One of the favorite debates we have in our regular weekend foursome goes like this, “Would a top-tier PGA Tour pro shoot lights out at the venues we play on?” We normally visit a circuit of courses with varying degrees of conditioning, length, and difficulty. A common opinion is that PGA Tour pros always play on immaculate conditions and they would not be able to adjust downward and tear up a common man’s track with it’s assortment of un-replaced divots, half fixed ball marks, occasional aeration holes, and partially raked bunkers. But as Granny Hawkins once remarked in The Outlaw Josey Wales, “I say that big talk’s worth doodly-squat.”
To figure this out, we do have a couple of reference points. First, one of the more difficult tracks we play in upper Montgomery County is Little Bennett, with it’s good conditioning, fast undulating greens, and severe changes in elevation. As a five-handicap playing from the blue tees at 6,770 yards and a par of 72, I struggle to break 80. The course has been the site of local qualifying for The AT&T National (Previously Booz Allen Classic / Kemper Open). Top local pros routinely shoot 64, 65, 66 to qualify, which blows my mind when you consider the difficulty level, and these guys are the lower-tier entrants in the PGA Tour event and usually miss the cut.
Reference point 2: Back in the mid 1980s, while working as an assistant in the Mid-Atlantic PGA section, our tournaments were contested on the best local country clubs and the difficulty level was considerably higher than the courses my weekend group now plays on. At the time, the top local pro was Fred Funk, who was working as the golf coach at the University of Maryland.
Funk ultimately won eight times on the PGA Tour and this was a few years prior to when he joined the tour full time in 1989. When Funk was in a MAPGA event, he’d routinely shoot in the mid 60s and everyone else knew they were playing for second place. In his career, Funk’s average driving distance topped out at 281 yards for one season but was usually in the 269-279 range. Nothing tremendous, but he was destroying us on the best of our local courses. Now fast forward and think what would happen if you put an average tour threesome of say, Harris English, Jhonattan Vegas, and Graham DeLaet on your local muni. These guys all average over 300 yards off the tee. They would be hitting short and mid-irons into all the par fives and flip wedges into the fours. Now, put a major winning caliber group of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, and Phil Mickelson on the muni and you start to paint a different picture. The only thing that could hold them back from the 58s, 59s, 60s, would be inordinately poor conditions on the putting greens. The muni wouldn’t stand a chance.
I’ve played with professionals who were good enough to qualify for the occasional PGA Tour event but never had the pleasure of playing with a top flight touring pro. Have you ever played a round with a regular member of the PGA Tour? If so, was it on your local course and did they tear it up? The thought is a fun one to ponder.