Criticism of Driving Distance is a Nonstarter

Television commentators often talk about how far players hit the golf ball and this prompted the thought that by looking the results of PGA Tour players who have the highest driver swing speeds we could gain some insight into the current criticism of ball distance. So, here are the “fast five” as of the Arnold Palmer Invitational–statistics provided by the PGA Tour:

Keith Mitchell 123.97 mph
Rory McIlroy 122.34 mph
Tiger Woods 121.90 mph
Tony Finau 121.90 mph
Gary Woodland 121.84 mph

The “elites,” touring professionals and top caliber amateurs, unquestionably hit the ball farther than in the past however that’s not the issue. We need to know if added distance is a detriment to the game.

By analyzing the results of those with the highest swing speeds we should see a correlation with driving distance, scoring and money won and taking the elite of the elites, average driving distance is:

Keith Mitchell 312.1 yards
Rory McIlroy  314.1 yards
Tiger Woods 304.2 yards
Tony Finau 322.7 yards
Gary Woodland 312.2 yards

But that’s not the whole story. Mitchell is only number 10 in driving distance, McIlroy is 6, Woods 36, Finau first and Woodland 9.

More interesting, in fact very interesting, is how swing speed translates into scoring average: Mitchell is number 143, McIlroy 16, Woods 5, Finau 13 and Woodland 29. To put this in perspective, this year’s scoring average leader is Dustin Johnson at 68.843 strokes per round and in 1999, prior to introduction of the “game-changing” Titleist Pro V1, the leader was Tiger Woods with an average of 68.432.

Statisticians would call that amount of difference over 19 years “noise.”

How about a correlation between swing speed and money won? Mitchell is number 170 in official money after 10 events, McIlroy number 19 and 5 events, Woods 32/5 events, Finau 10/10 events and Woodland 15/11 events. In money won per event played Mitchell is number 215, McIlroy 8, Woods 15, Finau 19 and Woodland 25.

Then there’s an oft voiced concern courses are being turned into “driver-wedge” layouts, but the percentage of greens hit in regulation should tell the story. Mitchell is number 113 hitting 64.93% GIR, McIlroy 182/60.78%, Woods 174/61.42%, Finau 32/69.29% and Woodland 3/72.76%. Again, comparing with 1999, David Duval was first with a 73.57% GIR while today Kevin Streelman the 2018 leader is at 72.83%…more statistical noise.

We could go on, but the conclusion is obvious, though the elites are swinging faster and hitting the ball farther it does not translate into results.

But then you knew that.

The question is why don’t the solons of rules at the USGA and the R&A?

There have been unsupported statements about several topics among them ball distance causing slow play, forcing layouts to add length and of course, the great old shibboleth, traditional classic tracks are unable to host Tour events. All these opinions are nonstarters and their proponents have yet to present facts in support.

We all know slow play has everything to do with the individual players not the distance they hit the ball. The problems and costs of maintaining all golf courses, not just the ones beefed up in the belief longer is better, have been addressed by greens superintendents already much to their credit. Finally, the old classic courses (usually spoken of in mystical terms) is that many don’t have the acreage for parking, corporate hospitality, television production and tens of thousands of fans. Ball distance has nothing to do with it, they just aren’t capable of holding a big-time event.

Those who want to either “roll back the ball” or split the rules into us-and-them, so-called bifurcation, seem bent on convincing themselves tee ball distance needs to be fixed and equally convinced to do so in the face of a mountain of contrary facts. Every the USGA’s own 2017 Driving Distance Report doesn’t make a case for the ball going too far. The PGA Tour and the PGA of America have stated there isn’t any problem as have Acushnet, makers of the Titleist Pro V1, and TaylorMade Golf whose drivers are the most played by professionals worldwide. The PGA Tour clearly understands they are in the entertainment business and knows Hank Haney has it right saying people don’t go a ballgame to see a bunch of bunt singles, they go to see homeruns.

What we are facing is not a problem of the ball going too far but the perception of a problem simply because a few respected industry members have beat the drum long enough that the USGA and R&A finally have said they agree.

That’s no way to decide any issue.

The ball distance discussion isn’t over. Not as long as Tour players are bigger, stronger, better trained elites playing clubs computer-fitted to their swing, hitting low-spin solid core balls onto firm, fast fairways.

The USGA and R&A have said there is a problem evidently so then they can justify imposing a solution and more importantly and more tragically is how they are clearly out of touch with the overwhelming majority of golfers.

Fuzzy Thinking

Fuzzy thinking, even by well-known and respected people is still fuzzy thinking and when the topic is the distance the golf ball goes, fuzzy thinking easily results in a call to “doing something before the game is ruined.”

Respected icons of the game such as Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin have said more than once the problem with golf is the ball goes too far.

Maybe by taking a look at the facts we can sweep away the fuzziness concerning golf ball distance because if we don’t, sure as heck, the fuzzy thinking will eventually prevail.

First, this controversy over technological advancement is not new. It was essentially the same in the nineteen century and rears its head with every major advancement in balls and clubs. If you have some time, look up the evolution of the feathery ball to the gutta percha and then to the rubber-core ball or the story of the Schenectady center-shafted mallet putter being outlawed after Walter Travis used one to win the British Amateur.

The cry was all the fine old courses would be made obsolete because they were too short and no longer challenging or simply improvements in equipment meant the game was becoming too easy. Sound familiar?

Today the distance the golf ball goes is due to vastly improved launch conditions. This began with the introduction of metalwoods and then the development of graphite shafts allowing an increase in size of driver club heads. When titanium heads were introduced makers were able to almost double driver clubhead size again and driver shafts could be made much longer. All of these plus an immense improvement in ball aerodynamics added significant distance with all clubs.

Professionals—the ones fuzzy thinkers believe hit the ball too far—have also benefitted from intensive computer-aided instruction, better physical training and the simple fact a large number of them are taller and bigger than in the past.

Improved equipment and better agronomy have resulted in courses, especially on Tour, playing firmer and faster. Plus we must recognize the desire of operators to have the longest, toughest layout so they can boast of the difficulty for professionals rather than the playability for recreational golfers.

The number of golf courses is steadily decreasing so overall use of the land is not an issue. It is true some “fine old courses” may not have the land to be stretched in order to accommodate the modern professionals but that’s OK. For the average player not every course needs to be like this year’s US Open venue Erin Hills and have the capability to be played to over 8,000 yards.

However, the fact is in 2017 the average driving distance on the PGA Tour is 291.20 yards, an increase of about one yard in the preceding ten years so there’s been no “distance explosion” in more than a decade.

For recreational players titanium-headed-graphite-shafted drivers and solid-core-low-spinning urethane cover balls have not produced anywhere near the gains in yardage achieved by professionals. Technology has not caused golf handicaps to plummet and the typical male golfer still isn’t hitting the ball over 200 yards–if that.

The rulers of our game don’t seem to understand the problem in terms of the average golfer who occasionally makes a par and buys a celebratory beer when he makes a birdie. Additionally the USGA continues with the idea the ball goes should be reduced while telling weekend warriors to play from a shorter tee set. That’s illogical and a nonstarter.

Of course the culprit most often cited is the Titleist Pro V1 which debuted in the fall 2000 and at once became the most played ball on Tour. Every manufacturer now makes similar balls that are low spinning with urethane covers and solid cores.

The PGA Tour is in the entertainment business and the business model should be what its customers, i.e., golf fans, want. There’s no question we want to see birdies and eagles and drivable par-4s not to mention DJ smoking one 340. In 2007 the scoring average on Tour was 71.34 and this season it is 72.00. In fact going back 20 years the average was 71.77 showing courses aren’t getting easier despite what some would like you to believe.

As Frank Thomas former technical director of the USGA and current golf industry consultant has often said, driving distance has gone as far as it can go because the physics involved are maxed out. Or put another way, you can’t argue with Mother Nature.

Finally, part of the fuzzy thinking can be laid at the doorstep of the media because it’s easy to write that a well-known player, ex-player or some administrator is decrying the state of the game. One headline trumpeted “Great Balls of Fire!” referring to today’s low-spin golf balls. This is a cheap shot displaying a lack of knowledge not to mention an abuse of journalistic standards.

The inescapable conclusion there’s no horrific problem with the distance the golf ball travels. That’s just plain old fuzzy thinking.

And the solution is easy. Do nothing.

The crisis in golf technology or golf ball distance is only in the minds of fuzzy thinkers.

An Old-Fashioned Attaboy

In the past there have been a number of times I have been critical of golf’s rules givers, the United States Golf Association and R&A, but today they deserve an old-fashioned “attaboy.”

The reason is they promptly came up with a fix to what many viewed as a ludicrous situation, namely the four stroke penalty given to Lexi Thompson during the ANA Inspiration. The USGA and R&A modified the Rules of Golf to address an obviously inherent unfairness.

Decision 34-3/10 of the Rules of Golf, which takes effect immediately, limits the use of video in accessing potential rules infractions. The announcement has caused an eruption of comment on the Internet from both the knowledgeable and, as one might expect, also those who are evidently clueless. Though the Internet is a tool we have come to rely upon it’s also provides a ready forum for the uninformed.

But setting that aside and in case you’ve been otherwise occupied, Lexi Thompson was on her way to winning the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA’s first major of the year, when during the third round she marked her ball on the green but inadvertently replaced it one-half inch from the original spot. A television viewer pointed this out in an email to LPGA.com the next day and after reviewing the video the LPGA rules committee assessed Thompson a four stroke penalty.

Officials informed Thompson of the penalty on the 13th hole of the final round and what was a three shot lead at the time became a one shot deficit. Thompson eventually lost the championship in a playoff.

The outcry by everyone from fans to players to those who can’t tell a birdie from a bogey was tremendous. Tiger Woods even got into the discussion condemning the whole idea of officiating from a sofa.

Though the USGA said no particular case prompted their action it’s more than coincidental Decision 34-3/10 came just three weeks after the Thompson penalty. In addition of course, there was the other well publicized incident during the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open playoff when Anna Nordqvist was hit with a two shot penalty after high definition, close up, slow motion video showed her club grazing a few grains of sand.

Now under Decision 34-3/10 officials have two ways to judge the use of video in determining if a penalty is to be accessed. First is the so-called “naked eye” standard which simply means if high definition video is needed to see a potential violation then reasonableness dictates there is no problem. The other part of the decision also uses the reasonableness standard to judge the location of a drop or ball placement.

The lords of Far Hills and St. Andrews evidently got a lesson from the situation surrounding what’s called the “DJ Rule” last year. During the 2016 U.S. Open Dustin Johnson was penalized when his ball laying on a green rolled about the width of one dimple and it was judged more likely than not he caused the ball to move. However Rule 18-02 was rewritten done less than six months later and under the same circumstances should a player cause the ball to move inadvertently it could be replaced without penalty.

Is the new “Lexi rule” in Decision 34-3/10 perfect? No, and it may be modified in the future. But critics and naysayers should take into account the obvious. The game is not one of perfection nor played in a controlled environment. There always has been and always will be room for judgement, equity, reasonableness and fair play.

Reasonableness and reasonable judgement…how refreshing and we didn’t have to wait for the usual four year cycle of rules rewrites.

Unfortunately what has been lost in all the noise over the unfairness of the Nordqvist or Thompson incidents, is congratulations to the USGA and the R&A for doing something in a competent and timely manner.

An “attaboy” well earned.

Masters Favorites

Next week for many is the opening of the golf season, the Masters. An arm chair pastime has always been evaluating the field and picking possible winners and why they are the short list to wear the green jacket come Sunday.

The King, Arnold Palmer, will be missed but the memory of his four wins and exciting play will never be lost. Every year since 1954 he has been there and though he hasn’t played in recent years he took the job of honorary starter seriously with his customary humor and good grace.

One question on everyone’s mind is will he or won’t he, i.e., will the aging athlete with a bad back Tiger Woods be able to tee it up. He has said repeatedly he wants to and wants to continue his run at passing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. This Masters would be a wonderful place for him to start.

Many of the top Tour players are under 30…some way under. This brings added interest from younger fans and the Masters is another chance to see who has what it takes. To win the Masters requires the maturity to handle the situation and of course putting well on the contoured, sloping and ridiculously fast greens. But paraphrasing Bobby Jones, founder of Augusta National and the Masters, “There’s golf and then there’s major championship golf.”

Defending champion Danny Willet has, even at his best in the past year, exhibited lackluster ball striking and putting. No wins since last April and typically finishing—if he made the cut—well down the leaderboard.

Concerns about his mother’s health have put former world number one Jason Day into the situation where he may not play and it’s unlikely even if he does he will be able to set it all aside and play up to the level necessary to win.

Taking a look at the rest of the field’s chances to win the 81st playing of what many say is their most memorable major championship one has to consider Hideki Matsuyama as a possibility. Plus a slimmer Bubba Watson trying for his third win at Augusta is an excellent pick and we shouldn’t overlook the long-hitting youngster Justin Thomas.

Henrik Stenson, winner over Phil Mickelson in the British Open, and his fairway-hitting Callaway 3-wood is a maybe. His season hasn’t been up to what we have come to expect and he doesn’t do particularly well at Augusta with his best finish being 14th three years ago.

So, with all that in mind, here are our picks to win the green jacket:

Dustin Johnson – what can you say about a player who hits it as long as DJ, often in the fairway, has his wedges dialed in and, for the trifecta, is in the top 30 for putting. The flat stick has always been a key at Augusta National and if the man from South Carolina has a good putting week he will be hard to beat. The WGC Match Play Three win was his third in as many starts and places him at the top of the list.

Jordan Spieth – The demons from his infamous finish last year will be exorcised. Spieth is not super long but long enough as he has proven with his 2015 Masters win. The 23-year old Texan’s strongest attributes are his ability to manage his round and his putting from outside 10 feet. Admittedly he hasn’t been able to separate himself from the rest of the Tour this year as he did in the past but his Pebble Beach win was impressive though his performance at the WGC Match Play was not. 

Rory McIlroy – it’s tough to bet against the star from Northern Ireland who at times has it all. One fan labelled him “All-World,” and that’s not much of an exaggeration. A suspect putter could be the reason he isn’t adding a Masters trophy on his mantelpiece to go with his Open, U.S. Open and two PGA Championships hardware.

Rickie Fowler – now is the time for Fowler to prove he is in the elite bracket of players who not only can win any given week but can take charge in a major championship. He won at the Honda and skipped the WGC Match Play and at 28-years old he must step up to avoid being in the Sergio Garcia category—close, but never a major winner. Remember in 2015 Fowler quieted those who said he was the Tour’s most overrated player with his stellar Players Championship victory.

Dark Horse: Jon Rahm – The young man from Spain seems to play well every time he tees it up and though a rookie has a win at Torrey Pines. His put on a very impressive display of hardnosed golf to almost take Johnson in the final at the WGC Match Play. Quick to smile and though he sometimes gets hot under the collar if he smiles his way around Augusta the first two rounds the weekend could be very interesting.

Sentimental favorite: Phil Mickelson – the best 46-year old golfer in the world. He still hits it long and when he is on, his controlled iron shots make any course look easy. As a bonus, Lefty’s putting stroke has never looked better. With no rough at Augusta and if his sometimes wild driving can at least keep his tee shots out of the loblolly pines this could be a great chance for his sixth major.

Top Ten Golf Stories of 2016

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The King
The death of Arnold Palmer saddened the golf world and the millions outside golf he touched through his charities. The King wasn’t just a record setting golfer nor just another person, father, businessman and philanthropist. He was Arnold Palmer being Arnold Palmer with integrity, humor, intelligence and humility.

Tiger’s comeback
As U.S. Ryder Cup team vice-captain Tiger Woods didn’t have to put his game on display. That came in the Hero World Challenge with a limited field of 18 after being off the Tour for 16 months. Woods finished in 15
th place and said he was hoping to play a full schedule (as yet to be determined) in 2017.

Ryder Cup
The win by Team USA over Team Europe by the decisive score of 17 to 11 probably saved the Ryder Cup from a serious loss of interest by American fans and a marked decrease in player enthusiasm. Prior to this year the US had lost eight of the last ten contests and this win it was a not only a team effort (every U.S. player contributed at least one point) but a vindication for captain Davis Love III.

Olympic Golf
Justin Rose took the gold medal beating Henrik Stenson (silver) and Matt Kuchar (bronze) while In Bee Park easily won the ladies gold in golf’s much heralded return to the Olympics. Before the Games what was thought to be a bigger story was the list of top men players who declined to go to Rio: Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. Reasons cited included health concerns (zika virus) and potential security problems.

Anchored Stroke Ban
The impact of the USGA banning anchored putting strokes which took effect on Jan. 1 had absolutely no effect on recreational players. They either said, to heck with the USGA I’ll putt however I want to, or bought a shorter length putter. The anguished predictions by some (who should have known better) that the slamming of trunk lids and squealing of tires from club parking lots as players left the game in droves were emphatically wrong.

Finchem Retires
Tim Finchem’s 22 years as commissioner of the PGA Tour built on the foundation previous commissioner Deane Beman had laid. The Tour now can boast a 47 week event split season with $339 million prize money, the largest charitable giving of any sport, three events in Asia, assets of $2.2 billion and a $10 million season-ending prize. Add to that getting golf back in the Olympics, creation of the First Tee and World Golf Championship series he compiled a stellar record. Not bad for a button-down lawyer who at one time worked for President Jimmy Carter. Finchem leaves a prosperous and dynamic legacy for successor Jay Monahan.

USGA Double Bogey
The USGA had a wretched summer. First was the fiasco of Dustin Johnson’s U.S. Open final round when officials said he might have caused his ball to move on the green but wouldn’t make a decision until the round was completed leaving him, fans and fellow competitors in the dark. They of course gave him a one-stroke penalty but fortunately the phlegmatic South Carolinian had such a large margin he still won by three. That was followed at the U.S. Women’s Open when second-place finisher Ann Norqvist was shown on HDTV moving three grains of sand in a bunker with her club but officials neglected to inform her of the penalty until a hole later. In response to the did-he-or-didn’t-he cause the ball to move the USGA created the “Johnson Rule” so there will be no penalty should a player accidentally move his ball. This year won’t go down as the best summer the organization has ever had.

Spieth Didn’t–Willet Did
Jordan Spieth had a record setting 2015 season and seemed to have this year’s Masters in his pocket until he came to the par-3 12
th hole of the final round. He managed to take a seven after two balls the water which handed the title to Danny Willet. However, this collapse wasn’t “the most shocking in golf history” as an ESPN writer sadly lacking in perspective wrote. Spieth still had two victories for the year plus the Australian Open and he’s only 23 years old.

Turmoil in Equipment Business
This past year marked several significant changes with Nike Golf leaving the club and ball business, Acushnet (Titleist, FootJoy and Pinnacle) became publically traded and adidas attempting to sell TaylorMade Golf which continued to suffer with early year sales declines. Retailers Sports Authority and Golfsmith went bankrupt with Dicks Sports Goods buying up inventory and locations while Callaway Golf, Srixon, Wilson Staff, Ping and upstart Parsons Xtreme Golf pushed for added market share. The new year may see some additional upheaval especially if TMaG’s new owner decides to adopt a different product strategy…that is, if there is any deal at all.

One for the Ages
The British Open played at Troon saw Phil Mickelson finishing with a 65 and was 11 strokes in front of the next lowest score for 72 holes. Lefty’s problem was Henrik Stenson shot 63 in the final round beating Mickelson to win his first major by two. Both played some of the best golf ever, evoking memories of the Tom Watson/Jack Nicklaus final round 1977 match up aptly named the “Duel in the Sun.”

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Did Hazeltine Save the Ryder Cup?
By ED TRAVIS

Now that a few days have passed since the USA Ryder Cup victory a couple of points should be raised.

Forget the humiliation of four years ago at Medinah. Forget Phil Mickelson’s criticisms of Captain Tom Watson and the “Ryder Cup Task Force” formed after the Gleneagles loss in 2014. Forget Davis Love III was this year’s captain…it’s certainly tough to say anything against him since the team won. Forget Patrick Reed’s over the top enthusiasm matched by the likes of Rory McIlroy on the European team.

Disregard the pontificating by pundits with meaningless “in depth” analysis of the swings and psychology and personalities of players on the two teams.

And you can even remove from your memory the few boors among the 240,000 fans visiting Hazeltine from the practice rounds Tuesday through the finals on Sunday.

What made the difference and why Team USA won a decisive win is simple; they just out played (read that as out putted) the Euros.

The atmosphere of a Ryder Cup is dramatically different than any other golf event, be it a regular Tour event or even a major championship. No matter how exciting of how good the golf they just have don’t have the same energy and the same effect on fans.

However, if the U.S. had lost again at Hazeltine golf fans could have been saying, “To heck with it. I don’t need this.”

The reasoning is simple. Ask any baseball or football fan whose team never seems to win the big one. After a while, after the repeated emotional investment, the buildup in anticipation of a win then the heart break and dashing of hopes of yet another loss gets to people. They lose interest.

Case in point I was an avid Buffalo Bills fan until 1993 and the fourth Super Bowl defeat in a row. I never went to another game.

The potential was there for the same thing to have happened to the Ryder Cup if the US had lost again.

It was true back in 1979 as well when Jack Nicklaus suggested in order to make the Ryder Cup competitive, which it clearly was not, European professionals from the Continent be included rather than as it had been with a team solely from Great Britain and Ireland. That brought to the Ryder Cup a couple of the greatest ever. Seve Ballesteros started in 1979 and so did another young continental star in 1981, Bernhard Langer.

As they say, the rest is history. The U.S. before 1979 was 18-3-1 and since then is 8-10-1. How long would have golf fans in Europe supported their team if they continued to be trounced as Great Britain and Ireland were for 50 years?

The answer is they wouldn’t and neither would American fans if Team USA kept losing especially if Hazeltine had been the fourth loss in a row.

The frustration of the players and bad vibes from trying so often and not winning would be a major factor.

There was more than little of that in Mickelson’s famous (or infamous depending on your view) comments in 2014 but his words did help to change what needed changing.

The victory at Hazeltine may just have invigorated both U.S. players and fans and saved the Ryder Cup from suffering a monumental lack of interest.

 

A Fearless Ryder Cup Prediction

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OK, here it is right at the top…the USA will win the Ryder Cup going away thus restoring both team pride and the Cup to these shores after what, as my English friend says, has been “a very rough patch.”

We are all familiar with the history–American dominance ended in 1983 and since Europe has won 10 matches and USA 4 with one tie.

The American team still has to choose four members making it very early for predictions but there are some significant things which lead to the conclusion Team USA will do the job for Captain Davis Love III.

First the players. Team USA so far has one rookie (Bruce Koepka) and Team Europe has six, half of Captain Darren Clarke’s squad. Though in the past some first timers have risen to the occasion, having so many on the team multiplies the odds the intense pressure will be a problem for the Euros.

Next is the American players desire to win on top of all those losses and after what can only be called a humiliation in 2014. Only Phil Mickelson has been on winning U.S. teams, 1999 and 2008, meaning the six veterans on the 2016 team have never hoisted the Cup. As an aside, Jim Furyk (Mr. 58) was also on the 1999 and 2008 teams so he may be a possible pick this year.

Thirdly is home field advantage. Not only will the greatest number of fans be cheering for the Americans but Hazeltine National Golf Club, this year’s venue in Chaska, Minn., is a quintessential American parkland design by Robert Trent Jones in 1962 with updates beginning 1991 by Rees Jones. The Euros are used to playing on this style course so the home field advantage is not the site but the enthusiastic thousands outside the ropes.

Finally, the secret (which really is no secret) to winning a Ryder Cup is making putts and by any measure the eight Americans on the team so far are much better on the greens than the 12 Euros. Considering the most likely four players that could be added to the U.S. team—Bubba Watson, J.B. Holmes, Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar—Kuchar is 21st and Fowler 46th in strokes gained putting on Tour and both Watson and Holmes though ranked in the 130s have the reputation of being able to go low. So putting for a change will be a strength for Team USA.

We all know however, regardless of dressing it up with facts, predictions like this one are really from the heart not the head but like millions of other fans I will be glued to my television the end of September.

Jack Would Have Been Third

LongDrive

Two years ago the PGA of America realizing how much interest there had been in the long drive competition formerly held before the PGA Championship so they reinstated it. Fans really love seeing their favorites who will be competing for the Wanamaker Trophy in two days put a peg in the ground and swing as hard as they could.

On Tuesday South Korean sensation Byeong-Hun An had the longest drive managing a very credible 347 yards, besting Rory McIlroy by two yards and Nicolas Colsaerts by six.

But wait, Jack Nicklaus at Dallas Athletic Club in 1963 using a persimmon headed driver and a wound balata cover ball took the long drive contest that year with a tee shot just inches under 342 yards.

A drive which would have put him third in this year contest.

And, if I’ve done the math correctly, it means in the intervening 53 years the winner gained an unspectacular five yards. So allowing for the difference in the price of drivers then and now that works out to just over $100 per yard.1963Clip

Rather than this being a knock on today’s improved technology compared to five decades ago it’s more a statement of how unimaginably hard the Golden Bear could hit the ball with vastly inferior equipment. Pictured is the money clip he still carries for the win all those years ago.

Images courtesy of Jack Nicklaus and PGA of America

Ode to a One Iron

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Last weekend a buddy invited me to play golf at a nearby course we both enjoy. It’s not especially long nor tight and has relatively few acres of sand and water but the main attraction without a doubt was spending time with a friend.

As we walked off the range following our pre-game warmup, he suddenly stopped saying, “Oh nuts!” Thinking he might have left something important like a club or his golf swing back in the car I was in for a surprise.

My friend said he had meant to hit a few with the club he had just purchased. I, curious and interested, asked, “Oh, what did ya get?”

His reply floored me, “A 1-iron.”

Now to explain so you don’t think my friend has completely lost his senses, he has been playing golf for several years, though at times finds it hard to get out…just like the rest of us. He is dedicated, wants to get better and has the advantage of having above average athletic ability.

However, having said all that, his chances of integrating a one iron into his game are between slim and none with the needle nudging the latter.

But in his mind’s eye he sees himself ripping it 220-yards into the wind with a slight draw that lands on the green, checks and rolls next to the pin. Really?

The story of how he came by the Ping Eye2 1-iron (a model which first saw the light of day in 1982) is worth the retelling. The week before my friend had been playing with a couple of guys, one of who wasn’t very good and had a bad case of the “Tommy Bolt’s,” or club tossing. Unbelievably this fellow was carrying a 1-iron in his bag and with a game even less accomplished than my friend’s had a particular affection for heaving it after nearly every swing.

By the way, Bolt was one of golf’s all time colorful characters. There are dozens of stories about his time on the PGA Tour but the quotation I like the best is, “Always throw your clubs ahead of you. That way you don’t have to waste energy going back to pick them up.”

Anyway back to the 1-iron saga, between tosses the fellow was ranting he was going to dump his 1-iron. Sell it. Good riddance.

My friend sensing an opportunity asked, “How much?” and the fellow said $20. Reaching into his pocket my friend came back with, “I’ve only got $12. How about that?”

“Done!” was the reply and my friend was the owner of a 1-iron. 

After my friend proudly related his tale I pointed out aside from the putter the 1-iron was probably the cause for more people giving up the game than anything but a spouse that doesn’t play. And that it was primary contributor to invention of hybrids. For crying out loud, not even PGA Tour players carry them.

HistoHogan_Merion_72hole_USGArically there are a number of famous 1-iron shots. Ben Hogan’s MacGregor 1-iron to the 72nd green of the 1950 U.S. Open setting up a par to put him a playoff the next day which he won. This all coming after being almost killed in a head on crash with a bus 16 months previously.

Jack Nicklaus in the U.S. Open back in 1972 at Pebble BeNicklaus_17th_PBeach_1972ach playing the par-3 17th on the final day. The 219-yards between the Golden Bear and the hole were dead into a strong wind coming off the local water hazard known as the Pacific Ocean. His 1-iron shot hit the pin and dropped next to the hole for an easy two. Even more incredible to my mind and showing Nicklaus’ immense talent was on the back swing he felt the club was too closed which would have produced a disastrous hook. However, he had so much control that week he adjusted on the way down holding off the release to compensate. The result was his second major championship of the year.

My own 1-iron story goes back to the middle 70’s when I was a lot younger and thought I could play this maddening game. Par-5, dogleg left and after a good drive to the corner a sweet 1-iron into the hole for a two—double eagle—albatross—whatever. The unfortunate part of the story is, because of the way the green-fronting bunker was situated, I couldn’t see it go in.

But back to the present. When we got out on the course my friend tried out his Ping Eye2 “butter knife” from the tee on two holes of the second nine. As you might expect the results weren’t pretty. But he has vowed to keep at it because he can still see that 220-yard shot into the wind with a slight draw.

Snead’s LPGA Win

Sam_Snead_PalmBeachPost_640x480Sam Snead—Slammin’ Sammy—golfing legend, multiple major winner, Hall of Fame member and holder of the record for most wins on the PGA Tour with 82. And there’s another little known distinction in Snead’s distinctive career.

Sam Snead is the only man to ever post a victory on the LPGA Tour.

Back in February 1962, for the second year in a row, Snead teed it up against 14 of the best female professional golfers in the Royal Poinciana Invitational, a sanctioned LPGA Tour event held on the Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Club.

Yes, that’s correct a par-3 course and an official stop on the 12-year-old LPGA Tour. The players competing included all-time greats Louise Suggs (who beat Snead for the title in 1961), Mickey Wright, Betsy Rawls and Kathy Whitworth. Wright finished second by five shots to Snead’s score of 211 (52, 53, 53, 53) for four rounds played over two days.

Said Snead, quoted in an article by Dick Taylor in the Palm Beach Post of February 8, 1962, “I decided to play just as steady as I could, and let the girls make the mistakes. You can’t ‘go to the whip’ with them as you can on the men’s tour.” Comments that obviously wouldn’t withstand today’s frantic politically correct scrutiny.

After losing the previous year’s event by two strokes to future Hall of Famer Suggs, Snead had to take a lot of teasing even though it was a 54 hole event and had 11 other male professionals in the field including Bobby Cruickshank, Gardner Dickinson and Lew Worsham. Typical of the times, press reports were vague as to the amount of the winner’s check Snead took home but it was “in the neighborhood of $1,500.”