TEE­ING OFF:

BREN­DAN JAMES

Golf Australia - - NEWS - BY BREN­DAN JAMES | GOLF AUS­TRALIA ED­I­TOR

MA­JOR cham­pi­onship golf is get­ting harder. Not just for the play­ers, but for us … the fan in the gallery or the sleep-de­prived devo­tee, as is the case here in Aus­tralia, who perches in front of the TV.

It cer­tainly isn’t any fun for the world’s best play­ers to be made to look hope­less as they hack an­other shot some­where in the di­rec­tion of the green from rough so deep and thick that a ma­chete would be more ap­pro­pri­ate weaponry than a pitch­ing wedge.

From our side of the gallery ropes it makes for a less than spec­tac­u­lar event. Those for­tu­nate enough to be in the crowd will no doubt get a les­son in the most ap­pro­pri­ate ex­ple­tive be­fit­ting an­other chip out en route to an­other bo­gey, or dou­ble.

If I want to see some­one strug­gle to break 80 I’ll tee it up on Satur­day morn­ing each week to get my dose of chip outs, three-putts and hard luck sto­ries. I don’t need to watch the world’s best play­ers made to look sec­ond rate be­cause the set-up of cour­ses for the ma­jors is cal­cu­lated to pro­tect what they be­lieve is the game’s Holy Grail – Par.

As far as I am con­cerned par is sim­ply a num­ber on a score­card. Imag­ine if you just took away all those threes, fours and fives of the score­card and just went and played. Low­est score still wins, no mat­ter what.

At least two of the ma­jors have slowly but surely had their ex­cite­ment fac­tor drained from them by the very peo­ple run­ning them.

The com­mit­tee at Au­gusta Na­tional (Masters) are less ‘par-cen­tric’ but they can con­spire to have an eight- to 10-un­der win­ning score sim­ply by us­ing cer­tain pin po­si­tions to ramp up the chal­lenge. On the other hand you have the USGA con­triv­ing to see their cham­pion fin­ish no bet­ter than par. Nar­row land­ing ar­eas, fast run­ning fair­ways, long rough and ex­cep­tion­ally quick greens are all part of the USGA for­mula. This only re­sults in some­one los­ing the cham­pi­onship down the stretch with bo­gies, rather than pro­duc­ing a win­ner who comes from the pack of chasers with a birdie run. The USGA wears “the US Open is the tough­est test in golf” line like a badge, but its ob­ses­sive com­pul­sive drive to have no player in red num­bers goes too far more of­ten than not.

As I write this, the fi­nal prepa­ra­tions were be­ing made to the Erin Hills course for this year’s US Open and will be an­other bru­tal out­ing, which had some play­ers scratch­ing their heads.

Adam Scott was even moved to plead with the USGA to not go over­board on a dif­fi­cult set-up.

“Let’s just have some­thing that’s a chal­lenge and in­ter­est­ing, not just play­ing bru­tal,” he said. “Maybe it’s time to do away with the even-par tar­get. Let’s just have some­thing that’s a chal­lenge and in­ter­est­ing, not just play­ing bru­tal.

“The ball is in their court. Hope­fully they get it right this time, just from a playa­bil­ity stand­point. If their ma­jor pin­na­cle event re­quires cour­ses to be the way they are, it doesn’t set a good ex­am­ple.”

As you read this, the US Open will have been run and won, but I’m will­ing to bet that the leader with nine holes to play didn’t win and a player who stayed out of trou­ble and banked pars down the stretch did.

The US PGA has been fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar phi­los­o­phy to the USGA for a few years now but the R&A has re­sisted the urge, on most oc­ca­sions, to tam­per too much with their clas­sic cour­ses. Sure they have length­ened them and there was the year of mad­ness at Carnoustie in 1999 but, on the whole, Open cour­ses (in part­ner­ship with Mother Na­ture) have been al­lowed to de­ter­mine the cham­pion.

Royal Birk­dale, venue for this month’s Open Cham­pi­onship, un­der­went ma­jor changes prior to host­ing the event in 2008. Many holes were length­ened and thick rough flank­ing hard and fast fair­ways were nar­rowed to 20 yards in parts.

The changes for this year’s tour­na­ment have been min­i­mal and the course has ac­tu­ally been short­ened, not by much mind you, from the beast that con­fronted the field nine years ago.

But don’t ex­pect this year’s Open to pro­duce any­thing mem­o­rable or ex­cit­ing down the stretch come Sun­day. We might see some missed par putts that will leave the re­sult hang­ing in the bal­ance. But I can al­most guar­an­tee you won’t see a player rat­tle off a string of five birdies on the front nine – as Ian Baker-Finch did in 1991 to stamp his place in Open his­tory – or fin­ish birdie-ea­gle-birdie to catch the leader and win by one. The win­ner is more likely to keep the driver in the bag, hit irons to stay out of trou­ble and make a stack of two-putt pars to close out the tour­na­ment. Thrilling!

I hope I am wrong about the out­come at Royal Birk­dale but the course was cer­tainly hard enough be­fore the changes.

All this begs the ques­tion, though. What the hell do these or­gan­i­sa­tions hope to achieve for the ‘growth of the game’ by mak­ing their show­piece events hu­mil­i­at­ing for play­ers and bor­ing for spec­ta­tors?

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