DJ is #1 but is he the best?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

European Tour chief Keith Pelley has been all over the media lately with talk of shaking things up. Just this past weekend, the event in Australia finished with a series of 6-hole match play knockouts and Pelley is talking about other innovations that will make golf more fun to watch. Do you like the direction he’s heading and should the PGA Tour be leading, following or watching this trend?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I would hope that the PGA Tour would be watching this trend and, along with me, hoping it doesn’t succeed.  I realize we all have to move with the times, but I think you can do a lot for golf by adapting the current arcane and idiotic rules, and tournament structures, without resorting to gimmicky new competitions, rock concerts, fireworks and girls with pom-poms.  I may sound like a cranky old traditionalist here, but in fact, I’m a cranky old traditionalist.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Well, I may be in the minority here, but I liken this to when Vince McMahon introduced the XFL. It didn’t last, some cool things came from it though that the NFL uses today. My guess is something of the sort will happen from Pelley’s pushing. Good on him for wanting to try something different, and hey I hope it brings a new audience. Do I think it will bring people into the game or European Tour audience in droves, nope.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I love this direction. The PGA Tour should follow suit and switch the formats up for its less popular/attended events in order to make them more appealing to players and fans. The Zurich Classic is obviously a step in the right direction, but I’d really like to see some more modified formats going forwards. Too many 72-hole stroke play events in a row can just get tiresome.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Golf isn’t a high tech stock. It doesn’t have to grow every year, it doesn’t have to trend upwards on all the apps. Just because so many non-golfer developers, non-golfer engineers, non-golfer Eldrick watchers created a bubble doesn’t mean that the game has to always trend upwards like a Silicon Valley IPO. And it doesn’t mean that golf has to become a WTF event to attract an audience. BS. Golf is golf. The frenetic worry and scramble to save the late-comers investment in the game is embarrassing. Pelley is scrambling for ratings and it won’t translate from Euro to US.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): As they say in Australia, “Good on ya, mate!” The finish to the ISPS Handa World Super 6 in Perth, with 3 rounds of medal play followed by 6-hole matches, was bewildering, exciting and ultimately a breath of fresh air. Kudos to Pelley for trying something different. Professional golf is entertainment and the stultifying 72-hole slog as shown by the existing North American networks is definitely in need of a makeover. I know they show it on Sundays but it’s golf, not church. The PGA Tour could start by shortening the season, then insisting on some new upbeat broadcast talent. With the addition of a couple of match play events and maybe something borrowed from Europe, they could attract new fans and keep the existing ones but every year I hear more and more golfers say, “Wake me when the Masters gets here.”

The USGA and R&A recently released a study on driving distance from seven professional tours that concluded there have been minimal increases over the past 14 years. Do you believe those results and should we care if the pros are hitting it a mile?

Deeks: I’d say that pros are hitting it 15-20% further than they were 20-25 years ago, but in the last 14 years, yeah, it’s maybe 5% and I suppose that’s minimal.  Until John Daly arrived 25 years ago, a 300-yard drive was extremely rare (even for Jack Nicklaus). Today, 350 is extremely rare, but doable… and that’s an increase of about 16.7%.  By 2003, guys were seeing 320…  Should we care?  Only to the extent that it’s making holes shorter, and therefore scores lower, and then it becomes subjective between the young guys who love lower scores and the cranky old traditionalists who like to see a player challenged more.

Loughry: I do believe the results, and no I don’t think we should care. The majority of amateur players cannot compress the ball to get extra distance. The fact pros can is attributable to technology and training/technique. If the idea behind this is to roll the ball back, I’m not completely against it, as long as it doesn’t impact the amateur player or any short knocker on Tour.

Kaplan: There is no way I believe those numbers.  Turn on any PGA Tour event and see for yourself! When I was younger, only a few of the guys could bomb their drives over 300 with consistency.  Now it seems like 2/3 of the Tour cracks that mark. Does it bother me? No, of course not! Does is make me seethe with jealousy? For sure!

Quinn: The synopsis of the study reads like alternative facts. It just doesn’t compute when we watch guys bombing it all weekend on the Tours. And, the distances of playing partners and yours truly over the past decade or so make a lie of the USGA and R&A stats. The irons are turned — a Hogan 5 iron is a 4 iron today, maybe a 3.5  — and the metal wood faces are so dynamic, the balls so fine tuned, we are all hitting it longer and straighter despite ourselves. That the Tour guys are 30 yards longer than mortals doesn’t matter. That’s the way it’s always been, they’re just 300+ now. It’s like Callaway’s extra rule — fun, whether watching or doing it your ownself.

Mumford: The anecdotal evidence would lead to a different conclusion. The number of players who can drive the ball over 300 yards has certainly increased and the frequency they smash it in excess of 350 is astounding. The study says 95% of the measured drives were with a driver so maybe the other 5% with irons and hybrids keep the distance number lower than it should be. I’d like to see the same study with drivers only. Ultimately though, what matters most is that the technology that allows the pros to do what they do also allows us bunters to hit it longer than we used to despite diminishing talent and advancing senility.

Every time there’s a change at the top, as we saw this week with Dustin Johnson assuming World #1, there’s lots of discussion of who really is the best player in the world. The rankings are a statistical calculation based on two years results and sometimes due to injury or other reasons, not all players are peaking at the same time. However, if all the top players in the world are playing to the best of their ability at the same time, who’s the best?

Deeks: By the width of a hair, I’d say Jason Day over Rory McIlroy, with Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston rounding out the top 1000.

Loughry: Who’s the best of the best all at their peak? Without hesitation, its Jason Day. He is the most has the most well rounded game, whether that be power, course management, air assault (drops 4 irons from 230+ softer than most guys can with their wedges), he’s accurate, has a good short game, and most of all he can also putt. The rest can’t do all those things as well as J Day can. The rest you can identify a weakness almost immediately when you think of them; driver, accuracy, length, putting, wedges, short game, etc.

Kaplan: Dustin Johnson is hands down the best player of the lot. He hits the ball to Jupiter, is deadly accurate with his irons and his wedges, lights out with the putter, and he brings it every damn week! No one is in contention more often than DJ is. He is relentless and he is going to be tough to unseat.

Quinn: Can you imagine Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf 2017?  I’d love to see the Squire Gene Sarazen introducing Rory, Jason, Jordan and DJ for a four-round event on four of the game’s finest courses, each shot recorded and commented on by folks not named Johnny, Rich, Gary, etc etc.  This foursome is so astounding when they are in the zone, it’s hard to see any of them losing an event. But in this match, all cylinders in sync, I’d take Rory.

Mumford: When I first saw DJ 10 or 11 years ago I recall thinking there’s nobody can beat him if he plays his best. Maybe that’s even more the case now but on pure talent, there’s a short but distinguished list of players who could make a claim to being his equal. Day, Spieth and McIlroy for sure. You could also add Stenson and Scott and maybe even Matsuyama and Thomas based on some outstanding play of late. In my mind though, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day are the two that are mentally toughest and beat the others on any course in any conditions when everyone is playing their best. Head-to-head I would give the nod to Spieth but just by a whisker. Nobody hates losing more than that guy.

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