Friday, January 11, 2008

Winged Foot is a national treasure and a work of art on which the best players in the world will show off their talents in August -- I hope. I played the course for the first time recently and it instantly jumped into my top five.

But I hope we aren't treated to the familiar sight of the great player, handcuffed to his short irons, hacking out morosely to the fairway after a shot that missed the fairway by a yard or two. Lately, no one misses the green by more than 20 feet, such is the thickness of the shag, and the only short game we see is the bunker shot -- from the sand or anywhere else.

That's depressing for the players, and frankly, I don't enjoy watching it, either.

Already some are calling for rough at Augusta (perish the thought!), an idea that has me turning green at the gills. The reason The Masters is such grand theater is that the stage allows the actors to ad lib. The body of a player speaks a lovelier language when there is hope and expectation written on his face, even if disappointment is the end result. And a telecast is infinitely more absorbing for the viewer and announcer alike when there is more than one choice of shot available.

Golf is a game that tempts and teases. A clean lie in the trees with a full backswing, half a follow-through, and a six-foot gap between a loblolly pine and a throbbing knobwood is what's commonly known as a decision. Sadly, that's something of a rarity in two of the three major championships this side of the pond.

In the 1960s, if Arnie had a gap of more than 1.68 inches you knew that he was at least going to consider hitting his ball through it. He would play "Name That Tune" in the woods every now and then, but more often than not, he'd create something worth watching, something dramatic.

If he were in his heyday today, he'd be hacking back to the fairway, a shot even Spiro Agnew could handle -- and he's dead.

The really unfortunate part is that no one really listens to the players. The only player whose opinion holds any weight in any major championship seems to be the defending champion, who understandably is never in the mood to criticize.

In the U.S. Open, the players always expect to play a great course that has been in some way vandalized by the USGA. But at the PGA Championship, don't we surely have the right, as professional golfers, to compete on a tournament site prepared with our own opinions taken into consideration?

Not for a moment am I suggesting that the players run their own championship -- imagine the NBA with Dennis Rodman at the helm -- only that their input be more seriously considered.

The PGA Tour already has enough venues with steroid rough supposedly to make courses more challenging. These are generally newer courses without many mature trees. The great designers of old -- like A.W. Tillinghast, Winged Foot's architect -- knew their courses would become more challenging as the years went by and the great trees matured.

Surely Tillinghast would never have intended for them to be taken out of play almost altogether, which is effectively what choking rough does. I want to hear the ooh of the crowd as an unexpected club is drawn from the bag and the aah of disbelief if the risk pays off and perhaps the occasional scream of agony as a rebound is caught neatly in the groin of the elderly gentleman in lime green polyester Sansabelt slacks.

Oooooh. Now that is real Must See TV.

Given the choice of watching a great artist carving a 3-iron from 140 yards with 30 yards of slice onto a green the size of a pygmy's nipple, or mindlessly hacking out of shin-high weeds, followed by yet another sand wedge from the fairway, which would you choose?

Come on, it's not even a contest. I want to see agony and ecstasy in the same swing, images of men searching in the shade for a hole in the canopy, on their knees imagining the flight of the ball, a ball you can actually see on the ground. What a concept!

I may not play any more, but I do view the game religiously, so I beseech the gentlemen of the PGA of America to give us Winged Foot as it was meant to be -- one of golf's great cathedrals and a testament to the memory of A.W. Tillinghast.

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