US Open: "Tiger Proofing" of Golf Courses Has Done Just the Opposite

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2008

When Tiger Woods burst onto the scene in 1996, he brought with him a completely new style of golf.

Woods brought a game of power and distance, the likes of which had never been seen on the tour before.

Due to Tiger’s distance game, the rest of the tour had to change the way they played.

Players had to take on rigorous training routines and hit drivers with oversize heads to enable them to hit the ball long enough to compete with Woods.

Woods achieved unprecedented success in his first few years on tour, largely due to the fact that he hit the ball a great deal further than everyone else.

For this reason, golf courses around the country began undertaking massive overhauls to lengthen the courses in order to ‘Tiger Proof’ them.

Twelve years after Woods burst onto the tour with his new style of power golf, the US Open is being played at the longest course ever to host a major championship.

Torrey Pines will give the field a grueling 7,600 yard test this week in Southern California.

This strategy of ‘Tiger Proofing’ courses to level the playing field has actually done the exact opposite.

By lengthening courses to distances such as 7,600 yards, they have actually given Woods an even larger advantage because they have immediately reduced the number of legitimate contenders before the tournament even begins.

A course that plays as long as Torrey Pines presents only around 50% of the field with a legitimate chance of winning the tournament. Thus, the strategy of ‘Tiger Proofing’ golf courses has actually given him even more of an advantage.

Some of the best players in the world such as Jim Furyk, David Toms, Steve Stricker, Kenny Perry, and many others have almost no chance of performing well at this year’s US Open because they simply do not hit the ball long enough to compete on a 7,600 yard course with swirling winds.

Ten years ago, Corey Pavin was one of the best players in the world. The ‘Tiger Proofing’ of courses has literally ended Pavin’s career. The same holds true for David Toms.

Kenny Perry is not even playing this week in large part due to the length of the course not fitting his game.

Some may argue that hitting the ball long has become a skill required to be a great golfer and players that don’t hit the ball as far as the likes of Woods, Mickelson, and Garcia are just not as good as them.

This may be true; hitting the ball long has become a very necessary skill directly correlating to a player’s success on tour.

But, if the PGA Tour, and the various host courses on tour, really wanted to ‘Tiger Proof’ golf courses, they would take on a strategy opposite to the one they have been pursuing over the past ten years.

To truly ‘Tiger Proof’ a golf course and completely level the playing field to a point where the best ball strikers and not the longest hitters win tournaments, they need to shorten golf courses and produce more narrow, winding holes.

A golf course that is short, narrow and windy takes the pure power game out of play. This type of golf course rewards the most skillful golfers rather than just the longest hitters.

If a golfer is truly skillful, they should perform just as well on a short, narrow golf course as they would on a 7,600 yard course such as Torrey Pines.

A perfect example of this is Westchester Country Club, the former host of the Barclay’s Classic.

The West Course at Westchester Country Club is a short, narrow course with many hills, winding holes, and extremely high rough.

Being a long hitter at Westchester means absolutely nothing. The best ball striker and most skillful golfer of the week is the one that wins the tournament.

Woods and Mickelson have never performed well at the Barclay’s Classic and have never come close to winning there.

Woods has such little confidence in his game on a course like this that he even skipped the inaugural FedEx Cup tournament, which happened to be the Barclay’s Classic at Westchester Country Club.

The PGA Tour has since taken the Barclay’s away from Westchester Country Club and moved the tournament to a longer and wide open course, which gives Woods even more of an advantage than he would have had at Westchester Country Club.

Making the courses that host major championships longer and longer will pretty much assure Woods of breaking Nicklaus’ record of eighteen major wins.

To truly test players such as Woods and Mickelson, majors will need to be played at shorter courses that test a player’s skill rather than their distance.

This strategy will truly level the playing field thus presenting Woods with more competition than he currently receives at any major.


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