What a Masters!...but...
It seems that Augusta National and the Masters never fails to deliver great theater on Sunday afternoon. Once again, the cast of characters came through for us and gave us a lurching series of ups and downs. And that finish was just what we had been sitting on the sofa for hours waiting to see, wasn’t it?

Sure, your favorites might not have been there, but the heroics and crashes that produced the playoff were just what we were expecting . . . and hoping for as we settled in for a few hours of golf watching. We saw Phil make a triple bogey that cost him his fourth green jacket. We saw a double eagle, only the fourth in Masters history. Lots of birdies and bogeys, pars saved and a spectacular shot on the second playoff hole that has to be one of the most memorable in all of Masters history.

But my nostalgic take on the Masters was tempered by the modern game -- the unbelievable distances these guys are hitting the ball. I’m a history buff, and I don’t really like or understand the modern game these guys play. Just before the telecast started, there was a special on the 1987 Masters, when Larry Mize derailed Greg Norman with that spectacular chip-in on the second play-off hole. In the holes leading up to that playoff, they showed Norman, Ballasteros and Mize negotiating the final few holes. What stood out for me is that these guys played these holes with much longer clubs into the greens than what we saw when the telecast came on.

For example, back then, the typical approach to the 18th was with a 4-iron or 5-iron. Even after lengthening the hole in the late 90s and again in the early 2000s, Bubba Watson had a sand wedge in from 113!! No one has hit more than a 7-iron to that green in years, probably. And on 16, the typical tee shot to that same back pin used to be played with a 5-iron or 6-iron. Now, these guys hit 8s and 9s.

Watching these guys trying to figure out how to make birdies on these holes with short irons in their hands makes me wonder just what the modern player would shoot if he had the same club for his approaches that they guys in the 70s and 80s did. Back then, they played Augusta with primarily middle irons to the greens, with a few short irons thrown in on the shorter holes. Hitting the par fives in two meant a great second shot with a fairway wood or 2-3 iron. When Raymond Floyd won the Masters in 1976, they enshrined his 5-wood that he used to tame 13 and 15. These guys were hitting 5- and 6-irons to 15!!

My point in all this is how the game has changed, and the question of how can you compare the accomplishments of the game’s historic greats to the modern game? Should a modern player be as accurate with his 6-iron from 190-220 as Greg Norman was with his from 165-180? Or not?

When was the last time a tour player had a 2-iron second to a finishing par four, as Hogan did in his famous photo (some say it was a 1-iron)? Gene Sarazen hit a 235-yard 4-wood into the hole on 15 for a double eagle in the 1935 Masters . . . these guys hit 5- or 6 iron from there this past weekend.

All I’m saying...
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[ comments ]
birdieXris says:
If you look at Augusta from back in those days too, it was a much different course. It was wider as well as shorter. They've made the course a sliver of what it was. You say yourself too that these 8 irons are more like 7 or sometimes 6 irons anyway, so they're not really hitting anything that much different. I'm not upset that they're hitting those clubs into the greens. There were still high scores to be had, and obviously the length didn't help Phil when he hit his tee shot into the crap and took a triple bogey. Bubba hit it dead and was able to come up with a crazy shot to take it all. I have no problem with that. Nobody will ever hit a 2 iron into a par 4 again. technology doesn't allow it. It would be a hybrid. Technology has moved forward and the course had to in order to keep up - could you imagine the scores if the course was set up the way it was when Arnie was playing it?? -40 anyone?
4/10/12
 
DaRupp13 says:
I think something has to be said for the golfers themselves. Golf is now a full time job. When Jack was playing, didn't he have another job and played golf in the summer? These guys now are complete athletes, doing exercises specifically designed to hit the ball longer, and it's their FULL TIME job. Don't get me wrong, the technology has a big part of it, more so the golf ball than the clubs in my opinion, but all inclusive.
4/10/12
 
mjaber says:
It's not just the clubs, or the ball, it's the tech that allows for these clubs to be tuned to the individual golfer to get the absolute maximum distance and control. Imagine if Jack or Arnold had a Tour Van following them from tournament to tournament to setup their clubs for them every week, to tweak and adjust them for the course setup, and for what didn't work last week.

These guys aren't hitting off-the-rack, or even built-to-spec clubs from a fitter. Their clubs are adjusted to them. Much like getting a suit tailored to you. It's only going to fit you, but dammit it's going to look good.
4/10/12
 
Kurt the Knife says:
stuff changes
deal with it
4/10/12
 
BAKE_DAWG40 says:
All great points. The Masters is my favorite major for a variety of reasons. The big reason being is you can score at Augusta National IF you play the shot you need to play. The field knows what holes they need to settle for par on depending on pin placements. I think the USGA gets a little ridiculous with the U.S. Open with the insane, deep rough etc. Who wants to watch the pros struggle to stay at even par for four rounds?
4/10/12
 
jrbizzle says:
I agree with Xris here - the modern clubs are much stronger lofted than their old counterparts - Terry himself has spoken of it many times. And there have been no significant changes to the course since short hitting Zach Johnson won in 2007. Given, the windy conditions made his lack of length less of an issue, but he still had to stick every iron and wedge approach to get it done.

So as far as what distance has done to the game, I do not feel it has much effect. Because regardless of what technology has given the game, all the guys on tour have access to the same technology. So talent will win out, as it always has.

To me whether Sarazen holed out with a 4 wood, or Oosthuizen holed out with a 4 iron, doesn't matter. The only amazing part is that they holed out from nearly the same distance - 220+ yards.

It's always been one of my favorite sayings in golf - it doesn't matter how far you hit your clubs, it only matters if you know how far you hit them.
4/10/12
 
Agustin says:
If they setup Augusta like it was 30 years ago and gave the top players equipment from that era (and some time to practice with it) they would still shot the same scores or better.

How fast were the greens back then? where they setup at the pool table speeds they have today? If not they would post silly low scores
4/10/12
 
legitimatebeef says:
I think Bubba hit 9i into 15. I think Tiger back in 1997 manhandled the course in a similar manner, hitting wedges into par 5's. You'd rather see more of a challenge, longer approaches and everything but sometimes a player comes along and shrinks the course. So they lengthen it, which probably narrows the field of potential winners even more.
4/10/12
 
TeT says:
These guys would score what those guys did, and those guys would score what these guys did. Everyone of them, past and present, are phenomenal golfers from square 1. Funny on 17 & 18; a great shot either short or long irons is still a bear of a putt to sink. A phenomenal shot and a good shot on those greens is defined by a 3 foot area where the ball lands... Yes equipment & fitness has made a difference but all the pro golfers across the era's are all the same at the core.
4/10/12
 
mjaber says:
@BAKE_DAWG40... As long as it's only once a year, I kinda like watching the pros struggle like I do on the course.
4/10/12
 
homermania says:
Terry, I like your posts, but this article feels like it should be on the closing end of a "60 Minutes" episode.
4/10/12
 
k-von says:
jrbizzle, Club lofts have nothing to do with professional golfers' skills or performance. Wedge Guy would be the very first one to agree that the name of the club is simply a name. Regardless, the bellyaching should really be toned down a bit. Bubba, like Phil a couple years ago, won this tournament on a shot that was 100% wiles and creativity - not distance. I agree with the above assertion that the greatest development in golf is the level of dedication by the cream.
4/10/12
 
k-von says:
Also, in my experience toying around with vintage equipment (woods, irons & putters circa late-60's), once you get a feel for the shafts and clubheads and how they interact with the ball & turf, you really don't lose a ton of distance or playability. Now vintage balls, however, are another matter. Either way, Nicklaus was still banging out 320-yard drives back in the day, which had to have been head and shoulders above his competition - probably more so than Watson to his comparable colleagues.
4/10/12
 
GBogey says:
If they are hitting 3W and 6I to the green on 13 and 15, how is that a par 5? If that's the criteria, by my distances almost every hole should be a 5. I marvel at the pro's for their athletic abilities and how they get the most out of today's technology, but I have to wonder, if the par changed on those two holes to 4, and I am pretty certain that the tour plays par 4's that long, how many of the pros would play the holes differently from a pure psychology point of view.
4/10/12
 
BAKE_DAWG40 says:
@mjaber.......I hear ya but, -10 is not exactly ridiculously low for these guys over 72 holes of golf. I will say after Peter Hanson's shank on 12, it made me feel a bit better about myself. I like to sneak one of those in there every so often. Let's not forget Phil's tee shot that bounced off the bleachers either. I'm thinking he should have went back to the tee.
4/10/12
 
jrbizzle says:
Yardages have nothing to do with par 5s vs 4s. It doesn't matter if they record an eagle on a par 5 or a birdie on a par 4, the winner still wins.

I don't understand why people are so upset about distance in golf but you rarely hear any complaints in other sports. Is anyone mad that modern tennis players hit 150+ MPH serves? Is anyone complaining that nearly every NBA player can dunk, as opposed to the old days when it was a non permissible shot? Hell, a female player dunked in the Women's tourney, good for her. Hockey player slapshots, quarterbacks tossing 70 yard bombs, 100+ MPH pitchers.

Yes, technology evolves, but so do people, as a whole. Talent will always win out in the grand scheme of things.
4/10/12
 
GolfnDawg says:
The new Taylormade RocketBallz 7 iron has a loft equivalent to the 5 iron I'm using. Take off a little for a slightly shorter shaft and I'm hitting the TM RB 7 iron 190. My current clubs are blades from the early 90s and my 7iron is my 150 club. Kinda hard for me to say things have really changed all that much, save the number on the club. 18 would still be a 5iron approach (except for the bombers) if today's 5irons weren't like yesterdays 3irons.
4/10/12
 
GolfnDawg says:
ok....the above post may only make sense to me...sorry.

to simplify it...stop looking at the club number and look at the length and loft. You can't compare 23deg 5irons of today to 30deg 5irons of the past and then say things are different cause they are using 30deg 7irons of today.

Yeah...that didn't help. oh well.
4/10/12
 
Werepuppie says:
Jrbizzle I think you need to watch the Double Eagle again.It was not any 220+ yards.He holed a 4iron from 260yds.That is ridiculous!
Distance has a huge effect on the game.Watson's shot to win was fantastic,no doubt,but only possible due to the distance he drove the ball.He probably could not have hooked a 5iron that much,but since he had only 150yds or so he had an 8 or 9 iron probably.
4/10/12
 
birdieXris says:
@werepuppie - workability is inversely proportional to loft. longer clubs are able to be curved more than the shorter more lofted clubs.
4/10/12
 
dooboo says:
I love watching the Masters because you have to play good games for 4 straight days. Look how each day's leader has fallen back the following day, and some players who struggled on day one make a charge in following day.
Bubby won this year, not only because he is long, but he played good games all 4 days. Most of the Masters winner in the past has done that.
The Masters to me has the ultimate risk/rewards type of holes (13/15), and still have to make those tricky putts on a glass table top greens.

As with any other sports, I think newer generations are stronger, faster, longer, etc. Look at 100m in track. It always has been 100m...it was 100m back in early 1900s...and it still is. But world record gets broken all the time. Better shoes? Better fitting uniform? Yeah, equipment does help a bit, however, it is all year round training plus other things that makes today's athlete better than 100 years ago. Same thing in golf.
4/10/12
 
Werepuppie says:
Equipment helps a whole lot more in Golf.Nicklaus gave an interview back when he was close to 60 in which he said he hit the ball as far now as when he was 30.He credited the new equipment.
4/10/12
 
elhacker says:
What's the saying about the indian and the arrow? It's not the arrow it's the indian. That saying doesn't apply to the professional player. My brother inlaw is a club pro in Myrtle. When he was in college he came up north and wanted to play a round with me and my brother. His clubs didn't make it up north. We offered to rent him clubs and he refused. He borrowed his aunts clubs which consisted of persimmon woods and some rusty old Spalding irons with rotten grips. He shot 80. He was out driving me and my brother by 40 yards easily.

The pros of yesterday and today were amazing golfers during each of the their respective times. What is wonderful about this game called golf is that it honors the past and its history regardless of the changes in athleticism, and technology.
4/10/12
 
joe jones says:
Distance is relative. The pga has increased driving distance about 25 yards in the last 10 years. In that same time frame the scoring average has gone down less that one stroke per round. If i'm not mistaken Luke Donald is still #1 and he averages about 285 off the tee.Short game and putting represent at least 50% of the game. Whoever figures out a way to make everything he looks at on the greens usually wins. Much ado about nothing.
4/10/12
 
preny says:
Golf at the competitive level has definitely changed, a lot. It seems that being able to hit 8-irons and wedges into greens is so common that it's not expected, and course design has shifted to mostly making the greens more and more difficult to hold and as a byproduct, to putt on as well.

I doubt Hogan would enjoy playing on these greens.
4/10/12
 
jrbizzle says:
Werepuppie - I said both shots were 220+, meaning that each of them were more than 220 yards, because I was too lazy to look it up :) I think Sarazens was 235, and Oosthuizens was just north of 250. I was just saying, that to me, anytime a players holes out a shot from that far away, it's an amazing feat, despite what club they use or technology. It just shows how good these guys are.
4/11/12
 
joe jones says:
I remember Brent Mussberger telling Lee Trevino that his skins game ace was a lucky shot. Lee gave him a glaring look and said " what the hell do you think I was aiming at"
I,m sure Louie was aiming at the pin and hoping it would get there. The golf god's were generous.
4/11/12
 
onedollarwed says:
Let's look at professional sports as an entertainment industry. The only other sport with as much history here in the USA is baseball. It's been pretty much the same since the beginning. However, as historians know, you can't compare performances from different eras. In baseball, the fields, the players, and the equipment have all changed in different spurts which create various comparable eras (no pun there). The performance of one man prompted the lowering of the mound (Gibson, early 70's). And by the way jrbizzle, people complain about this stuff all the time in other sports! About a decade ago, baseball found itself in a "perfect storm" of factors which led to unprecedented offense - and that wasn't just runs scored, it was HRs. The balls had become tighter (and drier in CO) over the years, but no recent change. The parks had become smaller (for fan viewing, and for increased excitement from HRs), thinner and lighter maple bats had replaced ash, players were juicing a thousand different ways.
4/12/12
 
onedollarwed says:
Not only were players using steroids and hormones, but body building (long shunned even up until the 1990's) had become popular. In baseball if you enlarge the park - like what Detroit and Seattle tried to do, you create more space in the outfield, because you need to maintain the 90 degree angle. Those fences eventually came in to help the fielders. Teams were also drafting and developing tall power pitchers and huge hulking batters. Long gone were defensive minded youth development. Many of the skills needed to play the game as it had been were no longer necessary - (bunting, steals, sacrifices, hit and runs, run and hits pitch outs). I distinctly remember when the Orioles featured a lineup in the early 90's (yes with Brady Anderson) with four sluggers in a row. What they had realized is that going over to HRs and offense and forgetting about defense, you could win way more games - they also played in a band box. So the whole concept of the game changed - even for kids.
4/12/12
 
onedollarwed says:
The game had nearly been reduce to strikeouts vs. homeruns, Randy Johnson vs. Mark Mcguire. 20 homeruns was not even useful. Pitchers, and batters were juicing. Every part of the game from youth development through fan interest was "Juiced." Parks, equipment, players, fans, scouts.. all juiced. One of baseball's best natural talents ever - Ken Griffey Jr. - retired with little fanfare or interest with Bonds and Balco as a backdrop. Nobody really cared because his "numbers" were no longer unprecedented in the end. I think fans are now adjusting to a different looking game. I don't know if they enjoy it as much, but I think the collective conscience says it's the right thing. If you read "Game of Shadows" you find race at the heart of the steroid storm. Bonds was dead set against a white man (Macguire) holding the HR record (he felt strongly when Hank had eclipsed the Babe
4/12/12
 
onedollarwed says:
a midst death threats). Former attorney general Ashcroft had felt that the Holy Records of Mantle, etc. were threatened by common dopers (Bonds, Sosa). And so we have seemingly finally ended up here, with Clemens and Palmiero as the episode's biggest losers, and Jamie Moyer, Ichiro, and Dustin Pedroia say as this new era's heros. All this being said, I know way more about baseball history - not that much really - than golf history. Golf has areas of flexibility with rules and regulations. Courses can be changed. Currently, golf's players, equipment, and courses are "juiced." Youth and scouting are also obsessed with bombing it off the tee. Golf does have the element of "the best score wins." to keep much of that in check. I assume that course conditions are better than ever, and that the sports attracts more athletes than ever. Golf does need to answer big questions which have been skeletons in the closet: Race and Class. I'm not sure that we'll see a golf equivalent of "Game of Shadows,"
4/12/12
 
onedollarwed says:
but the golf governing bodies do seem to feel that they don't owe anybody anything. Tiger is not Jackie Robinson (wrong race, class, and time period). After all he was a Stanford grad, right? Are players doping? HGH? What kind of testing is there, and who is privy to the results? What political games are people playing. Every industry is capricious, and likes to choose its heroes - don't be fooled. Who is golf choosing? Who is the PGA choosing? What do its marketers feel that their target audience wants to see? Tiger seemed to be a chosen hero at one time. What do we know about his downfall? Could the PGA have spoken to Haney to dissuade him from his publishing ambitions. Does Bubba have personal details we're not supposed to see? Or, are we electrified by his distance off the tee and will the golf world pander to the fans' every whim?
4/12/12
 
k-von says:
That was an impressive tangent. Regarding the speculation of HGH/doping in golf, while I'm certain it would be demonized by the game's protectors, but would it really be that big of a deal? Bubba Watson is one of the game's biggest hitters and has one of the worst cases of "stoner arms" I've ever seen. Meanwhile, Gary Woodland, yesterday's athletifile heartthrob (who isn't actually all that athletic), can't seem to justify anyone's expectations. It's total cliché to point out that muscles don't translate into distance or lower scores in golf, and considering HGH & steroids' primary function of repairing damaged tissue and expediting rehabilitation time from injury, would a little bit of doping really hurt the game? Am I the only one kind of lamenting what could have been if someone like Tiger had access to ALL of medical technology's resources and perhaps played some healthier golf over the past seven or so years? Would that be so bad?
4/13/12
 
onedollarwed says:
Good point. I'm not sure that I care. I'm like 99/1 in terms of the ratio that I play golf to follow golf. Do I hold dear the scores and performances of golf's legends? No. Do I feel that today's top players are better? No. And that's because they're so coddled by course maintenance(especially that sand watering thing), equipment, technology, agents, caddies, shrinks, biofeedback, etc. etc. The players now are definitely performing better as a whole, and that's the big difference. I probably good that there's more money in golf. Golf now is played by the top players, on a tiny island 300 yds from the tee, with a wedge to the green. I myself play many courses that way. In that sense, there is much of the courses, many clubs, and much golf that has just plain disappeared. Trod by duffers, short hitters, and the flowers and birds.
4/14/12
 
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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