News & Opinion

Red alert: Golf’s apocalypse has arrived

Winner Bryson DeChambeau PGA Tour 2020 Rocket Mortgage Classic final round
Bryson DeChambeau, who at 6 feet 1 inches beefed up to 240 pounds during the recent 3-month season shutdown, has rendered PGA Tour courses to be little more than pitch-and-putt playthings.

Bryson DeChambeau takes the game to new lengths – and lows – as he overwhelms courses and undermines the art of victory as the PGA Tour degrades into a home-run derby

I’ve never been a big fan of journalists writing in the first person, so I’m already 0 for 1 in that respect, but there comes a time when a scribe has to say what a scribe’s got to say: If last week’s PGA Tour event bears even a slight resemblance to the future of professional golf, I need to start covering croquet.

Beyond the usual drabfest from CBS, which has become a mute button’s best friend, this might have been the tackiest telecast in network history from an optical standpoint. A perfectly handsome layout in downtown Detroit, absolutely smothered in blood-red commercial signage, courtesy of a mortgage company/title sponsor? Without any fans on the grounds, these logo-infested placards were impossible to miss. One Rocket for every spectator who would have been in attendance.

Imagine Lucifer showing up at Augusta National and announcing himself as the new interior decorator, then bathing the property in ketchup. Even worse, imagine every weekend turning into a long-drive contest, rendering finesse and course management irrelevant as they once related to the final outcome. That’s what I saw in the Motor City: a guy who now looks like a Rock’em Sock’em Robot bludgeoning the field with his 360-yard drives and not a whole lot else.

I have kept my big mouth largely shut on matters involving distance control at the game’s highest level and USGA/R&A legislation that would curb the effects of equipment technology on the competitive product. Scoring really hasn’t changed all that much over the past 30 years. What’s the big deal? Uh, well…

Other than blame a cameraman for a lousy bunker shot, Bryson DeChambeau did nothing untoward en route to his sixth Tour victory and another $1.35 million, but it was the utterly one-dimensional way in which he achieved the triumph that left a bugle blowing in my ear and Chicken Little begging anyone who will listen to do something about this mess. This was my version of the apocalypse. An unavoidable notice that our great game, at least the way tour pros play it, needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

So, I’m a bit late to the party. Better late than completely ignorant.

My editor, a smart man who has been around golf a long time, pointed out that DeChambeau led the field in strokes gained putting, that he did more than routinely smash his ball as far as those protein shakes will allow. Of course he did! He made a bunch of 6- and 8-footers for birdie because he had 78 yards to the hole after driving it halfway across Michigan. Spare me the statistical data, or the fact that lots of players other than DeChambeau hit it longer than 300 yards on a regular basis.

That’s sort of the point here. This isn’t about the bratty brainiac and all his muscle as much as it is a warning/protest about the dangers of excessive length. Hitting it long isn’t wrong. DeChambeau didn’t commit a felony by turning a 7,340-yard course into a pitch-and-putt. The game’s governing bodies have been talking about harnessing distance for more than 20 years. I remember then-USGA president Buzz Taylor sternly barking about the matter back at the 1998 U.S. Open.

What has been done?

Seriously, what has been done?

You don’t leave things the way they are because you’re afraid the equipment manufacturers will file a joint legal action opposing the rollback. And you don’t change things just to preserve precious, undersized relics such as Merion or Seminole. You do it because pro golf is changing for the worse. You do it because the eye test still matters, and if there are a few hundred pages of data to support what a lot of people are seeing and fearing, well, that would be fabulous.

Tiger Woods dominated the sport with his length when he first turned pro, right around the same time Buzz Taylor might have been planning his rant. Woods hit short irons into par 5s at the 1997 Masters and won by 12, which freaked out everyone, but he was great at every aspect of the game. He was just better than all the others. You don’t make all the tour pros use Cayman balls because one skinny kid ate his Wheaties every morning.

This is very different. DeChambeau isn’t great at everything. He’s a nice player, but he hasn’t proved himself to be exceptional at anything other than hitting the ball really, really far. Against what was clearly the weakest field since the Tour returned to action last month, that length was basically all DeChambeau needed to win by three. At the very least, if you’ll pardon the pun, it went a long way toward carrying him to that sixth win.

Too far, these old-school eyeballs attest. And how far is too far? You tell me. How about we just move all the tee markers up to the 150-yard posts and have the fellas start every hole from there? Would that be any fun? Of course not. Chicks dig the longball, and so do old guys like me, but when somebody is driving it into a greenside bunker at a 380-yard par 4, splashing out and tapping in for birdie, that’s not really golf.

That’s a home-run derby. A home-run derby amid a lot of ugly signs, if you know what I mean.

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