The new golf year on the PGA Tour is upon us. There are several reasons to enjoy this time of year. Imprisoned by the icy winter in Michigan compounded by Covid, it’s hard not to be enthralled by the images of Hawaii in all of its sun-soaked glory. Oh to be there among the sandy beaches and those magnificent breaching whales!
No doubt the calibre of golf is high as witnessed by the record-breaking sub-par performances last weekend at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. I mean, three players broke the PGA Tour’s scoring record of -31 under par. Australian Cameron Smith led the way with a -34 total, putting together amazing rounds of 65-64-64-65. He’s now climbed to the 10th spot in world player rankings. (Two years ago I bet on Smith at 200-1 odds to win the Masters. Alas, he finished second.)
I’ve played the Plantation course at Kapalua on Maui and found it anything but a pushover. The greens were confounding. I played with a member from Vancouver and hit 6 or more greens than he did but he still beat me by ten shots. He knew the greens and their grain, always deciphering if a putt was slow or fast. I had no clue and three-putts cluttered my scorecard.
After he won on Sunday, Smith said the greens reminded him of the ones in his native Australia: “The greens being quite slow and grainy. Yeah, it’s awesome, I love it here.”
I always thought Johnny Miller was onto something when he said if you want to lower the scores on the Tour just slow down the greens. Forget that, I guess.
Justin Thomas was asked about the low scores at Kapalua and shared some insights. “It’s so low because it’s so soft and if you give us soft conditions, fairways this big, a course this short, we’re going to shoot nothing,” said Thomas. (Apparently, a 7,600 yard course is short these days.) Furthermore, the weather was perfect with nary any wind.
What wasn’t mentioned was the fact “lift, clean and place” was enacted for the first two rounds due to soggy conditions. The PGA Tour and its players don’t want ‘mud balls” to spoil the mood or the television. The PGA Tour is about making birdies to enhance the entertainment pleasure of its fans and sponsors.
Canada’s Loren Rubenstein, award-winning golf writer/author and colleague, told me recently over coffee that he doesn’t watch PGA Tour golf much these days. He finds it somewhat monotonous, lacking the necessary ingredients of challenge and skill, lessened now by the advances in equipment and the golf ball.
Watching golf this weekend, I tend to agree with him. It all looked so easy and effortless to make a ton of birdies. I’d like to see more of a premium placed on driving accuracy and hitting greens in regulation. And like many golf fans, I love to see the players deal with the elements. That’s one of the underlying appeals of the Open Championship.
Okay, this is a roundabout way to say I’m hoping for thirty-mile-an-hour winds for this weekend’s Sony Open at Waialae Country Club. If not, I’ll still be watching.
Images courtesy of the PGA Tour and Golf Canada