Sky misses the story

Added on July 19th, 2016 by Lorne Smith
Posted in Uncategorized

Why did Mickelson miss his record 62 putt?

The quality of play created through the competition between Mickelson and Stenson was presented by Sky as The Open championship’s saviour as a “televised” event.

The other big story, Mickelson’s missed record 62 putt is only explained by FineGolf.

The scene needs setting first as there were two primary weaknesses to the Sky Open Championship commentary.

Firstly, they repeatedly talked down the weather. Butch Harmon called the wind ‘brutal’ at a time when it was only around 15mph. Others even suggested the players would prefer not to be out on the links. Where does this need for ‘hype’ come from? Golfers who follow The Open are generally well educated on the fun of difficult links conditions.

The weather was certainly not ‘nice’ for July, being both rainy and cold, while at times giving the perfect wind of between 15 and 25mph and from different directions that ensures The Open Championship offers the proper challenge requiring inventiveness, imagination and creativity in ‘running-golf’ shot-making that makes it the finest and greatest tournament in the world.

Secondly, the commentary team’s ignorance of agronomy and greenkeeping undermines their ability to develop interesting stories around how the pros need to play.

They completely missed the glaringly obvious comparison between the agronomy at the back-to-back Scottish Open and The Open Championship. I can only suppose because they did not understand it.

castle stuart, fescueThe week before at Castle Stuart, the weather of the first day of the Scottish Open was perfect. 25mph prevailing wind with full sun, lighting up the hauntingly beautiful Black Isle. Even GMac, who had been somewhat rude about the Castle Stuart lay-out previously, had to eat his own words and admit that it was a fine championship venue.

This might have had something to do with the fact that the agronomy at Castle Stuart is undoubtedly the finest in GB&I. The greens, run-offs, fairways and rough are all 100% red fescue grasses that are deep rooted, requiring low inputs of water and fertiliser and little pesticide and give firm surfaces.

As a consequence the course gives the truest putting roll-out to the ball and though many longer putts were missed through difficult reading of the interesting greens, I hardly saw a short putt missed across the four days, as I watched the Sky coverage almost continuously from the Media Centre on site.


100% fescue grass

These fescues were cut at the normal cutting height of 4.5 mm which gave a speed reading of 11 feet for the Pro-am on the Wednesday.  It was predicted the wind would get up for Thursday so the cutting height was lifted to 6mm on Wednesday night and the greens were not cut at all on Thursday or Friday morning to help hold any oscillating balls from moving on the greens while still giving a speed of 10ft 2inch. The greens were then cut at 4.5mm again Friday evening, giving a Saturday speed of between 10ft 5inch to 10ft 7inch.   On the relatively calm Sunday the greens were rolled with the hand mower on some greens and a squeegee used on others to guarantee the correct speed which was all around 10ft 5inch.

This speed was requested by the European Tour who wanted to avoid delays with the pros taking too long to putt out on fast 11 foot + greens. (See article on Fast Greens = Slow Play).

So, how did Castle Stuart’s surfaces compare with Royal Troon whose greens are annual meadow grass (Poa annua) mixed with browntop bent grasses?

Royal troonIn 2013 the greens at Royal Troon were cut normally at 3.5mm and at 3mm for special occasions. I am now told during the 2016 Open Championship the greens were single cut with a pedestrian mower each morning of the Championship to a height of 4 mm except Saturday when no greens were mown due to a forecast of high winds.

Green speed was 9 ft 10 inch on Thursday and Friday, 9 ft 5 inch on Saturday and 9 ft 8 inch on Sunday.

Pure Poa greens are normally cut at below 3mm and sometimes down to 1.75mm. This helps take out the Poa seed heads and creates exceptionally high putting speeds and a smoothness of putt that is more difficult to attain at 4mm.

browntop bent, poa annua

Browntop bent with Poa magnified

Browntop bent, which like fescue is a deep-rooting perrenial grass, does not like to be cut lower than 3mm, whereas fescue prefers to be cut over 4mm.

So, why did the ball suddenly move sideways when only a foot from the hole when Mickelson thought he had achieved a world record 62 in the first round at Troon?

It can’t have been a piece of detritus that deflected the ball as Mickelson would have removed it. Let us also note that McIlroy missed a number of short putts as did others.

FineGolf  believes that it is possible that the Poa grass that continues to grow through the day and is more affected by shoe spikes, made the putting surfaces less consistent, something we know to expect with weed grasses.

This why the late and brilliant Nick Park invented the ‘Greenstester’ which when used with The R&A’s ‘Holing-out-Test’ gives ‘running-golf’ course greenkeepers an objective measurement of the reliability of their greens as they ‘sustainably’ evolve them from weed to fine grasses.

fescue, aldeburgh golf club,

Fescue at Aldeburgh magnified

(How can you determine what is the type of grass on your greens? Read FineGolf’s article on GRASS ID.)

There are many complimentary aspects as to how Royal Troon was set-up. The run-offs for example were spectacularly good.  But space beckons and so I have only focused on one story that the Sky commentators completely missed while there were also so many other aspects of why sustainable ‘running-golf’ is so much more enjoyable than chemical based ‘target-golf’. It would give further interesting back-drop discussions to watching these pros play on the televised ‘Running-Golf-Tour’ of the Irish Open, Scottish Open, The Open Championship and the Alfred Dunhill, that are incompetently ignored.

Faldo and McGinley are generally impressive in their commentary (they both love links ‘running-golf’) and David Livingstone pulls it together quite well. But it is crying out for some professional agronomist/greenkeeper consultant to interpret the dichotomy between weed and fine grass and its effect on the golfer’s play.

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