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Former USGA executive director Frank Hannigan dies

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By John Strege

Former United States Golf Association Executive Director Frank Hannigan was opinionated, cantankerous at times, unafraid to step on toes, even those with which he was intimately familiar.

"Never, in the history of USGA championships, has rule 6-7, calling for a penalty for 'undue delay,' been invoked," he wrote last April.

"Observation: Sigh."

This appeared in a story he wrote on behalf of his former employer, the USGA, that appeared on its website as part of its "While We're Young" campaign against slow play.

Hannigan, who was executive director from 1983 through 1989, died on Saturday. He had undergone surgery of an unknown nature earlier in the week. He was 82.

A newspaper columnist, Hannigan was hired by the USGA in 1961, as its public information manager, and edited the USGA's publication, Golf Journal. He later became its tournament director, and in 1983, he succeeded Harry Easterly Jr. as executive director. Hannigan was credited with bringing the U.S. Open back to Shinnecock Hills, the site of the second U.S. Open in 1896, and a course not part of the U.S. Open rota.

Related: In Defense Of Uncommon Sense

After leaving the USGA, ABC sports hired him as its rules experts on golf telecasts.

He was not averse to offering his opinions, and they were often aimed at the USGA. In Golf World's Words from the Wise issue (April 1, 2013), he said this: "The USGA adheres to a structure that is totally out of date. All power is granted to the volunteer executive committee. It is absurd to say the president, who has a full-time job and may live 2,000 miles away from Golf House, is the chief executive officer."

In the same interview, he said that the '86 Open at Shinnecock Hills "was a huge success. I'm enormously proud of that. They had an absolute disaster at Shinnecock in 2004. I simply don't understand what happened. You water the damn golf course."

A memorial service for Frank Hannigan will be held April 26 at 1 p.m. at Cantine's Island Cohousing Community in Saugerties, N.Y. In lieu of flowers, the Hannigan family says donations can be made in Hannigan's name to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, or a no-kill dog shelter in your community.



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News & Tours

Jack Fleck, who 'out-Hoganed Hogan,' dies

By John Strege

He was David only in the sense that Goliath went down, but it was not a feel-good story at the time. Ben Hogan was the prohibitive favorite, however the word was defined, and even history was on his side. It was supposed to have been, anyway.

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Hogan was on the threshold of winning a record fifth U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, when along came an obscure Iowa farm boy with no credentials, none, at least, that would portend his turning history on its head.

Jack Fleck shot 69 and defeated Hogan by three in a Sunday playoff, one of sports' most notable upsets that simultaneously was Fleck's greatest triumph and an enduring disappointment in one regard.

"[I]t has always been thought of as the U.S. Open that Ben Hogan lost, not the one Jack Fleck won," Fleck said in a My Shot column in Golf Digest in 2005. "I never felt I was given credit for how well I played."

Related: My Shot: Jack Fleck

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Fleck, 92, died at 6 a.m. Friday in a rehabilitation home in Fort Smith, Ark., where he had been admitted only a week-and-a-half earlier.

"Earlier in the year, they had diagnosed him with brain cancer," Jeremy Moe, head professional at Hardscrabble Country Club in Fort Smith, said. "He was not responding very well to the treatment. He was having a hard time with it. They recently moved him into the home. Once he went downhill, he really went fast."

Moe had visited him only two days earlier and Fleck's decline was visible. "We were used to seeing him every day," Moe said, "so we've been worried about him. He came over every day until recently. Jack was a great ambassador for golf. Very friendly. He'd spend a good part of every day around here."

After the '55 Open, Fleck would win two more tournaments -- the Phoenix Open Invitational in 1960 and the Bakersfield Open in 1961 -- in a respectable, but otherwise undistinguished career. Hogan, meanwhile, declared he was through with competitive golf after the loss to Fleck.

"Listen," Fleck told Karen Crouse of the New York Times two years ago. "Hogan was my idol. You know what my 4-year-old son said? He said, 'I rooted for you, Dad, but I was sorry Ben Hogan lost.'"

Eventually the golf world came around, however, and history will recognize what Fleck understood all along.

"I out-Hoganed Hogan," he said.


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News & Tours

Communications head Joe Goode to leave USGA

By Ron Sirak

Joe Goode, the managing director of communications for the USGA, will leave the organization later this year as part of an internal restructuring, sources told GolfDigest.com. Staff was informed of the move in an email from executive director Mike Davis, sources said.

j_goode.jpgGoode, who is also a member of the governing body's senior management team, came to the USGA on Sept. 1, 2011 after 15 years as a senior communications executive at Bank of America. He served as the primary spokesperson for the USGA and had the awkward role of handling communications for the group after it switched its TV deal from NBC and ESPN to FOX last summer and in the aftermath of the failed effort by then USGA president Glen D. Nager in September to reorganize the governing structure of the USGA.

Related: The inside story of the USGA's new partnership with Fox

When push came to shove in the Nager power struggle, the powerful Executive Committee and the Nominating Committee rallied behind current president Thomas J. O'Toole Jr., who Nager wanted to bypass, and Davis as "golf guys" with more than 25 years of service to the USGA. Nager's bid was to make the organization more corporate in structure and, according to sources, commit more money to grow-the-game programs.

Related: The failed coup at the USGA

Ironically, the reorganization that claimed Goode is likely a step in that direction, giving more power to the marketing arm of the organization.

Prior to joining Bank of America, Goode was an award-winning national broadcast journalist, serving as a senior news correspondent and news anchor for Standard News Radio Network in Washington, D.C.


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News & Tours

Torrey Pines in line to host 2021 U.S. Open

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

The 2021 U.S. Open looks to be heading back to Torrey Pines -- 13 years after Tiger Woods' thrilling victory over Rocco Mediate in what many consider one of history's most dramatic Opens. 

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Joe Goode, managing director of communications for the USGA, confirmed the news first reported Tuesday by U-T San Diego.

As the website noted, the proposal is not yet finalized because it needs to be voted on by the city council, although San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer expects it to approve the measure. Goode says the vote is anticipated to come next Monday. The 2008 U.S. Open was estimated to have had an overall economic impact of $142 million on the area, according to a San Diego State University study, and boasted the second-largest attendance in Open history.

The USGA faced competition for the site from the PGA of America, which was reportedly interested in bringing the PGA Championship to the Southern California public facility. The PGA of America and the USGA occasionally spar for the same courses, notably for Whistling Straits in the early 2000s. In that instance, Whistling Straits aligned themselves with the PGA, serving as the host of the 2004 and 2010 PGA Championships, and the 2020 Ryder Cup.

Similarly, the USGA brought the U.S. Open to Bethpage Black in 2002 and 2009, but the PGA of America is now aligned with the facility to host a future PGA Championship and Ryder Cup.

A quote from USGA president Tom O'Toole Jr, from the U-T San Diego piece:

"There are a lot of chess pieces. It's a process that takes some time," O'Toole said. "We wouldn't have gone back to Torrey Pines any sooner than 10 years, and we're slightly outside that range now. We had a fabulous Open there; the city was great; and the community was incredibly supportive."


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News & Tours

Why distance-measuring devices aren't needed at the professional level

By Geoff Shackelford

With the USGA joining the R&A in allowing distance-measuring devices to be used for the purpose of gathering yardages during amateur competitions, only major professional tours and the majors are free of the information gathering tools. And this almost assuredly will remain the state of affairs going forward.

Related: Golf's most notable rules changes

Setting aside the assertion that the use of these devices will speed up play -- both organizations sounded lukewarm to the suggestion because they know better -- distance-measuring devices remain virtually useless for a professional golfer on a course with even a semblance of thought required to navigate its hazards.

Yes, caddies will use them to double check yardages during practice rounds and if a player blows a drive into an adjoining fairway, the devices certainly would come in handy to zap a yardage from a spot not covered by a yardage book. That's assuming there's a clear view of the flagstick or a hazard that could be picked up by the device.

However, left unsaid in the mysterious urgency to introduce the devices to big time golf is just how meaningless yardages are to the flagstick compared to more nuanced information such as the distance to carry key features, or to certain slopes in greens or to the fronts of greens -- especially, if there is any firmness to the ground at all.

Related: Golf Digest's list of the best GPS devices on the market

Sure, there are mechanical golfers who don't take much into consideration when assessing the shot before them, but unless they are facing a featureless, flat design, the direct yardage to the hole falls short of telling the full story before them. The next time a television sound technician picks up an intense player-caddie conversation in the fairway, note how little attention is paid to the yardage to the hole. Their discussion invariably centers on the type of shot to play over, around or near a place other than the hole. And that is why distance-measuring devices will never be needed at the professional level.

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News & Tours

USGA still deciding on allowing distance measuring devices for its amateur championships

By Ryan Herrington

A simple question arises after hearing of the R&A's Monday announcement that it has approved the use of distance measuring devices for its amateur championships in 2014:

Will the USGA follow suit?

It doesn't, however, have a simple answer. 

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Sources familiar with conversations among USGA championship committee members suggest the governing body is moving toward making a similar decision, potentially as soon as next week's USGA Annual Meeting at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort. There are still some within the association, though, who would prefer to study the issue further before following the R&A. 

The official position out of Far Hills, N.J., is that the matter is something "the USGA continues to study and consider." 

Last September, the USGA experimented with the use of DMDs at the Women's State Team Championship to see if players using range finders could help improve pace of play, a priority inside the USGA. No official data was released, but a USGA source say the results from the championship helped the case to allow their uses at more events.

If the USGA did give the green light for their use at amateur events, it would do so in a similar fashion to the R&A: approve the adoption of a local rule for its championships that has been allowed under the Rules of Golf (14-3) since 2006. Devices that measure and gauge distance are the only ones allowed by the local rule.

This local-rule provision has enabled individual tournaments and associations to move forward with using the devices. Various college events have done so in recent years. Starting last year, the American Junior Golf Association agreed to allow them for all of its competitions.

Last December, the Ladies Golf Union approved their use for its amateur championships and the Home International championship starting in 2014, but not for use in the Ricoh Women's British Open.

The R&A specified that the local rule would not be used in its Open championships or in any qualifying for them. Likewise, the USGA is not considering allowing DMDs at the U.S. Open, U.S. Women's Open or U.S. Senior Open. At those events, the yardage book will remain mightier than the range finder.


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News & Tours

Explainer: Here's what you can and can't do on the green, and why those rules exist in the first place

By Ron Kaspriske

Sergio Garcia did not tap down spike marks on his putting line on Thursday at the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi. But what if he had? And what's the big deal with tapping down spike marks, anyway?
 
To answer the first question: It's a violation of Rule 16-1a and comes with a two-shot penalty in stroke play (loss of hole in match play).


The tournament committee could have also disqualified Garcia if they felt he had gained a significant advantage by tapping down the spike marks. That would be considered a serious breach of the rules. The European Tour's Simon Dyson was disqualified at the BMW Masters in October after tapping down spike marks.

 
To answer the second question: It's a big deal because you're essentially improving your line of play (a violation of Rule 13-1) and making it easier for you to hole out. To quote Richard Tufts from his 1960 book The Principles Behind the Rules of Golf, "this simply means that the player must accept the conditions he encounters during play and may not alter them to suit his convenience." It would be like pressing down a channel from your ball's position to the hole so it can roll into the cup like a gutterball in bowling. Rules makers generally frown upon improving course conditions so you can score better. Remember that.

 
And on a more practical note, imagine how slow rounds would become if golfers were allowed to repair all the little marks and indentations on each green.
 
OK, so what CAN you do on a putting green on your line of putt? Here are six:
 
  1. You can remove loose impediments. Things such as sand, soil, stones, twigs, insects, and goose droppings. You can remove these things any way you want, provided you don't press anything down into the turf or test the surface.
  2. You can repair those little craters created when a ball hits the green.
  3. You can repair old hole plugs created when the superintendent's staff move the cup from location to another.
  4. You can place your putter down in front of your ball when you address it (remember, don't press down).
  5. You can touch the line in the process of measuring, lifting or replacing your ball or to remove a moveable obstruction such as a coin left on the green by the group in front of you.
  6. Once you putt out, provided you aren't aiding a fellow competitor with his or her putt, you can tap down spike marks, fix a damaged hole (sometimes a part of the circumference caves in) or push the hole liner back down (they sometimes get pulled up when the flagstick is removed.

And here's what you can't do:
 
  1. Repair any damage other than hole plugs or ball marks. This includes any indentations created by the 275-pound guy playing in the group in front of you.
  2. Touch your line of putt for any other reason than the ones listed above.
  3. Test the surface by rolling a ball, scraping or roughening the grass.
  4. Sweep away casual water, dew or frost.
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News & Tours

Is the USGA making a mistake with its Pinehurst U.S. Open experiment?

By Alex Myers

When the USGA announced in June 2009 it would hold the men's and women's U.S. Opens on back-to-back weeks at the same site, it seemed like a neat, almost noble undertaking. Now as that fortnight at Pinehurst approaches, some observers are wondering if it's such a good idea.

Related: 10 bold predictions for 2014

"I'm not sure they should have done it, period," NBC's Mark Rolfing said on a conference call with reporters earlier this week. "I don't necessarily think it was a great idea to have two U.S. Opens at the same venue in the same year, back to back."

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Pinehurst No. 2 will host the men's and women's U.S. Opens this year.

Beyond the question of why the USGA is attempting the double Opens at all is why the men are going first.

"They should have played the ladies first," Frank Nobilo said. "Less traffic, they could prepare the golf course, but I guess they figured the men deserve a tougher challenge, they want better fairways, maybe they can have a different set of hole locations. That's the thing, too, is you've really got to find eight hole locations, otherwise those areas are going to get punished as well. It's interesting how they're going to cope with it."

Nobilo and Rolfing both fear the greens will be in rough shape by the time the two tournaments conclude, especially since the USGA is known for pushing course conditions (See: Shinnecock, Olympic, etc.) to the limit in order to provide the world's best golfers with their toughest test of the year. In keeping with that theme, having the men play first would allow the USGA to prepare its trademark extra-thick rough, which could then be cut to what length they choose for the women's tournament.

Johnny Miller agreed that the greens and the hole locations will be the biggest problems as well, noting that the men and women will be hitting their tee and approach shots from different areas. Although he doesn't think the order matters, he does see the potential for the USGA's image taking a hit.

Related: It may be 2014, but Johnny Miller is still Johnny Miller

"I haven't heard anybody else talk about it, but I was thinking, man, they can't let these greens get rock hard and burn out and scuffed up with the women coming in because it's not good press," Miller said. "You've got to be careful about that."

Miller and his NBC colleagues don't have to be as careful with what they say about the USGA since the network's longtime relationship with the U.S. Open ends after this year. And what a talked-about finale it should be for NBC, with one of golf's meccas hosting this historic double dip. Let's just hope people aren't talking about it for the wrong reasons when it's over.

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News & Tours

USGA expected to announce changes to rules violations reported on TV

By Ron Kaspriske

From the November 18 edition of Golf World Monday:

Changes are coming to armchair rules officiating.

Related: Golf's nine most notable rules changes

The USGA and the R&A are expected to announce Tuesday new stipulations on how video is used in the reporting of potential rules violations. This announcement is part of their biennial review of the Decisions on the Rules of Golf and will take effect Jan. 1, 2014.

Other changes to the decisions book are expected, but addressing how video evidence is used seems timely considering that Tiger Woods was embroiled in several rules controversies this past year that were caught on video and reported.

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The most famous came with his improper ball drop during the second round of the Masters in April (above) while his most recent was in September when he was given a two-stroke penalty at the BMW Championship for accidentally moving his ball while trying to remove loose impediments.

Related: Golf's most costly rules blunders

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem recently discussed the "difficult and awkward" nature of fans alerting officials of rules breaches and said the tour would be studying the matter. A change by the USGA and R&A in the Decisions would keep the tour from needing to consider a policy that might run counter to the Rules of Golf.

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News & Tours

In day-long symposium, USGA hunting for slow play solutions

By Ryan Herrington

FAR HILLS, N.J. -- Playing ready golf. Using the right set of tees. Accepting slower greens and shorter rough. Not counting every shot.

These were just some of the ideas attendees discussed during a day-long symposium hosted by the USGA at Golf House that focused on the issue of slow play. 

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Titled "While We're Young: Golf Pursuit of A New Paradigm For Pace of Play," the Nov. 7 gathering brought together leaders from various constituencies within the golf industry -- panelists included representatives from the PGA and LPGA tours, PGA of America, junior organizations, regional golf associations, course management companies, architect societies and the golf course superintendents association. Subjective observations about factors that create pace-of-play issues were used to frame the extent of the problem while objective data being compiled by various research groups on recreational golfers at courses around the country was shared to help identify some fact-based solutions that can be used at facilities to address slow play's true root causes.

Matt Pringle, USGA technical director equipment standards, presented data the USGA has gathered over the past year that emphasized the importance of maintaining "cycle time"--how many minutes between when groups finish--starting with the first foursomes that tees off each day. The longer course operators can keep these cycle times in acceptable levels--often a function of the interval in which tee times are set--the less disruptive slow play will become during the day. But if the second or third groups off the first tee fall even 30 seconds behind the golfers in front of them, Pringle showed how it can add 30 or more minutes to the rounds for groups not far behind them.   

Arguably the most intriguing suggestion, however, was one not often raised in the debate because it's generally viewed as being off the table: simplifying the Rules of Golf. 


During one roundtable discussion, John Bodenhamer, USGA senior managing director/rules, competitions and amateur status, said that a reduction in the amount of time allowed to search for a lost ball (currently five minutes) was under consideration. Rules that incorporate stroke-and-distance penalties are also being reviewed to see if changes there could be made that would maintain the integrity of the game while also helping with pace of play.

"From a holistic standpoint, the Rules of Golf committee I think is willing to take a different perspective [regarding rules changes] that extend beyond simply from a competition standpoint," Bodenhamer told Golf World.

USGA executive director Mike Davis said a general review of how to simplify the Rules of Golf overall is ongoing but that pace of play is a specific prism being used to identify areas for potential change. To wit, Davis mentioned that situations where players take drops is something being looked at and whether players should be required to take a second drop in instances where the first one results in balls still being out of play--or whether they should simply place the ball at the spot the ball hits the ground as they would with a second drop.

Mind you, expecting significant changes to the Rules of Golf for the next cycle that begins Jan. 1, 2016, is a stretch. Still the possibility that some tweaks could happen in the future on the Rules front--in addition to the innovative steps already starting to be put in place to address pace of play--suggests that the problem has a genuine chance at being properly solved. 

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