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  • Alistair Tait

Another 59 – Ho hum…..

The R&A didn’t have to worry about sub 60 scores over the first three rounds of the AIG Women’s Open. Conditions were so tough it was difficult for the world’s best women to break 70, never mind 60. However, the governing body, along with fellow rule makers the USGA, would no doubt have clocked yet another 59 on the PGA Tour.

It should have increased the alarm bells in the R&A’s St Andrews offices and the Far Hills, New Jersey headquarters of the USGA. It's further proof scores at elite level are getting ever lower.

Some outlets labelled Scottie Scheffler's 59 in the Northern Trust as "historic." Er, no. There’s really nothing historic now about 59s on the PGA Tour. More like ho hum. That's not to take anything away from Scheffler's round. It was a brilliant score. Just not historic. In fact, since Jim Furyk recorded a 58 in the final round of the 2016 Travelers Championship, 59s have almost become a bit blasé.

Al Geiberger’s 59 in the 1977 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic truly was historic. It was a mark that stood for 14 years until Chip Beck recorded 59 in the third round of the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational. It was another eight years until David Duval shot 59 in the final round of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby went sub 60 in 2010. Goydos scored 59 in the first round of the 2010 John Deere Classic. Appleby matched it a month later at The Greenbrier.

Now? As AP golf correspondent Dog Ferguson pointed out on twitter:

“This is the fifth consecutive year of sub-60 rounds on the PGA Tour.”

Listing the number of sub 60 scores on other tours would take too long. The governing bodies will take heart there’s still only been one 59 on both the LPGA and European Tours. Annika Sorenstam did it in the 2001 Standard Register PING event. Oliver Fisher cracked the 60 barrier on the European Tour with a 59 in the first round of the 2018 Portugal Masters. Both were truly historic since they were firsts on both tours.

The R&A and USGA won't have appreciated Justin Thomas’s thoughts following Scheffler’s 59. Thomas said:

“I still think someone is going to shoot a 56 or 57 or 58 on Tour, whether it’s in the next couple of years or 10 or 15 years. We’re all getting so much better, and especially if you get a place like this with really good greens and it’s soft, we’re pretty good with our distance control and pretty good at golf to where if we get it rolling, who knows what can happen?”

What’s going on? Are players getting better? Are courses getting easier? Is technology making the game easier for the top players. Bingo!

When players are hitting drive, wedge to most par 4s and par-5s no longer have any teeth in the age of 240-yard 4-irons, it’s no wonder Thomas sees scores going lower. Throw in wide fairways at some tour venues and Thomas is right to be confident.

The average handicap of amateur players probably hasn’t changed much since we were playing persimmon, forged irons and balata. But put frying pan heads, can’t miss irons and a ball that goes forever in the hands of elite players and is it any wonder scores are coming down? No.

Who were the only players to shoot four sub 70 scores in the majors was a pretty good trivia question pre-1979. Only Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino had achieved that feat. Palmer shot four sub 70 scores in finishing second in the 1964 PGA Championship. Trevino did it in winning the 1968 U.S. Open at Oak Hill.

Only one player shot four sub 70 rounds in the 1970s majors. Ben Crenshaw did so as runner-up in the 1979 PGA Championship. Trevino was the only player to do so in the 80s, recording four scores in the 60s in winning the 1985 PGA Championship. Since then four sub 70 scores in the tournaments that really matter is normal. It happened 14 times in the 90s, six times in the noughties. There have been 31 occasions since 2011 when players have returned four scores in the 60s. Six players recorded that feat in the PGA Championship at Harding Park, including Collin Morikawa in winning his first major. Si Woo Kim was one of those players and finished T13.

There has never been four sub 70 rounds at Augusta National in 83 tournaments since the inaugural 1934 Masters. The powers that be put the flags in such devilish positions that players have no chance.

It would seem tricky flag positions is the only protection left to guard against low scores. That and tricked up courses like Shinnecock Hills for the 2018 U.S. Open. If the USGA taking Shinnecock to the verge of unplayable wasn’t an admission the game has got out of hand, then I don’t know what is.

The R&A has done a good job of setting up Royal Troon this week for the women’s best golfers, taking into account the challenging weather conditions. Of note was playing the Postage Stamp (pictured) at 95 yards for the third round. Brilliant. However, unless they do something about the equipment at elite level, they’ll have to do even better jobs at future Open Championships to protect our greatest links being ripped apart. Can you imagine what the world’s best would do to the Old Course two years from now with four days of flat calm weather?

Too bad the R&A and USGA’s next phase of the Distance Insights Project has been delayed until March 2021. It can’t come soon enough. Although quite why research is needed on what is patently obvious is a bit of a head scratcher for many inside the game.

#JustSaying: “The simplest solution is change the frigging golf ball. The golf ball goes so far.” Jack Nicklaus

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