Time to Remove Mashed Potatoes from Golf

I’m a huge proponent of the Waste Management Phoenix Open and it’s rowdy 16th hole. Love it, and until recently thought it was great for the game; the Yang to Augusta National’s Ying. But it seems, as is the case in many aspects of life, we can’t have nice things. The facts are, the collective ‘we’ don’t seem to be able to handle the responsibility of golf gallery etiquette and decorum.

The Mashed Potato movement is not new by any means. And maybe I am an old cynic now, but it seems to be getting worse. And to put a finer point on it, it seems daily there are ‘fans’ (code for people who are half-drunk attending a golf tournament) who want to be on TV by attempting to yell something clever at the moment of impact.

My first thought…why aren’t they simply removed from the premises at the first hint of inappropriate behavior? Failure to do so really sanctions the behavior and allows people the freedom and flexibility to push that line until they’re 8 beers deep and they can’t walk that line anymore and act like an ass. Facts are, we know for certainty that Augusta National or The Open Championship would not condone behavior like that. But pick any week on the PGA Tour and, well, as they say it only takes one.

The fact that events like the first tee at the Ryder Cup (likely all 18 holes) and the annual tour stop in Phoenix are loud and boisterous is fine. These are events which, like Augusta really, are unique unto themselves. But on a routine tour stop can we not have some clear level of appropriate behavior adhered to? Here are some ideas to eliminate inappropriate behavior from golf:

The PGA Tour needs to take a lead on a code of conduct policy which needs to be marketed, promoted and ingrained for every patron of every event. And central to these are the following:

· A strict limit on alcohol consumption. Find a way. It’s not rocket science. Address all issues of excessive intoxication quickly and professionally.

· Immediate removal from any patron who yells at any point in the swing. This does not preclude people from celebrating great shots whatsoever.

· Ban those who can’t abide by the rules from any future tour event.

I need to emphasize that these ideas would still allow Phoenix to be Phoenix and Augusta to be Augusta. What it does is not allow the people who want to be famous from impeding players’ shots and my viewing experience at home.

Because, in my opinion, if we do nothing about this, we’re essentially sanctioning this kind of behavior and I don’t think that is good for the game and it is horrible for professional golf, with potential implications that are enormous.  To be honest, I am at the point where I am glad that fans didn’t have a direct and negative impact on the final round of the Valspar this weekend.  My expectations are that low now.  And that’s not good.

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Upon Further Review – Addressing the Rules of Golf

Sitting on my couch eating ketchup chips and crushing pints of Triple Bogey beers should not give me, or anyone else outside the ropes, the authority to influence a golf tournament.  It doesn’t pass the common sense filter.  And while it’s been nice we’ve had a nice stretch of a few weeks without a serious rules incident in golf, allow me to wade into the murky waters of rules in golf.  Because like everyone else, I have an opinion on this and it needs some unpacking.

Rules matter.  I like the self-regulating nature of golf and I like the principle of play the ball where it lies and I like that many golfers will tell their partner they got a 6 instead of a 5.  In competitive play this becomes even more important.  But I also play for fun with family and friends and we don’t get all caught up in stroke and distance penalties, putting out 18” putts and we may even allow ourselves a chance to remove a ball from a bunker which resembles a parking lot more than a sand trap.  Relaxed rules, at times, are appropriate and keep the game fast and fun.

And that matters.  I can’t imagine what would happen if during the two or three times a year my wife plays that I went all ‘USGA’ on her and told her 6 holes later that her 8 was really an 12 because she didn’t place her ball appropriately back on the green after marking it.  You can kiss her participation goodbye from that point on.  And this is not to be hypocritical, she wants to play well and play properly but within the context of an afternoon out with friends.  I am a huge proponent of Relaxed Rules which I first saw on Golf Channel some time back.  The game is meant to be fun and played appropriately.  To her and our group, what is proposed here is most appropriate.

Now, getting back to the USGA…and the official rules of golf; I still believe we can allow for a greater filter of common sense to govern rules.  Pace of play and participation are issues facing the game.  For sticklers of rules a couple suggestions:

Stakes – more red stakes on courses.  Let’s simply take a stroke, drop a ball and be on with it.  The humiliation of going back to the tee to hit again does nothing positive for the game (and I know we should all be more mindful of hitting a provisional but you get my point).

Penalties – all one stroke, easy to understand and avoids confusion.

Phone-in rules infractions – Eliminated.  Simple as that, we’re liberated from this in my world.  Once a scorecard is signed, it’s good.  Phew, solved that one easy enough.

Common Sense – if in doubt…after all, very few of us have mastered the rules book, let’s use consensus among our playing partners and common sense prevail.

In closing, I love the game of golf.  But I am finding myself watching some tournaments with an impending sense of doom that my HDTV lacks the clarity of someone’s 80” 4D to see the most subtle of infraction which had zero impact on the integrity and outcome of the hole but cause a player to lose a tournament.  Golf is a game.  Golf is fun.  Let’s keep it that way.  And when appropriate, let’s honour the full set of rules but more so the integrity of the game which the rules are built upon.

Yawning at the PGA Wraparound Season

It has nothing to do with multiple first time winners over the start of the season. It has nothing to do with split fields and overseas events. It has everything to do with the lack of a tangible off season. And if the PGA Tour won’t take one, I’ll darn well take one myself.

I loved Q School. I liked the ‘silly’ season of golf. There was something about the casual, more relaxed nature of events where players seemed more engaging, relaxed and seemingly playing without pressure. In its place there is, really, no off season. Depending on where you are on the PGA Tour food chain this is either time for a (very) brief break or time to make hay while the sun shines (meaning, a chance to earn a victory, Fed Ex points or simply get an exemption into an event). I am happy for these first time winners and how being a PGA Tour event winner will change their life. Regardless, call me disinterested at the start of this 2016 season.

Once the tour moves to its Hawaii swing, then I will fully engage. I loved the anticipation, the prime time viewing opportunity and the chance for some meaningful golf after an extended break. Now, it is just another tour stop, week after week. But, I am going to take the two months off from the PGA Tour and allow myself the traditional build up for a fun and exciting winter start to the 2016 season.

Added to this is the fact that the PGA Tour is losing a little lustre in my eyes. I am gravitating more and more to the women’s game. And I will get into this more in a future post but safe to say their game resembles my own (power, distance) and I appreciate that and can learn more from them and the way they play (and that is important to me).

PGA Tour, I need a break. I won’t be tuning in to watch you until you tee it up at Kapalua this January. Starting the 2016 season in 2015 just seems wrong.

The Plague of Slow Play

“Scots do not dally when they play golf.  From their opening stroke on the first tee to the last putt on 18, they play golf with an unerring determination to get to the ball, hit it, and move on…golf is what they are out to play and play it they will.” – Willis Copeland, http://www.theindependentgolfer.com.

I am not a fan of the current USGA “While we’re young” campaign aimed to, essentially, shame slow players to play faster.  To me it’s like trying to swat a fly with one piece of tissue paper instead of rolled up newspaper.  And while I admit I laughed at PGA Professional Ben Crane’s video where he poked fun at himself, I was also struck by the audacity of another PGA pro, Rory Sabbatini, who putted out and basically played the 18th hole alone in protest of Crane’s slow play.  All these belie a significant problem which I feel is keeping people from starting (or for many, continuing) to play the game.

If it was touring professionals alone, I’d be ok with this.  Their livelihood is at stake and their extended rounds mean more time on the couch in the winter to watch golf.  But public golfers are lemmings, ok, I am.  I try to dress like the late Payne Stewart or Ian Poulter.  I like that I can use their equipment and play the same courses they do (although I no longer try to play from the tips, but some will…not an insignificant issue in itself). The point is, we emulate their actions.  We grind over short putts, partially because modern course design provides risk of three putting from 4 feet and ready golf is not commonplace (among other issues).

I’m not radical in my beliefs; course marshals should not have tasers, and should not escort people off the course immediately.  But they should be empowered to effectively move play along.  And players should be aware of and ultimately responsible for the ramifications of their slow play.  I admire a campaign that Copper Creek, in Kleinburg, Ontario, has had, boasting a 4.5 hour round ‘guarantee’.  Another progressive alternative is to reward fast play.  The deep thinkers of the national governing bodies of golf can skirt around this all they want, but the issue is real, deeply problematic in my opinion, and requires some innovative solutions that need to balance a ‘carrot and stick’ approach.  And using a 14 year-old scapegoat at the 2013 Masters, in my opinion, is weak when the issue is much more pervasive.  Perhaps the “While we’re young” campaign needs to be aimed inward at the USGA.  Time and resources can be better utilized leading an action agenda toward solutions, creative and innovative ideas, not gimmicks likely to be lost on the most heinous offenders.  After all, we all impacted by the challenges around pace of play.  John Gordon of Canadian Golf Magazine says it best, “If you love this game, you will take a personal responsibility for it”.

I’m interested in your thoughts.  Is slow play really a serious issue for golf?  What is the greatest challenge that leads to slow play in golf today?

P.S. Special acknowledgement to an excellent article (pg. 11) on the issue of slow play in golf by Canadian Golf Magazine’s Steve Auger which inspired this post.