Ivan Morris Column - Golf is now being dominated by gym rats

Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris

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!

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