“We got too many people in leadership capacities that don’t understand the game at its core"

Gosh I love Hal Sutton's diatribes. This time he bent Rich Lerner's ear and it's his best state of the game indictment yet.

“I’m so disgusted with where everything’s gone I don’t even want to play the game,” he told me Thursday by phone.
And when asked about the Ryder Cup captaincy...
“There’s no captain that’s going to make the difference,” Sutton said with a tinge of resignation. Of course now, the phone call was no longer about Azinger.

“We’re in a vacuum in golf in America,” Sutton began, and I knew I was about to experience a strong Texas wind.
Okay, strap in, here he goes...
“We’re consumed by the almighty dollar,” he said. “We’ve forgotten that we all play the game because we love it. Greatness doesn’t worry about money. Greatness worries about bein’ great.”

“We’re a product of our environment,” he explained. “We’re playing a game that requires us to hit it high and long. In the old days we had to do more with different golf shots.”

Sutton emphasized that it’s not necessarily the fault of the players. “We got too many people in leadership capacities that don’t understand the game at its core,” he said. “We’re conforming to what they say the market wants and what manufacturers are giving us and it’s weakening our players.”

The market wants Tiger Woods. And therein, Sutton believes, lay a problem.

“Everyone’s trying to be like Tiger,” said the man who took heat for pairing No. 1 with Phil Mickelson in an experiment gone terribly wrong at Oakland Hills. “There’s no individualism. They’re all trying to swing like Tiger.”

“Look, Rich,” he implored, growing more animated, “it’s 400 yards to the other end of the range from where I’m sittin’ and if Jack and Arnie and Raymond and Lee and Gary and Tiger were hittin’ balls we wouldn’t need to walk down there to tell which is which. You could tell ‘em from 400 yards away.”

“Is that the players fault? No. It’s just that we’ve got it built in our minds that you have to be a certain way to be good.”

“I have respect for Jim Furyk because he doesn’t conform to anybody,” Sutton added. “He’s been doin’ it his way for a long time and he’s been doin’ it pretty damn good hasn’t he?”

Sutton puts some blame at the doorstep of America’s junior golf system.

“We don’t have world class players in their 20s,” he said. “That’s a failure on our part.”

“The greatest in the world learned the game on the golf course,” Sutton said. “People think you can learn it on the range. Mechanics make you tight. It will not free you up to play the game. There were many days when the great players weren’t hittin’ it their best and they still figured a way to win. You don’t need reinforcement after every shot.”

With the promise of PGA TOUR millions, youngsters and parents chase the dream, often spending life’s savings to attend intensive academies while traveling a junior tournament circuit that would wear down even a hardened veteran.

“We need to go back to investing in kids' futures with no agendas and no management fees, try to realign what’s important in the game. Everyone’s taking out of the game and not putting back in. I had people teach me the game and never charged me for a lesson.

“We all have an investment in this game.

“It took us a generation to get into this and it will take us a generation to get out of it.”

And then, Hal had to go, the competitor who once feared no golfer, not even Tiger, now in something of a self-imposed exile. The work of fixing the game too big for one man, he’s content to put the finishing touches on a golf course amidst the rolling hills of Texas, far from the profession he no longer knows.