The jury is still out on Tony Finau – future superstar or just another ATM?

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.

During a recent discussion about distance, Ernie Els commented that changes to golf equipment or lengthening courses are not the solution. Instead, Els stated, “We need a serious premium on accuracy. Make the Tour rough knee high, fairways fast and firm, which is fair for all players.” Is he right?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Much as I like and admire Ernie, I disagree with him.  Making the rough knee high will slow downplay (even on TV), force players to chip out (which. no one wants to watch, except once a year in the Open Championship), and will take weeks to grow, at the expense of amateur players and club members who play the courses outside the tournament dates.  Making fairways fast and firm will mean that those 320-yard drives will now go 350, making par 5s all driver-wedge.  The fact is, greater distance is killing the pro game, and the only way to fix it is to dial back the golf ball for professional tournaments… THAT’S fair for all players.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Ernie has been reading my stuff, finally, someone is listening! Absolutely! The Big Easy is onto something. Some of these setups are pushovers and not willing to take some risks on setups, granted there is only so much you can do with certain courses. This is why I love the US Open, hard conditions and setups should have a place in the game. No, I don’t want to see it every week, but more than twice a year. Yes, I would like to see tough setups and conditions that, as he mentions, put a premium on accuracy instead of just BOMB and GOUGE, or BOMB and chip. 25-under looks cool and is a little more marketable; it’s also great for equipment manufacturers. But I do tire of it week to week. I’m not doubting for a second that “these guys are good” but I don’t want vanilla every time I watch an event.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame member, PGA of Canada: He is right as far as tee shots are concerned. There was greater premium on accuracy 50 years ago simply because the mowers to cut the rough weren’t as good and double-line irrigation produces a more consistent growth to the grasses in the rough. I like to see many more pot bunkers of the extremely penal design. Also, make the greens much smaller and more penal rough around them. Then distance would matter but so would GIR resulting from fairways hit.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): He’s 100% correct. I mentioned this in a recent Round Table. In fact, I think everyone in this panel brought this point up. It really doesn’t matter how long you are if you don’t hit the fairway and find treacherous rough and nasty bunkering. If they narrow the fairways significantly and harden the greens up to the point where they only accept perfect approach shots, scores are going to go up. Guaranteed.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I think he’s partly right.  I definitely think the game needs to put more of a premium on accuracy, but not to the point of every event feeling like a US Open.  I’m not a fan of the bomb and gouge game, but let’s be honest, most casual fans eat that up!  The 380-yard drives are impressive and do keep many fans interested, so let’s not take driver out of the guys’ hands all the time.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: As I’ve mentioned many times around the table, the inventor of the longest blasting driver in history said the antidote was “grow the rough.” Nice to see that Ernie has been going through the Round Table Archives — thought they were secure — to pick up on those bon mots. Of course, Els is right, he’s agreeing not only with me, but with the guy and his rocket scientists who helped create all this extra length — DeChambeau’s trainer and dietitian and club gurus, a mere footnote in the latest explosion,

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Absolutely! Accuracy needs to be more important. Open Championships (British variety) have featured the kind of conditions Els advocates for decades and nobody complains much about those. A missed fairway doesn’t automatically mean a pitch out – just an approach shot that will be harder to control. Firm, fast fairways is the start, but it doesn’t always have to be knee-high rough too. A nice mix of deep pot bunkers, tree-lined fairways and ponds would also make the bombers think twice. Every course has the tools to reign in distance for the pros, without affecting amateurs. They just need the will to do so.

Tony Finau had the lead for a few minutes during the final round of the 3M Open on Sunday but ultimately let a lot of players pass him. Most members of the Round Table have stated that it’s just a matter of time before Finau gets into the winner’s circle again, his first and only victory coming in 2016. Does anybody want to change their opinion?

Deeks: No, I won’t change my view.  But I must admit, a few more blown or unsustained leads might well get into his head and prevent him from achieving the potential we all believe that he has.

Loughry: Finau will figure it out. He keeps putting himself in that position, and the more he does, the more he learns about himself and his tendencies. He’ll keep exercising those muscles sniffing around the lead, I still think his time will come. Its that damn putter, he figures that thing out, we could see multiple wins, because his ball striking is noticeably exceptional. As long as he doesn’t let the losses creep into his psyche, but hearing his interview after it seems he has the right mind stating to the effect “I’ve got a good process in place which is leading to some good results to this point, but there’s some more work to do”.  He knows.

Schurman: Finau made several poor strategy decisions resulting in high scores. Anyone who can hit a driving iron 270 yards should never be in a position to miss a green with a short iron. He also lacks what we used to call ‘part’ shots meaning 140 yard, 8 irons, 110 yard, PWs. He seems to calculate the yardage identify the club for the distance at full-throttle and let ‘r fly. However, he is not alone. It seems this is a new way to play. So much for a shot into a green having a chance to ‘hole out’. How many eagles are there per year from the fairway? My good friend, John Henrick sunk his second shot over 60 times in his life not counting holed pitches, chips and hole-in-ones; I’m talking from 125 to 200 yards.

Kaplan: I’m standing firm. He’s going to break out. It’s just a matter of time.

Rule: I still want to think that Finau will burst the bubble once he has one decent Sunday and pulls out a victory.  He just needs to get over that hump and then can start racking up the wins.  It is crazy that his scoring average for the first 3 rounds is under 69, and then 71.3 in the final round.  That’s all nerves, but I truly believe he just needs that one good Sunday to turn things around.

Quinn: Don’t think I was in on the Table consensus on Finau — but memory is n elusive target. This guy is ridiculous from downtown, that’s where he makes all his money and those ridiculously calculated FedEx points. When it comes down to 4-5 footers, he putts like my 20-handicap neighbour on Thursday, but for Finau it’s Sunday. No, my opinion hasn’t changed.

Mumford: Is he another ATM like Charles Howell III or a late bloomer like Payne Stewart? Right now, Finau is looking a lot like Chucky 3-sticks, a man with all the mechanical tools but no killer instinct. The fact that he puts himself in a position to win but then can’t close the deal is a big concern. The more he does it, the harder it gets. Maybe the caddie change will deliver a different result, but a new mental game coach might be in order too.

The PGA Tour is receiving an unusually high level of scrutiny from the media and other sports with respect to the way they’ve forged ahead with a resumption of play, even as the coronavirus pandemic grows throughout the US. How would you grade the Tour’s performance during this unprecedented time?

Deeks: Well, I guess I give them A for effort and perseverance. But that may quickly become an F if some Tour players or officials start to get sick. If I was still in tournament management, I think I’d be praying that my event gets canceled this year.

Loughry: I think the Tour is doing a great job considering the challenges surrounding them. It doesn’t seem like they’re going to shift from their plans as some states see surging numbers. Those California stops (including the PGA Championship) could get interesting if they keep pushing upwards of 10K infections per day.  Time will tell if this was an unnecessary risk, or more media hype. Right now, if I had to grade them, I’d give them an A-, especially for being bold and one of the first to restart.

Schurman: Only time will tell how well their policies are working. It takes several weeks for infections to follow contaminations. Jay Monahan should run for President and would probably be pretty good at it if could stand playing as much golf as the current occupant of the USA throne. (290 rounds in the past 3 1/2 years). Just think, security for each round is close to $200,000 or $58,000,000). However, it wouldn’t be saying a lot to outperform a government and/or country that has 25% of the World’s cases, 25% of the world’s deaths while having only 4% of the world’s population. In other words, the USA record is 6 times worse the next closest “Sh…Hole” country. The ‘fence’ is to keep Americans ‘in’ not to keep everyone else ‘out’.

Kaplan: I think they’ve done an admirable job. They have been flexible and open to changing their policies when new, unprecedented situations have arisen, and I think that has been the key to keeping this train on the tracks. Hopefully, they can keep it going because we have some MAJORS coming up!!!!!

Rule: I think they’ve done a great job within the tournament grounds during the pandemic.  The level of testing and the strict protocols show that the Tour is doing everything they can.  The problem is that they can’t control the players off property.  They are free to act however irresponsibly as they decide and unfortunately that puts the short-term future of game at risk.  Hopefully they can all act responsibly enough to get through three majors in the next few months!

Quinn: Obviously, golf’s the easiest to monitor and control. And, gate receipts don’t drive the Tour, TV dollars do. The other “major” sports have incrementally more challenges than golf, and even if the franchise owners are billionaires (sorry CFL), gate receipts are a factor in bottom lines and salary caps. The Tour has done well, on the easiest restart in sport.

Mumford: I’d give them top marks for how they’ve handled the re-start. Unfortunately, it looks like the US is still headed in the wrong direction and another shutdown may be the only way to stop the virus. The PGA Tour could play through it given their protocols and absence of fans but that would send the wrong message to America and the rest of the world at a very bleak time. There’s a very big test coming this fall or winter and how the Tour handles that will determine their final grade.

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

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