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Where Is the Balance?

It's not surprising that golfers and the golf media are captivated by the long hitting players on tour or enamored when a player like J.B. Holmes secures his first PGA Tour victory, as he did at the FBR Open, with an impressive driving distance average of 308.0 yards. Long drivers, throughout the game's history, have drawn the admiration of amateurs who only aspire to generate the clubhead speed and precision of such professionals. And there is no refuting the fact that the professional game has experienced a shift to the modern power game where some players have placed a premium on distance over accuracy.

J.B. Holmes

But what is disturbing is when members of the golf media use their position to advance their anti-technology and anti-golf ball technology agenda to golfers without providing their readers the opportunity to learn from an opposing view. While free speech is a wonderful thing, and the golf media has every right to provide editorial opinions, it is disillusioning to know that the opposing facts are often conveniently overlooked. Where then do the 25 million golfers in the U.S. get exposed to a balanced perspective on the long-standing technology and tradition debate? And if the PGA Tour is going to measure the perception of the public relative to distance to consider whether additional rule modifications are desirable, and media coverage is imbalanced, then one can hardly expect golfers/fans of the PGA Tour to have an open mind.

Take the most recent example of this anti-golf ball technology agenda published in the Orlando Sentinel on February 15, 2006 under the headline, "'Gopher Ball' no long shot." The writer compares power-hitting J.B. Holmes' victory to the predictions of the Carl Spackler character in CaddyShack in 1982. He even references the average driving distance on tour in 1980 as 256.8 and how much farther J.B. Holmes' drives are in order to advance his point that "distance gains are out of balance and the game is broken." Semantics are another powerful tool used to influence readers' reactions. When referring to the USGA, he uses derogatory terms like "apparently awakened from a Rip Van Winkle-length coma" and a "dawdling organization". He notes that Kenny Perry is feeling "increasingly obsolete" or "something's out of whack when Perry ranked 11th in the world, feels like a Lilliputian." The fact is Kenny Perry will turn 46 this August. In how many professional sports can a 46-year old still remain competitive let alone, be ranked 11th in the world in their chosen sport?

What is even more alarming is digging behind the scenes to the actual press conference and reading the unequivocally biased "questions" asked of J.B. Holmes:

   Q. John, with the way that you have been piping it out there the last few years, now that you are out here with the big boys, and blowing it past all of them, there has been sort of a negative side to it to, people are saying he hits it too far, they need to rein that in. What's your response to all of that? You can become the poster boy for the USGA making rules changes.

   Q. You don't think there has been a lessening of the skill factor because you only have to hit your 3-iron, 4-iron, 5-iron a couple of times per tournament? It's mostly a wedge, 9-iron. These are some of the points that have been raised. You are just overwhelming golf courses.

These aren't questions. They are "leading the witness" statements by a reporter with an agenda. Interestingly, when the player does not share the same opinion as the writer, his response does not see the light of day.

Arron Oberholser
Let's be fair here. If the golf media wants to write about J.B. Holmes' prodigious length at the FBR Open, then let's give equal time to Arron Oberholser who secured his first PGA Tour victory at last weekend's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Even though Arron matched a tournament record with a 5-shot margin of victory, little has been written about the fact that his average driving distance for the week was 259. 3 which ranked 64th in the field, and only 2.5 yards longer than the average driving distance on tour in 1980. Arron's driving accuracy for the week was a remarkable 80%, and he led the field in Putts Per Round, just as J.B. Holmes did in his victory. Those in the anti-golf ball technology camp usually defend their lack of coverage on these types of statistics as just too anecdotal. But most also chose to ignore the Mercedes Championships winner's 274-yard average driving distance and 76.7% driving accuracy, too.

The game has changed. But that is hardly new as this timeless deep-rooted debate about technological advancement is as old as the game itself. Where is the evidence to support that the game has been harmed? That J.B. Holmes won the FBR Open with a driving average of 308.0 yards? Or that Arron Oberholser won the AT&T Pebble Beach with a driving average of 259.3 yards? Isn't there something to be said for a professional game (and its golfer fan base) that can experience two successive events where two players both win their first PGA Tour event with such different games? Seems like a win-win for the PGA Tour and the game.

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