Dangerously Wrong

“Whilst delighted for all the players, it’s quite sad to see The Old Course of St Andrews brought to her knees by today’s ball & equipment,” October 8, 2017 nine time major champion, Gary Player.

Player was intense competitor, intelligent and perceptive with tremendous stature in the game but unfortunately the opinion expressed in this tweet ignores the reality of golf today. But in case your attention at the time was otherwise occupied here’s a bit of background.

Ross Fisher playing in the European Tour Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at the “home of golf,” the Old Course at St. Andrews, posted a course record 61 in a vain attempt to catch winner Tyrrell Hatton. Player seems to conclude Fisher’s record and other low scores posted during the Dunhill were due to the ball and equipment. He is not only mistaken but for everyone who plays, dangerously wrong. Let me explain.

Player didn’t mention that for four days the weather was everything one could desire this time of year on Scotland’s east coast and most importantly there was little or no wind. St. Andrews has immense landing areas and greens wide open in the front which leaves the wind as its primary defense. Without wind the course is particularly vulnerable to skilled players and you can add that the course set up was not too severe since the Dunhill is a pro-am and amateurs are playing each day.

So with no wind and accessible pin locations low scores are not surprising.

At a tournament length of over 7,300 yards St. Andrews is not a pushover and though scores during the Dunhill were not what we usually see during the Open Championship, it is undeniable that over the years the course has withstood every generation’s best. Not perhaps without some lengthening. Not without reworking some of the tees, putting surfaces and bunkers but always with what my friends in Chicago call “the hawk,” the wind, being a major factor.

The tweet reflects Player’s oft expressed opinion modern clubs and balls are a problem but in truth since the gutta percha ball replaced the featherie 150 years ago someone is always opining the exact same thing after every advance in equipment technology.

The danger in Player and others beating the drum claiming such a sad state of affairs is the USGA and R&A will take it on themselves to “fix the problem.” Following the logic of “drivers are too hot,” or, “the ball goes too far,” could mean further restrictions on equipment or even creation of separate equipment standards for elite-players.

Either would be detrimental.

Both ignore how virtually all elite players follow an intense physical conditioning regimen, a rarity until Tiger Woods turned pro but exactly what Player himself has preached since the 1960s. Additionally those saying today’s equipment is a problem overlook how virtually every elite player makes extensive use of sophisticated computer imaging to dial-in their swing mechanics. Nor are the tremendous advances in agronomy taken into account allowing fairways to be so much firmer they have Stimpmeter readings on the order of greens 50 years ago.

In other words it’s not just equipment and it is overly simplistic to focus solely on the springiness of clubfaces or the improvements to the golf ball when wound balls were replaced. Yes, the ball goes farther but the contention that hurts the game is not supported by facts and is only a desire to keep things as they were, a solution to which will unduly penalize all but a few.

Put another way, do you or any of your friends think you are hitting the ball too far? Or even more simply, do you know of anyone who has given up the game because it’s too easy?

Making rules to rein in distance because it is thought a few hundred professionals and maybe a like number of the best amateurs are hitting greater distances is ignoring the reality of modern golf. It also ignores the laws of physics as pointed out by Frank Thomas (inventor of the graphite shaft and former Technical Director of the USGA) that the increase in distance due to the solid core ball and high rebound driver faces has reached its maximum.

If indeed there is a problem, and I’m not conceding there is, the Tour could solve it by simply setting up courses to be more penal though fans would immediately hate it. The fact the Tour does not do this is a tacit acknowledgement for the status quo. Fans enjoy seeing pros struggle occasionally when faced with narrow fairways, landing zone hazards and four inch rough as at a U.S. Open. But that’s once a year and the USGA not the PGA Tour runs the championship. If penal setups were the case every week it wouldn’t take toursters long to figure out it’s often best to leave the driver in the bag. Fans would lose the excitement of seeing D.J. or Jason or Bubba challenging the course with booming drives.

How much excitement is there in one plain vanilla par-4 after another calling for a three-iron tee shot then a wedge? Not much and what other entertainment business would ever propose to intentionally alienate fans?

World-class instructor Hank Haney puts it best, “Fans don’t go to a baseball game hoping to see some good bunt singles.”

And there’s another factor. If the pros had to play with a restricted equipment it would kill any OEM marketing plan that relies on “Tour validation.” Acushnet, Bridgestone, Callaway, Cobra, Ping, PXG, TaylorMade, Wilson and others spend millions for endorsements and advertising on the premise fans want to play with the same equipment as the pros.

You may argue with the premise but you can’t deny restricting the ball or drivers used by elite players would drastically change the economics of the club business…probably for the worse.

As I have written before the so-called distance problem isn’t a real problem, it’s only a conclusion drawn based on an opinion or maybe even an unacknowledged yearning for the “good old days.” The idea modern equipment hurts the “integrity” of the game is almost fatuous and certainly dangerous. It’s a triple threat with the potential to push golfers out of the game, alienate fans and jeopardize the ability of manufactures to be rewarded for their advances in equipment design.

The Nicklaus Collection from Perry Ellis

Jack Nicklaus is a golf legend and though many golfers today have never seen the Golden Bear play much less play at his best, the stories of his mastery on and off the course live on. You also can bet when he lends his name to a product, the product is special.

That’s the case with the latest Nicklaus Collection from Jack Nicklaus Apparel, a brand of Perry Ellis International.

The polos of the Collection have stylish patterns with construction of quality lightweight fabrics that have all the features you want including effective moisture wicking. They call it “StayDri” and its true perspiration management allowing air to circulate in the lightweight fabric. Each polo has UV ray protection and uses ventilated fabric plus their idea of “StayMotion” is exceptionally worthwhile. StayMotion allows seams to give a little providing a fuller range of motion without binding during the swing.

We especially liked the Textured Ombre polo that transitions from dark to light, top to bottom with graded shapes running in offset vertical lines. This one is perfect for a round of golf or around the club and you will like the price as well since all Nicklaus Collection polos are $24.99.

Shorts in the Nicklaus Collection look good on and off the course with StayDri and UV protection too plus StayMotion Plus which provides all around stretch for comfort and flexibility. Their four-pocket design has what Perry Ellis calls a “media pocket” but what I call a “smartphone pocket” and it’s a nice extra particularly if you are use your smartphone GPS rangefinder app. Nicklaus Collection shorts don’t have front pleats so they have a nice trim appearance with classic style and each is made from a blend of Spandex and polyester meaning they are easy to care for and don’t require ironing.

As far as colors are concerned, let’s face it most shorts are dull or if not dull commonplace and after all, how many of pairs khaki shorts can you own? The Textured Printed Golf Shorts in Caviar and Black from the Nicklaus Collection are a refreshing change from all that sameness. The print is a subtle pattern of unconnected horizontal stripes and can be worn with lots of different color shirts for a distinctive, winning look. Pricing of the shorts in the Collection is also a pocketbook-friendly $29.99.

The Presidents Cup Exhibition

It was fun. Fans saw a lot of quality shots hit by a couple dozen of really good golfers…some even deserving the often loosely applied label of world-class. Even the weather cooperated the final day of the Presidents Cup, an exhibition masquerading as intense competition.

It was clear even before the teams were named this was going to be a rout. The International squad just didn’t have the horsepower of Team USA. But of course, they haven’t had it for any of the twelve Presidents Cups with the exception of 1998 when a Peter Thompson led squad beat up on Jack Nicklaus’ twelve and oh yes, I almost forget, there was a tie in 2003

The U.S “Dream Team” so dominated this year it was just one-half point short of clinching the trophy at the close of play on Saturday. Had that happened, Nick Price’s Internationals would have been even more embarrassed but it also would have put the PGA Tour in an uncomfortable position with sponsors and fans.

As it was the twelve Sunday matches were almost pointless, a mere half point from being totally pointless and analyzing the Presidents Cup over its entire 23 year run leads to an inescapable conclusion.

It is just an exhibition. It is not a true competition with the gut wrenching drama of the Ryder Cup, though of course the PGA Tour would like it to be.

Things have been modified over the years starting with going from three to four days in 2000 but the basic format has been fourball and foursomes play capped the last day mano a mano single matches, just like the Ryder Cup.

Potentially thrilling except it isn’t when, as happened this year, a team’s only hope to salvage some semblance of pride is to win the majority of the last day singles matches. The International Team did but it’s hard to believe the U.S. players were really fired up with such an immense lead after day three.

So what’s the remedy or do we relegate the Presidents Cup exhibition to silly season status? There aren’t any options for improvement by expanding the inventory of eligible players as was done in the Ryder Cup when Europe was added to the team composed of Great Britain and Ireland. Frankly there aren’t many golfers outside the U.S. and Europe who are ready for prime time so creating an All-South America Team or All Africa Team and even an All Western Pacific Rim Team would seem to be futile. Additionally any plan impinging on perceived Ryder Cup prerogatives would be impossible to implement, after it is the Holy Grail of international team competition,.

My proposal some will call ridiculous or even ludicrous but change is needed to give the Presidents Cup relevance, to make it a true competitive tussle and save it from the oblivion of just another golf exhibition. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The idea would be to expand both teams by adding female professionals from the United States and around the world, including obviously Japan and Asia to both squads. How many? I don’t know, but the inherent attractiveness of male/female mixed pairings would be unique if not downright compelling for advertisers and fans.

Spice things up by awarding points (definitely not dollars) to participants, i.e., Race to the CME Globe for LPGA players on both teams, FedExCup points for PGA Tour members and even Race To Dubai points if an international is on the European Tour. Points could be allotted just for getting picked with more for each match won and more for winning the Cup.

Players couldn’t help but be enthusiastic plus and a couple of badly needed things would be accomplished. First the Presidents Cup would be rescued by giving fans something exciting and different to watch but more significantly female professionals would be showcased holding their own playing with and against the men.

The time is now for stirring the pot to fix the Presidents Cup…anybody have email addresses for Jay Monahan and Michael Whan?

Finally, I want to take a swipe at all the critics, naysayers and so-called experts who criticized Steve Stricker for selecting Phil Mickelson as a captain’s pick. The eminent philosopher and mangler of the English language Yogi Berra put it well, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Two years ago when Captain Jay Haas tapped Lefty it was the same discordant chorus but at the age of 45 he accounted for 3 ½ points tieing for the most on the team. Mickelson this year played four matches and finished with 3 ½ points only one point behind point leader Dustin Johnson.

At an age when most players, if they even still have their Tour card, are cruising to the magic five-oh and the PGA Tour Champions, Mickelson stepped up and again silenced the know-it-alls who criticized his inclusion on the team. He was ranked fifteenth in FedExCup points with the top ten being automatically getting a spot. By comparison the other captain’s pick eleventh ranked Charley Hoffman had a record of 1-2-0…not exactly stellar.

As a friend of mine said referring to Lefty’s invigorated play the last month of the regular season and his record in the Presidents Cup, “There’s a reason he’s in the Hall of Fame.”