Pete Cowen: Rough result for Dubai Desert Classic – But why change the formula?

The Dubai Desert Classic is an iconic name for a reason. The event has grown over the years but still remains a desert course, so why change the formula?

The season is off and running and another Dubai Desert Classic has concluded and even though the event was run well, it was trying too hard to mimic a US Open set up. That’s great in theory, but the Majlis fairways have too much bend on them and being so firm, players were struggling to hold their tee shots. This was especially the case on 18 and it is why we didn’t have the usual dramatic finish of players going for the green in two. As the vast majority of players were running through into the rough, meant they could only lay-up. The only way you could find the fairway was to land it into the rough on the down slope and let it release softly.

The course in general was fast. The greens were rock hard and it was nearly impossible to leave a pitch mark, which is fine for the players when the ball chases through into the desert. This is what the players come to expect from the Classic and why there have been so many memorable shots played at the event over the years from the desert rough. 

It still gives the players a fighting chance to take on the greens and tempt them to take a chance. This is part of the appeal of the Majlis and the event. But for some unknown reason this year the rough was deep and tough. When I say tough just look at the opening round scores – and on that day only one player from the first eight groups hit the fairway on 18!

There were a lot of lads who felt beaten up after the event due to the rough. I know there are people who want to see players struggle to make birdies but, personally, I don’t have a problem with players shooting 22-under. People like to safeguard par and the image of the course by making it tough but there is a much easier way. 

Make two of the par five holes par fours. That way you have just taken eight shots off the tournament’s scorecard. I would reduce the yardage on hole 13 and make it a par-four and turn 18 into a par four – or even play hole 10 off the front tee and make it a par four.

The opportunities are endless to do this sort of thing on the Majlis. It’s not just hard for the pros – during the Desert Classic Pro-Am I spent most of my time helping amateurs find their balls. That’s not enjoyable for anyone.

So why not just play around with the par for the event? The US Open is normally tough, as the par is reduced to 70 from the normal 72, which is why 22 under is never going to win.

Busy time for driver technicians

It was interesting to see the players trying out the latest drivers on the range. With the force the pros hit the ball, it’s easy to see why faces fail and heads crack. 

These days, the faces are so thin to produce the performance and somehow manage to stay within the legal tolerances set by the USGA and R&A, but after 500 drives many drivers would fail tests due to the face thinning. This is why Brooks Koepka and many of the leading players keep their gamer driver for tournaments but practice with a similar head.

The new Mavrik driver from Callaway has addressed this issue with a new face and head profile. Henrik Stenson has got better ball flight and spin with the new Mavrik and quite a few were getting good numbers while testing in Dubai.

What I like about the Mavrik is the footprint and how the loft is more visible. These days it’s all about getting the centre of gravity right in the head for each player, and that’s why there are so many technicians on the range at this time of year when new drivers are launched. If a player is hitting most of their shots with a slight toe or heel bias, which can be as much as a dimple, then you need the sweet spot moving accordingly. For me, I like the Mavrik as I prefer a larger footprint and it reminds me of the XHot2, which was a great-looking head.  A driver has to be very playable and the Mavrik is just that. I know they have also revised the face to prevent it from thinning, which can only be good, as players hate switching and protecting heads too often.

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