By Robert Bicknell
It seems that every time I turn around there is a new club coming onto the market which promises longer straighter drives; or a ball which promises more distance, or better stopping power. How about shoes which provide more support, or more spring?Technology is doing its best to replace skill and, to be honest, they are accomplishing it.
The question is that with all the technology available today, why are handicaps remaining close to the same as they were 30 years ago?
Regarding questions about technology, let me give you my personal view.
When I was 18 years old (yes they had golf back then. I’m old but not that old), we used persimmon headed drivers (yes, made of wood. Which is why they were called “woods”) and a balata golf ball.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a balata ball was a three piece ball with a liquid centre, rubber windings (like a super long rubber band) and a soft, thin balata cover. They were easily damaged because of the thin cover. They also went “out of round” meaning they lost their shape after a while from being hit too often. A good ball would last you maybe one round if you were lucky. Pros, however, used to change their ball every three holes.
They were known more for their spinning ability and less for distance.
That being said, when I was 18 years old, I drove the ball 300 yards and was one of the longest hitters in my state. However, I am now 58 years old and can occasionally rip one 320 – 340 (when I’m healthy – which isn’t often anymore).
So technology is making a huge difference in length, but I don’t score as well as I did when using balata balls and thin blade irons, so technology isn’t the answer to every question.
In my case, I used to “work the ball” meaning I could make it do pretty much whatever I wanted, but with the game improvement clubs of today and the type of ball, this is more difficult as everything wants to go straight. Intentionally spinning the ball in a certain direction isn’t much of an option anymore.
But, you say, if everything is going longer and straighter, wouldn’t people play better and handicaps come down? In theory, yes, and if golf were just about hitting the ball they would, but it isn’t.
There is a huge difference between hitting balls and “playing golf.”
Playing golf is mostly a mental exercise. You plan what you want to do to get from point A to point B ands point C, and then attempt to execute your plan. Unfortunately, it almost never goes according to plan and that’s when we see the difference between someone who hits balls and those who “play golf”.
The one thing that really hasn’t changed much in 200 years is putting and that area alone is one of the biggest reasons handicaps haven’t changed. While clubs and balls got longer, golf courses have too and more designers have added strategic bunkers to keep things challenging.
But putting hasn’t really changed much except for the speed of the greens which have gotten faster over the years due to…technology. We have better strains of grass for greens; better maintenance equipment and smarter golf course superintendents who can make the greens like pool tables.
One of the reasons why Augusta National is so terrifying for players in the Masters tournament isn’t the length of the course or deep rough (which there isn’t any). The terror comes from the speeds of the greens which players have described as being like putting in your bathtub and trying to stop the ball before it goes down the drain.
Harvey Penick, a legendary golf teacher, was fond of reminding his students that the woods were full of long hitters, but a player with a great short game can compete with anyone anywhere.
He was 100 per cent correct.
If you want to lower your handicap, focus more on the shots inside 120 yards, improve your chipping and putting. Do that and you will see your scores go down quite quickly and, even better, you’ll win more bets.
Speaking of The Masters, I’m sticking with Adam Scott.—VNS