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Posted on: April 7, 2011 8:46 am
Edited on: April 7, 2011 11:19 am

Scorecard DQ rules get welcome makeover

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The decades-old rules of golf have officially entered the video age.

The game's two rulemakers, the Royal & Ancient and U.S. Golf Association, jointly announced Thursday that allowances have been made in the rules to allow for unwitting violations by players that were caught on videotape.

Call it the Padraig Harrington rule -- the three-time major champion was disqualified from a European Tour event earlier this year when replays showed his ball had moved almost imperceptibly while Harrington was removing his marker from behind the ball on the green. Unaware of the violation, Harrington signed his card and was disqualified for signing for an incorrect score when the video evidence later surfaced.

In other words, disqualification for posting an incorrect score, revealed by TV cameras, is no longer automatic.

"Put it this way -- it's a good change," Jack Nicklaus said after hitting the ceremonial opening tee shot Thursday morning at Augusta National.

Harrington's ball rolled perhaps a dimple forward on a lengthy putt, but it was enough that a TV camera with a zoom lens detected it and viewers reported it to the European Tour.

"It recognizes the reality of super slo-mo speed, high-def technology in the game," said Fred Ridley, a past USGA president and the chief of the competition committee at the Masters.

Making an important distinction, USGA executive director Mike Davis said ignorance of the rules and an absence of knowing the facts are separate issues. Camilo Villegas, who committed a violation caught on video in Hawaii in January and was subsenquently disqualified, would not have been given dispensation under the revision. That was ignorance of the rule -- Villegas improperly removed a divot from an area where his ball was rolling.

Harrington was unaware of issues that "were fact-based and the player couldn't have known," Davis said.

"We weren't dealing with these kinds of issues three years ago," Davis said. "The rules of golf never contemplated some of the things that have been happening."

Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion, applauded the rule and said he spoke at length with USGA director Mike Davis about the potential rule change since the Harrington violation occurred.

"I think it's absurd," he said of the old disqualification penalty. "I have probably had 10 or 20 balls move in my entire career when I didn't now it. I think rules should be about intent. If a fellow wants to cheat, he'll cheat. What advantage did he [Harrington] gain?"

Not much.

"It makes the rule what it should have been," Nicklaus continued. "We've always been our own referee, and our own custodians of the rules. To have a TV camera ... a ball that moves in the wind, or settles on the grass, that has zero effect on what really happens, but if you don't detect it [you get penalized]?

"I think this puts the integrity of the player back into the game."

The USGA and R&A called a joint press conference at Augusta for 10 a.m. ET to discuss the nuances of the rule, but already laid out some hypotheticals whare the revision would apply:

* A player makes a short chip from the greenside rough. At the time, he and his fellow-competitors have no reason to suspect that the player has double-hit his ball in breach of Rule 14-4.  After the competitor has signed and returned his score card, a close-up, super-slow-motion video replay reveals that the competitor struck his ball twice during the course of the stroke.  In these circumstances, it would be appropriate for the tournament committee to waive the disqualification penalty and apply the one-stroke penalty to the player’s score at the hole in question.
* After a competitor has signed and returned his score card, it becomes known through the use of video replay, that the player unknowingly touched a few grains of sand with his club at the top of his backswing on a wall of the bunker.  The touching of the sand was so light that, at the time, it was reasonable for the player to have been unaware that he had breached Rule 13-4.  It would be appropriate for the committee to waive the disqualification penalty and apply the two-stroke penalty to the player’s score at the hole in question.
* A competitor moves his ball on the putting green with his finger in the act of removing his ball-marker. The competitor sees the ball move slightly forward but is certain that it has returned to the original spot, and he plays the ball as it lies. After the competitor signs and returns his score card, video footage is brought to the attention of the committee that reveals that the ball did not precisely return to its original spot. The competitor cites the fact that the position of the logo on the ball appeared to be in exactly the same position as it was when he replaced the ball and this was the reason for him believing that the ball returned to the original spot. As it was reasonable in these circumstances for the player to have no doubt that the ball had returned to the original spot, and because the player could not himself have reasonably discovered otherwise prior to signing and returning his score card, it would be appropriate for the Committee to waive  the disqualification penalty. The two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place would, however, be applied to the player’s score at the hole in question.
However, here are a couple of instances where disqualification would still be the penalty for signing an incorrect card:

* For example, in the following scenarios, the Committee would not be justified in waiving or modifying the disqualification penalty:
As a player’s ball is in motion, he moves several loose impediments in the area in which the ball will likely come to rest.  Unaware that this action is a breach of Rule 23-1, the player fails to include the two-stroke penalty in his score for the hole.  As the player was aware of the facts that resulted in his breaching the Rules, he should be disqualified under Rule 6-6d for failing to include the two-stroke penalty under Rule 23-1.
* A player's ball lies in a water hazard.  In making his backswing for the stroke, the player is aware that his club touched a branch in the hazard.  Not realizing at the time that the branch was detached, the player did not include the two-stroke penalty for a breach of Rule 13-4 in his score for the hole.  As the player could have reasonably determined the status of the branch before signing and returning his score card, the player should be disqualified under Rule 6-6d for failing to include the two-stroke penalty under Rule 13-4

Posted on: March 2, 2011 2:33 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2011 3:45 pm

Davis new boss at USGA: Right guy, right time

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Wednesday might have marked a historic first in the considerable annals of the United States Golf Association, which has been riding herd over the domestic game for portions of three different centuries.

To wit, how many times in the organization's often controversial history has it made a decision that seemingly everybody applauded?

Short answer: Zero.

That changed when Mike Davis, a guy whose ego is as unobtrusive as his everyman name, was elevated from the rules and competition committee to the executive director's chair, replacing David Fay, who retired two months ago.

If the name sounds familiar, Davis for the past few years has been charged with the course setup at the organization's showcase, the U.S. Open. No sooner did Davis start handling the primary setup duties than did all bitching cease. In fact, in a modern miracle compared to the scorched earth the organization had created among players, fans and critics over the past decade, opinion at the Open fast morphed into outright praise.

Without question, Davis is the most popular figure in recent USGA history as it relates to players, who, let's face it, do more to shape public opinion of the influential organization than any other entity. The timbre surrounding the U.S. Open changed from one of global derision -- remember the debacle at Shinnecock in 2004, where play was halted because greens were unplayable? -- into near-universal applause regarding playability and fairness.

A quick sampling of PGA Tour players at the Honda Classic produced nothing but salutations and smiles. Plenty of folks were hoping Davis would get the job. It was just a matter of whether he wanted it and if the USGA would agree to his terms. A few weeks ago, Davis dismissed any interest in the job because he didn’t want to spend his day dealing with contract negotiations, sponsors and paperwork. But the executive committee agreed to let him continue to run the U.S. Open setup and site selection. He will surrender the on-site reins on the organization's other events.

"He does a great job at the U.S. Open," Lee Westwood said. "He's a straight man. What he says is what he does. Glad to hear it."

In his tenure calling the setup shots, Davis moved tees around to offset changes in weather, which hadn't been done in decades. He helped usher in three-tiered rough, where punishment was commensurate to the wildness of shots. He used driveable par-4 holes to create more excitement. In 2008, he insisted that the 18th hole at Torrey Pines be played as a par-5, bringing winning birdies and eagles into the equation, and not as a par-4, which is what architect Rees Jones wanted.

What happened? Tiger Woods birdied the hole at the end of regulation to force an 18-hole playoff, then birdied it again in the Monday playoff with Rocco Mediate to force an extra hole, resulting in one of the most memorable Opens ever.

After Davis was named director of rules and competition in 2005, complaints ceased almost overnight. Yet the winning scores at the Open still hovered around even par, same as it ever was. Davis had done the impossible -- transformed cruel and unusual punishment into a fair and balanced setup that gave players a chance to make birdies and bogeys.
Davis, a genial guy who makes friends easily, has become one of the most accessible figures in the game. Hopefully, that will remain the case as he gets bumped up the food chain. His promotion gives the USGA, often characterized as a bunch of East Coast, blue-blood busybodies in blue blazers, a far-less-stodgy image. For example, here's what the USGA's top official said about Davis in a press release that reeks of organizational corporate-speak, starch and stiffness.

"Mike Davis is one of the most knowledgeable and experienced administrators in the golf industry today and will be an ideal steward of the game as the USGA’s new executive director," said USGA President Jim Hyler. "In two decades of organizing and managing all our national championships, Mike has demonstrated creativity and impartiality that will serve him and the organization well in his new position."

Even in congratulating and lauding the guy, the USGA sounds more rigid than rebar.  Maybe under Davis, that will change. Fay was a decent guy with a good sense of humor, too, but he wore a trademark bow tie that contributed to the USGA's stuffy image. Players didn't feel like they knew him. Mention the USGA to most players and, outside of Davis, they don’t often offer positive feedback. When Davis talked to players, Kenny Perry said, he actually listened.

"I think Mike understands the player perspective," Perry said. "He is a guy that everybody likes and I think he will be very fair in that new job.

"He has always been very approachable. I think it's awesome, and it's a win-win for everybody."

Especially regarding the Open.

"We would be absolute idiots if we extracted Mike from his U.S. Open activities," Hyler said.

Hmmm. That's a descriptive term that's been used once or twice in recent years relating to USGA policies, hirings, firings and protocols. But not this time.

"I love the golf-course setup part about what I've done, putting together the pieces to the puzzle," Davis said Wednesday. "I have said this before -- I would pay the USGA to allow me to do that."

No need. He still gets to orchestrate the Open particulars and got a nice raise in the process.

If Davis was able turn his in-house popularity into leverage to carve a hybrid job description, allowing him serve as both Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, then he might just possess the consensus-building skills he'll need to succeed in the Far Hills, N.J., hallways, too, which is doubly good news.

"Sounds like he held all the cards, huh?" Westwood said.

Here's what Phil Mickelson, never a guy to withhold a strong opinion about course conditions, said at the U.S. Open last summer at Pebble Beach, another Davis production: "I thought the golf course was set up perfectly. I thought Mike Davis did a great job. It was very playable. There were some scoring opportunities out there if you played well. I thought it was just really well done. The pin placements were great. The rough was very fair. They put some water on the greens so that shots weren't able to hold, some greens we weren't able to hold, we could. I just thought it was really well done."

Fair, with scoring opportunities? At an Open? Those sentiments were all but unthinkable five years earlier.

For those of us who have been USGA members over the years and remember the painful parade of embarrassing gaffes over the past decade on both the golf course and under dictatorial former leadership, Davis can't possibly make things worse.

Even if he's nowhere near as good around the office water cooler as he is with a garden hose on the greens.

Category: Golf
Posted on: September 2, 2010 1:51 pm
Edited on: September 2, 2010 3:17 pm

Tiger: If ball rules change he'll understand

NORTON, Mass. -- If the game's rulemakers ultimately decide to roll back the firepower of the current golf ball, Tiger Woods says he would understand.

Mind you, Woods didn't definitively say whether he was in favor of such a move -- maybe his Nike underpinnings were in the back of his mind -- but it sounds like he sees the wisdom of letting some of the helium out of the super-hot contemporary ball.

Even Woods admits that the balls fly farther seemingly every time out. He says he’s hitting it farther than ever, even while trying to rebuild his game.

The U.S. Golf Association last month conducted a semi-secret test with dozens of Canadian Tour players who were sworn to secrecy, another in a series of tests with special balls that reportedly travel perhaps 20 less than the current models on the market. The USGA asked manufacturers to produce a less-caffeinated ball several years ago for testing purposes andhas been painstakingly piecing together data ever since.

Obviously, the organization is in no real hurry. Even though legendary figures such as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, who more than dabble in course design and have had to make incessant design concessions because of the distance gains in the modern game, have advocated a rollback of the ball for the past decade.

On Thursday, Woods was asked at the Deutsche Bank Championship about his view on the issue, which is being studied by the USGA. The organization has yet to release any findings from its various studies.

“It's just something, the guys are hitting it a long way,” Woods said. “For instance, last week, No. 8 is a par-3 down the hill, playing 207 the last day, and I hit 7-iron. I don't ever hit 7-iron that far. Then I watched Dustin Johnson hit 9-iron.

“It's just, I can understand them wanting to obviously pull the game back a little bit, because the guys are just becoming more athletic. Here I am 6 foot and I'm considered short. Most of the guys now are 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. Just like every other sport, it's evolved, become more athletic. 

“The guys have speed, and now we're getting some great athletes playing the game.”

Well, hacks with 99 mph swing speeds are blowing it out there a comparative mile, too.

Woods has a point about better athletes. To wit, he’s not remotely one of the biggest players on the Ryder Cup roster, assuming he gets picked with a wild-card selection Tuesday.

American team members Johnson, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Jeff Overton and even Matt Kuchar all are taller than he is, though Kuchar is medium-length off the tee.

As for a rule that has been changed in the blink of an eye, Woods was much more on the fence. After Jim Furyk was disqualified last week for missing is pro-am time for oversleeping, the tour elected to suspend the rule requiring him to be deemed ineligible for playing in the tournament proper. The modified pro-am rule was put in place this year, but suspended this week after the Furyk blowback.

Phil Mickelson openly supported blowing up the rule. Woods similarly plays in the pro-am every week he tees it up, the four majors and Players Championship not included.

"I would think they would have waited until after the season was completed," Woods said. "It's only affected one player so far this year, and that was Jim. But I can understand it; I just thought it might have been a little premature, a little early to do that. But that's just the way it is."

Category: Golf
Posted on: March 8, 2010 3:49 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2010 4:04 pm

Grooves: Score one for uniformity, clarity, Lefty

Manufacturing advocate Phil Mickelson just chalked up his first win of 2010.

It wasn’t a major, exactly, but it certainly was notable in its own limited regard.

Mickelson made a point of crawling way out on a verbal limb last month when he tersely criticized the fashion in which the new 2010 grooves rules were enacted, and on Monday he gained at least a partial victory when Ping ageed to set aside a grandfather clause that permitted some of its old, non-conforming clubs to be used on PGA Tour-sanctioned circuits.

The grooves matter was a confounding and complicated matter that begged for somebody to take the high road as a means of cleaning up a confusing, if not ridiculous, legal mess. Nine weeks into the season, Ping CEO John Solheim agreed to kill the loophole that he described as a “very unfortunate situation.”

As a result, separate agreements between Ping, the U.S. Golf Association and PGA Tour in which pre-1990 Ping Eye 2 wedges were allowed to be used on tour and in the U.S. Open have been set aside. Square grooves by other manufacturers were otherwise banned on Jan. 1.

As part of the compromise with Ping for waiving the confusing loophole, the USGA agreed to hold a “town-hall meeting” in the fall, as USGA executive director David Fay described it. Open to pretty much anybody interested in rules and the equipment industry, the USGA will for the first time pull back the curtain on its regulation processes.

As for whether Mickelson’s entreaties for more transparency in that regard played a part in the establishment of the forum, Fay didn’t mince words. Mickelson made the little-known Eye 2 loophole a hot-button issue.

“That’s an element of it, yeah,” Fay said. “I’m not in the habit of liking to see my nose grow.”
Now that Ping has ponged on the rule, so to speak, the Champions, Nationwide and PGA tours will play by the same competitive rules as other pro circuits around the world beginning the week of March 29.

In other wrinkles:

* The LPGA, which had agreed to play by USGA rules even though it had not signed any 1990-era agreement with Ping, will ban the use of old Eye 2s, as will the developmental Duramed Futures Tour. "If it's not on the USGA's conforming list, then we won't use it," LPGA rules official Doug Brecht said.

* The Masters and PGA Championship, which stated their intention to play events in 2010 in accordance with USGA rules, can remove the Eye 2 grandfather clause. The remaining major, the British Open, is played under the auspices of the R&A, which was not a party to either Ping loophole settlement and previously banned Eye 2s on Jan. 1.

The Ping issue reached a nasty head last month when Mickelson was accused by a fellow player of “cheating” on the spirit of the rule because he used the old Eye 2 wedges at his season debut, though he did it at least in part to underscore what hew believed was the unfairness of the groove regulation’s implementation.

At least four other players used grandfathered Eye 2 clubs this year, though the number has seemingly dropped over the ensuing weeks. As a result of the agreement with Solheim, the only professional tournaments where 1990-era Eye 2 clubs will still be allowed, per Solheim’s insistence, are the U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open, Fay said.

“We’ve heard from a lot of loyal Ping Eye 2 owners who were concerned that a resolution of the tour's issue might also keep them from playing their Eye 2s that were grandfathered as a result of the 1990 USGA settlement.  I want to reassure those golfers that their clubs remain conforming in all amateur events played under the USGA rules of golf,” Solheim said in a joint statement with the PGA Tour. “The problem is solved on the PGA Tour and the integrity of the original agreements is unaffected.”

The Solheim agreement also extends to the LPGA, which earlier this year elected to play according to USGA rules that had allowed the Eye 2 clubs. 

In return for the waiver, Solheim, like Mickelson, wanted more accountability in the regulatory process from the USGA, which sanctions clubs for play and makes rules in the U.S. and Mexico. Fay said he anticipates the fall meeting – the date has not been set – turning into a colorful session. The grooves revisions represented the first technical rollback in 75 years.

“My expectation is that people will listen and it will have a House of Commons feel,” Fay said. “It will be a good oportunity to take stock and observe the process that we follow. It’s the proverbial open forum.”

In Los Angeles three weeks ago, Mickelson blasted the USGA over its handling of the grooves phase-in, especially Dick Rugge, the USGA's senior technical director.

"In regards to the groove and playing the club and whatnot, I have been very upset over the way the entire groove rule has come about and its total lack of transparency," he said. "I'm very upset with the way the rule came about, the way one man essentially can approve or not approve a golf club based on his own personal decision regardless of what the rule says.

"This has got to change. To come out and change a rule like this that has a loophole has got to change. It's ridiculous. It hurts the game, and you cannot put the players in a position to interpret what the rule has meant."

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