Why is there a Fascination with Par?

Rory McIlroy won the US Open a couple weeks ago with a 16 under par score, and there were 20 players who finished the tournament under par. This led to several commentators mention that the course was too easy, and that the USGA (the organization that runs the US Open) failed to “protect par”. What does this mean?

I’ve also heard people in the golf media say that fans like to see more birdies and low scores. Is this really true? It seems that there is a fascination with Par, and it doesn’t make any sense to me. Over the years par has been defined more or less as “the number of strokes it takes for an expert player to complete a hole, assuming errorless play and two putts.” That’s a fair enough definition, but it means nothing when it comes to tournament play. When Tour players are strategizing about how to play a hole, what par is, has no consideration at all. You’ll never hear a Tour pro say “I’m only 200 yards away from the hole for my 2nd shot, but since it’s a par 5, I’m going to lay up so I can two putt for a par. That’s ridiculous!

The goal is to complete 18 holes in as few strokes as possible and what par is for that course is irrelevant to that. If every hole were listed as a par 2, or conversely a par 8, would that change how you play it? I don’t think so.

I think golf fans want to see good golf, competitive events, played on fair courses. What the winning score is makes no difference. Are there really people out there that will turn on their TV Sunday afternoon and not watch the tournament is the leader is even par but would watch the event if the leader is 20 under? I don’t think so. If that were the case, you’d think the PGA Tour would catch on and make every course a par 80, so the scores would be 40 under par and lower!

The last time the US Open was played at Congressional Country Club (where it was held this year) Ernie Els won with a -4 score of 276 in 1997, and only three players finished under par for the tournament. This does not mean that Els played worse in 1997 than McIlroy did in 2011. The course conditions and weather were completely different.

There is some practical advice that you can take from getting rid of your fascination with par. And that is simply focus on making the lowest score possible. You shouldn’t be happy if you kiss a short eagle putt!

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Brant Kasbohm, PGA