Sometimes, I feel like Rip Van Winkle in golf. I drift off for a second and 100 years goes by.
There was a time when hitting a proper iron shot included two very important ingredients in direction and distance.
Without question, accuracy is the most important of the two, but the finest shotmakers of all time controlled the distance within a yard or two. Ben Hogan, Tommy Bolt, George Knudson and Nick Faldo placed an equal amount of importance on hitting a shot the correct distance.
Dave Hill and Sam Snead were masters at creating a variety of shot shapes and types that resulted in “working” the ball close to the hole.
On one occasion, Tommy Bolt was playing a shot from about 150 yards to a pin located at the very peak of a plateau green. The mounding in the front was as hard as a rock as was the green.
Players were either long and over the back into a steep bunker or short and running back down the hill. It seemed unattainable until Bolt hit a driver off the fairway.
The ball screamed into the face of the hill, shot up the mound and rolled gently across the 10 feet of green coming to rest about 15 feet behind the hole. I haven’t seen or heard of a shot like this since Seve.
Today’s players don’t employ this kind of artistry.
The tools of the trade that allow this kind of creativity were forged and flat-backed or muscle-backed. The top edges were thin and the ball felt ‘soft’ on the face.
Instead, the game has become one of playing to a precisely calculated yardage with each club and “wail away,” relying on immaculate putting surfaces to permit hole-outs from 40 feet.
Compounding this style of play is the new surge toward hitting the ball further with each iron. Manufacturers are promoting various design features designed to hit the ball further.
Wait a minute. If you need to hit the ball farther with an iron, why don’t you simply hit the next longest club? Controlling the exact distance is an art form not easily done with a spring loaded, exploding catapult.
Putting green surfaces have become so perfect they could be used for a billiard competition.
Long gone are the bamboo poles used for sweeping off dew and worm casts. Aerators pulled by a farm tractor have been replaced by precise, repeating coring machines and irrigation requires surgeon-like training.
The end result is perfection or what some consider perfection.
Players are no longer required to drive into the fairway to set up a well-executed iron shot because close proximity to the hole has less value.
With such delicately-prepared, smooth-as-silk, impediment-free surfaces, players can rely more on having an actual, real opportunity to sink longer putts.
Believe it or not, my home course as a youth cut the greens on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. So much for developing a mindset of sinking a lot of putts for a low score. More frequently, those scores were posted through fairways and greens.
I loved the old way and I love the new way. I loved it when Arnold Palmer was “Arnie” and I also love hearing him called “Mr. Palmer”.
Yes, times have changed. Both styles of play are challenging and fun.