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I’ve  spent a few thousand words on PGT spouting my thoughts on the effect of modern gear on the professional golf ranks in terms of the ramifications for public golfers and golf courses.   Rather than re-hash this week’s anthem of voices echoing similar sentiments (Exhibit A: Gary Player at The Open this week), I thought I’d delve into another institution that has the potential to be damaged by modern equipment – The World Golf Hall of Fame.

My thesis goes as follows – the  forgiveness provided to professional golfers via modern equipment combined with a reduced relative importance of accuracy and workability have manifested in a an effective “whitewashing” of professional talent relative to the pre-ProV1 era.  As players struggle to distinguishing themselves from one another with their ballstriking it becomes more difficult for the “cream to rise to the top” so to speak.  The winner of this week’s tournament is likely to be the gentleman with the hottest putter, even if he doesn’t have the most talent tee to green.  The fallout from an ever extending modern era is likely to be a steadily reducing supply of HOF-worthy golfers, assuming the unofficial requirements remain the same as they have always been.  First place medals will be more widely dispersed and the high percentage of first time winners is likely to continue.

Here’s how it works (text courtesy of Shackelford cotributor “Elf” with some grammatical formatting from me):

“At the pro level all these guys are really good – As a ‘for instance’ on the impact of technology: let’s say you’re already a great putter (you’ll make 9/10 from 5ft) and another player is an average putter (say makes 6/10 from 5ft), then a club comes along that makes putting easier.  Now the great putter makes 10/10 but the average putter makes 8/10.  The great putter’s advantage due to being a great putter has been reduced by a stroke because of the technology.

You could do the same thing with drivers, wedges, impact of hybrids etc, they help everyone – but they help the average (very good player) more than the great player, which closes the gap.”

The anecdotal evidence – Michael Bamberger kicked off the conversation back in May with with his SI article entitled After Tiger Woods, Who Are Golf’s Future Hall of Famers Going to Be?  After paying respect to a well deserving 2012 class including Mickelson, Lyle, and Alliss, Bamberger notes that there are few if any obvious successors on the horizon besides Tiger Woods.  Angel Cabrera, Paddy Harrington, Retief Goosen, and Davis Love seem the most likely candidates.  Harrington and Goosen seem sure-ins with (19 US or Euro PGA wins/3 majors , 21 US or Euro PGA wins / 2 majors) given that Tom Kite and Curtis Strange are in but Love (20 PGA tour wins / 1 major) is generally considered one of the most underachieving golfers of all time given his skill level and has been eligible for 8 years without securing an induction.  Cabrera just doesn’t pass my Hall of Fame gut check unless you factor in his non-European or US PGA tour victories.

Even if you consider Bamburger’s candidates Hall of Famers, you’ll find the list rapidly tapering to a group of “very good players” who I wouldn’t consider HOF.  Here are some names from the 2014 ballot (US side): Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, David Duval, Fred Couples,  Davis Love III, Loren Roberts, Ken Venturi, Fuzzy Zoeller, and Dave Stockton.  On the international ballot: Darren Clarke, Colin Montgomerie, Ian Woosnam, and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

The names you see above were really the last generation of golfers to spend the bulk of their careers in the pre-ProV1 era.  While it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out with them, I’m very curious to see what happens to the “young gun” generation of the modern era.  Will the current crop of household names find enough opportunity and consistency in a professional game where 125 players are exempt?  How will they distinguish themselves when there is equipment available to remedy any common flaw or shortcoming?  Is there any truth to the notion that too many players are satisfied to cash their-six digit top 10 paychecks instead of the winning at all costs?

Ernie Els spoke up regarding the effects of technology on the modern professional differentiation in a  recent report from John Huggan:

“Equipment advances have had a huge effect on the ability of anyone to separate himself from the rest,” says Els. “Everyone is custom-fitted these days. The belly putter helps people like me. The big-headed drivers mean that everyone hits it like only Greg Norman used to. You can even get clubs that will help you eliminate draws or fades. Guys are more educated about their own games. Course management is better. And so is fitness. 
No-one is going to big Sunday night parties 
any more,” he adds with a laugh.

“I’m sure the ruling bodies are looking at all those equipment issues. Driving was an art form not so long ago, but it isn’t now. Everyone has a huge metal-headed driver with a huge sweet spot, one that makes bad driving far harder to achieve. The short game was the same, but it isn’t any more. Everyone can get a club that will help him pitch and chip like only Seve could do in his heyday. I look around now and see guys winning, guys who could never have done so 20 years ago. Maybe we pros do need to have smaller drivers, less lofted wedges and a ball everyone must use.”

I’ll finish this post with a reminder of that last 14 major champions compared to similar four year stretches around 2000, 1990, 1980, and 1970.  I see hall of famers everywhere in the other decades.  Sure fire, fist ballot guys.  Multiple major winners are clearly indicated by the numbers in parentheses.  I do realize that if we were to look back at the 2009-2012 list years from now we would be more likely to see multiple major winners since some of these guys are young.  But at the end of the day I stand behind my statements, as echoed by Elf and Els and many others, that the current state of equipment makes it more difficult for the top players to take advantage of their superior talent to amass hall-of-fame type resumes.  It remains to be seen what type of players are accepted to the hall after the last of the persimmon / pre-proV1 era players are vetted out.

Year Masters Tournament U.S. Open Championship The Open Championship PGA Championship
2012 United States Bubba Watson United States Webb Simpson July 19–22, Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club August 9–12, Kiawah Island Golf Resort, The Ocean Course
2011 South Africa Charl Schwartzel Northern Ireland Rory McIlroy Northern Ireland Darren Clarke United States Keegan Bradley
2010 United States Phil Mickelson (4/4) Northern Ireland Graeme McDowell South Africa Louis Oosthuizen Germany Martin Kaymer
2009 Argentina Ángel Cabrera (2/2) United States Lucas Glover United States Stewart Cink South Korea Yang Yong-eun
2002 United States Tiger Woods (7/14) United States Tiger Woods (8/14) South Africa Ernie Els (3/3) United States Rich Beem
2001 United States Tiger Woods (6/14) South Africa Retief Goosen (1/2) United States David Duval United States David Toms
2000 Fiji Vijay Singh (2/3) United States Tiger Woods (3/14) United States Tiger Woods (4/14) United States Tiger Woods (5/14)
1999 Spain José María Olazábal (2/2) United States Payne Stewart (3/3) Scotland Paul Lawrie United States Tiger Woods (2/14)
1992 United States Fred Couples United States Tom Kite England Nick Faldo (5/6) Zimbabwe Nick Price (1/3)
1991 Wales Ian Woosnam United States Payne Stewart (2/3) Australia Ian Baker-Finch United States John Daly (1/2)
1990 England Nick Faldo (3/6) United States Hale Irwin (3/3) England Nick Faldo (4/6) Australia Wayne Grady
1989 England Nick Faldo (2/6) United States Curtis Strange (2/2) United States Mark Calcavecchia United States Payne Stewart (1/3)
1982 United States Craig Stadler United States Tom Watson (6/8) United States Tom Watson (7/8) United States Raymond Floyd (3/4)
1981 United States Tom Watson (5/8) Australia David Graham (2/2) United States Bill Rogers United States Larry Nelson (1/3)
1980 Spain Seve Ballesteros (2/5) United States Jack Nicklaus (16/18) United States Tom Watson (4/8) United States Jack Nicklaus (17/18)
1979 United States Fuzzy Zoeller (1/2) United States Hale Irwin (2/3) Spain Seve Ballesteros (1/5) Australia David Graham (1/2)
1972 United States Jack Nicklaus (10/18) United States Jack Nicklaus (11/18) United States Lee Trevino (4/6) South Africa Gary Player (6/9)
1971 United States Charles Coody United States Lee Trevino (2/6) United States Lee Trevino (3/6) United States Jack Nicklaus (9/18)
1970 United States Billy Casper (3/3) England Tony Jacklin (2/2) United States Jack Nicklaus (8/18) United States Dave Stockton (1/2)
1969 United States George Archer United States Orville Moody England Tony Jacklin (1/2) United States Raymond Floyd (1/4)

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