Time for the customary major review, alas the last of the year, when we take a few days after the dust has settled and all the media have weighed in, on the issues and reactions from Baltusrol and the PGA Championship.
Lost (or purposely overlooked?) in all the furor (and boy, has there been plenty of fur flying in this furor) over the PGA's decision not to move tee times an hour earlier on Sunday, which would have avoided the severe weather that had been forecast, was any honest appraisal on how one of the grand old courses in this country, Baltusrol, stood up to the "power game". Of course, an honest review of how well the course did would have meant flying in the face of those who decry the state of the game and the courses its played on.
Deserved props to Golf Observers' David Barrett, who penned a prescient piece titled "In Defense of the 7,500-Yard Course". Mr. Barrett was one of the few scribes not to buy into the usual pre-major frenzy, where technology becomes a four-letter word, and the minor course alterations required to stage a major is taken as a sign of the apocalypse.
Mr. Barrett writes: "Yet when it comes to the length of golf courses, players and writers (players are actually the worst culprits) seem to be stuck in the past. Several new or re-designed courses used or planned to be used for Tour events check in at about 7,500 yards, as did Whistling Straits for last year's PGA Championship (all with a par 72 of, so reasonably equivalent to Baltusrol). They are immediately derided as being "too long" and favoring those who crush it off the tee. Augusta National has taken some criticism for its recent announcement that it will move deep into the 7,400-yard range.
This view has its roots in the traditionalist, and perfectly valid, view that length alone does not make a great golf course. A hard course, maybe, but not a great one. The best courses spring from an active imagination of an architect and require strategic thinking from the player. They have a variety of holes; they're not a mere succession of long, back-breaking par fours."
The only arguable point in Mr. Barrett's assessment is that players are the worst culprits - given the state of the anti-technology golf media. But I digress.
Mr. Barrett's point, is that when you factor in the distance gains by players over the last 15 years,(and check out his piece, he does an excellent job of statistical extrapolation) that today's 7,500-yard course is roughly equal to 1994's 6,950-yard course. He reasons: "Would anybody have said that a 6,950-yard, or even a 7,090-yard, course in 1994 was too long, too unimiginative, or favored long hitters? Of course not."
While Baltusrol was formally opened for 18-hole play in 1895, the Lower Course was designed and built in the early 1920's by legendary designer A.W. Tillinghast.
80 years old - has to be obsolete, right? To host a major, has to undergo massive renovations, right? Today's power game, as many of the scribes and wanna-be course architects will tell you, is ruining the game.
But as the PGA Championship progressed, many players were quoted as saying the course was tough, but fair.
"The course is very well balanced." - Trevor Immelman
"The most important thing is putting your drive on the fairway. It's the only way you're going to give yourself a chance for birdie." - Retief Goosen
"I thought the course was very fair. It's just a great test." - Phil Mickelson
But that didn't get a lot of ink. Instead, the PGA and CBS got the ink (the winner didn't even seem to get as much ink) for the weather snafu (as a complete aside, when will organizations and individuals learn, that if they just say "we made a mistake" that people will be quick to forgive and the story will fade away? America loves the humble approach - we'll forgive just about anything) and resulting Monday finish.
We haven't seen anyone write about the fact that only 14 players shot par or better, out of 156 players.
We haven't seen anyone write about the fact that the top three finishers, Mickelson, Elkington and Bjorn ranked in the top 40 in Fairways hit, even though not one of those three ranked in the top 40 in Average Drive Distance (Bjorn came closest at #50, but Mickelson was #78 and Elkington #64).
Can't stand up to the power game?
While we're on the topic of Fairways hit, we haven't seen anyone write about how the leaders, with the concern of tree lined fairways and four-inch rough, found it so difficult to keep it in the short grass in crunch time. For that matter, we haven't seen how the full-growth trees standing sentry along the tee boxes and fairways kept players from taking shortcuts by hitting over them.
We haven't seen anyone write about the fact that only four (4) players that ranked in the top 15 in driving distance finished in the top 15 on the leaderboard. And those four were Messrs. Woods, Singh, Love III and Appleby.
Game in ruins?
We haven't seen anyone re-visit Phil Mickelson's answer to one of the scribes in pre-tournament interviews, where Mr. Mickelson refuted the notion that only a few can win on a longer course:
"Q: There's a theory that the longer they make the courses, the fewer players that can really win. People are saying 10, 15, only 20 players here can really win. Do you subscribe to that theory?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't subscribe to that, especially this week. I think that it's just such a fair test that you don't need length necessarily to play well here....if you do hit it into the rough, you are having a very difficult time saving par, so even though you might be a slightly shorter hitter, hitting out of the fairway allows you to get a lot closer to the green and make pars and birdies."
We haven't seen anyone write about how Mr. Tillinghast's work is as masterful now as it was then. How his blueprint for championship play is as relevant today as it was then. Mr. Mickelson followed that blueprint, and he's the champion.
Will we see anyone in the mainstream golf press write any of these stories?
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