State Of The Game 85: The New Rules Of Golf Rollout

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Golf's new rules come into effect in a matter of weeks, so in our best public service effort yet, we are joined by USGA Manager of Rules Outreach & Programming Joe Foley to discuss, plus he fends off Clayts on backstopping and the potential for bifurcating the game's equipment rules!

The State of the Game page.

The episode link.

The Aussies Care: Chalmers, Hughes Speak Out On Distance Issues

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As the Australian Open gets underway, the world of golf’s attention turns Down Under where we are reminded that some players still put the game ahead of their pocketbook.

Mark Hayes reports on Greg Chalmers, two time Aus Open champ, revealing that he’s been “begging and pleading with” the governing bodies to do something. Anything. Or, as some people would call it, their job. Good luck with that!

“They always seem to be behind and I would love for them at some point, and it's probably going to happen in about 10 years, they're going to go, ‘Hmmm, I think the ball goes too far, or the clubs help to hit the ball too far’.

“So that is something that I am frustrated about because we always seem to be unwinding the clock.

“We always have to – it started with the wedges, the change in grooves, then we went long putter.

“They keep unwinding things.  Why can't we get in front of things?  That's the only thing I wish would happen, they would do a better job sometimes.”

Had they done so at some point in the last twenty years, maybe former Australian Masters winners and Presidents Cup participant Bradley Hughes wouldn’t have to write a eulogy to the golf course he loves and which no longer plays as it was intended, with him channeling the defenselessness of the design against a modern golfer.

You are going to take the blue line route to the destination.

Go ahead- say it.... I know you are. You can't hurt me anymore

You are going to dismiss my contours.

You are going to avoid my white face bunker that used to laugh at you from the tee- now you don't even see it.

That bunker recently admitted his own lonely existance to me not so long ago also. He feels betrayed too that his prescence is no longer appreciated or acknowledged.

The beautiful pines on the corner of my dogleg are now an aiming point rather than an obstruction. And yes!!! They are pissed off too!!!!

State Of The Game 84: Arthur MacMillan, Saudia Arabia And Golf Tournaments Going To Strange Lands

Rod Morri, Mike Clayton and yours truly spoke with Arthur MacMillan, Chief Diplomatic Correspondent at The National regarding the bleak situation in Saudi Arabia and the European Tour’s “monitoring” of events there.

We also kick around other topics including Rory McIlroy and a fun story to end the show! You can check it out below or wherever fine podcasts are streamed.

Save Muny Urgently Needs UT Regents To Hear From Supporters

It’s a golf course for everyone in a city center

It’s a golf course for everyone in a city center

The University of Texas Board of Regents and legislators who hold the future of Lions Municipal apparently need to be reminded again that a lot of people care about Austin’s gem of a public golf facility.

This Thursday they vote on whether to extend the Brackenridge Tract Agreement deadline for canceling the Muny Golf Course lease. An extension is needed to allow the state of Texas and City of Austin to continue negotiations on Saving Muny and the Brackenridge Tract. 

The Save Muni Instagram account offers this handy sample letter with pertinent email addresses.

View this post on Instagram

❗️URGENT CALL TO ACTION: Ask UT Board of Regents and Legislators to Save Muny! Dear Friend of Muny, This Thursday, the UT Board of Regents will vote on whether to extend the Brackenridge Tract Agreement deadline for canceling the Muny Golf Course lease and Brackenridge Development Agreement. If we don’t take action, we know that, absent UT negotiating in good faith, we’ll have more traffic and we’ll lose green space, so we need your help to contact the Regents and our elected leaders at the state to get UT to extend the deadline so that the State and City of Austin can continue negotiations on Saving Muny and the Brackenridge Tract. If you want UT and the City to negotiate a solution for the Brackenridge Tract Agreement and Muny Golf Course, then please consider sending a message, such as shown below, to let them know the importance of providing additional time to find a fair solution to help Save Muny and the Brackenridge Tract. Thank you for your help and continued support! Proposed Message (please revise as needed): Greetings Board of Regents (bor@utsystem.edu), Honorable Senator Kirk Watson (kirk.watson@senate.texas.gov), Honorable Donna Howard (donna.howard@house.texas.gov), Honorable Gina Hinojosa (gina.hinojosa@house.texas.gov): We urge you to extend the deadline for canceling the Muny Golf Course lease and Brackenridge Development Agreement so that negotiations can continue between the UT System and the City of Austin. With Austin City Council’s vote to extend the deadline from November 26, 2018 to February 28, 2019, UT has a willing partner to continue discussions, and we implore you to provide additional time for negotiation discussions to continue. The Brackenridge Tract properties are valuable and treasured assets, not only for UT Systems but also for the City of Austin. And with recent progress by the City of Austin in finding possible funding sources to fairly compensate UT for a deal to purchase and/or swap properties, there is a real opportunity to reach an agreement which provides reasonable development and compensation to UT for the properties. Please vote to extend the cancellation deadline. Yours very truly, ________________

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Blackmar: "Is technology driving golf to a fork in the road?"

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Former PGA Tour player and broadcaster Phil Blackmar has been watching the assorted technology debates breaking out in response to Brandel Chamblee’s Tweetstorm over the distance explosion and how to address the situation.

Blackmar’s worries less about the pro game and instead wonders how much enjoyment technology has brought to the game, particularly in once-passionate markets now well into golf popularity recessions as we’ve never seen better technology and science applied to the game.

As you can see, handicaps have come down 2 strokes over the past 27 years. Take a minute to consider all the tech advancements I just mentioned plus: better understanding of biomechanics in the swing, launch monitors revealing misunderstood impact relationships and launch monitors providing invaluable feedback. Then, add better agronomy, workout specialists, mental gurus, short game experts and finally the countless articles, books and videos detailing all sorts of methods and philosophies. Add all that up and ask yourself: is a two stroke gain over 27 years significant? Is shooting 86 rather than 88 that much more fun? I don’t think so either.

Champ's Cracked Driver Prompted New Testing That Gained Him More Yardage

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Let’s be clear: most of Cameron Champ’s unprecedented driving distances that have led to a quick rise come from technique, strength and modern equipment.

Still, given that the USGA and R&A once loathed the idea of a player picking up an advantage through a simple equipment change, Champ and PING’s tour team offer another reminder at how sophisticated club fitting has gotten for even a player seemingly maxed out distance-wise.

From David Dusek’s Golfweek story after Champ cracked his driver on the eve of finishing off the Sanderson Farms:

On Monday before the Shiners Hospitals for Children Open, Pena built Champ a new gamer driver using the same components as in the driver that broke. However, Champ said he wanted to make the same swing but launch the ball slightly higher. To do that, Pena would need to add loft, which would also increase spin and reduce distance. Instead, Pena made some drivers with counterbalanced shafts that allowed him to make Champ a head with a heaver back weight. That increased the dynamic loft at impact.

Champ’s typical drive had been launching at 7 degrees with about 2,700 rpm of backspin, creating a carry distance of about 325 yards. Using the new shaft in his G400 Max, a prototype Accra TZT 265 M5, he started hitting the ball even farther.

“The first he hit launched at 9 degrees, carried 15 yards farther and the ball speed was almost 198 mph,” Pena said, laughing. “We looked at each other and said to ourselves, ‘What the heck did we just do?’”

Champ led the field with a 353.2 yard average on the measuring holes.

Yes, he got longer after losing his gamer and getting fit for a new one.

Miami Voters Pretty Much Deciding On Fate Of Lone Muni, First Tee Facility

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David Beckham wants a mall, hotel and 25,000 soccer stadium in Miami and Melreese GC is the unfortunate location he’s chosen. The City is on board and with the passage of a referendum can grant approval without the usual bidding process.

This unbylined Goal.com story gives a nice summary. The Miami Herald has a more detailed breakdown.

Brian Wacker of GolfDigest.com has the golf angle, including the history of a course that has helped produce Cristie Kerr and Erik Compton (who recently appeared on Morning Drive to talk about the course and battle).

The course, Miami’s only city course, houses The First Tee as well.

First Tee board member Carlos Rodriguez talked to Morning Drive’s Lauren Thompson about the the fight and to save the Melreese and the potential loss of the program’s Miami base.

"The ruling bodies have put golf in a ridiculous position by utterly abdicating their role as stewards of the game."

Good to see Alan Shipnuck getting to the heart of the distance debate mess in golf.

From the always entertaining Golf.com mailbag:

Why haven’t the USGA and R&A controlled the distance the ball is traveling? Why do we keep having this discussion? Golf should not be only about how far you hit the ball. It’s sad some great golf courses are now obsolete. -@MikeyBateman1

I’ve kvetched about this extensively, but, yes, the ruling bodies have put golf in a ridiculous position by utterly abdicating their role as stewards of the game. Modern athletes, with highly specialized training regimens and diets, wielding cutting-edge equipment and swings optimized by Trackman and an army of specialists, are completely overwhelming the outdated playing fields. The only defenses are cartoonish — think the greens at Shinny and rough at Le Golf National — and they reduce the skill factor dramatically. The obvious solution (bifurcation) would harm the equipment industry while taking away a lot of the fun of spectating. (I don’t want to watch Cam Champ drive it 275…I can do that myself.) To test this new legion of bombers while allowing them to still hit driver demands courses be at least 9,000 yards, but that would require an obscene amount of water and land and make the game even slower than it already is. So it’s a quagmire with no easy solutions, and the problems become more obvious with every 350-yard drive, exciting as they may be.

And in 2019 look for all of the manufacturers to put more distance in the bags of pros, more long-bombing young players to replace merely long middle-aged pros, fewer drivers to be hit because the courses can’t adjust fast enough and more people to blame the agronomy!

Mothers, Don't Let Your Sons And Daughters Grow Up To Be Average Length Straight Hitters

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If there was any doubt that learning speed and launch is vital to future PGA Tour survival coming off a season when the driving distance average jumped from 292.5 to 296.1 yards, Golfweek’s David Dusek provides all of the analysis (and charts) you’ll need to know that the money is in distance. There was a day when this kind of imbalance bothered the USGA and R&A and maybe even the PGA Tour:

As a group, the 20 longest hitters on the PGA Tour averaged more than $3.5 million in prize money last season, which was 164 percent more than the Tour average.

As massive as that percentage may seem, it falls within a range that goes several years. In 2017, the 20 longest hitters on the PGA Tour averaged 123 percent more prize money than the PGA Tour average. In the three seasons before that, they earned about 150 percent more, which tells us that as distance off the tee has increased over the last few years, the longest hitters have maintained an edge in terms of earnings.

There should be an advantage to hitting the ball a long way, but one would hope the numbers also show some kind that the game also still rewards those who show other skills besides an ability to hit the ball supreme distances. Right?

Video: Distance Debate And Your Percentages

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Morning Drive was joined by Paul Stankowski and debated with the gang—Rymer, Diaz and Ginella—about driving distance gains. In particular, what percentages they would ascribe as asked by the governing bodies in their Distance Survey (which you too can vote on!).

Of course it was an honor to be called out by Rymer for being the only person howling about the ball going too far since his heroes Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have been a tad more visible in sharing a similar stance. But love to see him pinning most of the gains on the ball! Roll it back, baby!

 

Rounds Played Down A Bit Due To Weather, USA Has 24 Million Or So Golfers Still

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It’s been a while since we’ve heard much on rounds played or the number of golfers in the United States, so I enjoyed the various numbers dropped by CNBC’s Dominic Chu during a Morning Drive appearance.

The growth fanatics won’t be pleased to see golf is stuck on 24 million or so numbers, but 82% of those players consider themselves committed. As Chu notes, there is no longer a sense that the sky is falling on Wall Street or anywhere else that people obsess about the numbers.

Anyway, good stuff from Chu’s chat with Cara Banks:

Golf Lives: A Look At Genuine "Grow The Game" Courses

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As golf’s leaders fuss over their PSA’s and other feel good grow the game efforts, we all know the sport will only really sustain players and passion if there are fun, relaxed and maybe a tad quirky facilities.

Callaway and Vice’s collaboration on Golf Lives is highlighting three “Home Courses” in Washington D.C., Portland and Gothenburg. This is just Season 1, so if you have nominations for similar places to highlight, please post in the comments here or message me.

Each piece, around 6 minutes, highlights the best of these places. I’m particularly enamored with Edgefield’s vibe and character, though having been to Wild Horse can attest to what a perfect golf facility they’ve created (and maintained).

The series can be seen on CallawayGolf.com or on Callaway TV on Apple TV and Roku. And below.

The description for volume 1:

“Opened in June 1939, Langston is steeped in a rich history. Known for its triumphant role in the desegregation of public golf, the course has been integral to the growth of the game’s popularity amongst African Americans. With its celebratory feel, Langston shows us golf is not only a uniter of people, but of generations.”

Beer drinkers and golf bag inventors will especially love Edgefield, described here but not mentioning the “Cartender” and the home-made bags created by a local:

“The air is fresh, the beers are cold and the vibes are electric at Edgefield. You'd be hard pressed to find a more laid back, approachable and enjoyable environment for a round. Overlooking stunning panoramic views of Northeast Portland, two par-3 pub courses (12 holes and 20 holes) wind through vineyards, thickets of blackberry bushes and a vintage distillery bar. All are welcome at Edgefield, especially those who have never swung a club.”

And the final film from Dave Axland and Dan Proctor’s Wild Horse design in Nebraska is explained this way:

“In 1997, the locals and farmers living in the tight-knit town of Gothenburg decided to build a golf course. A bank loan, a couple of tractors, and a whole lotta sweat equity later, their prairie land masterpiece is now considered one of the best in the country. Wild Horse is the soul of the community, providing unforgettable memories for all who play it.”

Jason Day: Roll Back The Ball? Better Move The Tees Up!

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In a new Golf World interview with Brian Wacker, Jason Day is asked about the prospects of a limited-distance ball at the Masters and the possible effect on the game.

First off, people would still play the Masters. But if they did that, then they better shorten the tees again. If we have limited-flight balls, we're going to have 4-irons into No. 7 and things like that.

Oh no a long iron! We can’t have that!

You see, the idea is to actually make long par-4s long again and par-5s risky again and maybe even get back to getting the fairways at Augusta National running instead of grainy and slow fairways. But go on…

But do I want the ball to go shorter? No. Why? Isn't it fun watching Dustin Johnson crush a drive over a lake 300 yards away? No one wants to see someone plod it down the right and not take it on. That's boring.

If you push trying to rein it in too far, then people will stop watching golf. People want to see risk.

Actually, when everyone can carry it 300 yards, the thrill of such risk taking is gone because it’s no longer risk. The reward for being genuinely long off the tee has been muted either because so many can do it, or because the courses have no chance of keeping up. That’s boring to watch.

The problem is the architects—some of them, anyway—decided that because the ball is going forever, they need to make courses longer to make them harder. No, you don't. Just be a better architect.

Psssssssst…most architects of the courses you play are….dead. They can’t be better architects.

Even after hearing these rationales for so many years, I’m still surprised at the level of misunderstanding about what is genuinely fun and satisfying to watch.

Video: The Great Distance Debate With Lucas Herbert And Mike Clayton

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Nice work by Mark Hayes, Mike Clayton and Golf Australia to do some more extensive testing with various driver-ball combinations with professional Lucas Herbert. And most admirable of young Herbert to subject himself to the old clubs at his peril (he’s continued his fine year since being reunited with this Taylor Mades, in case you worry after seeing some of the shots hit with persimmons).

Anyway, I’ve spoiled the results above but I think you’ll enjoy watching this not only to see what the results are, but the impact of driver head size:

USGA, R&A Ask For Your (Distance) Survey Time

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The USGA/R&A distance survey is a bit like a Robert Trent Jones design: needlessly long, seemingly takes longer to get through than you think, isn’t the most rewarding experience and you’d never do it again.

But unlike some tired old RTJ effort, this one really won’t cost you a dime and will entertain at times if you are intrigued by reading between the lines or general survey construction.

If you have a few minutes, please share your thoughts no matter your place in the game. In fact, the governing bodies have made a special point to let every day golfers know their input is most valued.

It took me about 12 minutes to complete, sparing them of any Max Behr copy and pasting or Statement of Principles jabs. I figured those would not be productive roads to take.

Here is the USGA version of the distance survey, and the R&A version can be found here.

Enjoy!



What Happens If We Make The Golf Ball Slightly Larger?

The old Spalding Magna, an oversized ball

The old Spalding Magna, an oversized ball

Gary Van Sickle at MorningRead.com considers the distance matter and concludes something must be done based on the next wave of players coming along and rendering most courses obsolete.

I was curious about one of this three suggestions beyond the usual bifurcation options.

I’ll credit Tom Watson with Option One, and he concedes that he heard it from golf analyst and entertainer David Feherty: make the golf ball bigger. It’s already been done once. Golf in the U.S. used a ball 1.68 inches in diameter versus the ball used by the rest of the world, 1.62 inches. The British Open switched to the bigger ball in 1974, and the United Kingdom’s small ball finally went away in 1990 for recreational golfers.

Watson said that .06 inches may have made a 20-yard driving decrease. What would another .06-inch increase mean, and would that be enough? I’d love to see some research on that.

Indeed research is needed. Because we need another study in this game!

While it seems so logically simple, this option has the potential to be costly for manufacturers and more difficult to implement due to patents. Our old pal Max Behr swore by the old floater ball and still played it when others had moved on to more advanced pellets. As anyone who has hit shots with a ball different than the weight of the modern ball, is typically not enthralled in the way many of Max’s contemporaries loathed the floater. Whether this was a matter of resisting change, struggling to adapt or legitimate complaints about the feasibility of such a ball, we’ll never know.

Either way, when writing your governing body, do not hesitate to ask for a golf ball size study. We’ve waited this long, what’s another…year.

If you need some inspiration, here was Behr’s 1937 petition to the USGA to require the "floater” the official ball for golf.

From an unbylined New York Times story, Behr’s resolution: 

“Whereas, it is out opinion that golf as pursued today no longer reflects its ancient and honorable traditions which it is out wish to protect; and, in that the ball manufacturers, not the player, dictate the sort of golf that is played which, instead of reflecting its honorable past, in a sense has become dishonorable in that mere brawn off the tee receives an unfair reward at the expense of ancient ways of skillfully maneuvering the ball—no longer required to win—we protest against the perilous state that golf has fallen into.

“Therefore, we respectfully petition the U.S.G.A. that it decree its amateur and open championships henceforth will be played with a ball that floats in water. We firmly believe that in this way only may its ancient and honorable traditions be re-established and preserved for future generations to enjoy.” 

"How long will it take the governing bodies to rescind the new rule that allows players to repair any damage on putting greens?"

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That’s the question Alistair Tait asks for Golfweek as the new rule book has come off the press and the strangest new rule in golf is just months away from debuting. I figured it would take a few years but given the scenarios presented by Tait, it’s easy to envision a revision sooner than later rescinding the right to “repair damage” in your line.

Rest assured, this new rule will unreasonably delay play. It won’t affect the pace of play of fast players. What it will do is allow the snails to slow down even more. Imagine the slowest player you can think of who takes an eternity on the greens. Imagine how many blemishes said player is going to find in his or her line. I can see a situation where players will make four or five repairs on a 15-foot putt. It’s not that long ago I saw a major champion repair three ball marks on a 10-foot putt.

Given the widespread improvement of putting surfaces in golf, perhaps the golf course superintendents of the world will save the governing bodies.

Then again, it could take just one or two weeks where greens are not ideal and the sight of players setting up shop to primp and repair a line will send fans looking for their remotes and TV executives to pick up their red phones.

Golf Players Poll: Brandel Up, Trump Down, Tour Setups About Right, A Third Concerned About Distance

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The old SI and now all-Golf Magazine/Golf.com players poll is great fun as always, with bad news for President Donald Trump, good news for Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee and a host of other fun topics covered.

But since this blog leans toward course setup, architecture, history and distance debates, the obvious questions of note for yours truly:

ARE YOU CONCERNED THAT TOUR PLAYERS ARE HITTING THE BALL TOO FAR?

YES: 32%
NO: 76%

“I just wish I hit it farther.”
“Equipment has taken a ton of skill away from the game.”
“The problem is that the ball goes too straight.”
“Yes — 300 yards doesn’t cut it anymore.”

32% is a steady number given that 100% believe they are paid to say all distance, some manufacturers are actively pressuring players to preach distance and the PGA Tour and PGA of America leadership believes more distance will grow the game.

Three years ago, the number was at 29%, so the slight increase is amazing given the pressures exerted on players to brag about that athleticism and declare the joys of modern technology advances.

As for bifurcation:

SHOULD THERE BE TWO SETS OF EQUIPMENT REGS: ONE FOR PROS, ANOTHER FOR EVERYONE ELSE?

YES: 39%
NO: 61%

“It would ruin the golf industry.”

Amazing to think the golf industry is seen as dependent on what the players play, not on how much people are enjoying the sport or buying equipment based on need or design intrigue or something other than pro golfers.

This one is a huge win for the PGA Tour Rules referees. Huge!

TOUR SETUPS ARE GENERALLY…

…TOO SHORT: 0%
…TOO LONG: 7%
…ABOUT RIGHT: 93%

“Tour setups are typically, well, too lame.”
“Fact: No one bitches when they’re leading the tournament.”

That 44% thought Phil should have been DQ’d does not suggest much admiration from the PGA Tour set for the USGA rules committee.

SHOULD PHIL HAVE BEEN DQ’D AT SHINNECOCK?

YES: 44%
NO: 54%
NO COMMENT: 2%

“He acted like an idiot. If it were me, I’d be out.”
“He should’ve been praised.”

R&A Rules Chief Rickman Confident New Rules Will Speed Up Play

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As the USGA and R&A rolled out the actual written Rules of Golf coming in 2019—please give them clicks, much editing went into this!Golfweek’s Alistair Tait asked the R&A’s David Rickman about the proverbial elephant in the room: spike mark tapping.

While spikes are virtually gone, the idea that players can massage their line continues to not sit well with many, including yours truly, who is struggling to reconcile playing the ball as it lies while being freed up to manipulate the ground between your ball and the hole.

Besides the philosophic disconnect, Tait zeroes in on the past lessons learned from allowing spike mark tapping on the European Tour and Rickman says times have changed.

“It was an area in the extensive discussions that we talked about for some time because in all of this we were interested in speeding the game up, and this change in particular could potentially even go the other way. But what I would say is that it does present a completely different dynamic,” he said.

“I think we’ll see people repairing damage as a collective at different times. I think what you will also see is that the putting green surfaces will generally be maintained throughout the day through the actions of all the players at different times in a much higher standard. So those players at the end of the are only repairing the minimal damage that hasn’t already been repaired. I think in reality it will work.”

I don’t. And this is someone who believes in Rickman’s views on the rules. Primarily, I just can’t see how you can instill a “play it as it lies” mentality in today’s players or future generations when you can now make it lie on the greens. They already complain when all 18 greens are not of the same firmness and speed, and providing a free-for-all to manicure lines seems like less of a slow play issue and more of a core value undermining problem.

Certainly a case could be made that introducing spike-mark tapping could have alleviate pressure on supers to present perfect conditions. But the first time you watch an elite player turn golf into curling by massaging their line, I’m confident you’ll miss the old play it as it lies days.

We’ll find out soon enough!