Why Harbour Town is the Answer
SO IT turns out that you do not, after all, need to create 8,000-yard courses to bring golf’s bombers to their knees. You just need trees, rough, narrow fairways, small greens and water.
Colonial and Harbour Town Links, which hosted the Charles Schwab Challenge and RBS Heritage, are relatively short courses. Harbour Town is just over 7,000 yards. And lo and behold, the golfers who scored best were the ones who kept the ball in play - and who do so week after week. It is no coincidence that the likes of Luke Donald has such a magnificent record at Harbour Town. One of the shortest hitters on the PGA Tour, Donald was also one of the straightest.
Yes, we all want to see the likes of Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau hitting 330-yard drives, but we also want to see them having to plot their way around golf courses. Too many courses on the PGA Tour simply don’t punish wayward drives, so the big hitters know they can stand on the tee, hit the ball as hard as they possibly can and, no matter where it finishes, they will have some kind of a shot to the green.
An astonishing 88 players now average at least 300 yards from the tee, with DeChambeau averaging a scarcely credible 323.8 yards - and remember that is his average distance!
In your correspondent’s book, that is not the way golf is meant to be played. It is a game of strategy - or at least it should be. Why do you imagine that Justin Rose plays so well on tough golf courses? Precisely because he plots his way around. He knows when par is his friend and plays the game accordingly.
DeChambeau may well have added a huge amount of power to his game but until he gives as much attention to his short game it is highly unlikely that he will succeed on golf courses where majors are played. Patrick Reed single-putts more than 46% of the holes that he plays, with the likes of Jordan Spieth and Brendon Todd riding high here too. DeChambeau is 56th in this category, with McIlroy languishing in 63rd position. These statistics do not lie.
You won’t be surprised to learn that Jim Furyk leads the driving accuracy stats, hitting an impressive 79.44% of all fairways. DeChambeau and McIlroy? 121st and 165th respectively. And that tells its own story. McIlroy consistently contends - if he is missing so many fairways then it tells you that the rough is simply not punishing enough, so why should he work on his accuracy? Rory hits barely one in two fairways and it is no coincidence that he struggled at Colonial and Harbour Town, where he was forced to hot too many shots from the trees.
However, if you look at Jon Rahm, McIlroy, Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler the one thing that they all have in common is the imagination to play creative shots. Dustin Johnson has always been one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, but even he realised that to win on a consistent basis he needed to sort out his short game. Through sheer hard work, he turned himself into one of the best wedge players in the game.
It is time that the PGA Tour had a serious look at some of the venues that host its tournaments. Yes, there are courses that invite birdies and eagles, but many don’t have to be tricked up to make them more challenging. Let’s see some rough being allowed to grow. And isn’t it time to do something about fairway bunkers? As things stand, when the world’s top players find the sand from the tee they face little or no punishment because there are no lips. If a golfer dumps his drive in the sand, shouldn’t he have to pay some kind of a penalty?
Put your tee shot in almost any bunker on the Old Course at St Andrews and you know that you are coming out sideways. Isn’t that the way it should be?
Going back to Harbour Town, not only are greens small, but the putting surfaces are not saturated with water, so target golf simply cannot be played. Players need to think about what they are doing, and need to allow for the ball to roll. Just like the rest of us.
The course is a masterpiece and is certainly good enough to stage a major.
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