LIV Golf’s Joaquin Niemann shoots a 59. Then came an epic admission — GOLF.com
‘Biggest thing for me’: Wyndham Clark thanks 1 club change for Pebble record — GOLF.com
After record-breaking 57, Korn Ferry pro makes tantalizing claim — GOLF.com
Aldrich Potgieter shoots 59 at Astara Golf Championship — PGATour.com
Nick Taylor matches course-record 60 at WM Phoenix Open — PGATour.com
What a run of scores that’s been over the past five years!
Joaquin Niemann, on the LIV Golf circuit, behind 10 birdies and one eagle, fired a 12-under 59 on the El Camaleon Golf Course. Wyndham Clark, on the PGA Tour, with 150 feet, 10 inches of putts made on the front nine, fired a 12-under 60, a record at renowned Pebble Beach. Cristobal Del Solar, on the Korn Ferry Tour, fired a 13-under 57 on the Pacos Course at Country Club de Bogota in Colombia, and no one in the history of PGA Tour-sanctioned tournaments has gone lower. Aldrich Potgieter, at the same tournament, fired a 59, and the 19-year-old is the youngest ever to go sub-60 in a Tour-backed event. Nick Taylor, on the PGA Tour, fired an 11-under 60 in front of the rowdies at the WM Phoenix Open.
[Tapped on shoulder.]
[Told it’s not been over the past five years.]
[Told it’s all happened over this past week.]
A week?! A week. The first headline came last Friday, the second last Saturday, the third came on Thursday, and the last two were written on Friday. Starting seven days ago, a 60-or-better score has been posted five times across the PGA Tour, Korn Ferry Tour and LIV Golf league, and it’s the Oprah Winfrey meme, except golf — you get a 59, and you get a 59, and you get a record, and you get a record.
Here, then, is a look at how they’re doing it.
How they’re making something that’s pretty rare all of a sudden look like a daily thing.
We’ll break it up into some obvious reasons and some bigger-picture reasons, the latter with the help of someone who walked side-by-side with Clark last week.
The obvious reasons why players have shot 60 or better over the past week
Lift, clean and place
All but Niemann’s round featured this. The others played under the ‘preferred lies’ rules decision, or lift, clean and place, meaning, yes, if a pro’s ball was in the fairway, they could lift the ball up, clean it and then place it back down within a club length of where it was, but no closer to the hole.
In short, it’s advantageous, and that’s not to mention that when it’s in play, rain has fallen — and greens are softer. Clark didn’t disagree with the preferred-lies benefit, but he had another thought, too.
“You know, anytime there’s preferred lies obviously, you know, it’s — you know, it’s not the purest — it’s not golf at its purest. But I don’t know if you were out here or not, but the golf course was so saturated, there was no other way to play golf this week other than doing preferred lies.
“With that said, any winner on the PGA Tour, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting preferred lies from everywhere or if you’re teeing the ball up from the middle of the fairway, it’s still the best players in the world playing against each other on the same golf course in the same conditions and it’s hard. It’s hard to win out here, it doesn’t matter the conditions.”
The El Camaleon course was 7,116 yards, and Pebble played to 6,972, and TPC Scottsdale, the host of this week’s WM Phoenix Open, is 7,261. Not monsters, but not mice.
The Pacos course, though, measured 6,254 yards.
Del Solar told GOLF’s Jessica Marksbury that the longest club he had into a green was a 6-iron — on a par-5.
The El Camaleon course plays to an elevation of about 30 feet, and Pebble Beach is 0 feet. TPC Scottsdale is higher — 2,165 feet. Then there’s the Pacos course.
It sits at 8,612 feet.
The higher the elevation means the longer the ball flies. There’s also a formula to it. In a wonderfully reported story by GOLF’s Jonathan Wall in 2019, Wall wrote this:
“The math seems to match up with a writeup Steven Aoyama, a principal scientist in Titleist’s golf ball R&D department, published a few years ago that stated distance can be calculated by”multiplying the elevation (in feet) by .00116. For example, if you’re playing in Reno, at one mile elevation (5,280 feet) the increase is about six percent (5,280 x .00116 = 6.1248). If you normally drive the ball 250 yards at sea level, you will likely drive it 265 yards in Reno.”
Using that information, a ball that goes 250 yards at sea level goes about 275 yards at the Pacos course, thanks to a nearly 10 percent bump (9.98).
Pros are good, too. We’ll get to this more in a sec.
The thought is also a segue to the bigger-picture reasons why players have shot 60 or lower over the past week.
The bigger-picture reasons why players have shot 60 or lower over the past week
Thinking about this story, I texted Mark Immelman. As an analyst for CBS, he walked alongside Clark last week. As an instructor, he understands the golf swing.
We ended up talking for 15 minutes on Friday afternoon. Below is a part of that conversation.
Immelman had three thoughts.
“First off, the mindset of these guys,” he said. “You know, I find every year there’s certain places you go to where you know par is a good score. Like Bay Hill, or a U.S. Open, or certain major championships. When the conditions are set a certain way where players realize par is good, and if you venture into the 60s, you played very well. But then there are other events where they’re like, OK, this is open season. And with Signature Events and now all the points and the money involved, you find players going, all I need is one week really to set up my entire year, or potentially a year beyond that.
“So they’re like, strike while the iron is hot. And I was following Wyndham Clark last week and this is a guy who began the day five-under, [and] they kind of knew that there was a chance that there would be 54 holes [because of storms], but they weren’t guaranteed, but he just got off to a hot start. And then over the second nine, where the holes are harder, it wasn’t like he backed off shots whatsoever. He had a few shots where you could see he was mindset driven, where he was going after hole locations. Now granted, he was playing very well and making putts, but it was just that I was struck by how he played offense all the time.
“He stands there on the 18th tee, and look, that’s not the easiest tee shot in the world, Pebble Beach, especially if you got a lead and there’s pressure on you, and he starts this power fade shot basically over the water’s edge and smashes it down the fairway. And I was like, this is gutsy. So it speaks to mindset. I feel like when these guys feel it, it’s like open season and they just get the green light and they go.”
It’s an interesting thought, that with the Signature Events (as Pebble Beach was) and the pursuit to play them (which the WM Phoenix Open and Korn Ferry events help in), along with a short season, pros have to play more aggressively.
“Nowadays the prize funds are just so big, that these guys know, I need just one week,” Immelman said. “And so when they feel it, they just go. So it’s certainly a mindset shift.”
‘They just swing away and roll the dice more often’
Immelman’s second thought?
These guys are athletes now.
“The way they play the game is different,” he said, “and whereas golf used to be like defensive in a way, unless you were really good, nowadays it’s like, just get the driver in your hand — metrics show that the farther down the fairway you hit it, the better you are, so they just swing away and roll the dice more often. So being athletic, they can hit the ball a long way, they’re getting short irons to targets.”
One more theory:
“And then, at certain places like this week, at Phoenix with conditions being perfect and greens being great,” Immelman said, “all you need is a bit of a hot streak.
“You get some wedges to targets, you reach a few par-5s in two — I mean, if you birdie the par-5s, then you got the nucleus for a good round and then you just got to pick up a few more and if you get a few wedges in hand, you know, they’re getting looks inside 15, 20 feet, and on perfect greens, it’s also open season if you’re feeling it.”
Back to the obvious now. Back to the players
Here, I asked a question. We’ll end things with it.
Immelman answered, but he wanted our exchange in the story, so here that is in full.
“There’s the obvious with the course on the Korn Ferry Tour being under 6,300 yards, and that it was at a high elevation, and they’re playing with lift, clean and place — but that being said, you still have to hit the shots, these guys are really good, right?”
“I need you to write this like I need air in my lungs.”
“Because look, I got to follow Wyndham Clark at full flight, and it was majestic, it was something to behold. And so I tweet about this, and you got the usual guys going, shouldn’t count because of lift, clean and place. And I’m like, people, you still got to make the score, I don’t care whether you’re playing the ball up or down. Granted, yes, you’re going to get good lies all the time. But Pebble Beach, if you missed a fairway, it was no dice because it was so lush and so wet, and the rough was punitive. So you still have to hit shots and you still got to make putts. …
“There’s always two sides to the argument, and whether you’re playing the ball up, or you’re playing the ball at altitude, you still have to get the ball in the hole. And that hole is small. If you’re not playing well, it looks smaller.
“That was my rant.”
We laughed. One more question.
“The other argument, the other thing you’ll possibly see is the frequency of it now. Across the PGA Tour, the Korn Ferry Tour and the LIV tour, there have been five of them in a week. Do you think there’s anything behind the scores being diminished at all? Or is this what golf is now? Expect more of it.”
“When [Roger] Bannister broke the four-minute mile, then everyone realized it was possible,” Immelman said. “And so when 59 started to be shot, and then [Jim] Furyk’s 58, golfers realized this is possible.
“But I still think it’s very much a function of the conditions. There’s just certain places that it’s not on. You still have special rounds and it will be 63 or 64. But when you get summertime golf on the PGA Tour when you have summertime storms and the golf course is receptive and the place is like a dartboard, if someone is hitting the ball, they are going to get good looks. And at a Pebble Beach, which is shorter, you know, despite the rough, if you’re hitting the ball, you’re going to get good looks. Granted you have to control spin and trajectory a whole better because those greens have so much tilt in them, but it’s the nature of the beast. I don’t think it’s diminishing the thing. It’s still 60. And you have to play your behind off to shoot a score like that.
“They’re not handing the score out like candy.”