News & Opinion

Lighten up, golfers, because it's a new game

Tyrrell Hatton wins European Tour's 2020 BMW PGA
Tyrrell Hatton, the winner of last week's BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour, shows that a golfer wearing a hoodie can look the part of a champion.

We’re hitting it longer with high-tech gear and taking more time to play, but we’ve also got cellphones and music to keep us occupied. With all of that going on, what's the big deal about a hoodie?

When the Callaway Great Big Bertha was introduced in 1995, I thought it looked like a Volkswagen on a stick. It was huuuge. I mean, a whopping 253 cubic centimeters. The original Big Bertha was 190cc, which was bound to be big enough.

The Great Big Bertha was easier to hit, longer and more forgiving. But wasn’t that taking some of the skill out of the game? With a sweet spot the size of a half dollar instead of a dime, wouldn’t it bring average players closer to good players, at least off the tee? What’s the point of all that hard work, if you can just buy more distance and forgiveness?

Today, driver heads are nearly twice the size of Great Big Bertha and in the nearly 25 years since, the golf world hasn’t caved in on itself. That’s just one example of things introduced to golf that I thought would ruin the game that I’ve now come to accept – and even enjoy. If you tried to take my 460cc driver from me, you couldn’t get it without a fight.

When cellphones became small enough to be carried around, they began showing up at golf courses, which incensed me. If you couldn’t stay away from your phone for four hours, you shouldn’t even be playing golf. Go back to the office, if it’s that vital. Having a phone go off in your backswing was a federal crime, if you asked me.

It became such an issue that a number of private clubs around the country prohibited their members from having a cellphone on club property, which I thought was a rule that should be extended to every course, public or private.

I still don’t like phones on the golf course, but I understand that there seems to be a large number of people – not me – who need to be accessible, no matter where they are. As long as they turn the ringer off, and if they need to have a conversation, hang behind or walk ahead of the group. I can at least tolerate that.

Several years ago – it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when – some people started bringing Bluetooth speakers to play music during a round of golf. My first vision was of Al Czervik in “Caddyshack,” blaring loud music out of his gigantic multicolor golf bag.

One of the great attractions of our game is the relative lack of noise on a course, save for the occasional maintenance vehicle or someone swearing after hitting a lousy shot. Staying silent when a playing partner is hitting is one of the bedrock principles of etiquette. But if the decibel level is going to go up, we’d might as well be at a bowling alley.

Not only do I not mind music on the course, but depending on the tunes, I’ve come to enjoy it – with certain parameters. The volume can’t be above the level of normal conversation, and it can’t be heavy metal. Even I have my limitations.

I’ve long been an outspoken critic of pace of play on the professional tours. Five-and-a-half hours for a round of golf in threesomes is simply an abomination. Offenders should be hit with penalty strokes, which is the only way that the governing bodies will get the players’ attention and cause them to speed up.

But I’m weary of the struggle and have given up the fight. Nothing significant ever will be done about slow play among the pros, and I’m beginning to wonder if we’re making too big of a fuss about it.

They’re playing for millions of dollars every week, and the great JoAnne Carner used to say, “Never be in a hurry when it counts.” Maybe we should let them take as long as they want. Livelihoods and careers are in the balance. Their slow play doesn’t affect me. Television will cut away from players taking too long to hit a shot, so as a viewer, I don’t have to put up with dawdling very often.

And if you’re making the argument that pace of play on the tours trickles down to the average player, I believe that the slowest players are the ones who need to hunt balls in the trees and rough off nearly every tee and take three to get out of a bunker. Bad golf takes time.

Lately, some people believe the golf world has tilted off its axis with the reverberations of super distance off the tee. I argued a long time ago that something needed to be done about the golf ball – but only at the elite level. You can take away their distance, but leave mine alone.

However, I’m of the opinion that you’d might as well leave them alone, too. So what if Bryson DeChambeau can hit it 350 or more? He’s not going to win every week. No one can. That’s the nature of the competitive game.

He didn’t play well at the BMW Championship, where Olympia Fields was set up very U.S. Open-like. And he didn’t fare favorably at the Tour Championship, with 2½-inch Bermudagrass rough. Neither did he win at wide-open TPC Summerlin last week. Bombs away, dudes.

Now, we have the stuffed shirts up in arms about Tyrrell Hatton’s hoodies. Hatton, who won the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour last week, raised eyebrows about his attire, which included hooded sweatshirts – not traditional golf clothing.

I play daily-fee, public golf. And I practice at a city-owned municipal facility where the only dress code is that you be dressed. I’ve always been a fan of looking your best when you go to the golf course, but my point of view can be seen in some circles as archaic.

Would I wear a T-shirt to the local muni? Not a chance. But I don’t judge those who dress down. Would I wear a hoodie to play golf? I doubt it, but not because I think it’s inappropriate. But there is an age limit, and I passed that long ago.

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