Why golf is a game that’s best on the edge

Mark McGowan

Scottie Scheffler in the sand at Pinehurst (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

Feature Interviews

Latest Stories

For a television viewer, golf is at its best when the ball is on the ground (or close to it), bumping, rolling, spinning, skipping, arching left and right, coming to a stop or picking up speed. For those moments, it seems in the lap of the gods as the variables are increased, as are the tariffs on execution.

Imagination is required, and those with the widest variety of shots in their repertoire tend to come to the fore and those overly reliant on the stock high flop are ruthlessly exposed.

We don’t get that week-to-week and maybe that’s a good thing. Familiarity breeds contempt, so if the best players in the world were playing a course like Pinehurst No. 2 20 times a year, maybe it would lose some of its alure, but this week has rubberstamped the need for this style of golf to be trotted out more than just at the Open Championship and an occasional U.S. Open.

Not everybody agrees, of course, and the travails of Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele and Rory McIlroy on Pinehurst’s fifth hole on Friday were used as evidence that the course was too penal, too unfair and was making a mockery of the leading three players in the world. But all three made the cardinal error of missing in the worst possible spot. Yes they were playing long approach shots to the par-5s devilishly tricky green, and with the flag on the left, anything left of it was sure to feed down into the waste area miles below, but you pay your money and take your chances.

McIlroy in particular was only a yard or two offline, but it was a yard or two too many. He knew it long before the ball had landed, he hoped, he prayed, but it was all to no avail. What followed was the world numbers one and two, both of whom had significantly easier shots than McIlroy who was hampered by a scrub bush behind his ball, making a dog’s dinner of their chips and each having another go. McIlroy had only one option available and that was to scuttle the ball across the green and try his luck from the other side. He made par, the other two made double bogeys.

Was that unfair? Was there no way they could’ve made birdie or eagle? No, they got overly aggressive and they got punished for it. Golf is a game of fine margins and when you find yourself on the wrong side of the margin, you should be punished. It’s as simple as that. Luck is a factor – Rory may have been unlucky that he caught the worst lie, or maybe lucky as he was forced to take his medicine rather than get greedy with the next, but either way, it was incredibly compelling viewing.

With a band of thick rough surrounding the green, at least one of the trio would’ve made birdie – Schauffele’s flubbed shot was actually his fourth so par was likely his best scenario – but the trio playing it in a combined four-over was never going to happen.

The very best holes in golf have a splatter chart of everything from eagle to triple bogey and beyond. And that we saw that range on Friday demonstrates that the fifth hole at Pinehurst is one of the best holes in golf.

And the good news is that we’ve got two more days of watching these guys try to plot their way around. Watching them get perplexed by shots that roll back to their feet or trickle on and on until they’re faced with a longer shot in the opposite direction, but we’ll also watch them make incredible recoveries, hit shots scarcely imaginable and that only the most supremely talented and supremely confident of players are capable of pulling off.

At the halfway stage, 15 players are in red figures, a further five are on level terms with the course, and 75 players in total are at +5 or better. Is there anything unfair about that? If it was unfair, +5 would be leading and +20 would probably earn you a weekend tee time.

It’s been the perfect course setup to separate the wheat from the chaff, and over the weekend, the scope is there to turn the screw a little further, make the questions asked that little bit tougher and we’ll find out who the week’s iron man really is.

It’s golf on the edge, and on the edge is where any sport is best.

It’s exactly what a U.S. Open should be. Hat’s off to the USGA.

Stay ahead of the game. Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest Irish Golfer news straight to your inbox!

More News

Leave a comment

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy & Terms of Service apply.