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Questionable Play: Why We Should Bring Back Anchored Putting

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Questionable Play is GolfWRX version of a mailbag from the perspective of a millennial who also happens to be a purist, which is to say, I’m a twenty-something who often practices with a persimmon driver and walks most of the time. As with any other piece on this site, we highly encourage comments. We’d also like you to send questions that can inspire future columns to mailbag@golfwrx.com to we can keep this column rolling. Let’s do this!

This edition of Questionable Play is anchored in an old and potentially tired subject, but that doesn’t prevent it from being interesting. The USGA is trying to “modernize the rules of golf,” and it’s hard to say whether the fans will have any significant impact in the USGA’s new initiative to “simplify” the rules of golf. They have solicited opinions from every corner of the golfing world in the last six months, though, so why don’t we give them one more?

Leading up to the USGA rules revision in 2012, there was a debate centered around whether or not the USGA was going to ban an anchored putting stroke, design the rule so that the putter had to be the shortest club in your bag, or leave it alone and let people continue to anchor. There was fiery discussion on both sides of the argument, and many of the prominent members of the golf media (namely Brandel Chamblee) believed it was finally time for bifurcation, or two sets of rules: one to govern the amateur game, and another to govern the professional game.

I didn’t agree with bifurcation (still don’t). Many aspects of golf that make it different are rooted in tradition and nostalgia, for better or worse. Bifurcation wouldn’t have been a big deal, but it would have taken away something that no other sport can boast; in golf, everyone plays by the exact same set of rules from Tiger Woods to the weekend warriors. (See, that’s what happens. The previous sentence isn’t necessarily rational, but it’s how golfers view their own world, which is fine.) I’m glad the rules weren’t split, but I still think the governing bodies got the anchor ban wrong.

Brandel Chamblee beat his opinion drum a little louder than normal a couple months ago when he called out PGA Tour Champions veterans Bernhard Langer and Scott McCarron (though most of his attention was on Langer) for what he considered to be anchoring of the putter. Both players have long used broomstick-style putters and Langer has been doing everything but flogging his playing competitors with it as of late. Langer now holds the record for most major wins on the penultimate senior tour.

Langer and McCarron have both been defended by the USGA. Here’s the statement:

Over the last two years, the USGA has worked with the PGA Tour Champions and other professional tours to support education and adoption of Rule 14-1b. We are confident that rule has been applied fairly and consistently and have seen no evidence of a player breaching the rule, which does not prohibit a hand or club to touch a player’s clothing in making a stroke. Integrity is at the heart of the rules and how the game is played worldwide, and this essential value has made the game enjoyable for all golfers. We will continue to work with our partners at the R&A to listen and review all of golf’s rules, with an eye on making them easier to understand and apply.

That statement, accompanied by statements from Langer and McCarron, seemed to calm the storm a bit, but it didn’t settle the debate. Videos of Langer making a stroke with the camera zoomed in on his chest continue to make the rounds. Below is the most damning one of Langer. If you look closely, it simply looks as though his thumb is touching his shirt, but it’s impossible to say if his thumb is touching his chest.

The USGA got it wrong for this reason; you can’t definitively prove golfers are anchoring from the videos, and if your rule is based on intent, then you HAVE to trust the player. Otherwise, you’re just going to breakdown the trust between the organization and the players who are governed. Anyone who’s watched a single episode of Game of Thrones knows that a lack of trust between the governing body and the governed only leads to mutiny. The good news? The solution is easy.

The only way I see to end this squabble about anchoring is for the USGA to retract the rule and allow anchoring once again. The USGA got it wrong when it banned the anchored stroke, because all it did was complicate the rules of golf more. And as the keepers of the rules look to revise what’s in place, now is as good a time as any to own up to a mistake and reinstate anchoring into the game. There are a couple of precedents for the USGA and R&A retracting rules over the last century or so. Here are two straight form the USGA’s website:

1. “The 1956 code eliminated the penalty for a ball hitting an unattended flagstick in the hole when played from the putting green (but by 1968, both rulemaking bodies had agreed to restore the penalty).”

2. “Seeking to speed up play, the 1968 code introduced a new rule allowing a player to clean a ball on the putting green only once (before the first putt); and, in stroke play only, requiring the player to putt continuously until the ball was holed (but these changes proved impractical and unpopular, and were revoked in 1970).”

The second example is a perfect fit for this scenario, because it’s fair to say that all of this debate and calling a player’s integrity into question is not the direction anyone wants to go. It’s not great for the game, which is to say, the anchoring ban is impractical.

The USGA, while it’s “modernizing the rules of golf,” should retract the anchoring ban and let players use the stroke they were allowed to use prior to 2016 so we can all move on. If the USGA was going to ban anchored putting, it should have done it in 1991 after Rocco Mediate became the first player to win on the PGA Tour using an anchored putter. The USGA didn’t, and it missed a chance. The only thing the ban has accomplished in the last 18 months is to put players in a strange predicament where they have to defend themselves to people from all over the world.

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Adam Crawford is a writer of many topics but golf has always been at the forefront. An avid player and student of the game, Adam seeks to understand both the analytical side of the game as well as the human aspect - which he finds the most important. You can find his books at his website, chandlercrawford.com, or on Amazon.

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36 Comments

36 Comments

  1. Roy

    Aug 19, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    Need to accept the fact that we already have 2 sets of rules. What percent of amateurs play it down, hole out all putts, walk back to the tee for a lost ball or OB or even go thru the proper process of taking relief from the cart path 100% of the time??

    • Dave

      Aug 20, 2017 at 8:38 am

      One should never have to walk back. If one is not sure …PROVISIONAL !!!

  2. Rich Douglas

    Aug 19, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    I think putting is way over-emphasized in the game. Anything that makes putting easier I’m generally in favor of.

    But not this.

    If the anchored putting stroke using a long putter was truly better, everyone would be using it by now. But it is not. What it DOES do is help a few yippy guys to get it to the hole when they ordinarily could not. The stroke, with the long putter, makes some awful putters okay. But it does NOT make one an outstanding putter. Still….it is too much of an artificial assistance and eliminates some of the natural differences between players’ putting abilities. It is NOT a golf stroke. And how the USGA can consider the broomstick “conforming” and Bryson DeChambeau’s rather innocuous putter “non-conforming is beyond me.

    Keep the anchor ban. Limit the putter–a club that already has a specific definition in the rulebook–to be the shortest club in the bag. Give everyone on the professional tours 2 years to adjust; a decade for everyone else playing under USGA/RA conditions.

  3. Ryan

    Aug 19, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    Man, there sure are a lot of butthurt people on here. Anchored putting has never been proven to be an advantage. I don’t here any of these people fighting for the traditions of the game trying to bring back persimmon or jackets and ties. How is a ball not being fairly struck, if anchored? Also, if it was better, why didn’t everyone do it, and why didn’t the anchorers win a lot more often? I’ll bet Hagen, Hogen, Jones, etc would be much more surprised by the 460cc monsters we tee off with than a long putter.

  4. Bester

    Aug 19, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    Anchor shmanchor — ban the stupid thing cause it’s not part of the traditional game which is keep your hands together and low and no extended putter shaft.

    • joro

      Aug 20, 2017 at 6:24 pm

      Let me ask you Bester, is the Hot Ball, the 300 yd. hot faced Drivers and rebound Irons and Woods part of the tradition. You people who are all over banning the Putter have no clue what really affects the “Tradition of the Game”. And how about the Bag Carrier spending 2 or 3 minutes on every shot telling the player what to do and how to do it, the yardage, wind, etc. Make the player play on his own instincts and not have an encyclopedia telling him what to do. Let them figure the yearage, wind, and allow for other things. This is not game anymore of skill, it is a science using page age technology. Bring the real game back and see what happens.

  5. Mike C

    Aug 19, 2017 at 9:26 am

    The argument that anchoring isn’t an advantage therefore should not be banned isn’t valid because it wasn’t banned because anchoring was an advantage. It was banned because the ruling bodied determined that when you don’t have to control both ends of the putter is isn’t a stroke. Also if you suffer from the yips, I can tell you firsthand that using the broom stick putter unanchored is still a cure

  6. UnclePhil

    Aug 19, 2017 at 4:30 am

    I had no idea anchoring was disallowed, who knew? Bernie and Mac seem to be collecting checks quite well using the alleged illegal broom. As most have already stated, shorten the ridiculous putter to 40″ long and anchor it all you want!! It’d be very interesting to see how creative a privileged pro could get to anchor a 40 inch’r! What a joke!! Scott’s hand is obviously touching his chest from whatever angle you observe from. Forearm to rib cage, ala Bernie Lang’a is anchoring period! Where’s the tour enforcement? Where are the umpteen angles during a tournament to keep these guys within the rules? What, would it be unpopular to close the ring on these obvious rule benders?
    TRAVESTY!!!

  7. james

    Aug 19, 2017 at 12:02 am

    My last post was posted by mistake……Long story……My apologies to Mr. Crawford.

  8. james

    Aug 18, 2017 at 11:56 pm

    How about eliminating ridiculous articles written by writers who know very little what they are writing about.

  9. Dat

    Aug 18, 2017 at 7:17 pm

    Ban Bernhard Langer.

  10. Steve

    Aug 18, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    Another simple solution would be two new rules.
    1) maximum grip length of 12″ or something close to a reasonable length.
    2) no part of the player can touch the shaft during a stroke. Exception for unusual stances with ball well above feet, playing from knees, etc. or this rule could only apply on the green.

  11. Oldplayer

    Aug 18, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    And while they are at it revoke the groove rule also 🙁

  12. Peter Schmitt

    Aug 18, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    I think I oversimplify this topic, but here’s my opinion. Long putters were around for ~25 years. If it TRULY was an unfair advantage to have a long, anchored putter as opposed to a 34″-35″ long putter with a standard stroke, why wasn’t every golfer in the world anchoring their putter?

    Let them anchor it. For that matter, let them lay down on the green with a pool cue for all I care.

    • Oldplayer

      Aug 18, 2017 at 3:52 pm

      Don’t forget the anchoring ban came in after 3 of the 4 majors were won in one year using the belly putter. That was more the target IMO and not the broomstick.

    • Adam Crawford

      Aug 18, 2017 at 4:05 pm

      I agree with your comment entirely. In 2011, Mike Davis did an interview on Morning Drive saying that anchored putting wasn’t a big deal and they didn’t think it was changing the way kids were learning the game (which is the foundation of their issue with it according to their public statements) and ultimately changing the nature of putting. But I think it was a knee jerk reaction to Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els, and Webb Simpson winning 3/5 majors from PGA in ’11 to Open Championship in ’12.

  13. Greg V

    Aug 18, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    There should be a maximum length for all clubs, including putters: 48″. Anchor all you want.

    Hint: Langer’s putter is a lot longer than 48″. And his stroke is a levering action, not a proper golf stroke. If the USGA had not allowed putter longer than 48″, belly putters would have worked, but broom sticks would not.

    • J-Tizzle

      Aug 18, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      incorrect, his putter is 45″. Plus the difference between a 48″ putter and a 50″ putter is probably just a comfort thing for a player. So I’m sure if they allowed up to 48″ someone using a 50″ would just widen their stance or bend over a little more.

  14. Doug

    Aug 18, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    Simple solution. There must be a clear and visible gap between the upper hand and the body. This includes and shirt, sweater, or jacket the player may be wearing. If that cannot be accomplished, (regardless of weather conditions), the long putter cannot be used.

  15. Tom54

    Aug 18, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    Here’s a solution I haven’t heard yet. Regular PGA tour, no anchoring. When you hit 50, anchor away all you want. The senior tour is mainly a place for seasoned pros that already had nice careers. Let them enjoy the game and competition as long as they can.

    • J-Tizzle

      Aug 18, 2017 at 4:35 pm

      What about us regular non-pros? Always allow? Never allow.

  16. Wizardofflatstickmountain

    Aug 18, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    ‘Penultimate’ means second to last. Doesn’t make sense in the article.

    • Chopper

      Aug 23, 2017 at 2:33 pm

      So you don’t think, Hagen, OTM, Hogan, Jones, Nelson, Palmer, etc… are staging some truly epic tournaments in the afterlife?

  17. Teacher2

    Aug 18, 2017 at 11:32 am

    Let’s be brutally honest about anchored putting; it should be banned for pros but allowed for recreational players because the latter don’t practice enough and they likely have bad backs which hurt when bending over to putt.
    For the pros, the real reason they use the long putter is because they suffer from the yips with the traditional gripping. The long putter eliminates the yips and rescues their game. Pros should be physically fit to play and not use the long putter as a crutch.

    • Adam Crawford

      Aug 18, 2017 at 11:52 am

      I do think it was a yips cure for many players, but if you look at the players that went to it because of the yips, it didn’t significantly improve their putting. Even when Adam Scott won the Masters, it wasn’t because he putted out of his mind. The long putter is not a cure all, there’s no such thing. It still takes practice and honing a skill.

  18. Alfriday

    Aug 18, 2017 at 11:29 am

    “The only way I see to end this squabble about anchoring is for the USGA to retract the rule and allow anchoring once again.”

    Or they could limit the length of the putter.

    • acemandrake

      Aug 18, 2017 at 11:38 am

      🙂

    • Adam Crawford

      Aug 18, 2017 at 11:48 am

      I really don’t think that would do it unless they made it less than 37 inches, and for guys that are 6’4″ that wouldn’t be fair. You can anchor anything 37″ or higher.

  19. Ike

    Aug 18, 2017 at 10:42 am

    The USGA and R&A blew it on this one by allowing cheaters the opportunity to “ANCHOR” the lead arm against the body thereby “ANCHORING”. If the lead arm does not move, it is “ANCHORED”.

    • Adam Crawford

      Aug 18, 2017 at 10:49 am

      I see your point, but don’t agree with the logic. You can’t claim that if the lead arm doesn’t move that it is anchored. Maybe he practices hours and hours to keep his arm steady?

    • J-Tizzle

      Aug 18, 2017 at 4:37 pm

      Anchoring is defined as a fixed point. Your entire forearm is not a fixed point, plus the end of the putter still floats freely, therefore, not anchored.

  20. Heich

    Aug 18, 2017 at 10:26 am

    Yeah, he’s anchored in that video

    • Adam Crawford

      Aug 18, 2017 at 10:52 am

      You can say that all you want, but therein lies the problem. You can’t prove it based on a video because you’re not physically examining his position. Sure it looks like he’s anchoring, but unless you tried to slip something between his thumb and chest then you can’t prove it. Which is the crux of the issue, it can’t be enforced because it’s based on player’s intent. Humans are inherently flawed when it comes to self examination.

      • Fang

        Aug 18, 2017 at 12:14 pm

        You can’t “prove” anything outside of closed systems like maths, he was anchoring.

      • Heich

        Aug 19, 2017 at 9:29 am

        You can clearly see in this video that the hand on the chest moves WITH the chest and upper body and not independently. Therefore it is anchored.

        • jack

          Aug 19, 2017 at 4:57 pm

          agreed .. clearly anchoring, clearly cheating-

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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Opinion & Analysis

Oh, To Be An (Oregon) Duck

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A few weeks ago I flew into Eugene, Oregon on a mission. I’d come to work with one my students who is a member of the Duck’s varsity golf team. I had never been further south than Seattle or further north than Monterey, so this part of the world was new to me.

What I did know was that the Bandon Dunes area had become a destination for some of the greatest golf in the world, rivaling other famed resorts around the country. The resort is just outside the quaint town of Bandon, which is a good two-hour drive from Eugene. The resort’s four courses — Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Pacific Dunes, and Old McDonald — each have their own personality, but at the same time they have one thing in common: the four architects that designed them took full advantage of the natural topography, deftly weaving holes in and out along the Oregon coastline.

I was looking forward to playing two of the courses before leaving: Pacific Dunes and Old McDonald. You may find this hard to believe, but those two rounds would be my first and second of the year after a busy summer season on the lesson tee. And for that very reason, I had no expectations other than to make a few pars and enjoy the scenery.

After retrieving my luggage from the turnstile, I made my way toward the exit with luggage in tow. My rental car was just across the street in an open-air lot and as I pushed through the airport doors, I was greeted by a gust of wind and a spray of rain. “Welcome to Eugene,” I thought to myself.

The sudden burst reminded me of playing in Scotland, where the rain gives way to sun only on occasion. I surmised that the weather in the Eugene would be similar. “Don’t forget your rain suit,” a fellow professional reminded me when I told him about my trip. As it turned out, that was good advice. He had been there before around the same time of year. “You’ll be lucky if you get one good day out of three,” he said.

As I drove through the area to my hotel, what struck me the most were the large hills that commanded the landscape and the thick white clouds that seemed to cling to them like giant cotton balls.  I found a comfortable hotel just outside Eugene in the small but quaint town of Cottage Grove. In charitable terms, you could characterize my hotel as “a tribute to the past.”

I woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning, dressed and made my way downstairs to the lobby. The rain had continued through the night and as I prepared to leave the hotel,  it started to come down even harder. I stood in the lobby, waiting, while listening to the rain drops pounding on the roof,  a steady beat at first, then rising and falling like a conga drum.

I’d agreed to meet my student at 10 a.m. for a practice session and then he was slated to play nine holes with the team later in the afternoon. Based on the weather, I was concerned that the day might be a total rain-out. What I didn’t know at the time was that the school has a portable canopy that allowed the team, rain or shine, to practice on natural grass. I ran to my car ducking rain drops. The forecast called for a chance of sun in the afternoon. And this time the weather man was  right.

That afternoon I was invited to watch my student and the rest of Casey Martin’s boys play a quick nine holes at Eugene Country Club, the team’s home course. The layout is one of the most unusual that I’ve ever seen with giant trees bordering every fairway. The tips seemed to stretch up and up into the sky, piecing the low-hanging clouds above, as if they were marshmallows on a stick.

The Ducks have fielded a strong team the past two years, winning the NCAA Division 1 Championship in 2016 and then finishing second this year. A good deal of credit for that accomplishment goes to Casey Martin, who has coached the Ducks since 2006. For those who are too young to remember, Casey Martian was a teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford University. He later competed on the Nike Tour. Casey earned his PGA Tour card in 1999 by finishing 14th on the Nike Tour, but his earnings through the 2000 season were not enough for him to retain his card, relegating him to once again to playing on the development tour. He played sporadically up through 2006. The following year, Casey assumed the job of Head Coach, which brought him back to his native Eugene.

In earlier years, Martin’s play career as a professional was hindered by the fact that he could not play 18 holes without a golf cart due to a birth defect in his right leg. The PGA Tour Board ruled against his use of a cart, maintaining that the physical act of walking was considered an integral part of the competition. Believing that he was in the right, Casey filed a suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. His case made its way to the Supreme Court where he won. As for his competitive record, by his own admonition, he is disappointed that he didn’t play better as a professional. A primary focus of his coaching then, as he conceded, is to teach his players not to make the same mistakes he did in his own career. What struck me as unique was the passion and intensity with which he coached. I would venture that it’s the same level of intensity that he brought to the golf course when he competed.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to watch a closed-door, defensive-team practice at Duke University with Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) on the floor. He had divided the team into two groups with one at either end of the court competing against each other. His legs straddled the center line as if he were Colossus with his head swiveling back and forth as if on a stick. The impression was that he saw everything and be never missed anything. And then when he saw a player make a mistake, he would blow his whistle sharply. The players would immediately stop moving as if they were frozen in place. And then, in peg-leg style, he would hobble across the floor favoring one leg over the other. He was clearly in need of a hip replacement at the time.

I’ve had both of my hips replaced, so I could easily imagine the pain that he was experiencing as he peg-legged it from the center of the court to either end. I suspected that he had decided that surgery would have to wait. The season was just a few weeks away, and given that his team was largely composed of freshman, he could not afford to miss a day. Casey Martin doesn’t blow a whistle, nor does he run a defense practice, but as he climbs out of his cart, deftly working his way to a vantage point where he can see his players from every angle, I’m reminded of the halting walk of Coach K.

There is something else that these two man share in common — an intense desire to win. They settle for nothing less than great. And when you look into their eyes, you can see that there is an intensity that burns from within that is vastly different from the man on the street.

As you might remember, I was scheduled to play a round on Pacific Dunes and another on Old McDonald. The two courses are both spectacular layouts with ocean views. And the weather… I drew two perfect days, defying the odds my friend had laid down. It was sunny and 65 degrees with just a hint of wind. How did I play? Let’s just say that I made a few pars. What I found was that striking the ball well is no guarantee that you will score low on these courses. The green complexes are diabolical. The best advice I can give you is to throw you scorecard away. You’ll enjoy yourself more.

The next morning, I was on an early morning flight back to Minneapolis only to discover that we were experiencing Indian Summer with temperatures 20 degrees warmer than usual. But as Minnesotans, we all know what is waiting for us just around the corner.

I’ll leave you with this thought. After watching Casey Martin and the players on his team play and practice, I’m sure of one thing. And that’s when next year’s NCAA Championship comes around, Casey Martin will have all of his Ducks in a row.

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The Kids Are Alright: Spike in Junior Golf Participation a Good Sign for Game’s Future

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This week, eight 10-player All-Star teams representing regions from across the country will converge upon Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., to compete in the 6th PGA Junior League Championship.

The teams – New Hampshire (Northeast), California (West), Georgia (Southeast), Ohio (Mideast), Illinois (Midwest), New Jersey (Mid-Atlantic), Arkansas (Mississippi Valley), and Texas (Southwest) – will be divided into two divisions where they will face off in round-robin, 9-hole matches using a two-person, scramble format of play. Teams are captained by PGA/LPGA Professionals.

Since the PGA of America launched PGA Junior League in 2012, participation has skyrocketed from about 1,800 players the first year to a record-setting 42,000 boys and girls age 13 and under participating on 3,400 teams across the country this year.

“Junior golf is a key priority of the PGA of America and we recognize that increasing youth participation in the game is essential to the future of our industry and sport,” said Suzy Whaley, PGA of America Vice President and PGA Director of Instruction at Suzy Whaley Golf in Connecticut.

“PGA Jr. League is a fun and welcoming opportunity for boys and girls of all backgrounds and skill levels to learn, play, and love golf under the expert instruction and guidance of PGA and LPGA Professionals. It’s team-oriented and kids wear numbered jerseys. It’s transforming traditional junior golf and the numbers prove it.”

Whaley believes the team concept and scramble format are major factors in PGA Jr. League’s rapid growth over the last five years. In fact, she says, the program is re-shaping the golf industry’s view of the way junior golf is typically learned and played.

“Other youth sports have been utilizing the team format for years and it’s a natural fit for golf,” said Whaley, who has taken three teams to the Jr. League Championships. “The scramble format provides for a low-pressure environment. We’ve created a team atmosphere that has broad appeal. Parents and kids enjoy being a part of the community that PGA/LPGA Professional Captains create. In this team setting, older, more experienced players mentor the younger, beginner golfers. There’s no pressure on any one player, and it’s great to see kids pull for one another versus the individual focus generally associated with golf.”

“It is a program that creates a family-centered atmosphere that encourages mom, dad, brothers, sisters, and grandparents to become involved, as well. During PGA Jr. League matches, the parents are part of the match keeping score, posting photos on social media and encouraging all players. PGA Jr. League grows lifetime interest in the game across multiple generations.”

Matthew Doyle of the Connecticut team gathers for a photo with team captain, Suzy Whaley during session three for the 2016 PGA jr. League Golf Championship presented by National Rental Car held at Grayhawk Golf Club on November 20, 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Traci Edwards/PGA of America)

Fourteen-year-old Cullen Laberge from Farmington, Conn., is a student in the Suzy Whaley Golf program and has competed at the PGA Jr. League Championships for Team Connecticut. Laberge has been playing for four years and says his Jr. League experience really sparked his interest in the game and his desire to become a better player and ultimately a golf teacher one day.

“It has taught me so much about golf, while keeping it fun and interesting,” Laberge said. “The thing I enjoy the most is playing competitive golf without the stress that tournament golf can sometimes bring. No matter age or skill level, Jr. League keeps it fun and no matter how a player is playing there is another player to pick them up. That national championship was the best experience of my life. It was like I was playing on the PGA Tour. I loved the amazing competition; those players were good.”

And it’s not just golf’s executives and Jr. League participants who have taken notice of the program’s growth and the ultimate importance that growth represents for the future of the game. PGA and LPGA professionals including Rory McIlroy, Ricky Fowler, Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie have all joined as ambassadors for the program.

“I want to do everything I can to be a positive influence on kids who are interested in the game and serving as an ambassador for PGA Jr. League is a great fit,” said Wie. “There are so many lessons that kids can learn and that adults can reinforce through the game of golf – good sportsmanship, honesty, integrity, work ethic. Golf can help you learn how to react when things don’t go your way which I think is a really important skill to have in life.”

“Golf can definitely mirror life. You can work incredibly hard and still fall short, but how do you bounce back? How do you overcome a mistake or a bad break and still succeed? It’s important for kids to grow up with a good work ethic and the right attitude to face challenges. Golf is a great game to teach those lessons.”

Copyright Picture : Mark Pain / IMG (www.markpain.com)

Wie says the more inclusive and welcoming the golf community in general can be, the better.

“Especially as a young female, I have experienced plenty of times where I did not feel welcome or felt like I had to prove myself more than the guys did,” Wie said. “Golf is a game that should be available to everyone and I think it’s important to make it accessible to kids whether they are a future tour pro or a future 20-handicapper.”

The folks over at the USGA know a thing or two about growing the game and making it more accessible and they should, they’ve been doing it since the association’s founding in 1894.

The inaugural three USGA championships – the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1895 – did not have age limits, each simply aiming to identify the champion golfer. In 1948, the USGA held the first United States Junior Amateur solely open to players under the age of 18 and just one year later the association conducted the first United States Girls’ Junior Championship.

In addition to helping fund The First Tee, LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, and the Drive, Chip and Putt Championships, the USGA recently introduced its “For the Good of the Game” grant program to promote a more welcoming and accessible game at the local level with millions of dollars offered to local communities to build programs.

“The greatest misperception is accessibility,” says Beth Major, Director of Community Outreach at the USGA. “Two-thirds of all golf courses in America are open to the public. Kids and parents still believe it is a country club sport and we need to change that.”

Founded in 2013 as a joint initiative between the USGA, the Masters Tournament, and the PGA of America, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship is a free nationwide junior golf competition for boys and girls ages 7-15 aimed at growing the game. Participants who advance through local, sub-regional and regional qualifying earn a place in the National Finals, which is conducted the Sunday before The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

Drive, Chip and Putt qualifying is offered in all 50 states and participation in the event has increased each year.

“We have a great partnership with our friends at the PGA of America and the Masters Tournament,” Major said. “Our leaders realized that by pooling our resources at the national level while activating at the local level, we could quickly scale the program and get more kids involved.”

“Going into our sixth year, it is amazing to see how far the program has grown and the entry point we’ve created together to keep our youth engaged. We look forward to continuing to evolve the program to welcome more youth to the sport.”

The USGA, in partnership with the LPGA, the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America, and the PGA TOUR, founded The First Tee in 1997 specifically to answer the call for diversity and inclusion. The program has welcomed millions of new players to the game in the past 20 years by focusing not only on teaching golf skills but life and social skills such as etiquette, honesty, respect, confidence and responsibility.

Founded in 1989, the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program is aimed at girls ages 6-17 and has played a critical role in not only welcoming girls and women to the game, but perhaps equally importantly keeping them in the game.

“Statistics continually show us that the social aspects of the game drive girls and women to play golf,” Major said. “That sense of camaraderie and building friends greatly outweighs their need to compete at the entry level. LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, quite simply, has made it fun and cool for girls to play – and play together. And the results are astounding. We have traced more than 100 girls who started in an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program that played in a USGA championship last year. They have not only introduced the game to girls and young women, they kept them in the game, and that is very exciting and inspiring.”

One company is tackling growth of the game from another angle – the equipment side.

Since its very beginning back in 1997, U.S. Kids Golf has been focused on its mission, “To help kids have fun learning the lifelong game of golf and to encourage family interaction that builds lasting memories.

To that end, the company began developing youth clubs starting out with just three sizes and one product line initially.

“Over time, through watching youth golfers, we came to realize that we were not serving them as well as we would like,” said Dan Van Horn, U.S. Kids Golf founder. “Looking at how the best players in the world – LPGA and PGA Tour – are fit for clubs, we discovered the proportion of their drive length to height was from 60-70 percent. From that we created what we term the ‘2/3 solution.’ Simply put, for every 3 inches a player grows, we offer a set that has a driver that is 2 inches longer.”

Importantly, it is not just the length of the clubs that increase as the player grows but also the overall club weight, grip size and shaft stiffness. At the same time, the loft on woods decreases providing additional distance.

“One of the key benefits of correctly fit clubs that are lightweight is the ability for players to learn a correct and powerful swing at a young age,” Van Horn said. “Clubs that are too long and/or heavy slows the golf swing itself and creates bad habits that are difficult to change later in life.”

Beyond the importance of young golfers needing properly fit equipment, Van Horn believes strongly in the need for juniors to compete in tournament play to facilitate aspirational goals and to measure progress. Going hand in hand with this is proper instruction from coaches who understand how young players learn and develop.

“After a few years of producing equipment, we realized more needed to be done to serve our market so we formed a nonprofit foundation,” Van Horn said. “Immediately we created our World Championship in 2000 so that young golfers would have an aspirational goal, much like the Little League World Series is to baseball players. We also realized that golf professionals and coaches lacked an organized incentive-based learning program to truly engage players in the game so we created one that same year.”

A longtime proponent of having players play from appropriate yardages, U.S. Kids Golf developed the Longleaf Tee System which uses a mathematical formula to “scale” any golf course for up to eight different tee locations per hole so all players have options based upon how far they carry the ball with a driver. Yardages start at 3,200 yards for 18 holes and increase up to Tour distances of 7,400 yards.

“What we need is a focus by all golf facilities and coaches to provide quality, enjoyable experiences to our youth,” Van Horn said. “This means incorporating game-based learning with a measurable, learning program so that players and their parents know how they are progressing. And, of course, shorter tees need to be available so we can get kids on a ‘field’ that fits them like other sports. There’s no question it can be done.”

The National Golf Foundation’s annual report for 2016 revealed that participation in junior golf programs remained steady at 2.9 million likely due in part to the success of the programs mentioned above and others just like them. Importantly, the number of female junior golfers has increased to a third of all participants and the number of non-Caucasion players has risen to a quarter, four times what it was a couple of decades ago.

While time will ultimately judge whether these programs and offerings serve not only to retain current players but continue to attract new ones, the state of junior golf in the country appears strong and on the right track for now. 

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