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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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)