Distance solution ideas a step in right direction

By Will GrayMarch 8, 2017, 10:10 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Give Mike Davis some credit for thinking outside the box.

As executive director and CEO of the USGA, Davis often becomes the organization’s de facto spokesperson when defending its actions or addressing a variety of controversies. But this week at the North American Golf Innovation Symposium, Davis used his platform to float a novel concept that may someday save a number of classic courses that have otherwise been left in the dust.

Davis offered up the notion of a “variable distance” golf ball, an optional tool by which bombers like Dustin Johnson might use a ball built to 80 percent capacity. According to Davis’ reasoning, it would curb the current rush to perpetually lengthen modern courses and would bring some old-school designs back into play.

"Throw Dustin an 80 percent golf ball and say, 'Let's go play the back tees,' and guess what? It would be a great experience for him," Davis said. "He'd be able to play this wonderful, historic golf course that, by and large, he can't play anymore."

The optics of Davis’ proposal are a little questionable, considering it comes just weeks after his organization released a report insisting that distance gains among the professional game have been negligible since 2003. But the idea to focus attention not on the ever-evolving club, but instead on the ball, is certainly intriguing.

It’s also one that seems to have a fair amount of support from PGA Tour players, many of whom agree that some sort of adjustment must be made soon.

“The alarm bells start going off when they put the 17th tee at St. Andrews 50 yards back,” Graeme McDowell said Wednesday at the Valspar Championship. “You’ve got one of the most iconic golf holes, maybe in the world, being kind of torn up and having to be re-invented because the guys are hitting it too far.”

McDowell recalled times during his youth when his home course would be full and he would instead play an adjacent par-3 course with a ball originally designed for play in the Cayman Islands.

“It went like 60, 70 percent of the distance, so we could go play this little par-3 course with these Cayman balls,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. It didn’t really replicate the feel of a real ball, but it was an interesting way to play.”

The concept is, at this point, purely hypothetical, and would surely lead to a number of tangled webs with equipment manufacturers. Davis also made clear that it’s not an innovation that he would view as mandatory, but instead might become an additional option at a player’s disposal.

Valspar Championship: Articles, photos and videos

But multiple Tour pros surveyed pointed to innovations in tennis as an interesting parallel, as the International Tennis Federation has taken steps in recent years to throttle back the “power game” and has designed different balls for use on different court speeds.

Charl Schwartzel views Davis’ idea as an added opportunity to help pace of play if new tees built well beyond the course’s original design no longer have to be used.

“Now you have to walk 150 yards back and then walk this way, so you’re walking 300 yards and you’re still at the same place,” Schwartzel said. “If you can make the balls and clubs go shorter, and you can play the old courses, then the game will be 3 ½ hours again. It’s simple. But you’ve got to walk so far, how are you going to play quick? It’s impossible to play quick.”

Support on Tour for a shorter ball option is far from unanimous. Jamie Lovemark is one of the longest hitters in the game, averaging more than 302 yards per tee shot, and he believes an element would be lost if top pros were ever restricted.

“Amateurs like seeing guys hit it 330. They pay to watch people do things they can’t do,” Lovemark said. “It’s fun watching home runs. It’s not fun watching guys hit singles. I think the entertainment value would diminish if you were to scale back the ball.”

When discussion of a scaled-back ball begins, the phrase “Augusta National” is never far behind. The iconic course has continued to push its own topographical limitations in recent years in an effort to keep up with increased player power.

McDowell believes that Augusta National might be the only club that could impose a one-ball rule for an event and still have top players comply.

“I think if the USGA or R&A try to do it, there might be a lot of players kicking and screaming,” he said. “Somehow when it happens at Augusta, there’s a slightly different respect level there. Not sure why, it’s just something special about Augusta.”

Schwartzel has an annual invite to Augusta thanks to his 2011 triumph, and he didn’t bristle at the notion of someday using a special ball specifically for the season’s first major.

“I wouldn’t have an issue with it. I wouldn’t even have an issue if they bring us wooden clubs, as long as everyone plays with it,” Schwartzel said. “Give us all squash balls. We’re going to shoot 120, but at least everyone is going to do the same, so who cares?”

Debate and conjecture will continue to rage on, with a concept like the one Davis suggested likely years from possible implementation.

But it has players thinking, especially as they continue to put distance between themselves and the courses of yesteryear with each towering drive.

“Something’s got to happen,” McDowell said. “We’re starting to lose the integrity of some of the most beautiful courses in the world. They’re becoming outdated, which is just a little scary, really.”

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 1, Justin Thomas

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 1:00 pm

He won a major, captured the FedExCup and was named the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. It should come as no surprise that Justin Thomas holds the top spot on our Newsmakers list for 2017.

Thomas entered the year ranked outside the top 20, and few might have pegged him for a transcendent campaign. But he kicked off January with a win in Hawaii, added another before leaving the Aloha State and never looked back.

Thomas’ seminal moment came in August when he captured the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow for his breakthrough major title. One month after greeting Jordan Spieth behind the final green at Royal Birkdale, this time it was Thomas’ turn to have friends stick around to snap pictures with the trophy that signaled his arrival among golf’s upper echelon.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

In addition to racking up the hardware – five in total, including the inaugural CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in his first start of the new wraparound season – Thomas dazzled with style. His runaway win at the Sony Open included an opening-round 59, and his third-round 63 at Erin Hills marked the first time anyone had ever shot 9 under on a U.S. Open venue.

Thomas’ consistency was rewarded at East Lake, when a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship netted him the season-long title and $10 million prize. It was in the subsequent press conference where he shared the goals list he had written into his cell phone in February, having ticked off nearly every one. It showed a dedicated attention to detail as well the tactical approach with which Thomas had steered his rapid ascent.

Heading into a new year, he’s now very clearly entrenched as one of the world’s best. And as his career progresses, it’s likely we’ll look back at 2017 as the point where Thomas first transformed great potential into eye-popping results.

Win No. 1: Title defense at the CIMB Classic

Article: Thomas (64) rallies to defend CIMB title

Win Nos. 2 and 3: The Hawaiian double

Article: Thomas refuses to let disastrous hole derail TOC win

Article: Worst week ever ends with another title at Sony Open

Record Round No. 1: 59 at the Sony Open

Article: Thomas becomes youngest player to shoot 59

Take a look: Thomas’ scorecard from his amazing 59

Record Round No. 2: 63 at the U.S. Open

Article: Thomas sets U.S. Open record with 9-under 63

Temporary Slide: Open MC makes it three in a row

Watch: Thomas loses club, makes 9, misses Open cut

Mr. Major (and win No. 4): PGA champ at Quail Hollow

Article: Thomas joins the club – the major club

Win No. 5: Dell Technologies Championship

Article: Thomas wins the battle of buddies over Spieth

The $10 Million Man: FedExCup champ

Biggest Win of All? Player of the Year

And One to Grow On: Wins at CJ Cup in 2017-18 season

Article: Thomas caps torrid 12-month run with CJ Cup win

Photo Galleries: Best of ...

Best of: Justin Thomas and Jillian Wisniewski

Best of: Justin Thomas through the years

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 12:30 pm

Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.