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A few thoughts on spectator-less golf tournaments

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I hate to admit it, but I have to be honest. Golf is not a great sport to watch live.

I’m glad I got that off my chest.

The PGA Tour, and other professional tours do the absolute best they can. But here’s the difficulty

  • The players are really spread out. Unless you are a “find a spot and park” kinda fan, trying to watch your favorite player for 18 holes can be tough. It’s a LOT of walking, especially when you consider all of the stopping and crossing back and forth you have to do. They get to walk down the fairways, you do not. Unlike when you show up to an arena with a ticket and know exactly where the action is happening, you can’t get that in golf unless you are around the 18th on Sunday. For casual observers, it’s often hard to “get into the action.”
  • It can be hard to find a place to actually see shots. Unless it’s a TPC, or a course designed with events in mind with stadium mounding, you don’t usually see much—this is why so many people employ the lets park here mentality…but do you really want to watch approach shots all day?
  • It’s often a full-day commitment. When you go to almost any other sporting event, you at least know there is going to be a time limit set for the game (let’s excluded baseball with this one). Golf doesn’t have that, and when you consider being out in the elements all day vs. inside an air-conditioned stadium arena, it once again can make it tough for a lot of fans.

This doesn’t mean I don’t love going to tour events, I actually LOVE it, and obviously, so do a lot of other people, but I have a very different approach than a lot of fans. I generally hit the range and practice area and watch pros go through their routines—its endlessly fascinating, and you never get to see that stuff on TV. I like to follow lesser-known players on the course, which means I actually do get to see a lot of shots since it’s not crowded—not to sound like a golf hipster, but following a marquee group is just not my style. Plus, since I, like many of you reading this, am a golf nut, it means I get to hang out with a bunch of like-minded people on a golf course? What could be better than that?

But the initial question still remains, what if there were no fans on the course for tour event? We got to see some of that this past Thursday at Liberty National when, because of weather, fans were delayed and the pros went out without them. It was quite the sight to see, no roars, no “get in the holes” just golfers on a course. It was like we got to peek inside what it would really be like to just watch these golfers play—or how you experience it every time you tee it up. I know I have never had 200 people watching me miss a fairway in long rough, only to have it found in 30 seconds thanks to a search party. Most golfers will never play with a forecaddie, but as pros, they have essentially hundreds of people to help.

By the way, if you have ever wondered what it would be like to watch pros play with no (or at least very few fans) check out a Monday qualifier, or a U.S. Open Sectional—very skilled golfers, up close, with no ropes. It’s a vastly different vibe than what you would see lining the fairways of a tour event. It’s just golfers trying to post their best scores which for serious golf nutters can be a real thrill.

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Ryan Barath is part of the Digital Content Creation Team for GolfWRX. He hosts the "On Spec" Podcast on the GolfWRX Radio Network which focuses on discussing everything golf, including gear, technology, fitting, and course architecture. He is a club-fitter & master club builder with more than 17 years of experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour players. He is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf. He now works independently from his home shop and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, and share his passion for club building, course architecture and wedge grinding.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Mike

    Aug 11, 2019 at 9:59 am

    Couldn’t agree more. I’ve had everything from a VIP Major ticket to a standard day pass. I think of ‘live’ golf the way I do gong to the ballpark…go w/ friends, eat, drink, shoot the BS & watch when something exciting is going on. Otherwise, you’re going to stand in the hot sun to watch 2 guys each hit a shot. Then, you’ll wait 12 more minutes for the next 2 guys to do the same thing. That w/b the same pattern for the next 6 hours. I record every golf event (to avoid the endless commercials) except for the Majors (where there are far fewer commercials). Much more enjoyable in the comfort of my home!

    I can give kudos the the LPGA, they really encourage much more fan contact at their events.

  2. Caroline

    Aug 9, 2019 at 11:29 pm

    For anyone into how the pro’s do it this is the only way to really see it done right…just last year I was on a short 390 yard par four and 3,4, irons were hit off the tee a lot maybe 85% after 3 days of watching the pros hit that 240, 260 yard iron shot I came away with one thing for sure “What fore ward shaft lean?

  3. Speedy

    Aug 9, 2019 at 8:38 pm

    Relax, enjoy the tournament. Follow who you like, when you like. Meet people. Enjoy life. Don’t worry about missing golf shots.

  4. TR1PTIK

    Aug 9, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    Went to the 2018 PGA Championship in St. Louis. I don’t think I’ll ever go watch a tournament live again unless I’m fortunate enough to go to the Masters. Like you said, it requires a lot walking and hiking and potentially missing out on some spectacular golf (if you choose to follow a dud for instance). Parking it in one spot is also a poor choice IMO because as you also mentioned, who wants to see the same shot over and over? Golf is much more enjoyable when played or when watching on TV – where you can see a variety of shots from a variety of players while sitting at home.

  5. Acemandrake

    Aug 9, 2019 at 11:52 am

    Follow the first group of the day.

    You’ll beat the crowds, see the entire course, watch good players manage their rounds and be out of there by noon.

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The 19th Hole Episode 141: The (golf) show must go on!

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Host Michael Williams has breaking news on The PGA Merchandise Show going virtual in 2021 from Marc Simon of PGA Golf Exhibitions. Also features John Buboltz with the latest putters and irons from Argolf.

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Barney Adams: Ball rollback isn’t the right move to combat “The Golfer of Tomorrow”

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The announcing crew at the 2020 U.S. Open seemed obsessed with “the bombers”—players who drove the ball extreme distances with little regard for the occasional tee shot into the rough. TV has selected Bryson DeChambeau as their representative, given his length and victory.

I thought I’d wait a bit to see what the industry sources had to say. I can’t say it’s unanimous, because I haven’t seen everything, but the theme is: “Get Ready for The Golfer of Tomorrow”

  • 350-yard carry
  • Clubhead speed which tears through the rough allowing the ball to launch high and carry to the green
  • The ‘new’ instructor who teaches distance be it ground up or whatever new method is used
  • Gym sessions producing athletes who look more like football players
  • And last, a whole new shelf of steroids for golf

At the same time the USGA and its organizational allies are planning meetings focusing on not if the ball will be rolled back, but when—clearly, influenced by visual evidence from a great Winged Foot course in our national championship.

Let’s look deeper!

A hypothetical: go back a few months. You are on the planning committee for the U.S. Open to be held at Winged Foot, one of America’s great venues. This year because of COVID-19 there will be no galleries, something never experienced at a USGA major golf event. I repeat, your committee is planning for the U.S. Open. That implies “Open Rough” a term that is significant on its own. You don’t play from Open Rough, you escape…maybe.

The nature of Open Rough is a thick chunky base with long tendrils reaching skyward. These make it very difficult to find your ball in the best of circumstances and when attempting to advance these tendrils wrap themselves around your hosel closing the face, sending your ball deeper into hostile territory. That’s if you can even find it, Open rough has “disappeared” many balls over the years and done so within full view of gallery spectators aiding course marshals. The rule of thumb for competitors has always been to find the most reasonable patch of fairway and get out.

But this is the year of COVID-19. No galleries. Marshals, but relatively few because of no galleries. Now, considering that normal U.S. Open rough will produce many searches where marshals are important, the shortage of them will cause endless searches—which don’t make for great TV viewing. So, a decision is made, cut the rough down so shots can be found. Still in the rough but sitting on the chunky base and very often can be played. A tough call for the purist but an objective economic evaluation leaves no choice.

The announcers regale us with astonishing distances and swing speeds that allow escape from Open Rough that used to be impossible! The golf publications jump on this theme and predict that the Golfer of Tomorrow will be “DeChambeau-like” not sweet swingers but physical hulks rewriting the book on distance strongly influenced by no fear of the rough.

My point here is those publications and instructors, jumping on the “longer and slightly crooked is better” bandwagon have added 2+2 and gotten 5 when using the 2020 U.S. Open as a premise.

DeChambeau is a great and powerful player, however, I don’t think he’s known for his putting. Now I may have dozed off but I don’t remember him being widely praised for his putting. He should have been, it was terrific, probably influenced his score! He is our National Champion, an unsurpassable honor. But his style has me betting that the USGA is working on dates to discuss changing the golf ball, as in making it shorter.

I’m 100% against such a move. Golf is a game where amateurs can go to the same course play the same clubs and given a huge difference in skill achieve some measure of affiliation with the pros. A birdie is a birdie, not a long or short ball birdie. From a business perspective, the overwhelming majority of those golfers financially supporting golf are over 50. And we want them to hit it shorter?

Well, Mr. Adams what would you do? I know zero about golf ball manufacturing, but keeping the distance the same I’d change the dimples to increase curvature—just enough so it doesn’t affect slower swings that much but very high swing speeds so it’s in the player’s head

More thoughts. As an admitted TV viewer, get rid of those yardage books. Fine for practice rounds but when the bell rings it should be player and caddie, not an “on green” conference. What’s next, a staff meeting?

I’ll conclude with a note to the PGA Tour and, importantly, an admonition. To the PGA Tour: The minute a tee goes into the ground on #1 every player is on the clock. Stroke penalties, not fines, will get their attention.

To the rest of the golfing world: Let’s not blindly pursue the Golfer of Tomorrow concept without considerably deeper study.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Lessons from your glove

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Almost all golfers wear a glove, but most don’t realize that a close inspection of your glove can tell you a lot about your golf swing and your equipment. It’s like your own little barometer of some things that could be going on that can negatively affect your performance.

One of the simplest things to look at is how quickly your new white glove begins to turn black . . . even if you are using grips on your clubs that are some other color. That’s because the moist and tacky glove picks up dirt and grime from your grips. Yes, they get dirty down in the bottom of your golf bag, and grips need to be cleaned regularly. The best way to do that is with a soft bristle brush and a dry, mildly abrasive cleanser like Ajax, Comet, etc. It’s a good way to invest about a half hour in your equipment on a regular basis.

Just rinse each grip with warm water, sprinkle the cleaner on it, and brush away. The white foam will quickly darken as dirt is removed from the grip and then you can just rinse thoroughly. Be sure to rub the grip with your hands while rinsing so that you can feel when there is no more soap residue – you do NOT want to leave any soap on the grip. When you are finished, your grips will feel like new.

Another great reveal from your glove is the soundness of your left hand hold on the club. The vast majority of golfers wear out their gloves in the heel of the hand, many of you much more quickly than you should. That’s because almost all golfers allow the club to move in their left hand during the swing. There are two reasons for this movement, which, by the way, is a power killer and accuracy thief.

The first problem is that most golfers hold the club too much in their palm, so that the club is across this heel pad – rather than under it – from the start. That kind of hold on the club prevents you from having the left-hand control good golf requires. [NOTE: This is actually aggravated by the fact that the largest part of the golf club grip is being held by the shortest pinky finger. Why that has never changed is beyond me.]

If you will grip down on every club even an inch, you will find that it is easier to hold the club firmly in the fingers of the left hand, and that will improve your distance and performance dramatically. Don’t worry about “shortening” the golf club as you try this, but I knew a very good player once who purchased all his clubs an inch longer than standard, so that he could grip down on them by that same amount to get a better hold on the club . . . pretty smart idea, actually.

The other reason golfers wear out their gloves in the heel pad area is that they are allowing their wrists to “hinge” in the downswing, rather than rotate through impact. The angle between the golf club and your left forearm should remain relatively constant from address to top of backswing back to impact. Yes, there is a little hinging, but it must be minimized to allow a proper rotational release through the impact zone.

If you do that incorrectly, you will lose much of your stored-up power. But if you do it right, the golf swing becomes much more efficient . . . and your gloves last a lot longer.

Another wear pattern I see often is a wearing of the glove at the first segment of the forefinger. This also indicates “looseness” at the top, which allows the club to “hinge” at that point. Again, a firm hold with the left hand throughout the swing is paramount to repeated solid contact.

So, take a close look at your gloves and see what you can learn. My bet is that it will be a bit eye-opening for you.

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