Tour Confidential: Viktor Hovland, green and yardage books, best tips
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss Viktor Hovland and the young guns, green and yardage books, best tips and more.
1. The top of the leaderboard at this week’s World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba was a who’s who of future stars, as Viktor Hovland, Matthew Wolff, Scottie Scheffler and Joaquin Niemann were among those in contention, with Hovland eventually winning. From what you‘ve seen in 2021, which player in the 25-and-under men’s set has the most upside?
Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): With two top 10s in his first three major starts, Will Zalatoris seems destined for the stratosphere. Even with that jerry-rigged putting method. But I’ll give a slight edge to Sam Burns. Such an impressive ball-striker and clearly has the mental makeup for the biggest moments. No obvious weaknesses in that man’s armor.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): If we’re talking about that age range for the entire Tour, Collin Morikawa is the guy — he has the benefit of a two-major head start and a stupid-good irons game. You can’t go wrong with any of the guys in the mix on Sunday, especially now that Matthew Wolff has regained his footing. But of those, Hovland’s game seems most reliable tee-to-green and he’s a very good putter, too. When his short game cooperates, you see weeks like this one.
James Colgan, assistant editor (@jamescolgan26): Call me crazy, but when things break right, Scottie Scheffler has a jaw-dropping game. He’s a ways behind most of the other names in that list — for starters, he’s 25 years old and still looking for his first PGA Tour win — but if we’re talking purely about upside, I dig Scottie.
Nick Piastowski, senior editor (@nickpia): As much as I want to say Wilco Nienaber because of his ridiculous length, I’ll go with Morikawa. I don’t necessarily think he’s the most talented of the bunch — and that’s more of a statement of his company than a knock on him — but the experience of already winning two majors will do him well going forward.
2. The PGA Tour, according to a report in Golf Digest, will adopt a local rule officially restricting the usage of green and yardage books beginning in early 2022. According to the report, which appears to include a screenshot from a memo shared with PGA Tour players and staff, green and yardage books in their present form will be outlawed from golf’s biggest professional tour. (The rule will not apply to the amateur game.) In their place, the Tour’s competition committee will authorize the creation of its own “committee-approved” yardage books, which the memo says will include traditional green information, but will not allow the raw information on slopes and grades that many have argued serves to undermine the skill of green-reading. Do you agree with the move?
Sens: For the most part, this seems like a window-dressing distraction from the more pressing need, which is to rein in the ball. As for the yardage books, the only strong opinion I have about them is, if you’re going to use them, use them quickly, or be prepared to be penalized for slow play. Chop, chop. Keep it moving.
Colgan: Green-reading should be a skill. The rules, as they were, turned green-reading into a science. Ask yourself, would you view hitting the same way if players knew the pitch that was coming? The change was a good thing for golf, and a really good thing for truly skilled players around the green.
Dethier: Yeah, this is great. I like it from a strategic perspective, and I like it from an entertainment perspective, too. The less time we spend watching golfers with their heads buried in books, the better.
Piastowski: Yeah, I agree with the move. Who marks up the book the best doesn’t have much to do with the actual action of putter to ball. (That said, I do feel very bad for the folks who have made this a skill — the caddies.) And I also agree with Josh — as I’ve mentioned a handful of times in this space, if golf is going to make green-reading books all the same, why not make the ball the same, too?
3. Also under the new rule, players and caddies will be allowed to include handwritten notes about greens and slopes, but must do so using only information gained from their own eyes, and not with the aid of levels or other slope-reading technology — which renowned putting coach Phil Kenyon blasted. “This last paragraph beggars belief,” he said. “So you can take a TrackMan or quad or range finder onto the course and check how certain shots or holes ‘play’ yardage-wise, but you can’t take a level onto a ‘practice’ putting green to calibrate your feel for slope. What a ridiculous rule. It’s stupid, in fact. It serves no purpose. It’s indeed skill limiting.” Does he have a point?
Sens: Kenyon is on the money in pointing out the hypocrisy. In my ideal Luddite world, none of it would be allowed. Gather all the info you can in your practice round the old-fashioned way.
Colgan: Yeah, that’s a pretty brutal addition to what is otherwise a pretty smart rule. Kenyon is about as knowledgeable as anyone in the sport on putting, so it seems like a rather significant oversight on the PGA Tour’s part that they didn’t include him in the rule-writing process.
Dethier: Sure, he has a point. It’s not wholly consistent, and I definitely think that tech should be allowed on the practice green, if it’s not obtrusive. But banning ’em on the course doesn’t really bother me. I’d think some players are welcoming this old-school move, too, or this wouldn’t be happening.
Piastowski: I agree with Kenyon. Ban ’em both, or keep ’em both.
4. Hartford Golf Club, a nine-hole semi-private club in England, is “just trying to be quite progressive,” one of its officials told our Zephyr Melton this week. Among the tweaks to golf’s traditions the club has made: encouraging golfers to choose tee boxes based on scoring averages rather than gender or age; loosening its dress code (jeans are hoodies are OK); encouraging novices to play truncated rounds — three, six or nine holes — as they hone their games; and allowing anyone to walk into the pro shop and request a set of rental clubs to try out on the range — free of charge. What other change would you make to make the game more inviting?
Sens: Love all those changes. On top of them, how about encouraging more match-play and Stableford scoring to keep people from obsessing over their total stroke tally. And what about a quick crash course that teaches beginners how to simply move around the course briskly, playing ready golf, and not grinding out every last three-inch putt. People shouldn’t feel obliged to rush. Learning to get around in 4 hours or less makes the game more inviting for everyone.
Colgan: Shorter courses! Cheaper courses! Cheaper equipment! Stricter rules about pace of play! Better investment in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas! The list goes on, but rest assured, changes like the ones at Hartford are a good thing.
Dethier: It’s tough to legislate what would arguably be the most important sign of progress: welcoming beginners. Golf is difficult and it’s intimidating, especially if you’re new to the whole thing. We could all do a better job of telling folks who are new to the game just how glad we are to have ’em.
Piastowski: Love the changes, and love the ideas above. I’ll add one more. When I started, Tour pros and the Milwaukee County Parks System partnered to have a player play each of the county’s munis — from what I can remember, Nick Price played Currie Park, Bruce Lietzke played Dretzka Park and on and on. So when we teed it up, we could honestly say we were playing where the pros played. That went a long way for me.
5. Our Josh Sens reported this week that the Tour could be treading on fraught legal terrain if it takes aggressive steps to prevent players from competing on one of the proposed rival circuits, whether by imposing or threatening to impose fines, suspensions or some other disciplinary action. Such moves might be regarded as an attempt to squelch competition, which could trigger an antitrust claim. According to lawyers, the same is true if the Tour were seen to be colluding with another organization to stifle an outside challenge. It’s no secret, for instance, that the PGA and European tours have strengthened their ties in recent years. That relationship could, in theory, raise a legal risk. With that in mind, should a rival tour become a reality, would you expect Monahan to follow up on his threat of banning players who defect?
Sens: I would fully expect Monahan to take the same stance. For starters, it has worked before. What’s more, as one attorney I spoke with told me, antitrust cases can take years and years to settle, so Monahan and Co. aren’t likely going to be forced into a different stance any time soon.
Colgan: I expect he would follow up with that rule, or at least attempt to. But goodness, isn’t a lifetime ban to an “independent contractor” — as the Tour insists its players are — a bit hypocritical? I expect pros will ask the Tour to stop with the lip service and redefine the org’s relationship with its players.
Dethier: Yeah, I guess so. I’ll defer to Sens’ legal counsel and Monahan will defer to his, but one thing is for sure: He’ll do whatever he can to protect his product.
Piastowski: Yeah, I could see it — but none of us want to see the ugliness that could ensue from bans, lawsuits, etc. We suffer enough from work stoppages and the like in other pro sports — baseball may be heading toward another in just weeks — so let’s hope things get resolved here.
6. This week, GOLF’s Top 100 Teachers Summit convenes at Pinehurst Resort. (And you can register here.) What lesson, study or piece of data have you absorbed in recent years that has most changed how you think about the game?
Sens: As someone who is now on his 4 millionth swing change, I’m probably the wrong guy to ask. But a good player I was paired with recently told me to focus on one thing only — getting my right shoulder to work under my chin on the downswing to ensure that I was driving through the ball toward a full finish. It seemed to work. That day at least. Like most corrections I’ve made, I’m sure it will become an error soon enough. Does that make me a pessimist? Maybe. But for me, it’s also part of the game’s endless draw.
Colgan: In August, I had a bout with blading chips. A real, serious issue — bordering on the y-word. Greg Norman watched me hit three (3) chip shots, then told me I wasn’t turning my front shoulder enough. I haven’t bladed a wedge since. Go figure.
Dethier: Nice name-drop, JC. I keep thinking about something Jim Furyk tells his playing partners in pro-ams: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you guys suck. We don’t think you’re good, so don’t think that you’re good because we’re expecting you to shoot 90.” Good reminder to keep your expectations where they belong.
Piastowski: Oh man, I could even fill the entire internets with all of the random things I’ve applied to my game over the years. Let’s go with the most recent. Our Luke Kerr-Dineen talked with legend Lee Trevino about ball positioning, and while not new information, the analogy hit a nerve with me. One of my struggles is the occasional thinned iron, so I experimented with where the ball was in my stance — and the thins have been cut. (Please, lord, I hope I didn’t just jinx myself.)