Niagara Gazette

May 5, 2013

Ken Ruggiero's Golf: What Guan can teach us

By KEN RUGGIERO
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Today, I begin my 28th season in this space. It’s hard to believe really. I recall my very first column, written long before the home computer. I composed an 800-word text on pages of yellow lined legal paper with no spell-check support. If I didn’t like the way something that I wrote translated, I’d start all over again. It was tedious and when I finally completed a copy that I felt worthy of turning into my editor, I had to get into my car to hand-deliver my work downtown and hope that the typist could read my writing.

Thankfully, the writing process is so much easier today. I have all of the factual information that I require at my fingertips via the internet. I have a word processor to assist with grammar and spelling mishaps. And when I finalize my weekly composition, I can get it into my editor’s hands in seconds via email.

For those unfamiliar with this weekly column, it is devoted to the great game of golf. I give tips on improving all aspects of your game, candid opinions about controversial topics, and I shed light on the rules of the game. I like to hear from my readers and I often do. If you have a question or comment about this splendid sport, please feel free to drop me an email at the address given below. I promise to answer every question that I receive.

I look forward to spending the summer with you.

All that stated, let’s get started.

*****

Tianlang Guan, 14-years old, did something on the PGA tour this season that Graeme McDowell, Webb Simpson, Louie Oosthuizen, Paddy Harrington, Tom Watson, Hunter Mahan, Ian Woosnam, and Ben Crenshaw could not do.

He made the cut at the Masters.

Last weekend, in only his second PGA tour event at the Zurich Classic, he again defied the odds and made the cut. Eighty-plus professionals, including pin-up players Keegan Bradley and Charles Howell III, missed the Zurich cut.

So, who exactly is Tianlang Guan and why is he teeing it up with, and outplaying, some of the best players in the world?

Well, Guan is a teenaged Chinese amateur who happens to be the youngest player ever to compete in the Masters. He earned his Augusta National invitation by winning the 2012 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand, competing also in that event against professionals much older than he is.

For me, this is an amazing story with a host of learning lessons to gather.

Amazingly, this young man is still so physically undeveloped that he averages a mere 256 yards off the tee. Want some prospective? The shortest professional driver on tour this season averages 265 yards per drive, nine yards more than Guan. Believe it or not, there are actually par-four golf holes on tour that this 14-year-old phenom cannot reach in two strokes. No matter.

When asked at Zurich to explain his recent success, the likeable young man stated, “I’m not too surprised. I think I did pretty good today.”

You‘ve got to like this kid.

*****

The Tianlang Guan story brings me to certain conclusions about the state of our game, some good and some not so good.

Firstly, Guan’s tour success proves once and for all the old golf axiom that “you drive for show and you putt for dough”.

Many of my readers spend their practice time figuring out how to hit their ball further off the tee, spending hundreds of dollars on new-technology drivers, trying to add five or ten yards to their drives. Even if they accomplish that objective, their handicaps are seldom affected by the change.

Pay attention! The scoring game is played inside 125 yards. Your rehearsal sessions need to be concentrated in that area. Practicing your wedge game, chipping, and putting will accomplish so much more towards lower scores than an expensive driver ever will.

My other observations about the state of today’s game is not so obvious.

Guan is not a golfing miracle. He is simply the first of many youthful automatons sure to arrive on tour over the next decade. Many of the secrets of our game are being revealed to a new generation of younger players. Slow motion, stop action cameras reveal immediately the flaws in a novice swing.

Instead of learning gradually through trial and error, as I did, young players today get to perform the perfect swing over and over with a variety of innovative teaching apparatus. Kids in elementary school are learning perfect swing positioning with bio-feedback and audio sophistication.

Couple these enhanced learning techniques with equipment “advances” and I believe that the state of our great game is sadly destined to weaken.

Golf’s overseers (USGA and the Royal and Ancient of St. Andrews) joined with accommodating manufacturers (see money) have allowed equipment to get completely out of hand. Today’s tools, especially the golf ball, have rendered less-challenging many of the great golf courses in the world.

Bases in baseball are 90 feet apart and have been since the inception of the sport. Imagine if the administrators of that game decided to move the bases closer together, say to 85 feet apart. Batting averages and runs produced per game would sour. Baseball would be rendered unrecognizable, including all of its records, and all because of five feet.

If golf does not rein in equipment, the past achievements of the game’s greats will reduce to irrelevant. It happened in the sport of bowling, when equipment became equally essential to talent. Golfing purists need to stand tall now and insist that the game that we love maintains its inherent authenticity.

The game is great because its players are flawed. It is great because it rewards talent and punishes mistakes. Take that essential away for the game and you take away its primary attraction.

Until next week, keep it in the fairway.

Ken Ruggiero is a local golf instructor and has been writing this column for the past 28 years. He can be reached at radiomaniac1949@yahoo.com