Sneak Peek: This article will appear in the Feb. 25 edition of Global Golf Post
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS | When Rickie Fowler decided to criticize golf’s rules modernization on Friday, claiming that the new rules are “not doing any favors for our sport,” the USGA Executive Committee and senior leadership team were here at the group’s annual meeting. Their take on the introduction of the new rules so far:
“It has been a huge success,” said CEO Mike Davis.
If Davis and his very capable rules colleague Thomas Pagel were the least bit concerned about some of the issues that have arisen in the professional game so far, it was not evident in San Antonio. While acknowledging that the optics on television might not be good, Davis is confident that time will eliminate that concern. “Change for some people isn’t as easy as it is for others,” Davis said.
I think he was referring to some members of the Brotherhood of the PGA Tour.
Davis and Pagel pointed out the tour’s players had been informed of some of the major changes they might expect to encounter, specifically the new dropping rule and the caddie alignment rule. The implication was the players may have heard the warnings but they didn’t really listen.
“They will become second nature in time.” – Mike Davis on new Rules
If you probed more deeply, you could detect a palpable frustration among many USGA attendees with the behavior of certain PGA Tour players, as well as the silence from the tour’s leadership. In the eyes of many USGA loyalists, the tour had a seat at the table during the seven-year process of rules modernization. However, as Fowler, Adam Scott and a few others have pointedly criticized the impact of the changes, the leadership of the PGA Tour has been mum. “It’s a bad look for the game, and a bad look for Ponte Vedra,” one USGA loyalist told me Saturday, alluding to the tour’s headquarters.
The USGA, along with the R&A, demonstrated that they are paying close attention, and that they will make changes if a rule is creating the wrong, unexpected outcome. An example was the recent situation involving PGA Tour player Denny McCarthy, who was penalized for having his caddie help with alignment in the second round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. A day later, the PGA Tour rescinded the penalty, creating confusion. The USGA and R&A subsequently issued a clarification on the rule.
Pagel said the USGA and R&A have never moved so quickly to make such a change, doing so after just three days of intense discussion.
Golfers around the world should be gratified by this example. The governing bodies demonstrated that if the intended outcomes of the new rules do not pan out, they are not afraid to make a change, and quickly if necessary.
Are the new rules generating the desired outcomes among golfers? It’s early to declare victory but Pagel did provide one concrete piece of evidence: Playing times dropped considerably at the recently contested Latin America Amateur Championship, played at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, compared to when the resort hosted the championship in 2016.
The USGA’s overall take on rules modernization seven weeks in? “They will become second nature in time,” Davis said.
Maybe even for the Brotherhood of the PGA Tour.
USGA executives Thomas Pagel (left) and Mike Davis, here at the 2017 U.S. Open, were deeply involved in the revision of the Rules of Golf. Photo: Jeff Haynes, Copyright USGA
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