be just 5,578 yards and it played to a 67.54 stroke average.

The difference in yardage between these two manufactured examples would be 3,216 yards and the difference in scoring average would be 6.95 strokes, or about 460 yards per stroke.

If, in fact, the desired outcome is more difficult scoring averages an additional 460 yards per stroke is a zero-sum game and should be considered by all accounts a worst-case scenario.

But then not all holes are created equal. Players regularly vote some of the circuit’s shortest holes among the best. Frames like the par-3 12th at Augusta National, which at just 155 yards ranked as the 10th-toughest par 3 on Tour last season. Or the par-4 10th at Riviera, which at 315 yards was the sixth-shortest par 4 on Tour in ’17 but held its own with a 3.87 scoring average.

The debate over what should be done to “fix” the game will continue to rage as long as players regularly launch tee shots well past the 300-yard barrier, but the notion that 8,000-yard courses are the answer seems wildly simplistic and statistically undesirable.

It’s not longer holes that will make the hard-swinging pro set reconsider the bomb-and-gouge strategy, it’s better-designed holes.

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Stricker leads in hometown event; Daly three back

By Associated PressJune 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

MADISON, Wis. – Steve Stricker made himself at home at the top of the leaderboard on a rainy and breezy Friday at the American Family Insurance Championship.

The hometown star and tournament host shot an 8-under 64 at University Ridge to take a one-stroke lead over Brad Bryant in the PGA Tour Champions event. Because of the wet conditions, the players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairways.

John Daly, Colin Montgomerie and Steve Flesch shot 67. Daly returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for three events.

Splitting time between the PGA Tour and the 50-and-over circuit, the 51-year-old Stricker had his 30th consecutive Champions round under par, the fourth-longest streak in tour history.

Stricker won in Arizona and Mississippi in consecutive starts in May for his first senior victories. The 12-time PGA Tour winner played the big tour the last two weeks, tying for 18th in Memphis and tying for 20th in the U.S. Open.

Fellow Madison player Jerry Kelly and Illinois coach Mike Small, Stricker's teammate with the Illini, were at 68 with Bernhard Langer, Scott Verplank, Jeff Sluman, Glen Day, Billy Mayfair, Doug Garwood, Jerry Smith and Rocco Mediate. Defending champion Fred Couples had a 69.

Stricker played alongside Vijay Singh and Davis Love III. Singh shot 81, and Love 72.

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Aphibarnrat keeps promise to M. Jutanugarn

By Randall MellJune 22, 2018, 9:25 pm

Moriya Jutanugarn was inspired by a special fan Friday who kept a promise to her.

She will be looking to use that boost to make this a memorable new chapter in the Jutanugarn “Sisters Act” story.

Three weeks after Ariya won the U.S. Women’s Open for her second victory in 2018, Mo is in early position in Rogers, Ark., to join her sister as the tour’s only two-time winners this year.

Mo put up a 7-under-par 64 to get into early contention at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. She was tied for the lead among the morning wave with Aditi Ashok, who is looking to inspire the entire nation of India by winning a first LPGA title for her homeland. Lizette Salas and Mirim Lee also shot 64s in the early wave.


Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


Moriya got in contention with PGA Tour pro Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the gallery following her. A fellow Thai, Aphibarnrat promised Mo he would come watch her if she won an LPGA title. She broke through for her first victory in April at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open, and Aphribarnrat lived up to his promise showing up this week.

“He's like my brother, and it’s very nice to see him,” Moriya said. “Really happy for him, as well, because he is having a very good year this year.”

At the Masters, Ariya caddied for Aphibarnrat during the Par 3 Contest.

Aphibarnrat said he is a big fan of the Thai sisters and also planned to watch Ariya in the afternoon.

“They inspire me,” Aphibarnrat told LPGA media official Christina Lance after the round.

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Two-time champ Bubba fires 63 at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 7:20 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Amid a resurgent season that has already included a pair of wins, it only makes sense that Bubba Watson is back in contention at the Travelers Championship.

TPC River Highlands has been one of Watson’s favorite haunts over the years; it’s a layout where the southpaw’s creative approach is often rewarded. This is where he burst into tears after earning his first PGA Tour victory in 2010, and this is where he beat Paul Casey in a playoff to again lift the trophy in 2015.

He’ll once again have a late weekend tee time after firing a 7-under 63 during the second round, tying the low score of the week and moving to within three shots of Brian Harman’s 10-under total.

“Little bit less wind, little more confidence on the ball-striking, and I made putts,” Watson said. “The key is making putts. When you start making putts, that’s where you’re going to score a decent number.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Watson was well down the standings after opening with an even-par 70, a round that included three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the back nine to negate progress he had made earlier in the day. But he ran into no such struggles the second time around, adding six birdies to an eagle on the par-5 13th hole when he hit his approach shot from 229 yards to within 18 inches of the hole.

The difference, according to Watson, was between the ears.

“Yesterday I was just thinking about some negative stuff instead of focusing on my target and focusing on the shot at hand,” Watson said. “I was focusing on hitting to the bunker, or focusing on, ‘Water is over here, so hit it over here.’ Just things like that, just things that you can’t do around the golf course.”

Watson was also a runner-up in 2012 here in addition to his two wins, and he has racked up nearly $3.5 million in earnings in 11 prior appearances. Once again thinking the right thoughts on one of his favorite tracks, he’s potentially 36 holes away from his third win since February.

“Obviously around here I feel pretty comfortable,” Watson said. “I can hit some shots around here, and I’ve made it work throughout some of the years.”

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Only putting is holding McIlroy back

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 6:48 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Through two rounds of the Travelers Championship, the tee shots are towering and the approaches are accurate for Rory McIlroy. Now he just needs the putter to heat up.

McIlroy started to show signs of life during the second round last week at Shinnecock Hills before missing the cut, and after putting in some extra work honing his swing over the weekend, his tee-to-green game is worth boasting about at the halfway point at TPC River Highlands.

McIlroy has missed only five greens in regulation through two rounds, barely breaking a sweat en route to rounds of 64 and 69 that left him at 7 under. He’s within striking distance heading into the weekend, three shots behind Brian Harman, but might be topping the standings with a more cooperative putter.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“I felt like I left a few out there,” McIlroy said. “I felt like I had a lot of good putts that just didn’t go in. I started them on line, did everything I needed to do, and it’s just one of those days where they were sliding by the edges.”

McIlroy took 32 putts to complete his second round, including a three-putt on No. 7 for his only bogey of the day and another three-putt on No. 13 that turned an eagle opportunity into a par. Already with a win under his belt this year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he knocked in putts from all directions during a final-round 64, McIlroy feels confident that he might be only a few rolls away from having another shot to contend in his second career trip to the Hartford-area stop.

“I think if I can put the ball in the fairway and hit my irons as good as I have been over the first couple of days, I’ll give myself a lot of chances for birdies,” McIlroy said. “It’s just about converting them and taking the opportunities when they present themselves.”