Rrrrroll Back??

Alright! Right up until this moment I’ve been very quiet about the hot topic that has come up lately. No it isn’t Tiger’s comeback at the Hero World Challenge but he is involved in this article. Then again so are legends of golf Mr. Jack Nicklaus and Mr. Gary Player. Of course I am talking about the latest talk of rolling back the golf ball.The reason is simple and I totally understand their concern. The fact is that Tour players are making certain golf courses obsolete. Most notably, some of the courses in the rota for the Open Championship. Imagine a world where there is no Open Championship on the Old Course at St. Andrew’s. When you think about it… it isn’t far-fetched at all.

The talk of rolling the golf ball back is not a new idea. Mr. Nicklaus has stated this in the past so his suggestion about a uniform golf ball is nothing new. I remember going back to 2015 during the week of the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay the timeless legend Mr. Player stated that golf courses were “getting too long” and that the “mismanagement of the golf ball” is leading to the demise of golf courses. Even more recently, Mr. Player stated that it was “sad” to see the Old Course being defeated by today’s golf ball. He actually expressed concerns in 2005. Tiger Woods joined the “campaign” on dialing the golf ball back very recently as well. Of course, there were those who follow the game that said he wants the golf ball rolled back because he is no longer the longest guy out there. But there he was clearly stating that “We” need to do something. So if this is a concern than why has nothing been done?

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While evolution and progress can be a great thing in some cases it isn’t. In a world of checks and balances something has to give. I have a hard time seeing the likes of the major brands in the industry saying yes to having a uniform golf ball. After all, in the case of Titleist their marketing model has nothing to do with their golf clubs or their mid-range golf balls. It’s all about the Pro V1 golf ball. Play what the best in the world play! Of course, the Pro V1 will almost certainly continue to live for the masses.  But getting back to giving a new meaning to “the one ball rule” how would that process occur? Bids by the likes of Acushnet, Srixon Golf,  Bridgestone Golf, Wilson Golf etc with the winner being selected and to the victor go the spoils? Seems hardly fair right? If all company’s had to adhere to the same criteria that would theoretically work. But then I get this eerie premonition.

Just like when rolling and shaving softball bats was a thing when I was still playing softball. To make composite softball bats more lively guys at all levels of softball would shave the inner walls of the bat and roll the bats to make them “pop” reducing their break-in period which made the bats hot!!!. The result… pitchers dreaded lobbing up every pitch because of the balls exit speed coming back up the middle. Trust me.. it was deadly!   The governing bodies at Provincial Championships had x-ray machines to check for any suspected bats breaching the rule. Remember my premonition? Imagine the eventual winner of a tournament won a tournament that we’ll call ‘The Masters”. The winner was  hitting the “rolled back” golf ball long. Meanwhile, up in The Butler Cabin  by the fireplace sits an x-ray machine. Right before the Green Jacket presentation they examine the golf ball… or all of the golf balls in the golf bag of the winner. Somehow, there was one ball that magically slipped through quality and control at Plant#3 and there’s an illegal golf ball. Disqualification.

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Photo Credit: scottishgolfhistory.com

 

The reality of the game and rolling the golf ball back only is a concern for such a low percentage of golfers around the world. For everyone else (mere mortals) this debate doesn’t or shouldn’t really effect them. With all due respect to Mr. Nicklaus, Mr. Player and Mr. Woods the problem really stems back to my entire baseball bat scenario. Sure the golf ball is long. Maybe it doesn’t spin as much. But those baseball bats started to launch the ball out of the ball park 375 feet  at will. One league I played in had houses built right behind the sports complex. Segments of 50′ mesh nets were strung up in a vain attempt to protect the houses against incoming “mortar shells”. It sort of worked but yet windows were still getting smashed. The league brought in a flight restricted ball and sure the instances of baseballs being hit off of the roofs of neighboring houses decreased but not by much. So what was the correlation and why was it still a problem… other than poor city planning? The bats and athlete’s themselves.

I personally think that the issue with golf and this entire “rolling back crusade” is with the golf clubs themselves. Let’s face it… when you’re an arthritic 70-year-old man you shouldn’t really hitting the ball further than when you were 50. But you are! If there’s an issue with too much length look at the new equipment that’s being constructed from space-aged materials. If it’s anything it’s the equipment causing the issues.  Not just drivers and irons but the turf equipment too. Bear with me for a second regarding the latter. But again, this only pertains to a small percentage of golfers. Have scores dropped significantly among amateurs over the last 5 years with all of the advances in technology? The answer is no! Look at the technology in place for these guys playing on television on Sunday afternoon’s. Sure it’s out there for amateur’s as well  but the technology goes far outside of having the right shafts installed into your set. Who saw Rocky IV? Remember the technology that “Ivan Drago” had? Technology that actually makes the athlete with much advanced workout programs. Golfers at the collegiate and professional levels like their NHL, NFL, and MLB counterparts are quite simply bigger, faster and stronger. So… is the answer having 8,500 yard long golf courses? My thought is no! How the heck does that help and what is a solution?

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The course of the future now. (Photo Credit: Daily Mail)

I never thought that I would say this but maybe.. just maybe the USGA has had it “sort of” right all along with their set-ups. Maybe the superintendents at said courses would take an issue to this but maybe growing out the rough, making fairways narrower and the greens firmer and faster is the answer. Moreover, water the living “bejeezus” out of the fairways. Drench them… and forget about these guys getting 50+ yards of roll. My Lord… most of the fairways that these guys play on roll faster on a “Stimp” than the greens at most Semi-Private golf courses. The machinery that superintendents have at their disposal has come a long way since the era of “Caddyshack’. I’ve said for too long that golf has become hard to watch. Seeing these guys posting combined -24 scores for a tournament is hurting the game and making the game boring to watch. Many people go to car races for the “wrecks” and that’s why I love the carnage at the U.S. Open. High scores and punishment for wayward shots. Many of these courses also feature fairways as wide as the eyes can see… or they should be considering their width. Look at Erin Hills… wow! Heck, even Glen Abbey site of the RBC Canadian Open has massive fairways where the bombers can bomb away at will. If they miss… no big deal because there is no rough. If you want to roll anything back… roll back the course conditioning.

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2004 U.S. Open Shinnecock Hills (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Maybe my solution is too simplified. You aren’t going to be able to roll back the athlete (force them to be obese) and you might be able to do something about rolling back the ball and/or equipment. But the one thing that golf needs to do is preserve the game and preserve the likes of Tillinghast, Thompson, Nicklaus, Palmer, Robert Trent Jones and Ross. Make these guys “golf the ball” around the course. Screw “bomb and gouge” and make these guys hit golf shots. Make them work the ball and penalize a miss.

Until The Next Tee!!

My… RBC Canadian Open

There was no way that I was going to let this week’s Tour stop pass by without writing about it. Sure I didn’t write about the Open Championship last week but what was there to really say? Two words? Jordan Spieth. That pretty much summed it up… his “hootspa” is borderline legendary or better yet special. I really felt bad for Matt Kuchar. But enough about last week and it’s time to write about this week.

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Welcome To “The Abbey”

Our National Championship is on a very tough place on the schedule and I really wish something could be changed. There is prestige and a rich history when it comes to Canada’s Open. However as it stands it’s right after The Open Championship and right before The WGC – Bridgestone Invitational so many notables tend to sit out. This year the RBC Canadian Open was held in nearby Oakville, Ontario which serves as a home to Golf Canada headquarters, the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame, and the Jack Nicklaus designed Glen Abbey Golf Course. The site of this year’s RBC Canadian Open. This year was the 28th time that “The Abbey” has hosted the illustrious event. #OurOpen is uniquely Canadian with goalie mask tee markers and chairs that say “Quiet Eh?!” on the back of them.

 

 

 

I was at the venue to get a feel for what the course was like this year after last year’s tough conditions. In 2016 our entire region was mired in a drought of epic proportions and even Glen Abbey fell victim. I arrived at the course shortly after 8 a.m. on Tuesday to take in some practice rounds. As I arrived at the site and walked through the main entrance I caught a glimpse of Hole#8 where Charley Hoffman was hitting a few shots. It was completely obvious that the weather had been much better than last year and as a result the grounds crew at “The Abbey” had a course well-prepped. After taking in some of the Opening Ceremonies which saw legends gather for the newest inductions into the Canadian Hall Of Fame I walked the golf course. By the way some of the names on hand included Lorie Kane, Mike Weir, Bob Vokey (whom until recently I never knew was a Canadian) and Mr. Jack Nicklaus.

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Greatness and a Legend. Mr. Nicklaus and Mr. Vokey.

As I strolled across the 16th fairway I finally realized how lush and pristine Glen Abbey truly was. The course was immaculate!! A job well done to the superintendent and the crew. Upon looking at the course I knew that we were going to be seeing some low scoring rounds. Upon finishing my walk around “The Abbey” (I have never played it) I decided to watch the guys on the range. From the long hitting Bubba Watson, the young gun Smylie Kaufman to the wiley veteran (and former RBC Canadian Open Champion Vijay Singh) to last year’s champion Jhonnotan Vegas whom I casually said “Go get it again” to in passing. Little did I realize that my semi-prognostication would turn out. Honestly, I was disappointed to not see Ian Poulter, Matt Kuchar or Brandt Snedeker whom were apparently at another local course for a corporate outing. I managed to get a few failed selfies (tough with DSLR cameras) with Shane Lowry, Ollie Schniederjans, Nick Watney and Ben Crane to name a few. By the way… Ben is a pretty cool cat.

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The author and Ollie Schiederjans

So the tournament was played and as I figured we saw some real low scoring throughout the tournament. The weather was comfortable, the winds were pretty much benign all week and from I could ascertain the greens were receptive. Robert Garrigus tied a course record with a 62. Hudson Swafford fired a -7 (65). Martin Flores had back to back 66’s, Charley Hoffman was the 54 hole leader after a -7 on Saturday getting him to -17 overall. Then came Sunday.

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Bubba Watson unleashing on the range.

A leaderboard that was loaded with scores that would win nearly every tournament on Tour. With many big names not in the field (more on that later) there was still some star power on the front page of the leaderboard. Consistent low rounds were shot all week by the rain-softened Glen Abbey. On Sunday Gary Woodland, Ian Poulter, Tony Finau were all right there. Lurking not too far behind them was World #1 Dustin Johnson. But after carding four round totals of -21 a playoff consisting of Vegas and Charley Hoffman would determine the winner. After both players hit poor drives on the first playoff hole Charley Hoffman left the door open for Jhonny Vegas. Vegas took advantage of a clear shot while Hoffman had to lay up. Vegas would sink a birdie putt and become the first winner to win back to back titles since Jim Furyk. (Fun Fact: Furyk’s back to back wins were won on two different courses)

With the re-cap out of the way I just wanted to touch on a few other topics very briefly.

All of these crazy low scores. Are they good or bad for the game? What is the cause of these lower scores? Better player development… better technology… better equipment or does the ball need to be dialed back like Mr. Nicklaus has suggested? Are the superintendents doing too good of a job?

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The 18th at The Abbey.

To those not in the know Glen Abbey has been on life support for what seems an eternity. Before I get into that I want to say that it would be shame if the Jack Nicklaus course would fall victim to real estate. While this isn’t a Golf Canada issue it is a ClubLink Enterprises Limited owned golf course. The CEO K. Rai Sahi confirmed in 2015 that The Abbey was going to be developed into high-end housing. But how did the course get to here? Makes you wonder about the pricing (current peak Green Fee $236) and quite possibly a tee sheet that is more empty than full. That said… Glen Abbey WILL once again be the host of the RBC Canadian Open in 2018.

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#TheRink Oh what could be???? The Par 3 7th.

As far as Golf Canada this inquiry is for you. Glen Abbey sees the course get reconfigured from its everyday configuration to an altered configuration for the tournament (For example… Hole #1 is a Par 5 every day. For the Canadian Open it’s the Par 4 8th hole). This year #TheRink was a terrific idea. Potentially this hole could be as exciting as #16 at the Waste Management Open. We are a fanbase that consists of raucous hockey fans… wouldn’t it be fun to figure out a way to see #TheRink come into play late on Sunday? Somewhere in the last few holes? The drama and atmosphere would be spectacular! It would be a great way to get the fans (and their wallets) out there in full force. Think outside of the box. You can do it!

Until The Next Tee!!