Course Changes Verdict Watch, Vol. 7

The boys SI heaped plenty of praise on Hootie Johnson for his course changes.  It occurs to me that in all of the post event praise (and from the Golf World headline on Jaime Diaz's story, the cheerleading buzz is contagious), no one is considering the ramifications of Augusta's narrowing efforts both for the home of the Masters, or for the game in general.

The overall theme seems to be, "see, it's okay to change the courses to deal with distance increases and some people's determination to not let the players actually progress in the scoring department." 

Anyway, Gary Van Sickle, who will be forgiven for this transgression because he caused a wonderful stir at the Golf Writer's meeting and normally is spot on, writes:

The par-4 7th, 410 yards before the alterations, used to give players a breather. They could lay up off the tee and hit a wedge in. Now it runs 450 yards with trees on both sides of the fairway, so the players are forced to hit driver and hit it straight. Seven's a terrific hole now.

Super...loved the photo in SI. Can't wait to see it when the trees grow up and there is actually no fairway! Oh, and what's wrong with a breather hole after 4, 5 and 6?

Well, he gets bonus points for mentioning this:

Only at the storied 11th was there a questionable change. While the 11th remains the National's hardest-won par -- one player jokingly called the 505-yard par-4 the easiest par-5 on the course -- the more than 50 pines planted to the right of the fairway also make it Augusta's most unsightly hole. Were that many trees really necessary? "Instead of having U.S. Open rough, you have a forest," says Phil Mickelson. "You don't have the ability to hit a shot from there. You can only try to get the ball back in play."

A handful of smartly planted trees, instead of the forest, might have accomplished the same goal and tempted players into trying heroic -- and dangerous -- recoveries. The sideways chip-out, the least exciting shot in golf, has never been a Masters staple, but it's now an everyday play at 11.