Whatever, they are done and dusted for 2011, leaving us with the incomprehensible Fed-Ex Cup, the start of the European Ryder Cup qualifying, a host of totally meaningless money-grabs around the globe for the leading players and, happily, at least one potentially memorable event in the star-studded Australian Open at The Lakes in Sydney, one week before the diverse International squad takes on the Americans in the Presidents Cup at the sublime Royal Melbourne.
But that is all in the immediate future. For right now, we’re talking majors and just what we learned from golf’s Grand Slam this year:
1Schwartzel is a hell of a player
You may not have noticed, but the Masters champion routed the field in the strictly unofficial 16-round event played for by those talented individuals good enough to completed all four rounds in all four majors.
Only 11 made the four cuts this year and Schwartzel was ten shots clear of his nearest “challenger”, Steve Stricker, on 14-under par. Interestingly, no one managed to break par in all four Grand Slams, not even the quiet South African, who was a cumulative level par for the last three events after winning at Augusta.
A little lower down the table, Sergio Garcia confirmed that good/great ball striking is always likely to prosper in golf’s biggest events. Two over par at the Open was the Spaniard’s worst week of the four; five under at the US Open his best. Now, if he can only add some decent putting to his near-peerless work from tee-to-green that elusive major title cannot be far off.
2Tiger Woods isn’t any more. .
For those of us who have watched the man now ranked No.33 in the world perform his magic over the last 15 years or so, last week in Atlanta was a painful business. Say what you like about Woods’ character – and many have – the golf he produced in amassing 14 major championships provided us with some of the game’s most breathtaking moments. So there is no pleasure to be had from looking on as he hacks, slashes and gouges his way to scores like those he accumulated at the USPGA, an event he has won four times.
You could see it in his eyes. The look every golfer has when, standing over the ball, he or she has no earthly idea where the resulting shot is going to end up. Tiger, right, says he needs “reps” if he is to get back to anything like his best, then says he likely won’t play until the Australian Open in November. Clearly, his mind is just as confused as his backswing.
3The Americans are coming
Quite apart from the gutsy golf produced by Keegan Bradley – or was it Bradley Keegan? – in winning the USPGA and the fine though eventually unavailing play of the magically-named Jason Dufner, in terms of the majors this was a year of progress for our colonial cousins. Back on that list of major cut-makers, six of the 11 are American and four of those – Ryan Palmer, Gary Woodland, Bill Haas and Bubba Watson – are young, hungry and still improving.
Woodland is especially impressive. No one, not even Alvaro Quiros, hits it longer and, judging by his comments at the Scottish Open, he is one American willing to travel in search of golf that doesn’t fit the PGA Tour’s typically one-dimensional mould. Despite missing the cut at Castle Stuart, Woodland professed to having “loved” the experience, citing the many and varied shots he needed to hit on Scotland’s newest links.
4Golf is at its best played on links
Speaking of golf by the seaside, any and all debate over the finest form of the finest game has surely been decided by what we witnessed in this year’s majors. Look at the leader boards. At the Open, on a course where the weather produced just the right amount of rough – let’s hope the R&A paid attention to that – shot-makers prospered. Darren Clarke won and Phil Mickelson, Thomas Bjorn, Chad Campbell, Rickie Fowler and Garcia all finished in the top ten.
At the Masters, a course originally modelled on the Old Course at St. Andrews, a similar trend emerged. Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Angel Cabrera, Jason Day and yes, Woods, all featured strongly. Compared with the overly-soft US Open at Congressional and the tedious USPGA over the Atlanta Athletic club, where relative plodders like Kevin Chappell, Robert Garrigus, and Scott Verplank did well, the conclusion was obvious – the longer the ball spends on the ground, the more interesting golf becomes.
5It’s time to ban long putters
The solution is simple: a rule that says the putter must be the shortest club in the bag. Immediately, the problem goes away, as will all of those monstrosities that allow players to by-pass their flawed nervous systems by anchoring their putters against various parts of their bodies in an unfair attempt to mitigate the fact that they have lost control of their hands and arms.
This column is with Tom Watson. What long putters produce is not a stroke in the accepted sense of the word. They are nothing more than a crutch for those who cannot play proper golf any more. As well as Keegan Bradley, above, played and struck the ball last week, his maiden major victory is diminished by the implement he used to hole out so effectively down the stretch.
6 End the USPGA’s major status
It’s obvious isn’t it? Three majors in one country is, in the modern world, nothing more than an anachronism. And, while this column would not object to the Masters and the USPGA both losing their exalted status, it is clear that the fourth of the four has to go. Never mind the argument that the PGA of America no longer has any business running a major event, last week was nothing more than a slightly amped-up PGA Tour event played at a rotten time of year on a course that provided little other than a test of repeated physical execution.
Major championship golf must stringently test every aspect of a player’s technique and psyche. The USPGA failed, by a wide margin, to do so. Any ability to shape or marry shots to the contours of the land was notably absent. All the players were asked to do was repeat what is, relatively speaking, the simplest aspect of the modern game: hitting the ball straight with clubs and balls that make the curving of shots difficult or at least unlikely. Surely there has to be more to winning major titles than that?