The American Express courses are easy, but why is that a bad thing?

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The narrative is almost as old as the tournament itself. The courses played in The American Express golf tournament are too easy.

The pins are in the middle of the greens. The rough is anything but rough. Missing a fairway by 20 yards only produces a lie on dormant Bermuda grass that is like hitting off of your living room carpet. The tournament features more birdies than the Florida Everglades.

The desert’s PGA Tour event is, in fact, the anti-U.S. Open.

Jon Rahm, the No. 1 player in the world who made viral comments on the setup of the courses at The American Express, did not invent this narrative. He is just the latest in a long line of golfers through the 63-year history of the event to mention that birdies are relatively easy to find on the courses.

But the narrative has grown old and tattered through the years, and the latest controversy just demonstrates that again. The perceptions of The American Express aren’t based as much in reality as they are in myth.

Sam Ryder hits a shot from outside the ropes during the American Express at La Quinta Country Club in La Quinta, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.
Sam Ryder hits a shot from outside the ropes during the American Express at La Quinta Country Club in La Quinta, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.

Consider at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at the beginning of the month, the winning score was 34 under, with Rahm finishing second at 33 under. The excuses for that scoring was no traditional Hawaiian winds that week and rain that softened the courses and let golfers play lift, clean and place.

Two weeks later, the winning score at The American Express was just 23 under – and five shots off the tournament’s own 72-hole scoring record – but the story is the setup is too easy.

By the way, two PGA Tour events in the fall had lower winning scores than The American Express' 23-under score Sunday, one had the same winning score and two other tournaments has winning scores of 22 under. So how is the desert tournament too easy, but not the other events?

Not supposed to be a major

No one argues that the setup of the courses for The American Express, determined by the PGA Tour itself, is particularly tough. Rahm doubled down on his comments at the Farmers Insurance Open at San Diego this week, the site of Rahm’s U.S. Open win last June. Other players, like Luke Donald, took to social media to support Rahm’s comments, wondering why the PGA Tour seems to be moving more and more toward easier setups.

But remember, there are 156 amateurs in The American Express pro-am field, and the setup has to take that into consideration. No one wants six-hour pro-am rounds because the amateurs struggle with the courses, and the amateurs aren’t likely to pay $29,000 for the week just to get beat up by the courses.

Of course, getting rid of the pro-am would alleviate that, but it would also alleviate the tournament of an important revenue stream, something the pros have to understand.

Here’s another truth. Good players can win on easy courses and on tough courses. The argument against easy setups is that better players like tougher courses. Tougher courses require better shotmaking, better accuracy off the tee and a better short game. Easier courses tend to level the playing field, allowing average ball-strikers to keep up with the better golfers.

Will Zalatoris, left, lines up a putt with his caddie Ryan Goble on the 9th green and birdied the hole at the Nicklaus Tournament course at PGA West during the American Express in La Quinta, Calif., Friday, January 21, 2022.
Will Zalatoris, left, lines up a putt with his caddie Ryan Goble on the 9th green and birdied the hole at the Nicklaus Tournament course at PGA West during the American Express in La Quinta, Calif., Friday, January 21, 2022.

But Rahm himself is proof that a good player is good anywhere, having won the 2018 American Express and then last summer’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, a long course with tough rough and plenty of wind off the ocean.

At the 1992 U.S. Open on a windblown Pebble Beach, Tom Kite won the national championship at 3-under par, never breaking 70 during the week. Seven months later, Kite won the then-Bob Hope Classic at 35-under par for five rounds, never shooting a round above 67. Same golfer, different scoring conditions, two wins.

Lee Hodges sinks a birdie putt on the ninth hole during the American Express at La Quinta Country Club last week. Hodges shots 10-under 62 on the day.
Lee Hodges sinks a birdie putt on the ninth hole during the American Express at La Quinta Country Club last week. Hodges shots 10-under 62 on the day.

Golfers who have won in the desert and won majors as well include Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard, Lanny Wadkins, Hubert Green, Johnny Miller and the list goes on and on and includes Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

Not every course is loved by every player. Not every setup is embraced by every player. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. But imagine how boring the golf world would be if every tournament was won at 6-under par, with golfers fighting to avoid double bogeys at every turn. And imagine how boring it would be if every tournament was won at 30-under par, with pars as deadly as bogeys.

Maybe the setup at The American Express will be tougher next year, maybe it won’t . But in the end, the courses will set up the same for each golfer. Someone will hit the key shot at the key moments like Hudson Swafford did last week and win the tournament. The winner won’t complain about the setup, and hopefully neither will the golfers back in the pack.

Larry Bohannan
Larry Bohannan
(Richard Lui The Desert Sun)
Larry Bohannan Larry Bohannan (Richard Lui The Desert Sun)

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: American Express: Low scoring a combination of pro-am, great players

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