Tour Confidential: USGA Rules Changes and the Future of Male-Female Tournaments

December 12, 2016

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. The USGA and R&A have instituted a local rule that eliminates the penalty for accidentally moving your ball on the green. (This action appears to be, at least in part, a response to the Dustin Johnson ruling that wreaked havoc on the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open.) What other rule or rules could you realistically see the governing bodies modifying?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think it is realist but the USGA would not agree: paint the white stakes red. The out-of-bounds rule could be stroke only, not stroke-and-distance. I have a list but that would be at the top of it.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Every amateur on Earth would agree with you Michael, especially since most play that way, regardless. It’s also long past time for penalty shots for slow play to be enforced vigilantly and consistently, but I’m not holding my breath.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF (@JoshSens): You stripe one down the heart of the fairway. It lands in a sand-filled divot. Ground that has been damaged and which is now under repair. Take a free drop. Play on. Quickly, please.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF (@joepassov): Technology has outstripped the original rules. Let all competitors use rangefinders at every level, whether or not they also have caddies. The player still has to choose the trajectory and hit the shot. It would speed up the game and that’s not a bad thing.

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Josh Berhow, producer, (@josh_berhow): I was never a big fan of the anchoring ban — and I’ve never used that method in my life. Golf is hard enough. Anchoring worked for so many who aren’t at the pro level; why discourage them to the point where they play less often cause they can’t putt?

2. Lexi Thompson became the first woman since Annika Sorenstam in 2006 to play in the Franklin Templeton Shootout. (She and her partner, Bryson DeChambeau, tied for last in the 12-team event.) Generally would golf benefit from more mixed-gender tournaments, and, if so, what would be the most compelling and equitable format?

Bamberger: Oh, for sure. Golf is ideal for team play where men and women play together. College golf would be a perfect place to have mixed events and single-sex events. Alternate-shot events are particularly well-suited to that, as would be reverse scrambles. Lexi and Bryson are partners. Both play tee shots. Lexi plays Bryson’s tee shot for her second and Bryson plays Lexi’s tee shot for his second. Then you could carry on in that manner all the way until both balls are holed out.

Ritter: Absolutely. And if the IOC is willing to get creative in 2020, Olympic golf would make another great test case.

Sens: I’m still a sucker for those old silly season skills challenges. (Inbee Park and Jordan Spieth in a putting contest, anyone?) But I agree, Jeff. The Olympic format is begging for a shake up, and as long as they don’t go to synchronized mixed-doubles, and mixed pair competition would be great.

Passov: Bring back the old JCPenney Mixed Team Championship that for years was a late-season Florida staple. Just the novelty was compelling–especially the pairings–no matter what format you employed. Two-person teams, stroke play, best-ball would likely work best, but anything would be fun for fans and players. Davis Love III and Beth Daniel were two-time winners; the final champion was the team of John Daly and Laura Davies, in 1999. Now that would have been fun to watch.

Berhow: Of course it would. It would bring more eyes to the women’s game and even more eyes to the men’s game (for those who are primarily interested in the LPGA). I think a shamble (from their respective tees), alternate shot or anything with some sort of drafting component would be huge to gain more interest.

3. Speaking of DeChambeau, the eccentric 23-year-old debuted a side-saddle putting stroke at the Shootout — and appeared to have some success with it. In the post-anchoring era, is this a technique we can expect to see more of on the PGA Tour?

Bamberger: Severe yippers will go to the other side (righties putting lefty). Or you could see more two-way putters. Bernhard Langer, using the long putter but not anchoring, will be in more demand for putting lessons.

Ritter: Well, we weren’t sure if Bryson’s single-length irons would ever catch on, and this year Cobra is mass producing them. I bet DeChambeau will inspire golfers of all abilities to at least give his putting method a try, and for some it will stick.

Passov: Why not? We’ve seen bizarre innovations to putting in every decade for more than 100 years. Some have caught on–notably the Claw–and some have not. (I’m thinking of the weird elbows-out style of Leo Diegel, a two-time PGA champ in the late 1920s that inspired its own verb, “Diegeling.”) Sam Snead did some side-saddle putting in his day, and while he was never a great putter with any of his methods, he was at least good enough to compile the most PGA Tour titles in history. Easy call here. If it works for DeChambeau, others will try it.

Berhow: It was the perfect event for him to try it out, and the fact that he even used it beyond the practice green proves it’s not just a pipe dream. I’m with Michael. I can see more golfers moving to what Langer does instead — but you never know what pros will do to keep their edge (and card). The side-saddle doesn’t look very sexy, but you know what looks worse? Yipping putts and missing three-footers.

4. Dustin Johnson was named GOLF’s Player of the Year for the 2015-16 season, as he finally secured his first-ever major, the U.S. Open, and won two other events. Is there any golfer out there who is set up for a bigger 2017 than DJ?

Bamberger: Oh, for sure: McIlroy and Spieth. Coming into a new year, I think the question is always, Who is hungriest and who needs a big year most? I put those two way ahead of Johnson in that regard.

Ritter: Bamberger nails it — it’s easy to imagine a big bounce-back for both players. It’s also become clear that Matsuyama, currently the world’s hottest golfer, is the real deal.

Sens: Rory. Or Jason Day if he can stay healthy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see DJ reel off another major and a monster year as well, though. He looks like he’s flat-lining out there, but there’s more fire there than he outwardly lets on. And now that the first-major pressure is off, I could see him bringing Erin Hills to surrender much as he did Oakmont. But Rory is still your POY for 2017.

Passov: Josh brings up a great point, which is that the laconic DJ never really looks energized. So it’s logical to wonder about his motivation, especially after shedding the monkey with his U.S. Open win. Yet, it’s easy to forget that he’s got 12 PGA Tour wins, has 13 Top 10s in majors and boasts the firepower to keep up with anyone. Rory has a better record than DJ in majors, Day is incredible when he’s healthy, Matsuyama is hot and Spieth is well-rested and owns a great win in Australia a few weeks back, but I don’t see any of them lording over DJ in 2017.

Berhow: Rory McIlroy. I probably would have said this regardless of how he finished the year, but that flurry just gives me more ammunition. He won the Deutsche Bank, took the Tour Championship and then became American golf fans’ greatest villain at the Ryder Cup (although I’m pretty sure he’s still well liked among U.S. fans). I’m assuming he’s not thrilled about missing cuts in half of last year’s majors, so he’ll be motivated. Throw in the fact that he has freedom with his club selection after Nike bowed out of the equipment business, and it’s the perfect recipe.

5. World No. 1 Lydia Ko fired her coach, David Leadbetter, last week. In explaining the split to Golf Digest’s Jaime Diaz, Leadbetter said that Ko’s parents are an overbearing presence in her life. “They tell her when to go to bed, what to eat, what to wear,” he said. “And they expect her to win every tournament. … At some point, they’ve got to let the bird fly from the nest.” Given Ko’s calm, easygoing demeanor, were you surprised to hear Leadbetter’s take on her parents? And is this a common problem for golf’s young stars?

Bamberger: David must be hurt, but he would be in position to know and he’d have no reason to misrepresent his own feelings. What we cannot know is how much David’s comments are rooted in cultural differences, and familial relationships, that outsiders would not be able to understand.

Ritter: Leadbetter must be stinging about the separation, but it’s odd that a player of Ko’s stature would replace her coach and caddie in one offseason. 2017 will be the most scrutinized season of her career.

Sens: There’s no doubt it’s a common problem for a lot of young golfers, and a lot of young athletes of all stripes. And this isn’t the first time I’ve heard grumblings about Ko’s parents from someone with a closeup view. But it’s easy for others to judge, and not really their place. Ko certainly seems happy and well-adjusted, not to mention wildly successful on the course. And she’s still only 19. If there are wrinkles for her to smooth out with her parents, well, welcome to a very, very large teenage club.

Passov: Well, the sting for David Leadbetter can’t be any more painful than it was for Guy Wilson, Ko’s childhood coach, who guided her to the world No. 1 amateur ranking for 130 weeks, a period which included two LPGA victories and a U.S. Women’s Amateur win at age 14. Immediately after turning pro, she fired him. It’s no secret that Korean parents are notorious for their outsized influence on their golf-oriented children, including those who compete at the highest level. It’s hard to say where the problem lies, whether with Ko or with her parents, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s the former.

Berhow: Anyone who achieves so much success at such a young age is going to lean on their parents early. There’s a trust level and a comfort zone that’s hard to break out of. We often forget that Lydia is still just 19 years old, which means a lot of what she does isn’t necessarily her idea to begin with. That said, I wouldn’t blink an eye at her switching coaches if she didn’t just ditch a caddie she had success with.

6. A trophy awarded to Arnold Palmer for one of his four Masters wins sold at auction Sunday for $444,012. It is thought to be the second-highest amount paid for a piece of golf memorabilia behind Horace Smith’s green jacket from the 1936 Masters (for which a bidder paid $682,229 in 2013). If price were no object, what one piece of golf memorabilia would you like in your own collection?

Bamberger: Elin’s 8-iron.

Ritter: Green jacket, size 38, left arm just a hair longer than the right.

Sens: Dang. You guys took the best ones. But I wouldn’t complain if someone handed me Billy Barou from Caddyshack, assuming it’s out there somewhere. In the end, I could really give a hoot about memorabilia of any kind. And I can’t think of any in golf that I wouldn’t happily part with for $444,012.

Passov: The 1-iron Ben Hogan hit into the 72nd green at Merion during the 1950 U.S. Open, the shot that yielded that awesome Hy Peskin Life Magazine photo would be up there for me, as would the Calamity Jane putter that Bobby Jones wielded during his Grand Slam finale–at Merion–in 1930. Sadly, however, given the clutter in my garage and in my den, both would be dented and eventually lost within two weeks.

Berhow: Tough one. I could change my mind on this every week, but a framed copy of the 1934 Augusta Invitational Tournament Program — the first Masters — would be nice little centerpiece.