In his weekly Limerick Leader column, Ivan Morris looks at how the game of golf is changing.
History buffs say that 1960 was the definitive watershed year in modern golf because it saw the expiration of Hogan and Snead and the ascension of Palmer and Nicklaus.
2016 is shaping up to be something similar. The Tiger Era has ended and ‘everyone’ is eager to see if the new Big-3 of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth or Jason Day will be as dominant as Palmer, Nicklaus and Player used to be?
We will have a better idea after what should be an intriguing Masters Tournaments in April. But, it would be a very brave man who would dare to predict the winner today. In my usual form, I’ll risk it and plump for McIlroy to arrive in Augusta with his six guns primed.
Sitting on the side-lines last year taught him a salutary lesson that he will have taken to heart. During the off-season, Rory will have been giving his putting plenty of attention because that is the only area of the game where he concedes an inch to his closest adversaries.
Golfers in general do not give putting sufficient attention and it is noticeable to observe the different way that pros today learn compared with how the 1960s generation went about it. They learned on the course, constantly competing and spending hours on the practice pitching and putting green.
It taught them a warrior’s mentality; being prepared to fight, gouge and scrap to get the ball into the hole and not worry too much about how they did it. Winning was the most important thing.
Improving one’s ball striking was only ‘by the way.’ Today’s golfers enjoy a more formal and structured coaching regime, usually at a driving range or learning centre.
Today’s wannabees take their glory from hitting the ball more purely and a long way. The modern way is about maximising better scoring through better ball striking instead of a more pugnacious ‘get it in the hole mentality.’
If 63% of our shots are from within 100-yards, it’s surprising how much time is spent on the driving range today compared to time spent on the chipping and putting green. How many pros spend 63% of their time chipping and putting? At least half of that time is spent in the gym.
A constantly expanding fund of knowledge means today’s players are
technically more proficient but does it make them better golfers? Are today’s coaches concentrating too much on building a generation of golfing robots?
21-year olds aren’t supposed to win majors. While it was a long way from being one of the vintage Masters Tournaments in 2015, there was an exciting and worthy winner in Jordan Spieth.
As an underscore, Spieth proved that he was no flash in the pan by repeating the dose in a chaotic US Open at Chambers Bay on a golf course that demanded considerable patience and extreme golfing intelligence. Attributes not expected in over-flowing abundance in normal 21-year olds. By winning back-to-back, Spieth created ‘grand slam frenzy.’
To be honest, he was given a ‘present’ by Dustin Johnson and to a lesser extent gifted the US Open trophy by Branden Grace. Nor should we forget that Jason Day had every chance of winning until he was stricken down (literally) by an attack of vertigo.
European Player of the Year, Rory McIlroy missed the cut in his own national open sponsored by himself and played in his own backyard at Royal County Down, as well as missing out on playing in The Open at St. Andrew’s through injury, which made for a mixed and rather unsatisfactory year overall.
After his layoff, Rory appeared back on Tour with a new girlfriend in tow who had become his fiancée by yearend and whom he credited with keeping him calm and grounded. That can’t be bad and it must make him feel confident about whatever lies ahead on and off the golf course.
The Open at St Andrews was ‘destroyed’ by the wind and greens cut too low, which allowed balls to move of their own accord on the more exposed green surfaces. That a short game wizard, Zach Johnson, would eventually take possession of the claret jug should not have been that much of a surprise but that’s exactly what it was.
Whistling Straits is such a long and difficult course that most of the field in the PGA Championship could have stayed at home - they never had a chance. Jason Day bombed his way ‘out of their sight’ to the most clear-cut, decisive and emotional victory of the entire year but it was also a worrying example of where technology is taking the game.
My Bests of 2015: 1-The Players Championship at Sawgrass won by Rickie Fowler; 2-Paul Dunne leading The Open after 54-holes; 3-Jason Day’s overdue win in the PGA Championship. Lowlight of the Year: The Solheim Cup Controversy.
The most intriguing golfer I saw during 2015 was the American, Bryson DeChambeau. I can’t wait to see how he develops in 2016.
Due to niggling injuries I played less golf and on fewer golf courses than usual in 2015 but the most enjoyable ones were: 1-Dinard, Northern Brittany; 2-St.Emilion, near Bordeaux; 3-Dooks in County Kerry.
My Big Prediction for 2016: In spite of detesting The Olympics and the idea of golf being in it, I believe Ireland has every chance of winning a gold medal or two. Bring it on!