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March NLU Mailbag (Part 2)

In case you missed it, here is part 1. We gleaned questions from a thread on our message board, The Refuge, and posed questions to the whole crew.


What PGA Tour event would you move (course, location, and date all count)? And if you could, where would you add a new Tour Event? -TigersWoods

SOLY: Speaking from the standpoint of what is most realistic and seemingly easiest, flipping Honda and Mexico makes way too much sense. I’m sure there’s a reason why this hasn’t happened, but this solves a lot of February/March scheduling issues.

RANDY: Michigan needs an annual Tour event. I’d flip Greenbrier and The National on the calendar and move The National into Michigan (I’m not tied to any particular course). The schedule would then go from Michigan to Quad Cities to The Open Championship (oppo event is the Barbasol in Lexington, KY) back to Canada and then Bridgestone in Akron. A legit Great Lakes Swing!

NEIL: The Pacific Northwest needs love too. I don’t know what courses, but I’d be alright with expanding the West Coast swing by a week or two at the expense of the Lone Star State. I’m way out on the Texas Swing. It feels mundane and blends together between all the majors. The Byron Nelson has always been meh (saved this year with everyone quaffing Trinity Forest), The Colonial is a landlocked, diet Heritage with no vibe (Dean & Deluca was the perfect sponsor as an overrated coffee purveyor but even they bailed), and The Texas Open feels like something the Club Pro Guy or Roy McAvoy should playing in. The courses all feel flat, hot, and long. No thanks.

D.J.: The Valero was the event that sprung to my mind as well, although I’ll admit I’ve never attended it. That’s the hard part with a lot of these events – for many of them there’s such a different vibe on the ground than what you see on TV. So in that respect, even if I think an event stinks from my couch, if the people that go to it each year (and the charities that benefit from it, etc.) love it, then by all means, carry on. I’d also like to see them move the second Playoff event because I think TPC Boston low key stinks. Not only are there 45 other dope spots in Boston that would be cool to see, but on years like this where you have the first three legs all on lush, tree-lined courses in the Northeast, things start to feel a little like Groundhog Day.

TRON: Oh man (cracks knuckles and takes a deep breath)… I like all of the above. This stuff gets my juices flowing. Michigan needs a tour event (I love taking the National there like Randall mentioned). I’m also pouring more resources into the John Deere and putting it on a rotation that includes the Twin Cities, Des Moines, Quad Cities and other golf-crazed markets in the upper midwest.  Get it a better spot on the calendar too. Hell, make it a playoff event.

I’m moving the Malaysia event to Japan, moving the Shanghai WGC to Australia. Like DJ said, we’re decamping from TPC Boston (which may already be in the works). I like Neil’s emphasis on hooking the Pac-NW up, unfortunately that ain’t gonna work on the West Coast Swing as it’s Jan/Feb up there and the weather stinks. So start the wraparound season in Napa, go up the coast to a new event in Seattle or Portland, and then you rotate the Canadian Open between Vancouver and Calgary for the next five years for the week after that and helps it avoid the post-Open Championship malaise it’s currently in. This removes a couple weeks from the bulk of the summer season, lets you move playoffs up to avoid football, and capitalize on the primo September/early October weather out west. I could keep going for another couple hours on this topic. 

How can you be a proponent of rolling back the ball after the results this weekend at Chapultepec? Course played sub 6500 yards, winner at a very fair 16 under, lots of excitement, etc. -BigJake

SOLY: Apologies BigJake, but any argument against rolling back the ball that cites par or Chapultepec as an argument against change is misplaced. Chipotle Golf Club is a laughable layout that is simultaneously awesome to watch the pros play. But it has next to zero interesting architectural elements, and isn’t that relevant in the ball discussion as a hole.

There’s still plenty of tournaments played on shorter courses where the scores aren’t disgustingly low. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t an issue. Fact is, because of how far the ball goes, architects and tournament organizers have been forced to artificially protect par by growing the rough up, narrowing the fairways, shaving down the greens and hiding the pins. Eliminating fairway width also takes away strategic elements of playing a hole. When a player has nowhere to go but dead straight, every single player has to play a hole the exact same way. Chipotle Municipal is maybe the most egregious example on tour of a course that forces players to play each hole the same way – straight through narrow corridors of trees.

Dialing back the ball would help bring back so many of the architecture elements that many course designers intended to be considered when playing a hole. Bunkers will be in play and will require precision to play around or near them to provide the best angle at the pin, rather than being irrelevant and capable of being bombed over.

The farther we move the tee boxes back, the more the longer hitters will benefit. The farther the ball goes, the bigger advantage the longer hitters will have. If we dial it back 10%, a guy that carries it 300 yards will now carry it 270. A guy that carries it 270 will carry it 243. Yes, that’s only a three yard difference, but that’s not insignificant. And when you factor in roll, that gap between those two players will close even tighter.

D.J.: I think I like TPC Chipotle a lot more than Soly does, but I can’t disagree with a lot of his points. The reason scores were relatively protected on the short course was pretty simple – it was claustrophobic as shit off the tee. I think this was crazy fun to watch for one week because you get guys hitting recovery shots constantly (my favorite), but it’s just not possible as a solution from week to week for a million reasons. The downside of seeing a course like this “succeed” on Tour is that the casual fan sees a popular winner and assumes that means it’s a “good” golf course. This is how you end up with tight, punishing public courses that lead to 6-hour rounds, agronomy problems and all the strategic elements Soly mentioned being wiped away.

Did the Killhouse furniture come from a Goodwill or did you just find it in various alleys?

– Lazstradamus

NEIL: The #Killhouse design aesthetic is what I’d call ‘Chic Donation,’ a ragtag mix of Goodwill, free stuff people send Soly & Tron, and old furniture from the humble ATL abode of The Franchise and Peg (aka, Tron and Neil’s parents). The Patrick Reed couch was actually one of two in our family room for about 10 years. It has not aged well, and goes better with a darker wall color and a less sunny family room! My vision for the #Killhouse is a museum of useless golf history, objects that represent inside jokes that no one gets (see: welding mask), and mismatched furniture that garners stern but fair shit talking from the gallery during the live show. I think we’re well on our way!

RANDY: Fun fact–‘Chic Donation’ is an interior decor line bourne from the revolutionary Derelicte fashion line from infamous designer, Jacobim Mugatu.

What do you guys think has happened to Smylie? – assortment of Refugees

NEIL: I don’t think Smylie is that good. He got hot in Vegas and stole a win, went comatose for 3 days at Augusta, and then regressed back to where he should be. The problem is he upped his personal #brand on SB2k16, and got put in the convo with dudes that have been the creme de la creme from junior golf through today.

TRON: Smylie’s an interesting story – Neil nailed it on the head, and that’s not meant as a slight to Smylie. You have to respect someone getting hot, taking advantage of it and having the confidence to keep riding it. He was a middling college player for three years at LSU (averaged around 74-75 each season) before he got v hot his senior year. Then he won in his first year on the Web Tour in ‘15 (an impressive five shot win at the tough Victoria National, probably the hardest course on that circuit), and then parlayed that into a PGA Tour card and went unconscious Sunday at the Shriners. He went from 71st in SG putting in ‘15, to 138th last season, and down to 158th thus far this year. 2016 was the outlier and he’s simply regressing to the mean. The mean is still top 200 players in the world, so he’s still very good. But it will be interesting to see if/how he keeps his card after his exemption from the win runs out this year. He’s only 26 and coming from a lower foundation than guys who were First-Team All-America through college. It does kind of suck for him that we wouldn’t be asking any of these questions if he hadn’t been overexposed by the media in a fifteen-minutes-of-fame type of way. 

 

Tron/Soly, Give me one or two examples of something in the golfing world that’s still over your head or something you just figured out. – SplashShots69

TRON: 4 things stick out: 1) Will never figure out how Charles Howell III only has 2 career wins. 2) How does Jim Thorpe make contact with the golf ball? 3) How/why Tom Fazio is the current architect of record for 2 of the top 3 courses in the world. 4) The 2006 United States Ryder Cup team.

Also, I just figured out how to read grain about three months ago.

NEIL: Though addressed to Tron/Soly, this is an equal-opportunity mailbag schnitz, so I’ll happily answer the question. Here are a 3 for me:

– How they calculate FedEx Cup points: This is something I’ll never really care to understand though.

– The Grass following the sun throughout the day, which changes the grain and the break of certain putts. The big homie Will Smith tried to explain it in Bagger Vance, but I continue to mix up on whether into the grain or through the grain will make it faster/slower.

– The list of ways you can hold onto your tour card: Tron read it out loud one time, and it sounded like the U.S. tax code to me.

SOLY: Great question.

– How guys spin the ball back from 40 yards and in.

– How the ball seems to enter a different dimension when Rory hits driver, and it just continues to rise. Like, it looks like the Falcon Heavy entering a second burn. The ball should start coming toward the Earth, and it propels itself even further in the air and into the jetstream.

– How fields are filled out. I know there’s a priority list and all that, but I can’t name how guys at the bottom of the field get into out, and how the first alternates get cut out.

– Was shocked to follow pros and find out how many truly awful shots they hit. I’ve seen duck hooks, I’ve seen tops, blades, chunks. And on so many of those holes, they end up making par. And I can’t explain how.

RANDY: Does compressing the ball count? Or how about like three quarters of golf’s rulebook? In all seriousness, two putting techniques are way over my head: Plum-Bobbing and AimPoint. I’ve had several people try to demonstrate the former to me, and I’ve been given a pretty detailed explanation of the latter yet I still don’t have a grasp on either.

Do you guys REALLY care about course architecture or is it just something you talk about to try to seem refined and worldly? – GeneParmesan

D.J.: First of all, huge shout out to Gene Parmesan, who would have definitely been in the Pete Dye school of design – trickery of the eye and big, dramatic reveals.

I absolutely, unequivocally did not care about it 5-6 years ago. I couldn’t tell you why a hole was good or bad beyond the fact that a short par 4 gave you “options.” I was more into conditioning than anything else, which makes feel very sad to say. I think two things changed this: 1) Going to Bandon and Scotland for the first time made me realize that everything I thought I knew about golf was pretty much bullshit and that just hitting golf shots – trying to shape it a certain way or use the ground or whatever the shot dictates – is so much more fun and engaging than a 4-hour quest to try to break an arbitrary number. Particularly playing Doak courses for the first time was eye-opening to just how fun it is to see a puzzle of a green complex and give it your best to solve it in a different way each time. 2) Reading/listening to Andy Johnson’s work at The Fried Egg made the whole idea so much more accessible and opened my eyes to a million books, Twitter accounts, everything. I’ve been pretty burned out on the pro game the past few years and this has given me a whole different way to stay engaged with golf that I’m finding to be more rewarding and infinitely more interesting (other than when Tiger’s playing).

TRON: That pretty much sums it up for me too. I’m a shell of the player I once was, yet I love golf more than ever, and that’s because of architecture. I grew up playing a lot of golf courses in/around Atlanta that, while well-conditioned, were (and still are) dogshit layouts that were built between 1955 and 1990. I grew up playing these courses and loving golf. I got back from college and lost the bug a little bit and got really into fishing. This was for a variety of reasons – frustration, non-walkable courses, not having a private membership in a city that offers next-to-nothing in the way of public golf.

A few years later, four things happened concurrently. 1) NLU was taking off and I was playing a variety of courses and adding to my perspective. 2) I played Sweetens Cove for the first time, which completely shattered my concept of what a golf course could/should be. 3) I bought Volume 2 of Doak’s Confidential Guide. 4) My wife and I moved to Boston and I fell in love with the game again. It didn’t matter if I was playing a historic country club or the local munis, the common thread was that all were either designs from legendary architects (even the scruffy munis) or were relatively recent designs from guys like Silva and Hanse, who lean on a classic design philosophy. Did it help that I played places like Myopia, Essex, Brookline, Yale, Taconic and Boston GC? Absolutely, that’s what really helped solidify it. But the light went on when I was playing accessible places like South Shore Country Club (a public Wayne Stiles design),  Bass Rocks (a private but laid back Herbert Leeds design), George Wright Municipal and Sandy Burr (Donald Ross courses in Boston), and Red Tail (newish Silva design outside the city that is a blast). These utilized the same principles as those really exclusive places, yet were approachable and cheap and close.

When I met Andy Johnson, all of those things coalesced and the result is now that I realize why I enjoy golf: It’s the architecture and strategy of it. I look back on growing up and think about how it would’ve been different if I’d been exposed to classic architecture early on (and how much better I’d be as a player).

SOLY: For me, it wasn’t as much about architecture per say as it was discovering that there were different ways to play golf than in a golf cart, on a soft parkland course that weaves through houses. Playing through the UK and Ireland honestly felt like a different sport. Stateside, if the conditions dictated that I would have to hit a 6-iron from 125, I’m not teeing it up that day. In the UK I’m craving those conditions. As D.J. alluded to, if you can give up thinking about a score, and just embrace the challenge of trying to play around a bunker, rather than bombing it over one, golf is infinitely more fun.

I guess inherently that goes back to architecture and course design, but I didn’t fully recognize the architectural elements that were making this so fun. I didn’t realize that a lot of these courses don’t have forced carries, or obnoxious water hazards, or super tight fairways. I just realized how much fun they were to play. It wasn’t until really reading Andy’s stuff that it got spelled out to me what the actual elements were that I was appreciating, even if I couldn’t spell them out myself. It’s hard to explain, but it was honestly difficult to get super excited about coming back to the states to play golf again after experiencing that euphoria across the pond. I can’t wait to get back.

In your opinion(s), will the USGA and the R&A ever go to a bifurcation of the rules? Why or why not? – aj_wehr

D.J.: Forever is a really long time, so it’s hard to say it will never get to that point, but I think it’s going to take a really, really long time for it to get there. The USGA had a buried line deep in the distance report that it has no intention of dividing the rules between the pros and amateurs, so I’ll take that to mean that it definitely won’t be happening this time around. (Whether it should or not is certainly up for debate.)

TRON: I hope they don’t bifurcate. I want everyone playing the same ball and I want it to be a rolled back ball that spins more. Will they do that? Probably not.  This sums it up for me:

RANDY: Co-sign with Tronald.

SOLY: I don’t think they will. I’d like them to bifurcate, and I think the pro game would be much more interesting if guys were forced to do more thinking than they currently do off the tee, and a rolled back ball would encourage that. But it would be too much of a shakeup to the entire golf industry for it to actually go through. Things will reach a tipping point when they can’t put tee boxes any further back than they have, but I honestly have no clue when that day will be.  

In the Killhouse crew, who are the players that you would:

– Count on to sink a 10 footer to win a match

– Stripe a driver down a tight fairway with a 1-up lead

– Get sweaty palms and alter his pre-shot routine with BigCat watching on the tee-box

D.J.: No disrespect to the other guys (no disrespect to anyone), but I think I’m a transcendent putter within 4 feet. Ten, however, is way outside my range for anything of consequence. I’m probably leaning on Soly here. Tron is the only generational driver of the golf ball in this crew, so he’s definitely getting the call to try to hit the fairway. The “sweaty palms” question is interesting. I want to say Neil, but I want to couch it with this – Neil almost always plays to the level opposite his competition (he collapses against good players and mercilessly beats up on bad players). So if he was paired against someone shitty with the Big Cat watching, I think he’d rise to the occasion and stripe one.

TRON: DJ for the putt (he’s world class inside 8 feet), me for the drive (think Fred Funk or Joe Durant off the tee), Randy to get nervous AF.

SOLY: I’ll go full Reed and take myself for the putt. Tron for the driver. And also myself to get nervous. I got nervous as shit hitting a shot in front of like 100 people at Sawgrass on Monday and dumped it in the water. I would top the ball if Cat was watching.

After spending some time around Tour players, what is your ultimate “rainout foursome” – the 3 guys you’d be fine spending an afternoon drinking and bullshitting with during a rainout? – TheOtherBigCat

D.J.: Great question. For me, it’d be Graeme McDowell (smart, funny, relatable, Guinness drinker). We’d sit quietly and watch a conversation between Bryson and Phil, which I think would be both intentionally and unintentionally hilarious. To me there is no one more fascinating than Phil (or at least the projection of Phil I’ve created in my mind) and I think Bryson would bring out the best in him, especially after a couple pops.

TRON: Fuzzy Zoeller, Jim Thorpe, and Richie Ramsay because his accent is fantastic, he’d laugh and keep the other two going. Stories for days. 

SOLY: If we’re talking current tour players: Rory, Phil, DJ.

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