Thursday, April 6, 2006

Augusta National: Does size matter?

Very interesting article about yet another round of lengthening at Augusta National, whether or not it is at all neccessary, potential negative effects of the competitive tournament, and extremely critical comments by the 2 most successfull (not active) Masters Champions, 6 time winner Jack Nicklaus & 4 time winner Arnold Palmer.

Has Hootie lost the plot?

I tend to agree with them. It seems that over the last several years that lengthening certain golf courses has had the opposite effect than desired. Namely, rather than making it tougher for the long hitters, it makes it easier by making it way more difficult for the short hitters. The more this is done the more dramatic the effect. For instance, when the long hitter is left with 9 iron and the short hitter is left with 7 iron, there is an advantage of X. But as courses are just made longer & longer, I sure think that X increases when the long hitter is hitting 6 iron into greens and the short hitter is hitting 3 or 4 irons into the same green.

To me, there seems no immediate need to lengthen these 6 holes even further this year and stretch the course out to 7,445 (2nd longest in championship golf history). The course's defense has always been the insanity of the greens, and the tweaks that have been made to this point seemed pretty fair. Adding some rough, lengthening some holes that were really too short. The winning score the past four years has been -12, -9, -7, -12. This is pretty respectable - it's not like they need to lengthen the course again because The Masters is turning into the Bob Hope (this was the fear after Tiger shot -18 in 1997, which initiated the initial lengthening and addition of rough). Additionally, the last several years rain has been an issue, so the course hasn't really had a chance to show all if it's teeth yet with the changes prior to this year.

The Masters is always one of the most exciting tournaments to watch because the course is always set up in a way that it is the ultimate risk/reward golf, especially on the back nine. The result is lots of dramatic action, with players able to make anything from eagle to triple bogey on some holes coming down the stretch. I hope that this factor has not been lessened by the newest lengthening.

Funky: should he even bother?

Courses like TPC Sawgrass (The PLAYERS Championship) have shown that you can have a fair championship on a not-so-long course if it is set up in a smart way. The bombers off the tee are great and fun to watch, but hard core golf fans also appreciate the Nick Prices and Fred Funks of the world, and enjoy seeing tournaments where they can compete with the big, err, long boys. After reading this article I am worried that the changes this year might be starting to go over the top and simply emilinating some of the shorter hitters from the game, like the US Open has done a little bit in recent years, most notably at BethPage Black in 2002.

Is there something to this article - are these two wise old sages foretelling of a not so great future for the most famous tournament in golf? Or are they two crotchety old men bitching about how things aren't like they were "in my day"?

Bitterman curmudgeon or wise sage?

I for one will be interested to watch & see this week:

- How play is affected at 1, 4, 7, 11, 15, & 17. Will as many dudes go for it on 15, one of the most dramatic shots in all of golf? I think 11 was one of the 3 toughest holes last year after the last round of lengthening -why on earth make it even longer? Ditto for the 1st hole? 4th hole at 240? Wow, that green is nutty, and dudes will be hitting 2 irons & utility woods into it. Will they still be able hit it past the Sunday flag on 7, use the backboard, spin it back and almost hole it out for a dramatic eagle with 6 irons in their hands when that green was designed for a wedge?

-How the medium to short hitters fare, and whether the tournament comes down to the bombers.

The four majors are very different tests of golf, and The Masters has always boiled down to a test of the best putter/short game in the field. I hope that this week and going forward, it hasn't been reduced to boiling down to the best putter/short game of the bombers.

Interested to know your thoughts, both now and after the weekend is over.

***Update. After round 1 the reaction to the course changes appears to be mixed. Interesting that Player feels differently than Nicklaus, Palmer. The difference on 15 is pretty obvious after watching one day - nearly impossible to hold that green now on the 2nd shot, so the people that can reach in 2 are hitting it way over & down that hill towards the 16th tee, leaving a gnarly pitch back up, whereas before most "reachers-in-2" would barely hold the green or trickle it over by 1-10 yds. Interesting to see if this makes things more/less exciting on the weekend, and what the players think of it as well.

No comments: