During the recent US Open, I can’t recall the exact hole, but a graphic came on the screen, showing that the carry distance to clear a set of bunkers and reach the fairway was 270 yards. There seemed to be quite a few holes like that at Chambers Bay.As a fellow who in his best times never hit the ball more than 240 yards, it hit me how much different today’s game is than the one I grew up playing. Whether golf today is better can be debated, but the gap between a tour pro and an average golfer has increased exponentially. One of the great appeals of golf used to be that the average golfer could try to play the same shot a tour pro would play on a given golf course. Other than pitching and putting, that train has sadly left the station. I have been a single-digit handicap golfer just about all my life, and there is no way I could reach the fairway from the tees the pros played at Chambers Bay. Imagine the 20-handicap golfer and what his fate would be.Many will argue that the pros play a different game and leave it at that. Problem is, human nature is such that most golfers want to attempt to play that same game, or at least feel like they can. Most sports are spectator-oriented. You’re not going to get a chance to hit a 90 mile-an-hour fast ball in Yankee Stadium or return a 100 mile-an-hour serve at Wimbledon. But for years, anyone could try to hit shots on golf courses where pros played for a living. In those days, the pros did not hit the ball that much farther; they just hit it better. A 400-yard hole was a good test. Today it is considered pitch-and-putt for the best.I’d hate to see the professional golf game become a spectator sport similar to others, because that could result in people losing interest in playing the game. It remains to be seen, but if it happens, blame is squarely on the shoulders of the USGA. They have let the game get away from its roots. Poor regulation of equipment standards, course lengths, and setups are not helping golf. They are supposed to be the watchdogs. Problem is, no one is watching them.
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