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Randall's Rant: Distance report reveals little, but opens big door

By Randall MellMarch 5, 2018, 5:50 pm

The USGA and the R&A should have delivered their new distance report to media on Monday by carrier pigeon.

Or pony express.

Or smoke signals.

The report’s finding that last year’s “deviation” in driving distance is “unusual and concerning” and breaks from the “slow creep” indicated in the two previous years suggests the governing bodies might be on their way to concluding the ball is flying too far for the good of the game.

Some big names are wondering what took so damn long.

“I’ve only been yelling at you for 40 years,” Jack Nicklaus told USGA executive director Mike Davis over dinner a couple weeks ago when Davis laid out his organization’s intent to address the game’s distance explosion.

Talk about slow play.

There is some irony in the “While We’re Young” initiative the USGA launched a few years back. Nicklaus, who has led a campaign for a rollback of the golf ball for a few decades, is 78.

Though the report states the USGA and R&A are merely using their findings to study the distance issue in a more serious way, you don’t need to read tea leaves to gauge where they appear to be leaning.

Davis told the Wall Street Journal last November that distance increases have been “horrible” for the game.

As a guardian of the sport, you can’t depict something as a threat to the game in that way and do nothing about it.

Last week, Nicklaus said Davis told him over dinner the governing bodies are getting closer to addressing the distance issue and asked for his help “when we get there.” Maybe Nicklaus read too much in that, but he sounded convinced change is on the way.

Two weeks ago, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers joined Davis in expressing more public concern.

“Our view is that when you start to look at this data now, that we have probably crossed that line in the sand and that a serious discussion is now needed on where we go,” Slumbers said.

The new USGA/R&A report shows that the average driving distance across seven worldwide tours moved up more than 3 yards last year.

On the PGA Tour, the average was just a 2.5-yard gain. That’s modest compared with what happened in the boom years, when the USGA was largely silent, when average driving distances on the PGA Tour shot up 6 yards from 2000-01 with the introduction of the ProV1 and solid core balls. There was a 6.4-yard increase from 2002-03. This doesn’t even go back to account for what big-headed and thin-faced drivers did for length in the ‘90s.

There are more questions than answers with Monday’s report.

1. What actions might this report and subsequent study finally justify?

2. Is this a first step toward the USGA and R&A restraining technology, even reigning it back?

3. Would the governing bodies dare to do what Nicklaus suggests, roll back the golf ball?

If the subsequent study justifies that rolling standards back, Titleist won’t be the only entity pushing back.

The immediate reactions from the PGA Tour and PGA of America on Monday were eye opening. They don’t seem to like what kind of regulatory restraint this report might end up justifying.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan dismissed a 2.5-yard average gain among its members as not particularly alarming.

“Having carefully reviewed the data, we do not believe the trends indicate a significant or abnormal increase in distance since 2003 or from 2016 to 2017,” Monahan informed Tour members in a memo Monday.

He also wrote: “While this may seem significant when taken in isolation, it has not been uncommon over the past 15 years to see significant gains or losses. Since 2003, there have been three instances where a significant gain was recorded between years, and five instances where the average decreased.”

Monahan suggested last year’s distance gain should be attributed more to the players than to equipment.

“We believe this increase in club head speed is mostly attributable to a combination of factors, such as increased player athleticism and fitness, physical build of the player, enhancements in equipment fitting and the proliferation of launch-monitoring capabilities,” Monahan wrote. “It is interesting to note that since 2003, the average age of a Tour member has gone down, and the average height has gone up.”

So Titleist can add player height to its list of defenses when folks want to attack the ball as the main culprit in the distance boom.

That’s not intended as a joke.

Get out your protractors, calipers and calculators, because science will be a big part of where this study goes.

Really, can the USGA and R&A break down and quantify how much of the distance boom is due to the ball, drivers, exotic shafts, advanced agronomy and TrackMan?

And then how much is attributable to advanced coaching and player fitness?

Will that get broken down into percentages?

Back to Monday’s reactions.

The PGA of America didn’t seem overly concerned with the distance report’s “deviations” or in any attempt to overreact to them.

“Based on the information we have seen, we are highly skeptical that rolling back the golf ball in whole or part will be in the best interests of the sport and our collective efforts to grow the game,” PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua said when Golf Channel sought comment.

Today’s news is really all about the line in the sand the USGA and R&A drew back in its 2002 Joint Statement of Principles regarding equipment rules, a line Nicklaus and his brethren believe was crossed a long time ago.

It’s about this specific governing principle laid out in that document:

“The purpose of the Rules is to protect golf’s best traditions, to prevent an over-reliance on technological advances rather than skill, and to ensure that skill is the dominant element of success throughout the game.”

Technology vs. Skill.

If the governing bodies finally conclude that technology is too dominant now, how do they word that indictment?

And how does Titleist respond?

“Titleist runs golf,” Nicklaus bluntly said last week.

Did Nicklaus pull back the veil on what this may really be about if the USGA and R&A find their study justifies restraining technology?

Technology vs. Skill might become code for Titleist vs. the USGA/R&A.

If Nicklaus characterized what is really at stake in all of this, real control of the game, maybe that’s what this comes down to in the end.

Titleist vs. the USGA/R&A.

Let’s hope that doesn’t end up atop some legal document.

That couldn’t be good for the game.

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Storms halt Barbasol before Lincicome tees off

By Associated PressJuly 20, 2018, 11:29 pm

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - Brittany Lincicome will have to wait until the weekend to resume her bid to make the cut in a PGA Tour event.

Overnight storms delayed the start of the second round Friday in the Barbasol Championship, and an afternoon thunderstorm suspended competition for good. The round will resume Saturday morning with much of the field still to play.

The second stoppage at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came 20 minutes before Lincicome's scheduled tee time.

Lincicome was near the bottom of the field after opening with a 6-over 78 on Thursday. The first LPGA player since Michelle Wie in 2008 to start a PGA Tour event, she needs a huge rebound to join Babe Zaharias (1945) as the only female players to make the cut.

Troy Merritt had the clubhouse lead at 15 under, following an opening 62 with a 67.

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Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”