Historic approach

By |  August 15, 2018 0 Comments
Sean Tully headshot

Sean Tully

Another U.S. Open is in the books and Brooks Koepka repeats as champion! I think it is safe to say that we were all tired; the crew, the volunteers, the players, the media and even the audience at home. The U.S. Open has historically been one thing — the National Championship for the United States Golf Association. It has grown in stature and has become something altogether different in its attempt to identify the best golfer over the course of four days.

There is, of course, the Open Championship and its Champion Golfer which was the original in identifying the best golfer for the year — congratulations to this year’s winner, Francesco Molinari. When comparing the two events, they couldn’t be further from each other while still trying to identify the best golfers at their respective tournaments.

The U.S. Open and the Open Championship do have a commonality, as we see the need to lengthen courses to make room for the ever-increasing distances professional golfers hit the ball. We’ve seen this at the U.S. Open for the last 15 years or so with some exceptions, but what really upset some people was the R&A adding 350 yards to the Old Course at St. Andrews since 2000. Where is the end game, and what impact has adding yardage had on golf in general?

For a long time, courses hosting championships have made improvements as a way to prove that their course is a stiff test of golf. One example from the earliest years is Chicago Golf Club — they hosted the U.S. Open in 1900 and again in 1911, where they added just over 600 yards to the golf course. This was done in large part to offset advancements in the golf ball, clubs and the improvement of the competitors — sound similar to today?

In the early years, golf had some advancements that, as the game and golfers matured, made sense, and the game would settle in on courses that ranged from 6,800 to 7,000 yards in length. In 1937, Oakland Hills played host to the U.S. Open and was the first course to play over 7,000 yards in length off the scorecard. It would take over 60 years to see a course play over the 7,200 yard mark in 1997 at Congressional. In the 21 years since then, we have managed to get all the way to 7,740 yards, and just looking at the last five U.S. Opens, the courses have averaged just over 7,500 yards off the scorecard!

In the addition of yardage there has also been a narrowing of courses that play shorter, like Olympic, Pebble and Merion. Merion is an outlier as it also saw the course get lengthened by over 450 yards from the previous time it held the open — 1981 to 2013. So with this narrowing of fairways and lengthening of golf courses, it has had a huge effect on golf that has been building slowly over the years. When you combine that with all the golfers who took up the game after watching Tiger play, it has become a recipe for disaster.

We are at a crossroads in the game today in that it takes too long to play, but we are not addressing the problem. We don’t need to come up with new ideas like larger cups or foot golf. Golf takes longer because we have either lengthened the golf courses or made it harder to play by narrowing them — both are efforts to protect par and make sure the golf course plays harder.

Instead of defending par off the tee, we should focus more on the approach shots into greens. Most courses would benefit from just adding width to the fairways and aprons, allowing for more options off the tee and approach shots into greens.

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