Just One Player Laid Up At Riviera's 10th Hole Sunday, Zero Yesterday

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Longtime readers know I’ve tracked the gradual shift of the ShotLink scatter chart at Riviera’s 10th toward the greensite.

The great risk-reward short par-4 is now officially a one-shot hole given that only one player appeared to intentionally lay up Sunday and only 40 over four days of Genesis Open play at Riviera. The rest—400 attempts—”went for the green”.

That, my friends, is a par-4 in name only.

The round 4 scatter chart:

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When the hole played shorter Saturday, no one laid up.

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And over four days, almost no one is even bothering to try to use the lay-up options once so revered before, you know, kale, high-fiber diets and agronomy conspired to shorten the hole.

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Why Have Golf's Better Athletes Only Picked Up 1.3 M.P.H. In Clubhead Speed Over The Last Decade?

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The USGA and R&A have released their annual driving distance report and the pro tour’s saw a 1.7 yard increase on top of last year’s 3 yard increase.

Given how much we’re told the recent spikes are a product of increased athleticism—not equipment innovation or launch monitors or instruction—the gain of just 1.3 mph in swing speed since the players started traveling with foam rollers, eating raw cauliflower and taking their core work more seriously seems paltry.

From David Dusek’s Golfweek story on the report:

Compared to the earliest radar data available, which came in 2007, ball speed is up almost 4 mph, drives start 0.3 higher and with almost 200 rpm less spin. At the same time, the average clubhead speed on those drives has increased from 112.4 mph to 113.7 mph. This would indicate that while the pros on the PGA Tour are swinging faster as a group, their equipment and swings are becoming more optimized and efficient.

Athleticism nice, algorithms nicer.

Meanwhile in his Golf World assessment, Mike Stachura attempts to downplay yet another increase in driving distance across the board by ascribing a percentage decline to the increase.

According to the report, the average increase in driving distance across all professional tours in 2018 was 1.7 yards over 2017. While that number is significantly higher than the trend from 2006-2016, it is more than 40 percent less than the gain seen in average driving distance from 2016 to 2017.

More than 40%! Nothing to see here!

Finally, the most interesting thing I saw in the report—besides huge spikes in drives over 320 yards powered by that 1.3% clubhead speed increase—was a yellow color coded admission that “stability through regulation” ended in 2016. Translation: our rules stopped working the last two years. Interesting choice of words.

Honma's Mark King: Pro-Bifurcation And Lamenting Multiple Driver Launches

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Adam Schupak talks to ex-TaylorMade CEO Mark King about his role at Honma USA and more.

A couple of noteworthy quotes include his admission of abusing the annual driver release with multiple drivers unveiled in one year. But he stands by the approach of a new driver every year for the 20% who will pay.

MK: That we went so fast. My last 2-3 years at TaylorMade I don’t think the model was wrong. I think we abused the model a bit. Every time sales dipped a bit, we launched a new product. I wish we had shown more discipline. If you don’t have anything that makes the club different, you should probably wait. That said, I think one-year lifecycles when done properly is still the best way because I do think 20 percent of the golfers buy 80 percent of the equipment. Those 20 percent want to buy something unique and different ever year.

Mark him down for bifurcation, still!

AS: Where do you stand on the great distance debate going on in golf?

MK: You still have to think about the masses. I’m in the business of selling clubs to them and it’s the hardest game in the world. That’s why anything we can do to make it easier, I’m all for. That’s why I’ve always been OK with bifurcating the Rules of Golf.

"Golf-Home Owners Find Themselves in a Hole"

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While the PGA Tour Commissioner sees golf as “growing and thriving,” the Wall Street Journal’s Candace Taylor details a growing crisis in the golf course real estate community world. (Thanks reader JB for sending.)

As younger generations do not take to golf or have little interest in golf course-fronting homes, values are plummeting and closures are commonplace.

“There are hundreds of other communities in this situation, and they’re trapped and they don’t know what to do,” says Peter Nanula, chief executive of Concert Golf Partners, a golf club owner-operator that owns about 20 private clubs across the U.S. One of his current projects is the rehabilitation of a recently acquired club in Florida that had shut one of its three golf courses and sued residents who had stopped paying membership fees.

More than 200 golf courses closed in 2017 across the country, while only about 15 new ones opened, according to the National Golf Foundation, a golf market-research provider. Florida-based development consultant Blake Plumley said he gets about seven phone calls every week seeking advice about struggling courses, from course owners or homeowners’ associations. He said most of those matters end up in court, and predicted that the U.S. is only about halfway through the number of golf-course closures that will eventually occur.

Growing and thriving…

PGA Tour Commish: "Hard to argue you should be changing anything right now because the sport is growing and thriving."

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It’s hard to get past the above quote from PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan made in a 2019 Sentry TOC media session and reported here by Golfweek’s Dan Kilbridge.

The Commissioner’s views on distance are no secret: he wants to hype younger and longer players because he believes that’s why people watch the game despite all of the grandstands being at greens and not tee boxes.

You can take your pick of reasons for a short-sighted stance that even his youth-obsessed predecessor never went so far overboard to make. But more alarming is the view that the sport is growing and thriving, so why change a thing?

“We’re gonna be a party to all these discussions,” Monahan said. “We’re going to understand everybody’s perspectives as the USGA and R&A move forward with their Distance Insights project, but it’s hard to argue you should be changing anything right now because the sport is growing and thriving.”

If it’s growing and thriving, why do we have all of these expensive grow the game initiatives to jumpstart participation?

Why is the golf course industry fearful of a recession and a new tax code eliminating entertainment deductions if the game is thriving?

There is also the PGA Tour as a product. He should be hoping for a variety of players and a variety of playing styles to make the game thrive, not a one-dimensional power game. No sport that’s gone all in on technology and power has come out better. As a fan of sports, Monahan should know this. And he should know better.

State Of The Game 87: Golf On Instagram With Ru Macdonald

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Scottish Golf Podcast host and European Tour social media correspondent Ru Macdonald joins us to consider the impact Instagram is having on golf travel and architecture. If you’re not on Instagram we’ve got a few tips and accounts to follow, too.

I feel like we just touched the surface on how exactly Instagram is changing tastes and how people plan trips. But hopefully this chat with Ru, Rod Morri and Mike Clayton gets you thinking!

Rod has posted some of our suggested Instagram follows in the show notes here, though somehow he left out my suggestion of Walter GeoffreyThe Frenchie.

As always, you can listen below or via all of the usual podcast sources.

More Evidence That Par-5's Aren't What They Used To Be

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Christopher Powers compiles a list of the 14 “most telling” stats from 2018 and while they’re all worth your time, Tiger’s 4.57 scoring average on par-5s stands out.

Powers writes:

The number matches the worst mark in Woods' career; in 2013 he also had a 4.57 average. However that year it was good enough to tie him for fourth on tour. This year, that mark tied him for 24th, by far the worst standing of his career in the category. Prior to this season, Woods had never finished worse than T-6 for a season in par-5 scoring average.

While it may stand out to Tiger as something to consider, the notion that the same number this year was only good for 24th compared to 4th just five years ago is yet another remind kids to do your Wall Planks!

State Of The Game 86: Richard Gillis And The PGA Tour’s Dance With Discovery

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Richard Gillis, sport business writer and consultant joins us to discuss the PGA Tour’s new partnership with Discovery to deliver international audiences GOLFTV, launching in select countries January 1.

Rod Morri, Mike Clayton and yours truly break down the potential ramifications with Gillis, who has joined the pod before upon publication of The Captain Myth, which also comes up in the show.

As always, you can listen wherever podcasts are streamed, download or listen on iTunes, or below:

Titleist Distance Questionairre: Who Knew Filling Out A Survey Could Be So Fun(ny)?

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It appears our favorite ballmakers in Fairhaven are gearing up for a fight as the PGA Tour driving distances have jumped more in the last two years than in the previous dozen or so.

With the governing bodies surveying golfers on distance, the folks at Titleist are fearful of losing market share are asking their beloved fans, customers and others to fill out at wonderfully misleading survey on distance.

For starters, they suggest the governing bodies of golf have suggested a distance rollback percentage of 15-25%. They have not. This comically dishonest chart is inecessary to see just what lengths they’ll go to in order to scare golfers filling in answers to questions:

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Despite the sheer fictional nature of the chart, the apparently embarrassment of making stuff up did not stop Titleist from posting the hilariously misleading chart atop pages essentially reminding the survey-taker of the dastardly deeds looming from the USGA and R&A:

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So besides the sight of the fake rollback numbers, the notion of listing them above questions probably would not pass muster at most legitimate polling organizations. But as we know, this isn’t really about getting honest answers from core golfers.

Tiger On His 2018 And The Game Changing Dramatically

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Evan Priest scores a year-end Golf.com exclusive with Tiger and this answer got me wondering if any other all-time great player experienced more dramatic equipment advances during the course of his or her career? I don’t think so.

Well, it depends. In that era, 280 was a long drive. Now it’s, “Hey, can you carry it 320 in the air?” The game has evolved and, I was telling some [people in Melbourne], when I came down here to play the Presidents Cup in 1998, some of the guys were transitioning out of persimmon. The game has changed dramatically since then.

Banner Time For Fairway Mowers, Strengthened Cores! PGA Tour Distance Average Up 6.1 Yards Over Two Years

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GolfDigest.com’s Mike Johnson reports on the rather astounding jump in 2018’s PGA Tour Driving Distance average (4 yards) on top of 2017’s healthy jump (2.1) yards.

The governing bodies have relentlessly pointed to a flatlining since the old Statement of Principles days, but maybe the nation’s superintendents and physios worked behind the scenes to push distances forward the last two years. (Sarcasm emoji goes here.)

As you may recall the distance number was at an amazing 294.7 through June’s Travelers Championship, meaning the average spiked nicely in just the final two months or so of the season when things warmed up and the nation’s maintenance mechanics conspired to sharpen mower blades. Because, you know the game is played on the ground so much these days!

And as noted here on the eve of the Tour Championship, things were looking rather historic as far as increases go which Johnson affirms.

He reports last year’s 2.1 yard increase prompted the Distance Insights study and he included this curious description of the survey.

Though some who have participated feel the questions have been biased toward a negative impression of distance, there’s no denying at the elite level that the game’s best have gotten longer. Fourteen players averaged 310 yards or more this past PGA Tour season and 60 topped 300 yards compared to 7 and 40, respectively, the year before.

I haven’t heard of any negative bias from those who participated in the survey. Maybe there needed to be a few warm-up questions where people get to share their most intimate, fondest recollections of gaining distance off the tee? Or of the manufacturers? Or of their Trackman relationships?

Champ's Fall Season Numbers Set Him Down Almost Uncharted Territory

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Golfweek’s David Dusek takes a fascinating look at Cameron Champ’s driving stats after a strong fall start to the 2018-19 PGA Tour season. Averaging 328.2 yards off the tee and 1.483 strokes gained off the tee, the numbers suggest he’s on course for an unprecedented blowout in the Strokes Gained Driving.

Granted, there is a long way to go but Dusek notes the last person dominating with the big stick like this was Bubba Watson in 2012.

When Watson finished 2012 with the highest season-ending strokes gained off the tee average ever, 1.485, his average swing speed that year was 124.69, his average ball speed was 184.98 mph and his driving accuracy percentage was 58.85.

So far this year, Champ leads the PGA Tour in average clubhead speed at 130.2 mph and average ball speed at 193.61 mph. He is also hitting 61.79 percent of the fairways.

Not to diminish Watson’s achievement in 2012, but in just six years the tour driving distance average has increased.

In 2012, 21 players averaged over 300 yards off the tee.

In 2018, that number jumped to 60 averaging over 300. With many of “average” drivers distance-wise having been replaced by longer hitters, and more players embracing the importance of mindfulness, oat milk and physical fitness, Champ’s separation from his new peers seems even more impressive.

State Of The Game 85: The New Rules Of Golf Rollout

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Golf's new rules come into effect in a matter of weeks, so in our best public service effort yet, we are joined by USGA Manager of Rules Outreach & Programming Joe Foley to discuss, plus he fends off Clayts on backstopping and the potential for bifurcating the game's equipment rules!

The State of the Game page.

The episode link.

The Aussies Care: Chalmers, Hughes Speak Out On Distance Issues

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As the Australian Open gets underway, the world of golf’s attention turns Down Under where we are reminded that some players still put the game ahead of their pocketbook.

Mark Hayes reports on Greg Chalmers, two time Aus Open champ, revealing that he’s been “begging and pleading with” the governing bodies to do something. Anything. Or, as some people would call it, their job. Good luck with that!

“They always seem to be behind and I would love for them at some point, and it's probably going to happen in about 10 years, they're going to go, ‘Hmmm, I think the ball goes too far, or the clubs help to hit the ball too far’.

“So that is something that I am frustrated about because we always seem to be unwinding the clock.

“We always have to – it started with the wedges, the change in grooves, then we went long putter.

“They keep unwinding things.  Why can't we get in front of things?  That's the only thing I wish would happen, they would do a better job sometimes.”

Had they done so at some point in the last twenty years, maybe former Australian Masters winners and Presidents Cup participant Bradley Hughes wouldn’t have to write a eulogy to the golf course he loves and which no longer plays as it was intended, with him channeling the defenselessness of the design against a modern golfer.

You are going to take the blue line route to the destination.

Go ahead- say it.... I know you are. You can't hurt me anymore

You are going to dismiss my contours.

You are going to avoid my white face bunker that used to laugh at you from the tee- now you don't even see it.

That bunker recently admitted his own lonely existance to me not so long ago also. He feels betrayed too that his prescence is no longer appreciated or acknowledged.

The beautiful pines on the corner of my dogleg are now an aiming point rather than an obstruction. And yes!!! They are pissed off too!!!!

State Of The Game 84: Arthur MacMillan, Saudia Arabia And Golf Tournaments Going To Strange Lands

Rod Morri, Mike Clayton and yours truly spoke with Arthur MacMillan, Chief Diplomatic Correspondent at The National regarding the bleak situation in Saudi Arabia and the European Tour’s “monitoring” of events there.

We also kick around other topics including Rory McIlroy and a fun story to end the show! You can check it out below or wherever fine podcasts are streamed.

Save Muny Urgently Needs UT Regents To Hear From Supporters

It’s a golf course for everyone in a city center

It’s a golf course for everyone in a city center

The University of Texas Board of Regents and legislators who hold the future of Lions Municipal apparently need to be reminded again that a lot of people care about Austin’s gem of a public golf facility.

This Thursday they vote on whether to extend the Brackenridge Tract Agreement deadline for canceling the Muny Golf Course lease. An extension is needed to allow the state of Texas and City of Austin to continue negotiations on Saving Muny and the Brackenridge Tract. 

The Save Muni Instagram account offers this handy sample letter with pertinent email addresses.

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❗️URGENT CALL TO ACTION: Ask UT Board of Regents and Legislators to Save Muny! Dear Friend of Muny, This Thursday, the UT Board of Regents will vote on whether to extend the Brackenridge Tract Agreement deadline for canceling the Muny Golf Course lease and Brackenridge Development Agreement. If we don’t take action, we know that, absent UT negotiating in good faith, we’ll have more traffic and we’ll lose green space, so we need your help to contact the Regents and our elected leaders at the state to get UT to extend the deadline so that the State and City of Austin can continue negotiations on Saving Muny and the Brackenridge Tract. If you want UT and the City to negotiate a solution for the Brackenridge Tract Agreement and Muny Golf Course, then please consider sending a message, such as shown below, to let them know the importance of providing additional time to find a fair solution to help Save Muny and the Brackenridge Tract. Thank you for your help and continued support! Proposed Message (please revise as needed): Greetings Board of Regents (bor@utsystem.edu), Honorable Senator Kirk Watson (kirk.watson@senate.texas.gov), Honorable Donna Howard (donna.howard@house.texas.gov), Honorable Gina Hinojosa (gina.hinojosa@house.texas.gov): We urge you to extend the deadline for canceling the Muny Golf Course lease and Brackenridge Development Agreement so that negotiations can continue between the UT System and the City of Austin. With Austin City Council’s vote to extend the deadline from November 26, 2018 to February 28, 2019, UT has a willing partner to continue discussions, and we implore you to provide additional time for negotiation discussions to continue. The Brackenridge Tract properties are valuable and treasured assets, not only for UT Systems but also for the City of Austin. And with recent progress by the City of Austin in finding possible funding sources to fairly compensate UT for a deal to purchase and/or swap properties, there is a real opportunity to reach an agreement which provides reasonable development and compensation to UT for the properties. Please vote to extend the cancellation deadline. Yours very truly, ________________

A post shared by Save Muny - Austin, Texas (@savemuny) on

Blackmar: "Is technology driving golf to a fork in the road?"

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Former PGA Tour player and broadcaster Phil Blackmar has been watching the assorted technology debates breaking out in response to Brandel Chamblee’s Tweetstorm over the distance explosion and how to address the situation.

Blackmar’s worries less about the pro game and instead wonders how much enjoyment technology has brought to the game, particularly in once-passionate markets now well into golf popularity recessions as we’ve never seen better technology and science applied to the game.

As you can see, handicaps have come down 2 strokes over the past 27 years. Take a minute to consider all the tech advancements I just mentioned plus: better understanding of biomechanics in the swing, launch monitors revealing misunderstood impact relationships and launch monitors providing invaluable feedback. Then, add better agronomy, workout specialists, mental gurus, short game experts and finally the countless articles, books and videos detailing all sorts of methods and philosophies. Add all that up and ask yourself: is a two stroke gain over 27 years significant? Is shooting 86 rather than 88 that much more fun? I don’t think so either.

Champ's Cracked Driver Prompted New Testing That Gained Him More Yardage

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Let’s be clear: most of Cameron Champ’s unprecedented driving distances that have led to a quick rise come from technique, strength and modern equipment.

Still, given that the USGA and R&A once loathed the idea of a player picking up an advantage through a simple equipment change, Champ and PING’s tour team offer another reminder at how sophisticated club fitting has gotten for even a player seemingly maxed out distance-wise.

From David Dusek’s Golfweek story after Champ cracked his driver on the eve of finishing off the Sanderson Farms:

On Monday before the Shiners Hospitals for Children Open, Pena built Champ a new gamer driver using the same components as in the driver that broke. However, Champ said he wanted to make the same swing but launch the ball slightly higher. To do that, Pena would need to add loft, which would also increase spin and reduce distance. Instead, Pena made some drivers with counterbalanced shafts that allowed him to make Champ a head with a heaver back weight. That increased the dynamic loft at impact.

Champ’s typical drive had been launching at 7 degrees with about 2,700 rpm of backspin, creating a carry distance of about 325 yards. Using the new shaft in his G400 Max, a prototype Accra TZT 265 M5, he started hitting the ball even farther.

“The first he hit launched at 9 degrees, carried 15 yards farther and the ball speed was almost 198 mph,” Pena said, laughing. “We looked at each other and said to ourselves, ‘What the heck did we just do?’”

Champ led the field with a 353.2 yard average on the measuring holes.

Yes, he got longer after losing his gamer and getting fit for a new one.