The Swoosh, Mr. 58 and beyond Tokyo

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.

Jim Furyk shot a record setting 58 at the Travelers Championship on Sunday, eclipsing the score of 59 recorded by only six PGA Tour players in history. Where does Furyk’s score rank among significant golf milestones and would Jim Furyk have been on your short list of players expected to shoot a 58?

Frank Mastroianni, Freelance Writer: Jim Furyk’s 58 is the best round I’ve ever witnessed and quite simply the best round on the PGA TOUR ever. People can make whatever excuse they want in an attempt to devalue his round, but it goes in one ear and out the other with me. When it comes to whether I thought Furyk would be the guy to do this? Absolutely. He already shot 59 at Conway Farms in more difficult conditions and Furyk has low rounds in him as he’s demonstrated many times before. I regularly pick Furyk to win going into final rounds if I think he’s anywhere within a 63 or 62 of a win.

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): It was an exceptional round of golf, but not as surprising a feat as was Al Geiberger’s 59 nearly 40 years ago.  With six previous 59s, it was only a matter of time before a 58 happened… and there’ll probably be a 57 before the decade’s out.  Furyk is a great player, and this score should solidify his World Golf Hall of Fame credentials.  I don’t think you could ever conceive of a “shortlist” of players who might go historically low… with today’s talent, and the equipment they’re using, anyone could do it.  (After all, one of those six 59s was shot by Chip Beck, who hasn’t broken 80 since!)

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Furyk has already proven he can go low as evidenced by a previous 59, so he should be on a short list. He’s not a bomber but on the right kind of course he can negotiate the routing better than most and he’s a terrific lag putter. The 58 may need some time to sink in. Overall scores on the PGA Tour have been inching lower so it’s an incremental improvement, not a seismic shift. However, he’s the first. Does the fact that he didn’t win mean anything? Not sure. It takes away some of the glory but ultimately the score is still a record. My hunch is it gets matched and beaten soon and then will be like Roger Bannister’s 4 minute mile – a cool accomplishment but otherwise just a footnote in history.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: The fact that it was recorded on a soft par 70 — a layout so forgiving that almost-50 Jerry Kelly was a factor — makes it close to asterisk worthy. But it’s still a hell of a milestone seeing no one could do it in over 1.5 million previous PGA Tour rounds on all manner of tracks. When he’s on, Furyk is incredibly accurate with his driver and his irons, and his 59 was on a tough course, so this was no fluke. But like millions of others, I didn’t think he’d be the guy to do it.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Well, given that he was one of the six guys to have shot 59 before, I guess he would have to have been on the short-list, even though I don’t think of him as a player that would have the ability to go that low, since he can’t overpower a golf course.  But I guess you never know in this crazy game.  I’m not sure where to put this in terms of golf milestones because he didn’t come close to winning the event.  Still remarkable to shoot that score, and it might be remembered more than Russell Knox’s victory, but maybe not as much as Duval’s 59 to win the Bob Hope years ago, with an eagle on the last.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I would have never thought that Furykosa would be Mr. 58! I figured it would have been a bomber like DJ or J-Day.  Shows what I know! Anyway, that was one of the crowning achievements all time in the history of the sport.  No one has ever shot a 58. Nobody. Not Hogan. Not Arnold. Not even Jack or Tiger! Plus, the 58 gets even higher marks in my books because Furyk was so out of contention to begin the day.  Someday, when I am older and have kids, I will show them highlights of Furyk’s 58 to teach them about perseverance and why it is important to play to the last shot.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Furyk’s accomplishment should be treated similarly to Al Geiberger’s 59. The first one in history to do it. Although, if you look at the time Al fired 59 (1977), and the technology he was playing with, uh, that was VERY impressive in my opinion. Furyk’s 58 has to be considered one of the top 3 moments in PGA Tour history. And, Furyk doesn’t exactly have the game that screams breaking 60, but he is pretty proficient plotting his way around courses, and he is a deadly putter. On the right course (short by Tour standards), yeah you could see a low number from him, but not 58-59.

Nike announced this week that it is getting out of the golf equipment business. What’s your take on that move by the footwear giant and does it have wider implications for the golf industry in general?

Deeks: I think it was a prudent move by a smart company.  The sandbox is shrinking, and it’s simply getting harder to compete for fewer golfers and their dollars, and harder to justify the huge amount of money it takes to market and promote equipment that, in 99% of golfers’ hands, makes no difference to their ability to knock a ball around a course.  I’m sure we’ll see other casualties in this marketplace over the next few years.

Kaplan: I think it’s a smart move by Nike.  Focus on what they do well and, in their case, it is shoes and apparel.  I personally don’t own any Nike equipment nor do any of the guys that I normally golf with, so it’s not a big deal for me.  Nor do I think that it will have wider implications for the industry, in general, other than that we can expect Nike customers to now jump ship to one of Titleist, Callaway or TaylorMade. In fact, Callaway and TaylorMade both reported an increase in sale for their second quarters — TaylorMade’s sales purportedly rose 24% — so I don’t think an industry-wide panic is in order at the moment.

Rule: A bit of a surprise I guess, but I don’t know anyone who has hit any Nike products in the past five years, so I imagine they aren’t selling much to the general public.  I guess all that money put into Tiger and Rory didn’t translate much into product sales.  Not sure it will affect much in the golf industry since they weren’t a major player in the golf equipment business anyway, in my mind.  Stick to what you’re good at, I’m sure they’ll sell their share of Rory high-tops in the near future.

Mumford: Like most of my colleagues, I can’t recall seeing too many sets of Nike clubs in the hands of amateurs. Plenty of drivers but for all the money spent on elite athletes, it sure didn’t seem to translate into massive equipment sales. Nike will still be a major player on the soft goods side but their meagre share of the hard goods business will be easily swallowed by the bigger players so the overall impact on the industry will be negligible. Watching some of the Nike staff players scramble for new equipment will be entertaining though.

Loughry: No disrespect to Nike, but they never had the lions share of the market and they entered it at a time that was DOMINATED by other companies. Case in point: when you see the swoosh or hear “Nike” do you think of golf or golf first? Or if you are asked to name some golf companies, is Nike one of the first one’s you think of? Their business is elsewhere, and better focused in those areas. This has little to do with golf itself and the state of it, it’s more about their lack of sales in the industry.  It’s a tough go when you’re fighting for a small market share.

Mastroianni: Finally. The writing’s been on the wall for a while and when your reputation becomes one of “inferior equipment” it’s hard to knock down. Nike equipment has always had a hard time gaining traction and the move needed to happen sooner or later — they just tried to be too different. In regards to wider implications on the industry I think it’s the other way around; the state of golf itself has implications on the industry. The game is in decline and I believe it’s a decline that will get exponentially worse, especially with our ruling bodies having NO CLUE what they’re doing. Golf is so far out of line with what the next generations want, and if it doesn’t change fast, that decline will indeed turn into the much publicized death of our game, at least in North America.

Quinn: Nike got into bed with Eldrick (in 1996 for $40M) and as many have discovered, that doesn’t always work out well. But this is a real harbinger for the industry when a company with $706 million in golf revenue in its last fiscal year decides it’s not worth the effort. It was just three years ago that same company saw such a bright future for golf equipment sales that they gave Rory $200 M. However, Eldrick and Rory at their peaks playing NIKE clubs and balls didn’t move the needle. If they couldn’t who could? Come to think of it, since NIKE clubs hit the pro shops in 2002, I’ve never played with anyone using a set of NIKEs. Over at adidas the sale sign is up on TaylorMade. How that plays out will be as telling as NIKE’s departure. The Swoosh will live on in golf in soft goods and shoes, back where they started in 1984. On the hard goods side, one-less minor player could help those left standing.

The Men’s Olympic Golf competition kicks off this week in Rio. With all that has been written about the poor choice of formats, Zika, security and all the defections by elite golfers, is there a storyline that could resonate worldwide and turn Olympic golf into something salvageable beyond Tokyo in 2020?

Kaplan: It almost goes without saying that they will need to tweak that format for Tokyo, but I think that this tournament is going to be a lot better than fans and pundits are making it out to be. With the gold medal on the line, I can almost guarantee you that we’re going to get one hell of a finish.  Mark my words: this tournament will be one of the highlight of this year’s summer games.

Deeks: A win, or an amazing accomplishment (a 57??) by an unknown or unexpected player from a lower-tier country might grab some headlines, and perhaps motivate people (especially in the winning country) to take some interest in golf.  An unexpected win might have been more possible with a different format, like match play, or team competition, but anything can happen, even over 72 holes of medal play, I suppose.  Unlike many who are cynical about it, I’m delighted that golf is in the Olympics, and I hope it’s a big success, now and in years ahead.  (Go Brooke!)

Mastroianni: For the love of all that is good, I hope golf does not remain in the Olympics! I’m sure Canadians will think a gold medal for Brooke would be a big deal and it would be to us, but what does gold, silver and bronze going to Canada, U.S.A, Great Britain, China, South Korea or any of the already established golf countries do to “grow the game?” Unless there are some serious underdog countries grabbing medals it’s a pointless endeavour if growing the game is the point.

Rule: I don’t want to be cynical about the golf competition, but I don’t see how Joe Public is going to be paying much attention to the golf at the Olympics.  It’s obviously not a traditional Olympic sport, there isn’t a match being played for the gold medal, it just doesn’t have the instant satisfaction of watching a 100m butterfly in 90 seconds and having the excitement of each swimmer approaching the finish together.  That’s the Olympics to me.  I will be watching the golf as much as I can, but mostly because I want to see how the golf course plays.

Quinn: The stroke play format killed any chance of a miracle on grass, so unless Gil Hanse sloped every par 3 green towards pin placements, I can’t conceive of any excitement and certainly no scenario worth another chapter beyond Tokyo.

Loughry: Just watch when the medals are handed out. That coupled with the players coming back to the Tour and sharing their experience. Yeah, I think that will help sell it.

Mumford: The Olympics are always entertaining and I expect golf will deliver some of that too. However, I can’t really expect anything in Rio to overcome the botched format that will look like an away game for a “B” list of players. A team format, match play and daily winners and losers could have made this so much more exciting. The only thing I can see that would salvage Olympic golf beyond 2020 is if the IGF gets in front of the cameras, does a giant mea culpa and admits how stupid they were and then promises to change the format for Tokyo.

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

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