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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Hold onto your monocles folks – golf ain’t dead yet

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“Sharp exhale. Now deep breath in…. and big exhale.”

No, this isn’t Bryson DeChambeau trying to digest a gallon of protein after a heavy night on the glen, rather what I’d say to golf’s traditionalists standing at the picket line screaming ‘his big hitting will be the ruination of the royal and ancient game’.

One round into the Jack Nicklaus hosted Memorial Tournament and guess what… golf is tough, it’s really tough. OK, easy Tiger…

There’s been a lot of hysteria doing the rounds on social media since a certain mad scientist ate all the pies and took his ball to Pound Town, but as much and all as I respect everything DeChambeau has done to gain an advantage, big hitting will only get you so far… 423 yards off the 1st on Thursday, his 10th… 362 yards off the 11th, his second… 407 yards off the 17th, his 8th. You get the picture.

Add all those yards up and DeChambeau signed for a one-over par opening round of 73 at Muirfield Village. And this guy’s meant to be golf’s kryptonite? To quote the great Roy Keane, do me a favour…

But hey, let’s get real here. This is one round of golf. 18-holes in a career of a 26-year old trying to reinvent the wheel. Who’s to say DeChambeau won’t go on and win this week? And you’re right, it’s totally plausible. To dismiss him based on one over-par effort would be as ridiculous as to suggest that after winning the Rocket Mortgage Classic, DeChambeau was suddenly golf’s greatest threat. You’d swear Bryson had evolved where the game cannot; time to arm him with a hickory stick and a Balata and rein the sport back to its racist, sexist past before it’s too late.

But wait… what’s that? Dense rough and quick greens make golf more difficult… who knew? Well, Shane Lowry did for one. Perhaps sparked by R&A CEO Martin Slumbers, who confessed that he would soon be “seriously addressing” DeChambeau’s power play, the Open Champion urged caution from the game’s governing bodies whose answer to the question of distance has forever been to unimaginatively pack on extra yards to a course’s defence.

“I think the worst thing people can do is try and make golf courses longer,” Lowry said. “I just think they need to make them harder because to make them longer, it just plays into the long hitters’ hand.

“There’s a new tee on 15 this week – we played it last week – and if I hit a good drive, I’m off of the upslope with a blind second shot from 260 yards, whereas Bryson and Rory and these guys are hitting to the top of the hill and hitting an iron onto the green. The way I would like to see it curtailed would be to make golf courses harder, and when we do get to the majors and when we do get to like the US Open, it’ll be interesting to see how he [DeChambeau] does do then.

“But as regards now, I don’t think it’s a huge issue, but obviously some people do. But like I say, I think no matter what, you need to putt well to win any week.”

And Lowry knows. Not short himself, the Clara swinger bombed a drive 417 yards down the fairway of his penultimate hole on Thursday. Lying just 57 yards from the pin, four stabs later and he’d posted his second bogey in a row before signing for the same one-over par score as Bryson.

Golf will always be a game of skill where champions will be determined by inches, not by hitting it miles. Narrow the fairways. Thicken the rough. Slicken the greens. Heighten the examination of wits. Let’s see if nature can combat power before dialling back the tech.

For the record, the par-4 14th at just 360-odd yards played the second toughest hole on Thursday at an average of 4.27. Bryson missed the green from 90 yards and made bogey. The toughest obstacle? The par-3 16th where first round leader, Tony Finau airmailed the green with an eight-iron, also making bogey. Short obstacles, big scores.

Go figure.

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