How I was right about tournament golf a few years ago

A couple of years ago, television tournament golf was all about bomb and gouge – the style of play that encouraged power over accuracy. The “bomb” meant to hit a drive as far as possible, and the “gouge” meant to hack the ball out of the rough where it inevitably settled after a nose-flaring drive. With the likes of Bubba Watson, J.B. Holmes, Camilo Villegas, and others bombing drives well over the 300-yard mark, golf clubs started to gear up their courses to combat this style – they’ve raked bunkers to have grooves in them, narrowed the fairways, lengthened the courses, grew out the rough to near-Amazonian lengths, and on some courses, even combed the rough to face away from the hole, offering more resistance to the club that tried to extricate balls from it. The result of all this was higher scores – most major tournaments around this time were won in black numbers. What’s more is that many different golfers got injured – wrist problems, bad backs, and numerous other ailments sidelined even the biggest stars such as Phil Mickelson.

When there was an article on golf.com regarding this defense put forth by clubs around the nation, I wrote something along the lines of this:

“If it were up to me, I would shorten the fairways and the rough, and play the tees forward, and make it more of a scoring contest as opposed to a grueling test of strength. Seeing these high scores might make the general public think the pros aren’t as great, and that golf is just much too difficult to play. I would rather see incredibly low scores, which puts competition back into the equation over survival. The conditions as they stand right now will only injure the big names, taking them off of televised tournaments, and severely lowering ratings.”

Predictably, though, I was met with a lot of whining from the traditional golf community. Tons of middle-aged white men with six-figure salaries and male pattern baldness had lambasted me, saying that I didn’t know anything about golf, and that they loved to see the pros getting tortured on some of America’s toughest courses. They said that I should try to play the courses that they play, and at the length that they play it, to get a feel for it. Basically, my whole argument was run aground.

However….someone at the PGA must have been listening, because now in 2011, the whole bomb and gouge mentality has faded for the most part, and there’s been a new approach to golf as a whole. New rules in technology have dialed back wedges, courses are now playing shorter, rough much shorter, and in many cases, some par 4’s are played short enough for pros to have a go at it in one. Many more red numbers are appearing on the scoreboards, and Play Golf America! has even introduced their “Tee It Forward” program, encouraging people not to play courses at the tips, but rather to shorter, more manageable distances to increase the reward and the pace of play, without taking away from the good of the game. This, of course, was everything that I was asking for just 5-6 years ago.

My standpoint on golf was based more around the casual fan or the weekend golfer. Casual fans don’t really understand the point behind harder courses – they just want to see something amazing, and that arguably wouldn’t happen if half of the people playing in the tournament can’t reach a par 4 in regulation. Injured players taken off TV would hurt ratings, meaning that the sponsors would be getting less money (which SHOULD bother those bald, middle-aged pugs, given that they’re stockholders to some of those sponsors), and the fanbase would dwindle. What’s more is that with high scores, people begin to envision golf as an impossible sport to play well. Let’s face it – if you aren’t a dedicated fan of baseball, and you see a 0-0 score going into the 15th inning, you’ll probably be like “Well, these people suck.” Sure, the loyal baseball fans understand that it’s a defensive showing on both sides, but people want to see scoring. They want to see home runs, stolen bases, plays, and excitement.

It’s the same thing with golf. Rory McIlroy punished the competition at Congressional here in Maryland at the US Open, making a revered and difficult course look like child’s play, and that’s what people want to see. They don’t want to see six hours of people trying to hack out of the trees, missing 3 foot putts, or being unable to get out of a Sarlacc pit of a bunker. Normal fans watching TV wouldn’t know the difference between a 230-yard drive and a 330-yard drive, other than than fact that they probably can’t hit that far in either respect. But when they see a playing hitting to 5 feet on every hole and posting low numbers, they look awesome on TV and gain praise from the media. Sure, it degrades the reputation of the courses a bit, but casual golfers wouldn’t know the difference between their municipal course and Pebble Beach apart from the scenery. It’s for the good of the game to shorten courses and have pros make it a scoring contest, and there’s nobody – not even those fat, balding, slovenly mid-life crisis situations with millions of dollars – that can tell me I was wrong. If anything, I made them more money than they can comprehend.

And yes, you’re welcome.

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