Tour and News

Former USGA president Sandy Tatum, now 91, offers his vision of what golf might look like in the future

Illustration by Ralph Butler

When you’re 91, as I am, you ruminate about all sorts of things, past, present and future. The other day I was imagining the 2046 U.S. Open. Why that year? No particular reason. My first year as USGA president was 1978, 34 years ago. Thirty-four years from now is 2046.

I would love to see the 2046 U.S. Open at ­Cypress Point, regarded by so many as the No. 1 course in the world. Some will say Cypress lacks the space and infrastructure an Open needs, but a man can dream, can’t he? The course would not be the issue.

Many early American golf courses, like ­Cypress Point, are sports artworks that can and must remain relevant. For years there has been discussion at Cypress about extending the course beyond its existing 6,500 yards. Some, myself among them, have countered that the course’s length should stay right where it is, and it has. It remains Alister MacKenzie’s course. It is a joy and a challenge. The players are going to find the same thing at the U.S. Open at Merion next year. Cozy Merion will have plenty of bite, just as it did for Jones and Hogan and Nicklaus. Length is over­rated.

Shorter courses encourage faster play, and I hope that for the 2046 Open, the rounds will be played in no more than three hours. Pace of play is not even close to where it needs to be. Golf played briskly is healthier for the game and for those who play it.

I hope the rules in 2046 will be essentially what they are today, but I would also hope that the governing bodies add a rule that requires the putter­ to be the shortest club in a player’s bag. I believe that anchoring a club against one’s body is akin to allowing a croquet stroke.

The Open field will look far different 34 years from now. Of the 156 golfers in the 2046 Open, I would guess that roughly half would be from the U.S. Of those 78 players, I imagine about half would be ­African-­American. There might be at least 30 players from Asia and India and 20 from Europe. I could easily imagine a dozen women in the field. Why not?

I don’t think the size of the players will be very different in 2046, but I do think physical training for golf will be radically different, and mental training even more so. The challenges of making a 10-foot putt will be the same in 2046 as they are now, but a higher percentage will be made with improved understanding of the mind-body connection.

I hope the players in the 2046 Open will not resort to drugs to improve performance, and I would be in favor of blood testing to ensure that. PEDs defile sports.

I expect the golfers in 2046 will dress quite differently than they do today. I could imagine sleeveless shirts and the elimination of anything that restricts mobility. Some will dress like Rickie Fowler. I say, Have at it. Color brightens the world!

By 2046, I believe that someone will have surpassed Nicklaus’s record 18 major champion­ships. I simply hope that player has the manifold and manifest qualities that so distinguish Nicklaus. People sometimes forget that Jack had 19 ­second-place finishes in majors in a 24-year period. To be regarded as the greatest player of all time, a golfer will have to contend repeatedly, almost relentlessly, over many years, and handle disappointment with the grace that Jack always showed. That’s part of why Jack is the greatest golfer ever.

I believe golf’s overall health is not anywhere near where it ought to be in terms of access to the game, and I hope that will change over the next 34 years. The game enhances and extends life. The more people playing, the better. The more accessible courses are, the better.

My experience in developing a First Tee program in San Francisco convinces me that the program has the potential to develop millions of golfers. It is stimulating to think that one of them could be the winner of the 2046 Open.

And at that 2046 Open, I hope the USGA president enjoys handing over the Championship Cup to the winner as much as I did, and that the winner feels as much satisfaction as Andy North did in 1978.

I expect and hope that the golf population in 2046 will be vastly bigger and more diverse than it is today. I know that golf will enhance those players’ lives. It certainly has enhanced mine.

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