It’s pouring outside at the moment. The real proverbial cats and dogs stuff that means it’s perfect blogging weather. Nothing else to do really but get stuck in, so why do I feel a bit like the weather?
It’s three days since I watched Bison – sorry, Bryson DeChambeau win the US Open at Winged Foot. Now, as you know, I absolutely love the majors but this one left me feeling a little depressed and anxious. Don’t get me wrong, there is much to admire about Bryson but in golfing terms I find I don’t feel energised about the game’s future or the path we seem to be inexorably following.
Over the last six decades there have been two dominant players in the men’s game – Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Jack arrived on the scene, winning his first major in 1962 and as my late brother-in-law, Dai Davies of The Guardian, wrote, “Jack hit the ball so hard he looked as if he might burst.” This was golf as we had never seen it before and all kids watching aspired to be Jack. I’m sure Tiger Woods was not the only youngster who had Jack’s record on his bedroom wall and went to sleep each night dreaming of winning as many majors as his idol.
And then came April 1997 and the Masters. I was there, courtesy of tickets from Patricia and Dai, and set out to walk the first round with the phenom (horrible word) that was Tiger Woods. He was all over the place on that front nine, going out in 40 and I thought to myself, “Just what is all the fuss about?” I sloped off to enjoy a mint julep and watch some of the European contingent. And, yep, Tiger blitzed the back nine, came in in 30 and was never seen again by the rest of the field. He won his first major by 12 shots with a scoring record that stands to this day.
His game was impressive. He had length, he could shape the ball both ways, he could vary his trajectory and his chipping and pitching skills, aided by a vivid imagination, were sublime. His craft on the greens was equally impressive. He had it all, so in retaliation “Tiger-proofing” of courses began, which principally meant adding length and, in most cases, narrowing the fairways in order to challenge accuracy. And that has basically been the trend ever since. Throw in growing the rough to cabbage-like proportions and you begin to get the picture as far as presentation of courses goes.
Is it REALLY a surprise then that this sort of examination should inexorably determine the path of development that players and, indeed, equipment should take? Tiger (with apologies to Gary Player) forged the path of golfers training as athletes and these athletes over the past couple of decades have been able to work out how best to tackle the courses they now face on a weekly basis. Aided by brilliant, cutting-edge research and development in the arena of clubs and balls the game has moved to a position where accuracy is no longer a valued currency.
Twelve months ago, with a committed, visionary team around him, Bryson DeChambeau decided on a strategy to a level never hitherto attempted by a professional golfer. He decided to bulk up to massive proportions and concentrate on creating speed, speed, speed in his golf swing. He trained to swing freely and full out every time, recognising through copious study of stats that accuracy was vastly over-rated compared to power. What he has done is groundbreaking. He’s trying to do something that hasn’t been done before. He has already forged a path of having all his iron club shafts the same length and now he is training more like the long-driving champions while attempting to retain those fine motor skills needed around the greens.As I said, there is much to admire about him, his work ethic, his single-mindedness, his commitment and the skills he has developed. But is this what we want golf to be like in the future? Frankly, the US Open was boring to watch. Nothing but smash it off the tee as hard as you could and then smash it again from the rough somewhere up around the green complexes. Granted Bryson’s putting and chipping were beautiful to set alongside his oh-so-impressive power but where were the demanding flighted long irons of Tiger’s day, the running shots, the high floaters, the left to righters, the right to lefters and even, whisper it, the occasional 3-wood second at a par five? There is an entire set of skills that is fast becoming obsolete and I think that’s what’s depressing me. There are huge numbers of vastly intelligent administrators in our sport and I can’t believe it is beyond them to carve out the best path for golf. Fear of possible legal proceedings from equipment companies is not a good enough excuse. NO excuse is good enough. Continue as we are and golf fans will continue to do what so many friends of mine did last Sunday – turn off their televisions and go and do something else.