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A fix to the rule that led to the Dustin Johnson/U.S. Open debacle

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I read my colleague Ben Alberstadt’s very insightful article on the Dustin Johnson debacle and thought I’d take a minute to offer what may be “practical” (if that word can even exist within the rules) solution to the problem. Of course it won’t, but…

We have a constitution in our country that has been amended 27 times, and with good reason; times change, events change and the existing laws need to be reconsidered. The very same thing happens every four years at the USGA and R&A. The two governing bodies meet to reconsider the rules. And one of the rules that needs to be amended, if not in fact changed, is rule 18:2.

I am basing my recommendation on this; when the rule was written, it is highly doubtful that green speeds were anywhere near 14 on the Stimpmeter. Oakmont Country Club has always been the show pony in our game with regard to green speed. I have played the golf course a number of times, and it is truly a wonderful test of golf (with or without the absurd green speeds). But when greens get to that speed, it does not take a player soling his/her club or even standing near it to cause the ball to move. The golf ball can move with a mere zephyr of air. On greens that speed, it is almost NEVER at rest.

The rule was written when there was more grass on the greens: when the game — even at the highest level — was played on greens at 10.5-11 on the Stimp. Watch any past Open at Oakmont, even Cabrera’s win in 2007, and you will not see a speed of 14, or anything like it.

So I’m suggesting this: If the club does not contact the golf ball, there should be no penalty. Practice swings, soling the putter, proximity, time elapsed — none of it matters if the player does not actually hit the ball with the putter. That is the only time we can actually blame the player, isn’t it? To boot, DJ’s golf ball moved backward. Who in their right mind wants a longer putt?

One more note: I think what angered most in the golf world was the fact that viewers saw the two USGA officials posturing, instead of acting in the best interest of the game. On that point I have to agree, but I would not condemn what they, as a governing body, do. MOST of what they do is in the best interest of the game. And remember, ours is a game with perhaps more gray area than any other. Try as one might to make the rules black and white, they never will be.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. pepperwhiteknight

    Jun 26, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    It is infuriating how the USGA penalized DJ but I never heard them specifically talk about what rules and how the rule works during the US Open broadcast on Sunday. That ******* from the USGA came on air after hole 12 and gave his opinion and didn’t quote a single rule. It was like FOX was scared to go against the USGA and quote the rule book. And FOX sure talked about it plenty on the back nine on Sunday, BLAH BLAH BLAH he could be penalized over and over every five minutes, but NO LOGICAL EXPLANATION ACCORDING TO THE ACTUAL RULE BOOK. As pointed out by other GOLFWRXers RULES 18-2, 1-2, and 34-2 seem to be applicable in a logical ruling.

  2. DaCrusher

    Jun 25, 2016 at 10:50 am

    As I have said, the most upsetting issue is the USGA questioned the integrity of the player in a game of the highest integrity. They deny it but their subsequent overruling of their own on course official and penalty stroke applied to score afterwards proves otherwise.

    • Eye of the Smizzle

      Jun 26, 2016 at 10:44 am

      People with addiction issues usually get stereotyped as not trust worthy. Bet that played a role.

      • DaCrusher

        Jun 28, 2016 at 12:15 am

        Really? And your statement is based on fact or hearsay?

  3. Jimmy D

    Jun 25, 2016 at 10:43 am

    Some excellent points and suggestions, but one thing that is not addressed (pun intended) is that rule 18-2 was changed for this year. Rule 18-2b (Ball Moving After Address) was withdrawn, and “This means that when a ball moves after a player has addressed it, the penalty under Rule 18-2 will be based purely on whether the player caused the ball to move.” The key point that the USGA refuses to acknowledge is that DJ did NOT address the ball (USGA defines addressing the ball as grounding the club immediately behind or in front of the ball), and there is nothing in the video indicating that DJ caused the ball to move.
    The second section from their Decisions 18-2/0.5 provides an example which is almost identical to DJ’s situation and should have been cited as the reference. “A player’s ball lies on an upslope in a closely-mown area. He makes a practice swing, but does so some distance from the ball as he is concerned that the ball may move. He carefully takes his stance but does not ground his club. Prior to making his backswing for the stroke, the ball moves. As the ball did not move while the player made the practice swing or took this stance, it is more likely than not that other factors (i.e., the ball’s lie on an upslope) caused the ball to move. (New)” If the ball’s lie on an upslope can cause the ball to move on the fairway or fringe, then it can definitely be the cause on a green reading 14+.

    • dennis clark

      Jun 25, 2016 at 3:48 pm

      Yes very true…I couldn’t find anything in the decisions books about the ‘time frame” issue the official referred to, or the “proximate” position of the player??

  4. BIG STU

    Jun 25, 2016 at 5:04 am

    Good write up and I totally agree. the USGA came away from this with egg on their faces. They actually violated their own rules as pointed out by others when the basically overruled the Walking Official. And the way they handled the whole deal was beyond comprehension. I had done away with my USGA membership a couple of years back and will not renew it. Screw them!! Betterment of the game my big butt!!! they have done more harm to the game the last few years than helped.

  5. Tom Duckworth

    Jun 24, 2016 at 9:19 pm

    Once he consulted with the official that should have been the end of it. He deemed that DJ didn’t cause the ball to move and they should have respected that. It’s also very true that greens now are nothing like they were when the rule was written. With greens so slick just the vibration from your foot could cause the ball to move. It sounds to me like someone with too big of an ego had to stick their nose in. The shame is that on one of golfs biggest stages they had to pull a stunt like this and make golf look so stupid.

  6. Mel

    Jun 24, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    I don’t completely understand all the “intent” language. In other sports you get called for holding, clipping, interference, traveling, shot clock, etc. Do you think people have “intent” to break those rules? We’ve come a long way from Bobby Jones.

  7. M Bryan

    Jun 24, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    I would say if you get a ruling from the official then that ruling should stand, period. No way to fix this later as the change could have affected strategy etc.

  8. Scooter McGavin

    Jun 24, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    “If the club does not contact the golf ball, there should be no penalty.” So does this apply off the green as well? If a player lands in some tall rough on a fluffy lie right next to the fairway, could they brush their club through the grass (not touching the ball) in order for it to fall into the fairway?

  9. larrybud

    Jun 24, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    So no rules should EVER be changed? Pretty much goes against everything the USGA has ever done then.

  10. Dennis Clark

    Jun 24, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    Literalists often disregard context. Context: A player’s (who’s leading the final round of the US Open) golf ball moved. BACKWARD! Literal rules application says “if the player is deemed to have move the ball” etc…But contextually we have to consider common sense. Did he want a longer putt? Was he trying to influence the golf ball in his favor with ALL of Golfdom watching? I don’t think anyone would say yes no matter how the rules read. This is where we often differ and debate, (which BTW I think is healthy), and why our game is so hard to police. But to clarify the point of the article, I’m simply saying that green speeds have gotten to the point where we need to reconsider the rule AS IT IS. We can’t lose sight of the forest for the trees here; it’s not healthy for the game. Which is why the PLAYER’S twitterverse was irate.

    • Nick

      Jun 24, 2016 at 12:53 pm

      Very good points. The biggest item lost in all of this stuff is the “common sense” part. DJ got burned on a technicality of the rules on the putting green. He also got a huge advantage due to a technicality by being able to pull his ball out of the rough on his free drop. In both instances the rules were technically applied and enforced correctly but both seemed to violate the “common sense” test in that he penalized for not really doing anything and then got to pull his ball out of the cabbage based on another technicality. Both instances I don’t think sat well with a lot of people even though the rules were followed.

      • Dennis Clark

        Jun 24, 2016 at 1:38 pm

        True…I also don’t think he was trying to create a better lie in the bunker at Whistling Straits either…Nor was Craig Stadler trying to create a better stance in San Diego and on and on…

  11. Blue

    Jun 24, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Change the rule… After the ball has been marked and replaced on the putting surface, if the ball moves for any reason other direct contact with the player or their equipment the ball should be replaced -no penalty.

  12. larrybud

    Jun 24, 2016 at 11:21 am

    I actually think Moises example has to be considered and noted for in the rule change:

    When on the green, if a ball moves without any direct contact by the player, or by any purposeful intent to cause the ball to move by the player, the ball shall be played from where it comes to rest, with no penalty assessed.

    Now granted, intent still needs to be applied, but that’s a much higher level of requirement and IMO, a much easier thing to “prove” for the penalty to be assessed. After all, a player can “check his swing” while on the tee, and intent is completely the dependent factor on whether the stroke counts or not.

  13. TN

    Jun 24, 2016 at 11:16 am

    In my old-school mentality, I don’t mind any rule to make it hard to play the game (e.g. grounding club in bunker or hazard area, etc.). However, any rule that is unfairly penalizing the player is unnecessarily complicating the game. At the higher level such as the Open and given 14 green condition, this rule just plain unfair.

  14. RH

    Jun 24, 2016 at 9:44 am

    OK there Mike Davis. That old school mentality is what is seriously hurting the game.

    • DaCrusher

      Jun 28, 2016 at 12:22 am

      You blew his cover. “M Smizzie” is actually Mike Davis GolfWRX handle.

  15. Dennis clark

    Jun 24, 2016 at 9:09 am

    Point is all rules have to be reconsidered from time to time. Not sure my suggestion is right but I’m betting they take a look at this in 2020

    • Bert

      Jun 24, 2016 at 8:00 pm

      Dennis – good common sense evaluation. My belief is they are already looking at 18-2 and 34-2.

  16. dennis clark

    Jun 24, 2016 at 8:47 am

    Do you like to have a beer after your round? It was illegal once in this country…sure glad we didn’t respect that rule.

  17. Moises

    Jun 24, 2016 at 8:35 am

    You probably know about the golf swing but, regarding rules, you have no idea what you are talking about. So, if my ball rests next to a slope that would leave it nearer to the hole, Does it mean I can tap the green slightly with my putter (not touching the ball, of course) in the hope it moves down the slope so I can have a shorter putt? You must be kidding. DJ said he didn’t ground his club next to the ball….but the video shows he clearly did. Sorry but he was correctly penalised 😉

    • JS

      Jun 24, 2016 at 8:49 am

      Your example is ridiculous, and would be an obvious example of cheating for advantage. It’s time to relax any accidental movement of a golf ball on greens like Oakmont’s. DJ was clearly not trying to cause his ball to move one bit. End of story.

      • Rich

        Jun 24, 2016 at 9:53 am

        I agree that his example is ridiculous and I also thought the ruling from the USGA was stupid. However, nothing in the rule speaks of intent. Whether he intended to move it or not is irrelevant as far as the rule is concerned.

    • fred

      Jun 24, 2016 at 10:49 am

      You must have watched a different video from everyone else on the planet.

    • tlmck

      Jun 24, 2016 at 11:05 am

      In penalizing DJ after the round, the USGA violated rule 34.2. The official walking with the group had already made his ruling so anything that comes after is null and void.

    • Jay

      Jun 24, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      Well Mossie, seems you dont know much about the rules either. What you just described is a breach of 1-2, which in the example you give would most likely lead to DQ

    • Philip

      Jun 24, 2016 at 8:40 pm

      Are you sure he said he did not ground his club next to the ball, or that he did not address the ball. He differently grounded his club beside the ball, but he may have been referring to whether he grounded his club behind the ball.

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Opinion & Analysis

“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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Opinion & Analysis

12 reasons serious golfers don’t realize their potential

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What stops serious golfers from realizing their potential? If you are an amateur who wants to get better, a young player trying to achieve more, or a young professional with big dreams, this article is for you.

I’ve made a career out of helping athletes maximize their abilities, golfers in particular. And the things I see young playing professionals doing prior to our work together is often what is holding them back. The reality is that most young players, no matter what their level, have three key problems:

  1. They’re distracted by what’s not important
  2. They have no detailed structure and plan to reach the targets they determine are important to them
  3. They have no formal process to develop mindset and attitude

In the list below, I share what I see working with these young players and some common blind spots.

1. No real plan and steps to achieve targets

Most players do not know how to create a long-term and short-term plan that outlines all steps needed to reach targets. Players should have yearly plans with targets, steps and actions and weekly plans to organize/schedule their time and prioritize key needs.

2. Not focused enough on the object of the game

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Surprisingly, players seem to forget that the object of the game is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Trophies and checks are not issued for the best swing, the best putting stroke or most balls hit.

3. Not enough pressure in practice

Most young players have loose practice. The intensity of feelings between the practice tee and the course are too different. Focus and intensity must be a part of all practice. Add competition and outcomes to sessions so some urgency is created.

4. Too much practice time on full swing

The data is clear — most shots in golf happen from 100 yards and in from the green. If the majority of practice time is not spent on these shorter shots, practice time is wasted.

5. An obsession with the look of the swing

Players are not generally prepared to own their own swings and embrace the differences that make them unique. Obsessing over swing mechanics is a major distraction for many players. Many players convince themselves that if it doesn’t look “good” on their iPhone, their swing won’t get results.

6. No structure with the driver

Since scoring is the main goal, a consistent, reliable shape to each shot is important. My experience has been that if players are trying to go both ways with the driver, that is a sure-fire way to elevate numbers on the card. Pick a shape and eliminate one side of the course. Predictability from the tee increases a player’s confidence to put the ball in the fairway more often, creating more opportunities to score.

7. Expectation that they will hit the ball well everyday

Many players have the unreasonable expectation that they will hit lots of fairways and greens every time they play. This expectation leads to constant disappointment in their game. Knowing that the leading professionals in the game average about 60.6 percent driving accuracy and 11.8 greens in regulation per round should be a good benchmark for the expectations of all players.

8. Trying to be too robotic and precise in putting

Some players get so caught up in the mechanics of putting that their approach becomes too robotic. They become obsessed with precision and being perfect. Feel, flow and instinct have to be a central part of putting. This can get lost in an overly robotic mindset trying to be too precise and perfect.

9. No process for assessment and reflection

Players do not have a formal process for assessing practice or rounds and reflecting on the experience. The right lessons are not consistently taken away to ensure step-by-step improvement. Knowing how to assess practice, play and ask the right questions is key to development.

10. Getting in their own way

The voice inside of most young players’ heads is not helpful for their performance. It’s often a negative, demanding voice that insists on perfection. This voice leads to hesitation, frustration and anger. The voice must be shaped (with practice) into the right “emotional caddie” to support efforts and promote excellence over perfection.

11. A focus on the negative before the positive

A default to the mistakes/flaws in the round before looking at the highlights and what worked. When asked about their round, most players highlight three-putts, penalty shots and any errors before anything else. Emphasis should always be on what went well first. Refection on what needs improvement is second.

12. The blame game

Young players love excuses. Course conditions, weather, coaching and equipment are a few of the areas that are often targets, deflecting responsibility away from the player. Many players do not take full responsibility for their own game and/or careers.

I hope this provides some insights on roadblocks that could get in your way on the path to reaching your targets in the game. Whether it’s lowering your handicap, winning a junior tournament, working toward the PGA Tour — or just general improvement — considering these observations might help you shorten the road to get there.

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Valero Texas Open

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With one of the weakest fields of the year, TPC San Antonio hosts the Valero Texas Open this week. Only one player from the top-20 in the Official World Golf Rankings will tee it up here. That man is Sergio Garcia, who co-designed this course with Greg Norman.

Just like last week at the RBC Heritage, the wind can wreak havoc at TPC San Antonio. The course features an exposed layout, making the level of wind is often unpredictable. Expect it to be a factor yet again this year. Unlike last week, the longer hitters do have an advantage on this course, which measuring more than 7,400 yards with little rough off the tee.

Last year, Kevin Chappell held off a charging Brooks Koepka to post 12-under par and win his first title on the PGA Tour.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Sergio Garcia 14/1
  • Matt Kuchar 18/1
  • Charley Hoffman 18/1
  • Luke List 25/1
  • Ryan Moore 28/1
  • Kevin Chappell 28/1
  • Adam Scott 30/1

From the top of the market, it’s hard not to love Luke List (25/1, DK Price $10,000) this week. The big-hitting American is still looking for his first win on the PGA Tour, but he is knocking on the door relentlessly. In his last eight events, List has finished no worse than T-26.

He was so close once again last week, and he should take plenty of confidence from that performance onto a course that theoretically should suit him much better. On this long track, List will have a significant advantage as one of the longest hitters on Tour. Over his last 24 rounds, he ranks 5th in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee and 1st in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green. List is also flushing his irons. He was second in the field last week for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, and over his previous 24 rounds he sits 3rd in the same category.

It’s not only his long game that is highly proficient right now, either. List’s short game has been stellar over this impressive stretch, too. He ranks 8th for Strokes Gained-Around the Green and 28th for Strokes Gained-Short Game over his last 24 rounds.

The one department holding the big man back is his putting, where he ranks 145th for the season. The rest of his game is so sharp at the moment that he’s in the enviable position of not needing that hot a week with the flat-stick to win. He only needs an average week on the greens to finally break through and claim his first PGA Tour event. There’s nothing to suggest List isn’t going to play well once more this week, and at 25/1 he seems undervalued.

Returning to a track that he adores, Brendan Steele (33/1, DK Price $8,900) is always a danger at this event. As well as winning the title here in 2011, Steele has finished in the top-20 three times since then. Whatever it is about TPC San Antonio, it’s a course that brings out the best in Steele’s game.

It’s been an excellent season for the West Coast native, too. He won his opening event of the season at the Safeway Open and has since finished in the top-30 six times. One of the main reasons for his strong run of form has been his work with the driver. Steele is ranked 1st in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee over his last 24 rounds, and he has only failed to post a positive Strokes Gained statistic in this category once since this event last year.

Recently, Steele’s game is showing trends that he may once more be close to hitting the form that saw him win at the back end of last year. In his previous 24 rounds, the Californian is ranked 10th in Ball Striking and 7th in Strokes Gained-Total. Always a threat at this event, Steele is coming into this week with all parts of his game in sync. He should be a live threat once more in San Antonio.

Another man who has played well all year is Xander Schauffele (35/1, DK Price $8,800). The Californian has made seven of eight cuts this year, and he has finished in the top-25 in four of those occasions. Excellent off the tee, TPC San Antonio should suit the 24-year-old this week, too. Schaufelle ranks 7th in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee and 17th in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green over his last 24 rounds.

With wind likely to play a factor this week, pure ball striking will be necessary. That shouldn’t be an issue for Xander, who sits 7th in Strokes Gained-Ball Striking over his last 24 rounds. There is nothing off about Schauffele’s game right now. He ranks 21st in Strokes Gained-Putting over his previous 12 rounds and 5th in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green over the same period. It’s only a matter of time before the two-time PGA Tour winner puts himself in the thick of contention again, and there’s no reason why it can’t be this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Luke List 25/1, DK Price $10,000
  • Brendan Steele 33/1, DK Price $8,900
  • Xander Schauffele 35/1, DK Price $8,800
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