08 Oct 2012
One of the world's biggest hitters, Spain's Alvaro Quiros.
There has been a lot of conjecture over the past few years in relation to the advancements in technology and how it’s allowing today’s professionals to make a mockery of golf courses.
Statistics don’t lie, and there’s no debating the fact that soaring driving distance averages are, in part, thanks to modern equipment, but you could also take a look at any of the longest hitters in professional golf today and notice a common theme – athleticism.
Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods, Camilo Villegas, Nicolas Colsearts and Alvaro Quiros are six examples of guys are in tremendous shape, having worked extremely hard to gain the most out of their power.
It’s not just golf that is feeling the wrath of today’s hi-tech sports market. The average serve on the ATP tennis circuit has increased by 16 km/ph over the past twenty years since the wooden racquets were tossed into oblivion to make way for the modern graphite models used by today’s wizards.
A sport in which I had close ties to growing up - rugby league - has seen its code transform into a full-time profession which was most definitely not the case in the early 90’s. Players therefore, are now much faster, stronger and physically capable of playing an entire eighty minutes of bone-crunching football.
The arguments in golf have been whether or not it’s in the best interests of our sport to continue with the upward trend of improving our artillery.
Following some research I recently discovered that the average handicap of the club golfer in Australia has increased by 0.9 strokes since the turn of the century. This statistic may seem baffling, but to me, it quickly highlights that for all the gimmicks and tools that golfers are lining up to purchase, there’s no replacement for sheer hard work and practice.
I’m a tennis tragic but would be lucky to play on a handful of occasions throughout the year. Would I gain more out of playing once a week, or simply going out and buying the latest and greatest Wilson racket? The answer is pretty simple and the same rule applies to the club golfer.
As for the professionals, my opinion on the ever improving technology is that it has been fantastic for the game’s image in becoming more appealing to the public.
There’s no question that seeing the athletic trend of the golfer’s physique, combined with the ability of today’s golfers to hit the ball much further, is exciting to watch. So too is watching the pro’s make numerous birdies and eagles.
Prior to Tiger Woods’ destruction of the Augusta National layout in the 1997 US Masters, the event was characterized by the traditional ‘back nine on Sunday’ shootout which saw an abundance of players throughout the years producing historic charges up the leaderboard.
None were more famous than 46 year-old Jack Nicklaus’ legendary inward nine of 30 at the 1986 US Masters, leaving a shell-shocked Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros in his wake.
Over the years, those in charge at the world’s most famous golf course, have gradually increased its length to coincide with the distances the guys are hitting the golf ball now. It’s no coincidence that the average winning score has since declined, with 2007 champion, Zach Johnson, shooting a +1 total for the tournament to claim victory.
It’s important to remember that every week of every year, professional golfers playing in tournaments across the globe are entertainers. We are a part of the entertainment industry which has always been, and will be, one of the most lucrative industries across the globe.
The fact of the matter is that if I’m a paying member of the public expecting to be entertained by those putting on a show, I want to witness what I could only ever dream of doing.
Watching professional golfers struggle to make pars and be punished on a regular basis doesn’t equate to fun for me. I want to see shootouts, birdie fests and bunched leaderboards.
That’s exciting to watch and leaves me feeling I have gained an appreciation for the quality of play these guys possess.
As a player, I certainly don’t mind playing the odd course where par is your friend, because it definitely sorts the men out from the boys. In fact, I have won both of my Web.Com tournaments on layouts where there’s been a premium on quality ball striking and par being an asset.
However, the underlying fact is that the depth of today’s professional golfers is simply far greater than those of years prior. The scores are improving, and the ball is travelling further for reasons far beyond ‘technology’. The guys work harder and do everything in their power to gain the most from their ability. There is no stone left unturned in their quest for greatness.
If the average club golfer asked me what my advice was for improving, the answer would be simple – practice, practice, practice!
Ewan Porter is an Australian professional golfer who most recently played on the Web.com Tour in the United States. He won twice on that Tour - the 2008 Moonah Classic and the 2010 South Georgia Classic and is a freelance columnist for GolfAustralia.org.au His views do not necessarily represent those of Golf Australia. You can follow him on Twitter: @ewanportsA