In one of those happy coincidences, it’s Opening Day for Major League Baseball and the REAL opening day for the 2012 golf season as well: the first round of the Masters.
Yes, both golf and baseball have had official “games” before today, but for me, this day marks the spiritual opening. Months of waiting through winter doldrums builds anticipation for the day when everything is new again and ripe with possibilities. In golf this year, I believe it is especially pronounced. Other tournaments have had their headliners, but here all of the major stars have converged, mostly healthy and mostly at the top of their games, ready to make their mark on golf history. In baseball on this day every team begins in first place with the possibility of taking a pennant in the fall.
Other than golf, my big obsessions are history, toy soldiers, economics and epidemiology (yes, I know its weird). Recently, two of those intersected when an article on the Freakonomics blog discussed the efforts of Dan McLaughlin to make the Tour after 10,000 hours of practice.
The ten thousand hours comes from a theory of Anders Ericsson he covered in his book The Road To Excellence: The Acquisition of Expert Performance in the Arts and Sciences, Sports, and Games. What Ericsson says the difference between elite performers and the average Joe is about 10,000 hours of practice.
Not only is this pursuit unusual, his methods are also:
The golf pro who has been guiding him had a very unusual plan, to say the least. For the first six month of Dan’s golfing life, he was only allowed to putt. We are literally talking about Dan standing on a putting green for 6-8 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week, hitting one putt after another. That is nearly 1,000 hours of putting before he ever touched another club. Then he was given a wedge. He used just the wedge and the putter for another few months, before he got an 8 iron. It wasn’t until a year and a half into his golfing life – 2,000 hours of practice – that he hit a driver for the first time.
Stephen Levitt, the Freakonomics author, however, has his own take on this:
I understand the basic logic of starting close to the hole (most shots in golf, after all, do occur close to the hole), but to my economist’s mind, this sounds like a very bad strategy for at least two reasons. First, one of the most basic tenets of economics is what we call diminishing marginal returns. The first little bit of something yields big returns; the more you do of something, the less valuable it is. For example, the first ice cream cone is delicious. The fourth is nauseating. The same must be true of putting. The first half hour is fun and engaging. By the eighth straight hour, it must be mind-numbing. I just can’t imagine a person could focus that single-mindedly on putting, not just one day, but for months and months on end. Second, my own experience suggests that there are spillovers across different aspects of golf. Things you feel when chipping help inform the full swing. Sometimes I can feel what I should be doing with a driver, and that helps me with my irons. Sometimes it is the opposite. To be putting and chipping for months without any idea what a full swing is – that just seems wrong to me.
I see what Levitt is saying, but Ericsson’s method is quite similar to what I used to do with the brand new girl golfers I got to sign up for my high school team. Most had never held a club, and I had to get them to where they could get around a course in a match in just a couple of weeks. So we worked on the putter incessantly. I figured at worse, they would putt their way from tee to green. Then we worked exclusively on chipping and then on pitching. We never did really get around to the full swing before the season started. But that was enough for the beginners. Four or five pitches of 75 to 100 yards each, a chip and a couple of putts, and they could double bogey a par five. I know big hitters who can’t double bogey a par five. We only got into trouble when a hole required a long carry off the tee.
Im interested in seeing how Dan’s project turns out. He’s got at blog at The Dan Plan.
This week, the PGA of America and the USGA announced a new program called “Tee It Forward,” to encourage golfers to play from the forward tees for more enjoyment and shorter rounds.
You’re a little late to the party guys. I’ve been writing about the need for golfers to pay the proper tees for years. In fact, I made my initial post on the subject in 2008. Here’s part of what I wrote back then:
There’s been a lot of discussion about the reasons for the five hour round. Experts blame practice swings, not playing ready golf, and course routing issues. But I think the principal one is that amateurs are playing from the wrong tees. The simple fact of the matter is that most golfers are not good enough to play from the tips (or even the blues)—and yet so many do.
Here’s why it matters: Playing a short drive from the back tees is going to add at least one shot for fourteen of the eighteen holes on the course. On a par 4, a drive that falls short of the legitimate range of your short to mid irons (wedge to seven) drastically reduces your chance of hitting the green in regulation. You may have the length to cover the distance in two, but with a long iron or wood as your second, chances are that you won’t hit the green. So you end up taking an extra shot or two trying to get up from a greenside bunker or grass.
Further, if you’re forced to hit a driver on every hole to get the distance required, you also increase your chances of landing in the rough, in the trees, or worse. In that case, even if you DO hit it 250 yards, you add a shot getting out of trouble. On a par 5, golfers not only face this risk on the tee shot, but also on the second, where the necessity of playing a long wood to get into scoring range presents a second opportunity to get into trouble.
Then there’s the lost ball issue. When you are forced to constantly hit the big sticks, you’re going to lose balls. And time will be lost looking for them.
All of those shots add up. Assume three minutes for each shot per player (travel time, locating the ball, picking a club practice swings, watching the ball flight, putting the club away, etc.). Multiply that by 14 extra shots per round per player and you’ll find that each player loses 42 minutes to poor tee selection; for the group, that adds up to 168 minutes. Even with some overlap (two players preparing at the same time), and holes where you don’t actually take the extra shot, that adds an hour-and-a-half to two hours to a round.
Poor tee selection thus explains the five to six hour round very neatly.
And this wasn’t my only post on the subject. I’ve written about this numerous times.
It’s good to know that this (not so) humble Golf Blogger is four years ahead of the big boys. If you’re reading this at the USGA or the PGA of America, I’ve got a few other ideas for the good of the game that I’d be willing to share with you. Give me a call.
My latest golf expedition took me to Kensington, a Metro Park course, which runs along 1-96 just east of Brighton, Michigan. With its proximity to the super highway, it’s easily the noisiest course I’ve every played. Much of the course is in sight of the road, and the tee box on one hole—the fourth (seen above)—is so close that I could feel the breeze from the endless stream of cars and trucks passing at 80+ mph. Standing on that tee, I was more nervous than I have ever been on a shot. A nightmarish news story kept running through my brain ...
Thirty five people were killed and another one hundred injured today in a 100 car pileup caused by an errant golf ball from the Kensington Metropark. The golfer has been charged with multiple homicides and faces life in prison ...
Needless to say, I aimed well right of the highway, not forgetting to take into account the fact that my driver miss typically is a snap hook or a dead pull. All I could think was “please Lord, don’t let it be a dead pull.” You didn’t see that story in the national news, so you know it turned out okay.
That was my first time at Kensington, and in spite of the fact that it’s got a lot of nice holes, the highway noise was just too much. I doubt I’ll return any time soon.
There have been two scores of 59 this year on the PGA Tour. Can a 54 be far behind?
Fifty Four represents what many say is a perfect score in golf—the equivalent of a birdie on every hole. It seems impossible, but people once said the same thing about the four-minute mile. Roger Bannister is of course famous for his historic accomplishment of May 6, 1954. But others were flirting with the record. American Wes Santee ran 4:02.4 in 1953, while Australian John Landy ran 4:02.0. A year later, Landy ran 4:02.4 in Melbourne, then 4:02.6 on 23 February and at the end of the Australian season on 19 April, he ran 4:02.6 again.
Once Bannister broke the barrier, others followed. Landry broke Bannister’s record a mere 46 days later. Today, a four minute mile is a baseline for middle distance runners.
Other athletic achievements have had a similar history. So I think it’s entirely possible that we look back on this in a few years as the precursor to the perfect round.
I also find it interesting that we’ve had two 59s in a year that everyone said would be difficult because changes in the grooves. But thus far, that’s not holding out. The median score in 2010 is 70.95. In 2009, the median was 70.82.
GM’s Bob Lutz says that Tiger’s presence as a spokesman didn’t help Buick sell cars. Buick having unattractive products at the time may have had more than a little to do with it, but Lutz’s comments fit nicely with my thesis that pro golfers are basically worthless as celebrity spokesmen—except perhaps in clothes. I can’t think of anyone I know who buys a product based on the fact that a particular golfer uses it.
I go even a step further in this: I even think that the whole notion of equipment companies having golfers “on staff” is utter nonsense. Callaway, for example, pays Mickelson millions to play their clubs on the theory that awestruck amateurs will spend big bucks to play the same sticks as Lefty.
I don’t know a single golfer who plays a club because Biggie Pro does. There is some vague notion that the Pro V1 is worth playing because so many pros do, but no casual golfer could tell you with any degree of certainty who does—or does not—play the Pro V. We know that Tiger plays Nike; Phil plays Callaway and Steve Stricker plays .... what exactly does Steve play? But that knowledge isn’t likely to sway anyone. Amateurs aren’t stupid. We know that we don’t have the skill to play the clubs Phil plays, and that even if we could, they’re not the same clubs found in the local pro shops—even if the name is the same. And we know that those pros will switch manufacturers as soon as one offers more money.
At most, having a big name pro with a company’s name on the bag raises that manufacturer’s recognition factor. That’s worth something, but certainly not all of the attention paid to staff pros and Darrell Survey club counts.
When the golfers in my circle feel the need for new clubs, they typically turn to three sources: First, to their friends. Second, to the local pro or pro shop clerk. And finally, to magazines and the internet. I’ve never been a part of a conversation which began “I need some new clubs, and saw that Phil is having a good year, so I bought Callaway.” I have been a part of lots of conversations that go: “Hey, you have a golf website. What clubs have you tried lately?” and “Can I try that driver in your bag.” I’ve certainly tried my share of clubs out of a partner’s bag.
And if a golfer can’t sell clubs—what can he sell? Certainly not cars (“I drive a Buick because Tiger does” is nonsensical). Or tax advice (Phil relies on KPMG, so I do too.).
Clothes perhaps. I admit to taking clues from styles worn by the pros (and by watching Sergio Garcia, I learn what NOT to wear. What the heck was that jogging suit he was wearing at the Match Play? And that banana suit he wore at the Open Championship?). I couldn’t tell you who wears what brand, though.
So I don’t blame Tiger for not selling Buicks. (It turns out that at least one of his cars was a Cadillac, anyway). And I don’t blame any golfer for taking the money. But I do wonder what those corporate execs are thinking.
If golf were scored like Olympic Figure Skating ...
Jim Nantz: So it’s come down to this: the seventy second hole of The Masters, with Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk tied for the lead. Lets see what the players are planning for us ...
David Feherty: (in an almost incomprehensible Irish accent) For his final hole, Tiger has chosen to play “Pampas.” Its a 365 yard par 4—not the most difficult hole on the course.
Nantz: Its obvious that Tiger knows that he’s the judges’ favorite and has decided to take the conservative route. Right now, it’s his Masters to lose and he knows that.
Feherty: Tiger’s using a 4 iron off the tee. Again, not a very challenging choice, but I can see what his strategy is.
[Tiger slices the four iron down the right side of the fairway and it rolls into the second cut]
Feherty: The ball’s landing zone wasn’t quite where he had choreographed it, but you have to think that in the end, the judges will subtract a stroke for that follow through. In many judges minds, I’m sure he’ll be sitting 0 on the next shot. There isn’t anyone in golf who can hold a pose like that.
Nantz: And over on Pink Dogwood, we find Furyk preparing to play the 575 yard par 5.
Note: GolfBlogger.Com does not sell any of the items listed on this site and offers no warranty or remedy. All product links lead to third party sellers and are offered for informational purposes only. Buyers must do due diligence before buying from any sellers listed here. GolfBlogger.Com may receive a commission from the seller's portion of the sale proceed, which is used to support this site.
As I was cleaning my clubs this evening, I noticed a curious thing: the five iron was spotless. The grooves on the face of every other club in the bag had little bits of dirt and grass, but not the five iron. The obvious implication…
Precision Putting Trainer Grade: B+ Since putting is fully one half of the game of golf, it makes sense that half of all your practice should be with the flat stick. (For those of you who hadn’t thought about it, consider this: Half of all…
Arnie & Jack: Palmer, Nicklaus, and Golf’s Greatest Rivalry by Ian O’Connor Grade: B Teacher’s Comments: It’s supplemental reading for those who already have a passing knowledge of the two greats. Others may get a distorted picture. I think that it would be safe to…