I was planning to write this article next June during the week of the FedEx St. Jude Classic, because there’s nothing that brings the issue of tour pros wearing shorts to the forefront more than 95 degree heat with humidity in Memphis.
But the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final has managed to make this a relevant issue in mid-October. The tournament consists of eight of the top players in the world, including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, and the players have the option to wear shorts. During day one, several players went with the shorts option and somehow the game of golf managed to survive.
Hopefully the PGA Tour and European Tour take notice of this and reconsider their policies on not allowing shorts, at least above a certain temperature. I know some will argue that shorts go against tradition or are unprofessional. Let’s keep in mind that golf was once played in coats and ties, but the game evolved to the modern apparel of today. I’m sure there were many who claimed back then that the game would be ruined without jackets and ties.
Traditions are great, but they shouldn’t be a reason for making the same mistake over and over. During the last 30 years many changes in the game have been met with resistance. Metal drivers, graphite shafts, cavity back irons, square grooves, solid core golf balls, soft spikes and even white drivers were all supposed to ruin the tradition of the game, but the game has thrived with these innovations.
While I think pants look better, I don’t think shorts look unprofessional. Professional athletes in other sports wear shorts. Professional tennis players (another country club sport) wear shorts. Basketball players, soccer players and rugby players all wear shorts. Football players and baseball players wear pants for the purpose of protecting their legs. Last I checked, professional golfers aren’t sliding or taking hits. While it may be weird to see tour players in shorts, none of the players look unprofessional. We’re not talking about cut-offs and tank tops here. We’re talking about knee-length, well-tailored shorts.
Let’s face it. Professional dress is less formal than it was 20 years ago. Casual Friday has evolved into “casual every day.” Silicon Valley is driven by executives and venture capitalists who wear jeans, not suits. Professionalism isn’t just about how you dress. It’s how you carry yourself. I’d argue that the club throwing, cursing and spitting that we see from some of the top players threatens the professionalism of the game much more than allowing tour players to wear shorts.
Professional golf is also becoming more athletic every year, and the apparel has been changing to reflect this. Wicking fabrics have moved from the gym to course and are the standard in shirts, pants and shorts today. Barefoot running shoes have followed suit. The lines between tennis and golf apparel have become blurred. Many Nike and Adidas shirts look like they would be equally at home on the court or on the course, and professional tennis player, James Blake, wears Travis Mathew.
Giving players the option to wear shorts above a certain temperature contributes to the health and welfare of the players. Wearing long pants in hot, humid weather is not in the best interest of the players. There are frequent reports of players suffering from dehydration. While allowing shorts does not solve this issue, it would help to keep players cool. Starting in 1999, the PGA Tour allowed caddies to wear shorts. Again, the game has managed to survive and the level of professionalism has not deteriorated because of this policy change.
Last but not least, shorts would help to prevent those unsightly sweat stained trousers that make appearances during the hot and humid months. This is a much more unprofessional look than shorts in my opinion.
The Turkish Airlines World Golf Final has proven that golf has evolved and tour players can maintain a level of professionalism in while playing in shorts. What’s your opinion? Is it time for the PGA Tour and European Tour to reconsider their policies on shorts?
A breakdown of NCAA golf’s 2018 early-signing period
With the early-signing period for college golf ending about a week ago, I wanted to examine the numbers and see how they compared to last years. As you may remember, I reported last year that the average National Junior Golf Score Board (NJGS) ranking for a player that signed at a Division One Institution was 365. Likewise, the average NJGS for Power 5 Conference School was 114, while 52 percent of signees where from in-state. This year during the early signing period there were 173 players who signed at D1 schools. Of these the average NJGS for all division one signees was 262.6. The average for the Power 5 Conference signees was 113.76 and again 51 percent of players signed from in-state.
An important question is “what do we know about the 263-ranked player in NJGS (the average rank for D1)?” At the end of the signing period, this player was Ben Woodruff. The native of Huntersille, NC signed to play in-state for the University of North Carolina Charlotte. According to NJGS, Ben played 9 events with one top-5 finish, an overall rank of 507 and a scoring differential of .35. Historically, we see that the average Division One player has a scoring differential very close to .5 or better.
For the second consecutive year, the number one player chose a non-power 5 Conference school; Ben Wong decided to play his college golf for Coach Enloe at Southern Methodist University (SMU), located in Dallas, Texas. This means, Wong a native of Spring, Texas (a northern suburb of Houston) will be playing college golf about 3 hours north. He will also be joined by NJGS second-ranked player Noah Goodwin, giving SMU a formidable pair of recruits! Florida, Louisiana State University, Pepperdine, North Carolina and Texas also all nabbed two players each from the top 25 in their class, while UCLA grabbed three!
Among the most interesting trends in recruiting is the preference for college coaches to recruit “in-state” players. Over the past two years, the number of “in-state” signees have remained about 50 percent. This number, in my opinion, is based largely on limited recruiting budgets; less than 20 percent of schools have major recruiting budgets. Instead many coaches rely on recruiting budgets of a couple thousand dollars, which is not going to “travel” well.
It is also interesting to note that of the signees for Division I listed on NJGS, only 24 of 197 players where international. This means that international players make up 12 percent of the signees. This number is steady from the previous data collect. Of these players, Wake Forest signed players ranked 305 ad 702 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings (WAGR), while UAB signed a player ranked 2476, Iowa State a player ranked 1098, UTEP a player ranked 2132 (also 325 in NJGS), Western Carolina a player ranked 3699, Stanford a player ranked 208, Arizona a player ranked 141, Colorado a player ranked 754 and 1050, Louisiana Monroe a player ranked 1524, Washington State a player ranked 3251, Northwestern a player ranked 332, Oregon a player ranked 527 and 2229 (also 291 in NJGS), VCU a player ranked 3216 (also 168 in NJGS) and George Washington a player ranked 2851 (also 276 in NJGS). The average WARG for these players is 1,558.5 (please note these represent their current WAGR rankings).
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Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club
Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own.
Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.
All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.
Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.
Trees, or no trees?
The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.
The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.
Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.
A good variety
Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16. What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14. These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set. The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.
The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s temp the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.
Green complexes are…complex
Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world. They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.
The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a descent lie.
Ari’s last word
All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.
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