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Morri: Golf Needs To Stay Grounded

Dustin Johnson watches his remarkable drive on the 12th hole during the final round of the PGA Tour's Tournament of Champions.
There’s been lots of chatter in the past few days about Dustin Johnson’s extraordinary near ace at the 390-metre par-4 12th hole at the Tournament of Champions but something quite fundamental to the game has been overlooked in all the noise.

In case you missed it, Johnson unleashed a cracking tee shot with his driver at the downhill, downwind hole which saw his ball eventually come to rest just six inches from the cup.

It was an impressive feat which Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee later declared ‘the greatest (shot) of all time’, a pronouncement that sent Twitter into a meltdown.

Others were outraged by the sheer distance covered and pointed to a broader problem with the game and how far the proficient modern player can propel the ball.

Leaving aside these controversies for the moment (I disagree with the former while agreeing with the latter), what was overlooked was evidence that golf is at its most entertaining when the ball is on the ground.

Watch the video of Johnson’s shot below and listen to the commentators. After Johnson makes contact Frank Nobilo notes the ball has been ‘hit hard’.

For eight seconds, as if to prove the point, it hangs in the air. And then something interesting happens.

The ball lands. It kicks slightly to the right. It bounces again a little further to the right and as it tracks towards the green the intensity of the situation goes up a notch.

As the ball continues to run in the general direction of the hole, listen to the crowd in the background. The cheers start low but build in intensity and volume the closer the ball gets to the hole.

Commentators and crowd alike slowly reach a frenzy as the ball tracks towards the cup, Nobilo almost involuntarily calling for it to ‘just go in’.

Johnson’s ball spent eight seconds in the air and 10 bouncing and rolling but only one part of that equation was gripping to watch.

You see, golf only really gets exciting once the ball is on the ground, that blissful bubble in time when the only question on the lips of everybody present is ‘will it or won’t it’.

From Tiger’s famous chip-in at the 2005 Masters to the 40-foot putt my mate Dave holed on the 18th yesterday to square our four-ball match, the real excitement comes only when the ball is in contact with Mother earth.

A long, well struck drive when witnessed in person can be exciting to watch but its appeal is akin to the way junk food tastes good.

The pleasure is fleeting compared to the more fulfilling drama of seeing the ball tracking towards its final destination.

In the grand scheme of things this is all probably stating the obvious but it feels somewhat important to understand, and encourage, the elements that make the game entertaining.

Courses which allow the golfer to make use of the terrain to get the ball near the target are far more enjoyable to play, especially for the less proficient, than those which force the player to carry the ball in the air.

Water hazards can look pretty on TV (think TPC Sawgrass 17th) but they ultimately make the game more one dimensional and less interesting to watch and play.

And that can’t be good in the long term.

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