• Equipment creating more ‘gorillas’ off tee

    Adam Hadwin

    GARY LEMKE expects the advances in golfing equipment to result in a record number of 59s shot this year.

    Another tournament, another 59. We’re only into March and already there have been two such rounds recorded on the PGA Tour, Gary Lemke writes.

    One more on that Tour over the next nine months will make it the most prolific year in history in terms of sub-60 rounds.

    Justin Thomas reached the ‘magical number’ at the Sony Open in Hawaii – although it was on a par-70 course – and Adam Hadwin (above) followed up with one at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    That took the number of 59s to eight on the PGA Tour, and there’s the Jim Furyk show, where he had a 59 in 2013 and a 58 at the 2016 Travelers Championship.

    So, is it our imagination that golfers are getting  better and better? Our own Louis Oosthuizen had a 57 at Mossel Bay Golf Club, and while it is unofficial, surely somewhere down the line someone is going to do something similar in a regular PGA Tour event.

    So far no one has broken 60 on the Sunshine Tour or European Tour, although Gary Player did post a 10-under 59 at the 1974 Brazil Open, so South Africa does have a name on the honours list.

    A bit of research proves, though, that golfers – not only the high-level professionals – are getting better as the years roll by. In the past 25 years in the US, the average USGA men’s handicap has dropped from 16 (16.3, to be exact) to 14 (14.4). Over the same period among the women, the average handicap has dropped from 29 (29.7) to 26 (26.1) by the end of 2016.

    The reason is, quite obviously, advances in golfing equipment over the years for Joe Ordinary, which most of us are.

    The PGA Tour’s scoring average for professionals dropped from 71.50 per round in 1991 to 71.12 at the end of 2016. Advances among the pros have been at a slower place than the average for club golfers, and this is down to the fact the pros constantly benefit from new equipment changes.

    Player, South Africa’s most successful golfer, has long argued that the modern equipment is detrimental to the overall health of professional golf. ‘I should not be able to shoot 10 shots lower than my age [81], but I am able to do so – because the equipment allows me to.

    ‘I don’t want people to tell me how far they can drive off the tee. A gorilla can drive 300 yards, but it’s what is done around the greens, the short game and the mentality that counts,’ he told me at the 2015 Open Championship at St Andrews.

    ‘When I tell members at the Old Course that there will come a day when pros will drive the 1st hole, they think I’m mad. But, if equipment continues to change like it is, that will happen.’

    Player also reckons that the lack of spike marks on greens and raked bunkers help with lower scoring, pointing out that when he was at his peak, there wasn’t this kind of ‘help’.

    So, with equipment advances creating more ‘gorillas’ off the tee, the trend seems set. There will be a record number of 59s shot this year and the club player’s average handicap will continue to drop.

    – This column first appeared in the March 2017 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine

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