I am dead certain that none of the old men who run golf could have broken 100 on the tricked up Merion course that the world’s best golfers were obliged to play over the weekend. They presented competitors in the US Open with an impossible task.
Take that par-four 18th hole, for example. I’m sure Ben Hogan could not have hit a 1-iron stiff to the pin on that hole the way it was set up in this year’s Open (Hogan’s photo above).
I can’t find its exact length back in 1950, but I’ll bet the 18th hole that Hogan parred to get into a playoff that he won the next day was not the 511-yard monster it was on Sunday. Limping and staggering from the after-effects of a collision with a Greyhound bus 16 months earlier, Hogan could never have reached that green with two shots as Justin Rose did to win the tournament.
Probably impressed by the marketing malarkey that golf equipment manufacturers inflict on us, USGA officials added more than 300 yards to the course that Hogan played. They argued that with today’s clubs and balls, the original course just wasn’t long enough. I don’t know about you, but I can hit the ball – any old ball from the bulging cartons in my garage – with one of my clubs from a generation ago with about the same result as I get with the expensive new equipment.
Yes, today’s pros hit the ball much farther than they did in 1950. But I contend that much of this yardage is due to their increased size, improved athleticism and refined technique. With video cameras and physics gurus to guide them, they have just about perfected the golf swing. So we should penalize them for that?
Even accepting the argument that golfers today enjoy some kind of scientific advantage from rearranged ball dimples, lighter shafts and livelier club faces, I am not sure it necessarily takes strokes off their scorecards. The longer a ball flies, the greater dispersion you get. If your club face is 2 degrees off line and you hit a 250-yard drive, you could be in a lot less trouble than if you hit a 350-yard drive. The farther an errant ball flies, the more astray it goes.
Even if the pros kept their booming drives laser straight, the fairway was extraordinarily elusive during this year’s Open. Merion’s fairways are scarily narrow to begin with, and the USGA officials had them mowed so they wound back and forth like the Mississippi. Hitting a straight ball was often a sure way to find the rough.
So it was exceptionally vindictive for them to reinforce the rough with special grasses and feed it with fertilizer until it was almost impossible to hit out of.
And tournament officials didn’t stop there. Citing the threat of flooding as their excuse, they placed the holes on bumps and slopes so that even dead-eye putters like Luke Donald and Brandt Snedeker were stumped. (Not to mention poor Tiger!)
Time after time, Phil Mickelson’s ball would find the hole on those weird greens, only to lip out. Putting at Merion during the Open was like playing pinball.
The USGA officials even angled some fairways to point the golfers out of bounds from the tee.
When was the last time you saw Steve Stricker hit a drive out of bounds? When was the last time you saw Sergio Garcia make a 10 on a hole? Or reigning Masters champion, Adam Scott, come in 14 strokes over par?
What do you make of Tiger’s 13 over?
It’s completely legitimate to set up the course as a challenging test of golf. It is not fair to trick it up so that luck counts more than skill.
Justin Rose met the challenge – sort of. He just missed shooting par. But his performance was the best of the worst, not the stuff of legend. And that’s disappointing to fans like me.
The way I see it, the old grumps that control the game of golf – the fossils in the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and the US Golf Association – are doing their best to drive away its fans. They come up with the silliest rules and as soon as anyone finds a better way to play, they do their best to ban it. Why should anyone care how a golfer putts as long as the ball goes in the hole, for example? But the codgers have decided to outlaw “anchoring” the putter against any part of your body.
And they do their best to embarrass the world’s best golfers whenever they get the chance.
Can you imagine how fans would react if officials added lumps and bumps to the basketball court’s surface because today’s players are too good? Or if they lengthened the football field and narrowed the space between the goal posts to make the game more challenging?
We golf fans should demand better. We watch tournaments to marvel at the skill of the participants , not to see them humiliated.