Cut Line: Change is the only constant

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2014, 5:42 pm

After just one week it’s already been an eventful offseason with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club ending 260 years of all-male membership, Steve Williams possibly ending an eventful career and Billy Horschel ending the season with a week to remember.

Made Cut

Royal reversal. Things move slowly at the Royal & Ancient, but on Thursday, change arrived with the speed of a long-awaited announcement.

Royal & Ancient Golf Club secretary Peter Dawson announced the results of a vote that overwhelmingly reversed the club’s all-male policy. The measure was approved by 85 percent of the club’s 2,400 members.

“Times move on and I think all of them probably realize it’s a bit ridiculous in this day and age,” said Laura Davies, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the first 15 or so memberships that will be offered to women following Thursday’s vote.

For Dawson, who is set to retire in September 2015, the vote is sure to define his legacy. He may not have been an agent of change at the club or as chief executive of the R&A, which runs the Open Championship and oversees golf everywhere in the world except the United States and Mexico, but he subtly helped shape the future of both organizations.

Billy Ho. It was a good week for Horschel & family.

He began on Sunday at the Tour Championship when he held off Rory McIlroy and a host of other challengers on his way to his second consecutive victory, and his third top-2 finish in his last three starts, as well as the FedEx Cup.

That adds up to $12.8 million in cash and deferred prizes, which will come in handy after his wife, Brittany, gave birth to the couple’s first child on Wednesday.

Horschel won’t have much time to celebrate, however, as he’s scheduled to leave with the U.S. Ryder Cup team on Sunday . . . wait, never mind.

Tweet of the week.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

End of an era? It was not a surprise that caddie legend Steve Williams and Adam Scott announced this week the two were ending their “professional relationship,” but it does leave a few open-ended questions heading into next season.

Williams told reporters late last year he planned to cut back his schedule in coming seasons and seems destined to ride one of his race cars into his New Zealand golden years, but there will likely be no shortage of players who would be interested in working with the newest member of the Caddie Hall of Fame.

Scott clearly wasn’t interested in a part-time arrangement and is now in the market for a bagman. The world No. 2’s bag is sure to draw plenty of attention. As one Tour caddie told Cut Line this week, “There were a lot of guys going to Kinkos this week to dust off the resume.”

Mixed messages. It was a good news/bad news deal for Tiger Woods, who announced a new title sponsor (Hero) for his World Challenge on Monday.

Although Woods said shadow swinging without a golf club is the extent of his golf activities since the PGA Championship, his ailing back that has slowed him for most of this season is starting to improve.

“Some days I'm making bigger gains than others. Same days I'm backing off a little bit,” said Woods, who is scheduled to play the World Challenge in December.

“We're pretty much past the strength phase now, and I've got my strength where I want to have it, now I just need to get my fast twitch going and get my speed back, and that's going to take a little bit of time.”

Woods was also asked about McIlroy’s comments last week that he and Phil Mickelson were, “getting into sort of the last few holes of their career.”

“I thought it was funny. I mean, Phil has less holes to play than I do,” Woods laughed.

Well played.


Missed Cut

On Points. To be clear, this is not a D.A. Points problem. This is a PGA Tour problem. Unfortunately, Points found himself at the epicenter of a policy snafu that doesn’t seem to have an easy solution.

Points, who is exempt next year on the PGA Tour via his victory at the 2013 Shell Houston Open, decided to play this week’s Web.com Tour Championship to help bridge an offseason gap that spans two months. That’s when things got interesting.

It was brought to Points’ attention that his play at the secondary tour’s finale could impact the final money list and possibly keep someone from earning a Tour card.

“I thought unless I finish in the top 4 or 5 it wouldn’t make a difference [with the final money list], but then guys were on me about it,” said Points, who withdrew from the event on Wednesday. “I understand that and that’s not why I’m here. I’ve got a lot of friends who are playing in this. I’m not here to keep anybody from getting a job.”

Web.com Tour president Bill Calfee told Cut Line that the issue will likely be addressed again, but added, “We felt like it would be hard to tell that player he couldn’t play based on that criteria. We shouldn’t be in the position of denying a player an opportunity to make his living playing golf.”

The wrong fit. In hindsight, perhaps U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson would have picked Horschel instead of Webb Simpson. Maybe even Chris Kirk may have gotten the nod had the picks been announced two weeks later.

Whatever the outcome of next week’s matches, however, the one thing the PGA of America should revisit is when the captain’s picks are made - which occurred nearly a month before the team sets out for Scotland this year.

This week Watson offered a familiar logistical refrain, “There are so many different things that go into it, just getting the players over there and getting ready.”

For the record, the entire team will be catching a chartered flight out of Atlanta on Sunday and if this is about uniforms, then the question is do you want the best team in Scotland or the best-dressed team in Scotland?

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USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.



After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

“When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

“They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”



By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

“I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

“They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”



But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

“To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

“I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”



But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

“It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.

@bubbawatson on Instagram

Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow

By Grill Room TeamJune 18, 2018, 5:40 pm

Bubba Watson missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills following rounds of 77-74, but that didn't stop him from enjoying his weekend.

Watson played alongside Jason Day and eventual champion Brooks Koepka in Rounds 1 and 2, and somehow this body ink slipped by us on Thursday.

Got autographed by defending @usopengolf Champ @bkoepka!! #NeverShoweringAgain

A post shared by Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) on

And while we're sure Bubba would have rather been in contention over the weekend, we're also sure that taking your son to meet the second most famous minor-league baseball player who ever lived was a lot more fun than getting your teeth kicked in by Shinnecock Hills over the weekend, as just about everyone not named Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood did.

Already in Hartford, Watson will be going for his third Travelers Championship trophy this week, following wins in 2010 and 2015.

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Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it

By Nick MentaJune 18, 2018, 3:09 pm

There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.

The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."

Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.

Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).

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Ryder Cup race: Mickelson out, Simpson in

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 2:34 pm

There's a new man at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup race following the U.S. Open, and there's also a familiar name now on the outside looking in.

Brooks Koepka's successful title defense vaulted him to the top of the American points race, up four spots and ensuring he'll be on the team Jim Furyk takes to Paris in September. Dustin Johnson's third-place finish moved him past Patrick Reed at No. 2, while Webb Simpson entered the top eight after a a tie for 10th.

While Bryson DeChambeau remained at No. 9, Phil Mickelson dropped two spots to No. 10. Tony Finau, who finished alone in fifth, went from 16th to 13th, while Tiger Woods fell two spots to No. 37.

Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Patrick Reed

4. Justin Thomas

5. Jordan Spieth

6. Rickie Fowler

7. Bubba Watson

8. Webb Simpson

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9. Bryson DeChambeau

10. Phil Mickelson

11. Matt Kuchar

12. Brian Harman

On the European side, England's Tommy Fleetwood took a big stride toward securing his first Ryder Cup appearance with a runner-up finish that included a Sunday 63 while countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick snuck into a qualifying spot after tying for 12th.

Here's a look at the updated Euro standings, with the top four from both points lists joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn at Le Golf National:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Tommy Fleetwood

4. Francesco Molinari

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5. Thorbjorn Olesen

6. Ross Fisher

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Rory McIlroy

3. Alex Noren

4. Matthew Fitzpatrick

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5. Ian Poulter

6. Rafael Cabrera-Bello