Bobby Jones famously said after Jack Nicklaus had decimated the field in the 1965 U.S Masters, ‘ Jack plays a game with which I am not familiar.’
Nicklaus was the embodiment of the power game in the era of persimmon woods and balata balls and he dominated the tour with power for two decades.
The game has fundamentally changed since and this week at The Australian Open evidence of where the game is headed is on display. Obviously Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are familiar faces with huge games but tied with McIlroy on 138 is Todd Sinnott and Geoff Drakeford at 139 is ahead of the 66 shooting Scott.
Sinnott and Drakeford grew up playing in Melbourne and gravitated to the sandbelt courses, Sinnott to Metropolitan and Drakeford across the street to Commonwealth.
Both hit the ball incredible distances and whilst largely unknown they have a chance to make a name for themselves on a course hugely rewarding those to play with great length.
Being a fellow member at Metropolitan, Sinnott and I have played some golf together and it’s fair to say it’s taken him some time to manage his power. Anyone can manage a game based around straight hitting, conservative tactics and hitting greens with monotonous regularity. Graham Marsh played this form of the game as well as anybody since Peter Thomson in this country yet Marsh would admit he would have had to deal with a whole different challenge if he had been sixty yards longer and more erratic.
It takes longer to learn to manage great power and until about six weeks ago some despaired of Sinnott ever working it out. They were critical of his management without understanding the complexity of what he was dealing with. He can play a 550 yard par five with a drive and a seven iron yet he knows the sensible tactic is to play the hole with a couple of long irons. He can drive the ball within 40 paces of holes just under 400 yards.
With power though comes the great temptation to use it at all times and it was a trap Nicklaus rarely, if ever, fell into.
Sinnott hasn’t won anything yet of any note yet but he had close calls in the last year in both the Victorian and Australian Amateurs as well as the Augusta qualifying Asian Amateur at Royal Melbourne a couple of months ago.
His supporters waited for something good to happen and a couple of months ago at Marsh’s redesigned Cottosloe club in Perth he led early in the Western Australian Open and finished up in 6th place. Veteran David McKenzie played with him in the opening rounds and all he could say was, ‘my God, this kid is incredible.’
Then last week on his home course he was flying again after 36 holes at six under only to be derailed by a 77 on the windy Saturday. He was back with 70 on Sunday to finish inside the top 20, another small piece of evidence he was beginning to piece together the puzzle.
Now in Sydney he had put in another good couple of rounds (71,67) and gives himself a chance for the outside world to notice his game and a window into the future of power golf.