Thursday, December 20, 2012

Memory Lane

             Not all of us that grow up with the dream end up making it to the PGA Tour.  Inadvertently, however, we end up crossing paths with those that do.  This Christmas vacation I have the duty of sorting through some old paperwork and boxes of my father, who passed in a plane crash in 2006.  Among the random things he saved includes folders and pairings from amateur events I played in, programs from my first AJGA events and my first and only USGA event, newspaper clippings from the Arizona Open I played in as an amateur and numerous pictures that I didn’t remember existed.
            The nostalgic stroll down memory lane wasn’t the craziest part of the process however, but rather the hindsight recognition of what I was up against as a competitor.  Some highlights from my only slightly notable amateur career:

2002 North & South Junior Championship

            This was my first trip to the famed Pinehurst Resort and was fortunately not my last.  I played progressively worse as the week went on, culminating with an 81 on the #2 course, which left me toward the rear end of the pack.  I remember switching from the chain hotel to the Carolina even after poor play on the first round and how special that experience was.  I played in two North & South Amateurs after that and my father and I stayed in the Carolina hotel both times from the start. 
            This event was special to me because I wasn’t an elite junior golfer, however I was getting a chance to become one after qualifying for the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2001 (it’s amazing what just qualifying for that event will do for a tournament resume).  I wasn’t playing particularly well that summer and hadn’t broken par (despite shooting even a dozen times or so) and looked forward to challenging the same course Payne Stewart had won on 3 years prior.
            At the time, the trip was incredibly special, but now that I look back with 20/20 hindsight here’s the kicker – a mid-tournament leader and nearly champion was Webb Simpson.

2001 U.S. Junior Amateur

            In 2001 I actually managed to put two rounds together and qualify for a USGA event (I haven’t done so since – ouch).  I made it to the U.S. Junior Amateur at Oak Hills in San Antonio, Texas.  We road tripped it from Tucson, where I lived at the time, and made it into the normal mid-summer weather you’d expect.  But I was used to that from southern Arizona and had two fairly normal practice rounds, including a -4 back nine during my second practice round.  I felt ready.  I looked ready.  I was playing ready.  I wasn’t ready.
            Everyone hears about the rough in a U.S. Open, the fast and firm greens, the difficulty of the conditions – Oak Hills was no different.  For me at least.  James Vargas shot a record 10-under for the two stroke play rounds, which managed to best my 22-over by a couple of strokes.  They forgot to tell me when I qualified that hitting fairways would be important.  I just saw pictures of my hitting shots from the rough where my shoes are not showing.  The USGA is tough in all of their events, not just the Opens.  Just so you know… 
            In 20/20 hindsight there are two notables: 1)In order to qualify for this event I beat out a player named Michael Thompson, whom some of you may remember from this year’s U.S. Open and the 2008 U.S. Amateur.  Turns out he and I played golf against each other since the wee-little years.  Turns out he was always better than me and I knew it.
            One thing I distinctly remember from that event, and I don’t mean to point it out as a negative, was that there was a player who decided to skip the Player’s Dinner that received an award.  I so desperately wish I could have earned an award for qualifying for the Junior Am 3 times, it really ticked me off that someone wouldn’t show up to be recognized.  I remembered this scoff for years to come.  I could not possibly believe someone would have the gall to not show up for an USGA award.  That player was Kevin Na.  I met him again years later at the 2010 U.S. Open and he really was a true gentleman and perhaps one of the nicer guys I have met on tour.  Strange how things work out.

2003 Arizona Open

            Amongst my father’s collection were clippings from the 2003 Arizona Open, which I qualified for and played in as an amateur.  I even made the cut.  It was basically a Gateway Tour event and it took nearly 20-under to win the three round event, but making the cut at even-par through two rounds for me was an accomplishment.  Heck, only 4 amateurs of the 20-something that started actually made the cut.  After making the cut, I finished poorly, but I always remember this one character that I played with in the practice round. 
            He was a bit goofy, very likable and a hell of a long-hitter for his size.  He was clearly a great player and looking to play beyond state Opens.  I laughed the whole practice round because of him, and I honestly couldn’t repeat most of his jokes even if I could remember them properly.  He may not remember the 18-year old that made his first state open and was trying to hang with the big boys, but I remember his positive attitude.  His name was Robert Garrigus.  Funny how things work out.  I could have given him a short putter then if he’d wanted it…

            There are far more stories that have turned up than I can share, but each time I dig into the deep banks of my memory I realize how everyone goes their separate paths but they frequently have intersections.  I mentioned Michael Thompson once, but I also have the medal from the 2001 Marana Invitational that I finished second in.  He finished first.  But what I remember is walking in after a shotgun start with a 71 and having the clubhouse lead.  I asked who was still left to come in and I was told, “Michael Thompson.”  I said right then, “Oh well, second ain’t that bad.” He came in with 70.
            Perhaps there are some things we know before the future.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Making Putting Practice Fun: 7-Up Style

             I’ve been surprised over the past few years at how few people know the putting game 7-Up.  When I grew up, I could barely escape a putting green without at least one game, and ever since then it seems that I have to teach it to anyone I want to play.  So now I’d like to introduce the game to everyone, because there is no golfer who cannot enjoy and benefit from this game and the variations below can turn this fun competition into great practice.

Plain and Simple

            The game of 7-Up is simple and easy at its core.  It can be played with as many people as you’d like, although anything beyond 4 becomes a little cumbersome.  Basically, closest putt to the selected hole wins a point.  Make the putt and you get 3 points.  First player to 7 points wins.  Some key rules to the game:

o   Choose who selects the first hole by lot.  Afterward, the player who is closest to the hole will select the next hole, regardless of whether the second putt is made.
o   You have to two-putt to keep the point.  If you are closest to the hole and miss the putt, you don’t get the point.
o   If you are not closest to the hole and you three-putt, you lose a point.  In the simplest version of the game, you are not allowed negative points.
o   You can stymie the first putt, but not the second putt.  So there is some strategy to where you leave the first putt, but you can’t block someone from the attempt to two-putt.

The Gamers Game

            In this variation there is a little more strategy and a little more gamesmanship.  This is the version my brother and I frequently play and can lead to some very interesting turns.

o   Negative points are allowed, so making sure you don’t three-putt becomes very important.
o   “Knock-Aways” are allowed.  This is where we have the most fun.  You are permitted to knock your opponent’s ball away and the opponent must either play it from where it comes to rest or accept a lost point for three-putting.
o   You must hit 7 exactly.  If you go over, your score goes back down by however many over you went.  For example, if you have 6 points and hole the putt for 3 points, instead of winning you go to 5 points (1 up to 7 and back down 2 to 5).

For the Grinder

            If you’re stuck on not wasting your putting green time on a game, you can try this version, which really helps you focus on your lag putting and distance control. 

o   Following any combination of the rules above, if your first putt is short of the hole you must draw the ball back a putter length before attempting your second putt.  First, you determine who wins the point for closest to the hole, but if you win and are short of the hole you must attempt to hold on to the point from a putter-length further away.

            This version really makes you focus on solid distance control and promotes aggressive but controlled long putts.  This will increase your focus and confidence in trying to make longer putts rather than trying to survive them.

Just In Case

Some other rules you can put into play to make games more interesting:
o   2 points for lip-outs
o   Cannot choose the hole closest to you
o   Play to 11
o   Must make first putt to win

            It is possible to play 7-Up with any combination of the above rules so make sure you choose the version that will be the most fun and beneficial to you.  A game of 7-Up is also useful for warming up because the focus of the game is speed control.  Try playing a game before your next round and see how your lag putting improves.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Turn Exercise Into Practice

                There’s an old adage in the golf world that says, “Hitting golf balls with a focused goal to a target is practice, hitting golf balls in any other way is just exercise.”  And if you’ve ever been to the driving range you’ve seen a whole lot of people exercising and very few practicing.  It isn’t difficult to change exercise into practice  and I’m going to offer 5 useful tips for making your driving range ventures more profitable for your golf game.

1.            Practice How You Play
                The simplest way to do this is to get out of “rapid-fire” mode.  Set your bucket of balls at least a step away from your reach and force yourself to set up to each and every shot.  Go through your normal routine, pick a target and try and hit the shot you would on the golf course.  Make sure to take your time and reset after both good and bad swings.

DRILL:  If you have trouble turning a driving range into a course in your mind, try the following range game.  Even though all ranges have different markers, all have landmarks that you can use to define your “course.”  Define your “fairway” and two “greens” to hit to.  One “green” should be a pitching wedge to 8-iron and the other should be a 7-iron-5-iron.  Then play the “hole” like this:  If you hit the fairway, hit to the short green.  If you hit the green it’s a birdie, if you miss it’s a bogey.  If you miss the fairway then hit to the long green.  If you hit the green it’s a par, if you miss it’s a double bogey.  Play that game for as many holes as you like using your range time to focus like you would on the golf course.

2.            Alignment
                With the exception of the range game described above, there is no reason you should be hitting balls at the range without some sort of alignment guide.  It can be specific alignment rods, broken shafts or two parallel clubs, just make sure something is at your feet to help you line up properly.  This forces you to have a specific target in mind before hitting your shot.  There are different ways to use alignment guides, but the most common is the “railroad” method.  Set one rod down parallel on the outside of your target line and one rod parallel inside your target line.  An invisible parallel line directly in the middle of the two should aim directly at your target.  That’s where the ball goes.  Line your feet, hips and shoulders parallel to the inside rod.

DRILL:  Hit 10-15 range balls with your alignment rods in place.  Place a golf ball down and remove the rods but keep them within reach.  Then, set up to the golf ball aiming at the same target.  Once you feel set, take one of the alignment rods and set it parallel to your feet.  Step back and see if you’ve maintained proper alignment.

3.            Clean Stall
                One of the rudest things I see on a driving range is a stall of random divots taken in every direction with no continuity.  Have any of you EVER seen a professional take divots like that?  Make sure the first spot you hit from is slightly forward, and place each successive ball immediately behind the previous shot’s divot.  With each swing you will only remove a small bit of turf, leaving plenty of room for the next person.  Not only is this good range etiquette but it also helps with your timing.  It forces you to place the ball in a slightly different location and makes you take the time to place it there with each swing.  It will slow your tempo and keep you from “rapid-fire” territory.

DRILL:  Using the method above, take divots in a straight line all to the same target.  Once your divot line has reached about 2-3 feet in length, see if it lines up to your target.  If not, it is likely you are taking divots with a slightly awry swing path.

4.            Rotate Clubs and Ease Up on the Driver
                When most amateurs go to the driving range they work quickly through the bag and spend a good portion of the time with the driver.  When the professional goes to the range, they spend most of the time with mid-irons in hand.  It is important to rotate through the bag and practice with all types of clubs, woods, irons and wedges alike.  When warming up for a round the average tour pro will only hit their driver 4-5 times, the average amateur may hit it 10-20. 

DRILL:  Work your way through the bag hitting 3 shots with every other club.  Once you reach driver, work your way back down hitting all the clubs you missed.  Finish out the drill by switching off between driver and wedge for 6 shots.  This drill is intended to help you keep a similar tempo and rhythm with every club in the bag and acclimate you to following a driver with a short club.

5.            Bubba Time
                Even for high handicappers the range is the perfect place to try new things.  Spend a portion of your time practicing trying to hit different kinds of shots.  If you predominately hit fades, try hitting some draws.  If you have a high ball flight, try hitting punch shots.  For lower handicap players this is a good way to feel different ball flights and how to create them.  When trying to work the ball don’t focus on alignment as much, but set yourself up so that you can create the desired ball flight.  This shouldn’t be a large portion of your practice time, but you can’t get Bubba Watson’s creativity without first trying it out.

LOW-HANDICAP DRILL:  If you’re a scratch player or tournament player then working the ball is very important to scoring well.  Not only do many golf courses call for particular ball flights on command, but you can save yourself from sticky situations by working the ball both directions.  When you’re at the range with a friend set up neutrally for a straight shot.  At the top of your backswing, have your friend call out “draw,” “fade” or “straight.”  Then it’s your job to hit the shot on command.  This drill will help you control the club face at impact, because the only way for you to work the ball in this drill is to use your hands to open or close the club face.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12/12/12 Radical Ideas You May Not See Again

                In honor of the final repetitive date that any of us will ever see (no, 2/22/22 doesn’t count), I’ve put together 12 ideas that are just as radical as 12:12 on 12/12/12.  Some of these you’ve heard before, but some you will never hear again because, well, it just ain’t gonna happen. 

1.            Fed Ex Cup Finale
                Want to make the Fed Ex Cup Finale really interesting?  Make the Tour Championship a stroke play and match play event.  Use the current points system to get your Top 30 players.  At the Tour Championship all points go away.  The first two rounds are stroke play cut to the top 16.  Then you have 2 rounds of match play seeded by 36-hole score on Saturday, a semi-final match in the morning Sunday and an 18-hole winner-take-all match for the Fed-Ex Cup.  Now that’s entertainment… (Alternate format could include starting on Wednesday, with matches starting Friday so that Sunday’s final stands on its own).

2.            Bye Bye Bunkers
                Wouldn’t it be great if all sandy areas were played as through the green all the time like they did at Kiawah Island for the PGA Championship?  It would be a major overhaul to the Rules, but it would also be an unbelievable simplification of a Rule book that is taught in a 2, 3 and 4 day seminars throughout the country.   I can’t take all the credit for this radical idea, my colleague who’s been teaching the Rules far longer than I first mentioned it to me.

3.            Interleague Play
                There was a lot of noise when Annika tried her hand at the PGA Tour and just as much when Michelle Wie almost made the cut in Hawaii.  The Wendy’s Three-Tour Challenge is fun, but is clearly dwindling in popularity.  What if there was true interleague play a couple times throughout the year?  To make it fair different tees will be set for LPGA Tour, Champions Tour and PGA Tour players but the field will consist of the top players from each Tour all playing stroke play against each other.

4.            Stroke Penalties for Slow Play on the PGA Tour
                This suggestion you will actually hear from others again, but it is so rarely accepted as viable I’m calling it radical.  The rest of the golf world is sadly taking after the Tour and snail-pacing around courses at 5 ½-6 hours and it’s time for someone to lead by example.  The LPGA Tour got some bad press for a slow play penalty that had a major effect on the outcome when Morgan Pressel was slapped with a loss of hole penalty (on a hole she had won) at the Sybase Match Play, but the idea was absolutely correct.  Fines are clearly not working, but a stroke penalty that costs $300k will get players’ attention.

5.            Bifurcation
                Again, this isn’t so radical that I’m the first one to say it, but the USGA and R & A would look at me like I have the plague.  It is nice that golf is a game where the Rules are the same for absolutely everybody, but the truth is…There’s a reason why other professional sports have different rules at different levels and it’s gotten to the point where we ought to at least consider it for golf.  Limitations on professional golf balls, anchoring, ball at rest moved penalties, anything that seems awkward could be considered.  In order to grow the game it needs to be fun and amateurs should be able to have fun and still “play by the Rules.”  In order to keep really small issues from affecting the outcome of tournaments certain penalties should probably not be “called” at the professional level.  As it stands now, the Rules are the Rules and it’s my job to enforce them and teach them so I will, but the times they are a changing…

6.            Major Championships with lots of Birdies
                I’m not saying the U.S. Open should be easier every year, but it’d be nice to see some fireworks of a positive nature on Sunday.  It really wouldn’t be the end of the world if par was not the standard for just one year…

7.            Tweet, Tweet
                Why not?  It gets people involved in the game and makes us feel connected with the players.  If there are players who feel it distracts them, they don’t have to do it.  Right now it’s against policy on Tour, but really?  It’s time to trust that PGA Tour professionals can not disturb their fellow-competitors while typing silently on a phone.

8.            World Cup
                Am I the only one the hates how the major team competitions split Europe and the rest of the world?  I also think the President’s Cup needs some help.  I’d love to see the two joined together.  Eliminate the President’s Cup and pick a “World” team.  Or perhaps the United States should get off its high horse and team up with some other countries?  I think this is particularly relevant for the Solheim Cup and the LPGA Tour.  Who gets South Korea?

9.            Hickory Sticks
                Want to end (or fuel) the equipment debate?  Let’s get the top professionals in the world in a hickory competition.  I’m one who believes that the current players would still play better golf than their predecessors with hickory clubs, but wouldn’t it be nice to see them hack around with some real woods again?

10.          Placement is everything
                Another idea put forth from a fellow Rules guy.  Get rid of dropping altogether.  Anytime a ball must be put into play it should be placed.  Simplify the Rule book quite a bit more. No more question as to whether it should be dropped or placed, where the ball will roll when it’s dropped or how many drops to take when it rolls away.  Just place the darn thing and get on with it.  Most amateurs do that anyway.

11.          What do Bubba and Happy Gilmore Have in Common?
                Applause!  Lots and lots of applause!  These guys are the best in the game, and even they would agree that if the noise is constant, it isn’t really a distraction.  It’s the sudden applause, the sudden photo snap, the sudden shout that throws them off and I’m not going to criticize a player for that because it is hard to tune out random bursts of noise.  It is not, however, difficult to tune out constant streams of noise.  I say it’s time to put the “Stadium” into TPC “Stadium” Courses around the country.

12.          No Money Major
                For just one year, or perhaps just one major, the entire purse should be donated to charity.  I know there are some players who do this one their own, and good for them, but if you’ve made it to the Masters, you can afford to play without winnings.  (That argument may fall apart at the Opens).  Beyond that, I think only the top 20 should be able to pick the charities.  And beyond that, they should not be allowed to choose their own foundations (lookin’ at you Tiger).  I don’t say that because I think those player foundations do poor work (in fact they do some fantastic things) but it would still feel like a player playing for his own money.  Just once let’s see the players like amateurs again, playing to win a major just because they’re there to win a major.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Wishful Thinking: 2013 in Golf

                At the end of every year comes time for not only the top 10 lists and reviews of the previous circle around the sun, but also the Nostradamus comes out in all of us to predict the biggest and best happenings of the next revolution.  I’ve picked out a few things to look forward to in 2013:

15 and Counting

                That’s right.  I’m calling it.  One of the four majors goes to Tiger Woods who will resume his quest for Jack Nicklaus’ major record in 2013.  If I were placing bets I’d put my money down in April, but with a US Open track that has been untested by the pros in the modern era (Merion most recently hosted the 2009 Walker Cup and 2005 US Amateur but has not had a US Open since 1981), and quotes from Tiger that he likes the site of the 2013 PGA, Oak Hill, the win could come at any major. 
                You can credit the newfound friendship/rivalry/business partnership with Rory McIlroy as well as the fact that he still is one the best players in the game.  McIlroy’s success is surely fueling Tiger’s craving for another major and perhaps Tiger can learn something from Rory’s youthful confidence, the piece that Tiger has been lacking the last few years.  In the big scheme of things, there is nothing better for golf than both Tiger and Rory winning a major in 2013.

Patriot Game

                With Stacy Lewis earning LPGA player of the year honors, 2013 is ready for the return of the Americans.  I’m looking for wins not only from Lewis, but also Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie, Lexi Thompson, Christie Kerr and Brittany Lincicome.  I think that grouping can pull out at least two of the majors as they gear up for the Solheim Cup in Denver.  There seems to be nothing like a Solheim Cup to get American and European players riled up and in peak shape.  With that said look for Suzann Pettersen to continue her stay atop leaderboards throughout the year.
                That isn’t to say the Asian dominance we’ve seen in over the last few years will go away.  Shanshan Feng is proving that she is one of the best and is likely to stay there for some time.  It won’t be long before Yani Tseng has her groove back and it was far quieter in the Ai Miyazato corner than I could comfortably expect.  All-in-all 2013 will be fiery and fun to watch on the LPGA, culminating at the biggest firecracker of them all in Denver with Meg Mallon and Dottie Pepper at the helm.

Breaking the Rules

                If any of you were hoping the November 28 announcement was going to be the end of all the Rules talk and debate – think again.  With the potential anchor ban becoming final early next year, the debate will become even fiercer as misunderstandings, hecklers and potentially lawsuits start creeping out of the woodworks.  PGA of America President Ted Bishop made his view quite clear and the obvious split between the major golf organizations could only mean that more contentious times are to come.
                The R & A has also recently come under fire for their renovations to the beloved Old Course at St. Andrews.  I was certainly against the changes until I saw the pictures and true descriptions of the renovation.  I can argue against widening the Road Hole bunker, I can argue against flattening the back of the 11th green, but in all honesty Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are right – the changes aren’t that big a deal even if you question the true motives.  However, that won’t stop the nay-sayers from raising a ruckus and rallying against the vilified R & A.

McIlroy Design, Inc.

                With the recent announcement that Phil Mickelson will tackle the renovations at Torrey Pines’ North Course, I’m just waiting until the day we hear of McIlroy’s first course design project.  It probably won’t happen in 2013 but the trend of top golfers dipping into the course design business it’s a hard one to buck and it’s just a matter of time before Rory lends his eyes and ears to a piece of property looking for the number one player’s stamp of approval.  He would join a list of golfing greats that includes Nicklaus, Palmer, Faldo, Woods, Norman, Miller and Crenshaw (No offense to Davis Love III, Mickelson, Lehman or others, we know you’re out there).  I’m not sure I could resist adding my name to those.

Next year’s quick picks              

Multiple Winners:
Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson. I know, I'm way out on a limb there.

Breakthrough Win:
Lee Westwood at Merion.  Ok, that's wishful thinking but he's bound to do it sometime and it's more likely to be where ball-striking is a premium

Most Exciting Tournament:
The one with a playoff between Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. My wish and  dream of every TV producer in the world...

Biggest Smile:
Paula Creamer holding the trophy at the Evian Masters. Will the playoff be 9 or 10 holes?

Dottie Pepper as assistant captain at the Solheim Cup

Biggest Flop:
The Fed-Ex Cup Playoffs. Or one of Mickelson's recovery shots.

Best Venue:
Hands down Merion.  If only they’d use the wicker baskets during the championship…

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Top 10 Golf Rulings of 2012

            This time of year is made specifically for Top 10 Lists, and the Rules of Golf are not exempt from ranking and picking apart the top 10 incidents from 2012.  This year there were lots of little movements and loud uproars and a couple of the usual “well duh!” moments.  Here is my list of the top 10 Rulings for 2012:

10.            Be Careful What You Brush For

2012 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, Round 2, Hole 9 – Rory McIlroy was penalized 2 strokes for brushing sand off his line of play on the fringe.  The penalty falls under Rule 13-2 for improving the line of play by removing sand.  Much of the confusion over the ruling is that you are permitted to remove loose impediments on your line of play without penalty.  Sand and loose soil, however, are loose impediments only on the putting green by definition. 

McIlroy had mixed emotions, both admitting his guilt and questioning the common sense of the Rule. “Just made a very stupid mental mistake on 9 that cost me 2 strokes,” he said, “It’s a bit of a weird rule.  You can move a loose impediment like a divot out of your line.  You can’t move sand.  It’s a tricky rule.” Well, a lot of the Rules are tricky, Rory, but if you’re going to be number 1, you better know them.

9.            Change Without Change

2012 Wells Fargo Championship, Round 2, Hole 11 – Ryan Moore was penalized one stroke after his ball moved slightly after he had addressed it on the putting green of the 11th hole at Quail Hollow.  This incident highlighted the new change to Rule 18-2b which now includes an Exception where players can escape penalty if they didn’t cause their ball to move.  Unfortunately for Moore, his situation did not fall under that Exception and he was still subject to penalty under 18-2b (and the ball must be replaced).  “I thought that was the whole point of the Rule change after Webb Simpson’s incident last year, “ Moore said, “…because I certainly did not make the ball move and I thought that was the whole point of the Rule change.”

Well Ryan, the point of the Rule change was for situations where the player clearly did not make the ball move, like sudden gusts of wind or other elements.  A new Decision accompanied the Rule change (18-2b/11), which specifically states that gravity is not a force to be considered when trying to apply the new Exception to a ruling.  The ultimate result of this incident was one of the better Rules related quotes of the year: “It’s unfortunate that they somehow changed the Rules without changing it.  I don’t know how they did that.”

8.            Put it Back…No YOU put it back

2012 PGA Championship, Final Round, Hole 9 – My favorite ruling of the year raised more eyebrows at the insane idiosyncrasies of the Rules than at the ruling itself.  On the 9th hole, Carl Pettersson hit his ball right.  A small boy grabbed the ball and moved it.  After realizing his mistake the boy put it back close to the correct spot, but not quite correct.  Upon arrival on the scene, another spectator helped Rules Official Brad Gregory and Pettersson out by replacing the ball in the exact spot.  There was only one problem:  under Rule 20-3, only the player, his partner (not applicable here) or the person who originally lifted the ball can replace it.  The helpful spectator was none of those and so Brad Gregory had Pettersson lift the ball slightly and replace it himself.  It seemed silly to those watching on national television, and would have seemed sillier if they had mentioned Pettersson would’ve received a one stroke penalty had he not followed Gregory’s instructions, but the Rules are the Rules.

7.            To Be, Or Not To Be…A Bunker

2012 PGA Championship, Kiawah Island (Ocean Course) – Although the announcement did not come as a shocker to golf Rules insiders, when the PGA released the Condition of Competition that all sandy areas at the Ocean Course would be played as “through the green” the golf world started hooting and hollering.  Had Dustin Johnson not been penalized two years prior for a situation that could have been averted through use of the same Condition, this may have passed unnoticed.  The PGA had used this Condition every time they had come to Kiawah, most notably in the 1991 Ryder Cup.

Throughout the championships, TV commentators kept sharing their shock at seeing players take practice swings in the sand and pointing out their own slip-ups at calling the sandy areas “bunkers” because they were no longer bunkers under the Rules.  Frankly, if TV commentators pointed out all the missed terminology they use on a regular basis they wouldn’t have any time to say anything else.  All-in-all, it was just another conversation piece for the Rules of Golf, for better or worse.

6.            Better to be Lucky than Good

2012 Crowne Plaza Invitational (Colonial), Final Round, Hole 18 – The record books will forever show that Zach Johnson won at Colonial by a nail-biting one stroke over Jason Dufner.  The part of the story that leaves out is the penalty that made it that close.  After blasting out from the bunker, Zach Johnson marked his ball and moved it a putter head to get out of Jason Dufner’s line of putt.  At the time he had a three-stroke lead.  Zach then made the putt, but he had forgotten to move his ball marker back to the original spot.  This gave him a two-stroke penalty under Rule 20-7c for playing from a wrong place. 

The big question everyone wondered is why no one reminded Zach to replace his marker, but Zach took it like a man and owned up, “I just feel very lucky.  That’s all.  As I said earlier there are a number of adjectives that I’m calling myself right now, and lucky is the biggest one I can think of.” Lucky that he played well enough to have a three-stroke lead coming into the 72nd hole.

5.            The High-Definition Empire Strikes Again

2012 U.S. Senior Open, First Round, Hole 5 – During the first round of the U.S. Senior Open Championship Corey Pavin was assessed a two-stroke penalty for a breach of Rule 18-2b when his ball moved after address and he failed to replace it.  The catch was that it took some serious slow-motion film to even determine the breach had occurred.  Looking at the video, the ball moved about half an inch downward after Pavin soled his club lightly in the rough behind the ball.  That in itself is a one-stroke penalty under 18-2b.  The additional stroke comes because he was supposed to replace the ball at its original spot and he did not. 

The whole situation was well handled as Jeff Hall from the USGA took Pavin to the control room and showed him the footage of the ball moving.  The best part was Pavin’s instant acceptance and high class reaction to the ruling, “That’s the rules, and they were enforced properly, and I saw it on tape, and it's definitely what happened. The ball moved.  I didn’t think it did when I was out on the golf course…I was glad they brought it to my attention.” He revealed himself to be one of the great guys in golf as controversy surrounding slow-mo cameras and the Rules grew once again.

4.            Did I do that?

2012 Open Championship, Final Round, Hole 7 – After all the controversy surrounding moving golf balls in the past two years, the entire world let out a collective, “Uh oh,” as we watched Adam Scott’s ball roll down the slope a few yards from its original spot.  Even more surprising to most was what could best be described as a “No Call” as the walking Rules Official determined that there was no penalty. 

Adam Scott had taken a few practice swings fairly close to the ball.  He walked away and about 10 seconds later, when he was a few yards away from the ball it began to roll.  He had not addressed the ball so he would only incur a penalty under 18-2a if it was determined that his practice strokes had caused the ball to move.  Much to Paul Azinger’s and Senior R & A Official Peter Dawson’s dismay up in the booth, the walking official determined that he had not caused the ball to move.  There was no penalty and Scott had to play the ball from its new location.

The two most notable issues with this incident were 1) television’s absolute incompetence at covering the Rules as it showed a graphic about 18-2b, which was not the Rule involved, alongside Azinger’s ranting and, 2) Peter Dawson throwing his Rules official under the bus on national television – ouch.  After careful consideration I think the Rules community agrees that it was a good “no call,” but it was not handled as well as it should have been for the final group in the final round of a major.  It would have been a major uproar had Scott gone on to win.

3.            Not Having a Good Time

2012 Sybase Match Play Championship, Semi-Final Match, Hole 12 – Morgan Pressel thought she had just won the 12th hole to go 3 up only to find out from the Official Timer, the late Doug Brecht, that she had missed her time by 39 seconds on the 12th hole.  It was a loss of hole penalty and the resulting 2 hole swing left her 1 up.  Pressel ended up losing the match to Azahara Munoz 2 and 1, and Munoz won the Sybase Match Play the next day.

Although both players had been warned about slow play at the 9th hole, it was clear to everyone that Munoz was the slow player of the group and was solely responsible for holding the group back.  Unfortunately, it was Pressel who exceeded her allotted time several holes later.   Pressel proceeded to increase the tension after accusing Munoz of touching her line of putt on the 15th hole, which would have been a loss of hole penalty under Rule 16-1a, except Tour officials could find no evidence of such a breach.  Pressel was fuming after the round and when asked for comment she was heard saying, “Not a chance.”

The golf world had a mixed reaction.  Some were glad that a major Tour was finally penalizing players for slow play, and just as many were upset that the Tour would enforce pace of play in such a match-altering manner.  “It’s an unfortunate situation,“ said Heather Daly-Donofrio, the Senior Vice President of Tour Operations. “This is one of those days where it is very tough to be an LPGA official.  It’s not an easy thing to deliver a pace of play penalty to a player in a situation like this.”

2.            Leaf Litter

2012 PGA Championship, Final Round, Hole 1 – He didn’t find out until the fourth hole, but Carl Pettersson had caused a leaf to move during the backswing for his stroke at his ball lying in the hazard on the first hole.  Under Rule 13-4c that is a two-stroke penalty for moving a loose impediment in a hazard when your ball lies in the same hazard.  Slow-motion video revealed that he had in fact brushed the grass during his backswing and whether directly or indirectly that movement had caused a small leaf to flutter.  The golf world was furious that such a small action could result in a two-stroke penalty that could have such a serious impact on the result of the championship. 

Pettersson was unhappy for a different reason.  He had checked about his rights before the stroke, “I double checked with the official to make sure I could brush the grass as long as I didn’t put any weight on the ground with the clubhead, and he said sure.  I wish he would have mentioned the leaves, too.  I was just trying to hit the ball.  I didn’t even think twice about it.”  Many people questioned the nature of the Rule suggesting that no significant advantage was gained from his action, but unfortunately for Pettersson, that’s not what the Rule says. 

1.            Inter-touchdown-ception!

November 28, 2012 from the USGA and R&A – The verdict is still out on the potential impact of the anchoring ban that was announced at the end of November.  The controversy that has surrounded this issue for the entire year makes it worthy of the number one spot for 2012’s Top 10 Rulings.

The new Rule 14-1b, if confirmed, will not go into effect until January 1, 2016 at the next Rules change.  The announcement came and officially divided the golf world, particularly after the PGA of America’s President wrote a letter pleading with the ruling bodies to reconsider the ban.  The USGA’s Mike Davis helped make the announcement and stated that the new Rule is not based on specific data or any potential advantage anchoring might give a player.  Our conclusion is that the Rules of Golf should be amended to preserve the traditional character of the golf swing by eliminating the growing practice of anchoring the club,” Davis said. 

Basically, the ruling bodies saw something they didn’t like and will have it eliminated in 2016, but until then the controversy will continue with players who legally use the anchored stroke.  In an incident at Tiger’s tournament, the World Challenge, a heckler called Keegan Bradley a “cheater” and prompted a swift response from the USGA who called the act “deplorable.”  

Since the new Rule is not officially confirmed, there is still hope for many that the ruling bodies will reconsider, but it is highly unlikely.  I’ve personally said my piece on the issue, but we all know that this isn’t over by a long shot.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What's Wrong with Golf - Pace of Play

                What’s wrong with golf?  It would be easy to start a finger pointing game more childish than the daily happenings of Washington D.C. (well, almost as childish) and a bit of that has certainly happened in the wake of the recent anchoring ban announcement, but that wouldn’t be productive.  The anchoring announcement has divided the golf world in expected and unexpected ways, but since I promised not to write any more about anchoring I’m going to delve into the after-shocks to find the true issues plaguing our game.

                Behind all the conflict that has recently arisen between players, the USGA, the PGA of America, the St. Andrews Links Trust, the R & A and the average golfer, some great conversation has arisen striking at the true issues afflicting golf.  On Twitter or on comment boards you’ll see tons of people ranting against the ban saying that the true problem is “distance” or the rising difficulty of modern golf courses.  Golf associations across the country are constantly looking for new ways to speed up pace of play.  And programs like the First Tee are trying to make the game more accessible and less expensive for juniors.  Out of the ashes these are the real issues plaguing golf, not whether the butt end of the putter rests in your belly or not.

                The common complaints from players that do not play or have left golf are that it takes too long, it costs too much, it’s too hard and I don’t feel welcome.  These are the problems we need to address to bring golf back to its peak.  And as one single PGA Professional I am not in a position to address the larger issues - only the ruling bodies can tackle lengthened golf courses and the clubs and balls that require them – I would like to offer my suggestions to all who will listen in solving one of the issues that every individual can contribute to: Pace of Play

                It’s time that ready golf, “gimmies,” and quick-routines are encouraged.  Here are 10 ways every golfer and golf professional can start quickening their pace of play in both casual and tournament golf.

Tee It Forward!
 I’m a scratch PGA Professional and I do not play the tips every time I play.  Make sure you are playing a set of tees that will be both challenging and fun.  You should be rewarded for your good shots based on your level of play.

Be Ready for Your Turn
Get ready for your next shot while your cart partner or other fellow-competitors are playing. You should especially be reading putts while others are putting so you are ready to go when it’s your turn. 

Smart Cart Sharing
When sharing a cart drive half-way between the two balls and bring any club you may need with you so you don’t have to go back and forth. 

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Be generous to yourself and your buddies.  If you’re not in a tournament stop lining up 6 inch putts and just knock it away.

“Under Four” Tip
In tournaments, if you’re the first to finish, head to the next tee and be ready to play as soon as your fellow-competitors finish the hole.  This has helped tremendously in collegiate events.

Teach Quick Routines
The golf professional needs to help too, however, as golfers are introduced to the “routine” it is important to emphasize that a quick routine is just as effective as a slow, deliberate one.  Touring professionals should not be the standard for the casual golfer’s routine.

Banish “Plumb-Bobbing” FOREVER
Even the experts at this technique are not quite sure how effective it is at reading putts.  The average golfer certainly doesn’t need to do it over a three-footer.

Provisional Balls and Rule 3-3
If you’re playing a tournament or a serious match the best way to save time in certain situations is to play a second ball.  If your ball might be lost outside a water hazard, hit a provisional.  It will save you from having to go back to the previous spot.  If you aren’t sure how to proceed in a doubtful situation in stroke play, invoke Rule 3-3 and play a second ball.  Then you can figure out the issue at the end of the round instead of wasting time trying to figure out an answer.

Bite the bullet – buy one and stop stepping off yardages.  If a tournament doesn’t allow distance-measuring devices that’s one thing, but for your everyday round of golf stop wasting time searching for yardage markers.  One thing the group behind you doesn’t enjoy watching is you zig-zagging across the fairway for no apparent reason.

Shorten Your Searches
Just because the Rules allow you 5 minutes to search for a golf ball, doesn’t mean you should be stomping around a snake-infested jungle for the full 5 minutes.  It is important to remember that sometimes finding your golf ball will hurt your score and you should just let it be lost.  Groups behind you will appreciate not waiting on empty carts with four players looking in the trees.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rangefinders, GPS and Dairy Queen

            The American Junior Golf Association announced today that they will allow Rangefinders in their events in 2013.  This may seem like some bland news to most, but this is actually a giant leap forward in the golf world.  As the largest junior golf organization in the country takes this step in favor of technology this leaves only a handful of “traditionalists” left. 
Ever since the local Rule permitting distance-measuring devices was introduced in 2006, regional golf associations and college golf accepted the lasers with open arms, more or less immediately. Notably, the USGA, R & A and major professional tours remain some of the last groups not to adopt the local Rule.  The AJGA made a calculated decision after studies showed no impact on pace of play when using rangefinders, but from a Rules perspective this may bring to light a few issues that the golf associations who have already allowed distance-measuring devices would like to see addressed by the ruling bodies.
            First, it’s important to understand that allowing distance-measuring devices is not a blanket method for allowing every state-of-the-art GPS device floating around golf superstores and eBay.  There are still limitations to what you can and cannot use.
            Under the Rules, a distance-measuring device that measures any other condition that might affect your play of the hole is not permitted.  This includes the fancy Slope feature on some laser rangefinders, weather or temperature, a level or most interestingly a compass (this comes into play later).  So before you go buy the fanciest multi-feature rangefinder (or buy for your son or daughter), make sure it only measures distance or it will still be disallowed in competition.  The penalty for using an illegal distance-measuring device is disqualification, so it’s important to get this right.
            You can find decent rangefinders anywhere from $135-$500 and the good news is that distance-only devices are less expensive than the fancier illegal models. (By the way, the Leupold GX-4, which features a yellow snap-on that allows slope measurments is currently against the Rules, whether or not the yellow snap-on is attached.  The snap-on is considered the same as a button in this case.)
            Then there is the “Aha” moment when you find a $5 app on your iPhone that promises to be USGA conforming and will be everything you or your rising junior golfer need.  Here’s the catch:  the app itself may measure distance-only and conform to every part of the local Rule permitting distance-measuring devices, but the smart phone that the app is on may not conform.  The local Rule reads, “…a player may obtain distance information by using a device that measures distance only. If, during a stipulated round, a player used a distance measuring device that is designed to gauge or measure other conditions that might affect his play (e.g., gradient, windspeed, temperature, etc.), the player is in breach of Rule 14-3, for which the penalty is disqualification, regardless of whether any such additional function is actually used.”
Most smart phones come equipped with a Compass feature, a feature that has been deemed against the Rules (see Decision 14-3/4) and will earn you an instant Dairy Queen (DQ).  Because the compass app is on the phone, the entire phone is illegal as a distance-measuring device.  On some smart phones the app can be removed, but on iPhones starting with the iPhone 3GS, the app is permanent.  It doesn’t matter if the compass isn’t used, if the phone has the capability it is not permissible.  If that isn’t enough, I can’t even begin to describe the conversation about weather apps that goes on behind closed doors in Rules circles around the country. Whether or not a general weather application violates the temperature-measuring clause is strongly debated from both sides, making even more smart phones questionable or unusable.
So with the AJGA climbing on board with a local Rule that the USGA and PGA Tour are not likely to adopt any time soon and amidst the uproar of the anchoring ban that many claim is bad for the enjoyment of the game, will the USGA tackle the issue of smart phones and GPS devices?  My money is on no, so if you’re planning to compete, spring for the distance-only rangefinder, it’s worth it in the end and will ensure you have numbers rather than letters on the scoreboard.

For the Rules regarding Distance-Measuring Devices see Rule 14-3, Appendix I and Decision 14-3/0.5.

For clarification on Smart Phones see the Northern California Golf Association’s page here:

Also, see the USGA/R&A joint statement regarding distance-measuring devices: