“Balls in the Air with Charlie Rymer” Podcast Episode 13: Geoff Shackelford

Renowned golf author, columnist and commentator Geoff Shackelford joins Charlie on “Balls in the Air” to discuss everything golf – and for good measure, gloat about his beloved Los Angeles Dodgers winning the World Series. They debate distance in the professional game (3:10-12:25) and wrap it up with a little talk on the golf ball (12:26-14:13).


Balls In The Air Podcast · Ep. 13: Geoff Shackelford

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Charlie Rymer (00:10):

Hi, and welcome in to the Charlie Rymer “Balls in the Air” podcast, where we talk about golf, life, and pretty much anything I want because it’s my show. You get a show, you get to talk about what you want. This is my show, so I talk about what I want, with who I want to talk to.

Charlie Rymer (00:28):

And this week, I’m thrilled to be joined by a good friend, a friend who has strong opinions on a lot of things, most of them are wrong. That’s what kind of friendship we have. Geoff Shackelford, loves this game as much as anybody I’ve ever met and we have a lot of debate. And he is not afraid to hold back his strong opinions. And sometimes, we actually do agree, but most of the time we argue, but you know what? At the end of the day, we still have a lot of respect for each other.

Charlie Rymer (00:59):

And I think that’s based on the fact that we both love this game. We just come at it from different directions. And that’s one of the things, I think, that gives golf such a wide appeal to so many people, because there’s so many opinions in golf and there’s not really a right or wrong. It’s just how you feel about it. But without any further ado, Geoff Shackelford of the Quadrilateral Newsletter. If you don’t get it, you should. He keeps you up-to-date on everything that’s going on in the Major Championships.

Charlie Rymer (01:28):

And of course, GeoffShackelford.com. And he’s also a heck of an author, in particular on golf course architecture. He’s the authority on George C. Thomas, if you’ve ever heard of Riviera or Torrey Pines in San Diego, those are both George C. Thomas masterpieces and Geoff knows everything there is to know about George C. Thomas. So without further ado, here’s my buddy, Geoff Shackelford.

Charlie Rymer (01:58):

Hi and welcome in to the Charlie Rymer “Balls in the Air” podcast, where if you have a tee time at 9:00, that means your ball is going in the air at 9:00, because we don’t run late on this show. We talk about golf, life, and pretty much anything I want to talk about because after all, it is my show. And now, I’m thrilled to be joined by my buddy, Mr. Geoff Shackelford of GeoffShackelford.com and also the Shack Show podcast, of which I have been a guest. And Geoff, I appreciate you coming on the show. I see you’re still talking about your Dodgers, wearing the Dodgers shirt. I didn’t even know you’re a baseball fan, and now you’re still rubbing it in. And I’m ready for a new baseball season to start. I’m a Braves guy. I don’t want to talk about the World Series anymore.

Geoff Shackelford (02:47):

We have a nice team for years to come, if that’s any consolation. I told that to Brendan Todd, and he didn’t really find that very comforting either. Look, we’ve been through a lot, Charlie. We’re allowed to enjoy this. We’ve got to milk this. You just don’t know when it’s going to happen again. We’re pretty proud of the boys in blue.

Charlie Rymer (03:04):

You’ve been milking it way too long. So let’s talk about golf and why is it that you don’t like the guys hitting the golf ball very far? I mean, you are beating the drums about rolling back the ball louder than anybody I know. And listen, I appreciate your passion. That’s what our friendship is based on, and our passion for the game. But it seems like you get mad when guys hit long balls. Am I right about that?

Geoff Shackelford (03:32):

Not mad. No, it’s just more of the big picture view of what’s best for the game. I actually, Charlie, want the driver to matter. I want the guy who’s long and accurate, like in the history of the sport, the best player at the time has always been the person who can generally hit it a long way and pretty accurately. I actually think other than what Bryson DeChambeau’s doing, I think that’s been nullified a little bit and I think that’s why he’s stood out, because he’s gone back to this, that old model.

Geoff Shackelford (04:02):

The difference though, in his case, is that he’s just circumventing the rules and outsmarting them. And good for him, by the way, I have all the respect in the world. But he’s working around the rules. And then obviously, he’s brought a new dimension of changing his body radically. Now the only time I truly get mad, Charlie, besides when we have to find a back tee somewhere on a golf course that’s just ridiculous and costs a ton of money and the bill can’t go to the people who are causing it, is that now, we’ve taken it to another level where we’re going to have young kids and I’ve already seen it in articles pop up say, “I’m hitting the weight room. I’m hitting the diet. I’ve had nine pieces of bacon and 14 protein shakes a day,” stuff.

Geoff Shackelford (04:50):

And I don’t want to see that at all. That’s never worked in any sport where kids have been forced to push their bodies. In fact, it’s never worked in any sport where we’ve let power, we’ve let that notion of making your body bigger and bigger and bigger, it’s never worked. And then it’s not very pretty to watch in my view, but that’s a different part of the argument. But mostly it’s about changing good courses, trying to maintain some historical semblance of what is really great skill in golf. And then also now it’s this new component. What happens to the kids if they all start thinking that you got to look like a linebacker to play golf?

Charlie Rymer (05:29):

I’ve recently spent a little bit of time. In fact, I interviewed Akshay Bhatia, and Akshay is 130 pounds, 130 pounds.

Geoff Shackelford (05:37):

Yeah, soaking wet.

Charlie Rymer (05:39):

His ball speed’s 100 to 185 miles an hour. So he’s figured out a way to do it without bulking up. I mean, that’s pretty high ball speed right there.

Geoff Shackelford (05:49):

No offense to him, but do you think his body can hold up for a long time? That’s another thing. Careers are going to get short, windows of needing to play well are going to have to get shorter. I don’t know. I look at him and I worry too that he’s going to have injuries. And isn’t golf supposed to be different, Charlie? Isn’t it great when Corey Pavin and Fred Couples are on the same level?

Geoff Shackelford (06:11):

Isn’t it fun when Tom Kite and Greg Norman are the two best players in the world? I love that. I love that we have different people of different heights. I mean, look at tennis now. You’ve got to be over six feet tall and they’ve tried to deal with this, but I don’t like that. I like golf being just a variety of different people and different ways to get the ball in the hole.

Charlie Rymer (06:29):

I think it’s important, but I still think there’s a path to the top without being extremely long. You talked about DeChambeau. We talk about all the distance he’s picked up. It’s breathtaking. But when you look at a guy who’s basically gone from being 140th to 150th in putting to top 10 in the world, I mean, you’ve still got to put it in the hole. There’s still other things you have to do. It’s not all about distance, Geoff.

Geoff Shackelford (06:56):

No, but it’s moving in that direction. And it’s not a good sign when guys start thinking, “You know what? I’ve got to go get speed in the off season.” And from just a tour perspective again, which is where this is mainly an issue, do you really want that where the future becomes guys shutting it down two weeks before a major to get the weight back up, to get the speed back up? That’s terrible for the PGA TOUR. I mean, I can go through the list of things. The injury element, the idea of a certain body type. And I’m sorry, Charlie, Bryson is one-off. He’s a very unique individual and he can get the golf ball in the hole. He’s always been a good player. He won a US Amateur, okay? So he knows how to score and he’s unique that way.

Geoff Shackelford (07:40):

But if I’m the TOUR, I don’t know. Do I want every guy to become that player? That bulked up, tough guy? It’s not a personality that’s attractive to a lot of people who love golf. They get that in other sports. We love golf because the game, the way it’s played humbles you, it brings out a certain kind of person. It brings out, or at least it used to, a certain kind of humor. And from a pure entertainment product, I don’t know if everybody going that direction … It’s cool sometimes. Driving a par four, but week to week, I think it’s fun when we have all sorts of different kinds of characters.

Charlie Rymer (08:19):

Are you the kind of sports fan that likes defense? I mean, is that just the way you’re wired? Because I feel like most of the time, stadiums get full to watch teams score points.

Geoff Shackelford (08:32):

Well, all the grandstands are up at the greens where the balls land and they spin. And you see that ball coming in on a shape. They’re not putting a lot of big, big grand stands around the tee boxes. They don’t show enough tee shots in my view, on golf telecasts. That said, the shots that make people ooh and ah and roar are still the recovery shots.

Geoff Shackelford (08:55):

Collin Morikawa driving the 16th green at Harding Park this year, or last year, easily the shot of the year. Great moment. But that’s because there was strategy and all these other elements, it wasn’t just the sheer power. So I’d say the noise, the goosebumps, I still get goosebumps, Charlie, at a TOUR event when I see a guy control a ball on a green I know that’s firm, to a pin I know that’s crazy. That’s still the thing that makes the hair on my arms stand up. It’s like, “Wow, that’s where they’re different.” Or the recovery shots. The power, it’s a thing.

Geoff Shackelford (09:30):

And last thing, by the way, the World Long Drive, which I love by the way, it’s for sale. Sorry, man. The numbers say people still love the big picture, the courses, the way they attack it. And that’s what worries me, is that it’s gone to a one-dimensional look, and that’s not good entertainment.

Charlie Rymer (09:52):

Yeah. I’m with you on a lot of that. One of the things that I really like about golf on television is the Shot Tracer, watching the players shape their shots. And another thing that’s interesting for fans of the game of golf, the LPGA is very interesting in that it more resembles the game that public golfers play, that aren’t professionals than what you see on the PGA TOUR. Because when you follow an LPGA event, you’re looking at players that are playing every club in their bag. And a lot of people argue that’s more interesting than what you see on the PGA TOUR.

Geoff Shackelford (10:26):

I’ve heard that a lot and I’m sure you have too. I relate more to the game the women play. And that’s another thing, Charlie. Golf was relatable. Yeah, no, I wasn’t an iron behind the pro or whatever. I couldn’t reach a par five, and they could, but it was within reason. And you could relate to them more, and if you cut off that relatability … I know there’s an argument that says, “Well, that’s why I watch them because they can do things I can’t do.” I get that.

Geoff Shackelford (10:55):

But I think that really is where back to the recovery shot, the spin, the curvature, that’s where people go, “Oh, yeah. They’re just totally different than us.” The distance, yeah, maybe. And by the way, the tracer, all the surveys that they did, USGA and R&A on distance, the tracer was the number one thing that people love now about golf on TV.

Geoff Shackelford (11:21):

Can you imagine, Charlie, if we add tracer when Bruce Lietzke played or Ray Floyd, or [crosstalk 00:11:29]. I watched Bubba Watson last year at the Zozo Championship, just watching him warm up. Hooking wedges, hooking sand wedges. I mean, people still go to that spot at Augusta because of the way he hooked that ball. Not because he hit it 350, but because of the next shot.

Geoff Shackelford (11:45):

And if we could get that ball just moving a little bit, oh my gosh, the tracer stuff and you’d see the talent and the scale. You would see how they’re on another level than the rest of us. And you know. You’ve played with those guys. You’ve moved the ball, when you’re in your prime, and it’s a great feeling by the way too. Right? When you pull off that one that just goes out and darts, oh, it feels so good.

Charlie Rymer (12:12):

I had to do a lot of that, let me tell you. And [crosstalk 00:12:15]… I’ve spent a lot of time in other fairways, but let’s just finish with this. And unfortunately, we don’t have a ton of time. But let’s just say you and I agreed 100 percent, the ball needs to be rolled back. It’s either the ball, the club, a combination of, or some other solution. How complicated is it going to be to do that considering that so many people talk about all of the legal issues involved and all the intellectual property and patents and all that held by the golf ball manufacturers, the golf equipment manufacturers? Is there any easy way to do that, Geoff?

Geoff Shackelford (12:52):

I still would love to see the data on what happens if you make the ball a little bit bigger. The ball used to be a little bit smaller over in Britain, and it went longer. And if you made the ball just a little bit bigger, I’ve had people test the … Callaway makes a Magna ball. They brought the old Top Flite Magna back, and it does slow down those long hitters and doesn’t really hurt the average guy. In fact, the ball being a little bigger, it’s a little easier to chip.

Geoff Shackelford (13:19):

And this is my free tip of the day. Not trying to push Callaway product, but the Magna is a great ball if you’ve got the chipping yips too. That ball looks just a little bit bigger, but I would love to see that because that’s one where if the ball is just a certain size, it’s easier to police and do all that. But it’s going to be tough, Charlie. It’s going to be tough.

Charlie Rymer (13:38):

Yeah, if you-

Geoff Shackelford (13:39):

Another thing to look into is the size of the tee. If they brought that tee down to two inches, Bryson can’t launch it, Tony Finau can’t do those 400-yard drives if that tee comes down, because of the size of the head. I don’t like solutions like that. I don’t like taking away the tee box. I want the driver to be a big part of the game. So it’s going to be tough.

Charlie Rymer (13:59):

Well, any way you slice it, trying to put technology back in the bag, it’s going to be-

Geoff Shackelford (14:03):

It’s tough.

Charlie Rymer (14:05):

It’s going to be expensive to somebody and we’ll see how it goes. But I understand a lot of your points and I’m mixed on it myself. I see both sides of the argument, but as always Geoff, great spending time with you. Appreciate your thoughts and thank you for joining us on the show.

Geoff Shackelford (14:19):

All right. Thanks, Charlie.