Disagree with anchor ban, but intentions pure

By Randall MellMay 23, 2013, 12:31 am

FAR HILLS, N.J. – His chin is out there like the prow of a ship carving through rough seas.

USGA executive director Mike Davis is undaunted in his determination to navigate through the storm his organization faces in trying to get the game to a better place.

USGA president Glen Nager, too.

They know exactly where they want the game to go, but the journey is proving difficult with waves of hard dissent aiming to shipwreck them.

These aren’t rogue dissidents hammering away at their decision to ban anchored strokes, either.

They are top industry leaders, Hall of Famers, major championship winners, world-class players, respected teachers and manufacturers.

A sampling of the criticism:

Paul Azinger, 1993 PGA Championship winner – “Slowest knee-jerk reaction ever.”

LPGA Hall of Famer Beth Daniel – “Anchoring is not the problem with the game. How about the art of ball striking, slow play, the ball, driving distance, lining up players?”

Tim Clark, 2010 Players Championship winner: “We do have legal counsel. We’re not just going to roll over and accept this.”

Tom Lehman, 1996 British Open winner – “I think the USGA and the R&A are setting themselves up for a situation where people don’t follow their lead, which will diminish their credibility as ruling bodies.”

Butch Harmon, Golf Digest’s No. 1 ranked teacher: “Pro golf is the only sport in the U.S. that has an amateur body making its rules. Time to change.”

David Feherty, Golf Channel and CBS announcer: “Professional golfers need to make the rules for professional golf.”

PGA of America president Ted Bishop: “Maybe we are at a point where we need to consider what impact bifurcation would have.”

Taylor-Made CEO Mark King: “The USGA within 10 years will be a nonentity.”

While all those folks may not like the decision Davis and Nager made joining with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in implementing Rule 14-1b, they ought to respect the purity of their motives. They ought to admire the commitment of Davis and Nager to do what they believe is right without any of the over-riding self interests that consumes so many of their critics.

Davis and Nager aren’t trying to win a trophy or turn a profit or prolong a career.

They’re trying to serve the greater good of a game embattled in conflicting self interests.

Davis, Nager and their R&A counterpart Peter Dawson have something else going for them. They’re right.

Anchoring isn’t a stroke, but proving it is a bit like trying to prove something is obscene.

Davis is bright, talented and admirably civil in the way he’s leading this cause. Nager is formidably intelligent and an articulate litigator. The 40-page package the USGA released Tuesday supporting Rule 14-1b was thorough enough to hold up as one of those briefs Nager submitted in his 13 appearances before the Supreme Court. These guys have thoroughly thought through this new rule.

Here’s the thing, though. They’re making their case without test results, studies or hard data to cite. That’s because defining anchoring as an improper stroke is a little bit like the challenge the land’s highest court faced trying to define obscenity. In the end, it’s the Justice Potter Stewart standard: “I know it when I see it.” The USGA and R&A are basically arguing they know wrong when they see it, and they see anchoring as fundamentally wrong.

“It’s important to understand that the Rules of Golf are not based on statistical studies,” Nager said. “They’re based upon judgments that define the game and its intended challenges. One of those challenges is to control the entire club and the swing, and anchoring alters that challenge. Moreover, the issue here is not whether anchoring provides a statistical demonstrable advantage to the average golfer, or on every stroke, or in every circumstance. What matters here is whether, by diminishing obstacles inherent in the traditional stroke, anchoring may advantage some players at some times. Statistics are not necessary to resolve that issue.”

As Davis points out, how do you statistically defend the rule that sets a basketball hoop at 10 feet or bases set 90 feet apart in baseball?

As persuasive as Davis and Nager can be, the most eloquent case against anchoring might have been made by Tiger Woods.

Yeah, the guy we complain never says anything really meaningful in news conferences boiled this all down in powerfully simple language.

“Anchoring should not be part of the game,” Woods said last week. “It should be mandatory to have to swing all 14 clubs. I’ve always felt that in golf you should have to control your nerves and swing all 14 clubs, not just 13.”

OK, maybe long and belly putters were allowed to become too vital to too many players for too long. That’s the major complaint I had with the new anchoring ban. While I believe major championships are a test of nerves as much as skill, and that the hands are the great transmitters of nervous tension, it felt like the USGA and R&A left the barn door open too long.

Really, how long do you get to correct an incorrect scorecard before the nobility in doing so is lost? That’s what I thought, but Davis and Nager didn’t fudge a scorecard, and they weren’t in control when long putters began growing in popularity. They’re plowing through rough seas convinced it’s never too late to do what’s right.

Notably, there has been discomfort over the use of the long putter for a long time within the USGA ranks. The problem in addressing it always came back to a greater discomfort over banning equipment.

When Davis took over two years ago, he led a different approach, a different way to look at the problem of long putters. Under Davis, the USGA began looking at “anchoring” instead of the equipment.

“The powers that be didn’t like what they were seeing, but they only looked at it in terms of the length of club,” Davis said. “The heart of this is the stroke itself. The thing we never wanted to do is mandate that the putter has to be shortest club in the bag. We saw a lot of reasons why that would never work and wouldn’t be fair to players.”

Davis said there were complications in trying to standardize the length of a putter.

“It wasn't the right thing for the game of golf to restrict the length of a putter,” Davis said. “We stand by that today. And for some that would question –`Why don't you just limit the length of the putter, or deal with it that way?’ – it's really the anchoring that has bothered us. We want to protect the tradition of holding the club in two hands and swinging it freely away from the body.

“If you do it by length of putter, you're going to negatively affect some people that we didn't want to negatively affect. There are people who want to stand tall because of back issues. There are people who want to use a longer putter because they want to spread their hands out. Maybe that helps with some of the nerve problems that were brought up. Ultimately, if we went to a shorter putter, you could have some shorter people who have larger midsections who could still anchor. So we've never thought this was an equipment issue. We were always bothered by the anchoring.”

One USGA insider said former executive director David Fay confided after retirement that he wished he would have thought of anchoring as the answer to the long putter problem.

“People say we were really bothered by the look of this thing,” Davis said. “That was never the issue. We really don’t like the fact that you aren’t controlling the whole club.”

You may not like their conclusion about anchoring, but you can’t fault the purity of intent driving Davis and Nager.

“We have a mission to serve, and our mission is to protect and preserve the game, including writing the rules, for those who want to play under them,” Nager said. “We’ve done that for a hundred years, and the worldwide golf community came out in the [Rule 14-1b] comment period and said they want us to continue to do that.”

If they aren’t shipwrecked by dissent, that’s just what Davis and Nager intend to do.

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''