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19th Hole

Phil Mickelson’s very surprising answer to a question about Tiger Woods

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You know this story: Nobody suffered more under Tiger Woods’ regime of Tour domination than Phil Mickelson.

From 1996 through 2013, Tiger Woods won 79 times on the PGA Tour. Phil Mickelson won all but nine of his 42 PGA Tour tournament titles during that same stretch of time. So, it stands to reason, Phil would have won a few of those tournaments, right?

So when Mickelson, who is competing in his 100th major, was asked ahead of the PGA Championship how his career would have been different if Woods had never said, “Hello, world,” you’d expect him to say, “I’d have won more.”

Instead, the singular left-hander essentially said the opposite.

“I feel as though had Tiger not come around, I don’t feel I would have pushed myself to achieve what I ended up achieving, because he forced everybody to get the best out of themselves.”

“He forced everybody to work a little bit harder. He forced everybody to look at fitness as a big part of the game of golf, and I think that’s actually helped me with longevity, working with my trainer, Sean Cochran, for 14 years now, trying to stay flexible and so forth to elongate the career.”

“And I feel like that’s been a big part of it and he was a big influence on that. So I don’t think I would have had the same level of success had he not come around.”

Is this how Mickelson really feels? Is he just being gracious? Ernie Els, for his part, offered a much more glass-half-empty (and reasonable) take.

“But, you know,” Els said. “I could have had a couple more, definitely, without him around.”

Definitely. Check out Phil and Ernie below, courtesy of Golf Channel.

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19th Hole

Distance increases “horrible” for all golfers, says USGA’s Mike Davis

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From Tiger Woods, to tour heads, to company executives, everyone seems to be talking about rolling back the golf ball lately.

In a Saturday piece for the Wall Street Journal, Brian Costa talked to USGA chief executive, Mike Davis, and he offered his strongest statement yet about the need for variable-distance golf balls.

“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible…The reality is this is affecting all golfers and affecting them in a bad way. All it’s doing is increasing the cost of the game.”

There are a couple of avenues of approach to the “increasing the cost of the game” comment, but it’s difficult to argue with Davis; the trickle down to golfers of the lengthening and quickening of courses is lighter wallets.

Davis, understanding the delicate position the USGA is in, seems inclined to make strong suggestions and leave decision making (i.e. how “rolled back” golf balls are) to specific tours, events, amateur organizations, etc.

But as Geoff Shackelford writes in his breakdown of the WSJ piece, we’re at a tricky impasse.

“Every party involved has some incentive not to force the issue. If the governing bodies tried to mandate a more restrictive ball for all golfers, they would face a massive fight from equipment companies. Those companies thrive by making a hard game easier, not harder. The PGA Tour relies on eye-popping distance numbers to highlight the skill and athleticism of its stars, which isn’t always apparent to the naked eye.”

We can probably add that the most casual of fans like to see birdies and pin-seeking approach shots, the possibility of anything that reduces those quantities has to be anxiety provoking for a sport struggling with ratings.

That said, a consensus opinion delivered jointly by governing bodies, tours, and equipment would seem to be the most sensible (if unlikely) way forward.

What do you think about Davis’ comments, WRX members? If we’re going to see a limiting of the golf ball, what’s the best way to roll out the rollback?

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19th Hole

European Tour commish: We have to look beyond 72-hole stroke play tournaments

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Keith Pelley, European Tour commissioner, whose preference for innovative golf formats is nearly as well known as his preference for colored glasses that look like they’re Photoshopped onto his face, made a bold prediction.

All joking aside, it’s worth considering the note Pelley chose to end his tour’s season on, serving up this quotation to reporters at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

“I do believe that this is a very special game with incredibly skilled players in it, and it has the makings of just exposing personalities and athletes and I’ve worked with them my whole life, they are great individuals and great role models. But in order to do that to a wider audience, we have to look beyond the 72-hole traditional tournament.”

Pelly also suggested that beyond looking beyond the 72-hole tournament, as it were, fans will come to embrace a different format as a regular alternative to that form of competition. No word on exactly what that will be…GolfSixes, perhaps?

“We are all looking for something to engage and grow our audience. And if you catapult ahead, in five years, I do believe there will be another format that will be adopted that will be commonplace in the world stage.”

Catapult ahead, eh? It’s important to remember Pelley’s tour’s position, which is a distant second to the PGA Tour by every meaningful metric. While innovation is important, it’s also important to remember that calls for innovation are necessarily more beneficial to competitors than industry leaders, in a pure economic sense. Thus, Pelley’s remarks are always more about what he believes to be in the best interest of the European Tour, rather than the future of the professional game.

It would also be a mistake to create an identity between the issues facing the European Tour and the PGA Tour, as Pelley is always willing to do when he speaks generally about what “we” need to do.

Ear to the ground, we hear more complaints about PGA Tour TV coverage than objections to the 72-hole stroke-play format on this side of the pond. Not surprisingly, rumors persist that the PGA Tour is looking into its own network and new ways of presenting its product. This is in contrast to Pelley, who is looking to fundamentally change the product.

Do you think Pelley is on the mark, WRX members? Is he actually a visionary behind his blue spectacles, or merely playing the part?

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19th Hole

Are advanced stats overrated? Some GolfWRX members think so.

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On the instruction side of our fair game, we see plenty of impassioned exchanges between the anti-Trackman set and proponents of the swing radar technology.

A cousin to this debate is playing out in the GolfWRX forums right now: WRX member Golfer929 writes that he thinks advanced stats (strokes gained, proximity from certain distances, etc) are overrated.

He says

“Nobody needs to know that when Jordan Spieth eats a PB&J for lunch on a Thursday he has a 72% chance to break par. How in the world are these ridiculous stats like Strokes gained and distance from the flag from the right rough going to help somebody win a golf tournament. Obviously they can tell where they need work and I know I’m gaining strokes on people if I’m moving up the leaderboard.”

He goes further, taking his criticism to the golf course to the arena of other, well, arenas. Golfer929 calls advanced stats “the downfall of modern sports.”

Sean2 agrees with the central thesis.

“I used to keep track of everything. I discovered I was getting more hung up on statistics than anything else. I’ve since stopped and I am playing much better…As to the Tour, it is beginning to remind me of MLB. I don’t know if statistics are the “downfall”, but I do wonder how the likes of Hogan, Snead, or Jones, were able to play golf at all.”

The aptly named ThinkingPlus has a more philosophical take, suggesting the statistics themselves aren’t the problem.

“Use the information wisely and it will likely make you a better golfer.  Use the information unwisely and you may get distracted.  Not considering all the information available is foolish.”

There are plenty more hot takes in this thread. Check it out, and let us know if you think the focus on advanced stats has gone too far, or if this is all part of the evolution of the game and important information for players (and/or fans).

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