Why All the Low Scores on Tour?
It's the Ball, Stupid
Almost overnight the game has changed on the PGA Tour because an
ever-expanding number of players are driving the ball huge
distances, which allows them to attack every pin with shorter
irons. As a result, Mark Calcavecchia broke the Tour's alltime
scoring record with a 256 at Phoenix, and Davis Love III shot a
course-record-tying 28 on the front nine of the final round at
Pebble Beach. In all, six of the last eight winners of
stroke-play events have either broken or tied tournament
records, and none of those winners are named Tiger Woods.
"Everything has changed," says Dennis Paulson, an adherent of the
new, extreme style of play. "We used to think that 62 or 63 was a
good score. Now there's no one in the top 70 who thinks he can't
shoot 59, or even 58 or 57. Guys are hitting par-5s with 280-yard
three-woods, and every time you look up, somebody's holing out
from the fairway. All of a sudden, anything's possible."
The best laboratory to test the irresistibility of this new
scoring force is this week's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in La
Quinta, Calif. Anything but an immovable object, the Hope is the
Tour's annual birdie binge. The four courses on which the 90-hole
tournament is played have wide, fast-running fairways, little
rough and perfect greens. The light desert air and typically
climate-controlled weather also contribute to ideal scoring
In the last decade the worst winning score at the Hope was 23
under, by Mark Brooks in 1996. The Hope is where, in '99, David
Duval shot a 59 in the final round without making a putt longer
than 10 feet. One of the most impressive displays of sustained
subpar golf in history, Tom Kite's tournament-record 35-under
325, also occurred at the Hope, in '93. Considering golf's 2001
odyssey, I expect Kite's record to be shattered this week and, if
the planets line up correctly, the first official 58 to be shot.
These are outrageous predictions, but they are based on the
powerful forces that have converged to create a sea change on
Tour. The most obvious force is Woods. Nothing motivates the
competition like defeat. Tiger's training methods have become
models that many pros have copied, but it is Woods's assault on
par in 2000 that has become the real motivator. "The days of
trying to hang on with even par on the back nine on Sunday are
gone," says Jay Haas. "Everybody's pushing with more birdies, and
the winner ends up going really low just trying to survive."
Most players agree, though, that the most noticeable difference
in the game is superior equipment. "The new stuff is improving at
a much faster rate," says Jeff Sluman. "I've got a new driver and
a new ball, and I'm 20 yards longer than last year. It's a joke."
Scott Simpson, 45, missed all of last year with a broken left
ankle, but when he came back this season--with a new ball and a
new driver--he was longer, despite the rust. "The game has
definitely changed, in a lot of the same ways as tennis," he
says. "It's more about power and less about hitting different
Says Love flatly, "The latest technology is the reason the
scores are so low."
Most players agree that the solid, nonwound ball has made the
biggest difference, not titanium drivers with better shafts. The
nonwound balls have a higher rate of initial velocity and a more
penetrating flight than wound balls. Therefore, in a trend that
was first noticed last year (GOLF PLUS, May 1, 2000), pros are
flocking to nonwounds. At the 2000 Buick Invitational, 13% of the
field played a nonwound ball. About 77% did so there last week.
What's more, all seven Tour events this season have been won with
Since switching to a nonwound ball late last year, Phil Mickelson
has become the most enthusiastic spokesman for the new style of
play--extreme golf, if you will. "Par should be attacked and
birdies should be made on almost every hole," he says. "They
can't hide the pin from me. There are 18 holes to be birdied."
The way things are going, somebody could do just that at this
ShotLink's Weak Link
Caddies Against Stats Tasks
The Tour's ballyhooed ShotLink system--the combination of lasers,
satellites and tournament volunteers recording club and distance
on every shot for statistical purposes--has run into an unexpected
snag: The caddies are dead set against it. Scheduled to launch at
the March 1-4 Genuity Championship at Doral, ShotLink should be a
bonanza to the statistically minded. The caddies, however, see
the system as nothing but trouble and another example of the
Tour's taking them for granted.
Although global positioning satellites, laser range finders and
handheld computers are all important parts of ShotLink, the most
critical piece of information is gathered in a decidedly
low-tech way: The caddie must tell a volunteer walking with each
group which club the player used on every shot. At Torrey Pines
a group of caddies voiced the concerns of their peers in a
meeting with Tour officials.
"By not talking to us before this, the Tour has been
disrespectful of what is essentially the player's office," says
Cayce Kerr, who loops for Jay Williamson. "Inside the ropes is a
very sensitive area, and none of us want to be put in a situation
where we aren't doing the best possible job for our player. He
pays us, not the Tour."
When the Tour sent out a directive for caddies to tell ShotLink
volunteers which club their pros used on every shot, it was met
with resistance. Many caddies say they will not cooperate unless
they are paid between $50 and $100 a round. "The Tour needs us,"
says one caddie, "and that's a bad position for it to be in."
Another caddie suggests that caddies signal every shot as a
one-iron--by extending a middle finger.
The caddies have some support among the players. Jeff Sluman
believes that some ShotLink volunteer inevitably will ask a
player or a caddie a question at an inappropriate moment. "After
a player hits from the drop zone after dunking one on 17 at
Sawgrass, that's not the time to ask if he hit a sand wedge or a
gap wedge," says Sluman. "Some players go off more than others,
and it can put the caddie in a difficult situation. That has to
be worked out before the players are on board."
The Tour, citing a successful dry run at last year's Tour
Championship, contends that relaying club selection is simple
and unobtrusive. As for compensation, the Tour's position is
that the anticipated increase in purses due to ShotLink will
trickle down to the caddies. Says Kerr, "That's selfish and
characteristic of the Tour."
KARRIE WEBB can't win for losing. At a time when her run of five
consecutive starts without a victory should be raising eyebrows,
Tiger Woods's seven-tournament losing streak has again grabbed
all the headlines and pushed the LPGA's most dominant player
into the background. The real injustice, however, is that even
if Webb beats Woods to the winner's circle, his losing will
still overshadow her triumph.
What do these golfers have in common?
They are the only players to lead the Tour in putting more than
once. Crenshaw led the Tour in 1982 and '87; Faxon in '96, '99
and 2000; and Pooley in '88 and '97.
Whose autograph would you most cherish?
Ben Hogan 18%
Bobby Jones 20%
Jack Nicklaus 24%
Arnold Palmer 13%
Tiger Woods 25%
--Based on 8,200 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Do you think Tiger Woods is in a slump? Vote at
Synonyms for: A Rules Official
Answer man, blue coat, cart cowboy, Deane's Marines, decoder,
denizen of the ivory dungeon, Dudley Do-Right, 411, interpreter,
money clip, Ponte Vedra patrol, rules police, SWAT team, the
heat, the law, the posse, traffic cop.
Besides Tiger Woods, no active player has won more than two
different majors. Of the other eight multiple winners, only three
are among the top 100 in the World Ranking, and just two are
younger than 40.
(AGE) RANK MAJORS
Tiger Woods (25) 1 Masters, U.S. Open,
Vijay Singh (37) 8 Masters, PGA
Nick Price (44) 13 British, PGA
Mark O'Meara (44) 93 Masters, British
Nick Faldo (43) 106 Masters, British
John Daly (34) 378 British, PGA
Sandy Lyle (43) 385 Masters, British
Fuzzy Zoeller (49) 714 Masters, U.S. Open
S. Ballesteros (43) 1,050 Masters, British
Garrett Murphy, Old Greenwich, Conn.
Ken Peyre-Ferry, Marlton, N.J.
Murphy, 35, the head pro at Innis Arden Country Club in Old
Greenwich, and Peyre-Ferry, 51, who recently retired after 23
years as the pro at Little Mill Golf Club in Marlton, teamed to
win the PGA Senior-Junior title at PGA Golf Club in Port St.
Lucie, Fla. Peyre-Ferry, the 2000 Philadelphia PGA Section senior
player of the year, secured the victory in the better-ball
competition by birdieing the second hole of a playoff against the
team of Frank Dobbs and George Newbeck. Peyre-Ferry missed
earning his tour card by just one shot at the '99 Senior Q
school. Last year Murphy prevailed in two Metropolitan PGA
Section tournaments, the Mitch Invitational and the Whitey Voight
Paula Creamer, Pleasanton, Calif.
Paula, 14, took the WorldCom Junior Classic in Hilton Head, S.C.,
where she was the youngest player in the field. She shot a
two-under 142 to beat Aimee Cho, 17, of Orlando by six strokes.
An eighth-grader at the Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla.,
Paula won four Junior Golf Association of Northern California
titles in '00.
Submit Faces candidates to golfplus.cnnsi.com/faces.
Golf, not to mention life, looks much different from the Buy.com
tour than it does from the PGA Tour or the Senior tour. Here's
the view from the three tours on a variety of subjects.
Buy.com PGA Senior
Transportation Van Leased jet Delta DC-10
Courtesy car Cool! I asked for the Another reason
red SL500 to make the top 31
Wife Caddie Homemaker Power-shopper
150 yards Wedge Smooth 9 Cut 7
18-degree club Two-iron Metalwood Five-wood
Pro-am party Might meet You're joking, Sing for
a rich guy right? your supper
The cut Vital Get to go Huh?
Swing theory Study a Consult my If it ain't broke,
videotape swing guru don't fix it
Agent Uncle IMG Why pay
Pants Khaki Gabardine Polyester
Underwear Boxers Briefs Girdle
Eyewear Contacts Lasik Glasses
Sports Once a month Twice a week That's for sissies
Sex before Yes Maybe What's sex?
Favorite Beer Water Scotch
Favorite entree Burger Fish Steak
Caddie Wife Young white guy Old black guy
Goal Big tour Win one Top 31
Movie The Matrix Wall Street The Godfather
Kids Preschool In school In to you for $50K
Hobby Waterskiing Fishing Babysitting
Casey Martin Let him ride Make him walk Only 25 years
to go, kid
To reporters "No problem" "Not now" "I don't remember"
Admires Tiger Woods Jack Nicklaus Ben Hogan
Voted for Bush Bush Buchanan