Ian Woosnam isn’t playing in the Open Championship at Carnoustie. At 60, next week’s Senior British Open at St. Andrews is more the wee Welshman’s speed these days. But that doesn’t mean the 1991 Masters champion hasn’t got things to say about the state of the game and the world’s oldest event. With 29 European Tour wins, 17 World Cup appearances for Wales and eight Ryder Cups as player (plus one more as a captain), Woosnam has seen pretty much all there is to see in golf over the last 40 years or so.
Five of Woosie’s top-10 finishes in major championships came in the Open, an event he feels is in need of drastic change given how far today’s tour professionals are capable of hitting the modern golf ball with their modern golf clubs.
“The R&A should build their own course and play the Open there every year,” Woosnam told Golf World in the days leading up to this week’s Open. “Just like the Masters. They could then tweak the course any way they want. And it would be a fantastic thing. They could build the course based on how they want the game to be played rather than how it is played now. It would have to be a links. The dunes could be used as natural amphitheaters for spectators. Everything would be custom made.”
That isn’t even Woosnam’s most radical suggestion for the R&A. No, that would come with his thoughts on what to do with the Home of Golf.
“The Old Course, sadly, is now all but obsolete as an Open course. This will never happen, but what they should do at St. Andrews is start over completely,” Woosnam said. “Build one great course on the land that now has the Old and New and Jubilee courses on it. That would be wonderful. You could have holes going in all directions on that course. None of this straight-out, straight-back stuff. That would get the players using every single club in the bag.
“And yes, I know all of this sounds fanciful, but it has to happen eventually given the path the game is on now.”
Like many of his generation, Woosnam clearly despairs the distances tour pros are hitting shots and, by extension, the type of game today’s elite performers are playing. Woosnam was definitely more of an artist than a scientist at his peak, using persimmon woods and balata balls. He was one of the finest drivers of his or another generation, and the former World No. 1 sees conformity where once there was diversity.
“When I was one of the best players I would often take one more club and hit a shot softly,” he says. “I did that all the time, especially in a wind. Now, when I try to hit a three-quarter 5-iron, the ball won’t flight properly. I’m not compressing it enough to make it fly true. So I have to go right down the grip and hit the shot flat-out.
“The art of driving has been all but lost at the top level. I watch Rory McIlroy a lot. He drives the ball beautifully. But he doesn’t get as much benefit from that as he should. The average driver is now so much closer to the best driver.”
OK, let’s talk solutions. Simple, contends Woosie: bifurcation of equipment rules between amateurs and professionals.
“My view has always been that amateurs should be allowed to enjoy the game as much as possible,” he says. “That’s not up for debate. But it is obvious that the professionals should be playing with different equipment. These days, I play a very different game from the vast majority of amateurs—and the game played by the younger lads on tour is just as different from mine.”
OK (2), let’s talk specifics. What needs to change?
“If I was king for a day, I’d do many things,” Woosnam said. “I’d reduce the size of the driver heads. I’d make 58 degrees the most loft you can have on a wedge. I’d let guys have only one hybrid in the bag. I’d knock 50 yards off the ball. The putter would have to be the shortest club in the bag. And I’d go back to the old ‘V’ grooves. I watch guys hitting shots out of the rough and getting the ball to spin and stop on the green. That also needs to change. All while letting the amateurs play with whatever they use now. Let them have fun. But if you want to be a professional, the rules have to be different. We should be telling them what they can use.
“If we did all of those things, we wouldn’t need thick rough on any tour course. Semi-rough that made the ‘flier’ a possibility is all we would need. That would make the game more exciting, guys trying more risky recovery shots.”
One last thing. One of the quickest players on the PGA Champions Tour, Woosie has a solution for the perennial problem of slow play: “Make all the changes I’ve already suggested and we can knock 1,000 yards off every course. Then we will all get round in a reasonable time.”
Sounds good to me. Any questions?