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Distance a problem? Not according to many pros

By Rex HoggardMarch 5, 2018, 6:10 pm

MEXICO CITY – The drumbeat had been unmistakable.

For months the powers that be had talked of “concerns” over distance gains in recent years and how the impact on the game has been, “horrible.”

On Monday, those concerns were given a face by way of the USGA and R&A’s annual review of driving distances. Essentially, the report – which uses data from seven professional tours around the world – notes that the average drive increased more than 3 yards in 2017 compared with the previous year.

By comparison, the 2017 report found “a slow creep” in driving distances (around .2 yards per year since 2003).

To be clear, golf’s rules makers have made no rule changes and remain “open-minded” about where the game goes from here, but phrases like “concerning” are sure to make those who regularly hit 300-yard drives take notice.

Consider this the early introductions in what is shaping up to be a polarizing debate. On one side, the rules makers and golf traditionalist see continued increases in driving distances as a red flag, both for the professional tours and the recreational game. On the other side of the aisle are those who consider longer and longer tee shots nothing more than a natural evolution of the game.

Although the rules makers have been clear that this is about more than simply the professional game, although the data is driven almost exclusively from the worldwide tours, it will be the play-for-pay types who are impacted the most by any potential changes, whatever those changes may be.

“The athletes are getting significantly better, they're in the gym every day. You go out to the gym here and there's dozens of players in there every day,” said Phil Mickelson, Sunday’s champion at the WGC-Mexico Championship. “They're the ones that are able to take advantage of the technology. So I don't think that type of hard work and dedication should be punished.”

It was a common take last week in Mexico. While the report never specifically mentions the golf ball, there is evidence that suggests that’s where the USGA and R&A would look to reign in distance.

Just last week at the Honda Classic Jack Nicklaus described a recent exchange between himself and USGA CEO Mike Davis over driving distances: “Mike said, ‘We’re getting there. We’re going to get there. I need your help when we get there.’ I said, ‘That’s fine. I’m happy to help you. I’ve only been yelling at you for 40 years.’ 1977 is the first time I went to the USGA.”

Yet for those currently on the front lines of the distance debate it’s difficult to distinguish between entertainment and a distance emergency.

“What do viewers at home want to watch? They want to see long tee shots, they want to see us spinning the ball, they want to see long putts and they want to see us shooting low scores,” Ross Fisher said. “I don’t get what all the fuss is about.”

While average drives increased 2.5 yards on the PGA Tour in 2017, which is substantial, that’s not even the largest year over year bump in the last decade. In 2011, the Tour average was 290.9 yards, a 3.6-yard increase over ’10, before settling back to 287.2 yards in ’13. These kinds of distance spikes are common and can be impacted through a variety of factors, from course conditions to weather patterns.

The bigger concern among Tour players is how the USGA and R&A could implement a potential rollback. Going after the golf ball seems to be the most-talked-about option, but distance increases in recent years have been fueled by a variety of factors.

“[The golf ball] shouldn’t be the focus of why guys are hitting the ball as far as they are,” Paul Casey said. “It’s one of multiple reasons guys are hitting it so far. It shouldn’t get the entire blame. Don’t just blame the golf ball, it’s unfair to do that. Is it a factor? Of course.”

Casey went through a familiar line up of habitual offenders, from improved fitness and teaching to golf course agronomy and the lure of golf to attract bigger athletes in recent decades.

“You have to focus on equipment to dial it back, because you’re not going to stop us [from going to the gym],” Casey said. “Yes, you can slow the ball down, and that seems to be the obvious element everyone looks at, but I’d like to see smaller driver heads. If you went to a smaller driver-head size, guys might go for more loft, a slightly spinnier golf ball to keep it in play and that would reduce overall distance.”

Like many of his Tour frat brothers, Casey acknowledged perceived concerns with longer and longer drives, but he clarified that despite the building drumbeat to rein in driving distances, he sees nothing wrong with the way the game is played at the highest level.

“I love it,” smiled Casey, who, for the sake of full disclosure, is one of the circuit’s longer hitters with a 307-yard average this season (27th on Tour).

That love appears to be unrequited if Monday’s distance report is any indication, but whatever happens over the next few months know that a good portion of modern professionals see nothing wrong with the modern game.

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Senden playing first event since son's brain tumor

By Will GrayMarch 21, 2018, 3:03 pm

John Senden is back inside the ropes for the first time in nearly a year at this week's Chitimacha Louisiana Open on the Tour.

Senden took a leave of absence from professional golf in April, when his teenage son, Jacob, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He didn't touch a club for nearly four months as Jacob endured six rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, a gauntlet that stretched from April until mid-November.

But Senden told that his son's tumor has shrunk from the size of a thumbnail to the size of a pinky nail, and after a promising MRI in January he decided to plan his comeback.

"I haven't really played in 12 months, but in that time Jacob has really, really hung tough," Senden said. "His whole body was getting slammed with all these treatments, and he was so strong in his whole attitude and his whole body. Just really getting through the whole thing. He was tough."

Senden was granted a family crisis exemption by the Tour, and he'll have 13 starts to earn 310 FedExCup points to retain his playing privileges for the 2018-19 season. He is allowed five "rehabilitation" starts as part of the exemption, but will reportedly only make one this week before returning to the PGA Tour at the RBC Heritage, followed by starts in San Antonio, Charlotte and Dallas.

Senden, 46, has won twice on Tour, most recently the 2014 Valspar Championship.

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Added videos shed light on Reed rules controversy

By Will GrayMarch 21, 2018, 2:39 pm

Additional fan videos shed some light on a rules controversy involving Patrick Reed during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, when Reed suggested that Jordan Spieth would have gotten free relief after he was denied a favorable ruling.

Reed had sailed the green with his approach on the 11th hole Sunday at Bay Hill, coming to rest under a palm tree. As the below thread of videos from fan Tyler Soughers illustrates, Reed wanted a free drop because he believed a nearby television tower was in the way of the shot he planned to play.

The initial rules official didn't "see" the shot Reed planned to attempt given the tight confines, and his decision to deny Reed a free drop was upheld by a second rules official. Reed eventually tried to play the ball, moving it a few feet, before being granted relief from the tower from the ball's new position. He ultimately made double bogey on the hole and tied for seventh.

After finally taking his free drop away from the tower, Reed was heard muttering to nearby fans, "What a crock of s---."

Reed and Spieth will have plenty of time to discuss their favorite rulings Friday, when the two players face off on the final day of round-robin play in Group 4 during the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin.

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Callaway’s $1 Million FanBeat Challenge

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 21, 2018, 2:30 pm

Callaway’s $1 Million FanBeat Challenge is a new live-action game presented by Golf Channel, where golf fans answer trivia and predictive-play questions during tournament coverage for a chance to win $1 million and dozens of other Callaway-sponsored prizes.

Click here or on the image below to play now!

Here's how to play:

  • Two pre-round questions are available to answer anytime.
  • Additional questions are posted during breaks in the action of each round of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play (previously contested at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Valspar Championship, WGC-Mexico Championship).
  • Users will earn points for every correct answer to move up the prize leaderboard during each round.
  • Players earn chances to win additional “instant win” and tournament prizes just by playing along and answering questions.

Callaway’s $1 Million FanBeat Challenge is a play-along game that makes watching golf coverage on Golf Channel and NBC more interesting and entertaining. Answer fun questions like “Where did Phil Mickelson play his college golf?” or “How many birdies will Sergio Garcia have on the back nine?”.

The start times to play during this week's API are:

  • Group play, Wednesday: 5 p.m. ET
  • Group play, Thursday: 5 p.m ET
  • Group play, Friday: 5 p.m. ET
  • Round of 16, Saturday: 11:30 a.m. ET
  • Quarterfinals, Saturday: 3 p.m. ET
  • Semifinals, Sunday: 11:30 a.m. ET
  • Finals, Sunday: 4 p.m. ET

Ace all questions during any of the up to 19 rounds (over the course of the four events) for a chance to win $1 million. Or, compete for a chance to win one of dozens of other prizes offered by Callaway, including full sets of clubs with custom fittings at the Callaway Performance Center in Carlsbad, Calif.; Rogue drivers; Toulon-design putters; MD4 wedges and much more. Click here for full details of the official rules.

Disclaimer: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Void where prohibited. Legal residents of the 50 U.S. or DC who are 18 or older. Begins February 27, 2018 at 12:01 a.m. ET and ends March 25, 2018 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Limit 1 entry per person. To enter, and for official rules, odds, and prize details, visit Sponsor: FanBeat, Inc. The $1 million grand prize may be awarded in an annuity or lesser lump sum. Should there be multiple winners, the grand prize will be divided evenly among qualifying winners.

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Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 21, 2018, 1:00 pm

Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
(1) D. Johnson (2) J. Thomas (3) J. Rahm (4) J. Spieth
(32) K. Kisner (21) F. Molinari (28) K. Aphibarnrat (19) P. Reed
(38) A. Hadwin
(48) P. Kizzire (43) C. Reavie (34) H. Li
(52) B. Wiesberger
(60) L. List (63) K. Bradley (49) C. Schwartzel
Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
(5) H. Matsuyama (6) R. McIlroy (7) S. Garcia (8) J. Day
(30) P. Cantlay
(18) B. Harman (20) X. Schauffele (25) L. Oosthuizen
(46) C. Smith (44) J. Vegas (41) D. Frittelli (42) J. Dufner
(53) Y. Miyazato (51) P. Uihlein (62) S. Sharma (56) J. Hahn
Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
(9) T. Fleetwood (10) P. Casey (11) M. Leishman (12) T. Hatton
(26) D. Berger (31) M. Fitzpatrick (23) B. Grace (22) C. Hoffman
(33) K. Chappell (45) K. Stanley (35) B. Watson (36) B. Steele
(58) I. Poulter (51) R. Henley (64) J. Suri (55) A. Levy
Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
(13) A. Noren (14) P. Mickelson (15) P. Perez (16) M. Kuchar
(29) T. Finau (17) R. Cabrera Bello (24) G. Woodland (27) R. Fisher
(39) T. Pieters (40) S. Kodaira (37) W. Simpson (47) Y. Ikeda
(61) K. Na (59) C. Howell III (50) S.W. Kim (54) Z. Johnson