Chaos lingers, legacies on the line over anchor ban

By Randall MellMay 21, 2013, 8:52 pm

FAR HILLS, N.J. – Gray, low-hanging clouds shrouded the red-brick headquarters of the USGA with news about the official ban of anchored strokes coming down on a gloomy Tuesday morning.

While the sun would break through here later in the day, the gloom over the state of the game wouldn’t lift.

There’s fog shrouding the future of rules making, and it won’t clear until we hear whether the PGA Tour will accept the USGA and R&A's ban against anchoring (Rule 14-1b) when it goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

The PGA Tour and the PGA of America are both opposed to the ban, and when Monday’s news came down, each left uncertain whether it will follow the USGA and R&A’s lead. They announced they’re taking time to review the decision.

The fact their support isn’t automatic tells you about the changing dynamics of the game.

It means this is about a lot more than anchoring now.

Anchored-stroke debate: Articles, videos and photos

It’s about leadership. It’s about who makes the rules and whether recreational players, elite amateurs and pros ought to continue to play by the same set of rules, a long-standing tradition cherished in the USGA and R&A ranks.

It’s about the possibility of bifurcation, the possibility the PGA Tour and the PGA of America could decide to make their own rules and allow anchoring to continue in their events.

While that doesn’t seem likely, there will be a fog over rules making until the Tour says otherwise.

Bifurcation is an ugly word in the USGA ranks. It’s a divisive possibility that threatens to make a mess of the game.

“It would be really bad for golf,” USGA president Glen Nager said. “If a tour goes its own separate way, that is going to create confusion and impede efforts in which the PGA Tour has been an instrumental part in [growing the game globally].”

USGA executive director Mike Davis believes bifurcation will create chaos.

“When the PGA Tour came back with their opinion, they never said ‘We aren’t going to follow the rule,’” Davis said. “They never said that.”

The PGA Tour is the only major tour in the world on record opposing the anchoring ban. They’re the only major tour still holding on to the possibility they won’t follow the new ban.

“It would only be speculating what the PGA Tour will do, but what would be the effect of that?” Davis said. “Would there be some effects on the USGA and R&A? Sure. Would there be effects on their own players? You better believe it.”

If the PGA Tour creates its own rule allowing anchoring, there would be chaos in the professional ranks with European Tour and PGA Tour pros playing by different rules. There would be issues in World Golf Championship events governed by the International Federation of PGA Tours. There would be issues in major championships with the possibility anchoring would be banned in every major but the PGA Championship.

“I think it's really important that the PGA Tour, and all the professional tours, the LPGA and so on, continue to follow one set of rules,” Davis said. “We have gotten very positive feedback from tours around the world, saying that they like one set of rules. They like the R&A and USGA governing those rules. So, if there was some type of schism, we don't think that would be good for golf.

“We are doing what we think is right for the long-term benefit of the game, for all golfers, and we just can't write them for one group of small elite players.”

Davis and Nager have accepted their mission, and they’re boldly leading. We won’t know whether they’re leading the game to a more chaotic future until the PGA Tour announces whether it’s going to follow the USGA and R&A’s lead.

“We certainly hope the PGA Tour continues to play by the same set of rules, but, regardless of their decision, we are going to move forward with it,” Davis said. “The amateur game is going to follow it and other tours are going to follow it.”

Davis and Nager stood in the organization’s executive board room after Monday morning’s announcement with some heavy eyes upon them. History is palpable in these offices. Dozens and dozens of portraits and photographs of past USGA presidents hang on the cherry wood walls of the offices. From the forbidding countenance of Theodore Havemeyer, the first USGA president, to Prescott Bush, the father of the 41st and grandfather of the 43rd presidents of the United States, there’s an impressive legacy of leadership.

This anchoring rule is about the USGA trying to fulfill that legacy.

Really, if the PGA Tour can’t accept the USGA and R&A’s leadership in defining the fundamental definition of a stroke, there will be more than a fracture in their relationships.

The USGA’s leadership has come under fire over the rapid technological advances of the last 15 years. From trampoline effect to space-age aerodynamic balls to antiquated golf courses, there are questions about whether there has been a failure to protect the game on the USGA’s watch.

Earlier this year, Taylor-Made CEO Mark King proposed an outright rebellion against the governing body over his displeasure with the proposed ban of anchoring.

“The industry needs to come together without the USGA,” King told the Telegraph newspaper in England in February. “Leave them out of it ... The industry is going to move away from them and pass them. They’re obsolete.”

Davis and Nager are stepping up to show otherwise, and their bold actions lead to larger questions of what else they may have in store to re-shape the game.

“We are doing this because we think it is the right thing to do,” Davis said of outlawing anchoring. “The easy thing would have been to do nothing, but we don’t think that’s the right thing to do. If you’re in governance and you do nothing because you’re scared of the ramifications, you shouldn’t be in governance.”

Davis and Nager are leading, and now they’re waiting to see if the PGA Tour will follow. Their legacy may depend upon that.

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."