A Golf Purist


Played golf the other day with a good friend who brought along a gentleman I had never met. After the usual exchange of pleasant inanities my friend mentioned I wrote about golf and the new guy said without any prompting, “Well, I can’t see all this new equipment. Why they just don’t go back to persimmon drivers and a wound ball like the old Titleist Professional.” Continue reading

No Blood No Foul

The purpose of this column is not to pick on the United States Golf Association nor the R&A. In fact, these co-arbiters of the Rules of Golf deserve to be congratulated for the improvements in the rewriting of the Rules which will take effect Jan. 1.

However, (there’s always a however!) the two organizations have missed the boat with the recent reinterpretation of Rule 4.3 (Use of Equipment) covering information players may use to describe the topography of putting surfaces, the so-called “green reading books.”  Announcement of the proposed revision was followed by six weeks for public comment before the reinterpretation was published in final form on Oct. 14. Continue reading

Monday After Paris

The 42nd Ryder Cup is in the books with the U.S. losing convincingly. Team U.S.A. hasn’t won in 25 years on the other side of the Atlantic, six straight times since their win at the Belfry in 1993.  

The Americans couldn’t seem to hit a fairway particularly when it counted with tee shot after tee shot finding deep lies in deep rough and making a mockery of what has been called the bomb and gouge mentality. The net effect was this neutralized the U.S. players length advantage and then there was the putting. As good as they were Friday morning in the four ball matches with three wins the remainder of the day and through Saturday and then Sunday singles Americans couldn’t make the crucial putts and the Euros could. Continue reading

Ryder Cup – USA Over Euros

Ok, the real hype can begin now U.S. Ryder Cup team Captain Jim Furyk has made three selections leaving one pick which he will reveal that on Sept. 24. European team leader Thomas Bjorn picks Wednesday completed his roster so let’s take a look at the two squads and make a guess who will prevail at Le Golf National outside Paris.

Team Europe is complete: Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Tyrrell Hatton, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Alex Noren, Thorbjorn Olesen, Ian Poulter, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. Continue reading

Why Not Just Give Everyone a Trophy?


Michael Breed on his Sirius XM PGA Tour radio show A New Breed of Golf has proposed players missing the cut in PGA Tour events should be paid.

If I understand his premise correctly Breed feels these players have expenses and by their presence they contribute to the entertainment value of the tournament. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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.”

PGA Tour Schedule “These Guys Are Busy”

It was interesting the revamped PGA Tour schedule for the 2018-2019 season received so little play by the press and social media due no doubt to the buzz concerning the prospect of a head to head match between Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. After all they are the “needle movers” for sports fans and certainly for diehard golf fans but at this writing no deal has been firmed up.

During the week we also were treated to coverage and comment, in and out of the legitimate press, of Lefty’s two-shot penalty at the Greenbrier plus the USGA ruling Bryson DeChambeau’s drawing compass was out of bounds.

However, should you define golf news by the impact on fans the PGA Tour announcement of a shortened 2018-2019 tournament schedule was the most important. As PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan put it in the press release, “It’s been our stated objective for several years to create better sequencing of our tournaments that golf fans around the world can engage in from start to finish. And by concluding at the end of August, the FedExCup Playoffs no longer have the challenge of sharing the stage with college and professional football. This will enhance the visibility of the FedExCup Playoffs and overall fan engagement with the PGA TOUR and the game as a whole.”

How fewer tournaments help “the game as a whole” is not clear but the I’m sure quibbling is beneath us.

The first eight tournaments of the split schedule take place prior to the hiatus from Thanksgiving to New Years as they did this season, but the significant fact is these events are now a bigger part of the year. With the new schedule having three fewer tournaments you can expect more of the big names more of time rather than just the WGC-HSBC in Shanghai and one of the other two in the Asian swing. This could be good news particularly for two well thought of event, one in Las Vegas (Shriners Hospitals for Children) and the other in Georgia (RSM Classic).

Accomplishing the goal of having the Tour Championship before Labor Day when football takes over meant one of the year-end FedExCup playoff events would have to go. Sacrificed for the good of the game (or at least to beat out the NFL) was the Dell Technologies Championship at the TPC Boston which has fans in New England more than a little unhappy.

Previously we knew about The Players Championship (Ponte Vedra Beach) moving from May to March and in 2019 the date is preceded by the Arnold Palmer Invitational (Bay Hill) followed by the Valspar Championship in Tampa. Combined with the Honda Classic the week before Arnie’s tournament there’s a reborn Florida swing.

The other major move was also by a major, the PGA Championship, which went from being the final major of the year in August to being put in The Player Championship’s old slot in May. The season’s majors then will be spread from the Masters April 11 – 14 to the PGA May 16 – 19 to the U.S. Open June 13 – 16 and finishing with the British Open July 18 – 21. That’s five weeks between the Masters and the PGA, four weeks from the PGA to the U.S. Open and four from the U.S. Open to the British Open.

Add in The Players, three WGC championships from January to July and “must-play” events such as the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial, the AT&T Byron Nelson and the…well you get the idea. Many if not most players rarely play more than three tournaments in a row, so the new Tour schedule could result in two situations. First, they may find it difficult to fit in some time off and secondly some very good tournaments may have a problem attracting players in the top 50. The Valspar tucked in between The Players and the WGC-Dell Technology Match Play is obviously on that list as is the RBC Canadian falling the week between the Memorial and the U.S. Open.

It’s ironic the Tour’s slogan was changed because if it was still “These guys are good” it might be more appropriate to say, “These guys are busy.”

On the Clock

The idea of doing something to hasten the sloth-like pace of professional and college golf, not to mention that four-ball ahead of you last Saturday, has been kicked around for some time. Golf’s pace of play has been criticized for as long as I have been playing but no one has really done anything practical at the elite level until the European Tour’s commissioner Keith Pelley decided enough was enough.

Thus, was born the Shot Clock Masters which until this year was known as the Austrian Open. Let’s not discuss how the name of Bobby Jones’s major was usurped again but look at the results of this experiment in rationality.

First the background. Commissioner Pelley (who also inaugurated the innovative GolfSixes event) made the decision to attack slow-play head-on by placing every player on the clock every shot. Unfortunately, because it took place the week before the U.S. Open and it was in Austria, this unique and revolutionary event gained only passing notice. After all there was all the hype leading up to Shinnecock and then Dustin Johnson’s impressive six stroke win in Memphis capped by a walk-off eagle on the 72nd hole.

Each group in the Shot Clock Masters for each round was accompanied by a golf cart on which a large digital shot clock was mounted. Players had 50 seconds to hit if they were first to play an approach shot and for par-3s or putts. That was shortened to 40 seconds for par-4 and par-5 tee shots plus when they were second (or third) to play on putts and approaches. If the player went over the allotted time there was no grace period, appeal or looking the other way. What he got was a one stroke added to his score.

The digital display was easy to see and the operator (the Euro Tour called them “referees”) said “time” when the clock started so everyone knew what was happening.

The question of course is what were the results?

Average time for the four rounds of the Austrian Open in 2017 was 4 hours and 40 minutes and for the Shot Clock Masters it was 25 minutes less. The average time for the final round on the European Tour is 3 hours and 57 minutes but at the Shot Clock Masters it was 3 hours and 26 minutes.

Do you see a trend?

Shot Clock players interviewed were enthusiastic (there were only four penalties meted out in four days), event officials were happy as were European Tour officials but so far, I have seen no comment from the PGA Tour nor the USGA.

Lost in all the noise though was something that turns the tables on those who say the pros play slowly because it’s their livelihood and they are playing for a lot of money. The average score for the entire Shot Clock Masters was more than one stroke less than the average for the past eight years of the Austrian Open on the same course.

It’s true the top players were missing from the Shot Clock Masters, either playing in Memphis or preparing for the U.S. Open but even so to cut off one-half hour from the previous average time AND have the field score lower is significant.

No…it’s amazing.

The PGA Tour has a pace problem with some of its players and the Tour seems to be stonewalling—a lot of discussion and few penalties. The USGA has conveniently avoided the issue resorting to inane PSAs such as the laughable “While We’re Young,” figuring out how to set up courses for the U.S. Open to embarrass contestants and rationalizing not disqualifying Phil Mickelson when lesser names would have been shown the path to the parking lot.

The problem with slow play, whether on the tours or at your club, is we don’t shine the spotlight on the offenders to embarrass them and then impose consequences.

Tackling the cause of slow play is recognizing it is not so much a problem inherent in the game but the lack of respect with players having a “me-only” attitude.