It Is High, It Is Far, It the Rough

nyt-paper.gifSelena Roberts in the New York Times (reg. required) writes about flogging at Baltusrol and quotes yours truly on the subject.

Somehow golf has gotten to the point where inaccuracy isn't punitive because distance is so highly rewarded. A 330-yard drive into the rough, plus a wedge to the green, is far more attractive to a player than a 280-yard poke and a 5-iron to the pin.

But is might always right? There is an aberration on the leader board in Steve Elkington, who was in a tie with Thomas Bjorn for second place when the storms blew across Baltusrol last night. Elkington is the amiable Aussie with a caddie nicknamed Gypsy and a driving distance that ranks him 132nd on the PGA Tour. But his fairway accuracy is No. 14 at Baltusrol. He is not an equipment aficionado like Mickelson and Love or an all-consumed workout fiend like Woods and Singh.

"I couldn't be like Vijay," Elkington told Australian reporters last week. "I admire what he does, but I bet he doesn't even know where the light switches are at home."

In other words, Elkington has a life. But he occupied the space among the leaders as an anomaly. More and more, players like Woods, Mickelson, Singh and Love overpower their errors to find success. "I don't blame them," said Geoff Shackelford, author of "The Future of Golf: How Golf Lost Its Way and How to Get It Back," when reached by telephone yesterday. "Over the course of four rounds, it's a wise thing to do. Power is more important."

It has become an obsession. It's all about the equipment and computer analysis, the balls and the Launch Monitor, which, in essence, is a time-lapse X-ray of a swing to determine factors like ball spin and carry distance in order to match a player to the optimum club.

"Players have picked up 30 or 40 yards on their drives using it," Shackelford said.

What else are players using? Power cravings in any sport can lead to boundary pushing of the chemical kind. There is no whisper of a steroid problem inside the P.G.A., but there is also no drug testing. So how does anyone truly know surges in distance are all about technology and not about the designer steroid THG?
Of course we know golfers aren't on steroids, but still, Roberts brings up the point many of us are wondering. How long before such substances do become a part of the new look power game?