A Friday Worth Remembering

Until today, we had never heard
Until today, we’d never heard Warren Pitman’s (2nd from left) U.S. Open story.

I love it when our instructors open up about their playing days because we have some real sticks working at the Phoenix campus – guys who have played in major championships. PGA Professional Gary Balliet played in the 1984 PGA Championship at Shoal Creek Club in Alabama, and PGA Professional Jay Friedman played in the 2005 Senior PGA Championship at Laurel Valley Golf Club in Pennsylvania. But in our eight months at the Golf Academy, we’ve never taken a class taught by PGA Professional Warren Pitman, so we’d never heard his story until today.

Warren started Managing Golf Facility Operations by telling us how he grew up in Phoenix in the 80s and learned the game from Golf Digest Top 50 Instructor (since its inception) Mike LaBauve at Alta Mesa Golf Club before accepting a golf scholarship to the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. In 1990, at age 20, Warren got through the U.S. Open Local Qualifier in Oklahoma City and then played in the Regional Qualifier at Bay Hill in Orlando because it was the closest site to the NCAA Golf Championships at Innisbrook. Good decision. After making his first and only career hole-in-one, he finished low amateur, tied with Phil Mickelson and ahead of David Duval. Warren packed up his medal and headed up north to the U.S. Open at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago. Incidentally, Chris Patton, I guy whom I took lessons from while I was still living in Greenville, was already in the field after having won the 1989 U.S. Amateur at Merion Golf Club.

The U.S. Open itself was more of an afterthought. Warren shot 83-81, but he did get to play a practice round with Fuzzy Zoeller, Hubert Green, and Craig Stadler after Payne Stewart and Jose Maria Olazabal failed to show up for their 11 o’clock tee times. Zoeller and Green bailed after the 2nd hole because it was taking too long, but Warren went all the way around with the Walrus in a round that took more than seven hours to complete. Cool story.

PGA Professional Ed Ekis demonstrates the mathematics behind the USGA's Slope Rating System.
PGA Professional Ed Ekis demonstrates the mathematics behind course slope.

Planning/Organization of Tournament Golf
So somehow, the topic of course rating and slope came up in PGA Professional Ed Ekis’ Tournament Golf class. Talk about a complicated process! And before Dean Knuth came onto the scene, it was all but impossible. Knuth (pronounced KUH-nooth) graduated from the Naval Academy with a degree in mathematics and is the prime developer of the USGA’s Course Rating and Slope Rating System used throughout the U.S. and most foreign countries. For his efforts, Knuth is lovingly referred to as “The Pope of Slope,” and you can check him out online. I could explain to you how rating and slope are calculated, but I don’t have the time… or the energy. The bottom line is that rating and slope is just a guess – at best!

It turns out that what I thought I knew about slope was completely wrong. It has very little, if anything, to do with the elevation change found on a golf course. The quick definition of slope is that it’s a single number ranging from 55 to 155 indicating the difficulty of a golf course for a bogey golfer. The higher the slope, the more difficult the course plays for bogey golfers, and a rating of 113 is considered average. Thank you, Mr. Knuth.

We also learned that architects design golf courses with match play in mind, a format that’s rarely played anymore these days. That why you see the easiest and the hardest holes (based on handicap) sprinkled throughout a golf course and not just on the front nine or the back nine. Just think, if you’re playing a match in which you’re spotting a guy two shots, it would be unfair if the two hardest holes were 17 and 18. The match could come to a close long before the guy ever got to enjoy his two shots.

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