Tillie’s jewel still sparkles, despite Koepka's assault
I agree with Mike Purkey, that the professional game of “bash-and-wedge” is not going to be rolled back (“As golf evolves, it’s best to get with times,” May 22). It’s here to stay for all the reasons that Purkey set out. PGA champion Brooks Koepka made mincemeat of Bethpage Black, one of the finest courses designed by A.W. Tillinghast to present the golfer with difficult obstacles and strategies.
As an example of what Koepka did, let’s look at one hole at Bethpage Black. Tillinghast had a special theory for the perfect par 5, which he incorporated into the design of the fourth hole, a 517-yarder which runs uphill.
“In my humble opinion,” Tillinghast said, “the green to the three-shot hole must be beyond the range of any player who misses with his drive or second stroke. Doglegging enables us to accomplish this. But the most effectual method, and I believe the only satisfactory one, is the location of a truly formidable hazard across the fairway. This must be carried with the second if the green is to be gained with the third. Obviously this break in the fairway must be great, let us say 100 yards, for it not only has to be crossed with the second, but it also keeps any shot short of it from getting home.”
Tillinghast’s fourth hole at Bethpage Black, known as “The Great Hazard,” incorporates a double dogleg and a huge bunker stretched diagonally across the fairway to be cleared on the second shot.
Koepka played the fourth with a long drive short of the bunker, and then an 8-iron over the bunker, straight to the green, eliminating the second dogleg. No clever play required, just bang out two long shots. Did he eliminate what Tillinghast planned so thoughtfully? Yes, but Koepka just played the hole another way, his way.
And that’s not bad. The fourth hole at Bethpage Black is still a challenge for the ordinary golfer, even a good ordinary golfer, as is the entirety of the course, and that’s the golfer for whom the course was designed, not the Brooks Koepkas of the world who play there once in a while.
Our game of golf is safe. For now.
(Fischer, a retired attorney, is a golf historian who is a past president of the Golf Collectors Society and a longtime member of the USGA’s Museum and Library Committee.)
Technology’s sacrilege at golf’s cathedrals
Mike Purkey's perspective on the technology-driven evolution of the game is both insightful and unfortunately accurate (“As golf evolves, it’s best to get with times,” May 22). Technology has changed every facet of our lives, sometimes to our own detriment.
Golf surely has benefited from the advances in club and ball design, and the athletes are so fortunate to have so much data available to train their bodies and minds for the marathons of 72-hole tournaments.
My concern is the risk that so many of our revered and historic golf courses are being rendered obsolete by the prodigious distances that the best players are realizing. Many of these golf cathedrals do not have the real estate to add the 500-1,000 yards required to continue being relevant in major championships. It is a shame to be losing the opportunity to relate the history of the majors that played out at places such as Merion, Oak Hill and The Country Club.
The ball simply does not curve any more. The golf-ball companies have successfully dummied down the flight characteristics so that everyone can keep it between the ditches. It would be great theater if the ball did not fly so straight, Phil Mickelson notwithstanding.
Laguna Hills, Calif.
Golf’s distance divide
Anyone who loves to play golf can see how the equipment has changed the game (“As golf evolves, it’s best to get with times,” May 22). The ball simply goes too far. Sure, I'd love to be able to put a tee-shot into orbit, but that's not going to happen.
The advances in equipment make it necessary for championship layouts to keep extending their tees. Many have no room to do so and have been removed from future championship consideration. It shouldn't have to be that way. Take back the ball.
The USGA and R&A are greatly to blame for allowing this situation to have occurred.
If you've been fortunate enough to have played balata balls and persimmon heads, you know that the game was much more difficult to manage. Skilled professionals and talented amateurs were able to master long-iron play. Now, most courses, even the longest, have become little more than pitch-and-putt layouts.
The answer to growing the game is not distance. It's keeping the game challenging for everyone, playing without dawdling and keeping the costs down. It wouldn't hurt to keep the kids away from those dangerous video games, as well.
West Wyoming, Pa.
Rooting interest on Long Island
There’s nothing better than to have “a horse in the race” at the PGA Championship. Our teaching pro from Trump National D.C., John O’Leary, qualified with a top-20 finish in the PGA Professional Championship.
A bunch of us made the trek to Bethpage to support him. It was a real highlight for O’Leary to play a practice round with Brooks Koepka. O’Leary is pals with Koepka and his caddie, Ricky Elliott. O’Leary got some good air time as part of the pre-tournament Golf Channel coverage focused on Koepka, the defending champion and eventual winner.
All of us now want to have a beer with Harold Varner III. For the first two rounds, O’Leary was paired with HV3, who could not have been more fun and engaging. He took O’Leary under his wing, and brought him into the fold with friendliness and personality. With our group of at least 20 (cheering way too loudly for O’Leary), Varner lobbied us with his big personality to cheer for him as well. He fed off the energy and played very well, playing his way to the final Sunday group with Koepka. Though he didn’t play well on Sunday, he earned a bunch of new fans at Bethpage.
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