Skill with the driver is a lost art on the PGA Tour

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.

Several players spoke about the soft conditions and low scoring at Medinah for the BMW Championship last week and Adam Scott in particular voiced the opinion that length is not much of an impediment for today’s Tour players. Jim Furyk added that skill with the driver is almost a lost art on the PGA Tour, where distance is paramount. Ironically, Scott and Furyk are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of driving distance, yet both recognize that the bomb-and-gouge courses on Tour present an inferior product for fans and players. What’s your take on the issue and do you see a solution?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I think the fact that I watch less and less golf on TV is indicative of the fact that (for me, at least) bomb-and-gouge golf is really boring.  Links golf is far more interesting, even if many of the links courses don’t look nearly as rich and pretty as the North American courses do.  The solution?  Merge the PGA and Euro Tours and play many more tournaments on links courses.  Never gonna happen, I admit. But a guy can dream, can’t he?

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: A big problem with doing something is fan objection. Fans love to see someone do something they can’t. One thing fans can’t do is drive a golf ball 325 yards straight. There’s an exhilarating feeling of standing behind a tee and watching the ball go from zero while sitting a tee to 180 MPH in 2 seconds. TV viewers don’t get a proper sense of how far the ball is travelling. They just see one photo and then another. In both cases, the ball is on the ground. So, why do we care if TOUR players can dominate a course? Let them have at it until someone shoots 18. Also, get off this silly pursuit to lengthen courses for the average player.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Ya, it’s pretty boring to watch that type of golf, unless you’re there in person or you’re watching one of a handful of players that can hit their drivers into uncharted territories (McIlroy, Kokrak, DJ, Kopek, Bubba). It would be much more fun to watch pros hit more long irons into greens because they would miss more often and would have to get more creative to get up and down for their pars. As for a solution, I would impose a hard cap on the number of woods players are allowed to use off the tee in a single round. Let’s say that number was 4, for instance. Players would be allowed to choose which 4 holes they would hit woods from the tee on, adding yet another strategic aspect to the game. This would also emphasize the importance of strategy on the other 14 holes (minus the par 3s) as players would then have to navigate these using mere hybrids or irons off the tee. My guess is we wouldn’t be seeing too many cumulative scores of 20-under par or lower for the week going forward.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Years back I confronted Ely Callaway and his ERC designer on the ball going too far. Designer Helmstetter answered simply: “Grow the rough.” Adam Scott’s plaintiff comment that there is “no skill left” in driving the ball summed it up. In winning the last whacko Cup event, sorry, worldwide delivery service cup, Justin Thomas hit 160-200-yard shots out of the “rough” and sank the putts. Medinah defenceless? Grow the rough.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Accuracy is a much tougher skill to develop than distance. Add more doglegs. Then add more rough. Grow it long and thick so a player has to think twice about challenging the corner or bombing a drive. There’s not much strategy in today’s game. Not every course has to play like a traditional US Open venue, but players should be required to think more and pay a real penalty when they can’t make a shot.

The Presidents Cup will be played this year in December but team selection including Captain’s picks will be completed shortly. Given that the PGA Tour will have a dozen events between now and December, shouldn’t they wait until closer to the event to finalize selections, so they get players currently on form?

Deeks: The longer they wait, the less of a marketing-and-PR window they have.  Also, these players are all so good that, even if they cool down a bit by the time the Presidents Cup is underway, they can still rally.  Conversely, guys who get hot after the selection is made, and whine that they should have been selected, should have been hotter sooner.

Schurman: It doesn’t matter when you select a team if the top 8 are automatic qualifiers. A player could win the first three events of the qualifying time frame and then go fishing for the next 22 months so how relevant is their quality of play. If ‘form’ is an issue qualifying would start at the beginning of the play-offs (August 1st) and continue until the week prior to the President’s Cup with no ‘automatic’ spots.

Kaplan: Not really. I mean, it would make sense if you were picking your team based solely on who is hot going into the Presidents Cup—and there is merit to that strategy when you look at how many sports teams have gotten hot down the stretches of their regular seasons, edged their ways into the playoffs and went on to win their respective championships. However, this dozen or so events between now and December are mostly comprised of first-year players looking to establish themselves and struggling tour players looking to retain their cards, so winning one of them really shouldn’t carry the same weight as winning an event in the middle of the season. I’d go with the guys who had consistent success against the stronger fields during the regular season because that is going to be closer to the level of competition at the Presidents Cup.

Quinn: Like the Prez Cup mattered, outside of the host site hoping for hotel, restaurant, and bar dollars.  The only vague attraction of the non-event will be blimp coverage (if the event warrants the expense, doubt it) of a wonderful part of the globe. If some guys make the squad by playing well after the season is over — effectively over to everyone but the increasingly desperate marketing honchos at Ponta Vedra — then, nah, still not worth recording, save the space for Netflix’ new season.

Mumford: I presume this was a concession to some of the top players who said, “We’re not playing those silly Fall events so don’t make them part of the selection period.” Naturally, both teams would love players that are on form heading into the matches, but hot streaks don’t seem to last more than a week or two, so it’s probably not an issue. Of more concern should be the Yanks dismal (1-1) record in Australia.

The CP Canadian Women’s Open kicks off this week at Magna Golf Club in Aurora. It should be a sell-out, especially with Brooke Henderson defending. However, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver have showed that big sporting events in big cities are not always a guarantee of fan support. With the internet and constant TV coverage providing lots of looks, how important is it to sports fans, (especially golf fans) to see the action up close and personal?

Deeks: I think you’d have to ask each golf fan individually for the answer to that question.  The problem is, in big cities, there’s an awful lot of competition for the individual’s “entertainment dollar”. I do think, though, with Brooke’s presence, there’ll be record crowds.  She really is Canada’s Sweetheart.

Schurman: Much of the interest in attending an event is for people much younger than I. Up until I retired, I had a lot more enthusiasm for being a spectator. In fact, I have attended the Grand Slam (Masters -twice, US Open-5 times, PGA- twice and The Open), the Players- 4 times, the Canadian Open-8 or 9 times, the Tucson Open, Phoenix Open, Senior British Open, Senior US Open and several LPGA events. Each was very special, and I had a really nice time. However, two things keep me away today. First, driving to the Club. I hate traffic! Second, walking without playing. Walking from the parking lot to the course is a pain. To watch a top player, the walk among big crowds and then not really seeing much is a waste of time and energy. And then, the long walk back to the parking lot is another pain. Maybe I’m too grumpy to accept any inconvenience and discomfort.

Kaplan: It’s extremely important. You don’t really get a feel for how good professional golfers are until you see them in person. Plus, Magna is a spectacular golf course that 99% of recreational golfers will never get an opportunity to play. Why not take advantage of where the CP Canadian Women’s Open is being contested this year and check it out for yourself. You won’t regret it!

Quinn: Outside of the Tour de France, one of the least satisfying events to watch in person and have any sense of what is going on, is a PGA Tour event. Having “covered”  many Tour and LPGA Tour events walking the holes, following contending players, anticipating landing areas, ducking under the ropes thanks to my press pass, etc. etc., it never left my thoughts that I was so much closer to the ‘stars’ than the big fee-paying ‘patrons’ and that I would never pay to be where they were standing. I am not of the gene type that feels it’s worth two-hours in traffic exiting the parking lot a half mile from the course to have seen — over some guy’s shoulder — Thomas miss a 20-footer. The future of sport is on the home screen, and NFL has already admitted it. Being at the game is not the future for the NFL, or MLB, and its definitely not for golf.

Mumford: I’ve pretty much lost interest in attending live sporting events, especially golf. You see more on TV and don’t have to deal with crowds, traffic, parking miles away and did I mention crowds? Frankly, there is virtually no interaction with athletes anymore, so “up close and personal” is a fleeting glimpse of someone chatting with a caddie, hitting a shot, then moving briskly on. Wouldn’t it be fun if the player actually engaged the crowd in his or her decision?



The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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