Elephant In The Room Files: Green Speed Push Blows Up Again

While I never enjoy seeing a course setup go bad--especially when I know how sick the PGA Tour rules staffers and weather forecasters will be following Saturday's TPC Sawgrass putting bloodbath--it's good to have days like this to remind people how close golf courses are taken to the edge in the name of resisting technological advances that no architecture can keep up with.

When Stimpmeter speeds hover in the 12-13 neighborhood, the slightest bit of drop in humidity mixed with little root structure and unexpected wind can send greens that just days before were said to be too soft (but still wickedly fast) into a state of goofiness. We reached a point in the sport where the green is taken up to extreme speeds and allowed to play too prominent of a role at all levels in part because agronomists are so good at what they do. But mostly, it's about, but the professional game having outgrown just about every course on the planet.

As the 2016 Players joined the list of tournaments influenced by a setup gone wild, we are reminded again that the modern golf ball, when hit by the world's best, goes distances not foreseen by designers and therefore is not something manageable by any design under 8000 yards.

The TPC Sawgrass, once a beast, is often overmatched in today's game. It's final defense, short of 5 inch rough and and adding new tees: extreme green speeds that are manageable until they're not.

Unlike every other professional sports league, the PGA Tour will never get in the business of regulating the equipment played at its events to keep courses relevant and green speeds at a sane level. So there is sweet irony in watching yet another position taken with profit margins in mind bubble to the surface at the Tour's marquee event.

The unfortunate takeaway most will have from Saturday's debacle will believe that the tour was angry at the low scoring and did this. But having been around the TPC all week, I didn't encounter one PGA Tour official even the least bit bothered by Jason Day breaking the 36-hole scoring record. This was a greater-than expected change in the weather that took greens so precariously close to the speed edge and turned them silly.

It's funny that a sport which self congratulates itself repeatedly for having more integrity than any other looks the other way when it comes to protecting the integrity of its playing fields, solely in fear of (potentially) costly regulatory fights that also might call into question golf's devotion to the gospel of unfettered capitalism. How is this sad state of affairs any less ridiculous than looking the other way on a doping scandal?

But I digress...

In Brian Wacker's GolfDigest.com round up of player comments, note Justin Rose's comment about the ball gliding over the greens. That's what happens when all moisture has been sucked out of the blades from mowing, rolling, heat, lack of humidity and perhaps some influence from the Precision air units underneath (assuming they were in use). Also note these numbers:

Over the first two days, there were 122 combined three-putts among the 144 players in the field. On Saturday there were 149 three-putts among the 76 players who made the cut, and 15 of those players had at least 34 putts for their round including McIlroy, who had 37.

Rex Hoggard has some eye-opening putting stats as well, and has this from PGA Tour VP of rules and competitions Mark Russell.

“We have done the same thing all week. We have been double cutting these greens and double rolling them and trying to get them firmed up,” said Mark Russell, the Tour’s vice president of rules and competition. “What happened today was just kind of a perfect storm with the weather. We weren't expecting a 20 mph wind all day, and the humidity 30 percent, not a cloud in the sky. And they just, you know, sped up on us.”

But then that doesn’t explain a three-putt percentage of historic proportions?

The Tour average for three-putts in a round is 2.93 percent, and on Thursday and Friday the field hovered around the norm with a 2.08 and 2.67 percent average, respectively. On Saturday that number skyrocketed to 11 percent.

Rory McIlroy had one of the worst days on the green, reports Will Gray at GolfChannel.com.

“I mean, it’s like a U.S. Open out there. I can’t really describe it any other way,” McIlroy said. “I just found I had a really difficult time adjusting to them. I stood up here yesterday and I said it’s amazing how differently the course plays from morning to afternoon, but I didn’t expect it to be like that out there this afternoon. That was borderline unfair on a few holes.”

McIlroy opened his round with a birdie, but he realized conditions had changed when his 85-foot eagle attempt on No. 2 raced nearly 18 feet past the hole. It led to the first of five three-putts on the day, including three such instances in a four-hole stretch on Nos. 10-13 that dropped him off the first page of the leaderboard.

Jim McCabe says the Shinnecock word came up a lot after the round.

“A lot of caddies kept asking, ‘What’s this remind you of?’ ” said James Edmondson, the caddie for Ryan Palmer. “Everyone said, ‘Shinnecock.’ ”

And when his back-nine 42 and round of 79 was complete, Ian Poulter blurted out “TPC Shinnecock,” only to catch himself and shake his head.
“I’ll refrain from saying anything,” Poulter declared, and wisely he moved to the autograph area and signed for a long line of youngsters.

ESPN.com's Bob Harig says players were not buying the tour's stance on greens getting the same treatment as the previous days. Technically that is true with one extra rolling between the conclusion of round two and the start of round three.

"It was a massive change -- it wasn't very subtle,'' Scott said.

"That was borderline unfair on a few holes,'' Rory McIlroy said.

"I felt like I was putting on dance floors out there,'' Billy Horschel said.

"It was crazy tough,'' Matsuyama said.

There were just three rounds Saturday in the 60s and only six under par. There were seven in the 80s. The 76 players in the field combined for 149 three-putts or worse -- a record for the course. There were 86 double-bogeys or worse.

Sergio's six-putt should not be watched by young children...