#AskAlan mailbag: Should the USGA chief have been at the Women’s Open presser?

July 12, 2017

I’ll be at the U.S. Women’s Open this week. Longtime readers know I’ll do anything for my story, so if behind the 18th green on Sunday you see the Secret Service hog-tie and remove a reporter for asking the president too many muckraking questions, yeah, that’ll probably be me…

“With the eyes of the world on trump bedminster & the women’s open, Mike Davis ducked y’day’s USGA presser. Bad look? #askalan” -Joe Joe (@dimplehead59)

Poor Mike Davis. He’s just a golf nerd who wants to set up courses, and now he’s been thrust into a controversy that I know makes him nauseous. He should have been at the presser, even though in the past he’s skipped it. It was time to take one for the team. The USGA gave the Women’s Open to Trump Bedminster in May 2012, for many defensible golf-related reasons. The last 18 months have been a nightmare for a bunch of folks who just want to stick to golf, even though the rest of us know that’s impossible.

“When will we get mic’d up caddies? It’s one of the best features to watch.” -Bill (@DJohnsonsSWAG)

Well, with Bones heading to the broadcast booth we are going to get a very prominent caddie perspective. He has the chance to be great if – and it’s a giant if – Bones now sees himself as a TV guy and not a caddie between jobs. In other words, will he let it rip? The handful of reporters Bones trusts know he’s a tremendous storyteller with tons of great gossip, but most of it is shared off-the-record. It’s the code of omerta among caddies. No matter what, Bones will bring insight, good cheer and inside information on how the game is played, but if he is willing to ruffle a few feathers and go deep into the heads (and lives) of the other players and caddies he can be an A+ announcer. As for the larger question, yes, the mic’ing of players and caddies is coming. Euro tour chief Keith Pelley told me it will happen sooner rather than later, and after it’s a homerun on that tour, expect it to quickly spread to the PGA Tour. Tiger Woods ain’t walking through that door (and Phil is walking out of it soon). To keep generating huge TV contracts the PGA Tour has to be open to fresh thinking and offer the networks new ways to cover the game. Nothing will bring fans closer to the action than mic’d combatants inside the ropes. The few snippets we get now are tantalizing and hugely popular, setting the stage for this to become much more commonplace.

“Take away the Pro-V1, adjustable woods, all hybrids, and wedges over 56 degrees, what is the world top 5?” -Buck (@buck_rivets)

1. Phil Mickelson
2. Dustin Johnson
3. Jordan Spieth
4. Luke Donald
5. Tiger Woods

“Is it really that hard to mark your ball properly on the putting green? #AskAlan” -Dan (@DanZimgolf)

Apparently! More interesting than the sloppy marking has been the fallout. It really comes down to two competing worldviews: it’s not that big a deal and golf is already way too persnickety vs. the rules are sacrosanct and anything that abides the slightest fudging of the rules will send the game straight to Hades. I’m somewhere in the middle, skewing toward the traditionalist point of view. I’ve been to many golf tournaments – LPGA, Web.com, Symetra, college – where there are entire holes without a single spectator, and no Big Brother in the form of TV cameras. The only thing that preserves the sanctity of the competition is every player’s strict adherence to the rules. Once you start introducing wiggle room it becomes an ultra slippery slope. Does one inch on a short putt make a difference to a player of Jon Rahm’s caliber? No. Was he going to win the tournament even if he missed that putt? Yes. But as soon you start letting things slide it become a troubling precedent.

“Rahm, Tommy F. etc., the European Ryder Cup team is looking tasty – agree? #AskAlan” -Andrew (@a_h_davies)

I do. Think back to this time a year ago: Fleetwood and Rahm weren’t even in the conversation; Thomas Pieters was still a tantalizing what-if; Alex Noren was a good-but-not-great player; Sergio Garcia was limping to the end of a largely disappointing career. All five now look like stalwarts for Paris in 2018, alongside the sport’s alpha, Rory McIlroy. Of course, three of this half-dozen will be Ryder rookies. And what of the rest of the team? Both Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson were overburdened at the last Cup – how much will these warriors have left? Can Martin Kaymer be the player he used to be? Among the many talented young Englishmen, will any of them go to the next level? I still think the stacked, confident, cohesive U.S. team will be a heavy favorite but at least Europe is building a stronger, younger core to make things interesting.

“How come no one ever has two putters in their bag? Seems like someone who was struggling with their putting would try it. Just drop a wedge.” [email protected]

I used to know a guy who carried a belly-putter for testers inside of six feet but a standard-length putter for everything else, feeling like he had better touch with it. When you consider that the average Tour player is going to take 27-30 putts in a round but use his gap wedge only a few times your idea makes a certain amount of sense. Then again, putting is such a dark art and it’s hard enough to find a groove with one putter, let alone having to get hot with two different ones.

“Is bifurcation of the rules (e.g., restricted Tour balls, simplified rules for amateurs) likely given increasing distance/scoring?” [email protected]

The U.S. Open is our annual chance to assess to the USGA’s identity crisis, as the blue coats have been criminally negligent in responding to the massive distance gains of the top players. We saw this at Erin Hills, where 7,800 yards was reduced to nothing. Or the setup has to be tricked-up, as at Merion, to offer any kind of test. So, yes, recognizing that 9,000-yard courses take up too much land, use too much water and are too slow to walk, bifurcation makes sense. But a bedrock belief in Far Hills (and Carlsbad) is that all golfers should play the same game with the same equipment. So we have the ongoing stalemate. I honestly don’t know the endgame.

“Who’s your deep sleeper for Birkdale and why?” -David (@Dkateeb)

“Who breaks the streak of first-time major winners, and when?” -Paul (@LiveTweetGolf)

I hate making picks, because so many winners defy the plausible. Who among us had Brooks Koepka, Jimmy Walker, Danny Willett, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Darren Clarke or Charl Schwartzel? That’s just the last six years. Sure, all of them made a certain amount of sense after-the-fact, but at the start of that particular week? All that said, I’m taking Adam Hadwin as my deep sleeper. This will be his first Open and only his fourth career major – doesn’t get drowsier than that. But the firm, fast fairways will benefit a player who’s only average length off the tee, and from 125 yards and in Hadwin is one of the best in the game. He has a low, piercing ball-flight that will hold up in windy conditions. Plus he’s from a town called Moose Jaw and met his wife on Tinder – think Fleet Street can have some fun with that? But Jordan Spieth breaks the streak of first-time winners. It feels like the magic is starting to come back for the Golden Child. The last Open at Royal Birkdale was won by player with a similar skill set, Padraig Harrington. The weather was mostly frightful, and that suits Spieth, who is one of the game’s ultimate grinders. Since his epic 2015, Spieth has been largely marginalized by other top players. You know he’s dying to reclaim his spot at the top and bury those Augusta wedge shots. I think he gets it done.

“Is being a media member as cool as it seems to an aspiring writer?” – Sean (@seanrgorman)

In a word, yes. Put it this way: if you won the lottery, all you’d want to do is have all-access at the biggest sporting events and play the world’s greatest golf courses, right? Maybe for kicks you’d spend a few hours a day talking smack on Twitter. Well, that’s pretty much my *job*. Praise be.