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.

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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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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”