Tough courses must be fair courses for the world's best
Saturday May 14 was a bad day for golf fans who love to watch the world’s best players performing at the peak of their powers.
That was the day the TPC of Sawgrass played a bit like an assault course which meant competitors at the Players Championship had no chance of entertaining us in the manner they had managed over the previous two rounds.
I am all for championship officials providing top players with a tough test of golf, but it has to be a fair test, and demonstratively that was not the case on the third day at Sawgrass where overnight the greens turned into the colour of digestive biscuits and became about as receptive as marble table tops.
Inevitably, chaos, and near six-hour rounds, ensued as players tried to come to terms with the ludicrous conditions. Justin Rose and Shane Lowry were just two of the course’s high-profile victims as the average score in this elite field ballooned to over 75. Sergio Garcia hit his approach close on the 5th but five-putted for an eight.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 14, 2016
Only six players broke par and there were times when even eventual winner, Jason Day, was made to look silly, something which hitherto seemed well-nigh impossible given the level at which the undisputed world No 1 was performing at the time.
The good news is that PGA Tour officials made “several slight changes to their preparation” for the final round which appeased the players but did nothing to stop questions being asked about why the course played the way it did that day.
Was it simply the result of the climatic conditions as was inferred? Or was it a deliberate attempt to influence the scoring? Mark Russell, the PGA Tour’s vicepresident for rules and competitions, denied it was the latter, claiming it had nothing to do with “protecting par”.
“Our goal is to set the golf course up as difficult as it can play, but fair, and if these guys can hit the shots and shoot a low score, we’re all for that,” he said.
“We’re not at all concerned about the scores.”We will all have our own thoughts on that but I do not believe the conditions that day were caused solely by heat and high humidity.
Tour pros hit the ball so far nowadays that tournament officials often resort to what could be described as “trickery” to protect the integrity of their venues.
It is not a new tactic. Famously, it was used back at the 2004 US Open at Shinnecock Hills, when the USGA ended up having to water greens mid-round.
However, it is being utilised more frequently as technology takes a firmer grip of the game, and the blame for that rests with the authorities who make the rules governing clubs and balls.
To be fair to the R&A and USGA, it is not just new technological advances which are responsible for tour professionals routinely hitting drives 300 to 350 yards or more.The pros themselves are fitter and stronger.
Fairways are also often harder and faster than in the past. But it is modern clubs and balls which are the prime cause and that presents a problem given it is not something the game’s administrators seem to want to acknowledge in any shape of form.
I have lost count of the number of times the authorities have pointed to driving distance statistics to back their argument that the situation remains under control even though they must know those statistics have been rendered almost meaningless now that top tour pros seldom feel the need to use their drivers anymore.That was certainly the case at a Sawgrass and it will probably be same at the forthcoming US Open at Oakmont, a course which is also relatively short by modern standards but does have one par 3 which can be stretched to over 300 yards. Yes, a par 3 of over 300 yards.
If ever there was a statistic which proves things have got out of hand that is it and it confirms the urgent need for the authorities to sit down with the manufacturers and agree on a plan to rein in the distance the ball travels. Jack Nicklaus wants that to happen.
So do Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. Surely, after the debacle on the third day at Sawgrass, it has become all but impossible to disagree.