If you read what I write with any kind of regularity, you might have noticed that I don’t often take ‘sides’ on issues. I like – sometimes to my detriment – unpicking the grey areas. Ironically, even acknowledging that there are ‘sides’ or anything in between them can get you painted as controversial, which perhaps says more about golf as a sport than about me, but I think it’s important. Life tends to have more depth than twitter.
I’ve always been cautious about entering the rollback/bifurcation/distance debate. I haven’t read enough about the various pros and cons on both sides to feel confident in a stance either way.
Part of the problem as I see it is that the distance debate actually falls under a far broader question.
What do we want from golf? What do we want golf to be?
There are so many questions inherent in that that it’s no wonder there are such contradictory views. To start with, when we talk about ‘golf’, do we refer to the sport as a whole? Its beginnings and grassroots, where people first pick up a club? Or what we watch on television? While the latter might only represent 0.1% of golfers across the globe, what percentage of golfers across the globe does it engage?? And which of those things is more important to golf’s future? I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, but their relationship with each other is maybe more relevant than people realise.
There is one prevailing argument in this particular debate that just doesn’t stick with me. People argue that part of the thrill of watching professional sport is watching people do things that you cannot do. That, I get, even if part of golf’s great appeal is its invitation to everyone to try anyway. Maybe that is its ultimate fascination – a 25 handicapper can watch Dustin Johnson dismantle Augusta seemingly without breaking a sweat, before trundling along themselves in their Saturday fourball, equally as satisfied by playing bogey golf. But we want to watch the best, we pay money and give up time to see people excel. I guess it’s as much to do with sport as it is the capitalist world we live in – the premise that the better you are at something, the more the world values you. I’ll leave Eddie Pepperell to discuss whether that’s healthy or not.
There is a huge gulf between club golf, and professional golf. As there should be. It would maybe be nice if the ‘golf’ of the PGA Tour and the European Tour somewhat resembled the ‘golf’ played by everyone else, but only in so much that it recognisable as the same sport. This argument that rolling the ball back will somehow stop the best players in the world being entertaining, and captivating, and jaw-dropping just doesn’t fit. Putting boundaries on distance will not diminish the skill set of elite golf. (It might even accentuate it, but one step at a time).
Professional golfers will always be able to do things that amateur/club golfers cannot. That is why they are professional. They will always stretch the limits of human performance, within their domain, because that is what professional athletes do. Rory’s swing will always (I hope) be mesmerising. Jin Young Ko’s bogey-free streak in 2019 will always blow my mind. The putts made in Ryder Cup’s, and Annika’s ridiculous major record, will always be achievements many of us can only dream of.
You, reading this now, may well have a faster swing speed than me. But I’m quite confident that I can do things on the golf course that you cannot. (Pretty sure Rory doesn’t read my blogs however hard I try). I’m quite confident that you would be entertained, or fascinated, or impressed, at the little sawn-off draw I hit with my wedge at the postage stamp at Troon in the Women’s Open last summer, after seven holes of trying to cut the sh*t out of the ball in a relentless right-to-left gale. I’m quite confident that you would be entertained, or fascinated, or impressed, at the 30 yard slice I played with my 3 wood on 16 at Queanbeyan two years ago, when I went from being two ahead to two behind before that 3 wood bent around the trees and landed softly over a bunker to a front pin, giving me a 6 footer for eagle to put me two ahead again, a lead I maintained for my second LET win. I’m quite confident you would be entertained, or fascinated, or impressed, at the seven birdies I made after starting the third round of the 2019 Australian Open with a nine. (Less so at the actual nine).
And there’s currently 291 players ranked ahead of me in the women’s professional rankings. Not to mention your pick of every player shown on tv every week. Professional golfers will always be able to enthral, because that is their job. They work every day to be able to do things you cannot. And you can still make the game as hard or as easy as you want, depending on the course you choose to play, the tees you choose to play from, the time you put into practice. None of that will change, even if Bryson or Anne van Dam max out at 25 yards less than they currently do. It might even make the game better.