Monday After Bellerive

Brooks Koepka beating Tiger Woods for the Wanamaker Trophy and the 100th PGA Championship gave us some great golf and wonderful competition on a demanding course, but it is increasingly apparent the fourth major needs something to distinguish it from not only the other majors but the week to week traveling circus a.k.a. the PGA Tour.

By way of comparison the Masters, Bobby Jones’ tournament, has the tradition of being played early in April at the same course conveniently timed just as the weather is warming for golf in much of the country. The U.S. Open is our national championship and typically played on courses so difficult they would bring tears to the eyes of most amateurs. The British Open is the oldest, most historical, theoretically open to anyone in the world and often on linksland which requires an entirely different style of golf virtually unknown in this country.

The PGA really has nothing unique other than the mythic determination that somehow, it’s a “major” even though the field includes 20 club professionals. The schedule change next year to May between the Masters and the U.S. Open could be a real shot in the arm. But truthfully it still needs a singular uniqueness to better establish its identity…push it towards the front of the pack that not only includes the other three majors but the four World Golf Championship events, the FedExCup and other big tournaments during the year plus the Olympics every four years and the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup annually.

Even though television executives may not like it the time has come to convert the PGA Championship to match play as it was until 1958. Keep the PGA professionals as part of the 156-man field and simply have a 36-hole qualifier on Wednesday and Thursday to select an elite 32 for match play.

One last thought on the PGA—the possible venues could be expanded by going outside of the states occasionally to gain not only the publicity but more international fans. As I said just a thought.

Tiger Woods: A seeming lack of focus on the 14th hole of the final round and wide right drive into the hazard on 17 sealed Woods’ chances for winning his fifth PGA and 15th major. However, his final round 64, his lowest round ever in a major championship, had fans glued to their televisions. It’s not going out too far out on a limb to say not only will he soon win again and his position now at 11th in the Ryder Cup points list means a role as a playing vice-captain on the Ryder Cup team is a given. Woods comeback to tournament winner and major champion will be of the same magnitude as Ben Hogan returning after his 1949 collision with a bus.

Disappointments: Play in the PGA by much of the U.S. Ryder Cup team was not inspiring and except for Justin Thomas none were ever in contention. Dustin Johnson finished T-27, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler T-12, Webb Simpson T-19 and Bubba Watson who along with Phil Mickelson missed the cut.

TV Coverage: You would think that TNT, which covered the first two days of the PGA Championship in conjunction with CBS Sports for the weekend, could have done a better job but it was refreshing to hear the critics going after someone other than the coverage on Fox of the U.S. Open.

Photo credit: PGA of America

USGA Shoots Themselves in the Foot…Again

USGA has again taken a position that gives the impression they like embarrassing themselves and enforcing the feeling of many the organization is irrelevant to golf in the real world.

The latest is the announcement by the USGA (and R&A) citing they “are proposing regulations regarding the use of green-reading materials, reaffirming the need for a player to read greens based on their own judgment, skill and ability. Following a six-week period of feedback and consultation with interested parties that begins today, the regulations will be finalized in a published “interpretation” of Rule 4.3 (Use of Equipment) and adopted Jan. 1, 2019, when golf’s new rules take effect.”

A couple of points seem appropriate—why are they asking for feedback if the new rule will be in effect next year? It appears the decision has been made so why bother soliciting comments other than for the sake of appearances?

The USGA’s stipulation today’s green reading books give an advantage to players doesn’t hold up. Green reading books of the type the USGA is banning are used almost exclusively by elite players and most commonly on the professional tours. The simple fact the putting average on the PGA Tour for the past 15 years has actually gone up didn’t appear to have made a difference to what was assumedly an already formed opinion. PGA Tour stats show the average putts per round in 2002 was 29.09 and this season is 29.15. Of course, the minuscule increase is statistical noise but if Tour players are gaining such a large advantage and the green reading books means less skill is needed why doesn’t it show in the results?

Referring to the press announcement again, “Both the USGA and The R&A are committed to the position that a player’s ability to read their line of play on the putting green is an essential skill that should be retained,” said Thomas Pagel, Senior Director, Rules of Golf and Amateur Status for the USGA. “The focus of the interpretation is to develop an approach that is both effective and enforceable.”

The answer to the question of why average putts per round have not plummeted is not addressed which opens speculation of what the USGA ‘s real agenda might be and equally important the Association’s relevance to golf in general and the recreational golfer. Enforcement is another question and raises the specter of local tournament committees being in the position of arbitrating the proper numbers, marks, colors and arrows. Really?

This new rule is another in a long list of changes that apply mostly to the game as played by less than 1% of golfers…the elites. Should for example the PGA Tour, whose slogan until recently was “These Guys Are Good,” believe the topographical slope maps included in green reading books are not appropriate they should ban them.

The USGA has had similar “shoot themselves in the foot” embarrassments with other issues including “square grooves”, solid core golf balls, clubface rebound, anchored putting and their as yet unfulfilled goal of rolling back golf ball distance. They seem to make rules with little regard for 99% of golfers only on their view of the elite few.

It’s a wonder average players can see the USGA as having even a little relevance to the game.

An Early Ryder Cup Call

At this writing it’s still two months until the Ryder Cup will be played at Le Golf National outside Paris. Italian star Francesco Molinari’s British Open win over two likely European Team and two possible American team members plus a final day push from Tiger Woods was the impetus for many to start speculating on team makeup and which squad will triumph in France.

Well, I enjoy speculating as much as the next guy and felt it might be worth the exercise to look at teamed picked based on the respective current Ryder Cup points list with Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) and PGA Tour putting rank used to select the captain’s picks. Obviously, this isn’t perfect but then no method is without flaws. What is true though is the OWGR shows how players have done against every other ranked player and because the Ryder Cup usually comes down to putting, the relative prowess of the two teams is relevant.

For all its shortcomings the OWGR is a way to compare players over the world’s professional events not just those on the European and PGA Tours but I have always taken them with a healthy dose of skepticism. Without belaboring the point, Rickie Fowler earned 48 ranking points for wining the Hero World Challenge against a field of just 18 players. If I was one of the world top 25 and didn’t get an invitation from the host who happened to be Tiger Woods that would really have upset me.

It’s hard to make a case for including limited field events in the OWGR calculations and the fact is two weeks later Justin Rose won the Indonesian Masters but due to the strength of the field earned just 24 OWGR points. Still it was a full field event not a just a dozen and a half however, they didn’t ask me if this is fair nor do I expect they will.

The other indicator for Ryder Cup performance is putting performance ranking and these statistics are fairly straightforward.

Team USA will be made up of the top eight in Ryder Cup points through the PGA Championship with Captain Jim Furyk having four picks. European Captain Thomas Bjørn will have the first four players on the Ryder Cup points list plus the top four on the World Points list and four captain’s picks. Since many of the European stars play much of the season on the U.S. tour the qualifications were modified. Team lists presume those qualifying on points will stay the same and the only leeway is in those tapped by the captains.

Two caveats. First is the information used was current as of the British Open and second my crystal ball broke in 1983. Here is my list of who will be on each team.

Team USA
Qualifying on Points: Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson
Captain’s Picks: Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Tiger Woods, Xander Schauffele

Team Europe
Qualifying on Points: Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose, Tyrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Alex Noren, Paul Casey
Captain’s Picks: Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Thorbjorn Olesen, Matthew Fitzpatrick

Some comments and rationalization about the captain’s picks. Furyk will pick Lefty and Tiger almost regardless of how they are playing and since Woods is already one of the team’s vice captains it will save a set of uniforms. DeChambeau and Schauffele are the best of the young talent but its tough to leave veterans Matt Kuchar or Kevin Kisner out unless of course one of them wins the PGA.

The European Team’s first big question is can Molinari continue to be the world beater he has been the past six weeks? Chances are the answer is no…the same answer as to whether McIlroy’s putter will show up and whether Rahm can control his emotions. Poulter is a pick for the same reason as Sergio. Bjørn needs them and though Sergio is playing poorly Poulter won the Houston Open the week before the Masters. In any event you can’t imagine a Euro team without them.

With Ryder Cup experience an important factor the European team appears to have a disadvantage with five rookies (Hatton, Fleetwood, Rahm, Olesen and Fitzpatrick) versus three for the USA (Thomas, DeChambeau and Schauffele) and this might be a big difference. Team USA has an average OWGR of 15.5 to 19.1 which again may be an indicator of performance. In putting, which is often the difference in winning and losing, American’s have a definite edge with an average rank in total putting of 58.9 versus 69.3 for the Europeans. This could help to make up for the European fans who are expected to be a loud and partisan.

After all this that passes for analysis my guess is Team USA retains Samuel Ryder’s cup 16 to 12.

Monday After Carnoustie

Truth time. My favorite majors are the Masters and the British Open and that’s not saying anything against the PGA Championship or the U.S. Open, just my view. This past week at Carnoustie, the most northern course on the Open rota, we got to see the 147th playing of the world’s oldest major and Francesco Molinari was certainly a worthy Champion Golfer of the Year.

We also had the chance for a few observations, hopefully cogent and worth reading.

The Course
The R&A found the time to test the face rebound of 30 drivers used by contestants and all of them passed muster…not too much trampoline effect. They were able to engage in this equipment certification exercise because they didn’t spend endless hours attempting to trick up the layout, trick the players or otherwise mess around with an already immensely difficult course. On Wednesday Carnoustie’s fairways were tested by the Golf Channel and had a Stimpmeter reading of 9.2; less than the greens but not by a lot which probably averaged 10 for the week.

The British Open is played au naturel and unlike our national golf association the R&A doesn’t seem to have an agenda to “preserve par” or push the greens to the edge of extinction. Even Tiger Woods agrees the R&A has the right idea saying after his round on Thursday, “…this is how the game should be played. It should be creative.”

Difficult for sure and unfair at times applies to every Open and especially the 2018 Car-nasty event. But who cares. It is compelling to watch.

Tiger
If you are Woods fan his performance for the week was encouraging and if you’re not it was confirmation his struggles to close out a tournament once in position to win. Since his return from back surgery and other personal problems his pattern has been reasonable play in the first two rounds then almost lights out in the third round where he has the best scoring average on the PGA Tour. We saw this clearly at Carnoustie and to win on Tour, much less another major, he must relearn how to close.

Woods T-6 performance in Scotland did achieve one thing. He advanced from 71st in world to 50th giving him a spot in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational starting on Aug. 2nd which is played over Firestone CC (South) in Akron where he has won eight times.

Long Ball
Molinari’s win should again point out the fallacy of the argument the golf ball goes too far. The Champion Golfer of the Year is ranks 53rd in driving distance on Tour and 79th in driving accuracy. It’s likely however advocates of “rolling back the ball” will either ignore these facts or put it down to a never to be repeated Carnoustie fluke.

Television Coverage
How anybody could have serious complaints about the 50 hours of live Golf Channel/NBC Sports coverage says reams about the critic’s lack of knowledge about the massive effort televising an outdoor sports event requires. And while we are on the subject, special kudos goes to the producers. For the third year at least one shot of each of the 156 players was shown on television. “If you’re good enough to qualify for The Open, you deserve to be seen on TV.”

Presidents Cup Needs More Help

The buildup to September’s Ryder Cup has begun and over the summer as it always does will grow in intensity. However, in news of the other international competition between touring professionals a few changes have been instituted in an attempt to achieve at least a semblance of competitiveness. The Presidents Cup has been not so much a battle between the International Team and Team USA as a glorified exhibition lacking both the intensity and excitement of the biannual Ryder Cup.

It’s not the Internationals haven’t tried just that strong U.S. teams have dominated the matches which began in 1994 under then PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem. The record shows 10 wins, one loss and one tie for Team USA and last September Captain Steve Stricker’s Americans beat up on Nick Price’s Internationals 19-11. After the first two days the margin was so lopsided all the Americans needed for the win in the Sunday singles matches was one-half point.

At the time I wrote, “…continued U.S. dominance has made it essentially an exhibition masquerading as a real competition. This needs to be fixed before the Presidents Cup becomes totally irrelevant to players and fans, if it hasn’t already.”

The runup to 2019 started with naming two media-attractive captains, Tiger Woods for the United State and Ernie Els for the Internationals. Who the captains are by itself won’t make the Presidents Cup more competitive nor more exciting for fans, but with Woods involvement it does attract media attention.

Secondly, the rules now say every team member must have played at least once on Friday or Saturday before the Sunday singles matches. We will just have to wait and see if this helps the Internationals which of course is the reason rules are being modified at all.

More significantly, captain’s picks will be made closer to when matches begin and each captain will have four selections rather than two as at present. This could be a big deal allowing selection of “hot” players just before the start of matches. But again, presuming the rule was put in place to help the Internationals the question arises if it will at all. Presidents Cup play starts December 13, 2019 at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia. This is well after the finish of the 2018-2019 PGA Tour season where the best of the Internationals play and if the 2019-2020 schedule has similar timing three weeks into the holiday hiatus.

How “hot” a player can be with these gaps is open to question, so it is another instance of “wait and see.” Best guess is there will be no impact except serving to perhaps mollify the perennial naysayers criticizing the picks by any captain.

The real issue, competitive parity, needs something drastic to keep fans, the players and the media interested. Another U.S. rout in Melbourne could just about finish the Presidents Cup…”an exhibition masquerading as a real competition,” and it’s a shame since there is the potential for it to be a real “guns blazing in the middle of main street” confrontation.

Until 1979 the Ryder Cup had a similar problem when the European team was solely players from Great Britain and Ireland, but after the continental European competitors were added the Americans have had their hands full to say the least.

What then could be done to enliven and invigorate the endangered Presidents Cup?

Following last fall’s debacle, I suggested teams should be expanded to include female professionals which in the case of the International Team’s roster would include the LPGA Tour’s Asian superstars. Imagine pairings like Dustin Johnson and Lexi Thompson teeing it up against Jason Day and Lydia Ko. Or how about Jordan Spieth and Michelle Wie fighting it out with Adam Scott and Ariya Jutanugarn?

Whew! You think anyone would watch?

The Presidents Cup has the potential to be the golf world’s premier international competition and from many aspects bigger than the Olympics. Bringing women and men together would be good for its future and golf’s future.

Anyone have the PGA Tour commissioner’s phone number?

Criticism of Driving Distance is a Nonstarter

Television commentators often talk about how far players hit the golf ball and this prompted the thought that by looking the results of PGA Tour players who have the highest driver swing speeds we could gain some insight into the current criticism of ball distance. So, here are the “fast five” as of the Arnold Palmer Invitational–statistics provided by the PGA Tour:

Keith Mitchell 123.97 mph
Rory McIlroy 122.34 mph
Tiger Woods 121.90 mph
Tony Finau 121.90 mph
Gary Woodland 121.84 mph

The “elites,” touring professionals and top caliber amateurs, unquestionably hit the ball farther than in the past however that’s not the issue. We need to know if added distance is a detriment to the game.

By analyzing the results of those with the highest swing speeds we should see a correlation with driving distance, scoring and money won and taking the elite of the elites, average driving distance is:

Keith Mitchell 312.1 yards
Rory McIlroy  314.1 yards
Tiger Woods 304.2 yards
Tony Finau 322.7 yards
Gary Woodland 312.2 yards

But that’s not the whole story. Mitchell is only number 10 in driving distance, McIlroy is 6, Woods 36, Finau first and Woodland 9.

More interesting, in fact very interesting, is how swing speed translates into scoring average: Mitchell is number 143, McIlroy 16, Woods 5, Finau 13 and Woodland 29. To put this in perspective, this year’s scoring average leader is Dustin Johnson at 68.843 strokes per round and in 1999, prior to introduction of the “game-changing” Titleist Pro V1, the leader was Tiger Woods with an average of 68.432.

Statisticians would call that amount of difference over 19 years “noise.”

How about a correlation between swing speed and money won? Mitchell is number 170 in official money after 10 events, McIlroy number 19 and 5 events, Woods 32/5 events, Finau 10/10 events and Woodland 15/11 events. In money won per event played Mitchell is number 215, McIlroy 8, Woods 15, Finau 19 and Woodland 25.

Then there’s an oft voiced concern courses are being turned into “driver-wedge” layouts, but the percentage of greens hit in regulation should tell the story. Mitchell is number 113 hitting 64.93% GIR, McIlroy 182/60.78%, Woods 174/61.42%, Finau 32/69.29% and Woodland 3/72.76%. Again, comparing with 1999, David Duval was first with a 73.57% GIR while today Kevin Streelman the 2018 leader is at 72.83%…more statistical noise.

We could go on, but the conclusion is obvious, though the elites are swinging faster and hitting the ball farther it does not translate into results.

But then you knew that.

The question is why don’t the solons of rules at the USGA and the R&A?

There have been unsupported statements about several topics among them ball distance causing slow play, forcing layouts to add length and of course, the great old shibboleth, traditional classic tracks are unable to host Tour events. All these opinions are nonstarters and their proponents have yet to present facts in support.

We all know slow play has everything to do with the individual players not the distance they hit the ball. The problems and costs of maintaining all golf courses, not just the ones beefed up in the belief longer is better, have been addressed by greens superintendents already much to their credit. Finally, the old classic courses (usually spoken of in mystical terms) is that many don’t have the acreage for parking, corporate hospitality, television production and tens of thousands of fans. Ball distance has nothing to do with it, they just aren’t capable of holding a big-time event.

Those who want to either “roll back the ball” or split the rules into us-and-them, so-called bifurcation, seem bent on convincing themselves tee ball distance needs to be fixed and equally convinced to do so in the face of a mountain of contrary facts. Every the USGA’s own 2017 Driving Distance Report doesn’t make a case for the ball going too far. The PGA Tour and the PGA of America have stated there isn’t any problem as have Acushnet, makers of the Titleist Pro V1, and TaylorMade Golf whose drivers are the most played by professionals worldwide. The PGA Tour clearly understands they are in the entertainment business and knows Hank Haney has it right saying people don’t go a ballgame to see a bunch of bunt singles, they go to see homeruns.

What we are facing is not a problem of the ball going too far but the perception of a problem simply because a few respected industry members have beat the drum long enough that the USGA and R&A finally have said they agree.

That’s no way to decide any issue.

The ball distance discussion isn’t over. Not as long as Tour players are bigger, stronger, better trained elites playing clubs computer-fitted to their swing, hitting low-spin solid core balls onto firm, fast fairways.

The USGA and R&A have said there is a problem evidently so then they can justify imposing a solution and more importantly and more tragically is how they are clearly out of touch with the overwhelming majority of golfers.

Fuzzy Thinking

Fuzzy thinking, even by well-known and respected people is still fuzzy thinking and when the topic is the distance the golf ball goes, fuzzy thinking easily results in a call to “doing something before the game is ruined.”

Respected icons of the game such as Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin have said more than once the problem with golf is the ball goes too far.

Maybe by taking a look at the facts we can sweep away the fuzziness concerning golf ball distance because if we don’t, sure as heck, the fuzzy thinking will eventually prevail.

First, this controversy over technological advancement is not new. It was essentially the same in the nineteen century and rears its head with every major advancement in balls and clubs. If you have some time, look up the evolution of the feathery ball to the gutta percha and then to the rubber-core ball or the story of the Schenectady center-shafted mallet putter being outlawed after Walter Travis used one to win the British Amateur.

The cry was all the fine old courses would be made obsolete because they were too short and no longer challenging or simply improvements in equipment meant the game was becoming too easy. Sound familiar?

Today the distance the golf ball goes is due to vastly improved launch conditions. This began with the introduction of metalwoods and then the development of graphite shafts allowing an increase in size of driver club heads. When titanium heads were introduced makers were able to almost double driver clubhead size again and driver shafts could be made much longer. All of these plus an immense improvement in ball aerodynamics added significant distance with all clubs.

Professionals—the ones fuzzy thinkers believe hit the ball too far—have also benefitted from intensive computer-aided instruction, better physical training and the simple fact a large number of them are taller and bigger than in the past.

Improved equipment and better agronomy have resulted in courses, especially on Tour, playing firmer and faster. Plus we must recognize the desire of operators to have the longest, toughest layout so they can boast of the difficulty for professionals rather than the playability for recreational golfers.

The number of golf courses is steadily decreasing so overall use of the land is not an issue. It is true some “fine old courses” may not have the land to be stretched in order to accommodate the modern professionals but that’s OK. For the average player not every course needs to be like this year’s US Open venue Erin Hills and have the capability to be played to over 8,000 yards.

However, the fact is in 2017 the average driving distance on the PGA Tour is 291.20 yards, an increase of about one yard in the preceding ten years so there’s been no “distance explosion” in more than a decade.

For recreational players titanium-headed-graphite-shafted drivers and solid-core-low-spinning urethane cover balls have not produced anywhere near the gains in yardage achieved by professionals. Technology has not caused golf handicaps to plummet and the typical male golfer still isn’t hitting the ball over 200 yards–if that.

The rulers of our game don’t seem to understand the problem in terms of the average golfer who occasionally makes a par and buys a celebratory beer when he makes a birdie. Additionally the USGA continues with the idea the ball goes should be reduced while telling weekend warriors to play from a shorter tee set. That’s illogical and a nonstarter.

Of course the culprit most often cited is the Titleist Pro V1 which debuted in the fall 2000 and at once became the most played ball on Tour. Every manufacturer now makes similar balls that are low spinning with urethane covers and solid cores.

The PGA Tour is in the entertainment business and the business model should be what its customers, i.e., golf fans, want. There’s no question we want to see birdies and eagles and drivable par-4s not to mention DJ smoking one 340. In 2007 the scoring average on Tour was 71.34 and this season it is 72.00. In fact going back 20 years the average was 71.77 showing courses aren’t getting easier despite what some would like you to believe.

As Frank Thomas former technical director of the USGA and current golf industry consultant has often said, driving distance has gone as far as it can go because the physics involved are maxed out. Or put another way, you can’t argue with Mother Nature.

Finally, part of the fuzzy thinking can be laid at the doorstep of the media because it’s easy to write that a well-known player, ex-player or some administrator is decrying the state of the game. One headline trumpeted “Great Balls of Fire!” referring to today’s low-spin golf balls. This is a cheap shot displaying a lack of knowledge not to mention an abuse of journalistic standards.

The inescapable conclusion there’s no horrific problem with the distance the golf ball travels. That’s just plain old fuzzy thinking.

And the solution is easy. Do nothing.

The crisis in golf technology or golf ball distance is only in the minds of fuzzy thinkers.

An Old-Fashioned Attaboy

In the past there have been a number of times I have been critical of golf’s rules givers, the United States Golf Association and R&A, but today they deserve an old-fashioned “attaboy.”

The reason is they promptly came up with a fix to what many viewed as a ludicrous situation, namely the four stroke penalty given to Lexi Thompson during the ANA Inspiration. The USGA and R&A modified the Rules of Golf to address an obviously inherent unfairness.

Decision 34-3/10 of the Rules of Golf, which takes effect immediately, limits the use of video in accessing potential rules infractions. The announcement has caused an eruption of comment on the Internet from both the knowledgeable and, as one might expect, also those who are evidently clueless. Though the Internet is a tool we have come to rely upon it’s also provides a ready forum for the uninformed.

But setting that aside and in case you’ve been otherwise occupied, Lexi Thompson was on her way to winning the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA’s first major of the year, when during the third round she marked her ball on the green but inadvertently replaced it one-half inch from the original spot. A television viewer pointed this out in an email to LPGA.com the next day and after reviewing the video the LPGA rules committee assessed Thompson a four stroke penalty.

Officials informed Thompson of the penalty on the 13th hole of the final round and what was a three shot lead at the time became a one shot deficit. Thompson eventually lost the championship in a playoff.

The outcry by everyone from fans to players to those who can’t tell a birdie from a bogey was tremendous. Tiger Woods even got into the discussion condemning the whole idea of officiating from a sofa.

Though the USGA said no particular case prompted their action it’s more than coincidental Decision 34-3/10 came just three weeks after the Thompson penalty. In addition of course, there was the other well publicized incident during the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open playoff when Anna Nordqvist was hit with a two shot penalty after high definition, close up, slow motion video showed her club grazing a few grains of sand.

Now under Decision 34-3/10 officials have two ways to judge the use of video in determining if a penalty is to be accessed. First is the so-called “naked eye” standard which simply means if high definition video is needed to see a potential violation then reasonableness dictates there is no problem. The other part of the decision also uses the reasonableness standard to judge the location of a drop or ball placement.

The lords of Far Hills and St. Andrews evidently got a lesson from the situation surrounding what’s called the “DJ Rule” last year. During the 2016 U.S. Open Dustin Johnson was penalized when his ball laying on a green rolled about the width of one dimple and it was judged more likely than not he caused the ball to move. However Rule 18-02 was rewritten done less than six months later and under the same circumstances should a player cause the ball to move inadvertently it could be replaced without penalty.

Is the new “Lexi rule” in Decision 34-3/10 perfect? No, and it may be modified in the future. But critics and naysayers should take into account the obvious. The game is not one of perfection nor played in a controlled environment. There always has been and always will be room for judgement, equity, reasonableness and fair play.

Reasonableness and reasonable judgement…how refreshing and we didn’t have to wait for the usual four year cycle of rules rewrites.

Unfortunately what has been lost in all the noise over the unfairness of the Nordqvist or Thompson incidents, is congratulations to the USGA and the R&A for doing something in a competent and timely manner.

An “attaboy” well earned.

Masters Favorites

Next week for many is the opening of the golf season, the Masters. An arm chair pastime has always been evaluating the field and picking possible winners and why they are the short list to wear the green jacket come Sunday.

The King, Arnold Palmer, will be missed but the memory of his four wins and exciting play will never be lost. Every year since 1954 he has been there and though he hasn’t played in recent years he took the job of honorary starter seriously with his customary humor and good grace.

One question on everyone’s mind is will he or won’t he, i.e., will the aging athlete with a bad back Tiger Woods be able to tee it up. He has said repeatedly he wants to and wants to continue his run at passing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. This Masters would be a wonderful place for him to start.

Many of the top Tour players are under 30…some way under. This brings added interest from younger fans and the Masters is another chance to see who has what it takes. To win the Masters requires the maturity to handle the situation and of course putting well on the contoured, sloping and ridiculously fast greens. But paraphrasing Bobby Jones, founder of Augusta National and the Masters, “There’s golf and then there’s major championship golf.”

Defending champion Danny Willet has, even at his best in the past year, exhibited lackluster ball striking and putting. No wins since last April and typically finishing—if he made the cut—well down the leaderboard.

Concerns about his mother’s health have put former world number one Jason Day into the situation where he may not play and it’s unlikely even if he does he will be able to set it all aside and play up to the level necessary to win.

Taking a look at the rest of the field’s chances to win the 81st playing of what many say is their most memorable major championship one has to consider Hideki Matsuyama as a possibility. Plus a slimmer Bubba Watson trying for his third win at Augusta is an excellent pick and we shouldn’t overlook the long-hitting youngster Justin Thomas.

Henrik Stenson, winner over Phil Mickelson in the British Open, and his fairway-hitting Callaway 3-wood is a maybe. His season hasn’t been up to what we have come to expect and he doesn’t do particularly well at Augusta with his best finish being 14th three years ago.

So, with all that in mind, here are our picks to win the green jacket:

Dustin Johnson – what can you say about a player who hits it as long as DJ, often in the fairway, has his wedges dialed in and, for the trifecta, is in the top 30 for putting. The flat stick has always been a key at Augusta National and if the man from South Carolina has a good putting week he will be hard to beat. The WGC Match Play Three win was his third in as many starts and places him at the top of the list.

Jordan Spieth – The demons from his infamous finish last year will be exorcised. Spieth is not super long but long enough as he has proven with his 2015 Masters win. The 23-year old Texan’s strongest attributes are his ability to manage his round and his putting from outside 10 feet. Admittedly he hasn’t been able to separate himself from the rest of the Tour this year as he did in the past but his Pebble Beach win was impressive though his performance at the WGC Match Play was not. 

Rory McIlroy – it’s tough to bet against the star from Northern Ireland who at times has it all. One fan labelled him “All-World,” and that’s not much of an exaggeration. A suspect putter could be the reason he isn’t adding a Masters trophy on his mantelpiece to go with his Open, U.S. Open and two PGA Championships hardware.

Rickie Fowler – now is the time for Fowler to prove he is in the elite bracket of players who not only can win any given week but can take charge in a major championship. He won at the Honda and skipped the WGC Match Play and at 28-years old he must step up to avoid being in the Sergio Garcia category—close, but never a major winner. Remember in 2015 Fowler quieted those who said he was the Tour’s most overrated player with his stellar Players Championship victory.

Dark Horse: Jon Rahm – The young man from Spain seems to play well every time he tees it up and though a rookie has a win at Torrey Pines. His put on a very impressive display of hardnosed golf to almost take Johnson in the final at the WGC Match Play. Quick to smile and though he sometimes gets hot under the collar if he smiles his way around Augusta the first two rounds the weekend could be very interesting.

Sentimental favorite: Phil Mickelson – the best 46-year old golfer in the world. He still hits it long and when he is on, his controlled iron shots make any course look easy. As a bonus, Lefty’s putting stroke has never looked better. With no rough at Augusta and if his sometimes wild driving can at least keep his tee shots out of the loblolly pines this could be a great chance for his sixth major.

Top Ten Golf Stories of 2016

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The King
The death of Arnold Palmer saddened the golf world and the millions outside golf he touched through his charities. The King wasn’t just a record setting golfer nor just another person, father, businessman and philanthropist. He was Arnold Palmer being Arnold Palmer with integrity, humor, intelligence and humility.

Tiger’s comeback
As U.S. Ryder Cup team vice-captain Tiger Woods didn’t have to put his game on display. That came in the Hero World Challenge with a limited field of 18 after being off the Tour for 16 months. Woods finished in 15
th place and said he was hoping to play a full schedule (as yet to be determined) in 2017.

Ryder Cup
The win by Team USA over Team Europe by the decisive score of 17 to 11 probably saved the Ryder Cup from a serious loss of interest by American fans and a marked decrease in player enthusiasm. Prior to this year the US had lost eight of the last ten contests and this win it was a not only a team effort (every U.S. player contributed at least one point) but a vindication for captain Davis Love III.

Olympic Golf
Justin Rose took the gold medal beating Henrik Stenson (silver) and Matt Kuchar (bronze) while In Bee Park easily won the ladies gold in golf’s much heralded return to the Olympics. Before the Games what was thought to be a bigger story was the list of top men players who declined to go to Rio: Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. Reasons cited included health concerns (zika virus) and potential security problems.

Anchored Stroke Ban
The impact of the USGA banning anchored putting strokes which took effect on Jan. 1 had absolutely no effect on recreational players. They either said, to heck with the USGA I’ll putt however I want to, or bought a shorter length putter. The anguished predictions by some (who should have known better) that the slamming of trunk lids and squealing of tires from club parking lots as players left the game in droves were emphatically wrong.

Finchem Retires
Tim Finchem’s 22 years as commissioner of the PGA Tour built on the foundation previous commissioner Deane Beman had laid. The Tour now can boast a 47 week event split season with $339 million prize money, the largest charitable giving of any sport, three events in Asia, assets of $2.2 billion and a $10 million season-ending prize. Add to that getting golf back in the Olympics, creation of the First Tee and World Golf Championship series he compiled a stellar record. Not bad for a button-down lawyer who at one time worked for President Jimmy Carter. Finchem leaves a prosperous and dynamic legacy for successor Jay Monahan.

USGA Double Bogey
The USGA had a wretched summer. First was the fiasco of Dustin Johnson’s U.S. Open final round when officials said he might have caused his ball to move on the green but wouldn’t make a decision until the round was completed leaving him, fans and fellow competitors in the dark. They of course gave him a one-stroke penalty but fortunately the phlegmatic South Carolinian had such a large margin he still won by three. That was followed at the U.S. Women’s Open when second-place finisher Ann Norqvist was shown on HDTV moving three grains of sand in a bunker with her club but officials neglected to inform her of the penalty until a hole later. In response to the did-he-or-didn’t-he cause the ball to move the USGA created the “Johnson Rule” so there will be no penalty should a player accidentally move his ball. This year won’t go down as the best summer the organization has ever had.

Spieth Didn’t–Willet Did
Jordan Spieth had a record setting 2015 season and seemed to have this year’s Masters in his pocket until he came to the par-3 12
th hole of the final round. He managed to take a seven after two balls the water which handed the title to Danny Willet. However, this collapse wasn’t “the most shocking in golf history” as an ESPN writer sadly lacking in perspective wrote. Spieth still had two victories for the year plus the Australian Open and he’s only 23 years old.

Turmoil in Equipment Business
This past year marked several significant changes with Nike Golf leaving the club and ball business, Acushnet (Titleist, FootJoy and Pinnacle) became publically traded and adidas attempting to sell TaylorMade Golf which continued to suffer with early year sales declines. Retailers Sports Authority and Golfsmith went bankrupt with Dicks Sports Goods buying up inventory and locations while Callaway Golf, Srixon, Wilson Staff, Ping and upstart Parsons Xtreme Golf pushed for added market share. The new year may see some additional upheaval especially if TMaG’s new owner decides to adopt a different product strategy…that is, if there is any deal at all.

One for the Ages
The British Open played at Troon saw Phil Mickelson finishing with a 65 and was 11 strokes in front of the next lowest score for 72 holes. Lefty’s problem was Henrik Stenson shot 63 in the final round beating Mickelson to win his first major by two. Both played some of the best golf ever, evoking memories of the Tom Watson/Jack Nicklaus final round 1977 match up aptly named the “Duel in the Sun.”