"If Hogan Was Hitting A Damn Pitching Wedge..."

t1_hootiedefense.jpgWhen he was standoffish and gruff during 2003's Martha Burk media session, you could understand Hootie Johnson's angry tone.  At the time he was locked in a tough fight and the pressure was intense.

But it's another thing to actually hear an almost angry tone when discussing what the players are doing today. After all, the course changes he has made have been driven by changes in equipment, a situation out of his control.  (And more importantly, largely out of the player' s control, too.)

This mess boils down to this: Hootie Johnson has brought a banker's approach to this work of art known as Augusta National, and the result, at least from the golf architecture perspective, is not pretty.

A banker likes black numbers. Red numbers are bad.

A banker's job, while important to sustain our way of life, is lucrative but not particularly exciting. And after watching Wednesday's Q&A session with the press, it seems that Hootie believes the players should not enjoy their lucrative "job" either.

Bobby Jones wanted people to enjoy his golf course. He wrote at length about testing good players but not strictly through sheer physical demands that asked them to hit the ball down an imaginary center line. He wanted elite players to deal with intense strategic decisions that may seem taxing, but in hindsight were great fun for players to deal with and incredible fun for "patrons" to watch.

With that in mind, here we go...with Hootie Johnson joined by Will Nicholson and Billy Payne:

Q. Mr. Johnson, I'm wondering, how close are you to saying, we've stretched the golf course as far as we're willing; it's time to regulate the golf ball we use here.

HOOTIE JOHNSON: Would you repeat the question? (Laughter).

Q. How close are you to saying we have stretched the golf course as far as we are willing and it's time to regulate the golf ball we use here.

HOOTIE JOHNSON: I don't think we're ready to say that.

Q. How close are you to saying that?

HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, you know, you're asking about two things there. We don't want to take the golf ball off the table but we don't have any serious -- we're not giving that any serious consideration right now. But as far as the golf course is concerned, we'll have to continue to evaluate that.

Why do something about the ball? We're having too much fun changing the course. What a far cry from a few years ago when Hootie seemed close to pulling the trigger on a Masters ball spec.

Q. We've had a lot of players come in here all week and some of them have loved the changes and some loved them a bit less. What do you say to those who say you've taken the fun out of this tournament?

HOOTIE JOHNSON: I don't know. I didn't know that a tough golf course was supposed to be a lot of fun.

Q. They are saying that 20 years ago it was more fun.

HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, I don't know that hitting a 6-iron on No. 1 would be any more fun today than it was 20 years ago.

Yes, the banker stuff I was referring to. Oh, but it gets worse.

I want to say something about the changes and about bombers. We think that at 280 to 300 yards, say, at 1, and outside of some other holes, there's all the room in the world. There's 290 yards to the bunker. And if someone wants to swing from the heels and hit it 330 or 340 or something like that, he'd better be accurate.

Okay, time for a visit from Dr. MacKenzie: "…long driving is not a crime--it is a virtue and is more frequently by skill and grace of motion than by mere force. Long drivers should be rewarded, and as a general rule they should have greater latitude, and not less, than short drivers." Thanks Doc. Now back to Hootie who says he's restoring your "shot values."

At 7, there's a lot of talk about 7. There's plenty of room at 280 to 300 yards. But if somebody wants to pull a driver out and wants a flip wedge to the green, he'd better hit it straight.

Bobby Jones writing about No. 7: "The second shot is normally a steep pitch, often with a wedge..." Thanks Mr. Jones. Now, in a Hootie Johnson translation, that would mean you "intended" for a wedge to be hit there? Guess Johnson is missing that page in his copy of Golf is My Game!

11, if he wants to really rip it, then he's going to take the risk of -- he's hitting a power fade, he's going to take the risk of getting too far right.

A lot of talk about 11. I mean, the hole was intended to be played with, according to Bobby Jones, with a 3-iron or stronger club.

Sorry, Mr. Jones again: "The second shot is usually played with a three iron or a stronger club..." Yes, "usually" is a far cry from "intended." Unless you are looking at this like a banker.

I'm sure many of you remember, I think it was in the '98 tournament that I was out there, behind the ropes and Phil Mickelson hit a big driver, power fade down there and had a pitching wedge to the green. The hole wasn't intended to play like that.

I believe Hogan is quoted as saying, "If you ever see me on that green, you know I've missed my shot." Well, if Hogan was hitting a damn pitching wedge, he'd have been -- he wouldn't have been to the right of the green; he'd have been within three feet of the cup.

I saw this on the video feed and it was, well, awkward. The "if Hogan was hitting a damn pitching wedge" was said with a mix of frustration, bitterness and envy.

But whose fault is it that the players can do this today? The players? Or the USGA's fault?

And if I'm not mistaking, the current USGA president, a longtime proponent of not regulating equipment as General Counsel and USGA officer, is also an Augusta National member?

Q. From your view, is the game of golf itself at a bit of a crossroads over this issue?

HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, Christine,

...you  big Martha supporter you...oh sorry...

I don't know if we're at a crossroads. It looks like it's just a gradual thing that keeps moving out on us. The club head gets bigger, the ball goes farther. And like Jack Nicklaus said, I don't know that anyone has the answer. I hope the governing bodies, they are addressing it. You've got a big head driver, you've got a lively golf ball, you've got grooves, and it doesn't seem to, for the big hitters, if they are talking about four-inch rough, they don't worry about it too much with those grooves if they are within 110 yards of the green.

So the idea is to get close and you know you're going to get it on the green with powering that wedge out of that grass with those grooves. And if you happen to hit the fairway, you know you're going to knock it in there about four or five feet and get a birdie.

I don't know if I answered your question. I got to rambling.

No, the rambling speaks volumes. Again, the players are to blame for non-existent equipment regulation by many Augusta members, and they must be stopped.

And then it was time for Lawrence Donegan to earn himself a place in our Hall of Fame, and on Hootie's #@!& list...

Q. The list of people who have criticized the changes is long and very, very distinguished; Nicklaus, Palmer, Faldo, Woods; these are really, really great players. At no point have you considered that any of these people might have actually said something that is correct? Are they all wrong and you are right?

HOOTIE JOHNSON: That's a loaded question. (Laughing).

We are comfortable with what we are doing with the golf course for the Masters tournament.

Q. So none of these people have a point?

HOOTIE JOHNSON: I said we're comfortable. They are entitled to their opinion. I said we are comfortable with what we are doing.

Our first "entitled to their opinion" of the day!

Q. Two parts to this. Is the club in a defensive mode in terms of reacting to changes and equipment, and you always invoke the spirit of Bobby Jones and what he would do. Do you have a target year, what kind of clubs you're looking at, what distances you're looking at to bring the course back to? And in the process of stretching of the golf course, you've also narrowed the golf course dramatically in terms of the trees, and that affects member play. How do you reconcile the strategic variety for members during the other 25, 30 weeks that you're open?

HOOTIE JOHNSON: We keep that in mind. We don't think we have penalized our members. They would holler if we did.

If you were a member, would you holler to this man about the course not being fun anymore? I didn't think so!

Q. Just curious, what do you think this course will look like for the Masters in ten years?

HOOTIE JOHNSON: Wow. I don't know what it's going to look like next year. (Laughter).
Q. How will you determine whether or not these changes are successful, is it going to be the score, is it going to be the kind of clubs that the players are hitting into the greens for their approaches?

HOOTIE JOHNSON: Some of both.

The banker thing again.

Q. Phil Mickelson had talked a moment about four or five years ago when you were watching him on 11 - I don't know if you saw that anecdote or not - when he ripped one down the hill and had a wedge in, and he was joking that he was sorry that he hit that shot in front of you. Do you recall that moment?


Q. What kind of effect did that have on you?

HOOTIE JOHNSON: It had a big effect on me and I recall the moment. I went under the ropes and I looked at the marker, the yardage marker and he was 94 yards in front of the green. Coincidentally, Tom Fazio was a few yards away and I didn't know he was there. But that's when we started talking about 11. changes3.jpg

And look at it now (courtesy of Golf World).

Q. Will you ever change 12?

HOOTIE JOHNSON: Not while I'm Chairman.

Q. What is the size, height of your rough?

HOOTIE JOHNSON: An inch and 3/8ths.

Q. I mean, that's not really rough.

HOOTIE JOHNSON: The fairway is--

Q. That's fairway at a lot of places I play. (Laughter)

HOOTIE JOHNSON: It's not much. It doesn't do much more than define the golf course.

Ah, definition. Take another spin Mr. Jones.

Q. Missing the fairway with that little rough really isn't a penalty.

HOOTIE JOHNSON: Not much of one. Not really.

Q. Mr. Johnson, so is your reasons for the changes to make the players now hit the same clubs that they were hitting 20 years ago?

HOOTIE JOHNSON: We'd like something like that or maybe 30 years ago, 20 or 30. Something other than a pitching wedge.

I think Hootie needs a less on today's club lofts. Eh, no, you're right. He wouldn't be interested.

Q. Mr. Johnson, regarding the rough, some players have actually said that the rough that you have put in has actually helped them because it's helped stopped balls, slow balls that would have rolled into the pine straw. If it doesn't serve much of a purpose, is there any thought of getting rid of it and bringing it back to what the golf course used to be?

HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, I haven't thought about that really. Haven't thought about that.

Q. Do they have a point as far as the golf course may have been more difficult?

HOOTIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think that it probably does slow some shots that might otherwise go into a stand of pine trees.

Good to know they are really giving this architecture stuff a lot of thought.

Q. With the big hitters who do hit it 310 or whatever it may be, you say they will have a problem, but if there's only this much rough, how much of a problem can it be?

HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, it would be the trees, Dave. Like at 7 or at 17.

How is the tree planting really any different than introducing protective netting? Really? One is a living thing, one is made of some synthetic material. But both would be placed for the same reason: prevent birdies, prevent players from having the freedom to play.

Q. Mr. Johnson, Nick Price said a couple of weeks ago, I asked Jack the same question, that he was surprised that Nicklaus and Palmer, who are both members of this club, and obviously design golf courses now full-time, were not consulted about the changes. Is there any reason why you don't consult past champions about changes to the golf course?

HOOTIE JOHNSON: Well, we have engaged someone that's been working with us, Tom Fazio, for a long time. You know, if we had six opinions, we really wouldn't know which way to go, and they would all be good, I'm sure.

Or not.