Anchoring battle about who gets to make the rules

By Rex HoggardFebruary 27, 2013, 6:54 pm

Late last year on a scorching Lowcountry afternoon, Golf Channel funnyman/on-course reporter David Feherty launched into a surprisingly impassioned indictment of golf’s current rulemaking process.

“Why don’t professional golfers makes rules for professional golf?” pleaded Feherty, his face red from sunburn and exasperation. “We’re the only sport that we allow amateurs to do it. That’s fine if you’re a proctologist or whatever, but it’s not working for me.”

The Northern Irishman was venting over a rules infraction that cost Carl Pettersson two strokes on his first hole to begin the final round of the 2012 PGA Championship, but he may well have been speaking for a growing number of play-for-pay types.

Anchored putting: Check out more articles and video

The current issue is the U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club’s proposed ban on anchoring, and the PGA Tour spoke with one voice on Sunday when commissioner Tim Finchem announced the circuit’s opposition to the potential ban.

Feherty’s words seemed to echo last week as some players dug in on the proposed ban. For some this is no longer about long putters or anchoring – that ship has likely sailed – as much as it is a system that in some circles has become antiquated by the modern game.

“It’s like there was a conclave and the smoke went up and Webb Simpson is a cheater. That’s not right,” reasoned one player.

In the USGA and R&A’s defense, the comment period, which ends on Thursday, is, by design, intended to give all of the shareholders a voice in the rulemaking process, but for some players it felt like window dressing.

Perhaps the USGA and R&A will change direction and back off on the proposed ban, which would go into effect in 2016, but that didn’t seem likely as we inch toward a final decision later this spring. From that possibility has emerged a larger, more esoteric debate.

“I have said all along, take anchoring out of the equation, is this the best way to make rules for our sport? Should the PGA Tour make its own rules? No. Should the PGA Tour and the PGA of America and the USGA and R&A and journalists be involved? I think so,” said Paul Goydos, one of four player directors on the policy board. “I don’t think this is the way we should be writing rules for our sport.”

Goydos is hardly a lone voice on this issue, although during last week’s conference calls with the player advisory council and policy board, the conversation never ventured into whether the Tour should consider getting into the rulemaking business, sources say.

“I don’t think the Tour is trying to rewrite the rulebook,” said one member of the 16-player PAC. “I personally don’t see what the big deal is. The rhetoric among the players is as high as it has ever been in questioning why we are governed by an amateur organization (USGA and R&A).”

It’s a credit to Finchem that he’s been able to keep his players largely fixated on the anti-ban talking points, which are the potential ban’s impact on the growth of the game and a disturbing lack of statistical data to support the USGA and R&A’s concerns with anchored putting.

The alternative would be a perception issue that the Tour could lose in the court of public opinion. A power struggle between the Tour and golf’s rule makers to save anchoring for a small percentage of players – one official estimated the number of players who anchor on any given week ranges between 10 to 15 percent – would appear self-serving and shortsighted.

On this, Finchem has been clear. Although he maintains the Tour’s right to make its own rules he has repeatedly stopped short of suggesting bifurcation is the answer to the current anchoring quagmire.

Finchem has no interest in getting into the rulemaking business, but like Goydos, he seemed to suggest on Sunday at Dove Mountain that it might be time to make the process a tad more inclusive.

“Transparency, openness, discussion, input involving people across the spectrum in terms of rulemaking, particularly as it relates to equipment rules, is very, very important,” said Finchem.

For the Tour, there is an inherent problem with wholesale bifurcation that is rooted in the complex realities of a global game as well as the traditions of golf. While the current system is not perfect, the alternative could be equal parts messy and self-serving.

“The hardest thing to do is get a rational, non-biased opinion for what is best for the game and the Tour without your own personal feelings coming into it,” said Brad Faxon, a former policy board member and a member of the Champions Tour’s PAC. “Who really has the best interest of the game? That’s why you have to leave governing away from us, the players, and follow the rules.”

Although bifurcation has become a buzz word of late, in many ways it is something of a “nuclear option.” If the Tour breaks with the USGA and R&A on anchoring the possibility exists, however unlikely it may seem, that there would be one set of rules for Tour play and probably the PGA Championship (the PGA of America has sided with the Tour in opposition to the ban) while the U.S. and British Opens and possibly The Masters would be played under a separate set of rules.

If the European Tour supports the ban, which recent reports have suggested, there is also the issue of what set of rules the World Golf Championships and Ryder Cups in Europe are played under.

It’s the type of distractions Finchem has successfully avoided for most, if not all, of his tenure, and why the Tour will ultimately fall in line if the anchoring ban is approved. Yet the message Finchem sent on Sunday is unmistakable: this isn’t about changing rules; it’s about changing how the rules are made.

Getty Images

Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

Getty Images

Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

Getty Images

Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

Getty Images

Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.