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 [email protected].
The Wedge Guy: What you CAN learn from tour pros
I have frequently noted how the game the PGA Tour players play is, in most ways, a whole different game than we “mere mortal” recreational golfers play. They hit their drivers miles it seems. Their short games are borderline miraculous. And they get to play from perfect bunkers and putt on perfect greens every single week. And it lets them beat most courses into submission with scores of 20-plus under par.
The rest of us do not have their strength, of course, nor do we have the time to develop short game skills even close to theirs. And our greens are not the perfect surfaces they enjoy, nor do we have caddies, green-reading books, etc. So, we battle mightily to shoot our best scores, whether that be in the 70s, 90s, or higher.
There is no question that most PGA Tour players are high-level athletes, who train daily for both body strength and flexibility, as well as the specific skills to make a golf ball do what they intend it to. But even with all that, it is amazing how bad they can hit it sometimes and how mediocre (for them) the majority of their shots really are — or at least they were this week.
Watching the Wells Fargo event this weekend, you could really see how their games are – relatively speaking – very much like ours on a week-to-week basis.
What really stood out for me as I watched some of this event was so few shots that were awe-inspiring and so many that were really terrible. Rory even put his win in jeopardy with a horrible drive on the 18th, but a very smart decision and a functional recovery saved him. (The advantage of being able to muscle an 8-iron 195 yards out of deep rough and a tough lie is not to be slighted).
Of course, every one of these guys knocks the flag down with approach shots occasionally, if not frequently, but on a longer and tougher golf course, relative mediocrity was good enough to win.
If we can set these guys’ power differences aside, I think we all can learn from watching and seeing that even these players hit “big uglies” with amazing frequency. And that the “meat” of their tee-to-green games is keeping it in play when they face the occasional really tough golf course like Quail Hollow. Do you realize less than 20 of the best players in the world beat par for those 72 holes?
It has long been said that golf is a game of misses, and the player who “misses best” is likely to be “in the hunt” more often than not, and will win his or her share. That old idiom is as true for those of us trying to break 100 or 90 or 80 as it is for the guys trying to win on the PGA Tour each week.
Our “big numbers” happen for the same reasons as theirs do – a simply terrible shot or two at the wrong time. But because we do not have anywhere near their short game and recovery skills, we just do not “get away with” our big misses as frequently as they do.
So, what can you take away from that observation? I suggest this.
Play within your own reliable strength profile and skill set. Play for your average or typical shot, not your very best, whether that is a drive, approach shot, or short game recovery. And don’t expect a great shot to follow a bad one.
If, no, when you hit the “big miss,” accept that this hole can get away from you and turn into a double or worse, regroup, and stop the bleeding, so you can go on to the next hole.
We can be pretty darn sure Rory McIlroy was not thinking bogey on the 18th tee but changed his objective on the hole once he saw the lie his poor drive had found. It only took a bogey to secure his win, so that became a very acceptable outcome.
There’s a lesson for all of us in that.
Ways to Win: Horses for Courses – Rory McIlroy rides the Rors to another Quail Hollow win
Tell me if you’ve heard this before: Rory McIlroy wins at Quail Hollow. The new father broke his winless streak at a familiar course on Mother’s Day. McIlroy has been pretty vocal about how he is able to feed off the crowd and plays his best golf with an audience. Last week provided a familiar setting in a venue he has won twice before and a strong crowd, giving McIlroy just what he needed to break through and win again. A phenomenal feat given that, not long ago, he seemed completely lost, chasing distance based on Bryson DeChambeau’s unorthodox-but-effective progress. McIlroy is typically a player who separates himself from the field as a premier driver of the golf ball, however this week it was his consistency across all areas that won the tournament.
Using the Strokes Gained Stacked view from V1 Game shows that Rory actually gained the most strokes for the week in putting. Not typically known as a phenomenal putter, something about those Quail Hollow greens speaks to McIlroy where he finished the week third in strokes gained: putting (red above). He also hit his irons fairly well, gaining more than 3.6 strokes for the week on a typical PGA Tour field. Probably the most surprising category for McIlroy was actually driving, where he gained just 1.3 strokes for the week and finished 18th in the field. While McIlroy is typically more accurate with the driver, in this case, he sprayed the ball. Strokes gained: driving takes into account distance, accuracy, and the lie into which you hit the ball. McIlroy’s driving distance was still elite, finishing second in the field and averaging more than 325 yards as measured . However, when he missed, he missed in bad spots. McIlroy drove into recovery situations multiple times, causing lay-ups and punch-outs. He also drove into several bunkers causing difficult mid-range bunker shots. So, while driving distance is a quick way to add strokes gained, you have to avoid poor lies to take advantage and, unfortunately, McIlroy hurt himself there. This was particularly apparent on the 72nd hole where he pull-hooked a 3-wood into the hazard and almost cost himself the tournament.
It’s rare that a player wins a tour event without a truly standout category, but McIlroy won this week by being proficient in each category with a consistent performance. From a strokes gained perspective, he leaned on his putting, but even then, he had four three-putts on the week and left some room for improvement. He gained strokes from most distances but struggled on the long ones and from 16-20 feet. Overall, we saw good progress for McIlroy to putt as well as he did on the week.
McIlroy also had a good week with his irons, routinely giving himself opportunities to convert birdies where he tied for seventh-most in the field. When he did miss with his irons, he tended to miss short from most distances. His proximity to the hole was quite good, averaging below 30 feet from most distance buckets. That is surely a recipe to win.
When you add it all up, McIlroy showed little weakness last week. He was proficient in each category and relied on solid decision-making and routine pars while others made mistakes on the weekend. Sometimes, there is no need to be flashy, even for the best in the world. It was good to see McIlroy rejoin the winner’s circle and hopefully pull himself out from what has been a bit of a slump. Golf is better when McIlroy is winning.
If you want to build a consistent game like Rors, V1 Game can help you understand your weaknesses and get started on a journey to better golf. Download in the app store for free today.
Club Junkie: Fujikura MC Putter shaft review and cheap Amazon grips!
Fujikura’s new MC Putter shafts are PACKED with technology that you wouldn’t expect in a putter shaft. Graphite, metal, and rubber are fused together for an extremely consistent and great feeling putter shaft. Three models to fit any putter stroke out there!
Grips are in short supply right now, and there are some very cheap options on Amazon. I bought some with Prime delivery, and they aren’t as good as you would think.
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When Bryson lit up the Masters as an amateur (Masters 2016 WITB)
Equipment rewind: A deep dive into the Cleveland HiBore driver legacy
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Driver: PXG 0811 X+ Proto (10.5 degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana TB 60 X 3-wood: PXG 0341 X Gen4 Irons: PXG...
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