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Cut Line: Distance matters, but doesn't always win

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In this week’s edition we examine a misplaced pace-of-play violation, a misguided decision by Phil Mickelson and mixed reviews of the Distance Insight Project. 

Made Cut

Webb’s world. It was only apropos that the same week the game’s rulemakers decided to etch an impassable line in the distance sand Webb Simpson proved that there is more to golf than the long ball.

Simpson closed his Sunday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open with three consecutive birdies, the last coming in a playoff, to defeat Tony Finau. This is worth noting because relative to PGA Tour standards Simpson is not a bomber, Finau is.

Statistically, Simpson ranks 133rd on Tour in driving distance. Finau ranks 21st. Everyone knows there’s more to golf than simply how far you hit the ball and it’ll be worth remembering that during the coming debate.

True to roots, Simpson tops heavy-hitting Finau

Webb Simpson shouldn't exist. Not in an age of heavy hitters and mile-long drives. But he knows how to attack those kinds of players, and it showed Sunday while taking down Tony Finau.

A place to play. Outside the Tour spotlight there are countless lesser-known events every week that provide playing opportunities for those who hope to one day enjoy life on the PGA Tour. One of those events was held this week at St. Simons Island, Georgia, with a twist.

The first two rounds of the GPro Tour’s South Coast Bank Championship were held at Sea Palms Golf Resort, but for the final round officials at Frederica Golf Club opened their doors to the aspiring professionals. 

Officials at Frederica wanted to give the young professionals a chance to compete at one of the south’s top private clubs and support the local players in the event, including St. Simons Island residents T.J. Mitchell and Mookie DeMoss who tied for fourth place behind winner Lee Detmer.

Tweet of the week:

Knost never won on Tour but he is one of the game’s most insightful and accommodating players which makes his retirement following last week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open bittersweet as he transitions to a new career in media. The only curious part of all this is that Knost retired with 199 Tour starts. Can’t we petition for one more sponsor exemption to go out with an even 200?

Knost retires from pro golf after missing cut

Former U.S. Amateur champion Colt Knost is retiring from professional golf following a missed cut in Phoenix.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Misplaced pace. Both the PGA Tour and the European Tour introduced tougher pace-of-play policies this season, but last week’s dust up in the desert proved why these policies are so difficult to implement.

Graeme McDowell was issued a slow-play warning during the second round of the Saudi International after he participated in a mid-round interview with SkySports. Under the European Tour’s policy a second warning during the tournament would have resulted in a one-stroke penalty.

“It upset my rhythm for a couple holes. I was trying to play too fast. I was disappointed that he didn't give me a little bit more room for error on the situation, but hey . . . we've got to play faster, simple as that,” said McDowell, who is not known to be a slow player.

McDowell won the event proving that good things happen to good people, and also fast players.

Lefty out. Ever since Phil Mickelson dropped outside the top 50 in the world ranking late last year for the first time since 1993 there have been building concerns about what his slide means.

If Lefty doesn’t play his way back into the top 50 (his tie for third last week in Saudi Arabia moved him up to 72nd) he would need to qualify for the U.S. Open. The other option would be a special exemption by the USGA, but Mickelson quickly shot down that option.

Phil 'won't accept' U.S. Open special exemption

The six-time runner-up says he is either going to qualify for the U.S. Open on his own, or he's going to stay at home.

“I don't want a special exemption. I think I'll get in the tournament. If I get in, I deserve to be there. If I don't, I don't. I don't want a sympathy spot. If I am good enough to make it and qualify, then I need to earn my spot there,” he said.

Mickelson’s reluctance to take advantage of a special exemption is understandable, but given his history at the U.S. Open, which includes six runner-up finishes, it’s highly likely the USGA would offer him a spot. With Lefty turning 50 two days before this year’s championship at Winged Foot in June, site of his 2006 also-ran finish, it would seem like the perfect time to take advantage of a little good will.

Missed Cut

Going the distance. This week’s Distance Insights Project released by the R&A and USGA meticulously painted an alarming picture of ever-increasing distance gains and sets the stage for a conversation that’s long overdue.

Whether something should be done to dial back how far the modern professional hits the ball promises to be a lengthy and nuanced debate. What’s not so clear in the report is if those distance gains enjoyed by the game’s best translate to similar gains among the recreational set.


USGA/R&A on distance: 'Detrimental to the game'

The USGA and R&A stated in Tuesday's Distance Insights Project that increased length has had an undesirable effect on the game.

Anecdotally it appears that the professionals hit the ball too far and recreational players don’t hit it far enough. The easiest solution would be two different sets of rules, or bifurcation, but officials with both the R&A and USGA don’t seem to have any interest in that concept.

The Distance Insights Project is a good conversation starter. Let’s hope the rule makers don’t end the conversation before it gets started by ignoring the most obvious option.