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The Wedge Guy: Has the game gotten too hard?

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Shortly after I started writing my blog as “The Wedge Guy” back in 2004, I created my “alter ego” so that I could occasionally pontificate on things that were outside my regular discussions that were focused on helping my readers hit better golf shots more often. Those “other” columns were penned under the pseudonym, “The Texas Wedge Hog: Rootin’ Out The Truth,” and I had fun sharing some opinions and observations and hearing from my readers.

So, in the spirit of The Texas Wedge Hog, I offer this observation for our discussion: I think the game has gotten too darn hard to be enjoyed as it should.

Let me begin by agreeing that golf is a hard enough game as it is. If you’ve ever seen Robin Williams routine on golf, it is side-splitting…but amazingly true. Think about it. We have this small white ball and a 4-1/4” hole somewhere a quarter mile or so away. We have these implements to strike the ball with, after we wrap that implement around behind us and attempt to deliver it back to the ball with accuracy and power, so that we can propel that ball toward the target. And we have this concept of “par” that allows us 3, 4, or 5 strokes to get from tee to hole at various ranges that average out to about a stroke for each 100 yards. But this concept of par allows that half of our strokes will be taken on the greens, after the long shots have gotten us there.

Please understand that my perspective on golf begins with an introduction to the game nearly as soon as I could walk (68 years ago next month). I began playing nine holes by myself or with my friends at the age of 6 or 7 years. I distinctly remember how the par-4 holes evolved from three 2-wood shots and a chip and putt (or two) and 54 was a good score. Then, I began to be able to reach some holes with two shots, and the goal became 45—then 40 as I gained enough strength to be able to achieve greens-in-regulation.

I grew up on a little 9-hole municipal course, and we were taught the game from the hole backwards. We were taught that way because of the relative difficulty of the game back then. Putting was the easiest skill to master, so we were taught that first. Greens rolled about 5-7 back then I suppose, but the Stimpmeter hadn’t been invented yet. Greens were relatively flat and simple.

Once we kind of had putting down, we progressed to learning chipping and pitching the ball, then short irons. Those skills evolved into middle iron play, and the long part of the game. In general, the closer you were to the hole, the easier the game got. Chipping was harder than putting, but easier than full iron shots. Mastering long irons and fairway woods was very difficult and driving not far behind with the old persimmon drivers.

My observation is that we (whoever “we” are) have flipped this upside down, and now the closer you get to the hole, the harder mastery becomes. With equipment and teaching technology, we can get a beginning golfer to efficient execution of the full shots pretty quickly. But there are simply no shortcuts to learning how to putt on and chip/pitch to today’s greens, which are firmer, faster and more undulating than those of the past.

As I understand it, the USGA adopted the Stimpmeter as a “standard” measurement of green speed back in the 1980s. So, they benchmarked green speeds on several hundred courses across the country and found those at Oakmont Country Club to be the fastest in the U.S— at something under 9! Augusta National wasn’t far behind, and those two have long earned the reputations for speed. But today you would be hard pressed to find any quality golf course with green speeds under 10 or 11, and many surpass 12 or 13. They get there by rolling the greens firmer, so they can cut them closer. Hybrid grass development is constant, so golfers can have as smooth a putting surface as possible. And this makes putting and greenside play more difficult than ever.

I personally do not believe this is good for golf. I love this game and all it has given me over this lifetime of playing and being fortunate enough to earn a living within it. But I don’t see juniors and beginners having much fun. And I don’t either when our course greens go dormant through the winter and greens that were designed in the 1980s for Stimp speeds of 8-9 now run off the chart. Many pin positions leave you looking for the windmill or clown’s mouth.

I do agree that the difficulty of golf is one of the appealing aspects of this game. But that difficulty should be mostly about making an airborne ball do what you want—not figuring out whether this 12 foot putt is going to break two feet or more—and wondering how the hell you are going to stop it close if you miss.

Next week: A radical idea for making the game inviting to beginners and juniors again.

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, SCOR, or his leadership of the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2014. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to slightly raise the CG and improve wedge performance. He has just announced the formation of Edison Golf Company and the new Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf, which can be seen at www.EdisonWedges.com. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Jim Berry

    Feb 6, 2020 at 8:49 am

    Golf has always been hard. One thing that I have noticed about the better players have in common is a short game. When I score well, the putting and chipping are working. Many of the people that I see struggling with chipping and pitching have only one shot with their wedges. I never see them around the chipping practice area trying different shots and lies. The touch part of the game, chipping and putting, takes practice and attention to get better. I am 71 now, and am scoring better than I ever have. I love a course that is in great condition, and am willing and eager to deal with the challenges.

  2. Bob Jones

    Feb 5, 2020 at 9:26 pm

    I play on a course occasionally that has very good greens most of the time. It is a tournament course, and the rest of the time they are in tournament condition. Then they are fast, but true, and I can’t believe how much better of a putter that makes me.

  3. Red Nelson

    Feb 5, 2020 at 6:53 pm

    Hi Terry,
    I’m going off-topic in order to reprimand you. Get off the fence, man. Only Jack Nicklaus, the ultimate White Bread, says “darn.” Man-up Texas-style and let your inner animal cut loose! Say “Damn, this game is hard.” I’m pretty sure no one will be offended. If they are, well, they can darn well fornicate themselves. Verdad, amigo?

  4. Rob

    Feb 5, 2020 at 12:57 pm

    I’ll take super fast and smooth greens over slower but bumpy greens all the time. I can adjust to speed, there’s no way to adjust to bumpy. I play 90% of my golf on public courses and whenever I get the opportunity to play a private course with fast greens I find myself making more putts.

  5. Mat

    Feb 5, 2020 at 4:02 am

    I would invite Americans to putt on “British” greens that are 8-9 on the Stimp. It is much more enjoyable.

    Every time I come back to the States and play, it’s just idiotic. The misses are so punishing, it’s clear that the game slows down from the putting. No wonder everyone takes a lot of time! It’s like putting on linoleum.

    No course should ever be over 10 unless the heat were to dry it out. No greenskeeper should ever want something higher than 10.0.

    Again, USGA is out of touch here. Just because you can make a 13 doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

  6. JThunder

    Feb 4, 2020 at 8:51 pm

    This article seems to posit that putting is ruining golf. Is Terry Koehler a pseudonym for Johnny Miller?

    yip yip yip

  7. Alex

    Feb 4, 2020 at 6:40 pm

    Stop playing boxes that overmatch you and equipment that doesn’t fit you. The ball goes so much straighter and longer than ever and is so much easier to control than years before. It’s also not a game you can just pick up and be scratch overnight no matter how much of an athlete you think you are. The attention span and ability to work towards a goal being next to nothing nowadays and wanting instant gratification is why people perceive golf as hard.

  8. Rick

    Feb 4, 2020 at 3:32 pm

    I’ve been playing for 40 years, the game was harder playing with blades, persimmon woods and no 60 degree wedge! The ball goes farther the club’s are easier to hit and I’m hitting it just as far as I did in my 20s. Golf is and always will be for the few who have perseverance! The desire to compete and enjoy what it gives you. You can’t keep trying to force people to adopt the idea that everybody is a right to be good! Stop the insanity!

  9. Shallowface

    Feb 4, 2020 at 2:59 pm

    “Many pin positions leave you looking for the windmill or clown’s mouth.”
    The USGA suggests that pins only be set in positions that are as flat as possible three feet around the cup. Most superintendents that I speak to about this are completely unaware of that suggestion.
    Augusta National has its reputation for fast undulating greens, but truth is when you watch The Masters putts of that length are rarely played outside the hole. They follow the USGA’s practice.
    I’ve been playing nearly 50 years, and I think the game is the easiest its ever been. 460cc Drivers. Balls that don’t spin and therefore fly straight. Hybrids. Wedges available in a myriad of grinds. Putters that are impossible to mishit.
    And that’s why people drop out. They know the above is true. And they can’t help but think that if a person can’t play with this equipment, there must be something wrong with them. Just the opposite effect one would think modern equipment would have.

  10. Rich Douglas

    Feb 4, 2020 at 1:40 pm

    I’m with Hogan: putting is boring and a completely different game. I’m tired of seeing the groups ahead of me slowing the pace while they 4-putt all day. (The fourth putt just scraped away from 6 feet after the first three.)

  11. Juststeve

    Feb 4, 2020 at 11:49 am

    I think the game is a lot easier than it was when I first started playing in the 1960’s. The modern ball goes further and straighter. Modern clubs are much easier to hit and vastly more forgiving of minor mistakes. Today’s greens are so smooth and true that you can actually expect the ball to go in if you get the line and speed correct. When I started playing even at elite clubs putts over 15 feet were basically crap shoots.

  12. DB

    Feb 4, 2020 at 10:44 am

    I agree that the greens make the game VERY difficult for beginners. I see them getting frustrated when they 3-4 putt every single green. And I’m not talking about fancy courses either, these are public courses that were designed decades ago and now the greens run 10-11 like you mentioned. Some of the slopes and tiers that might have been challenging decades ago are now brutally punishing if you misjudge.

  13. dat

    Feb 4, 2020 at 9:46 am

    Bomb & gouge is boring. Creative golf is basically dead.

    • Moosejaw McWilligher

      Feb 4, 2020 at 8:48 pm

      The vast majority of golfers cannot “bomb”, and cannot “gouge” anywhere near the green. The vast majority of golfers don’t have the skill to be *deliberately* “creative”, which is even harder than the first two things.

      For the 0.1% of golfers who compete for big money at the elite level, “boring” will earn them more money in the long run than “creative”.

  14. Ryan

    Feb 4, 2020 at 9:36 am

    I think the Wedge guy hit the nail on the head with this one. I coach HS golf at a very inner city school. Golf has gotton to hard. We now make courses for those who are really good and there just are not that many of those golfers out there. We need to get back to shorter golf courses with less challenges. This will speed up play as well as get more people out there.

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Opinion & Analysis

A road trip to St. Andrews

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In 2017, my son Brian and his wife Lauren, proposed a family trip to Scotland. Both of them have traveled a surprising amount for a couple barely 30 years old, but for us it would be a huge trip. We couldn’t get it scheduled for 2018 but everything lined up for October, 2019, a trip that might even include playing the Old Course in St. Andrews, if we got lucky. The amazing Lauren made all the arrangements, beginning with multiple email exchanges with the staff at the Old Course, who were extremely gracious and encouraging in their communications.

Unlike most other courses, in order to play the Old Course, you have three options: One is to book a very expensive trip through a travel broker who will guarantee a tee time. This is the only way to make your arrangements in advance, but you’re paying thousands for the package, which would include at least three other days of golf. Sounds great but above our budget. Secondly, you can take a real gamble and just show up at the starter’s window the day you are hoping to play, and get in line as early as 3 a.m., put your name on the list and then wait, maybe all day, maybe hopelessly. It’s no way to budget an entire day on your vacation. The third way is to use what is called the “ballot system,” submitting your request for a tee time via email to standrews.com, 48 hours ahead and hopefully getting a spot.

Now, it’s not as grim a prospect as it may sound for planning to play golf in St. Andrews. The above only applies to getting onto the Old Course. We were able to make a tee time for the Jubilee Course, one of six other courses (Jubilee, Castle, New Course, Eden, Strathtyrum, and Balgove), all part of the St. Andrews Links complex, “The Home of Golf” as their brochure proclaims. Since we were scheduling our trip for the tail-end of the golf season, the gentleman from St. Andrews wrote that he was cautiously optimistic we would be successful using the ballot system.

This wasn’t just a golfing vacation, the five us had an outstanding time touring the west coast of Scotland, including the Oban Whisky distillery, the Harry Potter train in Glencoe, Ben Nevis—the highest peak in the UK, Fort William, and the spectacular Highlands, the town of St. Andrews, and finally the marvelous city of Edinburgh. We ended up spending one night in St. Andrews, at The Saint, a lovely four-room hotel, a 10-minute walk from the Old Course. That evening, walking down cobblestone streets, with the R&A clubhouse coming into view, was like walking in a dream.

Our day started out by driving directly to the new Links Clubhouse, which has wonderful views of the courses from the restaurant. We had lunch, and I must admit to being a bit nervous over my chicken bacon mayo sandwich. We’d parked our bags in the locker room down below, it’s just what you’d expect in terms of world-class accommodations and feel. I could just imagine the pros suiting up there as they prepare to play in The Open.

Our day of golf at the Jubilee Course was spectacular, although it got off to a rainy start, but the weather cleared by the fourth hole. Mary, Jill, and Lauren formed our gallery as we teed off, then they went for a walk around the lovely town. I parred the first hole and told Brian that made my entire trip to Scotland. I was on fire, shooting 42 on the front nine but hitting only three fairways and two greens in regulation. Brian shot 45. We’d decided on match play, and I was up by three on the 11th hole. Brian then said the fateful words, “You haven’t hit into a pot bunker all day!” Which I promptly did. My game immediately tanked while he proceeded to make a total of nine pars, shooting 42 on the back, and won the match 2 & 1. Our gallery re-appeared on the 17th hole, the sun was shining, and we were in golf heaven! We ended the day with a pint at the famous Dunvegan Pub by the R&A clubhouse.

Earlier in the day, Brian had received an email from St. Andrews, unfortunately stating that we had not been selected for the ballot to play on the Old Course the next day. He resubmitted our request for the following day with fingers crossed. We headed to our next stop, Edinburgh, looking forward to exploring this ancient yet cosmopolitan city. During our walking tour, Brian received the email notification that we’d scored an 11 a.m. tee time on the Old Course for Friday. He and I would be making a road trip back north while the ladies spent the day in Edinburgh.

It was about an hour ride back to St. Andrews but traffic was quite manageable and we arrived at 9:30, plenty of time for breakfast at the Links Clubhouse. I felt that anticipatory excitement I always have right before marshaling at a big event, like a U.S. Open, where the atmosphere of the place is nearly overwhelming. Not really nervousness, but we were about to play the Old Course! Isn’t that every golfer’s dream? To say Brian was wound up tight would be an understatement, he could barely choke down half a scone. The walk over toward the starters shack, where we would meet our caddies, with the R&A clubhouse right there at the first tee was unreal.

The clerk was so gracious, taking our 130 Scottish pounds green fee (about $160), and handing us a very nice valuables pouch complete with an amazingly detailed yardage book, tees, pencils, divot tool, and scorecard. We were then approached by our two caddies, who between them had nearly 30 years of caddying experience. I got John, whose personality was perfect for me, quiet, calm, not too chatty, yet personable. Brian’s guy, Steve was just right for him as well, right from central casting with a thick Scottish brogue. He instantly bonded with Brian to become his playing partner/coach, which was just what he needed to get over the first tee jitters.

The starter, Richard, approached us as we made our way over to the first tee, greeting us much like you see them do at the start of the Open Championship. He made our presence there seem extra special, despite the fact he’d probably done the same routine 10 thousand times. He even took our picture. We were then introduced to our two other playing partners, both former members of the course, so they didn’t need caddies to show them the way. These guys were hilarious, self-deprecating, with brogues so thick I could understand maybe one word in three, not the best golfers by any stretch, which was somehow quite reassuring and certainly less intimidating. Brian proved to be the best golfer in our foursome by far although he had a rough start, hitting his drive into the Swilcan Burn.

I was really calm on the tee, it helped that there were very few spectators as it was drizzling and maybe 50 degrees. John told me where to aim, (“at that gorse bush off in the distance”) and I was able to do exactly that. As we walked off the first tee Steve said “now you can all breathe again!” I found having a caddy to be such a wonderful added dimension to this whole experience—not just as a guide to point out where in the world I should be aiming on this alien golf layout, but also to set an expectation for me on each shot which I then tried my best to fulfill. The greens weren’t too scary as I felt used to the speeds having played Jubilee, but having John read the subtle breaks and provide aiming points was terrific.

I played bogey golf through the first 12 holes but the rain only intensified and despite John’s best effort to keep things dry, the final 6 holes were a mess. Brian was one up on our match at the turn, then went on to win decisively at 5 up, with a total for the day of 5 pars and a birdie, including par on 17, the famous Road Hole. As the day went on, we found ourselves saying over and over to each other, what a wonderful experience this was despite the conditions. Steve took the traditional picture of us on the Swilcan Bridge, on our way to finishing on 18, which Brian almost parred. He later said he had such a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, having conquered the Old Course.

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TG2: Brooks and Peter Kostis rip Patrick Reed

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Brooks Koepka and Peter Kostis both talk about Patrick Reed and his cheating allegations. Brooks was on SiriusXM and Kostis on No Laying Up don’t hold back their feelings on cheating. Kostis also has some PGA Tour beef, saying that they don’t care about the television broadcast.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Watch for players lofting up at altitude at the WGC-Mexico Championship

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This week, at the PGA Tour’s WGC-Mexico Championship, we are going to watch some of the best and longest players on the planet play what will effectively be one of the shortest courses on tour.

Now, 7,341 yards is by no means a cakewalk, and there are shorter courses from a pure yardage perspective played on tour—Harbour Town, as an example, only plays at 7,099 yards from the very back. The difference is Harbour Town is played at sea level while Club de Golf Chapultepec is at over 7,500 feet of elevation, and when you factor in the altitude difference between the two courses, they play very differently—more on the math in a moment.

The altitude will also factor in how some players will be setting up their equipment and we could see some adjustments. The most obvious is lofting up the driver or fairways woods to increase carry, which is something Tiger Woods specifically mentioned last year.

The biggest misconception when talking about playing golf at altitude is that the ball doesn’t spin the same in thinner air and players “loft up” to maintain spin. Let’s get into the physics to bust this “spinning less” myth and simplify the science behind playing at altitude,

The golf ball is an inanimate object, and it has no idea it’s at altitude; the air will not have an impact on how much the ball will actually spin. Yes, increasing loft should, by almost every imaginable measure, increase spin but the air it travels through will not change the spin rate.

However, playing at altitude has an effect, Let’s break down what happens

  • Thinner air exerts less drag force (resistance/friction) on the ball. The ball moves more easily through this less dense air and won’t decelerate as quickly as it flies. But note that the faster an object moves the more drag force will occur
  • Less resistance also means that it is harder to shape shots. So you when you see Shot Tracer, the pros are going to be hitting it even straighter (this makes Tiger’s fairway bunker shot last year even more unbelievable)
  • Less force = less lift, the ball will fly lower and on a flatter trajectory

Time for some math from Steve Aoyama, a Principal Scientist at Titleist Golf Ball R&D (full piece here: The Effect of Altitude on Golf Ball Performance)

“You can calculate the distance gain you will experience (compared to sea level) by multiplying the elevation (in feet) by .00116. For example, if you’re playing in Reno, at 1 mile elevation (5,280 ft.) the increase is about 6% (5,280 x .00116 = 6.1248). If you normally drive the ball 250 yards at sea level, you will likely drive it 265 yards in Reno.”

Not every player will be making changes to their bag, and some will instead focus on the types of shots they are hitting instead. When speaking to Adam Scott earlier this week, I was able to ask if he planned on making any changes heading into Mexico the week after his win at the Genesis Invitational.

“It’s very rare for me to make club changes week-to-week beyond playing in the Open Championship and adding a longer iron. The one thing I focus on when playing at altitude is avoiding partial shots where I’m trying to reduce the spin because as spin goes down the ball doesn’t want to stay in the air. I’ve experienced partial shots with longer clubs that end up 25 yards short, and because of that I want to hit as many full shots as possible”

With Club de Golf Chapultepec sitting just over 7,800 feet above sea level, we’re looking at 9.048 or an increase of just over 9 percent. That makes this 7,341-yard course play 6,677 yards (+/- where the tees are placed).

 

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