USGA News Conference

usga logo.gifWarning: this reading may be unsuitable for those prone to napping.

Yes, it was a positively dismal performance by the inkslingers who stuck around for the USGA press conference with Walter Driver, David Fay and Jim Hyler.

Let the nap begin...

WALTER DRIVER: The first announcement that I'm very happy to make is that we have surpassed $50 million in our USGA for the Good of the Game grants program, and of this $50 million, over $40 million has gone toward youth golf in bringing more kids into the game, teaching them about the traditions of the game, why we love the game and everything about the game that we think is so special.

This is a commitment we made in 1997. I was the chairman of the committee that proposed this, the executive committee approved it, and we're well on our way to bringing a lot of people into the game. This is not exclusively kids that don't have access to the game, but primarily we focus on children who would not be introduced to the game but for these programs.

This program is the largest direct supporter The First Tee program in terms of direct contributions, and we really bring a lot of people into the game to teach them why we love the game and all the life skills that go with the game. So we're happy to reach that milestone in our grants program.

Warms your heart, doesn't it? Walter was chairman of that committee? Wow, you learn something everyday. There's nothign this man won't do for charity.

We think that the U.S. Open at Merion will be approximately the size of the U.S. Open here at Winged Foot, maybe slightly smaller, but it will be -- a lot of people will get a chance to come to the U.S. Open in Philadelphia and appreciate both Merion and all the elements of a U.S. Open.

I want to thank the people from Merion. We have a big group from Merion here today. Stand up, folks. They're very happy to be here. Thank you very much.

(Tepid Applause from scribes and USGA staffers responding to an applause sign held up by Marty Parkes).

And now way too many words from the championship committee chairman, Jim "I just love Walter's Kool-Aid recipe" Hyler.

The idea here and the philosophy is that the further a player hits the ball off-line, the more penalty they will incur. And in that three-and-a-half-inch cut of primary rough, if a player hits in there, they do have a chance to advance the ball sometimes on the green or to get it up around the green. It does allow for some shot-making opportunity to play out of that three-and-a-half-inch rough.

We think this is a very fair way to have U.S. Open rough, and we've gotten some good comments from the players about this. The three-and-a-half-inch rough will be cut every day. It's going to be mowed every single day.
So you're saying it's going to be mown every day, and every single day?
Green speeds, we are trying to get the greens and keep the greens at a green speed of around 12 on the stimp meter, and we are essentially there and have been all week. This applies to all the greens except the first hole, and if you've been out to see the first hole, you know that it has a pretty dramatic slope from back to front. We are keeping this green speed a little bit slower than the other green speeds, and we have notified the players of this. When they registered they received some information to tell them that the first green would be a little bit slower because of the severe slope.

Why not just let them figure it out? Why do they have to be warned and coddled? Isn't that for PGATour play?

We, again, are keeping the green speeds the same throughout the week. What they got on Monday, they will get Sunday, so there will be no increasing the green speeds as we go through the week.

Essentially from a course setup standpoint, the course will be the same Monday through Sunday.

Mr. Hyler, have you or the USGA media consultants ever pointed out your tendency to repeat yourself?

To save you all some time, he goes on to repeat himself about how soft the course is and mentions the alternate tee plan laid out by Mike Davis. Can you hear the scribblers who haven't headed for an early lunch snoring loudly?

I think just summarizing our course setup philosophy, we want this to be a stern test of golf, but we also want it to be fair. When a player hits a good shot, we want that shot to be properly rewarded. So fairness is the way we are trying to do this. Hard, stern, yes, but it is the U.S. Open Championship, and it will be that way, but we also want it to be very fair for the players.

So you're saying you want it to be fair?  Key word here people: fair. The insights we glean!

After telling everyone far less than they already know from reading articles about the event, Hyler hands it back to Driver and they open it up to questions.

Q. A couple of weeks ago at the Memorial they conducted kind of an interesting experiment with a technique they used raking bunkers. I'm curious from a championship standpoint what your evaluation of that was. Was it anything that you guys would consider doing at any venues?

WALTER DRIVER: We've not talked about doing that at our championships, but the statistics from Memorial are that it impacted average scores by .014 in the scoring of a round, so that's not a material difference in the actual scoring based on that.

We have not talked about it, we've just scrutinized the numbers!

Q. I have a question about the U.S. Open. There were 110 local qualifiers and one of them got international attention; there were dozens of sectional qualifiers, and one of them got international attention. Is there anything that the USGA can do to encourage more female professionals to enter this tournament?

Say what?

WALTER DRIVER: Well, this is an Open Championship and everything that that means. We would like to encourage everyone who is eligible, who has the right handicap or other qualifications, to enter, and it would be wonderful for us if every sectional championship had 6,000 people that came out and all that media attention. That would be a great thing for the game and for the U.S. Open.

You left out every man, woman or child regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, disability, phobia or gender reassignment. Wait, now I'm repeating myself!

Q. Phil Mickelson was in here earlier and said he believed that the PGA TOUR was looking at what you're doing this week with the rough and the experiment that you're having, and he said he believed that the Tour might look into adopting that for some of their events. Have you had any contact with the PGA TOUR and have they spoken to you about your expectations for this week?

WALTER DRIVER: They have not spoken to me. That's really their decision. They set up those courses and make their own decisions about course setup.

I'm shocked they haven't been in touch with Walter to talk about Mike Davis's idea!

Q. Walter, you mentioned that you reached a 50-million plateau in the grants program. I'd like to know what you consider the success rate there and how are you measuring if you're meeting that rate?

WALTER DRIVER: It's actually hard for us to have metrics on the number of people we bring in and the retention rates. We feel good about it and we anecdotally get very good feedback.

Ah, that's all that matters. What you feel to be true! Truthiness. Oh, and there's that metrics word again. You know who else loves her metrics? And we know what a great job she's doing for the LPGA.

This is a long-term investment by the USGA in the game of golf, and in the next generation, and we're very optimistic that it will bring people into the game who wouldn't have been in the game otherwise and that they'll love the game as we do and stay in the game. We'll just have to wait and see. We're willing to make the investment in the next generation.

And in Citation jets.

Q. For David, there's been a lot of pros and cons with Merion, the course and the length of it. I'm wondering about your thoughts about what went into the process. I know you've done a lot of studies there and whatever, how do you feel the course will hold up?

DAVID FAY: Well, we put a lot of thought into this, and again, hats off to the leadership of Merion. I think I can use this automobile because it no longer exists, but there was once a commercial "It's not your father's Oldsmobile," in some ways I'd say it's the same for Merion. They've always had great holes, a number of great layup holes where you weren't using driver off the tee. But they've been able to make their long, stout holes, the ones that have been known throughout history. They've made them really long. So I think they have adapted so well to the changing nature of the game.

The game's changing? Just remember that remark...

Q. I suppose it wouldn't be a USGA press conference if we didn't ask about the ball issue. I'm just wondering, David, if there's anything new to report on that front with the USGA. And you talked about the course being stretched out 300 yards from '97, and they'll be looking if this comes back here again, 2014 is the next available Open, and we look at the way the ball is flying these days?

DAVID FAY: Well, technology and what we do in our role as overseeing technology through equipment standards is a core function of the USGA, and we are still in the midst of a well-chronicled ball research project, and we're learning a lot of good information. Jim Vernon, the chair of the equipment standards committee is here, as is Dick Rugge.

When you do a ball research program, you find out more than just the golf ball. I mean, that's something that we've discovered. There are a lot of issues we're discussing, matters dealing with off-center hits, matters dealing with control of the golf ball from the grass, otherwise known as grooves. There's a lot of stuff that is going on.

We're nowhere near making an announcement on anything today, but I can tell you that this is something that we invest a lot of time and energy with. This is something that we are in close contact with the affiliated organizations, certainly starting with the R & A. We have consulting members, members from the PGA TOUR, PGA of America, so there's no blockbuster announcement to make.

JIM HYLER: One comment on the course length. I said it was 300 yards longer, it's still -- we're still about 7,240 in length, so by today's standards, that's not really all that long.

So it's been lengthened, yet it's not long by today's standards. So that means you are saying a 7,240 yard course is outdated? And why is that? Mr. Fay says the game is changing, but are you trying to say it hasn't?

WALTER DRIVER: That's approximately the same length as Olympia Fields and Pinehurst. There's been almost no change in three years in length.

Oh good one Walter. And your point? Oh right, all is well, leave us alone, love us, respect us, but don't ask us to act (except on those pesky grooves!).

Q. The course is playing a little soft right now and some rain is expected today. Do you guys have a plan to deal with that or to see what the conditions hold for this week?

WALTER DRIVER: Jim did talk about that.

JIM HYLER: We did talk about it.

Yes and we repeated ourselves in talking about it.

Looks like some writer fell asleep! Can't imagine why.

Q. David, you mentioned the face grooves. Players will tell you that the grooves mitigate what you're doing with the rough, within reason, the ability to control the ball out of the rough. Is the graduated rough a response to their ability to do things with face grooves? And you approached this issue many years ago and then sort of blinked before confronting the club manufacturers. Are you seriously revisiting square grooves again?

DAVID FAY: Well, I'd say in answer to the question about the graduated rough, I don't think it's any secret that we are concerned about the importance of putting the ball into the fairway off of the tee, and that's not just a concern of ours, that's a concern, I believe, of the PGA TOUR.

So why not widen the fairways, then they'll hit more fairways and voila, it's not a problem anymore!

Oh that's right, they might shoot low scores and then, it's rapture time!

With respect to grooves, to start getting into specifics on this, we don't have many specifics.

Well, remember, Fay is a big Yankees fan. So there's his nod to Yogi.

All I can say at this point is that we are testing it. For specific data, I would want to turn that over to Dick Rugge. We're really nowhere near to the point where I could say to you with any certainty what we're going to be doing.

Q. I would just be curious for either Walter or David, the conversation over the last few years, you talked to players and ask them what their favorite courses are, and inevitably they'll mention any U.S. Open course before the USGA gets its hands on it. Do you take that as criticism or compliment?

WALTER DRIVER: Well, we set up the U.S. Open courses to match our philosophy that we want the most rigorous test in championship golf. The players don't see courses like that very often. The typical Tour course is not set up the same way, and we understand that's a change that requires adaptation by the players, and that's our philosophy and we don't make any apologies for that philosophy.

Do you ever apologize for anything?

Q. There was a story in the Honolulu Advertiser in regards to the qualifier down in Hawaii, and there's a possibility that it may be eliminated at some point after what happened this year where there was only ten qualifiers in the sectional. Is that, A, something you looked at specifically, or, B, is that part of a general process in regards to looking at the qualifiers?

DAVID FAY: B. At the end of each championship season, we take a look at all of the championships, including sectional and local qualifying, and we look at the numbers and we gather together with the committee, and we may or may not make changes.

And about that European qualifier where it appears players entered with no plan to play, all to help get the number of spots up?

Oh right, no one asked about that. Good work media! Top notch. Top notch.