How far is it OK to hit a golf ball?
There is something incredibly beautiful about Augusta National Golf Club on TV – albeit that this year the competition is almost seven months late. We shall see the place in all its autumnal glory, a panoply of colours reds, golds, evergreens, and of course, all the famous holes like Amen Corner preened to within an inch of their natural selves. (That’s enough about gardening. Ed)
Augusta is in Georgia, much in the news recently for its rather ponderous vote-counting. The state has some deeply entrenched views, and Augusta National has itself held many of them; refusing to admit African Americans as members until 1990, and no women as members until 2012. The club long required all caddies to wear White Boiler Suits and (perhaps more importantly) to be black, Until 1975, black golfers were barred from the Masters’ Tournament until Lee Elder played in 1975. In 1997, Tiger Woods became the first person of colour to win the tournament. “As long as I’m alive,” said co-founder Roberts, who subsequently served as the club’s chairman, “all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.” With BLM rather calling the tune in agitprop USA, The Club has bent the knee and virtuously signalled their right-on’ess by inviting Lee Elder to start this year’s tournament. I don’t think they have made him a member – although Condy Rice is. Who would have guessed?
The controversy this year, however, will not be surrounding whether the players have balls or indeed their colour, but how far is it OK to hit them. The favourite for the Tournament is Bryson DeChambeau, (for some reason he leaves no space between de and Chambeau), and he has worked out that the faster you swing and the bigger you are, the further you will hit a ball. “The Scientist” as he is nicknamed, also has all his irons and wedges cut to exactly the same length: 37½ inches (95.3 cm). Their lie and bounce angles are also the same; only the lofts are different. In addition to the single-length concept, his clubs are unusual for their extremely upright lie angle. He also uses custom-made carbon graphite shafts on all of his clubs, including his putter. When you see him play you will notice that DeChambeau keeps the club on the same plane throughout his swing and does not turn his wrists during it. In 2011, DeChambeau switched to JumboMax Grips, the largest grips commercially available, which allow him to hold the club in his palms rather than his fingers. This year he will be carrying a new driver with him, which is 48″ long. He used this in practice recently and posted on social media, a photo of his TrackMan Monitor. It showed that he had struck a ball 403 yards, that it had travelled at 211mph, and that it had stayed in the air for 8.2 seconds – with a following breeze.
We ignored him in the US Open at Winged Foot – where he proved that to break that trickiest of all courses, you had to hit it further. However, it is facile to suggest that just smacking a ball further is the be-all and end-all. Prior to Winged Foot, he finished first and third in putting on his two previous victories. At Winged Foot, he was top-five in strokes gained around the green and top three in putting. But still and all, he hit the ball further and took full advantage of his driving accuracy and distance. He added 20lbs of in-good-shape weight. His last round score of 67 and six-under total gave him a six-stroke victory over our selection, Matthew Wolff. The 27-year-old DeChambeau was the only player in the 61-man field to break par on day four. His ambition is writ large and he is not playing to be a gentleman. He is the new breed of sporting Millenial, who are there to win and the best of them are self-opinionated bullies who are rude to other people trying to do their job (DeChambeau’s score to date is several Marshalls, a couple of umpires, a scorer and some hacks), and they will bend and stretch the rules to eke out every last ounce of advantage. The best of them, however, are very good and DeChambeau is very good AND very clever. En route, he will break the soul of anyone who tries to challenge him by simply pulling out a four-foot driver and smacking a ball 25% further than them.
That, however, HAS to change. Golf courses aren’t designed for Champions, regardless of how their names are spelt. They are designed for ordinary joes who play off a slightly disingenuous 16, and want to come back for a chat on the 19th, a drink with Dear Bill and drive home to an M&S dinner. Ordinary Joe, let us never forget, is paying for the Club with his membership fees, which means that St Andrews and Wentworth et al are Members Clubs first AND Championship Courses second. From any perspective, financially, ecologically, perceptibly, Golf Courses cannot keep getting bigger globally, simply to account for ten people’s extraordinary abilities. Organisations such as The PGA and the R&A have to pay more attention to the Amateurs inabilities rather than the direct inverse.
Instead, what has to happen and I’ll wager it will before the end of 2021, Golf’s rulers will make some truly major changes to the Professional Tour game. That might be a reversal of club regs, but I suspect not in simple financial terms (sponsorships, advertising, TV rights etc), but more likely a change in the ball to something lighter, less core-full, less dimpled – I have no idea – I’m not a scientist and if I were I would be unsuccessfully working on a breathable face-mask made of fish-scales.
So change is coming, the game will change, but not for the enthusiastic Amateur. Talking of which, here are my suggested punts:
All returns are 1/5 odds a place
- MATTHEW WOLFF is having his first Augusta start – but that’s because he is only 21!. In his first two Majors he tied 4th in the PGA Championship and an unchallenged 2nd in the U.S. Open. He is the first player to have five consecutive rounds in the 60s to start his major championship career. At 40/1 let’s have 1pt e/w for 8 places with either Bet365 or Betfred
- Again with those two bookies, I’m going to have a little bit of the 60/1 about SCOTTIE SCHEFFLER who is also making his first Masters start. He tied for fourth at the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park and shot a 59 at The Northern Trust and while I am a great believer in wise sayings, I am going to ignore the one that says Rookies Don’t Win Masters. In fact it’s only happened once (A spoon of snuff if you can who and when and I’m excluding the first Masters in 1932… duuhh. * Answer at the end)
- Despite catching C19, DUSTIN JOHNSON managed a 2nd in the Houston making it five top 2 finishes in his last six starts. In his last four starts here he finished Top 10 on each occasion. He’s a show-in for a top 5 finish at 9/4 and might even win it. 1pt Win @ 9/1 (William Hill) – 2 pt Top 5 finish at 9/4 (Skybet).
- BROOKS KOEPKA looks value at 16/1 – We’ll have 1 pt e/w for 10 places with Betfair. He had a brace of 65s in The Houston to see him get a confidence boosting 5th after a year plagued by knee and hip injuries. After missing nearly two months the former world No. 1, who tied for runner-up at last year’s Masters, is now ranked 12th having withdrawen from the FedEx Cup Playoffs and the U.S. Open. I think he’s on the up rather than just trying to please the sponsors.
I am tempted by JUSTIN ROSE to be Top English player at 6s. I shall just watch that one.
*Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979