LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- There was a sense out at Walt Disney World on Wednesday that it's not really a small world after all -- at least not in golf.
Not when the pitch-and-putt Magnolia Course is being stretched to 7,516 yards. Not when the fairways are wet and mud is caking up on the ball. Not when a tournament that used to be a working vacation ends up playing like a major.
"This is the Funai Classic," John Cook said after his practice round, "not the U.S. Open."
For years, traditionalists have been crying out for a need to see tour players hit long irons into greens. The irony is that it could come this week, at a venue associated with winning scores of 22 to 26 under. They must be trying to Ryan Palmer-proof it, after the rookie shot 62 on Sunday last year for a 266 total.
"The average drive has gone up 15 yards," the 48-year-old Cook said. "They're lengthening holes 50 yards. I don't get the math. It's not proportional."
Cook had a driver, a 3-wood, a 4-wood, a 5-wood and a utility club in his bag. He used them all and proclaimed, "Somebody [in the gallery] could get killed this week," by an errant mud ball from 235 yards away.
He played with Steve Flesch in a twosome of two below-average-length hitters. Yet at 272.4 yards per drive, Cook is still longer than the days when he recorded 11 victories. "Average" nowadays is 285 yards off the tee.
Over on the Palm Course, Mark O'Meara was playing with the man who caused this all to happen, Tiger Woods. All morning, O'Meara pointed out that adding length to a course -- which is what everybody from Disney to Augusta National has done -- only plays to Tiger's strength.
"I'd like to see them pinch in the fairways and plant roses bushes with big thorns," O'Meara said. "If you want everybody to compete, play a course hard and fast. At Augusta, take out the secondary cut and take the pine needles out into the fairway and let the trees be the equalizer. Most of these doglegs today, these guys hit it over the doglegs and the hazards. You have to hit the ball long. You have to be strong and you've got to be powerful."
The 48-year-old O'Meara, now wearing a white goatee, paused before delivering the punch line. "That's why I'm looking into the possibility of opening the fly shop and becoming a fishing guide," he said.
There's a conspiracy theory that deep in some back room at PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra, there's been a decree made to set up courses so they would favor Tiger and the long hitters, because Tiger and the stars drive the game and ultimately the TV contract that puts money on everybody's table. The theory is simple: When you lengthen, you eliminate.
Woods turns 30 at the end of the year and knows the deal. He is second on tour in driving distance at 315.2 yards, and there's the sense that's not long enough. At the Presidents Cup, Gary Player said the average drive on tour will someday be closer to 400 than 300 yards.
"We have not had a Shaquille O'Neal play golf yet," he said.
Just 90 miles from Disney, the University of South Florida's Brad Quiri stands out at the second stage of Q School at the TPC of Tampa Bay. At 6-foot-7, Quiri carries the ball 320 yards, and he's just filling into his frame.
To keep pace, Woods has had to go high-tech himself, adding 2 inches to his driver shaft and going from graphite to steel, and now to a 460 CC Nike driver called The Sasquatch that he was bombing in practice rounds. The club has an "amateur version" head, and Woods says he likes it for the "stability" and the way he can turn the ball over. The hardest part is getting the head cover off.
"The ball was coming off so fast I couldn't draw it any more," Woods said. "It wasn't staying on the face long enough."
Not everybody has that problem, so this will be a good measure of whether distance matters. The tougher courses this year have been the shorter courses.
Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine