Sunday, April 14, 2019

Mastering Your Domain

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you read or hear: the Masters?

I was born in 1960. For many years, "The Big Three" of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus dominated the Masters Tournament. From 1960 to 1978 they won the event 11 times. My father was there when in 1960 Palmer won by one stroke. Trailing Ken Veturi by one shot, Palmer made birdies on the last two holes to come from behind and win. 

I loved hearing my father retell that story, all my life. I think that is one of my best memories, watching my father's face become so animated. Every time, every year, the story would be retold, and every year the story would become more amazing. When I was old enough to be a wise cracking teenager I said: "Hey Dad, are you sure you did not carry Arnie's bag that day?

Winner's share of the Masters Tournament in 1960 was $17,500.  Just two years earlier, Palmer won and took home $11,250.

This year's winner's share is $1,980,000. Plus God only knows how much additional money will go to the winner in endorsements and sponsorship fees.

The Masters has the smallest field of the major golf championships, with 90 to 100 players. You have to be invited. The top 50 players in the world are always invited, as well as the current Olympic Gold Medalist and current U.S. Amateur Champion and runner-up. 

Jack Nicklaus has won the most Masters (six) and was 46 years, 82 days old when he won in 1986. Like my father before me, I have a Masters story to tell my sons. I was there to witness history. 

Nicklaus is the record holder for the the most top tens at the Masters with 22, and the most cuts made, with 37. He also shares the record for the most runner-up finishes at the Masters with four. 

And then came technology.

As with many courses, Augusta National's championship setup was lengthened over the years. In 2001, the course measured 6,925 yards. Today it is 7,435 yards. The changes attracted many critics. Tiger Woods claimed that the "shorter hitters are going to struggle." After a practice round Gary Player defended the changes saying "There have been a lot of criticisms, but I think unjustly. Now that I have played it, the guys are having to hit the same second shots that Jack Nicklaus had to hit in his prime." 

Back in the day, hitting a 300+ yard drive was rare. Today, driving the ball 350+ yards is routine. During the 2016-17 PGA Tour season, there were 300 measured drives of 375+ yards or longer, including eight surpassing the 400+ yard barrier. 

Ben Hogan hit his driver 265 yards. IBM recorded driving distance data at 11 PGA Tour events in 1968. The top 10 players averaged 270.2 yards, the average drive was 264.0 yards and Jack Nicklaus led the Tour with an average drive of 276.0 yards.

Technology made gradual progress in golf for more than 60 years. Then, it exploded

If we adjusted yards for increased club head speed, hotter drivers, better balls, and fairways cut at roughly 1/2 inch deeper, Jack Nicklaus would have averaged well over 320+ yards on his drives.

Jack William Nicklaus, nicknamed The Golden Bear - the best of all time. Now just imagine him playing with the "good sticks" and the Titleist Pro V1x golf balls. How many more records would he hold, if we adjusted for "inflation" of technology, and adjusting for multi-million dollar endorsement deals? 

From 1934 to 1942, the top prize for the winner at the Masters was $1,500. 

One again: today's payday for the winner is $1,980,000.

Longer drives. TV coverage. Personal trainers with nutrition. Strength and flexibility coaches. Ah yes, in business as in sports, technology (and money) changes everything. And the older I get, the faster time flies. Just like with golf balls. 

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