Koepka and DJ – The Bland “Iron Byron” Golf Twins

With this weekend’s snooze-fest called the PGA Championship, I believe it is now safe to say that professional golf’s television ratings are in a world of trouble.

As Brooks Koepka started the final day with an unheard-of seven shot lead on Sunday at the Bethpage State Park – Black golf course, it would have taken an epic collapse (think “Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters”) to prevent him from winning his fourth major championship over the past two years.

Koepka bogeyed four holes in a row on the back nine on Sunday and, for a few minutes, saw his lead trimmed to one shot, but his closest competitor and close friend, Dustin Johnson, gave up two shots on the final three holes to hand the title to Koepka.

Though Koepka’s training buddy, Dustin Johnson, applied some minimal pressure on Sunday, DJ seems to have trouble closing the deal in golf’s majors.

With Koepka now winning 50% of the past eight golf majors, Dustin Johnson is now the owner of the “Second Place Slam” as he has finished in the runner-up spot in the past four marquis golf events.

These two guys spend time in the weight room together, on the driving range together, and are off-the-course friends, too. 

Sadly, both of these golfers share a bad habit of chewing tobacco, and, grossly, expectorating the stuff while the cameras are on them. Ugh.

They are both notoriously bland to watch and rarely provide golf fans any emotion while playing.  As New York golf fans shouted “DJ! DJ! DJ!”, Dustin Johnson rarely acknowledged the hearty support from the crowd.

Meanwhile, Brooks Koepka admitted that he heard the DJ cheers and used it as motivation to snap-out of his bogey streak on the back nine. 

Koepka, whose arrogance/confidence makes him equally as boring to watch as Dustin Johnson, admitted that he plays best when he feels slighted in some manner.  Whether the issue (fans shouting a competitor’s name around him, for example) or something he keeps mentally filed away, Koepka apparently needs something to poke the bear and motivate himself.

“There’s always a chip,” Koepka said. “I think every great athlete has a chip.”

For Dustin Johnson, though, it looked like the fans’ adulation actually made him more nervous.  With the winds blowing 15-20 mph for the first time in the four-day PGA Championship on Sunday, Dustin Johnson briefly moved to 3-under par for the day before stumbling with two bogeys coming down the stretch. 

Koepka won the tournament by just two shots.  Ouch.

As a golf fan, I was hoping that Dustin Johnson would embrace the support from the boisterous patrons and rally into a most improbable victory.  Unfortunately, DJ continues to finish near the top but still has just one major championship (the 2016 US Open).

The CBS announcers called Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson the “Smash Brothers” as both golfers are known for their extremely long drives off the tee.  When professional golfers’ tee shots travel well over 300 yards and find the fairway, most golf courses are being reduced to pitch-and-putt games for guys like these.

No one will convince me that Koepka and DJ would necessarily outdrive players from past generations without the benefit of recent equipment changes which have reduced the amount of hook or slice spin from the face of the golf club onto golf balls which, themselves, are engineered to go straighter and fly longer. 

Golf has utilized a uniquely designed machine called “Iron Byron” for many years in order to replicate the golf swing and test golf clubs and golf balls.   

With the recent success of long-bomb specialists such as Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson, the USGA and the PGA Tour should dial back or limit the technological advantages afforded to professional golfers and increase the punishment for missing the fairways.

Absent any scaling-back of golf equipment advances, then the first place to start would be to end fairways at 300 yards and increase the amount of rough the further the ball travels down (and off) the fairway.   

If golf doesn’t punish this generation of long-bombers soon, then golf might want to roll-out Iron Byron at June’s US Open to give Koepka and Johnson a run for the championship! 

At least that might be more interesting to watch!

New Golf Rules “Fore” 2019

Professional golfers will be able to take advantage of several new rule changes coming in the new year. 

In golf, the rule book is thick and, for most players, generally harder to read than a ruling from the courts.  Average players tend to be aware of the “biggies”, but most of us generally understand that some issues just aren’t worth getting upset about.

Changes in the rules of golf come rather infrequently and extremely slowly.  The game is considered a “gentleman’s game”, but what that really means is “Golfers shouldn’t cheat”.   Many golfers have called infractions upon themselves even when their playing partners didn’t see one occur.

If you have watched much golf on television over the past few years, you have seen how the rules of golf have even cost some players (I’m talking about you, Dustin Johnson) a major championship.  Simple things can cause the loss of one or more strokes and a victory.

Let’s take a look at a few of the key changes coming in 2019:

  1.  Forty seconds to hit your shot – I am “all in” on this change.  How often do we see golfers line-up a shot or putt from every conceivable angle and then go through a routine that, if disturbed, must be started over from the very beginning?  My only beef on this change is that it should be thirty seconds instead of forty.
  2.  Three minutes to find a lost ball – This rule used to be five minutes.  If a player hits a ball which literally disappears in the rough (it happens), then the ball usually will not turn-up whether the golfer, caddy, and others take three, five, or more minutes.  Three is fine.  Get on with it!
  3.  You can putt with the flag in  – This one is interesting.  The PGA’s resident physics major, Bryson DeChambeau, has already declared that he intends to leave the flagstick in for most putts.  He said, “It depends on the COR, the coefficient of restitution of the flagstick.”  He believes that the PGA’s fiberglass flagsticks are thin enough that putts hitting the stick are more likely to fall in the hole rather than bounce out.  This guy is a smart cookie, so I wouldn’t be surprised to the see other tour players follow suit!
  4.  A caddie is not allowed to stand on a line behind you while you are taking your stance and until your stroke is made – An excellent change!  Too often do we see PGA players depend on their caddie to line-up a putt.  Worse, the ladies of the LPGA have been using caddies to stand behind the ball to line-up their shots from the tee box and fairway, too.  I’ve considered that a form of cheating for years.  Bravo!
  5.  You are not penalized for accidentally moving your ball on a putting green – How many times have we seen a ball move due to wind or an accidental misplacement of a ball being marked?  This is a good change, too.  If the intent isn’t to cheat, then it shouldn’t be penalized. 

I’d love to see a pace of play rule to insure that golfers play each nine holes in two hours or less.  I think it should players should receive a two shot penalty for each occurrence.  If you want to see players pick up the pace, a four shot addendum to the score card at the end of the round would surely do the trick!

Maybe that will happen when CBS and other networks tell the players that they must finish their round by “X” time deadline, or the finish won’t be televised at all.

Though I am looking forward to the rule changes at the beginning of the year, I have my doubts that we will see a significant (15-30 minutes less per round) improvement in the pace of play. 

With golf, we’ll take any and all attempts to make the game simpler for all players and still retain the basic requirement of honesty and integrity. 

Fore-ward and onward into 2019, golfers! 

Bring back The Skins Game!

As the golf world prepares for Thanksgiving weekend’s $20 pay-per-view event between Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, I wondered whatever happened to another made-for-television golf event called “The Skins Game”.

For twenty-five years between 1983 and 2008, the PGA (and, sometimes, LPGA) tour would feature four of the game’s most prominent players in an 18-hole challenge match.  Each hole had a certain prize money value with the largest amounts coming during the final few holes.

To win a hole, one golfer had to make the lowest score.  In the event of a tie, the prize money would be added to the next hole, etc. until one golfer won the “skin”.

The early years featured one or more of golf’s legendary players like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Lee Trevino competing against “young guns” such as Tom Watson, Curtis Strange, Fuzzy Zoeller, and Payne Stewart (to name a few).  Even Annika Sorenstam of the LPGA made an appearance in “The Skins Game”.

Fred Couples, though, became known as “Mr. Skins” as he won the event five times and more than $3.5 million in prize money.

The success of the show was the chemistry between the golfers.  You could expect one or more players needling the others (Lee Trevino and Fuzzy Zoeller come to mind) to help inject a little humor to loosen-up the more serious players such as Nicklaus, Strange, and, later, even Tiger Woods.

The exposure helped to humanize professional golfers as the players would wear microphones so viewers could keep up with the banter.  For golf fans, it usually made for a fun afternoon during the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas season when golf traditionally has faded from the sports landscape.

So, why did “The Skins Game” end?

One source said that the series ended after losing a title sponsor prior to the 2009 event.

One writer theorized that the lack of star-power hurts the game as golfers had become even more serious, too stiff, and that the beloved legends of the game were too old to make for a competitive entry.

Perhaps.

The annual event was also played on new venue (mostly in California) every year, so there was no continuity with both the players and the course/venue from year to year, too.

Personally, I believe that the increasing amount of professional and college football competition during the Thanksgiving weekend dealt “The Skins Game” a decisive blow. There are college and professional football games being played from noon until late at night on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.

More competition begets fewer viewers which likely meant lower television ratings and, the true reason The Skins Game doesn’t exist, less network sponsorship money due to a lower public interest.

That’s too bad, because professional golf could use a shot of excitement to help boost the game and help change the perception (though still mostly correct) that most professional golfers are overly-serious mechanical cyborgs devoid of a personality.

For every talented but “vanilla” golfer such as Brooks Koepka or Dustin Johnson, there are affable golfers such as Matt Kuchar or Brandt Snedeker to help loosen things up during a competition like “The Skins Game.”

Since the PGA Tour’s leading names all make plenty of money these days, maybe each player’s winnings in my “new” Skins Game event could be donated to each golfer’s favorite charity or charities with a guaranteed minimum dollar amount going to the participant’s charities to help take some of the golf pressure off.

Maybe then we might see more fun happening between the players in addition to some great golf being played.

It’s still hard to believe that “The Skins Game” has been gone from television for the past ten years.

Next weekend, golf fans will be asked to ante-up their own $20 personal skin if they want to watch Tiger and Phil play a match against each other.

Caveat emptor!