• Alistair Tait

Has golf reached a turning point?


Bryson DeChambeau’s drive on the 500-yard, par-4, 16th hole in the final round of the U.S. Open travelled 365 yards. It had so much hang time beefed up Bryson could probably have been stood there waiting for it if he’d sprinted from the tee.

The champion in waiting only had 135 yards left to the flag. He hit a wedge.

That rumbling noise in the skies above Winged Foot was Old Tom Morris turning in his grave at what DeChambeau could potentially do to his beloved Old Course at St Andrews two years from now.

Three hundred and sixty-five yards.

That’s nothing. He hit a 374-yard bomb down the 565-yard, par-5, 9th hole. Playing companion Matthew Wolff sneered at that and hit one 388 yards. Those drives were puny compared to Dustin Johnston's 419-yard rocket.

All three hit wedge approach shots and made eagles. Wedges! Into par-5s.

Let’s just put that in perspective. There were six par fours under 400 yards for the 2015 Open Championship at St Andrew: 375 yards for the 1st – thank goodness for the Swilcan Burn!; 398 yards for the third; 371 at the seventh; the 10th measured 386 yards; 348 yards at 12; and the 365-yard 18th.

Jack Nicklaus drew gasps when he drove the 18th green in the 1970 Open Championship. DeChambeau and co can probably hit 3 woods to carry the Valley of Sin in ideal conditions.

Do you think the R&A might be hoping for four days of strong winds for the 2021 Open Championship?

How do you protect classic golf courses like Winged Foot from the colossal distances today’s top players hit the ball? Grow the rough, narrow the fairways and speed up the greens. Oh, wait….

DeChambeau only hit 23 fairways over the 72 holes, the fewest by a modern champion. Angel Cabrera hit 27 when he won in 2007.

DeChambeau’s win has to be put in perspective. It’s not as if he’s the first bomber to win America’s national championship. The last five winners were Gary Woodland, Brooks Koepka twice and Dustin Johnson. And, other past champions have won hitting fewer fairways than others who finished down the field. However, the 120th winner of America’s national championship has taken the bomb and gauge theory to a whole new level. Thick rough doesn’t curtail players with his power when they’re hitting wedge and 9-irons out of the cabbage.

Twenty-three years ago, Tiger Woods reduced Augusta National to a drive and wedge course. A recap of the clubs he hit into the par-4s in the final round was staggering. If I remember rightly, the longest iron he hit that day was a 7-iron to the 10th green, and only because he hit 2-iron off the tee.

A line had been drawn in the sand with Woods’s record 12-shot win, and the green jackets did something about it. Remember how they supposedly Tiger-proofed the course? Do they have enough time before the world’s best arrive in November to Bryson-proof the course Bobby Jones and Dr Alister MacKenzie created?

If Jack Nicklaus played a game Jones wasn’t familiar with, then imagine how the game’s greatest amateur would view DeChambeau’s approach?

The next two majors are at Augusta. Be interesting to see how/if the course differs between November and next April.

DeChambeau is a divisive, marmite figure. Whatever your view of him, you have to give him credit for his work ethic and he way he’s figured out how to max out his talents using today’s modern equipment. He’s all but taken the finesse out of the game. Why shape shots when you can hammer the ball as hard as possible knowing the equipment is going to send the ball into the stratosphere? As Xander Schauffle said:

"It's no longer sort of a touchy-feely game."

Rory McIlroy entered the final round with an outside chance of winning, but faded early. No 90-pound weakling himself, McIlroy recognises where golf is at this moment in time.

“He's taken advantage of where the game is at the minute. Look, again, whether that's good or bad, but it's just the way it is. With the way he approaches it, with the arm-lock putting, with everything, it's just where the game's at right now. I'm not saying that's right or wrong. He's just taking advantage of what we have right now.”

And, rest assured, others will follow.

If DeChambeau’s victory isn’t a wakeup call for the USGA and the R&A, then those in charge of protecting our great game are permanently blinkered. As Sky Sports Ewen Murray said during last night’s telecast:

“This week has done a lot to change the game going forward, whether you like it or not.”

Do you like what you saw last night Martin Slumbers of the R&A? How about you Mike Davis of the USGA? Is a bomb and gouge, one-dimensional approach the future of the game? Or is there something you can do to bring feel and finesse back into the greatest stick and ball game ever invented? Has golf really reached a turning point as many are suggesting?

The R&A and USGA are yet to act on the distance insights project. We’re expecting an announcement in March. You can bet work on that project has become all the more pressing following DeChambeau's Winged Foot demolition.

The world of golf awaits.

#JustSaying: “With professional golf, we’re going to have to cut the ball back 50 yards, at least. The ball is such a big problem. We’re seeing guys hitting 400 yards a lot.” Gary Player in 2018

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