Talk Is Cheap Problems Are Expensive
Or perhaps the question is, will we?
Much of the angst in the golf business over the past few years seems to have been the result of poor communication. You get the idea that if a couple of people had sat down and chatted a little, a lot of problems could have been averted.
The U.S. Golf Association has learned the hard way. In 1997, then-president-elect F. Morgan (Buzz) Taylor Jr. and others started making noise about golf equipment they thought was getting out of hand. Springy drivers, rocket balls, technology gone wild. The game was under attack, they said.
It didnt matter whether Taylor was right or wrong. The way he was talking set off acid pumps in the stomachs of golf executives from Fairhaven to Carlsbad. They branded Taylor and his supporters as enemies of progress, haters of legitimate profit, and elitists of the worst kind.
Both sides did a lot of talking to the press, but not to each other. Not politely, anyway, to hear some insiders tell it.
The result was a tense press conference at the 1998 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Taylor, future president Trey Holland and executive director David Fay took the stage and assured the industry that any club then considered conforming would remain so, no matter what changes might be made afterward.
We live with the fallout today. When Ely Callaway and David Fay came to The Golf Channel in January to debate technology issues, they were gentlemen on and off camera. But the general enmity between the industry and the USGA is undeniable in the era of the nonconforming driver. Neither side trusts the other.
In heated moments, each side has brandished lawyers and financial war chests like medieval weapons. Even in cooler moments, the positioning has been fascinating: When Callaway introduced the ERC II October 18, company patriarch Ely Callaway went Zen and promised not to sue the USGA ' but carved out an exception: If the USGA stigmatizes ERC II users, the promise vanishes. (Remember Vito Corleones promise not to break the peace among the five families, unless something happened to Michael? Thats what it was like.)
The USGA didnt let much time pass before reminding the golf world that scores made with illegal clubs in the bag couldnt be submitted for handicaps. Stigma? Maybe, maybe not. But hackles went up at Callaway.
It didnt help the USGAs image when its rulemaking partner, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, openly solicited manufacturer comments before taking its own position on nonconforming clubs. That might be why the USGA was very careful to say in its March 12 announcement of a new indoor golf ball testing method that it has been talking with the R&A and manufacturers, and that it will continue to do so until May. Another comment period, which will culminate in a public hearing, is on the schedule for September.
Not everyone has heeded the lesson the USGA has learned. While the PGA Tour fine tunes the technical side of its ShotLink system, its bigger problem is the caddies. ShotLink, which will provide as-they-play information for TV and the Internet about the yardages, wind conditions, lies and club selection problems faced by PGA Tour players, relies on the caddies for the club information.
The roadblock: The caddies dont wanna.
The loopers cite concerns about rules (which can be solved by holding the information until all players in the group have hit), but they also want to reduce distractions to their players. Stay out of the players office, they like to say.
Theres the matter of compensation, too; the caddies want $75 per caddie per round. That adds an expense of about $1.4 million per year to ShotLink, which has so far cost nearly $20 million to develop over the last two years.
Frankly, giving club info is one of those things caddies could get used to. (Some already flash hand signals to the TV people, although this is technically against the rules.) The real problem is evident from the furrowed brows and irritated tones of some of the caddies as they talk about the system. Its simple: They werent consulted. And because of that, they feel slighted.
The acrimony we see now from caddies wouldnt be half as virulent if the Tour had given them updates during development. But now, some of the caddies threaten to behave as the independent contractors the Tour repeatedly reminds them they are. They plan to simply refuse to cooperate.
Of course, these things go both ways. ShotLink wasnt developed in secret. As long as a year before the Tour notified caddies of the systems implementation at this years Tucson event in January, the caddies could have approached the Tour and asked what was up, and what their role might be. They could have asked at the Tour Championship last year, where ShotLink had a dry run.
Some of the equipment manufacturers did call the USGA after Buzz Taylor began to sound off, Im told, and things still got dicey. So talking doesnt work every time.
But whens the last time it hurt?
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Hahn jabs USGA over possible ball rollback
As debate continues to heat up over possible sweeping changes to the golf ball amid distance concerns, PGA Tour pro James Hahn chimed in to question the merits of a potential rollback.
The ball and distance debate gained traction earlier this week when Jack Nicklaus offered that the ball should be rolled back to the approximate distances achieved in 1995, and he put blame for the current situation squarely at the feet of Titleist. That drew a response from former Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, who put the onus back on the governing bodies.
It's an issue that will likely be discussed for months to come, but Hahn took to Twitter to throw a jab toward the USGA and play devil's advocate on some key arguments related to a possible rollback:
Breaking news. In addition to limited flight balls, the USGA plans to ban working out, proper diet and swinging faster than 105mph. They are also planning on removing the 3 point shot in the NBA.— James Hahn (@JamesHahnPGA) February 23, 2018
If we were playing a match, would you rather hit 7 iron to my 9 iron OR hit hybrid to my 5 iron? Oh and by the way, I can still hit par 5s in two with 3 wood. You can't.— James Hahn (@JamesHahnPGA) February 25, 2018
Hahn, who has two career PGA Tour wins and lost in a playoff last month at the Sony Open, ranks 55th on Tour this season in driving distance with an average of 301.2 yards off the tee.
Na fires back over slow play criticism from cricketer
Kevin Na fired back over recent criticism he received about his purported slow play at last week's Genesis Open.
Kevin Pietersen is a retired English cricketer with more than 3.6 million followers on Twitter. He tweeted a video of Na, known as one of the slower players on the PGA Tour, taking more than a minute to line up and hit what he described as a "Tap In" during the final round at Riviera:
SERIOUSLY, Kevin Na?!?!— Kevin Pietersen (@KP24) February 18, 2018
That Is A Tap In, MATE! pic.twitter.com/YMmNT6m5H7
He then added another video of himself on a green in Dubai, where he again called out Na and showed how long he believed it should take for a player to brush in a short putt:
Na has faced his fair share of slow play criticism, but this time he decided to defend himself. Na isn't on Twitter, but he took to Instagram to tell Pietersen to "stick to your own sport," pointing out both the length of the putt in question and the stakes that were involved during the final round, when Na went on to tie for second behind Bubba Watson:
@kp24 lets get some facts straight. Shot tracker shows what u call “tap in” 3ft 4in. Since when is 3’4’’ on green speed 12 a “tap in.” FYI 1 shot for me on Sunday was 300k. Difference between T2 and T4. Yes, I did back off because the line didn’t feel right. So what! BTW that was the only putt I backed off all day. Also our group was on pace all day! We waited if anything. @pgatour @golfdigest @golf_com @golfchannel #getyourfactstraight #sticktoyourownsport #everyshotcounts
Pepperell wins his first European Tour title in Qatar
DOHA, Qatar - Eddie Pepperell survived a tense finish to win the Qatar Masters at the Doha Golf Club on Sunday for his maiden European Tour title.
The 27-year-old Englishman held off a spirited challenge from compatriot Oliver Fisher, who needed a third successive birdie on the 18th hole to force a playoff, but had his putt from six feet slip past the hole for a par.
Pepperell shot a 2-under-par 70 for a four-day tally of 18 under 270, while Fisher, who started the day tied for the lead, could only manage a 71.
Sweden's Marcus Kinhult (68) finished third at 16-under.
The No. 154-ranked Pepperell made things difficult for himself with a bogey on the 15th hole, but hit a superb wedge to three feet on the next to get back to 18 under again.
Fisher, who appeared to have fallen out of contention with three bogeys starting on the third hole, stormed back with birdies on the 14th, 16th and 17th holes.
On the last, Pepperell laid up with his second into the thick rough, made wet and unwieldy by rain in the Qatar capital, but found the green in three and two-putted for the win when Fisher missed his birdie putt.
''I did the things I needed to do, I didn't play fantastic but I won ugly and for the first win to be ugly is good. Hopefully, I'll have some prettier ones in the future,'' said Pepperell.
''I knew I was playing well, especially tee to green, so I expected a lot of myself this week and I guess to pull it off is amazing. When Oli birdied the 17th, that was when it really caught up with me that I was only one ahead. I was in my own zone, I knew I had a couple of shots of lead but Oli did great. It was a tough front nine for him and I had to stay right in my own way and out of the two guys' way because they were struggling a bit and it's sometimes easy to get dragged into that.''
Fisher was disappointed, but saw the silver lining in the way he fought back.
''It went all the way to the last hole which, after my front nine, was what I was hoping for on the back nine,'' said Fisher, who won the 2011 Czech Open, but recorded his first top-three finish since the 2014 Africa Open.
''I hit a lot of good shots coming down the back nine and gave myself a lot of good chances, but there were just too many bogeys today, four in total, so you're never going to win a tournament making that many mistakes on a Sunday. But at least I pressed him all the way.''
Italian Renato Paratore (66) had the low round of the day and finished tied for fourth place at 15 under par, where he was joined by the Spanish pair of Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Pablo Larrazabal along with Gregory Havret of France.