New Golf Rules “Fore” 2019

Professional golfers will be able to take advantage of several new rule changes coming in the new year. 

In golf, the rule book is thick and, for most players, generally harder to read than a ruling from the courts.  Average players tend to be aware of the “biggies”, but most of us generally understand that some issues just aren’t worth getting upset about.

Changes in the rules of golf come rather infrequently and extremely slowly.  The game is considered a “gentleman’s game”, but what that really means is “Golfers shouldn’t cheat”.   Many golfers have called infractions upon themselves even when their playing partners didn’t see one occur.

If you have watched much golf on television over the past few years, you have seen how the rules of golf have even cost some players (I’m talking about you, Dustin Johnson) a major championship.  Simple things can cause the loss of one or more strokes and a victory.

Let’s take a look at a few of the key changes coming in 2019:

  1.  Forty seconds to hit your shot – I am “all in” on this change.  How often do we see golfers line-up a shot or putt from every conceivable angle and then go through a routine that, if disturbed, must be started over from the very beginning?  My only beef on this change is that it should be thirty seconds instead of forty.
  2.  Three minutes to find a lost ball – This rule used to be five minutes.  If a player hits a ball which literally disappears in the rough (it happens), then the ball usually will not turn-up whether the golfer, caddy, and others take three, five, or more minutes.  Three is fine.  Get on with it!
  3.  You can putt with the flag in  – This one is interesting.  The PGA’s resident physics major, Bryson DeChambeau, has already declared that he intends to leave the flagstick in for most putts.  He said, “It depends on the COR, the coefficient of restitution of the flagstick.”  He believes that the PGA’s fiberglass flagsticks are thin enough that putts hitting the stick are more likely to fall in the hole rather than bounce out.  This guy is a smart cookie, so I wouldn’t be surprised to the see other tour players follow suit!
  4.  A caddie is not allowed to stand on a line behind you while you are taking your stance and until your stroke is made – An excellent change!  Too often do we see PGA players depend on their caddie to line-up a putt.  Worse, the ladies of the LPGA have been using caddies to stand behind the ball to line-up their shots from the tee box and fairway, too.  I’ve considered that a form of cheating for years.  Bravo!
  5.  You are not penalized for accidentally moving your ball on a putting green – How many times have we seen a ball move due to wind or an accidental misplacement of a ball being marked?  This is a good change, too.  If the intent isn’t to cheat, then it shouldn’t be penalized. 

I’d love to see a pace of play rule to insure that golfers play each nine holes in two hours or less.  I think it should players should receive a two shot penalty for each occurrence.  If you want to see players pick up the pace, a four shot addendum to the score card at the end of the round would surely do the trick!

Maybe that will happen when CBS and other networks tell the players that they must finish their round by “X” time deadline, or the finish won’t be televised at all.

Though I am looking forward to the rule changes at the beginning of the year, I have my doubts that we will see a significant (15-30 minutes less per round) improvement in the pace of play. 

With golf, we’ll take any and all attempts to make the game simpler for all players and still retain the basic requirement of honesty and integrity. 

Fore-ward and onward into 2019, golfers! 

Bring back The Skins Game!

As the golf world prepares for Thanksgiving weekend’s $20 pay-per-view event between Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, I wondered whatever happened to another made-for-television golf event called “The Skins Game”.

For twenty-five years between 1983 and 2008, the PGA (and, sometimes, LPGA) tour would feature four of the game’s most prominent players in an 18-hole challenge match.  Each hole had a certain prize money value with the largest amounts coming during the final few holes.

To win a hole, one golfer had to make the lowest score.  In the event of a tie, the prize money would be added to the next hole, etc. until one golfer won the “skin”.

The early years featured one or more of golf’s legendary players like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Lee Trevino competing against “young guns” such as Tom Watson, Curtis Strange, Fuzzy Zoeller, and Payne Stewart (to name a few).  Even Annika Sorenstam of the LPGA made an appearance in “The Skins Game”.

Fred Couples, though, became known as “Mr. Skins” as he won the event five times and more than $3.5 million in prize money.

The success of the show was the chemistry between the golfers.  You could expect one or more players needling the others (Lee Trevino and Fuzzy Zoeller come to mind) to help inject a little humor to loosen-up the more serious players such as Nicklaus, Strange, and, later, even Tiger Woods.

The exposure helped to humanize professional golfers as the players would wear microphones so viewers could keep up with the banter.  For golf fans, it usually made for a fun afternoon during the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas season when golf traditionally has faded from the sports landscape.

So, why did “The Skins Game” end?

One source said that the series ended after losing a title sponsor prior to the 2009 event.

One writer theorized that the lack of star-power hurts the game as golfers had become even more serious, too stiff, and that the beloved legends of the game were too old to make for a competitive entry.

Perhaps.

The annual event was also played on new venue (mostly in California) every year, so there was no continuity with both the players and the course/venue from year to year, too.

Personally, I believe that the increasing amount of professional and college football competition during the Thanksgiving weekend dealt “The Skins Game” a decisive blow. There are college and professional football games being played from noon until late at night on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.

More competition begets fewer viewers which likely meant lower television ratings and, the true reason The Skins Game doesn’t exist, less network sponsorship money due to a lower public interest.

That’s too bad, because professional golf could use a shot of excitement to help boost the game and help change the perception (though still mostly correct) that most professional golfers are overly-serious mechanical cyborgs devoid of a personality.

For every talented but “vanilla” golfer such as Brooks Koepka or Dustin Johnson, there are affable golfers such as Matt Kuchar or Brandt Snedeker to help loosen things up during a competition like “The Skins Game.”

Since the PGA Tour’s leading names all make plenty of money these days, maybe each player’s winnings in my “new” Skins Game event could be donated to each golfer’s favorite charity or charities with a guaranteed minimum dollar amount going to the participant’s charities to help take some of the golf pressure off.

Maybe then we might see more fun happening between the players in addition to some great golf being played.

It’s still hard to believe that “The Skins Game” has been gone from television for the past ten years.

Next weekend, golf fans will be asked to ante-up their own $20 personal skin if they want to watch Tiger and Phil play a match against each other.

Caveat emptor!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ESPN’s LPGA survey needs a reality check

The fine folks at ESPN have just published a survey of 49 LPGA golfers prior to this week’s US Women’s Open (in case you would like to watch, it will be televised on Fox and FS1).  The results revealed some interesting answers from the players.

According to the survey, the majority of women professional golfers feel the biggest issue facing them is the pay gap with the men’s tour with 78% of the survey participants believing they are not paid fairly.  Interestingly, 92% of those surveyed think that there should be a working connection between the LPGA and PGA tours.  51% of those surveyed think that the LPGA needs to have a bigger footprint in the United States.

The survey about the LPGA contains both some truth and some fantasy.  On the weekend prior to July 4, the LPGA staged the Women’s PGA Championship which pulled a .6 television rating on NBC and a total of 840,000 viewers.  The winner, Danielle Kang, won $525,000.  On the same weekend, the PGA tour’s Quicken Loans National on CBS had a paltry rating of 1.2 (down 30% from the prior year) with 1.9 million viewers.  Kyle Stanley won $1,278,000 for the victory.  If only judged by television ratings and viewership, the prize money paid to the respective winning golfers seems fairly much in line.

The men’s PGA Tour saw an incredible increase in ratings and, ultimately, prize money resulting from the advent of the entertaining Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson era beginning in the late 1990’s.  When the networks started drooling over the increased ratings for golf coverage, the money paid for televised broadcast rights skyrocketed as several major networks bid-up the price in order to capture the wealthiest viewing demographic for potential advertisers.

The PGA Tour smartly locked-up a massive  9-year contract extension with the current networks in 2011 (when Tiger Woods was only 36-years old and still chasing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships).  According to the PGA, the overall prize money for men’s golf tournaments nearly quadrupled from $80 million in 1997 to $280 million by 2011.  However, since Tiger Woods’ legendary personal issues and chronic physical ailments have kept him off television for several years, the next long-term contract for televised golf rights will likely be for a shorter duration and more reflective of a significantly declining television audience.

Meanwhile, the LPGA lost their transcendent star in 2008 when Annika Sorenstam retired to start a family.  Since then, the tour pinned its hopes that Michelle Wie would become the next LPGA superstar.  Unfortunately, Wie has won only four events in her first eight seasons.

During that same time, the LPGA has seen a growing “Asian Invasion” with only four American female golfers among the top 20 money earners in 2016.  Female golfers from Asia (primarily from South Korea) held the majority of the top 20 earnings positions.  In 2017, the trend has expanded.  Since the LPGA derives most of its income from stops within the United States, skyrocketing golf interest in South Korea has not helped to build a higher viewing audience in America.

The LPGA’s current less-than-lucrative television contracts will end in 2019.  Like the PGA’s “Champions” golf tour for older golfers, the LPGA has recently begun to market its own “champions” events (albeit on a much smaller scale).  Keeping familiar names in the public eye for a few more years should only help the sport.

But there is good news!  In March, 2016, the PGA and LPGA reached an agreement to coordinate more and more aspects of business together – including, perhaps, development of joint events.  For the ladies, the chance to increase television exposure and prize money awaits.  The question remains as to whether the LPGA will be able to capitalize on the opportunities that lie ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

Mark my words – this change will improve golf!

On Sunday afternoon in Ireland, professional golfer Jon Rahm sailed to an easy victory in the Irish Open.  Along the way, though, he was confronted by a rules official about a possible improper marking of his golf ball on the sixth green as he attempted to get out of the line of his playing competitor, Daniel Im.

After discussing the matter briefly with Rahm several holes later, the golfer was not assessed a penalty.  The 22-year old Jon Rahm has become a bit famous on the PGA tour for his exceedingly quick temper, so I was curious to see how he might react if assessed the one-stroke penalty by the rules official.  In this case, no penalty = a relieved professional golfer.

Just a few months ago, the LPGA’s Lexi Thompson was assessed four penalty shots after being told by a rules official that she had improperly marked her ball – on the previous day!  It seems that a television viewer (yes, that’s correct) contacted the tournament and said that Lexi had not replaced her ball in the same spot where it originally came to rest.  Since the round had been completed but the LPGA officials still deemed this a rules violation, the heartbroken Thompson was not disqualified but ultimately lost the ANA Inspiration tournament in a playoff.

Remember, these are professional golfers who are having all of this trouble marking a golf ball on the green.  The rules of golf (and there are far too many of them) require the player to mark a ball if it interferes with the line of another player.  The ball must then be returned to the spot where the ball initially came to rest.

Sounds simple enough, right?  If the player believes that he or she did NOT do it properly, though, the player should call a one-shot penalty on himself/herself.  Golf is really unique in that players are expected to observe all rules (no matter how odd they may seem) and penalize themselves if they break (purposely or not) any rule.

In this post-Tiger Woods and, sadly, the end of the Phil Mickelson era, golf now has both an identity problem (not enough household names every week) and a slow-play problem.  You and I are expected to play a round of golf in under four hours.  Have you noticed that the professional golfers on television are now taking up to five hours to complete a round of golf?  These are the golfers who are paid prize money to hit the majority of fairways and greens (unlike the majority of us) so they should be able to play faster, right?

Here’s a simple suggestion to speed-up play and help future ball-marking incidents from cropping-up.  Golfers should be required to continue putting until their ball is in the hole.  Today’s professionals are marking their putts from as little as one foot from the hole instead of just quickly finishing-up.  Once the player has seen the line of the first putt, then the second (or third, etc.) should be easier to determine without starting their “routine” (ugh) all over again after marking their ball.  Since we now play in an era of spikeless golf shoes, golfers don’t have the excuse of being concerned by making spike marks while putting.

This change would definitely speed-up professional golf (’bout time!) and help reduce the increasing number of ball-marking spy-cam cases on television.  Dear USGA – please do it!