Rage Against the Machines
Q. Given the difficulty of the golf course and the cast of legends that have won here, do you think it’s less likely that we’ll see an outsider coming from the pack to win?
TIGER WOODS: You know, you probably can’t say that given the fact that over the past, what, five years or so, four or five years, that we’ve had first-time winners at virtually every single Major. The fields are so deep now and the margin between the first player and the last player in the field is not that big anymore; it’s very small. I think that’s one of the reasons why you’re seeing so many first-time winners. Also the equipment has changed quite a bit over the years. The equipment, it’s so precise now. This allows guys to basically stack up. When you get that combined with better, more athletic players, you’re going to get guys who are winning for the first time.
Golf is not, and never has been a game that’s supposed to be fair.
You can rationalize to your heart’s content, but at the end of the day, it’s still not fair. You can say you just want to enjoy the game or you want to make it easier or can take a mulligan, but that doesn’t change the fact that golf, REAL golf, couldn’t give less of a shit. It’s the honey badger of sports…it doesn’t care about your teammates or the refs or the home-field advantage or what scheme you’re a part of because the only thing that matters, the ONE core ethos of golf above all other things, is that the player with superior skills, firstly tangible and secondly intangible, will win.
I can almost hear the arguments already. Why do short hitters win tournaments? How can someone like YE Yang beat Tiger? I thought it was all about the short game! Or putting!
Those arguments are rooted in myopic fallacies.
First, lets talk about why I believe tangible skills are more important than intangible ones. Hitting the ball far IS a tangible skill, but it’s hardly the most important. Hitting the ball to within a few feet from 75-125 is a tangible skill much like getting up and down from bunkers and putting well. These are the elements of the game that should be emphasized and those with exceptional skill sets should have an advantage over the others in the field with less robust ability.
But that’s becoming less and less the case the more technologies and engineering find their way into the game, and you can feel a sense of frustration in Tiger’s word choices that was borne out of this changing landscape.
So we’ve established that driving the ball, hitting irons close, having a sharp short game and being able to make putts are all tangible skills. Yes, it’s whatever combination of these skills that leads to a score, but the ingredients have changed considerably.
A quick metaphorical tangent…I was watching a documentary on 3-star Michelin chefs last night and there were two common themes echoed between the four or five chefs profiled.
The first common theme was how obsessive they were regarding their ingredients. They all picked their own organic herbs, made their own seasonings and used local products because, as two of them muttered, you lose a bit of your soul because anyone can just pick up the phone and order incredible ingredients.
The second theme was that the difference between a 2-star Michelin chef and a 3-star Michelin chef is almost indistinguishable. Hell, even the head of the Micheline reviews said that there were only a few people involved who REALLY could tell the difference and what separated the 3-stars from the “regular” 2-star restaurants.
Think about that for a second…what’s the feeling you get?
While nobody’s saying it’s easy to become a 2-star Michelin chef, nobody’s saying it’s easy to become a professional-caliber golfer. Hell, just typing that made me incredulous. What it should tell you is that, at that highest level of performance, there’s more to being the best-of-the-best than being able to operate in a well-established set of parameters.
So one would think that, just like creating incredible haute cuisine won’t immediately get you two Michelin stars, and being able to play demanding symphonic pieces won’t get you a seat in the New York Philharmonic, simply having physical abilities won’t turn you into a winner on the PGA Tour.
Well, if that’s the case, then why are we seeing less skilled players win more and more?
If Lean Cuisine made a roasted rabbit saddle with tomato confit, anise hyssop, sweet pepper ragout with a Nicoise olive garnish, would you get a Michelin star simply for throwing it in the microwave? If they made a violin that automatically tuned your out of tune fingerings or a bow that you didn’t have to power yourself, would you be a concert violinist? FUCK AND NO.
So then why can our elite golfers bash the ball with all the skill of a caveman, show the short game touch of a toddler banging on a piano and putt like a 10 handicapper beat the most skilled golfers on the planet?
I’ll answer that question with another question…what does it tell you when the Web.com Tour is almost indistinguishable in talent from the PGA Tour?
It tells you that skill is no longer important to those who control the game.
Whoa! That’s some hot rhetoric!
Well, care to argue it?
Someone who doesn’t know anything about food wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference between two Michelin star chefs…hell, they probably wouldn’t even like the food. Much like your average weekend hacker wouldn’t really like trying to play a round with x-stiff shafts, blades and teensy, tiny fairway woods. The hacker can’t tell the difference between a swinger and a hitter or how a certain golfer’s swing mechanics make them far more consistent than a guy who’s more of a free-swinger.
But if every restaurant is required to use the exact same ingredients from the same vendors and all their veggies come precut so that human elements like knife skills and understanding how to time your dishes so they’re ready all at once is completely lost, and it’s THOSE things, that human element, that makes all the difference.
So we have our greatest, most skilled, most creative, most driven golfers playing gear that automatically corrects for them. Imagine listening to jazz if the possibility of a wrong note isn’t there…is it still jazz? And even then, would it really be the same thing? One of my favorite “jazz things” is a live vid of Herbie Hancock…he lands on a note that just sounds horrible and feels wrong but stays on it and keeps hammering at it until he makes it right. THAT’S jazz. THAT’S the human element.
We could be playing the exact same tune and I could do that same type of thing and it wouldn’t have nearly the same impact because Herbie Hancock has superior skills. Now say that Herbie and I are given a pre-written solo that we cannot deviate from…all the sudden my chances of playing something in this class increases considerably.
Much like that dude who can hit it a long way, only crooked, can compete with Tiger Woods because his cavity backed irons correct those mishits and that ball won’t fly as crooked. Is this fair?
Meh…technically it’s fair.
Is it ethical from a golf point of view?
Technology’s made the game more accessible for less skilled players, but at this level, where it’s not just the golf but the COMPETITION that’s enthralling, this technology makes that product a lot less enjoyable. Why do I want to see how engineers can fix swing flaws? Why couldn’t the golfer just, you know, practice?
I can tell you’re now thinking about the anchored putter ban a little bit in reference…and it wasn’t a bad first step. But tell me…what’s the difference between an anchored putter and a super fat grip? Both were designed to take the hands out of it, right? What competitive advantage do you get from an anchored putter you don’t get from a hybrid or a 460cc driver? I’m pretty sure that steel shafts are a competitive advantage over hickory shafts…but those are ok? And lets not even touch on the ball…
Fuck that, yes, lets touch on the ball.
When you have an aerodynamically perfected ball that doesn’t spin nearly as much as a wound-core balata ball with a super soft cover, a ball that flies longer and straighter, skill is essentially pointless. Why spend time developing great skills when you can just grab a wrench or switch to a ball that spins less?
Nevermind the fact that simply THINKING about making the game easier flies in the face of the core ethos of golf, this style of golf is flat-out unsatisfying from an entertainment point of view. Much like there are 3-star Michelin restaurants in subway basements or in some Scandinavian town with 100 people living there, all great golfers aren’t 6’2” 190 lb. country club kids with one shot in the bag.
And yet, when we look at the great golfers playing these days, that’s the prototype you’re most likely to see.
It’s really kind of sad that someone with skills like Tiger Woods has to deal with a bunch of shitheads that still hit chips fat and can’t hit an iron shot that isn’t sky-high with loads of spin. It’s an unintelligent devolution of golf, and without that mental aspect, golf is nothing more than a complex home run derby.
No, technology hasn’t made it so that every swinging dick can become a professional golfer…but we don’t love the game because it’s easy, we love it because of the diverse array of both physical and mental skills getting tested in a variety of situations. The key words there are “diverse” and “variety”…and while you might say it’s nice seeing a variety of people win tournaments, it makes me weep to see people with such inferior skills compared to the true elite be put on equal footing.
It’s not fair that golf has become fair.