The PGA Tour field made easy work of Medinah at the BMW Championship, but is it a bigger indicator that golf’s elite need a different challenge?
Adam Scott is calling on the PGA Tour to 'build smarter golf courses' instead of relying on adding length after more than 92% of the field at the BMW Championship finished under-par around Medinah CC.
The five time major venue played over 7,400 yards on all four days - longer than it was during the 2016 Ryder Cup - but the best players in the game proved once again that length doesn't matter if the course is soft and there's no wind to contend with.
After an opening round of low scoring Hideki Matsuyama soon grabbed headlines when he set a new course record of 63 (-9) on Friday – a feat he also matched on Sunday – only for it to be broken just 24 hours later by Justin Thomas with a 61.
Thomas, who claimed his 10th PGA Tour victory on 25-under, also set the 72-hole scoring record for the BMW Championship.
In total, an unprecedented 64 of the 69 players finished the tournament under par, a product of the soft golf course conditions says Thomas.
"It doesn’t matter what golf course it is. You give us soft good greens and soft fairways, we’re going to tear it apart,” he said on Saturday. "It’s just how it is.
"We all have such great control over our golf ball and we know how far it’s going to go and when we’re hitting it well. We know how it’s going to react. When the fairways are that much bigger and you put us in the fairway, I mean, we’re just good."
Tony Finau agreed, stating that because the course didn’t 'firm out', it made it easy for everyone in the field to think less about how they needed to execute their shots.
“It’s a long golf course,” said Finau. “I felt like it was going to firm out. Obviously hasn’t firmed out.
“The fairways are wider because they’re not bouncing and the greens are bigger – it doesn’t matter the type of spin you put on it, it’s not going very far. Forward or backspin, they’re not going very far.
“When we have our number, we’re trying to hit our number. That’s no calculation …. There’s not that much running through our heads.”
The’answer on the PGA Tour has consistently been to add length, but it’s a strategy that isn’t working: Brooks Koepka finished on 16-under-par at the U.S. Open when Erin Hills played at 7,741 yards (a place where Thomas shot a 63), and Medinah was no pushover – playing 7,504 yards on Saturday.
“It's amazing to see how many guys are under par,” Tiger Woods had said. “We all thought this was one of the more tough and bigger ballparks and the whole field is playing well. There's normally a few guys that are struggling. The entire field is playing well is something that we're all pretty surprised at.”
It's evident that long doesn’t automatically equate to higher scores, and it’s a topic Adam Scott seemed passionate about when speaking to the Australian Associated press after his third round 69.
"They haven’t figured out yet that long means nothing to us; you can’t build it long enough,” Scott told the AAP. "I’m not [surprised to see low scores at Medinah]; if a golf course is soft we are just going to tear it apart.
"I’m not challenging [PGA Tour officials and course designers] to build longer golf courses; I’m challenging them to build smarter golf courses.
"If you require us to shape tee shots to get it in play we’re going to struggle. [Now] we just play straight, everything is straight. While there is an option to go over trees and over bunkers, it is just relentless."
For Scott, one of the biggest problems is the lack of skill players now need to hit their driver.
"The driver is the most forgiving club in the bag now; it’s just swing as hard as you can and get it down there far," he continued. "It’s not a skillful part of the game anymore and it’s really unfair for some guys who are great drivers of the golf ball. I don’t think their talents are showing up as much as they should."
Tiger Woods echoed those thoughts, calling the driver ‘the most important club in the bag now' as he discussed how there is little need for the same strategy off the tee there used to be in the game.
"I think that's the way the new game is played," he said. “We were talking about that earlier this week is that when I first came out on Tour and before me, especially, there's a lot of 1 irons and stiff off the tees. Just kind of get it in play.
"Now, you just pull out driver, bomb it down there and you're looking for three to four good weeks a year. That's how you play. It's not the consistency, it's not about making a bunch of cuts. It's about having three, four good weeks a year. That's the difference. The guys understand that.
"Today's equipment you can maximize a driver and just absolutely just bomb it and some of the guys sacrifice stuff around the greens or short irons for the driver. The driver is the most important club in the bag now just because of the way the game is played.”