A Regulatory Miracle -- and For Now Six Extra Yards
So it was no surprise Thursday morning when I spoke with David Fay, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, and he said this:
I feel as if I should be opening a bottle of Veuve-Cliquot.
I mention this not to showcase Fays excellent taste in Champagne, but to note the departure from his usual demeanor. While never stiff, the 24-year USGA veteran is usually a bow-tied bastion of patience and reserve. Champagne in the morning? This must have been a huge deal.
It was. For 18 months, Fay fought the good fight against reporters, detractors, impatient golfers and discussion-board soapboxers whose craws were full of consternation over discrepancies in equipment rules. As the permanent chief of an organization whose volunteer presidency turns over every four years, he had to endure the embarrassment of making a regulation on equipment ' and then having the only other ruling body in the sport essentially shrug and say, Whats the harm?
Now that same organization ' the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews ' has agreed to work with the USGA to ease the world of golf into the exact restriction the USGA wants. No wonder Fay wants to bring out the bubbly.
See the full story: USGA and R&A Reach Agreement
The history is all too recent. In 1998, the USGA, concerned about spring-like effect off the thinner faces of modern drivers, announced at the U.S. Open at Olympic that it would be looking into the matter. That fall, the USGA instituted a limitation on just how springy those faces could be. The now-famous number, .83 (.822 plus a test tolerance), represents that coefficient of restitution ' the percentage of velocity an object will retain when it rebounds from being fired into a surface.
Technicalities aside, what this meant was that in the United States and Mexico, to which the USGAs jurisdiction extends, there was a ceiling. Manufacturers howled at the possibility that their innovation could be stifled.
One would think that two rulemaking bodies that cover the entire world would see eye to eye on things. But to everyones surprise, the R&A said it never perceived the spring-like threat the USGA did. North America (minus Canada) became a continent where so-called hot drivers would not be used in tournament play and could not be used to make scores for handicap purposes ' a situation perceived as a stigma by the makers of the drivers.
The solution proposed by the USGA and the R&A Thursday ' five years of hotter drivers (a maximum COR of .86, which amounts to about six yards on dead-center hits) starting next New Years Day, and pros holding where they are now ' is a near-miraculous gift for the USGA, a truly face-saving result. Before Thursday, the R&As stolid indifference to the spring-like issue made it seem as if the only way out would be for the USGA to relent and lift its restriction entirely.
(Indeed, a number of critics said the USGA should do that anyway. Let the laws of physics limit driver performance, they said, because there were only a few more yards left anyway. But the abandonment strategy wouldnt have done much for the USGAs credibility, which has for years been called into question amid accusations of bull-in-a-china-shop regulation practices.)
So what gave? Why did the R&A go from shoulder-shrugging to willingness to regulate?
Its simple: In a small world, uniformity is worth it. It may have seemed quaint, all those decades ago, when the U.K. ball was smaller than the U.S ball, and steel was O.K. over here but hickory ruled over there. But golf is now an international game, and the games best players devour distance weekly in the search for riches and glory. There must be one game, not many, is the thinking now, even if to achieve this requires the temporary irony of two sets of rules.
R&A secretary Peter Dawson confirmed this from Scotland Friday.
The issue [of spring-like effect] got so hyped up that in a sense, uniformity did become more important than regulation, Dawson said. Also, if theres no threat from spring-like effect, there is no threat from regulation on it.
Aha. Indifference is a two-edged sword, evidently. But Dawsons observation did nothing to denigrate the USGAs concerns; the R&As action should not be seen as mollification of a wailing child. The negotiations toward this settlement were long, and at times it seemed from the progress reports as if there was no progress to report. Based on the personalities of the people involved, it is reasonable to conclude that negotiation worked the way it is supposed to ' everyone gave something, and everyone came away seeing something of the others points of view.
Now that this chapter is about to close, everyone seems to be happy. But the horizon is not cloudless. The PGA Tour circulated a five-paragraph statement applauding the spring-like agreement, but used the occasion to state twice on that one page that golf balls should stop where they are. The ruling bodies can now turn their attention to that issue, and they are certain to encounter resistance from a golf ball industry that has no plans for curbing innovation.
And as for the spring-like rollback to .83 on New Years Day, 2008: Although many high-profile club companies have agreed to toe that line, there is already some private muttering among manufacturers that they may use the five-year grace period to make sure the .86 standard stays where it is.
As usual, dont touch that dial.
U.S. Amateur final comes down to Devon vs. Goliath
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – On his family’s happiest day in years, Nick Bling stood off to the side of the 18th green, trying to collect himself.
His oldest son, Devon, had just advanced to the U.S. Amateur final, and he surely knew that, at some point, the question was coming. Of the many members in the family’s boisterous cheering section that came here to Pebble Beach – a clan that includes Nick’s brothers and sisters, his in-laws and the teaching professionals of his hometown club – one person was conspicuously absent.
So for 22 seconds, Nick couldn’t utter a word.
“She’s watching,” he said, finally, wiping under his sunglasses.
His wife, Sara, died in February 2013 after suffering a sudden blood clot that went to her brain. She was only 45, the mother of two young boys.
The news took everyone by surprise – that day Nick and Devon were together at a junior tournament in southwest California, while Sara was at home with her youngest son, Dillon.
“That was bad. Unexpected,” said Dillon, now 16. “I don’t even want to think about that. That was a rough year.”
Sara was a fixture at all of the boys’ junior tournaments. She organized their schedules, packed their lunches and frequently shuttled them to and from China Lake, the only course in their small hometown of Ridgecrest, about two hours north of Los Angeles, where they’ve lived since 1990.
An engineer at the Naval Air Weapons Station, Nick picked up the game at age 27, and though he had no formal training (at his best he was a high-80s shooter), he was the boys’ primary swing coach until high school, when Devon was passed off to PGA instructor Chris Mason.
“Devon has world-class raw talent, and there’s a lot of things you can’t teach, and he’s got a lot of that,” said UCLA assistant coach Andrew Larkin. “But his dad looked at the game very analytically. He was able to break down the golf swing from a technical standpoint, and I think that has helped him. His dad is a brilliant man.”
Devon watched his dad hit balls in the garage and, at 18 months, began taking full swings with a plastic club, whacking shots against the back of the couch. Once his son was bigger, Nick put down a mat and built a hole in the dirt on the family’s property.
Once it was time for the next step, there was only one option in town. China Lake is more than 300 miles from Pebble Beach, but in many ways they’re worlds apart. The course is dead in the winter, picked over by the birds in the spring and baked out in the summer, with 110-degree temperatures and winds that occasionally gust to 60 mph. Devon still blossomed into a well-known prospect.
“Growing up in Ridgecrest,” Devon said, “some could say that it’s a disadvantage. But I could use the course and take a shag bag and go out and practice. So I used it to my advantage, and if it weren’t for that golf course, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Nor would he be here without the support of his family.
Asked how they survived the tragedy of losing Sara so suddenly, Nick Bling said: “Brothers. Kids. Friends. Half of Ridgecrest. The town. They all came together. What do they say, that it takes a village to raise a boy? It did. Two boys.”
Devon carried a 4.2 GPA in high school and played well enough to draw interest from UCLA. He played on the team last season as a freshman, winning a tournament and posting three other top-10s. The consistency in his game has been lacking, but the time spent around the Bruins’ coaches is starting to pay off, as he’s developed into more than just a swashbuckling power hitter. He has refined his aggression, though he’s offered more than a few reminders of his firepower. Last fall, the team held a Red Tee Challenge at TPC Valencia, where they all teed off from the red markers. Bling shot 28 on the back nine.
In addition to his awesome game, Larkin said that Bling was one of the team’s most mature players – even after arriving on campus as a 17-year-old freshman.
“I think his mannerisms and his charisma really come from his mom,” Larkin said. “It was a super hard time in his life, but I think it helped him grow and mature at an early age. He’s such a good big brother, and he took a lot of that responsibility.
“There’s a blessing in everything that happens, and I think it made him grow a little young. I think he’s the man he is today because of her.”
In his player profile, Bling wrote that his mom always wanted him to play in USGA championships, because of their prestige, and she would have loved to watch him maneuver his way through his first U.S. Amateur appearance.
After earning the No. 41 seed in stroke play, Bling knocked off two of the top amateurs in the country (Shintaro Ban and Noah Goodwin), edged one of the nation’s most sought-after prospects (Davis Riley) and on Saturday traded birdies with Pacific Coast Amateur champion Isaiah Salinda.
In one of the most well-played matches of the week, Bling made six birdies in a seven-hole span around the turn and shot the stroke-play equivalent of a 65 to Salinda’s 66.
The match came down to 18, where Bling bludgeoned a drive over the tree in the middle of the fairway, knocked it on the green in two shots and forced Salinda to make birdie from the greenside bunker, which he couldn’t.
Bling was a 1-up winner, clinching his spot in the finals (and the 2019 Masters and U.S. Open), and setting off a raucous celebration behind the rope line.
“He played as good as I’ve ever seen,” Larkin said. “The talent has always been there, and I’m glad it’s coming out this week.”
Another difficult opponent awaits in the championship match. It’s a mismatch on paper, a 36-hole final between Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, ranked fifth in the world, and the No. 302-ranked Bling. Hovland had won each of his previous two matches by a 7-and-6 margin – the first time that’s happened since 1978 – and then dropped eight birdies on Cole Hammer on Saturday afternoon.
But he’s likely never faced a player with Bling’s resolve – or a cheering section as supportive as his family’s.
“This means a lot to us,” Dillon said. “It was finally Devon’s time, and I knew one day it’d come down to the finals. He’s been playing awesome. Mom is probably really happy right now.”
Report: Fan hit by broken club at Web.com event
A fan was hit by a broken club and required stiches Friday at the Web.com Tour's WinCo Foods Portland Open.
According to ESPN.com, Kevin Stadler slammed his club in frustration causing his clubhead to break and it struck a fan in the head.
The fan required six stiches and was released from the hospital.
Orlando Pope, a Web.com Tour rules official, spoke with ESPN.com:
"It was a very freakish accident. Kevin is devastated. He had trouble trying to finish the round. He was quite worried and felt so bad.''
Former PGA champion Shaun Micheel was in Stadler's group and posted this message on Facebook:
"One of my playing partners played a poor shot with a 7 iron on the par 3 fifteenth hole this morning. In a fit of anger he slammed his club against the ground and the side of his foot which caused the club to break about 6” from the bottom. I had my head down but the clubhead flew behind me and hit a spectator to my right. It’s been a while since I’ve seen so much blood. We stayed with him for about 15 minutes before the EMT’s arrived. The last I heard was that he had a possible skull fracture but that he was doing ok otherwise. [Stadler] was absolutely shattered and we did our best to keep his spirits up. This was not done on purpose and we were astounded at the way the club was directed but it shows you just how dangerous it is to throw or break clubs. Each of us in the group learned something today!"
Furyk remains coy about Ryder Cup picks
U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk sounds like a man champing at the bit to officially fill out his American team and accelerate final plans for the matches in Paris next month.
With eight automatic qualifiers secured last Sunday, all that’s left are his four captain’s picks.
“At times it felt like it was dragging on,” Furyk told Amanda Balionis during CBS TV’s rain delay Saturday at the Wyndham Championship. “I’m excited to get to this point.”
But still in no hurry to commit to naming Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as two of his captain’s picks.
“We have some great choices and certainly Tiger and Phil look like they are in great form,” Furyk said.
Furyk, when specifically asked about Tiger’s chances as a pick:
“He’s played great,” Furyk said. “I’m in such a great position right now with so many players playing well and so many great players to choose from. The difficult part is going to be, `How do we pluck four guys out of there?’ Certainly, Tiger is in great form and has put himself in a great position.”
And on Mickelson’s chances:
“Phil does provide a lot of veteran leadership,” Furyk said. “He hasn’t missed one of these in a long time. He’s had a good season, and he’s putting extremely well. I want to say he’s second in putting stats right now. All good stuff, and we’ll see how the next few weeks kind of play themselves out.”
Furyk doesn’t have to make his first three picks official until Sept. 4, with the final pick to be named six days later. While Woods and Mickelson may be locks, Furyk won’t be rushed.
“There’s still time.” Furyk said. “We are in an exciting part. We have eight guys. I’m still talking to them, gathering some information. The vice captains have been talking a lot. It’s been fun seeing the banter and the texts going back and forth.
“We’ll see how the next few weeks play themselves out.”
Furyk, by the way, is in contention at the Wyndham Championship. He was tied for 11th, six shots off the lead when interviewed in the weather delay.
So, if he wins, would he resurrect talk of being a playing captain?
“The odds are about zero right now,” Furyk said. “Now that I’m kind of knee deep, and we’re getting that close to the Ryder Cup, I really don’t think it’s possible to do both, be a player and a captain. The duties would be too great. And my game, I haven’t played well the last couple years. I’ve been battling injuries and battling myself. I’m excited, I have been feeling a lot better here the last few months and I’ve started playing some good golf.”
Aiken, Waring tied at Nordea; Olesen three back
MOLNDAL, Sweden – Paul Waring of England and Thomas Aiken of South Africa share the lead, three shots clear of their rivals, after the third round of the Nordea Masters on the European Tour on Saturday.
Waring was tied for first place with Scott Jamieson after the second round and shot a 1-under 69.
While Jamieson (75) slipped down the leaderboard, Aiken caught up Waring after shooting 67 - despite three straight bogeys from No. 15. He bounced back by making birdie at the last.
Thorbjorn Olesen (67) and Marc Warren (66) are tied for third.