Where Golf Scores Are Settled

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Some offbeat (my beat is not generally the golf beat) observations for an offbeat Monday.

Just this morning I ran across a quotation I saved from a sports article posted way back in 2004. Not sure why I saved it, except as a specimen of golfing wisdom to use on myself, but whatever the case, the item makes a point that explains a lot about the sport.

Here's the comment from the article, which ran on Yahoo Sports:

"It's ironic that John Daly, the longest of the big bombers, earned his first victory since 1995 with one of the sweetest bunker shots since Gene Sarazen first began tinkering with the sand wedge 73 years ago.

"Daly, however, doesn't quite buy that.

"'Any time you win a tournament, you win with your short game," he said. 'Whether it's chipping or putting, you win tournaments with your short game. I won the British Open with my short game. I won the PGA with my short game. You can't win tournaments if you don't have the short game going.'"

He's right, of course. As much as golfers hate to admit it, all that exhilarating ball-striking off the tee box or off the fairway does less for one's score than the delicate and sedate business that plays out on the greens.

Another way of viewing this is to say that tee-to-green golf is a constant and a given for everyone, but first-putt-to-cup golf is that portion of the game where the greatest fluctuations in scoring are found, if only because the tee-to-green game is the same (the same distance) for every player, whereas the average distances one faces after landing on each of 18 different greens - well, that is a collective distance that can vary enormously.

We can easily divide the game into two halves: ball striking (any shots that are not putts) and putting. Doing so, we see that they truly do shape up as equal halves, in terms of strokes. For the pros, anyway. Par for most courses is 72 strokes. Divide the 72 strokes by 18 holes and we see that the average hole is a par 4. The game of golf assumes two putts per hole, if one is playing par golf. Getting onto the green "in regulation" means getting on the green with two strokes left to make par. That means that, for the average hole, a par 4, one is expecting to hit a tee shot and an "approach" shot, and the approach shot should take one to the green. Obviously, for par 3s and par 5s the numbers are different, but these equal out on a golf course - there are generally a couple such holes on each - and so those differences cancel each other out. So we are left with the idea that, for the average hole that has a par of 4, there are two ball strikes and two putts.

That being so, there really shouldn't be much difference in the importance of putting versus ball striking.

But here is where the difference comes in. Taking tee-to-green as half the game, and first-putt-to-cup as the other half, the former is always about 7,000 yards and the second can be as different for two different golfers as almost can be imagined. It's not unthinkable that one golfer can face twice the distance as another on a given round, and yet much of that can have been the luck of the bounce. But it must be played, and herein lies the reason why they drive for show and putt for dough.



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