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Saturday, July 27, 2013

ANOTHER 59?!?!?

I suppose I could use this post to gloat a bit about Bernhard Langer being tied for the lead at the Senior Open Championship. I only picked one player for this major, and there he is! But I won't.

I suppose I could wax eloquent about Hunter Mahan's Friday 64 at the RBC Canadian Open, which put him in the lead. It's not like he was the only player to go low -- Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey also shot a 64, and John Merrick blistered the course with a 62. But neither of them were backing up a decent first round either! Still, I won't focus on that either.

What has my mind whirling today is the 59 that Russell Knox shot at the Albertsons Boise Open... but probably not for the reasons you might think.

As far as the event goes, I'm not so sure 59 is all that amazing. Bear in mind that the Hillcrest GC is handing out low scores like condoms at a brothel. (If you'll pardon the analogy.) There were two 62s, seven 63s, and another five 64s. That's FIFTEEN scores lower than we normally see, week in and week out. So I don't think it's so unusual that we saw a 59 Friday.

At this rate, we might even see another one before the tournament is finished.

No, what fascinates me about this is that we saw a 59 just a couple of weeks ago on the Tour. Will Wilcox shot a final-round 59 at the Utah Championship. In the month of July we've seen the Tour's "59 Club" expand from 3 players to 5 -- a 67% increase!

And so I have to ask myself why. I'm not sure I like the answer.

Look, I'm not one of those guys who thinks "par means something." In my opinion, par has precisely two reasons to exist:
  1. to provide an "invisible opponent" for singles squeezing in some golf
  2. to make it possible to compute handicaps
Many of you may have read my 2009 post Why Not a Par 67 Course? where I suggested we reduce par on some of the older courses so the Tour could use them again. My reasoning is that we rarely say a player shot, say, 284 at an event any more -- we say they shot 4-under (if it's a par-72 course). If we reduced par to 67 on some of those old courses, all we'd be doing is reducing the number of shots under par... which would make the course sound harder. (If you won by shooting four 65s on such a course, you'd only be 8-under.) In actuality you'd just be eliminating some of the "gimme" strokes from the score.

The following day I did a post called Par and the Weekend Golfer where I talked about the concept of "personal par." (You'll see the name Vince Spence in the comments on these two posts. Vince used to do a blog called The One-Eyed Golfer and he was quite a historian of the game. He passed away in 2010. His death was a great loss to the golf blogging community.) I wrote something in this second post that came to mind when I saw that 59 on Friday:
For those of you who didn’t check out the comments on that last post, Greg at From the Rough voiced an opinion shared by many golfers: “…the last thing we weekend hacks would want to see is a farther separation between pros and joe's - Par is now 67 for the pros?” And my response was “…almost everybody expects the pros to birdie the par 5s with a two-putt. Doesn't that mean they're already playing a par 68... and we all accept it?”
The question of whether par really means anything or not is at the base of our differing perspectives.

I think one of the best things we weekend golfers can do to improve our games is to forget about par entirely… or at least reduce it to a mere suggestion of what we might expect if we play well. Many definitions of par describe it as the result of ‘perfect play.’ (Which, presumably, means that a birdie is ‘better than perfect’ and an eagle is ‘pretty near godlike.’) But par was always determined somewhat arbitrarily, and no more so than today. When par3s can measure 265 yards, par truly has become meaningless for the weekend golfer.
Have tour players really become so good that they can shoot such ridiculous scores at will? I don't think so. You see, I watched two short little courses called Merion and Muirfield totally destroy the greats of the game. In those two tournaments a grand total of ONE player shot under par. You can argue that conditions at majors are meant to be tough, and you wouldn't want to watch them every week. And I'd be the first to agree...

But I'd also say that normal tournaments should offer at least a bit of a challenge. When 15 players shoot 7-under or lower, that's not happening. We're rapidly approaching the point where shooting 59 doesn't really mean anything at all.

There's some maneuvering room between 6-inch rough and no rough. There's a happy medium between 20-yard fairways and 50-yard fairways. And most of the longer hitters seem to have problems with shorter holes. Has nobody noticed any of this?

Maybe they should. I don't want to demean what Russell Knox did Friday... but that once-magical 59 no longer means as much as it once did.

It seems to me that the tour pros are already playing par-67 courses. Call me when someone shoots 57 in an official event.

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