Why Is Four-Ball Play Not As Compelling As It Used To Be?

As day three of the President Cup carries on with an inevitable USA blowout, the contrast in urgency between foursomes and four-ball play has been noticeable.

Foursomes match play is faster, more volatile and more tense.

Four-ball match play just doesn't seem as lively as it used to be.

Martin Kaufmann noted in his Golfweek review of Friday's 2017 Presidents Cup four-ball session that pace of play was lethargic, making the telecast difficult to sit through.

Then, 2 hours 49 minutes into the show, Tom Abbott said this: “The first match has reached one of the most picturesque spots on the golf course, the short 10th hole.”

In other words, the pace of play was about 5 hours, 30 minutes for 18 holes. I’m not sure there’s anything a producer or director could do to inject excitement into the event when the players are sucking the life out of it with such tedious play.

The pace of play certainly is a factor, but it wasn't that long ago foursomes was less appreciated than four-ball. Alternate shot was seen as fluky, four-ball was a purer test (our friends in the UK, to their credit, never subscribed to this thinking).

Liberty National's lack of great risk-reward holes also reduces the number of four-ball situations where player A can take the safe route to set up a bolder shot by player B. Again, this puts the emphasis on putting over the total package of shotmaking and strategy.

Finally, the consistency and reliability of today's players, combined with improved equipment and conditioning, turns many matches into contests of putting over genuine strategy-fueled jousting. It's hard to create great risk-reward scenarios at today's distances with today's skill. Sure, we will still have players get nervous and even some team-pressure meltdowns, but the overall elevated consistency, regardless of cause, tends to place a greater emphasis on putting.

Now, we could make four-ball play a more compelling and speedier putting contest by forcing players to play their ball down on the greens. Besides elminating the tedium of watching golfers line up their arrows with the path to the hole, we might even have the occasional stymie scenario. Gasp!