Once again, I thank all of you for the feedback to last week’s post about the driver being the first scoring club. If everyone agreed with everything I write, this wouldn’t be nearly as fun and challenging as it is. So, keep up the feedback and challenges to my logic as we go forward, OK? I think I might push some of your buttons again today, so here goes.
I had one of those airline trips from hell last Monday, trying to get back from a visit to my nephew and his family in Boise. For the first time in my life, I saw our plane returned to the gate because our crew “timed out” while we were on the tarmac awaiting a delayed take-off. That led to a series of setbacks, which eventually put me back in Houston at 1:00 a.m., almost five hours later than scheduled…with a 2-1/2 hour drive still ahead of me.
Then, I woke up Tuesday morning with a head-cold-from-hell, which has had me in its grip ever since. That put me on the sofa watching more TV than I would on a typical weekend. And that allowed me to watch more of the Charles Schwab (Colonial) than I probably would have otherwise, along with some NBA and baseball.
Now, I’ll admit I have become a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to professional golf. Not that I’m bad-tempered or anything, but I am a bit cantankerous. The game’s evolution from identifying those who have achieved broad mastery of all shotmaking, to those who are the strongest physical specimens and have great short games has simply lost me. When I tune into any professional athletic event, I fully expect, and want to be, AMAZED.
The NBA always does that, with a consistent show of unbelievable athleticism and shotmaking. I’m sure basketball purists argue about the evolution of the game from Chamberlain and Russell, to Bird and Magic, to Michael, to Steph and LeBron…but throughout my 50-plus years of watching, these guys almost always put on an impressive show of skills. Same goes for the NFL. I am not a follower of major league baseball, and don’t know many players, but an hour in front of the TV will almost always entertain you with amazing fielding and hitting displays.
Forgive me for my cynicism, but I just don’t get that amazed by PGA Tour golf anymore. In my hours of time in front of the TV, there were just too few instances of shotmaking prowess that made me go “wow.” One stat on Saturday showed that Jordan Spieth had made something like four hundred feet of putts in 2-1/2 rounds. Heck yeah, that’s impressive…but hardly riveting television. What I was looking for were pinpoint irons shots that set up birdies and a serious challenge to whoever was in the lead.
Congratulations are certainly due to Kevin Na for holding off everyone, but who really put a charge on to challenge him? Time and again, players looked like they might gain some ground, only to be derailed by poor driving and iron play. Maybe not “poor” by our amateur standards, but I’m not sure I saw more than one or two irons shots that just tore the flag down. What I did seem to see were lots of drives in the rough, short iron and wedge shots long, short or wide of the greens, and plenty of greenside recovery shots, too often followed by par attempts from well outside 6-8 feet.
Lee Trevino once said that there are two things that don’t last long – “dogs that chase cars and pros that putt for pars.” The point I believe he was making at the time was that he saw professional golf as a game of precision shotmaking, and that meant driving it in the fairway and hitting greens. And by my observation, the stars of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s were pretty darn good at that kind of golf.
Ben Hogan was noted for hitting fairways and greens with commanding precision. Byron Nelson was so straight they named the first swing robot after him. Gene Littler was known as “Gene the Machine”. Johnny Miller set the bar tremendously high for knocking flags down, from nearly any range. Bear in mind his 63 at Oakmont to win the U.S. Open in 1966 was the result of hitting nearly every green, though 14 of this approach shots were hit with a 5-iron or longer. Pretty amazing stuff even if it weren’t a U.S. Open layout, wouldn’t you say?
Before you all want me tarred and feathered for lack of respect for the modern tour professional, let me say that these guys at the top have done what it takes to achieve modern greatness. The talent pool is very deep these days, as evidenced by the huge number of different winners every year. But other than Tiger, who has attained – and maintained – a constantly high level of performance from week-to-week, year-to-year for any length of time over the past twenty years or so? And in reality, do yesterday’s stars become today’s also-rans because others have passed them, or because they lost whatever it was they had found for that fleeting period of time?
In any era, in any sport, the singular challenge is to achieve a higher level of skill than the next guy (or team). On any given day or week, golf’s top players do that, but to me it just doesn’t make for riveting viewing any longer.
I accept that professional golf has changed dramatically in my lifetime, and that it will never again be what it once was. So, I’ll keep watching, hoping to be amazed…After all, we have the U.S. Open and The Open Championship still to come.
P.S. Next week, I promise to return to topics that will hopefully help you improve your golf this season. If you have any topics you would like to see me address, please drop me an email at Terry@TheWedgeGuy.com.