You probably missed the ShopRite LPGA Classic last weekend, which is understandable given Tiger’s dramatic comeback win at The Memorial. But the women put on a great show, with Stacy Lewis solidifying her spot as the top American female golfer in the world.
The golf couldn’t have been much better. Lewis finished the week 12-under, four ahead of Australian Katherine Hull, and 23 players finishing the week under par, 16 shooting in the 60s on Sunday. Compelling stuff, especially since fan favorites Lexi Thompson, Paula Creamer and Azahara Munoz were also in the mix.
But there was also an object lesson to be learned from the LPGA this week. The venue for the ShopRite – the Bay Course at the Seaview Resort in Atlantic City, designed by Donald Ross in 1914 – is only 6,200 yards long from the tips, the shortest course on the women’s circuit, and, unquestionably, one of the most dramatic.
No one would ever call Seaview a “pitch and putt” or “Mickey Mouse” or any of the usual invectives thrown out by far too many amateurs to describe anything less than a 7,400-yard torture chamber. When the wind blows it’s as tough a test as you will ever find.
Sure, the best women golfers in the world made a ton of birdies, but they are the best in the world. Lewis shot a final-round 71, even par, to win, and the lowest round of the week was eight-under 63, shot by American Jennifer Johnson who opened the week with a 77 and needed a go-for-broke follow-up to make the cut.
Compare that scoring with The Memorial Tournament where Tiger shot 9-under and the field averaged 73.68 for the week. Half as many men finished under par as did the women, which, given the fact that 14 PGA Tour players average over 300 yards in driving distance, might lead the casual observer to assume that Muirfield Village is 8,000 yards long.
It’s not. With every hole tipped to its max – a setup that almost never occurs, even in tournament conditions – Jack Nicklaus’s masterpiece plays 7,200. And yet, nobody brought it to its knees.
The lesson is simple: playing a shorter course is not a crime against the game, or an insult to your ego. Man or woman, amateur of professional, short does not mean easy. You still have to get the ball in the hole, which is a challenge on any golf course of any length.
Brandel Chamblee, arguably the most insightful television analyst in the game today, made this point in a recent column for Golf.com. Brandel believes that the LPGA would attract more fans and a wider viewing audience if they played shorter golf courses.
"The biggest hitter on the LPGA last year was (Yani) Tseng, who averaged 269.2 yards, almost 50 yards behind the men’s top bomber, J.B. Holmes, (indeed, Tseng’s average distance would finish dead last on the PGA Tour)," Brandel wrote. "If you take the 50-yard differential between Tseng and Holmes multiplied by the 36 full shots generally struck during the course of play, you get a better idea of the yardage that’s appropriate for the LPGA – somewhere in the 6,000-yard range.
"Shorter setups would lead to lower scores, and as far as I’m concerned, the lower the better. If the ladies outgunned the men, fans would have no choice but to marvel at the talents of women shooting in the low 60s."
There was no shortage of comments disagreeing with Brandel. One knucklehead wrote: "You either want to be treated like equals or you want us to buy you drinks. Which is it? None of you decline the free yardage or the free drinks."
But most rational people with IQs higher than a chimpanzee realize that Brandel has a valid point. The ShopRite LPGA Classic proved it. Lewis shot a pair of 65s and a 71 and Hull fired 66-68 on the weekend. It was dramatic, compelling, and fun to watch.
It also came at a perfect time.
June is "Tee it Forward" month, a time in which the PGA of America and the USGA encourage all golfers to move up at least one tee and try the game from a shorter distance. "We believe that by moving up to another set of tees, golfers will experience an exciting new approach to the game that will produce more enjoyment and elevate their desire to come back and play more golf," said PGA of America president Allen Wronowski.
If you don’t believe him, just run the numbers. The Longest hitter on the LPGA Tour this year is Brittany Lincicome, who bombs it an average of 283 yards, almost 20 yards longer than the average single-digit handicap amateur, male or female. Lincicome won the ShopRite a year ago, but shot one-over-par last week and finished tied for 29th. She failed to break 70 any day on a course that was set up between 6,000 and 6,100 yards long.
I dare the average golfer to do better.
Give it a month. Tee it Forward during June and see how you play. If you bring the game to its knees, write and tell me how wrong I am. But if you find golf to be just as challenging from 6,500 or even 6,100 yards as it is from 7,100, then you should put your ego aside and tell your friends to move up a tee or two.
You will probably play a little better. And you will no doubt have a much better time.