In 2014, respected former pro and level-headed commentator Frank Nobilo gave an interview warning against the increasing extremism of professional golf hitting distances.
“The professional game has never been more divorced from the amateur game,” Nobilo told John Huggan. “I think that is extremely dangerous.” He’d add that he was not for bifurcation, but that’s essentially what had happened with the dramatic separation. This was almost a decade ago now. Enter last week’s Jay Monahan memo and the nugget within that the PGA Tour would not be supporting the proposed MLR rollback for the elite men’s game. Obviously, Monahan lacks political capital to push an unpopular proposal on his players. He wasn’t going to be able to sell it, not right now. But maybe we should have someone in a role who could at least try before swatting it away just a few months after it was made public? Because this looks like the too-familiar Tour shrug. A conservative, overly confident, shortsighted embrace of the status quo, rather than engaging in a bigger conversation or preparing for a potential confrontation down the line that might force a capitulation regardless. Sound familiar?
In line with Nobilo’s concern from a decade ago, the Tour runs the risk of further segregating itself from the rest of the golf world in terms of on-course product. That includes the major championships, which feature the Tour’s very own players. That seems bad!
Sunday highlighted some of the polarization that might be coming, as the golf played at the 3M Open barely resembled play on display at the Senior Open. It was, essentially, two different sports. This owed more to weather and the golf courses, and not the distance issue, but I know which tournament made for the far more interesting watch. It’s always optimal to get the stars or other main characters on stage, and sometimes you cannot control how the leaderboard cookie crumbles. But why not try to create interest everywhere else — like the stakes and the variety of clubs players have to hit — too? I really enjoyed watching Lee Hodges get his first Tour win at the 3M Open, and his story was well-told by CBS down the stretch to make it more interesting for the viewer. The same goes for the second-place stakes for J.T. Poston and the late-season points jostling. But on Sunday, between the 3M and the Senior Open, one event was much less reliant on star characters to create a compelling watch. And it wasn’t the driver-wedge show staged on a re-purposed sod farm.
The Tour should be doing what it can to improve the product via factors already under its control. But rebuking even the appearance of cooperation on the MLR will only further marginalize it into a different sport. This also undercuts all the boasting the Tour has done about its deep history and enchanting legacy, as it’s a move that guarantees the Tour’s brand of golf will only continue to evolve into a game that cannot be compared to its past.
We defer again to Mr. Nobilo: “I was amazed looking at Wentworth. It isn’t the course I remember playing. So any comparison between now and then has been lost. Martin Kaymer, for example, should be able to compare himself with Bernhard Langer. But he can’t. He isn’t playing the same game or the same courses.”
Hell, even the Seniors playing on Sunday may not be able to compare their game to their younger selves given the equipment they’re using right now. What are we doing here?
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