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SAN DIEGO – Is the PGA Tour challenging enough?

That’s the question Billy Horschel asked himself on the field before the Farmers Insurance Open. It took 10 seconds to answer. That silence was saying.

“Yes, it is a challenge here. Yes, it is quite difficult,” he said. “Are there things we can do to make it a more consistent challenge? Yes. That’s what I would say. Consistently, it’s not that hard.”

The question was worth exploring in the wake of Jon Rahm’s viral moment over the weekend on The American Express. Missing a beat during another week of torrid scoring, Rahm let out a green snort: “A s**t montage. The week of the putting contest”.

After a few days of reflection, Rahm did not relinquish his position. “We are the PGA Tour. We are the best players on the planet, and we are playing on a golf course where losing the fairway means absolutely nothing,” he said. “I think it was too easy for the best players in the world. That’s just my opinion”.

Rahm knew what he was signing up for, of course. A former AmEx winner (22 years old!), he knew conditions would be dome-like. I knew the setup couldn’t be too taxing on the pro-am component. He knew there would be little to no rudeness. But that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) stop you from challenging the status quo.

“I would like a setting that challenges us in every aspect of the game,” he said.

So I asked him (and several others) this week: If you were the PGA Tour setup czar, what would you do? How would you provide a suitable challenge for the best golfers on the planet?

This is what they said it should look like:

Rahm confident of heading to old favorite Torrey Pines

FROM THE TEE

The pros were unanimous in their answer: The answer is not 8,000-yard courses. Most settled in the ideal range of 7,400 to 7,500 yards. Enough beef to require medium and long irons on the greens, but not so long as to take out a portion of the course that just can’t keep up.

“If it’s designed and configured correctly, then it’s enough of a challenge,” Horschel said, citing shorter tracks like Colonial and Sedgefield.

Course design is also an important part, although it is often overlooked. Kevin Streelman said: “The only thing I would say is that I don’t like it when a hole like this” – here he pointed to the first hole of the Torrey Pines South Course – “if you take it 310 [yards]your street is twice the size of the vast majority of us who carry 290s. That’s when I have a problem.”

Which brings us to…

GROSS LENGTH

There was virtually no penalty for missing lanes last week in the California desert, as is often the case there. Rahm specifically mentioned the 14th hole on the Stadium Course, a 390-yard dogleg right protected by a huge pond. “It’s a hole where usually hitting it on the fairway is very, very important, because if you miss and you’re raw, it’s a tough green to hit and birdie,” he said. “But this time, we were hitting the driver 20 yards from the green, because there was no rough.”

Horschel said he has been told by Tour veterans that there has been a conscious effort to lower the difficulty, which used to be “substantial”. He was told that a turning point came in the late 2000s, after the US Open in Oakmont. “The guys were tired of the rough hack-out,” Horschel said, “and I guess they’ve pushed it back too far, where you’re not getting penalized for hitting it raw anymore, and you’re not getting rewarded anymore for hitting it on the fairway.” .

“I have no problem with how far someone hits it,” he continued. “If he hits 350 in the middle, reward that (player). But if he hits 350 and is 20 yards off the line, he should be penalized. He shouldn’t have a lie that allows him to control it and spin it like it’s on the street.”

Not surprisingly, Rahm also prefers things thicker. “I like the streets to be narrow. I like the rough to be up high so you can’t just miss the fairway and go to the green with whatever you want.”

And that coincides with…

Farmers Insurance Open Full Field Tee Times

GREEN FIRMNESS

Of course, the prep staff is mostly at the mercy of the weather, both before the event and during tournament week. If it drops a few days before the opening round, well yeah, sorry, it’ll be a flag hunting contest. There is little they can do to stop the assault.

“It’s literally about the firmness of the greens,” said Adam Long. “If you can put a 5 iron next to the hole and it stays on the green, that’s always going to be simple and you don’t have to think. But now, instead of hitting a 5-iron in the hole, if you have to hit a 6-iron in this little spot up front, that changes everything.”

you don’t have to think.

A couple of players mentioned that, repeatedly. That they to wish think. That they don’t just want to grab the driver, hit the flag and try to birdie. That makes the game one-dimensional, unimaginative, monotonous.

The firm greens mean “it’s more of an attitude challenge to hit the ball than it is to put,” said Brooks Koepka. “It’s missing on the right side, all these different things, it puts more emphasis on that when it’s more difficult. When it’s easier, everyone shoots at the flags and there is no penalty for missing the green. Then you see that the guy participates and you say: At the US Open that would never happen. You never chip from off the green while on the short side.

So Koepka normally doesn’t bother with track meet. He acknowledged those don’t fit his style of play, and he avoids those spots if he can. Tiger Woods adopted a similar strategy in his heyday. Look at the Tour courses where he has been most successful: Torrey Pines, Bay Hill, Firestone, Augusta National, Muirfield Village. Not a cupcake between them. The difficulty of the course (and his superhuman physical gifts) helped set him apart from his peers.

“I’m not going to win, man, if it’s 30-under, 25-under. That’s not me,” Koepka said. “The Monday qualifiers, if I had to do that every day, I’d be lucky to qualify for two of them. I like it when it’s harder. You have to grind. It’s more of a mental challenge than just hitting the driver, taking it in and it’s a putting contest.”

This Week in Golf: TV Show, Tee Times, Information for Farmers Insurance, Other Events

The problem runs deeper, more fundamental, with Horschel saying the Tour could be more selective about its venues. “We go to courses that, by themselves, are a tough challenge,” Horschel said, citing the addition last year of Caves Valley, home of the BMW Championship, where 27-under was played. “It’s not a course that we have to go into and really do a ton to: make the greens firm, get the greens fast, grow the rough ones, wait for ideal conditions. Because if not, the course is going to end.

“If you always bet on the ideal conditions to get the winning score where you want, you are betting. So let’s not do it where we have to have everything lined up perfectly for it to be a challenge. Let’s pick a few places that are challenging on their own before we go in and bring it to life.”

As with most hot topics, a dose of perspective is needed. Golf is an outdoor sport that follows the sun (and therefore heat and humidity). Advances in equipment continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. The tournament fields are deeper than ever. And amid all the scoring concerns, it’s worth remembering that, except for Cameron Smith’s record-setting week on an open course without the typical winds, winning scores have fallen in line with recent averages at those tournaments ( all under 20 or lower). Players who sign up for the Tour’s soft launch know what to expect; On the eve of last week’s AmEx, in fact, Rahm said, “You know you’re going to have to break the 20-under barrier.”

Still, Rahm’s frustration underscored how each week the Tour must strike a delicate balance between delivering an entertaining product to a global audience and properly evaluating the world’s best.

“There’s no one way to do it, and that’s what’s great about the Tour,” Streelman said. “Maui was a contest putt, and that’s a skill – to be comfortable in that degree of excellence. At last year’s US Open here, he’s testing his accuracy, distance control and green reading – it’s a complete test of all his skills. You’re challenging the best players in the world week in and week out, just in a different way.”

There won’t be any complaints about this week’s build being toothless. (The average win score of the last eight editions: 12 under). Pebble Beach can get nasty in the right weather. Riviera is never easy to convince. Florida’s brutal swing awaits.

And that brings us back to the original question: Are Tour players being challenged enough?

“Absolutely,” Long said. “It is the most difficult game in the world. Nobody here is complacent. Nobody here wins every week; no one in the top 5 every week either. It’s all difficult.

“We are all here from Monday to Wednesday preparing for a reason. We don’t show up Wednesday night because we know it’s easy. It’s the hardest game in the world, you never get perfected and there are too many variables to always be good at it. Let’s reduce all the hysteria a little. It’s all a bit exaggerated.”


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