USGA's Mike Davis on the Anchored Putting Ban, the Merion Open and Growing the Game: The Golf Magazine Interview

Keegan Bradley, Anchored Putting, US Open 2013
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Keegan Bradley is among the pros who have vociferously opposed the anchoring band.

To what extent did you coalition-build with the PGA and the PGA Tour?
We went to the different key groups, whether it's the state and regional golf associations or the LPGA Tour, or the PGA of America, the PGA Tour. It wasn't as if the key leaders in the game weren't aware of this. Sometimes key leaders change their mind. Before Ted Bishop, trust me, there was a different mindset with the PGA of America. But listen, the PGA of America and Ted Bishop, and the PGA Tour and Tim Finchem, have done exactly what we asked them to do. We had a 90-day comment period for the rule, and it's a divisive rule. But they've never specifically said they're not going to follow this rule. People want to think we're at war with the PGA of America and the PGA Tour and it's just not the case. We work with them all the time and this happens to be one issue where we differ, but we asked for their opinion. You should know, too, that we've gotten a lot of input from others who have been incredibly supportive.

Like Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods.
Yes, and the state and regional golf associations that represent millions of golfers also have been hugely supportive. Around the world, they're looking at us like, "Those guys are a different breed." This is a United States issue, and maybe a Canada issue. The R&A is not getting any push-back whatsoever around the world: Australia, Asia, South America, South Africa, Europe. It's also a male-female issue. We're not getting any push-back from females, who don't tend to anchor.

How much feedback have you heard from Keegan Bradley and Adam Scott and other Tour pros who anchor?
We can't just focus on Tour golfers. This affects millions and millions of golfers around the world.

The PGA Tour players are the only ones who do it in front of millions of viewers every week. They're the ones who are going to get called cheaters.
Well, I disagree with that.

Keegan Bradley says he's being called a cheater.
That's not what I mean. I'm saying that if this rule goes through, and John Doe and I four or five years from now are playing somewhere, and John starts anchoring, he's going to be called a cheater too. We weren't trying to hurt anybody. It's a divisive issue and it's been divisive ever since the long putter has been around. We're simply trying to clarify it and put it to bed. We see a time when this will go away.

Do you anticipate the PGA Tour following your lead?
You'd have to ask Tim Finchem; I don't want to speculate. Think of us as a bureau of standards. We write and interpret the rules, but other than our own championships, we're not in the business of policing them.

Fair enough.
Are you an anchorer, by the way?

No. I believe it's never too late to do the right thing with the rules.
I like that.

I have a friend who is pretty upset with you guys, though.
Remind him it's just a game.

He's ready to burn this place down.
[Laughs] Tell him not to try it. It's a hard thing, governance. I don't care what kind of governance you're in. You don't get pats on the back. We're trying to do what's in the best interest of the game and if the people in Washington just tried to do that a little more often and said, "What's the best thing for the country?" and not, "What's the best thing we can do to be reelected?" the country would be in better shape. In this case, doing nothing would be the easiest thing to do.

There's a long history of that in Far Hills.
Well, yeah. There are instances where, looking back on it, if we had known what we know now...

What's next?
I think the things I've mentioned: trying to make the game more enjoyable, make it more cost-effective, trying to address the time issue, pace of play. The United States is a very mature golf market. We're focused on what the game is going to be like in 20 years, in 100 years.

Let's say the game is a patient. Some alarmists might say the patient is on its deathbed. Others would say it's fine. How would you describe the patient?
Fact: The United States has seen golf participation drop in the last several years. Most places in Continental Europe and the U.K. have seen the same thing. Japan, same thing. But in [other parts of] Asia, [and in] Australia, South America and Mexico, golf is growing. Those people who want to say that golf is on its way out are ignoring history. You can take the last 100 years and watch the ebb and flow of the game, golf course openings and closings, and put it right up next to the ebb and flow of the economy. You will find that they match almost identically.

So how's the patient?
To describe that patient, I'd say that for the last several years it hasn't been gravely ill, but that it now has had a nagging cold, if you will.

How can the USGA pick up pace of play?
We have our Research and Test Center doing data that's never been done, to show how the recreational golfer spends his time during a round, how the elite player does it. We consult on best practices for superintendents. We want them to go into courses and look at fairway widths, look at heights of the rough -- things that affect pace of play. The faster the green speeds, the slower the rounds.

Would it help if the PGA Tour came down on the snails who set a bad example for the rest of us?
Yes, to the extent that they can do it. The other thing is you see golf courses sending groups of four players out there every eight, nine minutes. Mathematically, it can't work. All that does is put more people out on the golf course and makes it slower for everybody. If you're the owner-operator and you send people out every 11, 12, 13 minutes, you can get as many people around in a day, but instead of making it a six-hour round, you've made it a four-hour-and-45 minute round. And you know what? That person is happier and that person will play more golf.

How often do you play these days?
In a good year, if time permits, I can play as many as 20 times a year.

How many scores did you post in 2012?
Only eight. Kind of sad!

Do you let your golf buddies take mulligans or otherwise bend the rules? Or do you feel morally obligated to keep them in line?
It depends upon a few things: whether we are playing competitively or if it is just a casual round; the practices of the course we're playing; and the golfers involved. Where opportunity exists, I like to subtly educate on the Rules of Golf to players and caddies even during casual rounds.

When did you last take a mulligan?
I might be guilty of one within the last year, but I always feel better not taking one even after a poor opening tee shot. As Peter Dawson of the R&A has told me on more than one occasion, the opening shot in golf might be the toughest of the day -- and it should not be compromised by allowing a mulligan.

If you weren't running the USGA, what would you like to be doing?
I've always been fascinated with golf course architecture, even at a young age. During a round, I would often find myself studying the nuances of a course rather than focusing on my own game. I'm not sure I have the talent, but architecture is a profession that truly captures my interest.

What would you choose for the epitaph on your career as executive director? "Mike Davis did ______."
[Laughs] Already? "He worked with many others to make the game better." There are decisions to make the USGA better, or to make more money or whatever, but if it doesn't make the game better, then we shouldn't do it.

If eliminating the U.S. Public Links and adding the national four-ball championship is going to make the game more fun, then maybe you're already succeeding, at least by that definition. This job is going to be easy!
[Laughs] I've already got my epitaph: "This is easy!"

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