Players must end rules feud with USGA before it's too late
During the last few weeks the new Rules of Golf have come in for a bit of a bashing from several leading American players.
Both Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler have taken to Twitter to air their views on what they claim are unsatisfactory changes, while their Ryder Cup colleague Brooks Koepka has even suggested that the PGA Tour should break away from the R&A and the USGA and start to administer the rules for themselves.
I think that is a ludicrous idea, one which would only serve to widen the growing divide between the pro tours and their audience, but I am not too surprised the three-time major champion elected to air it given the depth of hostility which seems to exist between the players and the administrators.
That was something PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan attempted to alleviate when he issued a statement reminding his members that the new Rules of Golf had been a collaborative effort, driven by the R&A and the USGA, but with input from the PGA Tour, the European Tour, the women’s tours, and other stakeholders.
I can only hope the message has got through because much of the criticism seems to me to have been both unfair and unnecessary.
Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive, is correct to state the introduction of the new Rules of Golf has not been as seamless as the administrators would have liked but that is hardly surprising given the scale of the changes. He has also said the all the new rules were being monitored with a view to sorting any teething problems that exist.
What may take longer to mend is the deep divide that has developed between the USGA and some of the top professionals. This was clear for all to see during the unseemly spat between Thomas and the governing body over the penalty handed out to Adam Schenk for a perceived breach of the new rule governing caddie intervention at the Honda Classic.
“There is no reason for me to sit up here and tell you guys I think the Rules of Golf – the changes – are great, because I don’t. I think they are terrible,” he said, and the incident escalated during a subsequent Twitter exchange about lack of communication.
Fowler is a genuinely likeable individual, so it was a big surprise to see how incensed he has become about the new procedure for dropping the ball. Some of his ire may be the result of the fact he was penalised for dropping from shoulder height at the recent WGC event in Mexico, but it certainly does not explain the level of rancour he has subsequently displayed.
Koepka has arguably been the USGA’s harshest critic and seems genuinely convinced the organisation – and, by association, the R&A – is incapable of administering the rules. He began his argument in support of the tours governing their own rules by stating that “I don’t know any other professional sport where the professional organisation running the event doesn’t have their own rules” before taking a more direct swipe at the USGA by adding “we have an organisation (the USGA) that runs one event a year (the US Open) and they make the rules for a year.”
Come June, some of the critics may be mollified by the fact that Mike Davis, the USGA CEO, will no longer be in charge of course set-up at the US Open, particularly as John Bodenhamer, the man who is taking over that role, was recently quoted as saying: “It is important that we engage and explain why we do it. We haven’t done that with the players, and they just don’t know us.”
Improved communication between the governing bodies and the players is undoubtedly the best way to address the current issues. The great and the good from all walks of golfing life will be at The Players Championship, held at PGA Tour headquarters in Sawgrass, and I hope that while there they take the time to sit round a table and start to iron out their differences.
The alternative is continued conflict which certainly would not be good for the game.