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The Game Wasn't Ruined

An interesting thing happened to Professional Golf in 2003…


The 85th PGA Championship recently contested at Oak Hill (est. 1901) will be remembered as one of the greatest finishes in major championship history. Any golf fan watching will never forget the 7-iron that Shaun Micheel hit to 2 inches on the 72nd hole to secure not only his first major victory, but the first win of his PGA Tour career. Ironically, it was at the same site in 1968, 35 years earlier, when a 30-year old Texan accomplished a similar feat, earning his first PGA Tour victory and first major champion title, the U.S. Open. His performance included becoming the first player to shoot four sub-70 rounds in U.S.Open history and his 275 total was one shot better than Micheel’s winning score this year.

With the four majors complete and two months remaining before the Tour Championship, an interesting thing has happened to professional golf in 2003 … the game has not been ruined. In fact, this season has been one of the most entertaining, exciting and unpredictable in recent history. While the early season was fraught with doomsayers claiming that Armageddon was upon us because of the distance that some players were hitting the golf ball, the standards in place continue to prevail. As for the "old, classic courses" becoming obsolete, the quartet of Augusta National, Olympia Fields, Royal St. George’s and Oak Hill withstood the test of time and technology once again, as reflected in the facts below:

  • Of the 560 players who participated in the four major championships this year, 15 (less than 3%) finished under par.
  • The aggregate score of the four major champions in relation to par was 20-under.
  • No player shot four sub-70 rounds at any of the major championships.
  • The per round scoring average for all players each of the four majors was: Masters: 74.61 (par 72), U.S. Open: 72.43 (par 70), British Open: 74.8 (par 71), PGA Championship: 74.24 (par 70).

Traditionalists also can take solace in the fact that scoring records have not been broken on a weekly basis as originally feared. While Ernie Els’ 31-under par performance under ideal conditions at the Mercedes Championships to start the season set the squeaky anti-technology wheels in motion, the fact is that just 8 of the 36 events to date in 2003 have had winning scores of 20-under or better. Only 3 of those were better than 21-under par.

With eight players currently averaging more than 300 yards per drive on the PGA Tour, and a total of 60 players averaging more than 290 yards, there is no doubt that players are hitting the golf ball farther. Is it causing the game irreparable harm? Are the ‘bombers’ the only players winning tournaments? Not by a long shot:

  • Of the 8 players averaging more than 300 yards in driving distance, three have combined for five wins on the PGA Tour this year. Three others are outside the top 145 on the PGA Tour money list.

  • This year’s winners have been a diverse group, including: 8 multiple winners, 5 first-time winners and 7 winners over 40 years of age.

  • Of the 22 different champions this year, their current driving distance average ranges from Ernie Els (6th/303.0) to Scott Hoch (160th/277.3). Broken down: 3 winners average over 300 yards, 6 winners average between 290 and 300 yards, 10 winners average between 280 and 290 yards, and 3 winners average between 270 and 280 yards per drive.

With the combination of players’ improving physical fitness and strength, course conditions, and equipment technology, the professional game continues to grow and prosper because the rules in place more than adequately control technological influence. As evidenced by the performances at the four major championships and at PGA Tour events throughout the year, the depth and breadth of the weekly fields and the talent of rookies and veterans alike should enjoy upper case recognition."

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