Golf rules controversies

The worst year yet for rules controversies?

The first half of the year has had its fair share of incidents, fall-outs and heroics. Mark Townsend highlight his favourites

We’re now halfway through the year and so far 2019 has had something for everyone. So let’s take stock and reflect on how far we’ve progressed and, in some cases, regressed with the biggest talking points of the last six months. (Don’t worry, give it another few weeks and the major season will be all done and we’ll all be left to scrabble round trying to get our heads round the FedEx permutations and the Presidents Cup standings…)

Can you imagine? 

While Justin Thomas has become a leading voice in his criticism of the USGA and their course set-up and handling of the new rules he insisted in May that he wasn’t one of the 10 to 15 players who supposedly considered a boycott of the US Open.

A report in Golf Digest said that the USGA went “too far” with the Shinnecock Hills set-up last year while the greens at Chambers Bay got plenty of headlines and none of them any good.

But it was the indecision over whether Dustin Johnson had moved his ball in the final round at Oakmont in 2016 which prompted talk of a boycott.

One anonymous player, a multiple tour winner, said: “We had about 10-15 guys who were willing to sit out after 2016. Some of them were big names – Dustin was one, Rory was another.”

Another, a major winner and former World No. 1, added: “I was prepared to do it. Absolutely.”

A third added: “I figure we needed about 25 guys, and I think we could have gotten there based on what I was hearing from players. Really, just one would have done it, but Tiger wasn’t playing at the time. Without us, they don’t have a tournament.”

Another dissenting factor was the way that the money from the deal with Fox was distributed.

Rules, rules and more rules

For the first month of 2019 many of us wondered if we would ever stop talking about the new Rules of Golf. From one week to the next we seemed to lurch from one mess to the next, the headliners being Haotong Li and Denny McCarthy being adjudged to have been lined up, the latter was rescinded in the middle of his third round.

Come February the R&A and USGA clarified the new rule after outrage from the players, fans and even Keith Pelley.

Rickie Fowler, whose ball had trickled back into the water and nearly cost him the Phoenix Open title, then did the below.

For golf this was anarchy. Thankfully things have settled down, but there will always be rules mishaps and there always have been but this season has been a belter. The knee-high drop still doesn’t seem to make any sense to anyone but things, slowly but surely, are returning more to normal and the good stuff is slowly overtaking the bad.

And who doesn’t like putting with the flag in these days? And none of us were saying that six months ago.

And the best player of 2019 is…

After 11 years of prefacing everything about Tiger Woods with “14-time major winner” we can all now move on. To wait that long after winning the US Open at Torrey on one leg, and to then win at Augusta with a fused back, are equally unthinkable.

A look at his other results this year demonstrates how much he put in and got out of the Masters, in the end he made it look quite comfy.

This year we wondered about his putting, the lack of ‘reps’ and his age and body given the sodden course. Rory was the form horse, Rose the course specialist and DJ and Brooks the bombers ready to take advantage of the conditions.

Woods had never come from behind to win a big one – he took them all down.

And the best player of 2019 (who isn’t called Tiger Woods) is…

Had things played out a little differently we could be heading to Portrush with a Brooks Koepka Slam on the cards and with a local, Ricky Elliott, on his bag.

Had he birdied the 72nd hole at Augusta he might have played-off with Tiger, he then held on to win the PGA Championship, having led by seven on Saturday night, and he was a much closer runner-up to Gary Woodland than the three shots showed at Pebble Beach.

He’s become the most complete golfer of his generation in the space of a couple of years and, with it, we’re now seeing the real Koepka. For the record he’s not a fan of slow play, petulant behaviour and how winning majors are the easiest to win – a comment that very nearly backfired as he wobbled badly over the back nine at Bethpage.

Biggest mover, PR wise

After all these years we’re also now seeing a different side to Phil Mickelson. Previously generally gauche and goofy he’s now become one of the great comedic actors of his generation with perfect delivery and timing.

Away from Tiger and ‘Brooksy’, his calves, bombs, tips and thumbs up have been the talk of the Twitterati in 2019 – and to think,he only signed up last August. So there was some good to come out of the desperate match with Tiger.

Here’s the latest from his new series ‘Phireside With Phil’…

Biggest mover backwards, PR wise 

Matt Kuchar might be leading the money list but 2019 has been the death knell for the wholesome reputation of good ol’ Matty.

Had he looked after El Tucan properly at the end of last year then, who knows, he might have maintained his mask. Since then we’ve had the Sergio Garcia three-inch putt, which was, in my mind, the most despicable claim I’ve ever seen, and then the multiple rules query over the fairway pitch mark.

Fellow players say he’s a good guy, we know he likes his table tennis, but it would take a seismic shift in his behaviour to even get close to anything like acceptable again. 

Best romantic storyline  

All year, every time Portrush comes up, there’s been a nagging worry that Graeme McDowell wouldn’t be playing. People talked about how he could join the Sky Sports team and we could all enjoy his mid-Atlantic twang for the week but McDowell is the one the locals really want out on the course. He’s the boy from the Rathmore club, his brother’s a greenkeeper at the course and, when he does well, he’ll pick up the bar bill for his mates at home.

While Kuchar was getting up to his shithousery in the Match Play, McDowell was winning in the Dominican Republic but it didn’t get him to Portrush.

A chance went begging at Bay Hill but then a 30-foot par putt in Canada, where McIlroy won, got him into the top 10 and into the Open. As it transpired two putts would have done the job but that’s not quite as romantic.

Fair play to Rory

Here’s the current top 10 players in the world with their January 1 rankings in brackets. A few very general observations – it takes something special to make real advances at the business end of things and McIlroy’s form this year has been sensational though sadly not quite (yet) in the majors.

Some like to put the boot in very quickly to McIlroy but his results this year have been 4-5-4-2-6-W-9-21-8-MC-W-9. There’s been no back and forth yet to Europe, the thinking’s been clearer and more measured and he says patience and perspective are the keys. Give it time, it will happen.

As for Xander Schauffele he was 2nd at Augusta and 3rd at Pebble Beach and drops four.

  1. Koepka (2)
  2. Johnson (3)
  3. McIlroy (8)
  4. Rose (1)
  5. Woods (14)
  6. Molinari (9)
  7. Thomas (4)
  8. DeChambeau (5)
  9. Cantlay (19)
  10. Schauffele (6)

Adam Scott’s trousers: explained

The Aussie would look good in a bin bag and so on but even he’s struggling to cut the mustard style-wise in 2019.

His pleated wide-leg wool pants look began at Augusta which he offset with a pretty cool knitted polo. But the billowing trouser look has continued and everyone’s favourite hunk isn’t doing himself many favours.

“That slim, flat-front pant has been a staple on the golf tour for quite a few years, and we really wanted to change the silhouette this year at the majors,” Scott said. “We definitely drew some inspiration from classic golf wear with a bit more vintage styling, brought the pleats back into the trousers and certainly a much wider silhouette than the skinny jean look.”

Mark Townsend

Been watching and playing golf since the early 80s and generally still stuck in this period. Huge fan of all things Robert Rock, less so white belts. Handicap of 8, fragile mind and short game

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