In her early days as a professional, Mann toured the country with Patty Berg, giving on-course clinics. I attended one that was held on the 10th fairway of the Eastmoreland Golf Course in Portland, Oregon, in roughly 1961. It is a fond golf memory.
After the USGA saved golf from the sacrilege of anchored putting, it is now fixing its sights on how far world-class athletes are hitting the ball. It’s time I weighed in. Everyone else has…
Everybody has stories about how much father the ball goes now. There’s a 427-yard par 4 that when I played it in high school in the late 60s I would hit a driver and a 3-wood and still be short. Now I get on with a driver and a hybrid iron.
On the GolfWRX forum a guy commented that thirty years ago he was a mini-tour player and a long hitter, but now in his 50s he hits the ball even farther.
Sounds like it’s all ball. But here’s more to it than that.
In those earlier days we played with a balata ball, that spun like crazy. That was great around the green, but off the tee, you don’t know what a banana slice is until you’ve seen a slice with one of those.
The woods, not so much the irons, were much smaller. You had to hit the driver dead center to get anything out of the shot. Off-center hits were not forgiven.
That meant the game was more about control than about power. Our swing was more about controlling the club than letting it rip. So naturally we didn’t hit the ball as far. And I’m sure the balata balls weren’t designed to go as far, either.
What that adds up to is the ball has evolved. Changing the cover of the ball from balata to surlyn, changing the innards from wound rubber to a solid composition, those changes are as natural as going from the feathery to gutta-percha.
And, yes, there’s the addition of big, hollow-bodied drivers in place of tiny laminated maple drivers. They contribute to longer tee shots, too, especially on off-center hits.
With the evolution of the ball comes the evolution of the game. It’s a power game now, certainly on professional tours, and to lesser but still noticeable extent in the recreational game. There’s no going back, and there’s no need to.
There seem to be three problems with distance floating in the air. The first is that golf has become a drive and wedge game. Yes, it has, but mainly on the professional tours. That will never be a problem for me, even if I move up to the forward tees.
The second problem is that old courses are becoming obsolete. Merion (East) had to be tricked up beyond belief to make it a challenging venue for the U.S. Open in 2013. The Old Course at St. Andrews is perhaps two more Opens away from having to retire from the Open rotation. Augusta had to buy land from an adjoining course to lengthen the 13th hole, a formerly formidable hole that is now one of the easiest.
The third problem isn’t getting much attention from the powers that saved the game by banning anchored putting. If distance is a problem, it’s a problem only for the people who run professional tours. It’s not a problem at all for the 25M recreational golfers who will be tested the their limit at Merion or the Old Course or on the 13th at Augusta.
I still use all my irons, not to mention long hybrids, to hit into the collection of par 4s on any course I play. If the powers that be want to return the professional game to that state, either build longer golf courses, or don’t, and just get used to the new game.
There has to be a balance achieved between what the best players can do and the courses on which they display those skills. Right now, the players have jumped ahead, maybe too far ahead. It’s time for the courses to catch up.
This is a lot like the delicate competition between predator and prey in nature. There is a fine balance. If the predator is too fast, then all the prey will get eaten and the predator will die out, too. If the prey is too fast, the predator will starve, and so will the prey when it over-consumes its food source.
Distance is here to stay. Either we accept it and adapt, or start doing stupid things. And the powers that be have demonstrated clear talent for the latter.
I’ll finish with this quote from Judy Rankin in her My Turn interview:
“The debate about drivers hitting the ball too far doesn’t apply to women at all. In fact, it doesn’t apply to most men. Let’s say there are 25 million golfers in America and 25 million elsewhere in the world. Of the 50 million golfers on the planet, excessive distance is an issue for maybe a thousand of them.”
The golf swing should be as simple as possible, but no simpler (Albert Einstein?)
When your swing goes south during a round, re-group. Play the next hole with your 8-iron. 8-iron off the tee, 8-iron down the fairway, then a lesser club to get you on the green, where two putts will get you a bogey. On the next hole after that, go back to your usual game and swing whatever club you use just like you swung the 8-irons.
Close to breaking 100, or 90, or 80, but just can’t shed those one or two strokes? Play a round from the forward tees once, and break through. Now that you’ve done it, the monkey is off your back, and you can return to your regular tees and enjoy golf again.
Anything you want to do with a golf ball, hit it straight, far, curve it, spin it, high, low, anything, starts with hitting it on the center of the clubface. That, is golf’s fundamental skill.
Ben Hogan said that in the forward swing, you can’t turn your hips too fast. That is good advice as long as you do not swing out from under yourself. The hips turn, but they must carry the torso with them and not leave it behind.
Try playing a round in which every shot into the green, from no matter from how far away, ends up past the flagstick, and see what that gets you. If you think a 6-iron will do, take a 5, grip down an inch and swing away. If you’re chipping, make sure the ball stops past the hole, not short of it. You score by getting the ball up to the hole, not by sneaking up on the hole.
I really like 2s. When you put a 2 on your scorecard, everyone knows exactly what happened. A 3 could be several things, so could a 4, and a 5 could be a double bogey. But a 2 means only one thing. I like 2s a whole lot.
It is true that the less tension you have in your swing the faster the clubhead can go. At address, you should be completely relaxed–not limp like a noodle, but have no tension anywhere. Most of us are OK on the backswing, but when the forward swing starts is where tension can come in, especially if you want to hit the bill hard. What you really want to do is hit the ball fast, and that means…no tension. I have found in my swing that the place where tension comes in and slows down my swing is in the muscles of the upper torso. If I keep this area relaxed, the clubhead screams through the ball with ungodly fury, yet it is still under control. Try it. Try keeping that part of your torso relaxed on the forward swing and see how much more clubhead speed you get.
Just before you take your putter back, lift it up so the sole is off the ground and just touches the top of the grass. Now you can start your stroke. The difference between starting the stroke by swinging straight back and going up a bit first then back, is significant.