courses for horses

Another clear winner on the PGA Tour this weekend: Olympia Fields CC outside of Chicago brought the game’s best players to their knees in a fascinating weekend at the BMW Championship, the second leg in the Fedex Cup that ends this weekend at Bob Jones’ old stomping grounds at East Lake in Atlanta.

Yes, Jon Rahm dropped a 66-foot bomb on Dustin Johnson on the first playoff hole (after DJ sank an equally impressive long bomb for birdie on the last hole to get into the first-place tie). And Rahm’s final round was impressive, a good sign for the Spaniard who has loads of talent but always seems to wither at the end.

But the story was the golf course, set up like a U.S. Open venue with narrow fairways, long, punishing rough and lightening-fast greens. Winning score was -4, after the embarrassing -30 total Johnson rang up in Boston the weekend before.

As the author of Think Like A Caddie/Play Like A Pro, I don’t understand why the caddies universally took the drivers out of all the bags and made their players pursue a conservative strategy of hit the fairway, hit the green, take par and move on. That would have ensured a top-10 finish. But noooo…these guys have to hit the big dog … into the woods, into the rough, and into oblivion. These guys are … dumb.

But kudos for the course set-up at Olympia. They both identified, and embarrassed the world’s best players (as Joe Dey used to say about U.S. Open course set ups). It was actually fun to watch them struggle.

A few weeks earlier, I thought the same thing about Bandon Dunes on the Oregon coast, which hosted this year’s U.S. Amateur. I forget who won, but the golf course was magnificent, as usual. It’s a true American links course, with the same closely cropped fairways, ball-swallowing bunkering, corrugated fairways and greens, and lots and lots of wind.

Which is all appropo of something I read this morning about the Old Course at St. Andrews. Some hand-wringers are afraid that with the advent of Bryson DeChambeau, he of the 350-yard drives and the steroidal muscle mass, the Old Course will be rendered obsolete. Maybe we need to dig up the bunkers and move them down the fairway. Or take the New and Jubliee courses and turn them into a Monster Course of 8,000 yards or something. Just to keep Biceps Bryson from shooting 50 under par.

Nonsense. First, we’ve had this conversation my entire life. Jack Nicklaus was one of the first who was going to make the game, and the Old Course, obsolete with his prodigious length. He didn’t. Then it was one big bopper after another, up to and including Tiger Woods.

The reason why the Old Course continues to be a great test of golf has nothing to do with its length. It is a golf course of amazing and endless subtlety. A player there almost never faces a simple shot from a flat lie. Then there are the conditions. Sure, if there is no wind and bright sun, Biceps Bryson can bomb his drives and have less than a wedge left on many holes. Assuming he doesn’t get any odd bounces, which happens exactly never there. But how often does the Old Course play in perfect conditions? Almost never.

So you still have to golf your ball around the Old Course, from tee to green. With every club in the bag. And, in the Open Championship, while dealing with history, pressure, stress and tension. Your bicep size has nothing to do with any of that.

Nope…as we saw at Olympia Fields and Bandon Dunes, it’s the courses more than the horses that determines greatness. That’s always been true at the Old Course. And it always will be.

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