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The Minus Touch Check the followers, not the leaders, for the lowdown on low scores

You've heard the argument: Technology has gone out of control.
Titanium drivers and dodecahedron-dimpled balls are stealing the
game's virtue. Just look at the pro tours--isn't par an
endangered species? At this year's Bob Hope Classic, a 90-hole
event, the 70 men who made the cut shot a shocking picket fence
of a score: 1,111 under par. At the Hawaiian Open, John Huston
was 28 under for four days, tying a Tour record that had stood
for 53 years. Last month Jay Sigel shot 27 for nine holes on the
Senior tour and Notah Begay fired a 59 on the Nike circuit. Last
week, Rosie Jones had a nine-hole 29 at the LPGA Rochester
International. Has golf gotten too easy?

Not a chance. Despite the recent headlines, pros aren't shooting
the lights out. They're not even dimming them. The most
significant scoring records--all set before the dawn of titanium
clubheads, graphite shafts and square grooves--continue to shine
as beacons for anyone entering the red zone:

Mike Souchak's 72-hole scoring record of 257, set at the 1956
Texas Open, still stands.

Al Geiberger's 18-hole mark of 59, shot in Memphis in 1977, was
matched on the PGA Tour by Chip Beck in '91 and on the Nike tour
this year by Begay but has yet to be broken.

Sam Snead's season scoring-average record of 69.23, set in 1950,
has stood for almost half a century. Among modern players only
Greg Norman, with a 69.33 in '94, came close to breaking it.

The recent flurry of red numbers does not signify a revolution,
but an evolution. It's a sign of the game's health. In 1950
Snead's stroke average was 1.04 strokes better than that of
anyone else on Tour. Today, talent is more evenly distributed,
and hundreds of players can go low. The chart below tracks the
first-, 50th-, 100th- and 150th-ranked scoring averages on the
PGA Tour since 1980 and shows that while the best players'
numbers are not getting better, scoring in the lower ranks has
improved by more than a stroke per round.

In 1980 Lee Trevino topped the Tour with a 69.73 average. Last
year's leader, Tiger Woods, was actually .02 of a stroke worse
than Trevino. But last year's 10th- place finisher, Bill Glasson
(above), had a 70.26 that was much better than Tom Kite's
10th-place 70.96 of 1980. The gap widens the farther back in the
pack you go. The 1983 Nodrav trophy (that's Vardon backward) for
worst stroke average went to Bob Byman, who took 75.53 hacks per
round. This year, Michael Christie's Tour-worst average is 73.89.

The game is not getting easier. More players are getting better,
that's all.



Tour Leader 50th 100th 150th

1980 69.73 71.85 72.32 72.87
1986 70.08 71.48 72.10 72.69
1992 69.71 70.93 71.34 72.04
1997 69.75 70.94 71.38 71.88


Steve Flesch and Harrison Frazar are the only players among this
year's 18 PGA Tour rookies who have already earned enough money
to retain their cards in 1999. Here are their statistics and
Tour rankings.


Best Finish 2nd 2nd
Top 10s 3 2
Scoring 70.72 (33) 70.91 (45)
Driving 282.3 (10) 290.6 (3)
Fairways 64.7% (133) 66.9% (122)
GIR 71.5% (2) 65.1% (64)
Sand Saves 47.4% (115) 48.8% (106)
Putting 1.765 (46) 1.768 (50)
Money $473,160 (27) $364,354 (38)


Hooters Tour regular Zorin Zorkic launched the longest recorded
blast on the PGA Tour this year, at the Houston Open, where he
finished 73rd. Here are the Tour's biggest drives of '98, their
launchers' average drives and the difference.

Longest Average Difference

Zoran Zorkic 405 298.9 106.1
Justin Leonard 372 263.0 109.0
Joey Sindelar 366 274.4 91.6
Phil Mickelson 365 283.1 81.9
Dan Pohl 362 299.5 62.5

The Number

Age of NCAA players of the year Bryce Molder of Georgia Tech and
Grace Park of Arizona State, both of whom were playing high
school golf a year ago.