How has the coronavirus affected your golf experience in 2020?

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.

Bryson DeChambeau is a polarizing figure in pro golf for a number of reasons, but the latest controversy surrounds his acceptance speech after winning the US Open. BDC opted to thank his sponsors and all of the people who helped him along the way before discussing his win. It’s not too different from religious players who first give credit to God for their victory. How do you feel about BDC’s little sponsor promo and more generally about players using their airtime to promote a cause, a belief or corporate connection?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Well, there’s a fine line between what’s acceptable and what isn’t.  I didn’t hear BDC’s acceptance, but I actually think it’s admirable that he took the opportunity to give credit and thanks.  I don’t think players do it enough, especially in thanking their caddies.  Otherwise it’s just another cliché-filled, meaningless interview about “what does it mean to you to be a [insert tournament name here] champion?” Zzzzzz.   (By the way, in the spirit of BDC, I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate Ontario’s longstanding junior phenom, Vanessa Borovilos (previous double winner at the Augusta Drive, Chip & Putt competition), who won the American Junior Golf Association’s Junior Girls All-Star tournament in Youngstown, OH yesterday… she chipped in to win on #18, finishing -3 over the two-day event.  Watch out, Brooke, it’s only a matter of a year or two!)

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Well, he’s the champion, so I suppose he can thank whomever he likes. He should start with his family though; pretty sure they made the most sacrifices along the way. That said, I think he’s ok to thank Cobra/Puma, they really have let him do it his way and truly have been supportive, letting him design clubs, tweak, chisel, bend, warp and anything else you can think of. But a straight up hard advertisement from the speech I could do without. And as long as we keep giving players the mic, the more we can expect this as opposed to just a straight up thank you to organizers, volunteers, host club and the like.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame member, PGA of Canada: The job of an interviewer is a thankless one the interviewer rarely wins. If the questions are lobbed underhanded the interviewer is too soft. If they are rambling dissertations, the interviewer is a self-promoter. If they don’t expose the subject the interviewer is an idiot. Fans criticize the ‘rich and famous’ for giving one-word answers and/or ‘canned’ answers. When someone does ‘open up’, gives some insight into their personality the fans and media jump all over them turning the information into twisted unintended concepts or even outright lies. Here we have Bryson who respectfully thanked people who actually contributed to his success and now he is a villain. If you don’t want to hear HIS answer, don’t interview him!

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Couldn’t care less. If you win, you get to thank whomever you want. It’s a slow news week when we’re criticizing acceptance speeches.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I think it’s fair and important to recognize the people that support you in hopes of getting some recognition.  I know for me, owning my own small business, that although it’s not expected, it’s still greatly appreciated when someone you support financially mentions and thanks you.  It doesn’t need to dominate the press conference or interview, but a quick mention isn’t inappropriate.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Generally, we want to know more about our sports heroes and what makes them tick off the field as much as on. I suppose that means listening when they have something to say, whether we agree with them or not.  BDC’s thank you bore more than a passing resemblance to Oscar winners who take ultimate advantage of what may be their 15 minutes of fame. I’m ok with it. BDC was respectful, sincere and brief. I’m ok too with players like Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem to draw attention to a worthy, viable cause. I’m less tolerant of the religious crowd but that’s just me. It’s always puzzled me how a middle linebacker can thank god (or God) for the skill, talent and opportunity to tear limbs from opposing players and why god (or God) would favour one team over the other. Presumably, the other guys are heathens but then they all get in a circle after the game and pray together.

Dustin Johnson put together a nice run of top 2 finishes to wind up the 2019-20 season, but it is exceedingly rare for players to win in back-to-back weeks or string together multiple victories. Momentum is often mentioned when discussing favourites for any given tournament, but it doesn’t usually translate into another win or even a “hot streak”. Is momentum over-rated in professional golf?

Deeks: I would say yes, it is.  I think “momentum” is yet another cliché perpetrated by sportscasters to inject some degree of drama or expectation around a player’s (or team’s) chances.  Players do get on streaks when their games are self-repeating for a while, but I honestly don’t believe any player thinks about “momentum”.  Brooke Henderson talks about it a fair bit, as in “finishing third this week will give me momentum going into [insert tournament name here]”, but does it actually mean anything?  Maybe if she wins the next event, yes, but if she finishes 15th, well, so much for “momentum”.

Loughry: There’s a saying “go with the hot hand” and I’m a big believer in it. Ride momentum or get into a groove when you can. This is NOT overrated. Its why you see guys play well for weeks at a time, its not a fluke, unfortunately its just not sustainable to play great every time you tee it up all year round. There are ebbs and flows to every players game throughout the season: related to golf courses, setups, weather, and health. Its why those freakishly great seasons Tiger put together are so impressive. And you heard Tiger talk about “peeking” at the right time for Majors, I have to believe he was talking about momentum and playing well to up his chances of winning those Majors. Same with DJ. Recall just two months ago, he shot 80, and everyone was writing him off? I think they can all eat their words now.

Schurman: Golf is unlike any other sport. It is played in a different city each week, on a different course, with a different field and probably with different weather or maybe in a different time zone. Sure, there is momentum but how much and for how long is a great question. Only 29 players have ever won 3 consecutive events, three won 4 times, one won 5 times, two won 6 times, one won 7 times and only Byron Nelson won 11 in a row. What a drop in performance from the 29 who won 3 in a row to only 3 winning 4 in a row. If momentum was easy to keep you would think more players would have won consecutively more often.

Kaplan: Week-to-week momentum doesn’t hold much ground when you’re competing against over a hundred similarly skilled players every week, but it’s a huge factor on the golf course. Momentum gained in Friday rounds often proves to be the difference through the weekend. You only need to look to Patrick Reed’s fate at Winged Foot to see what momentum lost looks like.

Rule: Absolutely not.  But momentum in golf doesn’t necessarily translate to victories because there is so much parity in the game, and it’s hard to win! Typically, when a golfer gets hot, he or she can rack up the top 5’s and maybe sneak in a win or two over a stretch.  But to win back to back or multiple times over a short stretch is just so hard.

Mumford: Momentum in golf is really about confidence and consistency. If you listen to tour players talk about their most recent game, they often inject anecdotes about a particular shot they hit and relate it to another one from a previous round or tournament that was successful. “That 7-iron I hit on #15 was the same shot I had to win the Drubblemeyer Classic. I had that picture in my mind and just hit it.” Confidence often carries over from one round to the next and sometimes even builds from tournament to tournament, leading to streaks of great ball striking and scoring. That’s momentum. But it’s fleeting. One day it’s here, then it disappears like dust in the wind and it’s back to the drawing board to find the confidence and start another streak.

The 2020 golf season has been unusual due to coronavirus. Rounds at almost every course are up substantially, yet most other course and club activities have operated at a bare minimum or not at all, including limited food and beverage service and closed clubhouses. On-course practices have changed too with solo rider carts, no rakes or ball washers and unusual flagstick options. How has all of this affected your golf experience this past year and do you see any of the changes becoming permanent?

Deeks: The Board of Directors at my club is currently discussing making a number of COVID changes permanent, most of which I’m against, or at least will be after COVID disappears.  The one change I would support (though not vehemently) is the COVID cups — either raised cup and permanent flagstick, or the “lever lifts” that some courses have adopted.  Not because of their sanitary benefits (frankly negligible, in my view) but because it’s just easier to retrieve your ball.  Having no rakes and ball washers has speeded up the game a bit, but I do miss them.   I also miss having my clubs cleaned and leaving them in the back shop at the end of the round.  And benches on the tees… don’t quite understand why they had to disappear.  All in all, though, it’s been a pretty easy transition to COVID rules, and no one I know has complained.  One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the number of dumb and lazy people who don’t fix ball marks on greens, COVID or no COVID.  I continue to do their work for them, after the fact.

Loughry: The only thing I liked about this year is, it was just about the game of golf, playing it, consuming it, and sharing it with friends. We got back to the essence of the game, and that for me I enjoyed the most. None of the adjustments bothered me, no rakes, cup inserts, not touching the flag, none of that bothered me at all, I just enjoyed my time playing, every second, every round. I’m not sure any of what I saw would be permanent from a playing standpoint, but maybe no ball washers, and perhaps no water coolers on course may stick long term.

Schurman: All of 2020 makes me think about golf when I first began to caddy in 1953 and when I read about it in earlier times. Golf was a game and the distractions of opulent clubhouses, fancy parking lots, monster practice facilities and huge numbers of staff to operate them were only for the wealthiest of clubs. Words like minimalist, natural, basic, rudimentary come to mind. The pandemic is here for a while yet, particularly when the most influential person in the world is yet to recognize its existence. As the year-end financial statements are produced and owners, GMs and other management people review the season they are about to identify the ’emperor has no clothes’. Rounds are up, carts usage is up, lessons are up, range use is up, equipment sales are so-so and all with a clubhouse that is boarded up except for washrooms. In the end, PROFITS are UP! This ‘bell’ has been ringing for a very long time upon deaf ears and now the reality is staring them right in the face. The truth is people don’t need any more than a place to change and clean washrooms. Look at the old courses in the UK only the most affluent have a clubhouse, many have little or next to nothing.  I’ve seen hundreds of courses go into receivership when a big clubhouse is involved. I have never seen one where there is a good course in excellent condition, with a good practice area that includes a solid teaching program and basic clubhouse. The sooner the impact of the virus is identified, and the changes become permanent, the better!  Golf might even become affordable.

Kaplan: We’re 6 months in now and I still can’t get a decent time anywhere at ClubLink. Every time I try to book six days in advance, I’m met with options for 5:30 PM or later across the board. Practice has also become a relic of the past, so you’re either playing every day or your game is falling apart as you continue to add more bad patterns into your swing. But hey, at least we’re still golfing, right?

Rule: I am lucky that I get to play a good amount of golf every year, and this year I have played a bit more than the past couple of seasons due to a reduced workload primarily.  I have very much enjoyed my golf experiences this year, particularly since the outdoor dining has opened and the weather has been nice.  I do miss events at my club and the more social atmosphere that we typically enjoy, but hopefully that’s back come May 2021.  As for potential permanent changes, I can see some clubs keeping the contraptions in the holes to remove the balls, as it’s a convenience thing, although they need to be improved so as to not impact putts.  Otherwise I think everything will return to pre-COVID procedures once we’re through all of this.

Mumford: Apart from the fact that it’s harder to get a tee time, my golf experience during the pandemic hasn’t much changed from the way I usually play it. I always walk if permitted, usually have a beer and sandwich on the patio, and could care less about other clubhouse services and amenities. The absence of rakes speeds up play and likely doesn’t change much. Most raking left furrows worse than footprints anyway. I’m generally not familiar with ball washers, preferring to lick my thumb and rub the ball. I know, it’s gross and unsanitary but my doctor told me I’m not getting enough pesticide. As for the flagstick, most of my regulars have putted with it in since the Rule change, so that’s no biggie either. I’d be ok if all of the concessions made this year continued. It’s golf in its simplest form and that’s ok by me.

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

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