Golf Australia

CLAYTON: Koepka made of rough stuff

Brooks Koepka
Brooks Koepka will risk the PGA's rough to gain extra distance off the tee.

In Australia we have a connotation of “target golf” which is somewhat divorced from the reality of what we have just watched this week at Bethpage Park and the PGA Championship.

We mostly think of target golf as playing to soft greens with high shots splattering into over-watered targets with the consistency of a basket of wet washing.

Much – but not all – of American championship golf takes it to another level by making the fairways narrow targets lined by thick grass and then greens, mostly quite soft, surrounded by yet more long grass.

If you hit the targets – fairways and greens – you can play. Miss and you hack out.

The fairways were so narrow at Bethpage that champion Brooks Koepka hit less than six of every 10, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he drove poorly.

So far does he hit, that accuracy is a necessary trade-off and one all the best players are almost obliged to make.

Short – and in this era, 290 yards is short – isn’t getting anywhere on the modern tour.

In Australia, the fairway bunkers are a significant defence of our championship courses, but at Bethpage they were welcome refuges from the tall grass surrounding them.

Curiously, Americans prefer their fairway bunkers in the rough, while we in Australia almost always run the fairway edges right to the border of the hazard.

Regular readers of this column will well know my thoughts on the state of the modern game and how so many see this arrangement of holes being the only defence against modern equipment in the hands of bulls of men such as Koepka and Dustin Johnson, who were first and second today.

Both, along with Masters champion Tiger Woods, will be at Royal Melbourne in December for the Presidents Cup and if anyone was silly enough to arrange our best course to look like Bethpage, it would be a shocking distortion of an amazing golf course that remains one of the world’s very best.

The golf at Royal Melbourne is also played to targets – to fairways and then greens – but there is leeway and freedom from the tee and any number of brutally difficult short shots around the greens, but not one of them hacked out of long grass with a three-quarter backswing and a lob wedge.

The ultimate targets, the famed and feared greens, are more like roads than wet towels.

Bethpage was brutally difficult championship golf, but golf played on a distortion of the game – a game never intended to be so penal and devoid of interesting – as opposed to punishing – recovery shots for players out of position.

The problem is the reality of the golf we will see at Royal Melbourne will be largely a form of “pitch and putt” given how short the course will play for the strongest group of men ever to play the game.

We have seen some strong, long drivers play in Australia over the years. Men such as Sam Snead, Jimmy Thompson, the Dutchman Martin Roesink, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf, Tiger Woods and, of course, Greg Norman.

None, though, have been as long as Koepka or Johnson and it will be both instructive and shocking to see the variety of pitching clubs they will surely hit into Royal Melbourne’s greens.

Some will argue – as they will at Bethpage – that the scores are the ultimate measure of the worth of a course and so long as the scores are high, all is well with the world.

The PGA uses confined targets and long grass. Royal Melbourne uses the game’s most difficult greens to require approach shots sufficiently close to the hole to reasonably hope of one putt.

Koepka was brilliant all week, especially at the start when 63 and 65 pretty much finished the hopes of the rest. Johnson, surprisingly, was within a shot after a quartet of back-nine bogeys by the leader and his own birdie at the difficult uphill 15th, but he immediately made a pair of bogeys and that was it, effectively.

Koepka now has won two US Opens and two PGA championships, the same number of majors as Raymond Floyd, a wonderful player who won his fourth not far from Bethpage at Shinnecock Hills when he was 43.

Koepka isn’t yet 30 and given how he has so dominated major championships these past two years, we assume there are at least a handful more to come.

Someone once asked Lee Trevino if he was a “great player” and one of the game’s genius shotmakers thought his six majors was on the edge of greatness.

Koepka isn’t there yet, but it’s hardly an unreasonable assumption he will win more and, along with Woods and Johnson, will head a formidable US team at Royal Melbourne.

The golf will be wildly different from the form of it he mastered in New York and, dare I say it, wildly more interesting.

And if the ball were to fly 30 yards less, it’d be more interesting again.


Comments

Posted by Tony walker at
02/06/2019 08:30 PM
Golf needs to wound back period. The clubs, balls. The pro game needs vastly speeding up either reduce the holes per round to 12 and make play continuous. Most slow play happens on the greens once a player starts putting keep going till holding out. Forget the honour system instal ready golf. First player finishing a hole teed off first at the next. Encourage older to use carts at a fair price. All bookings to be online and give females(amateurs) a proper headstart on every hole. Make golf for juniors under 10 for free. Courses public the world over are closing the sport is still controlled overweight white men therefore introduce quotas for young ethnic and female people on the committees. Golf simulators along with shrinking land are killing the game. Digitally wired clubs will survive but as a global user friendly pastime golf may well returns to 1950's the domain of the wealthy and retired. Therefore how will pro golf survive will no one really caring given the instant gratification most young people expect. P.S a golfing commentary should be analytical and unbiased. Not the depository of ex players yearning for theie good old days that were usually just "good" nothing more.
Posted by Graham Adnams at
29/05/2019 08:16 PM
I agree with the suggestion that ball manufacturers are given a set of specs for a ball that travels a certain distance from the tee. These balls regardless of manufacturers are the only balls allowed for all PGA events, any country. This still allows ball manufacturers to design and develop balls for us mere mortals who make up the greatest number of golfers world wide.
Posted by Mike Clayton at
22/05/2019 03:57 PM
Ian Couldn’t agree more. It’s the administrations job to 1/ protect the courses from unregulated power and 2/ to maintain the skill it takes to play the game.
Posted by Craig at
22/05/2019 01:09 PM
Bring on the big hitting Americans down here. The dominance they have on the PGA tour is remarkable. Seeing these guys in full flight will be a luxury for our eyes. We want to see the long drives and we want to see birdies. This is what brings us to walk the fairways rather than sit at home and watch it. I can't wait!
Posted by Greg at
21/05/2019 04:11 PM
Couldn't agree more with Ian's post
Posted by Zoran Jovic at
21/05/2019 03:20 PM
The answer is simple...a "control" ball for all the top pro tours. Motorsport has had a "control tyre" for decades so why not golf. Bring the ball performance back for the pro tours so that the magnificent historic old courses remain relevant. The best ball strikers will still rise to the top but they'll have to hit 4 and 5 iron approach shots instead one of the 5 wedges modern pro's seem to carry.
Posted by Ian at
20/05/2019 08:51 PM
My suggestion is don't change the course - they are fine as they are for 99.9% of golfers. If the manufacturers continue their constant increases of ball distances the professional game is going to look ridiculous when the players are chipping their second shots. Put the onus on the game's administrators not the club members.

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