The 2017 British Open will be remembered for two things. The first is the amazing comeback by Jordan Spieth to win his third major title at the age of 23. The other is the history-making third round of 62 by South African Branden Grace. Grace is the first golfer ever to record a round of 62 in a major tournament. No player had ever accomplished this feat in 442 major tournaments played over the last 157 years. So, it’s a pretty big deal. But Grace’s achievement reflects a larger trend in the sports world: record-breaking performances by increasingly impressive athletes.
Before Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile barrier in 1952, many people believed it was impossible for a human to run that fast. Since then, the record has been lowered by 17 seconds to 3 minutes and 43 seconds. In fact, many high school track runners have accomplished this feat. The same is true of the 100-meter dash. The world record for this race has been beaten in almost every one of the modern-day Olympic Games. Usain Bolt would finish a full two seconds ahead of the men running 100 years ago. This increase in performance can be seen across the sports continuum.
In golf majors, Johnny Miller was the first player to record a 63 back in 1973 at the U.S. Open at Oakmont. Since then. there have been 31 other rounds to match Johnny. Almost half of those have been since 2000. It’s clear that this increase in performance seen in other sports applies to golf too. What can account for it?
With golf, technology is certainly a factor. Carbon-fiber clubs with giant titanium heads obviously allow modern day players to hit a golf ball much farther. It should be noted that many golf courses took the steps to make their tracks more difficult by lengthening championship sites. In the early 2000s, this was called “Tiger-proofing” to accommodate the distance that Woods could drive the ball. With Tiger-proof golf courses, new technology doesn’t let players lower their scores; it simply allows them to keep pace.
Technology aside, training is undoubtedly the biggest factor contributing to lower scores. Players today have taken up weight-training regimens. They have nutritionists to create diet plans tailored to their specific body types. Sports psychologists help them deal with the pressure and help them overcome the obstacles of their mental game. Modern medicine helps extend players’ careers, with surgeries often making players stronger than ever.
Finally, when someone sets the bar to a new height, somewhere in the world is a person who will dedicate their passion, effort, and livelihood to surpass that height.
Generations of sports knowledge have been concentrated and condensed to produce this new generation of golfers who are increasingly capable of breaking the records posted by the greats of old. Branden Grace firing off a 62 is an amazing accomplishment that will likely be matched in the coming years. The only real question now is, who will be the first to break 60?
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