Disagree with anchor ban, but intentions pure

By Randall MellMay 23, 2013, 12:31 am

FAR HILLS, N.J. – His chin is out there like the prow of a ship carving through rough seas.

USGA executive director Mike Davis is undaunted in his determination to navigate through the storm his organization faces in trying to get the game to a better place.

USGA president Glen Nager, too.

They know exactly where they want the game to go, but the journey is proving difficult with waves of hard dissent aiming to shipwreck them.

These aren’t rogue dissidents hammering away at their decision to ban anchored strokes, either.

They are top industry leaders, Hall of Famers, major championship winners, world-class players, respected teachers and manufacturers.

A sampling of the criticism:

Paul Azinger, 1993 PGA Championship winner – “Slowest knee-jerk reaction ever.”

LPGA Hall of Famer Beth Daniel – “Anchoring is not the problem with the game. How about the art of ball striking, slow play, the ball, driving distance, lining up players?”

Tim Clark, 2010 Players Championship winner: “We do have legal counsel. We’re not just going to roll over and accept this.”

Tom Lehman, 1996 British Open winner – “I think the USGA and the R&A are setting themselves up for a situation where people don’t follow their lead, which will diminish their credibility as ruling bodies.”

Butch Harmon, Golf Digest’s No. 1 ranked teacher: “Pro golf is the only sport in the U.S. that has an amateur body making its rules. Time to change.”

David Feherty, Golf Channel and CBS announcer: “Professional golfers need to make the rules for professional golf.”

PGA of America president Ted Bishop: “Maybe we are at a point where we need to consider what impact bifurcation would have.”

Taylor-Made CEO Mark King: “The USGA within 10 years will be a nonentity.”

While all those folks may not like the decision Davis and Nager made joining with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in implementing Rule 14-1b, they ought to respect the purity of their motives. They ought to admire the commitment of Davis and Nager to do what they believe is right without any of the over-riding self interests that consumes so many of their critics.

Davis and Nager aren’t trying to win a trophy or turn a profit or prolong a career.

They’re trying to serve the greater good of a game embattled in conflicting self interests.

Davis, Nager and their R&A counterpart Peter Dawson have something else going for them. They’re right.

Anchoring isn’t a stroke, but proving it is a bit like trying to prove something is obscene.

Davis is bright, talented and admirably civil in the way he’s leading this cause. Nager is formidably intelligent and an articulate litigator. The 40-page package the USGA released Tuesday supporting Rule 14-1b was thorough enough to hold up as one of those briefs Nager submitted in his 13 appearances before the Supreme Court. These guys have thoroughly thought through this new rule.

Here’s the thing, though. They’re making their case without test results, studies or hard data to cite. That’s because defining anchoring as an improper stroke is a little bit like the challenge the land’s highest court faced trying to define obscenity. In the end, it’s the Justice Potter Stewart standard: “I know it when I see it.” The USGA and R&A are basically arguing they know wrong when they see it, and they see anchoring as fundamentally wrong.

“It’s important to understand that the Rules of Golf are not based on statistical studies,” Nager said. “They’re based upon judgments that define the game and its intended challenges. One of those challenges is to control the entire club and the swing, and anchoring alters that challenge. Moreover, the issue here is not whether anchoring provides a statistical demonstrable advantage to the average golfer, or on every stroke, or in every circumstance. What matters here is whether, by diminishing obstacles inherent in the traditional stroke, anchoring may advantage some players at some times. Statistics are not necessary to resolve that issue.”

As Davis points out, how do you statistically defend the rule that sets a basketball hoop at 10 feet or bases set 90 feet apart in baseball?

As persuasive as Davis and Nager can be, the most eloquent case against anchoring might have been made by Tiger Woods.

Yeah, the guy we complain never says anything really meaningful in news conferences boiled this all down in powerfully simple language.

“Anchoring should not be part of the game,” Woods said last week. “It should be mandatory to have to swing all 14 clubs. I’ve always felt that in golf you should have to control your nerves and swing all 14 clubs, not just 13.”

OK, maybe long and belly putters were allowed to become too vital to too many players for too long. That’s the major complaint I had with the new anchoring ban. While I believe major championships are a test of nerves as much as skill, and that the hands are the great transmitters of nervous tension, it felt like the USGA and R&A left the barn door open too long.

Really, how long do you get to correct an incorrect scorecard before the nobility in doing so is lost? That’s what I thought, but Davis and Nager didn’t fudge a scorecard, and they weren’t in control when long putters began growing in popularity. They’re plowing through rough seas convinced it’s never too late to do what’s right.

Notably, there has been discomfort over the use of the long putter for a long time within the USGA ranks. The problem in addressing it always came back to a greater discomfort over banning equipment.

When Davis took over two years ago, he led a different approach, a different way to look at the problem of long putters. Under Davis, the USGA began looking at “anchoring” instead of the equipment.

“The powers that be didn’t like what they were seeing, but they only looked at it in terms of the length of club,” Davis said. “The heart of this is the stroke itself. The thing we never wanted to do is mandate that the putter has to be shortest club in the bag. We saw a lot of reasons why that would never work and wouldn’t be fair to players.”

Davis said there were complications in trying to standardize the length of a putter.

“It wasn't the right thing for the game of golf to restrict the length of a putter,” Davis said. “We stand by that today. And for some that would question –`Why don't you just limit the length of the putter, or deal with it that way?’ – it's really the anchoring that has bothered us. We want to protect the tradition of holding the club in two hands and swinging it freely away from the body.

“If you do it by length of putter, you're going to negatively affect some people that we didn't want to negatively affect. There are people who want to stand tall because of back issues. There are people who want to use a longer putter because they want to spread their hands out. Maybe that helps with some of the nerve problems that were brought up. Ultimately, if we went to a shorter putter, you could have some shorter people who have larger midsections who could still anchor. So we've never thought this was an equipment issue. We were always bothered by the anchoring.”

One USGA insider said former executive director David Fay confided after retirement that he wished he would have thought of anchoring as the answer to the long putter problem.

“People say we were really bothered by the look of this thing,” Davis said. “That was never the issue. We really don’t like the fact that you aren’t controlling the whole club.”

You may not like their conclusion about anchoring, but you can’t fault the purity of intent driving Davis and Nager.

“We have a mission to serve, and our mission is to protect and preserve the game, including writing the rules, for those who want to play under them,” Nager said. “We’ve done that for a hundred years, and the worldwide golf community came out in the [Rule 14-1b] comment period and said they want us to continue to do that.”

If they aren’t shipwrecked by dissent, that’s just what Davis and Nager intend to do.

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Still missing the PLAYOFF part of the playoffs

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 18, 2018, 5:10 pm

The PGA Tour huddled for 3 ½ years, consulted with the geniuses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and ran countless simulations for its strokes-based system.

It still didn’t get it right.

In a move that surely will alienate many of its hardcore fans, the Tour on Tuesday unveiled its new format for the Tour Championship. Beginning next year, players will begin the week at East Lake with a predetermined total based on their position on the points list, the leader starting at 10 under par.

In an age of points and projections, the Tour’s desire for simplicity is understandable – RIP, Steve Sands’ whiteboard – but its new-look finale violates the spirit of competitive sports.

There are no head starts in sports. That’s the beauty of them.  

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots don’t open the Super Bowl with a 7-0 lead.

Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors don’t start the best-of-7 NBA Finals with a one-game advantage.

Lindsey Vonn doesn’t begin the Olympics with a three-second lead.

Roger Federer doesn’t automatically take a 1-0 lead on his Wimbledon opponent.  

But the PGA Tour has essentially created a handicapped tournament for its grand finale, for the 30 best players of the season.

What a missed opportunity.


Current FedExCup standings

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No system is perfect, but this is exactly the kind of contrived idea that emerges when the Tour continually tries to conflate season-long performance with a season-ending “playoffs.”

It’s messy and unnecessary.

The most common criticism of the current FedExCup model is that the best players are rarely rewarded for season-long success. (Example: Brooks Koepka, a two-time major winner this season, starts this week as the No. 7 seed.) That’s taken care of with the new Wyndham Rewards Top 10, which will pay out $10 million in bonus money, including $2 million to the top points-earner, after the regular-season finale at the Wyndham Championship.

Perfect.

End it there.

Celebrate Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas or Bryson DeChambeau for their season-long excellence.

Then start the playoffs – a real playoff – where everyone starts at zero and where past performance guarantees nothing but a spot in the elimination tournament.

Only those who make the cut in the 100- or 125-man Northern Trust advance to the 70-player BMW Championship. If Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth play poorly and miss out, well, tough luck. Play better. Survive and advance.

At the BMW Championship, it’ll be a fight to finish inside the top 30 on the leaderboard, and it’s easy to imagine a 5-for-2 playoff at the conclusion of play for those attempting to crack the Tour Championship field.

Once the top 30 is finalized, there’s no need for a staggered stroke start.

Play a three-round stroke-play qualifier (Wednesday-Friday), then cut to the low 16 players and have a knockout match-play bracket over the weekend for $15 million.

Sure, some of the stars will have been cut in the previous two playoff events.

Others will fail to make the top 16 at East Lake.

But even if the final is whittled down to Kyle Stanley vs. Patton Kizzire, how cool would it be to watch two players go head to head for the richest prize in all of sports?

At least they’d have earned their spot in the championship.

At least the event would have stayed true to what it really is – a well-run tournament at the end of a long season that is a glorified cash grab.

The Tour wanted to create a unique end to the season, but that shouldn’t mean turning its big-money finale into a net tournament.

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Spieth's schedule violation 'resolved' and a 'win' for fans

By Rex HoggardSeptember 18, 2018, 4:15 pm

ATLANTA – For the first time in his career Jordan Spieth failed to qualify for this week’s Tour Championship, an unexpected turn that also found him on the wrong side of a new PGA Tour regulation.

Under the circuit’s strength-of-field requirement, which began last season, a player must add an event to their schedule that they haven’t played the last four years if they didn’t play at least 25 events in the previous or current seasons.

Since he didn’t qualify for the finale, Spieth will finish the season with 24 events (including the Ryder Cup) and under the policy he “shall be subject to a major penalty,” which is a fine of at least $20,000 or even suspension.


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What that means specifically for Spieth remains unclear, but on Tuesday at East Lake Andy Pazder, the Tour’s chief of operations, said the matter has been addressed.

“I have talked to Jordan and we’ve resolved it,” Pazder said. “We have come to a resolution. I’m not going to be able to share the details of that, [but] I will say the result is something that you will see next season. It’s resolved in a way that’s going to be a win for our tournaments, our fans and golf in general.”

Pazder’s response suggests that Spieth will likely add at least one new event to his schedule next year.

Spieth was not the only player to violate the policy the season. Ian Poulter only played 20 events in 2018, the same as he played last season, and he did not add a new event to his schedule. Pazder said that after the Englishman won the Houston Open in April he justifiably shifted his focus to qualifying for the European Ryder Cup team and played five events this summer in Europe, which kept him from reaching his 25-event minimum or adding an new event.

“We’ve come to a resolution on how he is going to address that,” Pazder said.

Spieth and Poulter are the first players to violate the policy.

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How the new Tour Championship format would look this year and last

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 18, 2018, 2:39 pm

The PGA Tour announced on Tuesday plans to change the FedExCup format for the 2018-19 season. Part of that plan is to assign pre-tournament strokes to players in the Tour Championship based on their playoff standings in the first two events. 

Per GolfChannel.com senior writer Rex Hoggard:

The No. 1 player on the post-season points list will begin the finale at 10 under par. The next four players will start at 8 under through 5 under, respectively, while Nos. 6-10 will begin the tournament at 4 under par with the total regressing by one stroke every five players with those ranked 26th through 30thstarting at even par. The winner at East Lake will also claim the FedExCup.

Here's a look at where players would start this year's Tour Championship under the new format (through the three events already contested):

1 Bryson DeChambeau 10 under
2 Justin Rose 8 under
3 Tony Finau 7 under
4 Dustin Johnson 6 under
5 Justin Thomas 5 under
T-6 Keegan Bradley 4 under
T-6 Brooks Koepka 4 under
T-6 Bubba Watson 4 under
T-6 Billy Horschel 4 under
T-6 Cameron Smith 4 under
T-11 Webb Simpson 3 under
T-11 Jason Day 3 under
T-11 Francesco Molinari 3 under
T-11 Phil Mickelson 3 under
T-11 Patrick Reed 3 under
T-16 Patrick Cantlay 2 under
T-16 Rory McIlroy 2 under
T-16 Xander Schauffele 2 under
T-16 Tommy Fleetwood 2 under
T-16 Tiger Woods 2 under
T-21 Aaron Wise 1 under
T-21 Kevin Na 1 under
T-21 Rickie Fowler 1 under
T-21 Jon Rahm 1 under
T-21 Kyle Stanley 1 under
T-26 Paul Casey Even par
T-26 Hideki Matsuyama Even par
T-26 Gary Woodland Even par
T-26 Marc Leishman Even par
T-26 Patton Kizzire Even par

Here's a look at how last year's Tour Championship played out, with Xander Schauffele winning the event and Justin Thomas claiming the overall FedExCup title, and how it would have looked, all things equal, under the new system (in which Jordan Spieth began the finale as the No. 1 seed and would have started the event at 10 under par). In the new system, Thomas would have been the FedExCup champion.

2017 Tour Championship Player Final score   2017 in new system Player Final score
1 Xander Schauffele -12   1 Justin Thomas  -19
2 Justin Thomas  -11    2 Jordan Spieth  -17 
T-3 Russell Henley  -10    3 Paul Casey  -13 
T-3 Kevin Kisner  -10    T-4 Jon Rahm  -12 
5 Paul Casey  -9    T-4 Brooks Koepka  -12 
6 Brooks Koepka  -8    T-4 Kevin Kisner  -12 
T-7 Tony Finau  -7    T-4 Xander Schauffele   -12
T-7 Jon Rahm  -7    T-8 Justin Rose  -10 
T-7 Jordan Spieth  -7    T-8 Russell Henley  -10 
T-10 Sergio Garcia  -6    T-10 Dustin Johnson  -9 
T-10 Matt Kuchar  -6    T-10 Matt Kuchar  -9 
T-10 Justin Rose  -6    12 Tony Finau  -8 
T-13 Patrick Reed  -5    T-13 Daniel Berger  -7 
T-13 Webb Simpson  -5    T-13 Webb Simpson  -7 
15 Daniel Berger  -4    T-13 Sergio Garcia  -7 
16 Pat Perez  -3    T-16 Pat Perez  -6 
T-17 Jason Day  -2    T-16 Patrick Reed -6 
T-17 Dustin Johnson  -2    18 Marc Leishman  -3
19 Gary Woodland  -1     T-19 Kyle Stanley  -1 
T-20 Patrick Cantlay    T-19 Gary Woodland  -1 
T-20 Jason Dufner    T-21 Jason Day 
T-20 Kyle Stanley  E   T-21 Adam Hadwin 
23 Adam Hadwin  +1   T-21 Patrick Cantlay 
T-24 Brian Harman  +3    T-21 Jason Dufner 
T-24 Marc Leishman  +3    25 Brian Harman  +1 
T-26 Rickie Fowler +6    T-26 Rickie Fowler  +2 
T-26 Hideki Matsuyama  +6    T-26 Hideki Matsuyama  +2 
T-28 Kevin Chappell  +9    28 Charley Hoffman  +6 
T-28 Charley Hoffman  +9    29 Kevin Chappell  +7 
30 Jnonattan Vegas  +10    30 Jhonattan Vegas  +8 
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Stock Watch: Up or down for FedExCup changes?

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 18, 2018, 2:20 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Angela Stanford (+9%): In this era of youthful dominance, Justin Rose and now Stanford offer reminders that sometimes the long, winding journey is even more rewarding. It took Rose 20 years to reach world No. 1; for Stanford, she needed 76 major starts (and 15 years after a major playoff loss) before she finally became a Grand Slam winner, at age 40.

Sang-Moon Bae (+6%): The next time you complain about losing your game after a few weeks away, remember that the two-time Tour winner shelved his clubs for TWO YEARS to fulfill his South Korean military obligations and then regained his card. That’s a heckuva achievement.

FedExCup changes (+5%): Though the Tour Championship shouldn’t count as an official victory – come on, the playoffs leader has a TEN-SHOT head start over No. 26! – the strokes-based system is no doubt easier to follow than the various points fluctuations. RIP, Steve Sands’ whiteboard.

Tyler McCumber (+3%): Maybe he’s on his way to challenging his famous father, who won 10 times on the PGA Tour. A three-time winner this season in Canada, McCumber clinched Mackenzie Tour Player of the Year honors and will be one to watch next year on the Web.

Matthew Wolff (+2%): The reigning NCAA Freshman of the Year is now 2-for-2 this season, winning at both Pebble Beach and Olympia Fields with a 67.2 scoring average. He’s a primetime player.  


FALLING

Amy Olson (-1%): To win a major most need to have their heart broken at least once … but that ugly 72nd-hole double bogey could linger for longer than she probably hoped.  

Lexi (-2%): As heartwarming as it was to watch Stanford snap her major-less drought, keep in mind that the best U.S. player – the 23-year-old Thompson – next April will be five years removed from her lone LPGA major title.

Web final (-3%): Twenty-five Tour cards will be on the line this week at the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship, but here’s guessing you won’t even notice – for some reason, it conflicts with the big tour’s season finale. Why couldn’t this have been played last week, when the Tour was dark and the Web could get some much-needed exposure?

Player of the Year debate (-5%): As much as the Tour might promote otherwise during its big-money conclusion, Justin Thomas said it best on Twitter: Majors trump all. It’s Brooks Koepka’s trophy this year.  

Repairing damage (-6%): Golf’s governing bodies are confident that the new rules (out Jan. 1!) will speed up pace of play, but it’s hard to see how that’s possible when they now will allow players to tap down spike marks on the green. With $1 million and major titles on the line, you don’t think guys will spend an extra minute or two gardening?