Cut Line: Taking the long view

By Rex HoggardMay 26, 2017, 10:45 pm

FORT WORTH, Texas – In a relationship-building edition, the USGA takes a unique step and listens; while players start to embrace the benefits of a long-term association ... with their putters.

Made Cut

Let’s talk. It’s been a complicated few years for the USGA and some PGA Tour types.

Last year’s ruling during the final round of the U.S. Open that cost Dustin Johnson a penalty stroke, but thankfully not a victory, was not exactly popular among the play-for-pay set. Earlier this year there were rumblings that the association may not be doling out a “fair” share of its earnings from its lucrative new deal with Fox into purses.

During the Tour’s West Coast swing the USGA seemed to be trying a more proactive approach by sending representatives to events to talk with players about a variety of issues, primarily a set of proposed changes to the Rules of Golf.

This week at Colonial the détente moved to another level with USGA executive director Mike Davis meeting with the Player Advisory Council.

According to one PAC member who asked not to be identified, the meeting was simply a way to begin a “dialogue,” and included conversations about rulings and next month’s U.S. Open venue in Wisconsin.

The USGA is far too often an easy target, but if this week’s meeting is any indication, at least the association is trying to see things from a player’s perspective.

Commitment issues. Much was made of Jordan Spieth’s decision to switch putters last week at the AT&T Byron Nelson, an experiment that didn’t end well (he missed the cut) and lasted just a single tournament.

Spieth first put his trusty Scotty Cameron 009 in his bag when he was 15 years old, which led to a general sense of confusion over his decision to bench the old model before returning to it this week at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

For players like Paul Casey, who moved into the hunt on Friday at Colonial with a second-round 66, it’s those types of long-term associations that seem to be a hallmark of all good putters.

“There is something to be said about guys that use putters a long, long time. Tiger used his putter for a long, long time. You look at obviously the veteran players, guys now on the Champions Tour,” Casey said. “They never used to switch equipment much.”

Being paired with Brandt Snedeker, who has largely used the same putter for 11 years, for Rounds 1 and 2 at Colonial made Casey consider the benefits of a long-term relationship with his putter.

“Just trying to look at little things like that, yeah, OK, why does he not change? He's obviously very good. Maybe I shouldn't change as frequently as I do,” Casey said.

The longest Casey has had the same putter in his bag? A year and a half in 2006.

“That would be a good [record] to try and break,” he laughed. “I'm in for about three months right now [with his current model].”

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Baby steps. Tiger Woods revealed this week via his website that he is continuing his recovery from fusion back surgery in April and his “long-term prognosis is positive.”

Although Woods still didn’t offer any timeline for his possible return to competition, he did write that he won’t be able to “twist” for another two and a half to three months while his fusion heals.

While that seems to suggest we won’t be seeing Woods on a course anytime soon, the man who has been trying to talk Woods into having the surgery for some time sees the procedure as a potential breakthrough.

“I think it’s going to help him,” said Davis Love III, who had a similar fusion surgery in 2013. “He’s going to match [his swing] up better, he’s going to slow down a little bit and he’ll turn through it better.”

Good news has been in short supply when it comes to Woods the last few years, so we’ll take what we can get.

Missed Cut

Tweet of the week: @Danny_Willett (Danny Willett) “[European Tour] please explain that drop? Burying feet enough in to get to the base of the bunker?”

Branden Grace, who came under fire following the first round of the BMW PGA Championship for a fortunate ruling he received on the 13th hole when his ball was plugged in a greenside bunker, was at, the center of the controversy, but it’s not the South African who should be questioned.

“A rule is a rule, and I took advantage of the rule there, and it helped knowing the rule in some respects,” said Grace, who was given a drop in the bunker because his feet were touching a rubber sheet that was under the sand from his original lie.

If you don’t like the Rules of Golf let the USGA and R&A know, but until then criticizing a player for playing by the book is blatantly misplaced.

Weather warning. If you’re inclined to read tea leaves, European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley’s comments this week sent a clear message.

“The PGA of America says they're going to determine whether the PGA Championship is moved to May by the end of August this year,” Pelley said.

Those within Tour circles believe that decision will be to move the PGA from August to May, allowing for a larger schedule makeover that would also see The Players move back to March and the playoffs end in early September.

Although there are plenty of reasons why a nip/tucked schedule would be good for golf, there are drawbacks – most notably the thermometer on Friday at Colonial. Temperatures reached the high 90s on Day 2 at Colonial with no relief in sight.

If the PGA were to move to May, Texas, Florida and southern California would all likely become future venues for the PGA of America and as any weatherman will tell you, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.