Golf is a precision club and ball sport in which competing players use many types of clubs to hit balls into a series of holes on a course using the fewest number of strokes.
That is wikipedia’s definition of the game of golf. Nowhere in it is “par” mentioned, nor anything about being under par, over par, birdies, bogies, etc. To this day, golf tournaments are held over 72 holes, and the player who finishes the hole in the fewest amount of strokes, wins the tournament.
For as far back as I can tell, each individual hole has an assigned “par,” meaning the number of strokes a skilled golfer should require to complete play of the hole. If you’re reading this obscure golf blog, I’ve said nothing here that you don’t already know.
So please tell me why PGA Tour players seem to care so much about the “par” of a hole? The last time I checked, those 72 holes are the same 72 holes for each and every player. Whether it’s a 530 yard par 4, or a 268 yard par 4, you’ve all got to play it. This doesn’t stop the complaining about turning short par 5’s into long par 4’s, which somehow makes an easy hole a difficult one just by changing a number on a scorecard.
Exhibit A: At the 2013 U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson was got on camera berating USGA president Mike Davis about the 274 yard par-3 third hole:
“That’s terrible, 274 (yards), we can’t even reach it”
Hunter Mahan also voiced his displeasure in a more vulgar manner:
In 1960, the Masters unveiled a new scoring system that showed a player’s score in relation to par, which transcended live golf viewing, and that scoring method is still in style today. However, that scoring method does not change the fact that it still does not matter whether you’re -25 or +5, if you have the fewest strokes, you are the winner.
If the 3rd hole at Merion was a 274 yard par 4, wouldn’t we all be talking about how great and exciting the hole is? But if it’s a par 3, it’s “not fair”. Yet it has absolutely zero impact on the result of the tournament – only on the cosmetic appearance of your score compared to this arbitrary “par” figure. Why, in the middle of one of the most important tournaments of his life, would Phil Mickelson care enough about the par of the hole to berate the president of the USGA? (I know he wasn’t literally complaining about the par, but we can all agree he wouldn’t have made a scene if the hole was a par 4).
PGA National is one of the toughest on Tour because many holes are awkwardly pinched off the tee, and holes 6 and 10 are converted par 5's
— InTheFlesch (@Steve_Flesch) February 27, 2014
This tweet from Steve Flesch week is what triggered me wanting to write about this, and the conversation seems to come around every time a par 5 is converted into a par 4 (just wait until the U.S. Open this year, where the 16th will play over 530 yards). This is where I admit I fall victim to the par of a hole the same way tour players do. If I see a 500 yard par 5, I’m salivating. If I see a 500 yard par 4, I’m crying.
But a tour player that gets paid by how many players he beats over 72 holes, it blows my mind why they waste their time and breath worrying about par. As a recreational golfer, I judge myself against par. Other than the psychological effect (I’m not nearly sophisticated enough to touch on that), if someone can show me where par matters on the PGA Tour, I’m all ears.