Golf

‘Technology is ruining the game’

Woody Austin, throwing balls on the 14th green during a U.S. Senior Open practice round, said young players no longer have to prove themselves because of technology.
Woody Austin, throwing balls on the 14th green during a U.S. Senior Open practice round, said young players no longer have to prove themselves because of technology. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Woody Austin is among a handful of players at this year’s U.S. Senior Open who has status on the PGA Tour. He doesn’t plan to take advantage.

“I’ve pretty much had enough trying to tackle 20-year-olds,” he said.

Austin, 51, won the Sanderson Farms Championship in 2013, making him the eighth-oldest winner on the PGA Tour. Still, he said he can no longer compete against young players who can drive the ball 40 yards longer than he does.

He blames technology in general, and the golf ball specifically.

“Technology is ruining the game, or has already ruined it,” he said.

“The way it is now, the best putter wins. The golf ball does it all for you. You don’t need to control it with spin or shape shots anymore. Now they just fly the ball to where they want to go.”

Because purses on the PGA Tour are roughly three times greater than on the Champions Tour, players over 50 with options must decide whether to face stiffer competition with potential greater financial reward or opt for age-restricted foes and smaller jackpots.

Vijay Singh, Davis Love and Miguel Angel Jimenez have chosen to continue to go toe-to-toe against the world’s best at any age, for the most part. Tom Pernice and Michael Allen went back and forth in their early 50s before losing PGA Tour status. Kenny Perry gave up competing on the PGA Tour earlier this month, citing a desire “to sail away off into the sunset.”

“I was told players who opted for the Champions Tour when they still have PGA Tour status regretted it,” Pernice said.

Don’t count on Austin, a winner of four tournaments and more than $14 million on the PGA Tour, going back.

“I don’t have to be something that I’m not (on the Champions Tour),” he said. “Look at winners (on the PGA Tour). They’re not better golfers than we were. It’s just such an even playing field now because of technology. Young players no longer have to prove themselves.

“Tiger (Woods) and Jack (Nicklaus) used to be exceptions. You’d get one or two of those. You don’t have to be special anymore. Before, you could see the separation between the upper echelon and the journeyman. Now it’s one big giant mass, with a blip here or there.”

Kevin Sutherland said superior ball-strikers who were average putters could make a good living on the PGA Tour 20 years year ago. Only great putters succeed these days, he said.

Austin has always struggled on the greens, and he’s the first to admit it. He was 150th in putting in 1995 yet was 24th on the money list and was named the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year.

“That will never happen again,” he said.

“Putting is individual. Either you’re a good putter or you’re not. Everybody has their cross. That’s mine.”

Steve Pajak: (916) 326-5526.

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