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.
Long hitting Cameron Champ, who won the Sanderson Farms Championship on Sunday, had an average driving distance of 334 yards last year on the Web.com Tour. With PGA Tour courses set up to favour bombers like Champ, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson, do bunters have a chance anymore?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): You’d like to think that “bunters” have a chance, but obviously, the longer the drive (assuming it’s straight), the shorter the second shot and therefore, the bigger and more reachable the target. So clearly, distance is a huge advantage. A Mike Weir, in his prime, undoubtedly could not compete today nearly as effectively as he could 15 years ago. This means the playing field is not as flat as it once was. So, is there a practicable solution? Many argue that the golf ball should be dialled back, but that will shorten everyone — gorillas and bunters alike. I wish I had a better answer.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): These days, bunters on the PGA Tour only have a chance on certain courses, which must be tremendous pressure because on the few weeks they play shorter courses if they don’t play well, they must be concerned about their future to compete. Willie Park did say once that “A man who can putt is a match for anyone”, that holds true to some degree, but I doubt he envisioned 7500 courses where some players are giving up 400 yards to the bombers over 18 holes. I’ll through a quick plug here and congratulatory note to Canadian Kurt Kowaluk (from Sudbury) who caddies for Cameron Champ. They brought it home in style.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: This debate has gone for nearly 150 years beginning with Harry Vardon followed by Jones and then Hogan and then Palmer and then Nicklaus and then Norman and on to Woods. The top players have always been the longest hitters. Let’s not forget the ‘bunters’ aren’t exactly short either. They might not have a length advantage, but they do drive the ball far enough to gain short-iron distances into most holes. Cameron Champ will fit-in beautifully on the PGA TOUR.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): It’s hard to argue when watching DJ or Koepka obliterate the field that bunters are not at a considerable disadvantage these days, but the math isn’t quite there yet to support the argument. Tournaments still seem to come down to who can make the most putts over the course of four days. Of the 31 events that were played last year between March 4th (WGC-Mexico) and September 23rd (Tour Championship), only four were won by players that ranked inside the Top 10 in driving distance, while 11 of those titles were taken home by players ranked between 11th and 50th. A total of 14 events were won by players who ranked 51st and higher, including Michael Kim and Kevin Na, who ranked 153rd and 157th respectively. That’s almost a 50/50 split!
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): It’s pretty impressive how far he hits the ball, and to follow that up with great putting is why he was a worthy Champ! But I hope it doesn’t just become a bombers paradise on the PGA Tour. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a skill that should be rewarded on occasion, but not every tournament should be set up with a 7,600 yard golf course. I can’t wait to see the guys play Hamilton G&CC again, where guys like Jim Furyk and Bob Tway and Scott Pierce have won, it’s a shot makers course and sure distance can help, but if you don’t hit fairways and know how to work the ball, you will struggle. It’s good to have a mix of long and short/tight golf courses to give players with different skill sets a chance to win.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: The numbers are mind-blowing. How can over 100 guys average over 300 yards a drive on the web.com tour? It’s nuts. It has a lot to do with the ball, but as much to do with golf-specific training in the gyms (Champ’s 130 mph swing speed for example), and the Tour’s millions attracting better athletes every year. But like baseball tolerated steroids in exchange for the home run derby, the Tour is aiding and abetting the bombers. Years ago, Callaway ERC designer Richard Helmstetter predicted the arrival of this generation of super long and super fit golfers during an interview about technology and the game. Foreseeing drives of 360-400 yards, he offered a simple solution to protect classic courses from obsolescence. “Grow the rough,” he said with a smile. That would also bring the bunters back into the mix.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Some shorter courses still take driver out of the hands of the bombers but there seems to be fewer of them every year. That said, there seems to be fewer bunters like Mike Weir or Jim Furyk that even make it to the PGA Tour anymore either. Almost all the young guys can hit it a mile. The only defense against length is narrower fairways and penal rough like we saw at Le Golf National in the Ryder Cup. I’d love to see that kind of set-up more often, which rewards skill and length, but the PGA Tour has become too much like a home run derby, so I’m not getting my hopes up.
A recent Morning Read column ranked a number of players as if they were stocks that could be bought or sold based on performance. Which players would you be “selling” right now based on past performance (either short or long term) and which ones would you be “buying” based on their future prospects?
Deeks: You’re basically asking which players are past their prime with little prospect for revival, and which will either exceed or maintain their current levels. Looking only at the current Top 20 on the Rolex Ranking, on the positive side, I’d be putting money into Rahm, Fleetwood and Finau right now. On the negative, I’d be short-selling Justin Rose, and eliminating my positions in Jason Day, and Bubba Watson. And for the record, I dumped my shares in Mickelson, Garcia, and Stenson some time ago.
Loughry: Buying: Gary Woodland. He’s been playing great the last month or so, and I expect hint to continue that trend. Buying: Tommy Fleetwood. I’m not sure which Tour he’s planning to play in 2019, but I see him continuing his great play of the last 6 months. He’s got MOJO. Selling: Bubba Watson. He was virtually invisible except for a few events last year. Selling: Rory. I’ve seen enough to know he is extremely talented, but for whatever reason (lack of interest, frustration over putting), I don’t see him as the dominating player everyone expected. He will win but I don’t think his win(s) in 2019 will be a Major. Great player, probably not going to be what was expected early on is all, hence the sell.
Schurman: Buying and selling stocks on the stock market is quite different than the posed ‘game’. On the stock exchange while someone is winning someone else is losing. My player ‘sells’ begin with Jordan Spieth. He has had a mercuric career, a swing I never liked and almost $40M in tour winnings. As those long ‘bombs’ start ending up close and not in the hole, combined with increasingly more ‘stabs’ on the short ones, he becomes selling material. Rory: ten years of tour golf, 4 majors, $200M and some goofy injuries could spell a slowdown. Jason Day: twelve years on tour, one major championship, almost $40M and multiple back injuries all add-up to a ‘sell’. On the ‘buy’ side I like Tommy Fleetwood – adequate length, plenty of desire and lots of ‘iron’ game; Tony Finau – a big-time game in every department. Cameron Champ has arrived. On the weekend, he won it, lost it and won it again. Not a lot of young players can do that!
Kaplan: Buying: Bryson DeChambeau, Tommy Fleetwood and Patrick Reed (the guy just seems to play better when he’s the villain). Selling: Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler (who has officially entered Sergio Garcia-esque, will-he-ever-win-a-major status).
Rule: Well, it’s easy to pick on the old guys when selling a stock, but let’s face it, those stocks have seen better days and their careers are now heading in a Nortel like swan dive, so I’d be selling Phil and Zach Johnson, but I’d also be selling someone like DeChambeau, who had a hot streak, but his stock has peaked in my mind. As for those I’d be buying, I’d be looking at Jordan Spieth and Jason Day to have rebound years. I’d also put money into Rory, but then take it out two weeks later after he wins, then put it back in a month later, then…
Quinn: Not just based on the Ryder Cup, although it was a big contributing factor, on the sales block are the PPV Pair Eldrick and Phil. And they’re joined by the self-absorbed history rewriter Patrick Reed. And not just based on the HSBC Champions, though it helped, I’m buying the games of Xander Shauffele and Tony Finau, while Champ can not be undersold.
Mumford: Long term I like Rahm, Fleetwood, Finau and Schauffele but their share price has already been bid up so they’re not exactly bargains – just good value. Canadian Corey Conners looks like a good BUY as is Gary Woodland. Rickie Fowler has been a dud and is out of my portfolio. He’ll likely win a major now and make me look bad though. Rory: SELL. Anybody over 40: SELL. That includes Tiger, who may still win more majors, but it will get tougher every year. It’s a young guy’s game.
It’s Halloween this week. What’s the scariest shot you’ve ever faced or the one that routinely scares you the most?
Deeks: At my age, any drive requiring a smack of 200 yards or more to reach the fairway or carry the water hazard scares the bejesus out of me. And any green bordered with water at the front (like, say, the 18th at Bay Hill) makes me very nervous. Scariest shot I’ve ever faced? The 17th at TPC Sawgrass. Hit it short, you’re wet. Hit it long, you’re wet. Hit it right, you’re wet. Hit it left, probably wet. Okay then, now go ahead and hit it perfect.
Loughry: Scariest shot. This is easy, its the one after performing a shank. All you’re thinking is why, how, what and the whole way to your next shot is far and away the most uncomfortable feeling. You get cold sweats, even shakes. Try and hit a ball with all that going on, tell me that isn’t the scariest shot ever? A close second is the yips. And if your day consists of yips and shanks, well stay away from me, it may be contagious, and I want no part of that at all. NO PART.
Schurman: I was playing at the Edmonton CC when I was told of a bet to try driving the ball from the 15th tee across the river. It doesn’t look that far when you are standing above it, but it is over 350 yards. Of course, I’d have a try. My problem is a deathly fear of heights (believe it or not) and when you swing, you must transfer your weight forward toward to the edge of the 200-foot gorge. Wearing your rain pants in 30C is uncomfortable after a change of clothes.
Kaplan: Fairway bunker shots that need to carry water keep me up at my night. By the way, what’s with the majority of driving ranges not having a bunker where you can practice fairway bunker shots? How are you supposed to get better at them!?
Rule: The one that routinely scares me the most is the 3-4 foot putt, because it’s the one you’re supposed to make every time. I have no issues with nerves on 12 footers, or event 30 footers, but those pesky 3 footers on the other hand. As for a specific situation, I can remember a few times in competition that I was nervous, particularly when I had a good round going, but maybe the most nervous was the first time I had a bogey free round at Scarboro, and I was shaking on the 18th tee, a tee shot that makes me nervous on the best of days.
Quinn: My nightmare is a chip from a tight lie from about 10 yards off the green. Of course, that position implies that I’ve badly hit the previous shot so not in the most confident state of mind. Have the old Mac Daddy grooves in the Callaway wedges so if I don’t fly it fairly close to the pin it’s going to check and stop well short. It’s a demanding shot that requires lots of practice, so it will remain scary.
Mumford: If I’d been asked this question last year, I would have said a three-foot putt. I’m not admitting to a case of the yips but there were a lot of times I only got the ball half way to the hole or pushed or pulled it so badly, nobody was sure what I was aiming at. Fortunately, that’s a thing of the past. Long term, the shot I have dreaded most is a tee shot where the fairway is tightly lined with trees. Normally, I hit my driver straight and can even work it left or right if required. But not when I see trees. The fairway could be lined on both sides with bunkers or even water – no problem. But trees – no way.