Birdie-fest or proper test? This is the perfect winning score in golf

What is the perfect winning score for a professional male golf tournament not sponsored by Mickey Mouse? What is the magical total that will have the greenkeeping staff whooping in delight as they realise they will not be accused of making the test too easy and falling foul of a tantrum from either Jon Rahm or Tyrrell Hatton?

These are questions being asked at the end of the first month of a golf season in which being a course designer or an official in charge of course set-up have been thankless tasks. 

It began in Hawaii with the record 34-under PGA Tour victory of Australia’s Cameron Smith and has been followed since by the two US events both won with 23-under totals. 

Last weekend, the world No1 Jon Rahm – the Spaniard who somehow left that opening birdie-fest classed as a “loser” despite shooting 33-under in 72 holes – finally flipped at the benign nature of it all.  

“Piece of s—, f——- set-up,” he barked when walking off one green in California. “Putting contest week, Jesus Christ.” 

When a pro calls an event “a putting contest”, he or she means the tee-to-green challenge that week is not separating the field, but instead the test is coming down simply to what happens on the green. 

It is a belittling statement from those proud range-aholics who believe putting to be the part of their sport most governed by fortune. Rahm doubled down on his remarks earlier this week. “I would like a set-up that would challenge us in every aspect of the game,” he said. Rahm bemoaned the lack of rough. “We are the best golfers on the planet and we’re playing a course where missing the fairway means absolutely nothing,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Abu Dhabi, Rahm’s Ryder Cup partner Tyrrell Hatton was labelling the 18th at Yas Links as “one of the worst par fives I’ve ever seen … I’d like it to be blown up”. The Englishman’s gripe was different to Rahm’s in that he believed it to be unfair. But the sentiment was similar. The set-up was wrong, unbefitting of the very elite 

The first thing to say is that, uncharacteristically, there was barely a breeze in Hawaii and as the Scottish say “nae wind, nae rain, it’s nae golf”, particularly on on a seaside layout. Also, there were amateurs in the American Express Championship where Rahm let fly and that made it a ridiculously tricky balance to strike. Of course, amateurs should play no part in professional golf once Thursday comes around. However, the sponsors love it and the corporates pay the bills.

Yet more than any of this, Rahm and others such as Collin Morikawa are missing the point in suggesting the courses should be adapted. For so many reasons – not least environmental – the equipment should be adapted. It all comes down to the absurd lengths the pros are hitting it.

If the Royal & Ancient and USGA eventually decide to do something and rein back the ball or place further limits on the drivers, or preferably both, then the integrity of the great courses can be restored. 

To my mind, it does not really matter what the players shoot – what is “par” anyway? – but how interesting the action is to the spectator. The problem with professional golf at the moment is that it is all so depressingly “samey”. Driver, wedge, putt … and with the likes of Bryson DeChambeau able to gouge it out from the thickest cabbage, this tiresome routine continues on and on. The novelty of balls travelling 400 yards can soon wear thin.

The modern ball does not allow for shot-shaping, well not in the fashion to which we were once treated, anyway. Severiano Ballesteros was once the only genius able to conjure the great escapes. Alas, the great conquistador would just be one in the pack nowadays. The rewards for creativity, imagination and even for truly inspirational ball-striking are not nearly what they were. The equipment is so forgiving… too forgiving. 

Until the governing bodies address these anomalies and return this pursuit to its former glory then the “too straightforward” moans at the regular events and the “too tough” whinges at the US Open will drift painfully on with no answer being found. The fact is there should be no focus on the perfect total, just a commitment to make the scene less one-dimensional.

But go on then, if you must, give us a 10-under, with a rousing 66 to start, a consolidating 69 for seconds, a gutsy 73 in the Saturday winds, closed off with a clinical 70 down the stretch. All with a chunk of Tiger Woods and a measure of Seve thrown in. And a Rahm embrace for the greenkeeper.

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