Beef Box*: Another Reason to Get Rid of All the Television Commentators

If you’ve been watching the Open on TV, you’ve undoubtedly heard the commentators refer to this or that hole as the “easiest” or “hardest” at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. They’re always wrong, and here’s why: there’s a difference between an easy hole and an easy par. A par 5 on which the scoring average is 4.5 is a harder hole than a par 3 on which the scoring average is 3.5, even though the par 5 is easier to birdie. The ease or difficulty of any golf hole is determined solely by the number of strokes taken to play it. Whether that number is higher or lower than “par” is immaterial.

A club near where I live recently shortened a par 5 by thirty yards and renamed it a par 4. The consensus among members is that this change made both the hole and the course “harder.” Actually, though, it made both of them easier, since the hole and the course are now thirty yards shorter than they were before—the same effect  as adding thirty yards to everyone’s tee shot. The hole is now tougher to par than it used to be, but it’s nevertheless an easier hole, since the average number of strokes needed to play it has come down.

To see this more clearly, forget about par for a moment. Imagine that Tiger Woods has challenged you to a two-hole match, on the second and twelfth holes at Augusta National, and that he has offered to give you one handicap stroke, which you may use on either hole. Would that stroke be more useful to you on the second (a 575-yard par 5) or on the twelfth (a 155-yard par 3 where Tom Weiskopf scored a cumulative 20 during the first two rounds of the Masters in 1980)?

Conventional wisdom says that Augusta’s twelfth is a “harder” hole than the second — Jack Nicklaus once called the twelfth “the toughest tournament hole in golf” — but wouldn’t you rather have your stroke on the second, which is 400 yards longer? If you wouldn’t, you should. Tom Weiskopf notwithstanding, the second is a harder hole. Woods has a very good chance of reaching the green in two, while you’ll have  to play well to get there in three.

*With apologies to Joe Pyne.

16 thoughts on “Beef Box*: Another Reason to Get Rid of All the Television Commentators

  1. I think the members at that club are probably trying to say it is now more difficult to make a good number against par, which is the universal way of saying how well you played at any course in the world. But yes, total scores on that course are now probably lower.

  2. I do agree with your thoughts on harder vs. easier holes. Most golfers think longer is “harder”. It isn’t the case. It is easy to see how golfers view what is harder when you discuss how the “strokes” will be played in a match. I play in a group that used to “play off the lowest handicap player in the group”, in our weekly matches. It took some time but we have converted them to playing “full handicaps” for every player. I am not always the lowest handicap in the group however, I still believe I have a better chance winning a higher handicap or “harder” hole when I have stroke along with a higher handicap player. There is no doubt it puts more pressure on a higher handicap player to win a hole when we play a lower handicap hole that is “easier” or a birdie opportunity for lower handicap players.

  3. Tadpole, I think you missed the entire point. Longer holes are relatively more difficult the higher one’s handicap is. That is why par 5’s are generally allocated as low handicap stroke holes on the card. That is also precisely why the lowest handicap plays off scratch in a match…to ensure that those receiving strokes are receiving them on the holes that they most need the stroke to halve the hole.

  4. Certainly understand the point you’re attempting to make, but my guess is that 90% of golfers base their opinion of how easy or difficult a hole is on how easy or difficult it is to make par. You ask your readers to “forget about par for a moment.” Not happening. Nobody gives a rip about stroke average when they’re out beating it around on the local muni. They judge their round on how they scored in relation to par. Nice try, but stop trying to be smarter than everybody else.

  5. I usually enjoy and appreciate the blog, but this post makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. One cannot simply toss par out the window, as it is the benchmark by which we measure the relative difficulty of holes. For example, consider a 230 yard par 3 with a minuscule green and a 470 yard par 5 with no discernible hazards. Which is easier to hit in regulation? The par 5 of course, as one can escape with one or two poor shots and still reach the green in 3. The par 3, on the other hand, demands a near perfect shot. It is the difference in caliber of shot necessitated that determines the true difficulty of a hole.

  6. A foolish piece. Golfers don’t need pointless semantics about what constitutes a difficult hole. I regret reading this.

  7. Despite how good a golfer Nick Faldo was, apparently his self esteem is still low. He is continually raving on about himself when he was playing and making negative comments about present players. It’s a pity he has to tarnish his image by continually doing this while commentating. Someone please get him off the air. My ulcers are starting to play up.

  8. This was completely senseless. Golf Fan Cam hit it right on the head about a difficult par 3 vs. a danger-free par 5. Curtis Strange has spouted so much garbage over the years that I would like to think we’d be able to find a much more reasonable comment to take issue with. Case in point: Telling us that Steve Stricker has “never really had any success” in The Open, despite three top-15s in the past 5 years and a spot in the final pairing on Sunday a few years ago. Such an idiot.

  9. That is ridiculous. On which holes some hack would rather get an imaginary stroke in a make believe scenario that would never happen has nothing to do with which holes are easier. They are discussing which holes are easier for the guys actually playing so we can have some expectations on how they might approach it and we can guess if they may make a comeback or falter. How some 15 handicap would play it, well, who could possibly care.

  10. The easier or harder a hole is, is not depend on strokes, but how how many beers it takes to complete…that makes as much sense as this article made….drink up

  11. i agree with peter alliss the great english commentator
    who laughs at par.
    he is the best commentator in golf.
    take away the par number and we just see who gets the lowest score.
    par is just a number based on distance. and since pro’s hit it
    a mile a par 5 is really a par 4 in their books. they just play with faster greens
    nastier rough . make the bunkers more penal on the pga , take out every 2nd
    tong and make the sand looser to scare them with fried egg lies.

  12. wow…horrible job in really explaining why we should get rid of commentators….please tell me Mr. Owen wasn’t paid to write this.

  13. This is a great blog post. Par is meaningless. It was invented to make it possible to compare scores of players on different holes. “Average Joe,” the average weekend 16-handicap doesn’t tell his buddies he shot “20 over.” He says he shot 92. I get a kick out of how players and media complain about how a hole was “converted” from an easy par 5 to a “difficult” par 4 by moving the tee up 20 yards and calling it a par 4. The goal of the game is to shoot the lowest score you can. There are no bonuses for making a “birdie” or “eagle” other than what you gain on the field. Players are still trying to make the lowest score they can on that hole. Go ahead and call that 500-yarder a par 5. It won’t change the way players play it. They’re still going to try to make the lowest score they can.

    What hole is “harder”: a 160-yard par 3 or a 480-yard par 5?

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