Justin Thomas’ 59 may be a sign that golf has become too easy for the pros.
Justin Thomas is absolutely killing it this month. He won the SBS Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in back-to-back weeks. As a result, Thomas has walked away with nearly $2.3 million in prize money. But, beyond the fame, fortune, and new car, Thomas’ golf game recently has been nothing short of legendary. The seven year veteran did not win his first tournament until last year, and now has set the scoring record for 72 holes shooting a combined 27-under.
The professionals may make the game look easy or even effortless at times, but we know all too well how mentally arduous the game can be. One need only reference Jordan Spieth’s collapse at last year’s Masters.
Now imagine my chagrin after reading an article from 2005 in which Jack Nicklaus vehemently proclaims that “golf is too easy.” Sure the professionals may have a tad more skill than the average Joe, but the unpredictability of golf is what makes it so challenging, even for the pros.
But Jack makes some compelling points:
“…golf has become a pure power game. You don’t have to hit it straight any more, just hit it as far as you can. The farther you hit it, the more money you make, the more events you win. Maybe this week will wake the R&A up. The golf ball today is way out of bounds, way out of bounds.”
Has technological advancement in equipment made golf easier for the pros?
“St Andrews has stood the test of time —150 years of tournament golf. But all of a sudden, because of a manufacturer’s ego, we now have a golf ball that goes so far it makes the course obsolete. But it’s not just St Andrews. It’s every golf course. We have designed courses that are already obsolete by the time they have opened because of the changes to the golf ball. We used to place bunkers at 245-50 yards from the tee. Now we have to put them anywhere between 290 to 310 yards.” (mirror.co.uk)
Barring a mental meltdown, has the game of golf become too easy due to innovations in technology? PGA Tour’s Shotlink system calculated a predictable increase in driving distance through the decades due to better clubs and balls.
In response to an increase in yardage, golf architects have placed a priority on constructing longer and more challenging courses. Lee Trevino, a 29-time champion on the PGA Tour, had his own thoughts on the state of newly constructed golf courses.
“We build these courses that are supposedly going to challenge the pros. Well, wait a minute; we build hundreds and hundreds of golf courses in this country that most people can’t play. They take too long to play because they’re too difficult. And also it costs too much for maintenance. And that, in return, sends the dues (and green fees) up and people are dropping out. We’re in a lot of trouble right now.” (golfchannel.com)
And when Gary Player was asked to weigh in on of the newly constructed Chambers Bay Golf Course, home of the 2015 U.S. Open, had these words: (see 1:02).
Even in the mid-1990s, golf’s heaviest hitters were only driving the ball around 280 yards. The website todaysgolfer.com notes two significant changes to the game that happened in the late 90s. First, persimmon (wooden) clubs had completely disappeared from the game by 1997. Second, Titleist launched its Pro V1 golf ball in 2000. The game-changing ball was so effective, average driving distance shot up six yards in its first season.
The most popular ball on tour played a major role in boosting driving distance.
And here’s another glaring statistic; shooting a 59 used to be the gold standard of excellence in golf. Before 2014, the legendary score had only been recorded seven times on tour. Last season, Jim Furyk, already a member of the 59 and under club, shot a 58, and Justin Thomas shot a 59 at the Sony Open on Thursday. And, Kevin Kisner shot a 60 in the Saturday round!
Unless you’re one of the select few people on this planet who can call themselves professional golfers, golf is likely a tedious hobby. But for those few who consider shooting 74 a bad day at the office, the game needs a change. Golf has shown a willingness to keep scores from getting out of control. Effective in 2016, the PGA Tour banned belly putters for their perceived advantage over normal putters.
Professional golf clearly needs to combat hi-tech drivers and ultra light golf balls. Whether that means placing stipulations on what clubs a golfer can use, or demanding heavier golf balls, change is mere speculation at the moment. But it may not be too long before this becomes the norm.
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