The MONY Tournament of Champions, held annually down here at Rancho La Costa, is already a special competition. You have to have won a tournament in the last 12 months to tee it up here.
But they held a special tournament within a tournament to start the festivities off Monday, a little nine-hole, $150,000 morale-builder called the Epson Stats Match. You didn't have to have won a tournament to make this grid, you just have to have been the best in the business at one aspect of the game.
For instance, if you were the best on the tour at a little refinement of the game called sand saves, you got in. This, in golf parlance, translates to making par on a hole even when your approach shot to a green lands in a bunker.
Oddly enough, this is one aspect of the game that seems to have eluded even the great Jack Nicklaus, who won the most tournaments of any player on tour today and the second-most of anyone who ever played. Jack would have won a lot more, though, including one more U.S. Open, if he could have gotten up and down out of a trap as well as he could do the other things.
The other categories for admission to this special shoot-out were, in order: Driving distance, scoring leaders (average score per round), driving accuracy, greens in regulation (greens reached in par minus 2), putting leaders (number of putts averaged on greens reached in regulation), par breakers, eagles, all-around (leader in all nine of the above shot-making capabilities).
Now, this kind of test is laudable in its intentions. It's fine for these guys who specialize in these nuances of the game.
My beef is, it has very little to do with the kind of golf you and I habitually play.
With this end in mind, I would propose certain changes in the format to bring the competition more in line with the kind of game you and I are more familiar with.
For instance, sand saves, meaning par retained out of a sand trap, is a completely unrealistic category. I would amend this to reward anyone in our foursomes who could (a) get out in one no matter where the ball lands so long as it is in bounds, (b) get it anywhere on the green in two and in the leather in three, (c) move the ball at all with the first shot or (d) make less than a triple bogey on the hole.
Additionally, I would want to rework some of the other categories in important ways, as for example:
--Driving distance: This as it now stands is wholly meaningless so far as our play is concerned. With us, it's not how far you hit it, it's how you hit it far.
Accordingly, I would change the competition to reward not on the basis of distance but of form--something like Olympic platform diving.
We would give points to anyone who got the ball in the air off the tee, regardless of how far it went. For instance, if someone hit a ground ball that bounced for 150 yards, his tee shot would not be deemed as successful as one that went into the air for 110 yards and bounced for maybe only 20.
Balls, however, that went into the air but landed behind the player--or on top of him--would not be deemed eligible even if they were the only tee shots of the foursome to get into the air at all.
--Greens in regulation: A laughable category the way it is set up now in which they assume a green made in 2 on a par-4 and a 3 on a par-5 would be a winner.
Since none of us ever does this, we would amend the category to reward anyone who reached a green at all with a topped shot, a shank or a ball that hit one or more trees on its way to the hole.
Again, we are not playing how many here, we are playing how. Anyone can hit a green with a perfectly timed, smooth 9-iron with square grooves. The trick is to hit it with the spasm-clutched, tension-ridden swing that you quit on halfway through.
--Driving accuracy: Here, of course, they are talking about the drive that reaches the fairway in one.
This is too easy. All of our tee shots reach the fairway in one because they never leave it. A ball that does not lift into the air has very little chance to leave the fairway. Sometimes, it does not leave the tee.
Accordingly, rewarding anyone who has just hit a six-yard shot just because it stays in the fairway defeats the purpose of this great game.
Thus, we make the winner of this category anyone who has hit a good enough shot to make the rough in any direction. If he hits it far enough to go out of bounds, he is the automatic winner, not only of the category but of the hole.
--Putting leaders: An easy category. Since we play a game in which four putts is the maximum number that can be taken on any hole, the winner is the one who has the least yardage left to the hole after his four putts.
--Scoring leader: Normally, you would think with us, this would be the one with the fewest X's on the score card, but actually our scoring leader would be the one who got the highest number of strokes from his opponent on the way to the first tee, regardless of whether it was enough for him to win.
Negotiation is a more important part of our game than shot-making.
The scoring leader can also be the one who got away with the most "Give me a 6 theres" on holes where he had a 6 before he left the tee.
--All-Around: The one who breaks 120 on his own ball with 47 top shots, 10 whiffs--2 of which he palmed off as practice swings--a shank, 7 balls in the water, one or more X's every 9 holes and 3 putts that were actually in the leather.
Anyone who actually put a ball in a hole on more than one green and had seven "Did anyone see where that wents?" in the round will be the leader in the clubhouse in this category. The one who avoids a lost ball by producing a ball even if it's suspiciously new and doesn't have any cuts in it shall be deemed the one to beat.
Dan Pohl won the actual Stats competition, but he did it with every ball in the air except putts (sometimes, in our competition, those are the only balls that go into the air), no lost balls, no "Did anybody see its?" no balls in the water, no whiffs, shanks, X's or unplayables. Anybody can win that way. Our game takes character.