Back in the 1990s, the PGA Tour famously fashioned a catchy ad campaign titled: "These Guys Are Good."
Now, after the latest 59 to blitz the golf landscape, they may have to roll out a new ad campaign: "Are These Guys Too Good?"
Seriously. Watching golf used to mean watching agony, pain, mishaps, missteps, chunks, blades, lip-outs and various other acid-reflux inducing occurrences that make up the royal and ancient game.
Now, it means we're watching guys armed with super-sonic golf balls, space-age equipment and friendly course layouts torch the record books.
Don't get me wrong. It's entertaining, and Stuart Appleby's eagle, nine birdies and no bogeys – including the drama of a hat trick of birdies the final three holes – vaulted an otherwise forgettable Greenbrier Classic past the Women's British Open (sorry, Yani Tseng) and past the U.S. Senior Open (when they operate on Bernhard Langer, do they find wires and microchips inside?) as the premier golf story of the weekend.
But still. Bobby Jones once said all golfers were "dogged victims of an inexorable fate." If he were around today and witnessed the scoring pyrotechnics of 2010, he'd have to say inexorable fate is 5-down at the turn. The dogged victims are in revolution mode.
Appleby's 59 is only the latest example of the physical and mental advances in golf. Paul Goydos shot 59 four weeks ago at the John Deere Classic. Steve Stricker shot 60 that same day. Last week, Carl Petterson shot 60 at the Canadian Open. J.B. Holmes shot 60 at the Greenbrier.
And then there's Alabama teenager Bobby Wyatt high-stepping down the sideline, taunting the opposition. At the Alabama Boys State Junior Championship, he not only shot 57, with 12 birdies and an eagle – his putt for 56 hung on the lip!
These guys are smashing so many barriers, they're making Roger Bannister look like the fat kid in P.E. class getting lapped.
And if Roger Bannister is too arcane a reference for the under 80-year-old demographic, think of this Summer of Scoring like the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa-Barry Bonds era of home runs.
The PGA Tour, of course, has a drug testing policy, and nobody is suggesting these scores are PED-driven. After all, has anybody seen Paul Goydos with his shirt off lately?
What it does mean, though, is that we have to adjust our expectations, as we did in the McGwire-Sosa-Bonds era. The advances in equipment and fitness and the inclusion of some setups like the Deere and the Greenbrier mean that we'll see this sort of history more and more often.
If it offends your golf sensibilities, and if you're old school and like your golf punitive, punishing and punching players in the face … well, there's always the U.S. Open, as I was just saying to my good friend Dustin Johnson.
Another thing about these 59s: They're coming from the most unlikely sources. These aren't Tiger, Phil, Ernie, Retief and Lee shooting 59s. This is Stuart Appleby, who hasn't won since 2006 and had fallen to 159th in the official World Golf Rankings.
And yet, Appleby was so imbued with confidence, he wore a "Don't Mess With Me" scowl on his face all through the round, and even called his shot some two feet before his 59th stroke fell, peeling out of his stance and taking a victory walk before it fell. It was as if he expected to shoot 59.
Meanwhile, poor Jeff Overton. The guy who keeps knocking on the door has to wonder if anybody will ever answer the darn thing. After a second in New Orleans, a second at the Byron Nelson, a third at the Colonial and a third at the AT&T National – not to mention an impressive tie for 11th at the British Open – Overton finally appeared set to nab his long-awaited first win. He toted a three-stroke 54-hole lead into Sunday, shot a very tidy 67 – and got blindsided by the sack of soda cans in a pillow case that was Appleby's 59.
Overton also has to be one of the more emotional players on the tour. He'll contort his face, throw his hands outward, mouth a curse word or two, talk to his golf ball and generally entertain by wearing his heart on his logoed sleeve.
He still had a chance to force a playoff, but his three-footer for bird on 17 took the cruelest of dips, in and out, pure heartbreak. Overton looked as if he wanted a government inquiry into the spike mark, giving it an angry stare.
I have an easy solution for Overton: Go shoot 59 next time.
Why not? Everyone's doing it.
Scorecard of the week
68-68-68-73 – 11-under, 277, Yani Tseng, winner, Women's British Open, Royal Birkdale.
I have been advocating for a women's player to start pulling a Deion Sanders and declare the women's game as "My house!", and it appears Yani Tseng is the leading candidate to do so. Perhaps she lacks the bling, outrageous charisma and jheri-curl of "My house!"-era Deion, but she'll have to do.
She may very well be the next great women's player. At the very least, she's as much of a money player as any in the women's game, having now won her third major at the tender age of 21. She's the youngest to three, and is well ahead of her residential idol, Annika Sorenstam, who didn't win her first major until she was 24.
Don't think the comparison is crazed. Tseng, who is Taiwanese, bought and lives in Annika's old house in Orlando. It must be haunted with the sort of ghosts who visit at night and say:
"Ooooo … you will win another MAJORRRR SOOON … Oooo … "
Or whatever the sort of ghosts who would haunt great players like Annika and Tseng would say.
It wasn't easy for Tseng. She took a four-shot lead into Sunday morning, kept it through nine holes, and then watched Katherine Hull make birdies on 11 and 13, while Tseng bogeyed 10. That made for a very uncomfortable one-shot lead down the stretch, as evidenced by Tseng's face when Hull had a relatively short putt for birdie on 17 to tie her atop the leaderboard. Tseng first pulled her hat over her eyes, unable to look; then when she did see Hull's putt go in and out, Tseng exulted in relief, a strange sight for a sport so dominated by poker faces under fire.
She must have been taking cues from Jeff "Laurence Olivier" Overton.
Tseng's par on 18 for the win was sealed with a nervy six-footer, and having three major trophies to put in Annika's old trophy room is fairly heady stuff. And it's worth remembering that Tseng stated her case early in her career, as the player who made 14-year-old Michelle Wie cry like, well, a 14-year-old when Tseng beat Wie in the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links.
Oh, by the way, Wie didn't win anything again, ever, until 2009. Maybe we should give her the nickname Yani "The Career Killer" Tseng. Or better yet: Yani "Three Majors and I'm Only Warming Up" Tseng.
Broadcast moment of the week
"I just chunked it … there's no way I should have laid up … that's a huge blunder … to lay up and make an 8 is, like, oh my god … it certainly put a damper on the day pretty early." – Fred Couples, always candid, assessing his triple-bogey on the par-5 second in the final round of the U.S. Senior Open at Sahalee, on NBC.
Poor Freddy. He had it all set up: great championship, playing near his Seattle hometown, a Sunday, final-pairing duel with Bernhard Langer to recall Ryder Cup battles, and the great vibes of his breakout hit of a Champions Tour rookie year.
He even birdied the first hole, and the gallery was cheering as if Ken Griffey Jr. had just gone yard at the Kingdome.
Then came the par-5 second hole, and Couples' decision to lay up short of a pond. He regretted it almost immediately, knowing he was bringing water into play for no good reason.
And then, ker-splash.
The triple-bogey gave Langer a lead he never relinquished. Langer, by the way, will cough up a Sunday back-nine lead the next time he changes his expression. He makes Drago from "Rocky IV" look like Jerry Lewis.
Langer not only has won back-to-back Champions Tour majors, he also almost scoffed at the idea of fending off the Pacific Northwest denizens. In an NBC preround interview, he noted that the crowd would be rooting for Couples, but also noted that he has played against Tiger, Jack and even Arnie when the crowd is rooting for the other guy and still handled his business.
So Langer: He has been around so long, and been so good, he's got a decades-old murderer's row of legends he has stared down.
It was classic Freddy, though, to give NBC the interview immediately after the painful finish, and treat the whole thing with honesty and frankness. Made for a good interview. The Seattle crowd, meanwhile, would have traded a good interview for a Freddy victory lap.
Mulligan of the week
We don't have to search too far after that, do we? Couples' chunk into the water is an automatic winner, though I must say he took Katherine Hull off the hook.
Hull had a real chance to put some very real heat on Tseng when she lay two over the 18th green at Birkdale, down by a stroke. A good chip would earn her a chance at a quality birdie try and a birdie would force a playoff.
So Hull went ahead and … eww, that chunky sound you heard was her stubbed chip, leaving her a lengthy birdie try. She darn near made the birdie putt, but chipping much closer would have been a much better idea.
I was all ready to say: "Let's march out to 18 at Birkdale and … give that woman a mulligan!"
Until Freddy dunked his third at Sahalee.
We will now, as golf fans, march out to Sahalee's second hole, put Freddy short of the green in two and … give that Boom Boom a mulligan!
Where do we go from here?
Pretty good deal at Firestone Country Club, where all of the world's top 50 players have entered the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. And, yes, that means Tiger Woods is back. If Tiger doesn't win this one, we'll definitely know the guy is messed up. After all, he has won only seven of these things at Firestone.
Also: the good people of Ohio will learn to say "Oosthuizen," as the British Open champ makes his Firestone debut, and Rickie Fowler gets his maiden there, too.
And look who's back: Anthony Kim, who will play for the first time in four months after a wrist injury. He's so 21st century, he broke the news on his Facebook page. I'm waiting for his next post, when he says he feels like shooting 54 sometime soon.
- Yani Tseng
- Stuart Appleby