Arnold Palmer was on The Golf Channel’s Morning Drive Thursday morning and mentioned that they had changed the 4th and 16th holes at Bay Hill back to par 5’s for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. They had been par 5’s that were played as par 4’s for previous tournaments. Palmer explained that he thought people worried too much about how many strokes under par players were when they should be paying attention to who could “get it done when it counts.”
I was happy to see Palmer take this position because I’ve always thought there was too much concern these days about equipment and technology allowing players to score too low. The point of a golf competition is who can score the lowest at any given time on any given course, and the actual numbers are always hard to compare across the years and on different courses. There’s just too much variation in conditions, equipment, and courses to put too much stock in those comparisons.
We’ve been worried about equipment making the game too easy forever. A little reading in the history of golf will show you arguments about the change from feather-stuffed balls to gutta percha to the rubber Haskell ball all the way up today’s hottest new ball. I suppose going back to featheries would solve a lot of our problems, and might encourage the Tee It Forward program better than any amount of proselytizing will. I’m ready to start stuffing those leather balls with a top hat full of feathers when the market is there, but I’m not holding my breath.
Take a look at scores in The Open Championship (British Open) in the early days. The book Tommy’s Honor has a lot of this information, and is an interesting read as well. The Open was first played at St. Andrew’s in 1873, and the winner’s score was 180. That’s two rounds of 90. I don’t hear a lot of moaning about the game being destroyed by rounds below bogey golf.
I’m happily embracing advances in club and ball technology, and hope improvements in technology can counteract the deterioration that comes with age. If Bubba can reach par 5’s with driver, wedge, that’s OK by me. I did that once, too. The ground was baked to the hardness of marble and a gale was blowing up my skirt, but I did it.
My surgeon can do amazing things these days with tiny incisions. It’s not because his fingers are that much more nimble. It’s the equipment, and that’s a good thing.