It’s golf, Jim, but not as we know it…

Thought for the Day
Never play leapfrog with a unicorn

It’s golf, Jim, but not as we know it
Like Bryson DeChambeau, during lockdown I gained 20 pounds in weight and my shirt size has gone from medium to extra-large. Sadly, unlike him, I am not pounding the golf ball into the next postcode – in fact my wife and I played last week and I’m not even sure I’m the longest driver in my household. I can blame that, though, on having had a lesson the week before, which always means a couple of steps back before making the huge strides forward that will finally allow me to play to my limitless potential. This is not boastful by the way because if you think about it, everyone’s potential is limitless because the person has yet to be discovered who wasn’t capable of learning something new – well, President Trump excepted, of course.

Anyway, back to DeChambeau, whose scary length from the tee seemed to be all that people wanted to talk about at the Charles Schwab Challenge, the first comeback PGA Tour event in the hastily revised 2020 calendar. It once again ignited talk of introducing a tournament golf ball for pros, which would travel perhaps four-fifths the distance, but that is and always will be a non-starter. Manufacturers of golf equipment have huge pockets and if any attempt was made to restrict their income streams they would tie up any tour or governing body in prohibitively costly legislation for years.

If Titleist, Callaway, TaylorMade or whoever can’t spend millions of dollars persuading us to buy their golf balls, because that’s what the big stars play, they won’t make the several more millions in profit from you, me and every other happy hacker out there. Jack Nicklaus, when he was the most influential voice in sport (he did, after all, persuade the PGA to let the GB&I Ryder Cup team become Europe) started a campaign for a limited length tour ball decades ago and his sensible argument fell on the same stony ground then as it does now.

So what does tournament golf look like in these days of covid-19? After several weeks of doing the pandemic footstep – dancing around people in supermarkets and on the pavements, the first thing you notice is that social distancing in pro golf is an ambition rather than a reality. Perhaps it’s because golfers have now adopted their caddies, in order for them to become part of the family, so that the social distancing rules no longer apply. Also, if you have played recently and obeyed all the instructions to not touch the flagstick, and noticed to your cost the absence of bunker rakes and other course furniture, in the pro game it seems pretty much business as usual.

In that regard, Rory McIlroy also has an air of familiarity insofar that he plays well, gets into contention and then looks like an 18-handicapper on Sunday. This year his average score for the first three days is just over 68, on the day they hand out the prizes it’s 71.3. He doesn’t think there’s a problem but then, bullet-proof self-belief is a significant part of the top sportsperson’s mentality. Either that or he’s in a serious state of denial.

The other recognisable element to this revised season is the names at the top of the leaderboard. None of them have won yet but Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm and yes, Rory McIlroy, all show form but they are joined by a refreshing mix of wannabes like Patrick Berger, Abraham Ancer and Dylan Frittelli. The elephant in the room, however, is Tiger Woods. The American TV networks are obsessed with him because ratings go through the roof when he’s in the field but so far the tinker is keeping his thoughts to himself and the likelihood is that we won’t see him until mid-July at the earliest.

Finally, watching golf on TV without the noise of spectators is, to me at least, a welcome change, especially in America. We’re blessedly free of the screams of ‘Get in the hole!’ on every shot – even the drives on a par five – and all of the other inane gibberish that people feel obliged to bellow. Unlike football, we don’t need the noise of the fans to generate atmosphere or excitement, that has more than been provided by the quality of the golf.

Quote of the Week
Watching the club head go back as you start your swing will probably ruin any chance you have of hitting a good shot. Anything you do wrong taking the club head back is not as bad as watching it
Harvey Penick

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