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Over or Under: Would a 16 handicap break 120 at Augusta?

by Hal Phillips 0 Comments

Ed. LINKS Magazine published this star-studded piece back in 2006, prior to the Masters Tournament claimed by Phil Mickelson. He prevailed over a course measuring 7,445 yards; Augusta National GC plays another 105 yards longer today. Yet the back tees continue to require but a single forced carry. Length would not be the issue: If our mythical 16-handicapper can’t make 5-footers, there’s no way he breaks 120.


Sitting in the sports book at the MGM Grand surrounded by hundreds of television sets and the milling masses of Vegas hopefuls, one has the opportunity to place any number of over/under bets. But here’s one you won’t find on offer in the Land of Neon, or anywhere else for that matter: If a verified 16 handicapper were to play Augusta National Golf Club under tournament conditions — from the newly lengthened tips, playing to Sunday pins, putting everything out — would that average, workaday chop break 120?

“That’s a very interesting question,” answered Greg Norman. “On the surface, it looks promising for a 16 handicap, because he has about 30 shots to play with. But I think those 30 shots would go away in a hurry.”

One hundred and twenty strokes: Over or under?

We put this proposition to a collection of tour pros, golf course architects and high-profile swing gurus. All agreed our mythical 16 (the average USGA handicap is actually 15.2) would post a big number. But how big, and why? Have the recent course changes at Augusta, engineered in response to technology-aided balls and equipment, put 120 — that’s 12 triples bogeys and six doubles — beyond reach of the common man?

One of golf’s great appeals is its ease of transference — that is to say, while we can’t readily imagine ourselves shedding 280-pound tacklers on the floor of the Rose Bowl, we can see ourselves playing Pebble Beach or Pinehurst no. 2. And on a good day, the average handicapper can expect to produce a performance that is at least recognizable beside that of a professional. The response to technology, however, has begun to render this transference less and less tenable, and no major championship venue illustrates the growing disparity between pros and average golfers better than Augusta National, where back-tee yardage has gone from 6,985 yards to 7,445 in just six years.

“I think the golf course is a lot harder than people realize, in large part because of elevation changes and uneven lies,” Norman added. “The only true level lies you get at Augusta are on the tees! You can’t really appreciate these nuances on television, and they make club selection very difficult. And it’s a whole different ballgame now that they’ve added so much length.”

That said, our panel of experts felt the putting surfaces — for years, the layout’s primary defense against scoring — would bedevil our mythical 16 handicapper most of all. Back-to-back 490-yard par-4s, like 10 and 11, might oblige an average player (a smart one, at least) to simply play them like par-5s. But this sort of damage-control isn’t possible on the greens at Augusta, where flat-stick marvel Seve Ballesteros once described his four-putt at no. 6 thusly: “I miss. I miss. I miss. I make.”

“People would be amazed at the number of putts they would take,” said architect Jim Hardy, himself a former Tour player and noted swing teacher. “The average 16 playing to tournament pins, with Sunday green speeds, could easily — and I know this sounds peculiar — take 55 putts at Augusta. If he normally shoots in the low 90s, he’s going to take 20-25 more putts than normal. That’s 117, so your over/under is right on the money.”

But would he break 120? “Just barely,” Hardy decided.

Rich Beem, PGA champion in 2002, has even more faith in the average player: “Every once in a while a 16 is supposed to shoot 88, so he can’t be that bad — and here we’re giving him another 32 shots. If the weather’s fine, our guy’s not completely intimidated by the course, and he can move it out there just a little bit, I’ll take the under.”

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The Joys of Disc Golf: Yeah, you heard me right…

The Joys of Disc Golf: Yeah, you heard me right…

Starting this weekend, in honor of The Masters, we’re “Fighting the Pieties that Be” here at halphillips.net by celebrating golf’s non-traditional, even subversive appeal. Friday we featured the internally illuminated, colorfully sequined mannequins I recently came across in a Vietnamese pro shop. Today’s topic: Disc Golf.

Nothing rolls the eyes of traditional golfers than a discussion of disc golf. Well, I’m here to tell you that not only does disc golf totally rock, but I played more disc rounds in 2010 than actual golf rounds.

Why? Well, there are lots of reasons: First and foremost, between the ears the two versions are uncannily similar. Let me give you an example: Driving. We all know that over-swinging is a recipe for disaster, especially when wielding the big stick. The dynamic is identical with the disc, including the urge to vacantly muscle a drive out there in order to 1) satisfy some animal urge; and 2) gain 5-10 extra yards that won’t, in the end, truly enable you to play the hole in fewer strokes. Managing this dynamic is a dead-on crossover shared by these two incarnations of the game.

Here’s another: When you’re standing over a 4-foot putt, the traditional golfer must weigh the merits of charging said putt, taking the break out, and, should he miss, living with the consequences of another 4-footer coming back — or lagging it, increasing the break one must play, but pretty much guaranteeing one won’t three-jack. The same thought process and consequences are extant with a putting disc in your hands. Exactly.

I could go on and on. There are differences. The most striking is disc golf clever rendering of the body and club as one. But it’s the same game.

I plan to blog more on this topic because there are so many aspects to disc golf’s striking appeal — aspects that tend to address directly many misgivings we have concerning actual golf: A disc round takes no more than 90 minutes to play, for example; there is no dress code; there is absolutely no barrier to entry — anyone can become competent in a few weeks; rounds are $5-10; the courses themselves are really cool, all of them distinct 3:1 miniatures of actual golf courses — with the added dimension that forested areas, if thinned a smidge, produce a corridor of play unlike anything in the actual golf world.

I’ll leave you, for now, with a word on the game’s aural sensations. There are no “cups” in disc golf. One holes out by landing the disc in a basket. I’ve included a picture here, to give you an idea of what I mean. But imagine a circular metal basket that sits halfway up a 5foot metal pole. Atop the poll sits a metal disc the same diameter as the basket. Draping down from the top disk are chains that deaden the oncoming disc, dropping it into the basket.

Holing out in actual golf only makes a sound on TV, whereas holing out with a disc produces a distinctive sound: faintly metallic, a bit plinky, but definitely audible from a couple hundred yards away and pleasing in a communal sense. It’s sorta like the sound a kid makes as he mounts a chain link fence, with the idea of clambering over. Not exactly the roar of a crowd filtered through Georgia pines; indeed, that’s something that most of us will never hear, on any golf course. But to the ears of disc golfer, it’s music.

Masters Week: Fighting The Pieties That Be
Sequined mannequins: You'll never see them at Augusta. And bravo for that...

Masters Week: Fighting The Pieties That Be

As close readers of this blog already know, I possess a highly developed aversion to sanctimony. As a result, Masters Week really is something of a trial for me — until Saturday afternoon, when the inherent competitive attractions of the tournament ultimately win out and take precedence over the weeks of bullshit fawning and musing that routinely precede and general suffuse media coverage of golf’s first major championship of the year.

In this spirit of Fighting The Pieties That Be, I offer this week a series of posts that discuss or otherwise celebrate golf in non-traditional and subversive ways. By mentioning the Masters only obliquely, and with derision, I do my part in diminishing the hype — and perhaps opening our eyes just a bit to the fact that there really is a lot more to like about golf than yet another story on how cheap the sandwiches are at Augusta National, how struck with wonder the amateurs have been in the Crow’s Nest all week, what a fabulous tradition the meaningless par-3 tournament is, and yet another gauzy feature on Arnold Palmer, against whom I have nothing, but let’s get real: The man last won a major in 1964, the year I was born… (Quick caveat: If said story centers on how and why Arnie never won a major once he quit smoking, after the ’64 Masters, I’ll read that with enthusiasm, as I’m fascinated by this little-shared but quite fascinating factoid.)

So, without further ado, see here Fight the Piety Golf Tidbit No. 1:

Check out what I saw recently on display in the striking new clubhouse at Danang Golf Club, on the Central Coast of Vietnam. The image here provided says more than I ever could. Are those not the coolest mannequins you’ve ever seen? I’m not a golf apparel guy; it doesn’t much interest me. For the record, the shirt here was produced by a company called AB Pro Golf, whose own innovations include a line of reversible shirts and high-performance fabrics that include anti-bacterial agents.

But enough about that. I first saw them in March, but I still can’t take my eyes off these mannequins. There’s a cyborg quality to them that I find eerie but irresistible. Howie Roberts, the general manager at Danang GC, reports that such mannequins are quite the rage in Bali, but I’ve not seen anything like them in golf shops anywhere in Asia-Pacific, North America or Europe. They’re sequined, of course, with different combinations of colors: red and black, teal and pale green (pictured), orange and yellow… They simultaneously bring out the best in a shirt’s color while grabbing the eye and never letting go. Check out the shop the next time you’re visiting Danang GC, and bring your sticks; this Norman design may well be the best new course (opened May 2010) you’ll find anywhere.


The Curmudgeon: Golf’s Most Bracing Pod

The Curmudgeon: Golf’s Most Bracing Pod


We know how it is. You like your golf. You might even love it, but the game’s fawning media echo chamber leaves you cold, and often woefully ill-informed. Perhaps The Curmudgeon — the golf podcast that dares speak truth to power — is for you. Join host Hal Phillips and a panoply of journalists who aren’t afraid to put their access at risk. What’s more, you don’t have to wear a collared shirt to listen in.

Inside this Special PGA Championship pod:
• Should the Masters really be a Major?
• Sartorial Screed: The Case Against Cargo Shorts
• What are the spoils of Ryder Cup hospitality exactly?

2010.08.12 The Curmudgeon