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Opinion & Analysis

What If It’s Our Fault Golfers Fizzle?

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As writers, we are often caught at the end of a golf season making excuses for our disproven theories shortly after the unexpected has happened. I had my fill after this year’s Masters. While Sergio was slipping on the Green Jacket I was sitting on my couch wondering how the hell he had pulled it off. Not two hours earlier I’d sat on that same couch and Tweeted that El Niño was finished as he gingerly approached his ball in the pine straw of Augusta’s 13th. Yet as many times as we’ve found ourselves in this situation, we have an obligation to try and provide some insight into how the future will unfold, even if it is a fruitless effort. The question is, what’s the impact of hoisting an unproven player on a pedestal?

In April of last year, not long after we writers were scrambling to determine if Jordan Spieth would spend the rest of his life in an underground bunker, Chuck Klosterman published his book entitled, But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Past As If It Were the Present. In his book, Klosterman examines times in the past when people were utterly wrong about convictions they knew to be fact. Klosterman points to things as foundational as our understanding of gravity. In the book, he quotes theoretical physicist, Brian Greene:

“For 200 years, Isaac Newton had gravity down. There was almost no change in our thinking until 1907. Then between 1907 and 1915, Einstein radically changes our understanding of gravity. No longer is gravity just a force, but a warping of space and time.”

What Klosterman doesn’t talk about is the impact being wrong has on the world around us. Most of the time it’s not a big deal, because we have to be wrong in order to fail, and we have to fail in order to innovate. I think about this often because as Klosterman writes, and I agree, “I’ve spent most of my life being wrong.” Here’s a tattered example that was almost as foundational to the golf world as gravity to Newton: Tiger Woods will break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships. Sadly this idea is now little more than a fleeting ambition. And while it took the perception of gravity two centuries to be shaken, Tiger’s ambitions seem to dwindle in a matter of hours. Did we, the media, have an impact on where Tiger resides today? I think we have to assume it could be possible to some degree.

That’s the interesting thing about the past. We have as much time to observe and study it as we’d like, but the present is here, then it’s gone and is suddenly transformed and available for introspection.

Anthony Kim set fire to the tour in 2007-2008. In 2007 alone (his first full year on the PGA Tour), he made north of $1.5 million, had 10 top-25 finishes and four top-10s. In 2008, he won twice in five weeks (at Quail Hollow and Congressional). Kim was going to be the next guy that gave Tiger a run. They were both Nike athletes and Kim was known as a feel player, which was opposite of how Tiger approached the game. In a clinic the two hosted together, a patron asked Kim what he did to control distance with his wedges. “My answers are terrible if you guys are trying to learn something,” he said. The crowd laughed. “I just try and figure out how far I’m hitting them right before I go play,” he said. That’s a feel player if there ever was one.

Everybody knew Kim was the next big thing. And while there have been players we were right about — Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth — for each one that did what we expected, there are 30 guys we said would be the guy and they fizzled out.

What I’d like us to think about is this: what if we’re the reason they fizzle out? If we as writers are asked to speculate, then I have to do my best to try and take a different road here. Klosterman asks, “But what if we’re wrong?” I’m asking, “What if it’s our fault we’re wrong?”

Of all sports, golf is the most fickle. We could almost say it’s a game that rests on the laurels of our hormones. Here’s a personal example. A couple of weeks ago I was playing one of the city municipal courses here in San Antonio, Mission Del Lago. My tee time was at 8:08 a.m. on that Saturday and as usual, I went alone. After I checked in the starter paired me up with a twosome and off we went. Despite starting the round with a weak double-bogey at the first, I rallied to get back to even par by No. 7 with a couple birdies.

Of all sports, golf is the most fickle. We could almost say it’s a game that rests on the laurels of our hormones.

I managed a couple pars at Nos. 8 and 9 to make the turn in 36. But after a birdie at a par-3 12th, followed by another one at the par-5 15th, I was on my way to shoot the best round of my life. To that point, I’d managed to stay out of my own way, not thinking too much about the score and just playing shot to shot. Then it happened. “Hey man, you’re playing great! What are you, like one or two over?” my partners asked.

“Well, I’m actually two under,” I replied as calmly as possible.

“No way! That’s awesome! You’re the best player I’ve ever played with,” the guy shot back.

Game over.

I proceeded to make a triple at No. 16, a double at No. 17, and another double at No. 18 to finish at five-over par on the day. It was the most crushing 77 I’ve ever shot in my life.

Now, I’m not blaming my partners for my dreadful finish. But the problem is that in golf, once you have an idea in your head, it’s incredibly hard to shake it. I guess that’s what separates the elite players from the really good players. But what if the impact we (the media) have on a player’s future is underrated? What if it’s not the money or the sudden influx of people wanting more and more of their time? If we’re trying to look at the present as the past, then we have to ask that question, what if our prediction is the reason they didn’t succeed to the degree we expected or predicted them to?

What if, after Spieth hit that ball in the water on No. 12 at last year’s Masters, nobody had said a word? What if it was just ignored like every shot Ian Woosnam has hit at Augusta for the past decade? Or what’s more, what if we hadn’t mentioned it at all after that Green Jacket Ceremony in Butler Cabin. Every time Jordan Spieth had to answer the question, “Do you feel like you’ve moved past the water ball on the 12th at Augusta?,” he was forced to relive the moment he lost his chance at winning back-to-back Green Jackets. All the frustration and angst, the panic he must have had to stifle as he walked off the 12th green.

What if it wasn’t a topic of discussion for a year? Would Spieth have hit it in the water again on Sunday this year? I don’t know. But it’s interesting to think about. It’s interesting to think about the futures we plan out for these players, if even in a vague sense, and the surmounting pressure that shadows those plans.

That’s a lot of pressure for a 23-year-old kid. I’d have buckled like a baby deer learning to walk.

What if we’d never dubbed Anthony Kim as the next great thing to take down El Tigre? Would he have made a stronger comeback after his thumb injury? This is the guy that, in his first Ryder Cup, in the first match on Friday, pummeled Sergio Garcia 5&4. I mean, he had a heavy burden on his shoulders when he was scheduled to come back. He was the it guy. That’s a lot of pressure for a 23-year-old kid. I’d have buckled like a baby deer learning to walk.

This concept of media creating what I’m going to dub as a reverse-self-fulfilling-prophecy is not unique to golf; it’s just that golf has proven to be the more fragile of the games. We see it each year with the NFL Draft. Quarterback “Y” is going to be the next Peyton Manning or Wide Receiver “X” is going to be the next Jerry Rice. And then someone like Tom Brady rides in on the white stallion of obscurity to become the greatest of all time. The major example that shoots this theory in the foot is Tiger Woods. But when we examine Tiger, we have to throw him out because he was raised in the spotlight. Hell, he was on The Mike Douglas Show in the same segment with Bob Hope at the age of two. Everything about him is an anomaly. Except that he, too, fell short of our expectations.

During television interviews, almost every professional golfer claims they don’t read about themselves or watch all that much golf at all. I buy it from the seasoned veterans, but not from the young guys. I’m not saying they’re lying, I’m just saying that I, as a writer, read every single comment on every article I write, and I think about each one. It affects me. And we’re talking small scale, like less than 1,000 comments on over 100 articles I’ve written. Imagine if, at the age of 23, you’re being dubbed as the player of a generation. It has to affect you. It’s just human nature.

John Rahm is a recent example. As of today, he’s exceeding expectations. But success in golf can enter stage right and exit stage left without so much as a passing nod. With a handful of top-10s, a win at Torrey Pines, a runner-up at the Match Play, and an excellent showing in his first Masters, we’ve built him up as the next great Spaniard. I hope he is, but what if we’re wrong?

There’s no way to curtail analysts making predictions, even bold predictions. And what fun would that be anyway? However, I think it’s fair to assess what the second- and third-order effects are of making predictions about players. It’s fair to wonder if the constant media feed claiming this player will be a star and that player will achieve “X” can have a negative impact. What if we’re constantly creating false positives?

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong.

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Adam Crawford is a writer of many topics but golf has always been at the forefront. An avid player and student of the game, Adam seeks to understand both the analytical side of the game as well as the human aspect - which he finds the most important. You can find his books at his website, chandlercrawford.com, or on Amazon.

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Marnix

    May 9, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    No, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle does not apply to golf: observing (or writing about) the sport does NOT influence it.

    • 8thehardway

      May 10, 2017 at 7:29 pm

      The Heisenberg principle asserts a limit to the precision with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle can be measured (like speed and momentum) so no, it doesn’t apply here.

      The OBSERVER EFFECT, on the other hand measures systems, one derivation of which is the Hawthorne Effect, in which people modified their behavior in response their awareness of being observed and analogous to that, Reflexivity can be seen any time acts, things, or people are held up and commented upon or otherwise set apart for consideration.

  2. 8thehardway

    May 9, 2017 at 5:50 am

    I really liked your article – tantalizing examples best pondered over a few pints in a warm pub on a cold night, your own round perhaps the best of the lot for illustrative purposes providing you were there to evaluate alternate lines of reasoning. I’d enjoy a follow-up article that examined your state(s) of mind pre- and post praise, as a friend and I experience a similar ‘pedestal effect’. With me it’s just my putting but my friend is a scratch recreational golfer who will play the first hole from the middle tees if there’s an audience.

    Regarding your thesis statement, I’ll hazard it seems you are positing the literary equivalent of the Observer Effect in physics – changes that the act of observation will make on the phenomenon being observed. While the players mentioned aren’t available to comment, let me adopt the Null hypothesis and suggest that if it’s reasonable to assume that growing up Spieth and Kim experienced tons of praise and expectation from multiple sources, either they liked it, learned to handle it or weren’t bothered by it since it didn’t keep them from turning pro; the real question then becomes ‘What differentiates the effects of positive media speculation pre- and post-tour?’

    Thanks for a great article.

    • Adam Crawford

      May 9, 2017 at 8:13 pm

      Man, I wish I could have had this conversation with you before I wrote the article. You put it better than I did. The Observer Effect is a perfect explanation of what I was trying to get at, I just didn’t have the foresight to explore it. Maybe there is a follow up to be written. Thanks!

      • 8thehardway

        May 10, 2017 at 7:11 pm

        Definitely, and I’m looking forward to it.

  3. Dave R

    May 6, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    What ?

  4. John

    May 4, 2017 at 12:15 pm

    i wish people would stop the personal attacks. It happens in just about every article. Ok, so you don’t agree with an opinion piece, fine, stick to the topic instead of name calling and denigrating the author, someone you don’t even know. It’s really tiresome.
    Nice article, Adam, thoughtful and well written.

    • Adam Crawford

      May 4, 2017 at 1:25 pm

      Thanks, I don’t understand it either. But hey, it’s the age we live in.

    • H

      May 5, 2017 at 2:10 am

      Actually. It’s the other way around. If you don’t want the flak, don’t invite it. Don’t post your own opinion on a public forum like this that allows for other opinions. If you can’t handle other people’s opinions of your own opinions, then you should just not do it in the first place, be quiet and keep it to yourself, and don’t be so full of it.

      • Adam Crawford

        May 5, 2017 at 9:29 am

        It’s not about “flak”. I love debating with someone of a different opinion, but debates aren’t supposed to be personal. They are supposed to be a presentation of opinions on a topic, not the person who holds that opinion on said topic. I welcone the opinions of those who disagree with whatever stance I take in my writing, that’s the point. I wouldn’t have written this piece had I expected everyone to agree with it, that defeats the entire purpose of me asking the question I did. But when the debate gets away from the topic and into the personal, it stops being a debate over a topic and also stops being productive. And it’s especially unproductive when the comments get personal while we’re discussing Golf. It’s getting into a personal argument with someone over their favorite color. What good does that do anyone? But, to each their own, I guess.

        • H

          May 5, 2017 at 12:10 pm

          Do you not understand the concept of conceit? That’s what you represent. You are conceited. Full of it. If you have to explain the fact “I wouldn’t have written this piece had I expected everyone to agree with it, that defeats the entire purpose of me asking the question I did” is a stereotypical phrase from somebody who doesn’t understand how pompous, conceited and full of it that comes across. Obviously. Take a look in the mirror. You honestly want to take credit for the demise of the players because of what you said? Seriously? Rather than give credit to the fact that there are other, perhaps personal, and perhaps not so personal mitigating factors in the players’ drop off in performances?

          • Adam Crawford

            May 5, 2017 at 12:28 pm

            Okay, so I guess there is the lack of clarification in the original article. I didn’t feel as though I assumed it was anything I wrote in particular that has caused the demise of anyone. Obviously I’m not writing features for SI or ESPN so I don’t expect that it’s “my fault” in particular. Simply that what if the media pressure causes more harm than people realize. But maybe you’re right, my ego is too big for any points I make to be deserving of consideration.

            • H

              May 5, 2017 at 10:34 pm

              You’re so disingenuous, you are the epitome of it. Grow up

  5. Adam Crawford

    May 3, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    I think I understand where you’re going with that. Are you saying that fizzling is a symptom of a culture that has produced less mentally tough players? Or are you saying that as a culture the political correctness (I’m assuming that’s what PC is used as here) has produced, or cultivated, a culture that’s can’t handle pressure? Just seeking clarification.

  6. alfriday

    May 3, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    There is a fundamental difference between 1) This is how gravity works (Newton vs. Einstein) and 2) I think X will be the next great golfer. In
    #2, you are speculating about the future. We cannot “know” the future. It is hard to make predictions, especially about the future.

    Writers are almost always going to be wrong if they continue to speculate. In my opinion they should not be trying to do that. There is a big difference between “Kim has the potential to be the next great player” and “Kim will be the next great player.”

  7. H

    May 3, 2017 at 11:50 am

    Adam, you give yourself way too much credit and pat yourself on the back too much for writing such drivel.
    Back in the day, the media was just as noisy and much more in the face of the players as they would all go hang out and drink together in the same restaurant and bar after the rounds, and prod each other with comments and snide remarks and make deals about what gets printed and what doesn’t. The players would stick knives in each other day in and day out with the same type or running commentary and derogatory remarks to knock each other off. Now they’re all wrapped up in a cocoon to be allowed to retreat to their hotel rooms and drive away in sponsor’s cars so they don’t even have to see competitors at the hotel lounge to deal with all the hoopla and ribbing.
    So, Adam, you’re way too naive and immature, and think way too highly of yourself.

    • Adam Crawford

      May 3, 2017 at 12:22 pm

      While I don’t disagree that writers (myself included) often give themselves too much credit, I do feel like you took quite the cynical viewpoint of this particular piece. I’m simply asking the question of whether or not our constant “predictions” are necessary.

      • H

        May 4, 2017 at 12:45 pm

        Well, if that is how you feel Adam, whether your constant megaphone-like commentary is necessary or not –
        You could just shut up and stop writing, can’t you. As simple as that. You can just go away and be quiet. How about that. Might actually work. Yeah.

        • Tal

          May 4, 2017 at 6:18 pm

          What happened to you, H? Someone hurt you. Who hurt you?

    • gvogelsang

      May 3, 2017 at 7:19 pm

      This comment is spot on.

  8. Jack

    May 3, 2017 at 9:42 am

    Pressure is part of sports and life. People find all kinds of ways to pressurize themselves whether you help them or not.

    • Adam Crawford

      May 3, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      I would agree with that 100%. But where do those pressures come from? They don’t happen in a vacuum.

      • TCJ

        May 4, 2017 at 11:11 am

        They certainly don’t come from anyone writing for GolfWRX!

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Fort Worth Invitational

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Under a new name, but a very familiar setting, the Fort Worth Championship gets underway this week. Colonial Country Club will host, and it’s an event that has attracted some big names to compete in the final stop of the Texas swing. The top two ranked Europeans, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose are in the field, as are Americans Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.

Colonial is a tricky course with narrow tree-lined fairways that are imperative to hit. Distance off the tee holds no real advantage this week with approach play being pivotal. Approach shots will be made more difficult this week than usual by the greens at Colonial, which are some of the smallest on the PGA Tour. Last year, Kevin Kisner held off Spieth, Rahm, and O’Hair to post 10-under par and take the title by a one-stroke margin.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Jordan Spieth 9/1
  • Jon Rahm 14/1
  • Justin Rose 18/1
  • Webb Simpson 18/1
  • Rickie Fowler 20/1
  • Jimmy Walker 28/1
  • Adam Scott 28/1

Last week, Jordan Spieth (9/1, DK Price $11,700) went off at the Byron Nelson as the prohibitive 5/1 favorite. Every man and his dog seemed to be on him, and after Spieth spoke to the media about how he felt he had a distinct advantage at a course where he is a member, it was really no surprise. Comments like this from Spieth at the Byron Nelson are not new. When the event was held at TPC Four Seasons, Spieth often made similar comments. The result? He flopped, just as he did last week at Trinity Forest. Spieth’s best finish at the Byron Nelson in his career is T-16. The reason for this, I believe, is the expectations he has put on himself at this event for years.

Switch to Colonial, and the difference is considerable. Spieth’s worst finish here is T-14. In his last three visits, he has finished second, first and second. While Spieth may believe that he should win the Byron Nelson whenever he tees it up there, the evidence suggests that his love affair is with Colonial. The statistic that truly emphasizes his prowess at Colonial, though, is his Strokes Gained-Total at the course. Since 2013, Spieth has a ridiculous Strokes Gained-Total of more than +55 on the course, almost double that of Kisner in second place.

Spieth’s long game all year has been consistently good. Over his previous 24 rounds, he ranks first in this field for Strokes Gained-Tee to Green, second for Ball Striking, and first for Strokes Gained-Total. On the other hand, his putting is awful at the moment. He had yet another dreadful performance on the greens at Trinity Forest, but he was also putting nowhere near his best coming into Colonial last year. In 2017, he had dropped strokes on the greens in his previous two events, missing the cut on both occasions, yet he finished seventh in Strokes Gained-Putting at Colonial on his way to a runner-up finish. His record is too good at this course for Spieth to be 9/1, and he can ignite his 2018 season in his home state this week.

Emiliano Grillo’s (50/1, DK Price $8,600) only missed cut in 2018 came at the team event in New Orleans, and he arrives this week at a course ideally suited to the Argentine’s game. Grillo performed well here in 2017, recording a top-25 finish. His form in 2018 leads me to believe he can improve on that this year.

As a second-shot golf course, Colonial sets up beautifully for the strengths of Grillo’s game. Over his previous 12 rounds, Grillo ranks first in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, second in Ball Striking, third in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green and eighth in Strokes Gained-Total. The Argentine also plays short golf courses excellently. Over his last 50 rounds, Grillo is ranked ninth for Strokes Gained-Total on courses measuring 7,200 yards or less. Colonial is right on that number, and Grillo looks undervalued to continue his consistent season on a course that suits him very well.

Another man enjoying a consistent 2018 is Adam Hadwin (66/1, DK Price $7,600), who has yet to miss a cut this season. The Canadian is enjoying an excellent run of form with five top-25 finishes from his last six stroke-play events. Hadwin is another man whose game is tailor made for Colonial. His accurate iron play and solid putting is a recipe for success here, and he has proven that by making the cut in all three of his starts at Colonial, finishing in the top-25 twice.

Hadwin is coming off his worst performance of 2018 at The Players Championship, but it was an anomaly you can chalk up to a rare poor week around the greens (he was seventh-to-last in Strokes Gained-Around the Green for the week). In his previous seven starts, Hadwin had a positive strokes gained total in this category each time. Over his last 24 rounds, Hadwin ranks seventh in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, 15th in Ball Striking, and ninth in Strokes Gained-Putting. He looks to have an excellent opportunity to improve on his solid record at Colonial this week.

Finally, as far as outsiders go, I like the look of Sean O’Hair (175/1, DK Price $7,100) at what is a juicy price. One of last year’s runners-up, his number is far too big this week. He has had some excellent performances so far in 2018. In fact, in his previous six starts, O’Hair has made five cuts and has notched three top-15 finishes, including his runner-up finish at the Valero Texas Open. The Texan has made three of his last four cuts at Colonial, and he looks to be an excellent pick on DraftKings at a low price.

Recommended Plays

  • Jordan Spieth 9/1, DK Price $11,700
  • Emiliano Grillo 50/1, DK Price $8.600
  • Adam Hadwin 66/1, DK Price $7,600
  • Sean O’Hair 175/1, DK Price  $7,100
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Opinion & Analysis

Pick three golfers to build the ultimate scramble team. Who you got?

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It’s officially scramble season. Whether it’s a corporate outing or charity event, surely you’ve either been invited to play in or have already played in a scramble this year.

If you don’t know the rules of the scramble format, here’s how it works: All four golfers hit their drives, then the group elects the best shot. From there, all four golfers hit the shot, and the best of the bunch is chosen once again. The hole continues in this fashion until the golf ball is holed.

The best scramble players are those who hit the ball really far and/or stick it close with the irons and/or hole a lot of putts. The point is to make as many birdies and eagles as possible.

With this in mind, inside GolfWRX Headquarters, we got to discussing who would be on the ultimate scramble team. Obviously, Tiger-Jack-Daly was brought up immediately, so there needed to be a caveat to make it more challenging.

Thus, the following hypothetical was born. We assigned each golfer below a dollar value, and said that we had to build a three player scramble team (plus yourself) for $8 or less.

Here are the answers from the content team here at GolfWRX:

Ben Alberstadt

Tiger Woods ($5): This is obvious. From a scramble standpoint, Tiger gives you everything you want: Long, accurate, and strategic off the tee (in his prime). Woods, sets the team up for optimal approach shots (he was pretty good at those too)…and of course, arguably the greatest pressure putter of all time.

David Duval ($2): I’m thinking of Double D’s machine-like approach play in his prime. Tour-leader in GIR in 1999, and 26th in driving accuracy that year, Duval ought to stick second shots when TW doesn’t and is an asset off the tee.

Corey Pavin ($1): A superb putter and dogged competitor, Pavin’s a great value at $1. Ryder Cup moxy. Plus, he’ll always give you a ball in the fairway off the tee (albeit a short one), much needed in scramble play.

Brian Knudson

Rory McIlroy ($4): I am willing to bet their are only a handful of par 5’s in the world that he can’t hit in in two shots. You need a guy who can flat out overpower a course and put you in short iron situations on every hole. His iron play is a thing of beauty, with a high trajectory that makes going after any sucker pin a possibility.

Jordan Spieth ($3): Was there a guy who putted from mid-range better than him just a couple years ago? If there was, he isn’t on this list. Scrambles need a guy who can drain everything on the green and after watching 3 putts to get the read, he won’t miss. His solid wedge game will also help us get up and down from those short yardages on the Par 4’s.

Corey Pavin ($1): Fear the STACHE!! The former Ryder Cup captain will keep the whole team playing their best and motivated to make birdies and eagles. If we have 228 yards to the flag we know he is pulling that 4 wood out and giving us a short putt for birdie. He will of course be our safety net, hitting the “safe shot,” allowing the rest of us to get aggressive!

Ronald Montesano

Dustin Johnson ($4) – Bombmeister!!!

Lee Trevino ($2) — Funny as hell (and I speak Mexican).

Sergio Garcia ($1) – The greatest iron player (I speak Spanish, too).

Tom Stickney

Dustin Johnson ($4)
Seve Ballesteros ($2)
Lee Trevino ($2)

DJ is longer than I-10, Seve can dig it out of the woods, and Trevino can shape it into any pin.

Andrew Tursky

Dustin Johnson ($4)
Jordan Spieth ($2)
Anthony Kim ($1)

Are all the old timers gonna be mad at me for taking young guys? Doesn’t matter. DJ has to be the best driver ever, as long as he’s hitting that butter cut. With Jordan, it’s hard to tell whether he’s better with his irons or with his putter — remember, we’re talking Jordan in his prime, not the guy who misses putts from 8 inches. Then, Anthony Kim has to be on the team in case the alcohol gets going since, you know, it’s a scramble; remember when he was out all night (allegedly) before the Presidents Cup and still won his match? I need that kind of ability on my squad. Plus AK will get us in the fairway when me, DJ and Spieth each inevitably hit it sideways.

Michael Williams

Tiger Woods ($5)
Seve Ballesteros ($2)
Corey Pavin ($1)

Tiger is a no-brainer. Seve is maybe the most creative player ever and would enjoy playing HORSE with Tiger. Pavin is the only $1 player who wouldn’t be scared stiff to be paired with the first two.

Johnny Wunder

Tiger Woods ($5): His Mind/Overall Game

Seve Ballesteros ($2): His creativity/fire in a team format/inside 100

Anthony Kim ($1): Team swagger/he’s streaky/will hit fairways under the gun.

A scramble requires 3 things: Power, Putting and Momentum. These 3 guys as a team complete the whole package. Tiger is a one man scramble team but will get himself in trouble, which is where Seve comes in. In the case where the momentum is going forward like a freight train, nobody rattles a cage into the zone better than AK. It’s the perfect team and the team I’d want out there if my life was on the line. I’d trust my kids with this team.

Who would you pick on your team, and why? See what GolfWRX Members are saying in the forums.

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Opinion & Analysis

Is equipment really to blame for the distance problem in golf?

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It’s 2018, we’re more than a quarter of the way through Major Season, and there are 58 players on the PGA Tour averaging over 300 yards off the tee. Trey Mullinax is leading the PGA Tour through the Wells Fargo Championship with an average driving distance of 320 yards. Much discussion has been had about the difficulty such averages are placing on the golf courses across the country. Sewn into the fabric of the distance discussion are suggestions by current and past giants of the game to roll back the golf ball.

In a single segment on an episode of Live From The Masters, Brandel Chamblee said, “There’s a correlation from when the ProV1 was introduced and driving distance spiked,” followed a few minutes later by this: “The equipment isn’t the source of the distance, it’s the athletes.”

So which is it? Does it have to be one or the other? Is there a problem at all?

Several things of interest happened on the PGA Tour in the early 2000s, most of which were entirely driven by the single most dominant athlete of the last 30. First, we saw Tiger Woods win four consecutive majors, the first and only person to do that in the modern era of what are now considered the majors. Second, that same athlete drew enough eyeballs so that Tim Finchem could exponentially increase the prize money golfers were playing for each week. Third, but often the most overlooked, Tiger Woods ushered in fitness to the mainstream of golf. Tiger took what Gary Player and Greg Norman had preached their whole careers and amped it up like he did everything else.

In 1980, Dan Pohl was the longest player on the PGA Tour. He averaged 274 yards off the tee with a 5-foot, 11-inch and 175-pound frame. By 2000, the average distance for all players on the PGA Tour was 274 yards. The leader of the pack that year was John Daly, who was the only man to average over 300 yards. Tiger Woods came in right behind him at 298 yards.

Analysis of the driving distance stats on the PGA Tour since 1980 show a few important statistics: Over the last 38 seasons, the average driving distance for all players on the PGA Tour has increased an average of 1.1 yards per year. When depicted on a graph, it looks like this:

The disparity between the shortest and the longest hitter on the PGA Tour has increased 0.53 yards per year, which means the longest hitters are increasing the gap between themselves and the shortest hitters. The disparity chart fluctuates considerably more than the average distance chart, but the increase from 1980 to 2018 is staggering.

In 1980, there was 35.6 yards between Dan Pohl (longest) and Michael Brannan (shortest – driving distance 238.7 yards). In 2018, the difference between Trey Mullinax and Ken Duke is 55.9 yards. Another point to consider is that in 1980, Michael Brannan was 25. Ken Duke is currently 49 years of age.

The question has not been, “Is there a distance problem?” It’s been, “How do we solve the distance problem?” The data is clear that distance has increased — not so much at an exponential rate, but at a consistent clip over the last four decades — and also that equipment is only a fraction of the equation.

Jack Nicklaus was over-the-hill in 1986 when he won the Masters. It came completely out of nowhere. Players in past decades didn’t hit their prime until they were in their early thirties, and then it was gone by their early forties. Today, it’s routine for players to continue playing until they are over 50 on the PGA Tour. In 2017, Steve Stricker joined the PGA Tour Champions. In 2016, he averaged 278 yards off the tee on the PGA Tour. With that number, he’d have topped the charts in 1980 by nearly four yards.

If equipment was the only reason distance had increased, then the disparity between the longest and shortest hitters would have decreased. If it was all equipment, then Ken Duke should be averaging something more like 280 yards instead of 266.

There are several things at play. First and foremost, golfers are simply better athletes these days. That’s not to say that the players of yesteryear weren’t good athletes, but the best athletes on the planet forty years ago didn’t play golf; they played football and basketball and baseball. Equipment definitely helped those super athletes hit the ball straighter, but the power is organic.

The other thing to consider is that the total tournament purse for the 1980 Tour Championship was $440,000 ($1,370,833 in today’s dollars). The winner’s share for an opposite-field event, such as the one played in Puerto Rico this year, is over $1 million. Along with the fitness era, Tiger Woods ushered in the era of huge paydays for golfers. This year, the U.S. Open prize purse will be $12 milion with $2.1 million of that going to the winner. If you’re a super athlete with the skills to be a golfer, it makes good business sense to go into golf these days. That wasn’t the case four decades ago.

Sure, equipment has something to do with the distance boom, but the core of the increase is about the athletes themselves. Let’s start giving credit where credit is due.

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