USGA, R&A deserve credit for monumental task

By Randall MellMarch 1, 2017, 4:38 pm

My head already hurts less.

The idea that reading the Rules of Golf may no longer bring on dizziness, nausea and other migraine-like symptoms might be the best news the game has received since the USGA legalized steel-shafted golf clubs.

We may soon be experiencing a seismic shift in the enjoyment of the sport almost as important to the growth of the game as any equipment innovation.

The USGA’s and R&A’s sweeping makeover of its rules proposals is potentially that profound, given how onerous rules complications have become.

This modernization of the rulebook feels like it could be some sort of vaccine, a medicinal remedy for the pain that comes with opening that cursed, wretched book.

By the time this draft of epic changes is reviewed, and then finalized for implementation on Jan. 1, 2019, the game should be in a much better place.

The massive overhaul of the rulebook isn’t just about common-sense changes to the rules. It’s about simplifying the explanation of the rules.

“This is about making the rules easier to understand and easier to read and easier to apply,” said Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director.

In other words, when this is all said and done, the Rules of Golf may no longer be as difficult to decipher as the IRS tax code.

We’re used to seeing the rule book grow more complicated with every revision, but these proposals would actually reduce the rules from 34 to 24. How about that?

Full list: Proposed changes to Rules of Golf

Rules of Golf modernization: Articles, explanations and videos

Highlights of proposed rule changes include:

 Hazards being redefined and simplified as “penalty areas,” with the grounding of clubs, practice swings and removal of loose impediments allowed.

 Free drops and penalty drops being simplified in their execution.

 Eliminating penalties for accidental movement of balls at rest.

 Allowing players to tap down spike marks.

 Permitting distance measuring devices.

 Prohibiting caddies from standing behind their player to line up shots.

 Encouraging “ready golf” for recreational players.

If you were hoping the stroke-and-distance rule would be changed, or that you could get relief from your ball landing in a divot in a fairway, don’t be disappointed. The USGA and R&A aren’t done. The proposals are open to a commentary period where anyone and everyone is encouraged to offer up their own opinions.

“Basically, we are presenting a draft,” Davis said. “We are going to have a six-month period of feedback where we want to hear from golfers around the world.

“We want to know how we can make these rules presented in draft form even better. How can we make them even simpler, more consistent and fair?”

We’ve pounded the USGA and R&A for making the game more complicated than it ought to be, for creating controversy where we thought common sense could solve so many problems.

So let’s give the USGA and R&A a round of applause today. This is a monumental task, an admirable work that required an exhaustive review.

The review process began in 2012, with the USGA and R&A meeting specifically to simplify the game.

Thomas Pagel, the USGA senior director of the Rules of Golf and Amateur Status, remembers the first meeting.

“It was a matter of these (rules) have become complex,” Pagel said. “How do we make them easier to understand and apply for golfers around the world at all levels? And how do we look at delivery, so when you as a golfer get in the book, you actually understand what you are reading?

“We looked at everything. If you look at the rules as a puzzle, we pulled every piece apart, looked at every word to see how we could make it better.”

In so doing, the USGA and R&A appear to be intent on making all of our heads hurt less as we apply the rules to the game we love.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.