Bifurcating as we speak

There will be no newsletter on Friday morning due to Thanksgiving. I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday.

With the 2017 tournament season coming to a close last week, the hot topic in golf has become the golf ball. Recent comments by Tiger Woods and Bridgestone's CEO about the need for a Tour ball has gotten everyone talking. Even USGA President Mike Davis...

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Davis spoke to the Wall Street Journal about the idea of different balls for different levels of the game. He also said equipment advancements are “affecting all golfers and affecting them in a bad way. All it’s doing is increasing the cost of the game.”

Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein fired back in a letter to the Wall Street Journal. Uihlein claims there is no evidence that golf is being hurt by players hitting it farther.

Many speculate that the USGA fears a lawsuit with Titleist and, consequently, has been slow to reign in development of the golf ball. Davis' recent remarks make it appear that golf's governing body might be ready to stand up to the equipment giant.

One thing is clear: the game has changed. Today, drives go farther and spin less than ever before. Advancements in equipment, the ball and fitness all play some role. Nevertheless, today’s game places a premium on power that it is unprecedented. If you want to be an elite player, you absolutely must be a big hitter.

In 1997, the average driving distance of the world's top 15 players was 272.23, and their average driving distance rank was 77.07. In 2016, the average driving distance of the world's top 15 players was 302.75, and their average rank in driving distance was 19.5.

If this trend continues, golf will lose its variety in favor of homogenization. In fact, this homogenization has already begun. Today's professional game lacks an elite finesse player like Corey Pavin, Nick Faldo or Jim Furyk. And judging by the youngsters, there isn’t one coming.

On the Skillet - Manakiki Golf Course - 2nd - 378 yards - par 4

Since I’ll be mired in a tryptophan stupor on Thursday evening and in no condition to write On the Skillet, you get this version two days early.

This edition of On The Skillet takes us to (uh…) beautiful Cleveland, Ohio. Manakiki Golf Club is an original Donald Ross design run by the Cleveland Parks Department (the Metroparks). Manakiki is a good public course but could be much better with proper management.

Pictured above is a look at the second hole from Google Earth. This dogleg right is set on a beautiful piece of rolling ground. The hole (like much of the course) has fallen victim to a shrunken fairway and green and tree planting. Unnecessarily tight fairways have stripped away the strategy of the hole. The only real option is to hit a 240-yard shot to the corner of the dogleg and to follow that with a short-iron/wedge approach to the green. This kind of narrow tee shot is symptomatic of a major problem in golf: For good players, this is very easy and stimulates little to no thought. Meanwhile, for the average or beginners, it's not easy. The fairway isn't very wide and if hit, a challenging uphill approach shot still remains.

A proper restoration would improve the hole significantly. It would have endless strategic options for the skilled player and become more challenging, while the average and beginner player would find it much more fun and playable.

Here's an aerial of the hole from 1951. Spotting the differences is easy. The fairway was nearly double in size and pushed up against the right fairway bunker. There weren't trees blocking a tee shot from going over the bunker, and the green was much larger.

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The golf course could get this version back with a few changes. If they took down some of the trees on the right and restored the fairway lines, it might look like this. Note: First attempt doing this, please do not make fun of the image rendering.

It gives options and the opportunity to play boldly. It opens the door for more birdies but also more mistakes.

A bold play is to take driver and attempt to carry the fairway bunker on the right, which is 240 yards. A successful attempt would yield a flip wedge into the green, but it also brings more risk into play. A tee shot that misses left will find the rough, trees or possibly out of bounds. A push to the right could leave a player blocked out or attempting to hit to a short-sided pin from the rough. To hit a good shot, a player must pick the right line and hit the driver the correct distance. By opening up the hole and allowing good players the opportunity to hit driver, it brings a possibility of a big number as well.

The safe/strategic play is still the same. Hitting a 240-yard shot to the corner of the dogleg will yield a 150ish shot into the green. The wide fairway makes it much more enjoyable for the mid to high handicap but entices the good player. Depending on the day's pin position, a player might try to set up an angle to approach the pin. A left pin would force the layup play towards the edge of the right bunker, bringing it squarely into play. A right pin would push play to the left side of the fairway and bring the trees and mounding into play.

The wider fairway forces better players to select their line and execute a shot. The narrow fairway and current state of the hole tell players what shot to hit. Simple tree removal and fairway expansion transform a thoughtless hole into one filled with options, and we haven’t even talked about the needed green expansion...

Down under....

There is primetime professional golf this week with the Australian Open. Jordan Speith will look to defend his title over a strong Aussie-laden field that features Jason Day, Geoff Ogilvy and Curtis Luck. Coverage will air from the Australian Golf Club on Golf Channel starting Wednesday night at 8pm EST. Full preview

Quick hooks

If you missed Monday's newsletter, we are launching a regular podcast series with Tom Doak. Ask your questions here.

Pretty good for a 19 month old..


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