DMDs unlikely to speed up play on Tour

By Rex HoggardMarch 31, 2017, 8:26 pm

Among the litany of rule changes proposed earlier this month by the USGA and R&A, a sweeping list billed as a modernization of the Rules of Golf, there was one that stood out among the play-for-pay types.

Although professionals will likely embrace many of the changes as enthusiastically as anyone considering that a simplified set of rules is good for their livelihoods, it was a change to Rule 4.3 that governs the use of distance measuring devices that created a lion’s share of the conversation.

The USGA’s official stance on the possible change that would allow players to use DMDs during tournament rounds is that “distance is public information a player may get from anyone” and that judging distances isn’t “one of the decisions that the rules expect players to make using only their own skill and judgment.”

But whenever the proposed change is brought up on the PGA Tour the conversation turns to pace of play – although, to be fair, players will use almost any topic to complain about slow play – and how the use of DMDs could speed things up.

“No chance,” Steve Flesch said when asked if DMDs could help the pace of play on Tour. “Guys need more specific information than just the pin number. They need information of everything around the flag, like bunker carries, front, back, ridges. Rarely do guys fly it exactly hole high unless it’s soft.”

Brandt Snedeker had a different take.

“I hope they allow [DMDs on Tour]. It’s certainly not going to slow things down,” Snedeker said. “Guys will still use yardage books and do the work, but when you get those weird numbers and you hit one off the planet and can’t find a number it could make a huge difference.”

As surreal as the sight of Rory McIlroy standing on the 17th tee of East Lake shooting the pin with a range finder late on Sunday may seem, the Tour seemed to warm to the idea this week when the circuit announced it will allow DMDs at select events this year on the Tour, PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour Latinoamérica.

This dry run is particularly interesting considering that any potential changes to the Rules of Golf wouldn’t begin until 2019.

To that end, your scribe attempted a similar experiment, measuring the amount of time it took to play nine holes using a yardage book compared with the same nine-hole loop using only a DMD.

Gavin Coles, a five-year Tour veteran who could best be described as an aggressively fast player, agreed to participate in the experiment at Deer Island Country Club in Tavares, Fla., a 7,029-yard, par-72 layout using the latest in DMD technology (Bushnell’s model Pro X2).

Using the DMD, Coles averaged 47.27 seconds per shot and played nine holes in 63 minutes (did we mention he’s an aggressively fast player?). He was slightly faster using only a yardage book, averaging 46.58 seconds per shot and needing just 54 minutes to complete the same loop.

Course conditions, style of play and situational realities – let’s face it, playing nine holes on a random Friday isn’t exactly the same as trying to make the cut at a Tour event – all vary from round to round, but the notion that DMDs will help with the Tour’s languid pace of play seems misguided, at best.

There are certain situations when a DMD will undoubtedly help speed things up, such as when a player hits a shot far outside the normal playing corridors and finding a yardage often requires pacing off the distance.

The use of a DMD’s slope function, which gives the adjusted yardage based on elevation changes, also would help move things along, but according to the USGA that technology would not be allowed under the proposed change.

Instead, many players and long-time observers contend that DMDs will only add another layer to what is already a busy process.

“Caddies will still use yardage books for all that, then check with a laser, too. Will take a hair more time [to play with a DMD],” Flesch contended.

College players have been allowed to use DMDs at tournaments for years and Flesch’s idea that players will use both range finders and yardage books seems to have merit.

John Fields, director of the men’s golf program at the University of Texas, said allowing the use of DMDs on Tour wouldn’t have any impact on pace of play, but the process at the college level does give a glimpse into what it could be like at the game’s highest level if DMDs were allowed.

“A player will shoot it [with a DMD] and I’m there with a yardage book, he’ll shoot and say it’s 118 [yards] to the flag and then I’ll check, your carry number over that bunker is 112 and the front of the green is 109, something like that,” Fields explained. “I’m doing everything a caddie would be doing. That happens super quick and it’s not a big deal.”

Where it could become a big deal is in the event of conflicting information, like during the experiment round with Coles.

The distance to the ninth hole from the fairway using a yardage book was 187 yards, but according to the DMD he was 183 yards from the hole, which normally wouldn’t be an issue for most amateurs, but for professionals playing for millions it’s a reason to take a moment and assure the math is correct.

The real test will occur next month when the first of three events on the PGA Tour Latinoamérica (Costa Rica Classic) will allow the use of DMDs during tournament rounds.

Studies have shown that for the vast majority of recreational golfers DMDs can help with pace of play. At the game’s highest levels, however, more information may not be a good thing.

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Sharma closes on Monday, wins Joburg Open

By Associated PressDecember 11, 2017, 12:43 pm

JOHANNESBURG – Shubhankar Sharma won his first European Tour title by a shooting 3-under 69 Monday in the final round of the weather-delayed Joburg Open.

The 21-year-old Indian resumed his round on the eighth green after play was halted early Sunday afternoon because of storms. He parred that hole, birdied No. 9 and made par on every hole on the back nine.

Full-field scores from the Joburg Open

Sharma finished at 23-under 264, three strokes ahead of the pack, and qualified for next year's British Open, too.

''I actually wasn't going to come here about a week ago ... so I'm really happy that I came,'' said Sharma, who shot 61 in the second round. ''I don't think I'm ever going forget my first time in South Africa.''

Erik van Rooyen (66) was second, three strokes ahead of Shaun Norris (65) and Tapio Pulkkanen (68).

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 pm
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Sharma among three Open qualifiers at Joburg Open

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:16 pm

Shubhankar Sharma earned his first career European Tour win at the rain-delayed Joburg Open and punched his ticket to The Open in the process.

Sharma returned to Randpark Golf Club Monday morning after storms washed out much of the scheduled final day of play. Beginning the re-start with a four-shot lead, he hung on to win by three over South Africa's Erik Van Rooyen.

Both men can make travel plans for Carnoustie next summer, as this was the second event in the Open Qualifying Series with three spots available for players not otherwise exempt who finished inside the top 10. The final spot went to Shaun Norris, who tied for third with Finland's Tapio Pulkkanen but had a higher world ranking (No. 192) than Pulkkanen (No. 197) entering the week.

The Joburg Open was the final official European Tour event of the year. The next tournament in the Open Qualifying Series will be the SMBC Singapore Open in January, where four spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs.

Rules changes include no more viewer call-ins

By Rex HoggardDecember 11, 2017, 12:00 pm

Although the Rules of Golf modernization is still a year away, officials continue to refine parts of the rulebook including an overhaul of the video review protocols.

A “working group” led by the USGA and R&A announced on Monday the new protocols, which include assigning a rule official to a tournament broadcast to resolve rules issues.

The group – which includes the PGA Tour, European Tour, LPGA tour and PGA of America – also voted to stop considering viewer call-ins when processing potential rule violations.

In addition, a new local rule was announced that will discontinue the penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard when the player was unaware of the violation.

In April, Lexi Thompson was penalized four strokes during the final round when officials at the ANA Inspiration learned via e-mail from a viewer of an infraction that occurred during the third round. Thompson was penalized two strokes for incorrectly marking her golf ball and two for signing an incorrect scorecard.

“The message is, as a fan, enjoy watching the game and the best players in the world, but also have the confidence that the committee in charge of the competition have the rules handled,” Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of the Rules of Golf, said on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" on Monday. “Let’s leave the rules and the administration of the event to the players and to those responsible for running the tournament.”

The working group was created in April to review the use of video in applying the rules and the role of viewer call-ins, and initially issued a decision to limit the use of video through the introduction of the “reasonable judgment” and “naked eye” standard.

According to that decision, which was not a rule, “so long as the player does what can reasonably be expected under the circumstances to make an accurate determination, the player’s reasonable judgment will be accepted, even if later shown to be inaccurate by the use of video evidence.”

The new protocols will be implemented starting on Jan. 1.

A comprehensive overhaul of the Rules of Golf is currently underway by the USGA and R&A that will begin on Jan. 1, 2019.