Davis, USGA trying to make the U.S. Open great again

By Randall MellJune 14, 2017, 10:40 pm

ERIN, Wis. – Remember when the U.S. Open used to be the greatest major championship in golf?

OK, maybe you never believed that, but those of you who did had a pretty strong argument for your golf brethren who thought the Masters or The Open were the best majors.

If you love the U.S. Open, you hate the suggestion that it’s now the third or maybe even the fourth best major.

You hate how the PGA Championship is praised for having the best setup man in golf (Kerry Haigh) and how the USGA is criticized for having the most controversial (Mike Davis).

If you love the U.S. Open, you hate what has happened to the event’s aura, how it has gone from a blue-chip golf property to a black-and-blue one.

You used to love how the USGA didn’t seem to give a crap what players thought about its setups. You loved Sandy Tatum at the “Massacre at Winged Foot” in ’74 saying that his organization wasn’t trying to embarrass the best players in the game, but merely identify them. You loved how that attitude resonated through so many of the tough setups that followed.

You used to love it when players whined about the setup.

Now you find yourself sympathizing with them.

Now you cringe when you hear how the USGA is courting player opinions, trying to repair relationships among pros who have openly complained that the governing body is “run by a bunch of amateurs” and who have openly wondered if the PGA Tour ought to break off to set up its own set of rules.

You hated seeing respect for the USGA deteriorating with the event played on a dead moonscape at Chambers Bay two years ago and then again with the controversy that erupted over the Dustin Johnson ruling at Oakmont last year.

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler boldly took to Twitter to call out the USGA over its handling of the Johnson ruling.

U.S. Open: Tee times | Full coverage

Golf Digest wrote Wednesday that PGA Tour pros were so indignant about the way the USGA handled Johnson’s rule issue that “there was talk if Dustin Johnson had lost because of the penalty that some players might have skipped this year’s tournament.”

That’s hard to believe, but, ouch!

If you love the U.S. Open, you had mixed feelings hearing Davis offer up a mea culpa Wednesday at Erin Hills on the eve of the 117th rendition of the championship.

“You would think something like what happened the last couple of years would affect just the championship department, maybe the rules department, but it affects the whole organization,” said Davis, the USGA’s executive director. “By that, I mean that anytime your competency comes into question that affects the people doing our equipment testing, the agronomic people on the greens section, our people in dealing with the history of the game and helping to grow the game. So, of course, we want to avoid those things.”

Competency? Yes, he used that word, because there’s no getting around how all the complaints about the USGA have added up to that harsh indictment.

Give Davis credit for the ruthless self-examination.

If you love the U.S. Open, there were mixed feelings listening to Davis, because there’s hope in more than what he’s acknowledging. There’s hope in what he’s doing, with the USGA on the offensive trying to correct the complex problems that have led to waning respect and credibility.

The USGA and R&A are breaking tradition trying to react more swiftly to problems now with quick solutions. We saw that in December, with the announcement of the new local rule that eliminates penalties when a ball is accidentally moved on a putting green.

We saw that in March, with the outline of a sweeping initiative to modernize and simplify the Rules of Golf.

We saw that last month, with the release of a new rules decision limiting the use of video evidence.

And we will see it at this U.S. Open, with the USGA revamping its rules officiating system as a reaction to what happened to Johnson at Oakmont. Instead of walking officials, the USGA is stationing officials at each hole this year, with Thomas Pagel serving as chief rules official “empowered to make instantaneous decisions.” There will also be video stations on the course that will allow officials to more quickly review rules issues that may arise.

“We think this will allow us to really expedite our rule-making process and be decisive in our communications, which were two things that perhaps we fell a little bit short last year,” said John Bodenhamer, the senior managing director of championships. “We really have learned a great deal.”

If you love the U.S. Open, there was hope in the unspoken theme to Wednesday’s USGA news conference.

“Make the U.S. Open great again!”

That’s the opportunity Erin Hills presents starting Thursday.

Davis and Co. could use quick confirmation that their work is paying off.

“We want a nice, smooth U.S. Open,” Davis said.

Good luck with that.

There’s always been controversy in the U.S. Open. It’s in the championship’s DNA. It comes with trying to set up the toughest test in golf. It comes with pushing the envelope, taking shot-making challenges to the extreme.

Davis complicated all of that practically redefining the U.S. Open with his change in setup philosophy. He has remade the championship, redefining it as the “ultimate test of golf” instead of the “toughest test.”

Instead of making every U.S. Open about narrow fairways, chop-out rough and speedy greens, Davis has made it about adapting the challenge to the unique design of the particular golf course.

At Erin Hills, that means 50- and 60-yard wide fairways, penal fescue and rugged penal bunkering that will test shot making in typically windswept conditions.

In fairness to Davis, the U.S. Open is always the toughest championship to set up in golf, because it requires pushing the limits of fairness.

You may not like Davis’ changes in the philosophy, but they are intelligently argued. It isn’t the philosophy that’s failed him. It has been the execution.

Trying to set up the ultimate test of golf has never been more difficult with advancements in equipment and ball technology making the game appear easier than it’s ever been.

Davis practically handpicked Erin Hills.

This course looks like it could be his masterpiece, as championship setups go. Erin Hills could embody why his philosophy better showcases not only the all-around ability of the game’s greatest players but the diverse nature of this country’s best courses.

Or Erin Hills could be the final piece of evidence that his philosophy won’t make the U.S. Open great again.


Getty Images

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.