Martin Vousden on The US Open and Balls

Jun 26 2017

Thought for the Day
Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours a day that were given to Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein

Six of one…
This year’s US Open has divided opinion like few others before – and this for what is often the most controversial major of the year for a plethora of reasons. It was played over a young course with no major pedigree but the standout fact is that champion Brooks Koepka equaled the lowest winning score to par (set by Rory McIlroy) at minus 16. Never before has anyone other than the champion finished in double digits under par but six others managed it at Erin Hills. And there was also the matter of Justin Thomas equalling the best ever US Open round of 63. And all this on a course of 7,700 yards with diabolically penalising rough.


If history repeats itself, which it has a tendency to do, the USGA will have a hissy fit of the vapours and next year’s venue, Shinnecock Hills, will be set up in such a way that 10-over par will win. So let us hope that before then the committee responsible for preparing the course stops to consider a few relevant facts. First, the scoring was better than at any other US Open in history largely because of the weather – it rained three times during the week and wind was largely absent. This makes for a softer, more receptive course than the hard, fast-running, greased-lightning speedtracks the USGA prefers to produce.

Second, the fairways were considerably wider than the norm, sometimes twice as broad as seen at a customary US Open venue. Third, player fitness, technique and equipment all march inexorably forward so it is inevitable that scoring will improve over the years. It is clear that if it could the USGA would re-introduce hickory shafts, gutta percha balls and compulsory wear of plus fours and buttoned jackets for competitors but even they wouldn’t dare, much as they might dream.

Let us hope also that it considers the fact that, despite the low scoring, the earth did not tilt from its axis, the gods of golf have not visited divine retribution on us all and we spectators got to watch a great deal of excellent golf. Okay, Koepka was so completely in control of his emotions and swing that his win looked pretty inevitable from early in the final round but that doesn’t detract from an otherwise enjoyable week.

The principle of wider fairways but brutally unforgiving rough if you miss them, is exactly the right one and I hope it’s something we continue to see. And if the USGA remains concerned about the length these guys hit the ball, pinch the fairways in between 290 and 330 yards, subliminally offering the message: ‘Come and have a go if you think you’re hard (or good) enough.’

… And half a dozen of the other
On the subject of how far modern pros hit the ball – and remember that the record scoring at the US Open was set on the longest course ever played in the event – I cannot help but feel that both the R&A and USGA are ducking the issue. For just two specific illustrations, remember that Rickie Fowler, on the 637 yard 18th got home with a 3-wood and long iron. Second, this year’s champions and last year’s, Koepka and Dustin Johnston respectively, drove the ball 322 and 317 yards, significantly further than the previous three US Open winners.

And yet the governing bodies continue to insist that in their many tests of equipment, particularly those measuring the performance of golf balls, distances have improved only marginally in recent decades. Therefore, they argue, there is no need to limit the distance these balls fly. But the empirical evidence all of us watching and participating in the game seems to contradict this. Some years ago the USGA caught a crab with Karsten Solheim’s company Ping, regarding the measurement of the grooves on its irons. The PGA Tour banned them, the USGA supported the tour so Solheim sued them both and an out of court settlement was reached.

As a result, both bodies (and, one suspects, the R&A and European Tour) want as little to do with legislating against club or ball manufacturers as possible – specifically by limiting the distance a ball can travel. This is unlikely to change in the near future.

Quote of the Week
Golf would not be the game that it is, without the continual hope of doing better the next time we play
Mike Hebron

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