DMDs unlikely to speed up play on Tour

By Rex HoggardMarch 31, 2017, 8:26 pm

Among the litany of rule changes proposed earlier this month by the USGA and R&A, a sweeping list billed as a modernization of the Rules of Golf, there was one that stood out among the play-for-pay types.

Although professionals will likely embrace many of the changes as enthusiastically as anyone considering that a simplified set of rules is good for their livelihoods, it was a change to Rule 4.3 that governs the use of distance measuring devices that created a lion’s share of the conversation.

The USGA’s official stance on the possible change that would allow players to use DMDs during tournament rounds is that “distance is public information a player may get from anyone” and that judging distances isn’t “one of the decisions that the rules expect players to make using only their own skill and judgment.”

But whenever the proposed change is brought up on the PGA Tour the conversation turns to pace of play – although, to be fair, players will use almost any topic to complain about slow play – and how the use of DMDs could speed things up.

“No chance,” Steve Flesch said when asked if DMDs could help the pace of play on Tour. “Guys need more specific information than just the pin number. They need information of everything around the flag, like bunker carries, front, back, ridges. Rarely do guys fly it exactly hole high unless it’s soft.”

Brandt Snedeker had a different take.

“I hope they allow [DMDs on Tour]. It’s certainly not going to slow things down,” Snedeker said. “Guys will still use yardage books and do the work, but when you get those weird numbers and you hit one off the planet and can’t find a number it could make a huge difference.”

As surreal as the sight of Rory McIlroy standing on the 17th tee of East Lake shooting the pin with a range finder late on Sunday may seem, the Tour seemed to warm to the idea this week when the circuit announced it will allow DMDs at select events this year on the Web.com Tour, PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour Latinoamérica.

This dry run is particularly interesting considering that any potential changes to the Rules of Golf wouldn’t begin until 2019.

To that end, your scribe attempted a similar experiment, measuring the amount of time it took to play nine holes using a yardage book compared with the same nine-hole loop using only a DMD.

Gavin Coles, a five-year Tour veteran who could best be described as an aggressively fast player, agreed to participate in the experiment at Deer Island Country Club in Tavares, Fla., a 7,029-yard, par-72 layout using the latest in DMD technology (Bushnell’s model Pro X2).

Using the DMD, Coles averaged 47.27 seconds per shot and played nine holes in 63 minutes (did we mention he’s an aggressively fast player?). He was slightly faster using only a yardage book, averaging 46.58 seconds per shot and needing just 54 minutes to complete the same loop.

Course conditions, style of play and situational realities – let’s face it, playing nine holes on a random Friday isn’t exactly the same as trying to make the cut at a Tour event – all vary from round to round, but the notion that DMDs will help with the Tour’s languid pace of play seems misguided, at best.

There are certain situations when a DMD will undoubtedly help speed things up, such as when a player hits a shot far outside the normal playing corridors and finding a yardage often requires pacing off the distance.

The use of a DMD’s slope function, which gives the adjusted yardage based on elevation changes, also would help move things along, but according to the USGA that technology would not be allowed under the proposed change.

Instead, many players and long-time observers contend that DMDs will only add another layer to what is already a busy process.

“Caddies will still use yardage books for all that, then check with a laser, too. Will take a hair more time [to play with a DMD],” Flesch contended.

College players have been allowed to use DMDs at tournaments for years and Flesch’s idea that players will use both range finders and yardage books seems to have merit.

John Fields, director of the men’s golf program at the University of Texas, said allowing the use of DMDs on Tour wouldn’t have any impact on pace of play, but the process at the college level does give a glimpse into what it could be like at the game’s highest level if DMDs were allowed.

“A player will shoot it [with a DMD] and I’m there with a yardage book, he’ll shoot and say it’s 118 [yards] to the flag and then I’ll check, your carry number over that bunker is 112 and the front of the green is 109, something like that,” Fields explained. “I’m doing everything a caddie would be doing. That happens super quick and it’s not a big deal.”

Where it could become a big deal is in the event of conflicting information, like during the experiment round with Coles.

The distance to the ninth hole from the fairway using a yardage book was 187 yards, but according to the DMD he was 183 yards from the hole, which normally wouldn’t be an issue for most amateurs, but for professionals playing for millions it’s a reason to take a moment and assure the math is correct.

The real test will occur next month when the first of three events on the PGA Tour Latinoamérica (Costa Rica Classic) will allow the use of DMDs during tournament rounds.

Studies have shown that for the vast majority of recreational golfers DMDs can help with pace of play. At the game’s highest levels, however, more information may not be a good thing.

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A plan to avoid U.S. Open setup snafus

By Rex HoggardJune 20, 2018, 3:39 pm

It happened again.

It was an inexplicable turn of events after a decade and a half of vehement assurances that this U.S. Open would be different. In the months leading up to the 118th championship, USGA CEO Mike Davis explained that this time the technology was better and many contended that the association was better.

In 2004, the last time the U.S. Open traveled to the East End of Long Island things didn’t go well, with Shinnecock Hills’ greens going dark and dusty for a final round Davis called a “double bogey” for the association.

To be fair, last week’s sequel wasn’t that extreme - let’s call it a bogey - but it was no less baffling.

“It’s more the course, about how they set it up. Because Saturday was a total, it was like two different golf courses, practically, on the greens Saturday versus Sunday,” Jason Day said of last week’s U.S. Open. “I just wish they would leave it alone and just let it go. Not saying to let the greens go and let them dry out and make it unfair, I’m just saying plan accordingly and hopefully whatever the score finishes, it finishes, whether it’s under par or over par.”

There will be those who contend that Day and Co. - Ian Poulter was also a harsh critic - should simply toughen up, that demanding conditions are the price that must be paid if you want to win the U.S. Open. But that ignores the facts and the USGA’s own assessment.

“There were some aspects today where well-executed shots were not rewarded. We missed it with the wind,” Davis said on Saturday. “We don’t want that. The firmness was OK but it was too much with the wind we had. It was probably too tough this afternoon – a tale of two courses.”



The USGA missed it, again.

Perhaps this is the cost of wanting to play a golf course on the razor’s edge, where just a few warm gusts define the line between demanding but fair and over the top. Or maybe this is an issue of continuity.

Every year the R&A holds a championship and nearly every year we spend the days afterward celebrating a champion, not complaining about an unfair course or an incorrect weather forecast.

There are philosophical differences between the USGA and R&A when it comes to golf course setup, with our transatlantic friends wired to accept relatively easier conditions if the wind doesn’t blow. But maybe the R&A gets it right more often than not because each year they deal with a known quantity.

There are currently nine courses (assuming Turnberry returns to the fold some day) in the Open Championship rotation. The R&A will add Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, which last hosted the championship in 1951, to that rotation next year, .

Perhaps the R&A has been able to avoid the kind of setup snafus that have plagued the USGA in recent years (let’s not forget the substandard greens at Chambers Bay in 2015 or the last-minute landscaping in ’17 at Erin Hills) because they know, through decades of trial and error, what happens at Royal Troon when the winds gust from the North and what hole locations should never be used on the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Similarly, the folks who run the Masters regularly get it right. They get everything right, from course setup to parking regardless of inclement weather or extreme conditions, because they’ve had eight decades to figure it out.

Only the PGA Championship travels like the U.S. Open, but then the PGA of America’s setup philosophy is more in line with that of normal PGA Tour events, with officials regularly erring on the side of the player, not some notion that par must be protected.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the U.S. Open that a more standardized rotation couldn’t cure. If, for example, the USGA were to follow the R&A’s lead and set a dance card of eight to 10 regular stops for the national championship they could create the kind of continuity and institutional knowledge that seems to work so well at the Open Championship.

What if Shinnecock Hills, which is among the best venues for the U.S. Open regardless of the setup miscues of ’04 and ’18, hosted the championship every decade? Officials would have a chance to better understand what works and what doesn’t, from golf course setup to traffic (which was just as bad as some of Saturday’s hole locations).

Pick your regulars, from Pebble Beach to Pinehurst, Winged Foot to Torrey Pines, create a rotation and learn whatever it takes to get it right once and for all.

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Mickelson: 'Not my finest moment ... 'I'm sorry'

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 2:41 pm

Days after his putter swipe ignited a controversy that threatened to overshadow the U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson offered an apology.

Mickelson received a two-shot penalty for purposely hitting his ball while it was still in motion on the 13th green during the third round at Shinnecock Hills. In the eyes of the USGA, his actions fell short of a disqualification for a “serious breach” of the rules, and the 48-year-old ultimately matched his age with a T-48 finish after returning to play the final round.

Mickelson declined to speak to reporters after a Sunday 66, but Wednesday he sent a note to a select group of media members that included Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte in which the five-time major champ offered some contrition.

“I know this should’ve come sooner, but it’s taken me a few days to calm down. My anger and frustration got the best of me last weekend,” Mickelson wrote. “I’m embarrassed and disappointed by my actions. It was clearly not my finest moment and I’m sorry.”

Mickelson’s actions drew ire from both media members and his fellow competitors, with members of both groups implying that his actions merited disqualification. His most recent remarks seem to indicate that the decision to run up and stop his ball from tumbling back across the 13th green was more of an impulse than the calculated use of the rule book he described after the third round at Shinnecock.

“It’s certainly not meant (to show disrespect). It’s meant to take advantage of the rules as best you can,” Mickelson said Saturday. “In that situation I was just, I was just going back and forth. I’ll gladly take the two shots over continuing that display.”

Mickelson is not in the field this week at the Travelers Championship and is expected to make his next start in two weeks at The Greenbrier.

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Hubert Green, Hall of Famer, dies at 71

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 20, 2018, 2:06 pm

Hubert Green, a World Golf Hall of Famer who won 19 times on the PGA Tour, including the 1977 U.S. Open and 1985 PGA Championship, died Tuesday from complications following a lengthy battle with throat cancer. He was 71.

A remarkably consistent player, Green used his distinctive swing to finish in the top 25 in a third of the PGA Tour events he entered. He also played on three Ryder Cup teams (1977, 1979, and 1985) and was undefeated in singles play.

A native of Birmingham, Ala., Green graduated from Florida State University in 1968. While at FSU, he won the Cape Coral Intercollegiate tournament by eight strokes and the Miami Invitational, the nation’s largest collegiate tournament, by five strokes. He turned pro in 1969, earned his Tour card in 1970 and was named PGA Rookie of the Year in 1971.

Green's first PGA Tour win was the 1971 Houston Champions International, in which he beat Don January in a playoff. Between 1973 and 1976 he won 10 more times, including a three-week stretch in 1976 when he won at Doral, Jacksonville and Hilton Head.

Green won the 1977 U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., despite being informed of a death threat against him that had been anonymously telephoned to the course. He received the news after putting out on the 14th hole of the final round. He decided to keep playing, and wound up winning  by one stroke over Lou Graham.

“Hubert Green was in incredible competitor whose tenacity on the course defined his playing career," USGA CEO Mike Davis said in a statement. "His 1977 U.S. Open win under extreme circumstances was the definition of grit and perseverance – the true mark of a champion.  We are saddened to lose him among an elite group within our U.S. Open circle.  We extend our deepest condolences to his family as we celebrate his incredible accomplishments today.”

A seldom-remembered fact about Green: he finished third behind Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus in their 1977 "Duel in the Sun" Open Championship at Turnberry. He was 11 strokes behind winner Watson.

Green won his second major championship in 1985, taking the PGA Championship at Cherry Hills. By a margin of two strokes, he denied Lee Trevino's bid to win back-to-back PGAs. It would be Green's last win on the PGA Tour. Afterward, Trevino praised his opponent, saying “He’s a great sand player and probably the best chipper we’ve got. Every time he got into trouble, he chipped it close to the hole.”

“The PGA of America is deeply saddened by the passing of Hubert Green, who epitomized what it is to be a champion within the boundaries of a golf course and then extend that spirit to bravely face all of life’s challenges," Suzy Whaley, PGA vice president, said in a statement. "For more than 40 years, Hubert was a celebrated member of the PGA family. His joy in playing golf spread to giving back to others and setting a standard of what it means to cherish life’s daily blessings. Hubert said that he never judged his career against others. ‘I was just playing golf.’  If we can draw from Hubert Green’s example, we all will have a life well played.”   

Green joined what is now known as the PGA Tour Champions in 1997 and went on to win four times, the first win coming in 1998 in his hometown of Birmingham.

Green was also involved in golf course design, including courses such as TPC Southwind,  Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Ga.; and Greystone Golf & Country Club in Birmingham.

Green was diagnosed with stage-four throat cancer in 2003. Treated with chemotherapy and radiation, he continued playing golf. In 2005, he was named the Champions Tour's Comeback Player of the Year. He also received the Ben Hogan Award at the Masters that year. In 2007 he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Jack Peter, president of the World Golf Hall of Fame, issued a statement reacting to the deaths of both Green a five-time Open champion Peter Thomson:

“It is with great sadness that we report that two of our beloved Hall of Famers, Peter Thomson and Hubert Green, passed away yesterday. 

"Peter was inducted in 1988, and was a true titan of the game. A five-time winner of the Open Championship, he was a favorite son of Australia, and respected around the world not just for his accomplishments on the course, but for the way he carried himself off the course as well. ... Hubert was inducted here in St. Augustine in 2007, and was a dominant force on the PGA Tour in the 1970s and early '80s. ... We will forever remember both Peter and Hubert within the World Golf Hall of Fame.”

Green is also remembered for his philanthropic efforts. Over the years he participated in hundreds of charity tournaments and community fund-raising events that supported a wide range of causes including childhood cancer, united cerebral palsy, and other illnesses.

Green is survived by his wife, Becky Blair, of Birmingham; three sons, Hubert Myatt Green Jr. of Hurricane, Utah; Patrick Myatt Green; and James Thomas Green (Adrienne) of Panama City, Fla.; sisters Melinda Green Powers and Carolyn Green Satterfield and brother Maurice O. V. Green, all of Birmingham, step-sons Richard O’Brien of New Orleans and Atticus O’Brien of Dallas, Texas, and several grandchildren.

A memorial service is being planned at Highlands United Methodist Church in Birmingham, and details are pending. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to Highlands United Methodist Church Community Ministry or to a charity of your choice.

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Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88

By Associated PressJune 20, 2018, 1:35 am

Hailed as a hero to some and as golf royalty to others, Peter Thomson, a five-time winner of The Open and the only player in the 20th century to win the championship for three straight years, died Wednesday. He was 88.

Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members, Golf Australia said.

The first Australian to win The Open, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by American Tom Watson.

The Australian's wins came in 1954, '55, '56, again in 1958 and lastly in 1965 against a field that included Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Only Harry Vardon, with six titles between 1896 and 1914, won more.

Thomson also tied for fourth at the 1956 U.S. Open and placed fifth in the 1957 Masters. He never played the PGA Championship.

In 1998, he captained the International side to its only win over the United States at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.

Asked by The Associated Press in 2011 how he'd like to be remembered, Thomson replied: ''A guy who always said what he thought.''

Veteran Australian golfer Karrie Webb was among the first to tweet her condolences, saying she was ''saddened to hear of the passing of our Aussie legend and true gentleman of the game .... so honored to have been able to call Peter my friend. RIP Peter.''

Former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Thomson was ''a champion in every sense of the word, both on the course and in life.''

''Many know him as a five-time champion golfer of the year or as a three-time captain of the Presidents Cup International team.'' Finchem added. ''But he was also a great friend, father, grandfather and husband. He was golfing royalty, and our sport is a better one because of his presence.''



Former golfer and now broadcaster Ian Baker-Finch, the 1991 Open champion, called Thomson his ''hero'' - ''Peter - my friend and mentor R.I.P. Australian golf thanks you for your iconic presence and valuable guidance over the years.''

From Britain, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers praised Thomson's plans for the game's future.

''Peter gave me a number of very interesting and valuable thoughts on the game, how it has developed and where it is going, which demonstrated his genuine interest and love of golf,'' Slumbers said. ''He was one of the most decorated and celebrated champion golfers in the history of The Open.''

Born in the Melbourne inner-city suburb of Brunswick on Aug. 23, 1929, Thomson was a promising cricketer. He scored an unbeaten 150 runs for the Carlton club against a men's side as a 15-year-old.

But golf became his passion, and he turned professional in 1947.

He won the national championships of 10 countries, including the New Zealand Open nine times and Australian Open three times. He first played on the PGA Tour in the U.S. in 1953 and 1954, finishing 44th and 25th on the money list, respectively. He won the Texas International in 1956.

Thomson won nine times on the Senior PGA tour in the U.S. in 1985, topping the money list. His last tournament victory came at the 1988 British PGA Seniors Championship, the same year he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Overall, he won 26 European Tour events, 34 times on the Australasian PGA tour and 11 on the seniors tour in the U.S, as well as once in Japan.

In later years, Thomson wrote articles for many publications and daily newspapers, was club professional at Royal Melbourne and designed more than 100 golf courses. In the 2011 Presidents Cup program, Thomson provided an insightful hole-by-hole analysis of the composite course at Royal Melbourne.

Thomson was always reluctant to compare his wins with anyone else's.

''All records are qualified in that they were made at a certain time in history,'' Thomson told golf historian and author Brendan Moloney for a story on his 80th birthday.

''The circumstances change so much, and so do the players' attitudes. In golf, only in the last 30 years or so has there been a professional attitude to playing for money. The professionals in the USA and Britain and anywhere else all had club jobs as a backstop to their income.

''When they did play and make records, you have to understand that they were taking time off from the pro shop,'' he said. ''So the records that were set were pretty remarkable.''

Thomson always had stories to tell, and told them well. With a full head of hair and a lineless face that belied his age, the Australian wasn't afraid to let everyone know his feelings on any subject.

That was true as far back as 1966. As president of the Australian PGA, Thomson was indignant that Arnold Palmer's prize for winning the Australian Open was only $1,600, out of a total purse of $6,000, one of the smallest in golf.

''Golf Stars Play for Peanuts,'' blared the headline of a story he wrote. ''Never before has such a field of top golfers played for what $6,000 is worth today. Canada offers 19 times that. I know 19 other countries who give more.''

But he was always happy on the golf course.

''I've had a very joyful life, playing a game that I loved to play for the sheer pleasure of it,'' Thomson said. ''I don't think I did a real day's work in the whole of my life.''

Thomson served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years and worked behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.

In 1979, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf, and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.

Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.