Why we disagree with Player's criticism of low scores at St Andrews
The scoring at the Dunhill Links Championship last week was outrageous.
Ross Fisher stole the headlines with his course record 61 at the Old Course, missing a three-foot putt at the last. While over at Carnoustie Tommy Fleetwood was also a record breaker, with a 62, on maybe the hardest links in the country. Tyrrell Hatton defended his title with a winning score of 24 under.
Some people were not happy, or “quite sad” in the case of Gary Player…
Whilst delighted for all the players, it’s quite sad to see The Old Course of St Andrews brought to her knees by today’s ball & equipment.
— Gary Player (@garyplayer) October 8, 2017
But why does it matter? On the days of really low scoring the players had conditions that were 100 per cent in their favour. Flat, calm, soft and, at the Old certainly, no rough whatsoever. On Sunday it was entirely benign and it would have been surprising if records weren’t broken.
Look closely at the scoring of the field over the four rounds and you will see a smattering of numbers in the low, even mid 70s. When the weather turned the scoring went up, and it so it should. The leaderboard was then populated by those people who managed these conditions successfully or just got lucky.
What a pleasure it was to see players dominating a course that would still be playable for the rest of us. In this case that was also a factor in the pros’ low scoring; the pro-am nature of the event requires a more gentle set of flags and three courses softened by the autumnal timing. Far better that than watching them grind away on courses set up so tough that your average single-figure player couldn’t break 100.
For me the set-up of the Old Course remains the prototype for others to follow – little rough, fun, playable for everyone and never playing the same way twice.
He only had so many characters to express his view but the Black Knight’s view is over-simplistic, it is not just equipment. Modern courses are prepared better, the greens are smoother, there is no such thing as a bad lie in a fairway or a bunker.
Similarly players are now fitter. As fit even as Player, the exception in his era, now they are all fit. Thinking has also improved, players are not afraid to go low, not afraid to win and, again, this is not just in one or two cases, this is ubiquitous.
In any other sport this would be celebrated not scorned. In cricket we see scoring records tumble season after season, as more athletic players wield heavier bats, on better prepared pitches and we love it.
There will be those who argue, as Player implies, that this type of golf does not find the best golfer as it doesn’t test all facets of the game. More it suits the bomber who can take full advantage of the benefits of the modern ball and equipment.
I can see that the natural progression of distance hitting is the reduction of all holes to a drive and a putt but we are nowhere near that yet and the game, in its current form and regardless of the course, still tests the full range of skills.
Just look at the record breakers and notable performers this week. Hatton has an average driving distance of just over 300 yards, not short but not to be confused with long either. Fleetwood is 44th at 300, Fisher is 45th at 300 (which is odd given his powers) and Robert Rock, fourth in Scotland, 117th at 292.
So whilst these players have not suffered from a lack of distance, it is not by any means the only card in their deck. They are all great wedge players and putters and that is where the difference is made.
I have played in a couple of scratch events recently. At the Yorkshire Amateur at Cleveland, a 7,000-yard links course Matt Fitzpatrick’s brother Alex shot 23 under for four rounds. He is 18. Conditions were flat calm and the rough light.
A month or so later I played in a WAGR event at Alwoodley, another 7,000-yard course, this time with brutal rough. A stellar field, played in blustery, wet conditions and David Hague won with a score of 1 over for the four rounds. Both exceptional and deserving winners.
The difference? The weather and the condition of the course.
Scoring is what it is; sometimes it will be low and sometimes it will be high. At the best courses this will largely be down to the conditions on the day and the quality of the field. It was ever thus.