USGA technical director Matt Pringle spent parts of both days at this week's Pace of Play Symposium in Far Hills, N.J., attempting to dispel the seeming contradiction. Arguably the best data he had to prove it came out of a joint partnership that the USGA entered with the LPGA in 2014 to try and improve pace of play on the women's tour -- one in which the average round time was reduced by 14 minutes.
At the start of the season, the LPGA employed 10-minute intervals between its starting times when playing in threesomes. Officials tracked times for the first six events of the year and passed this information on to the USGA. During these events the average time for a round was 4 hours 54 minutes, with the average time for the longest round of the day being 5:12 and the longest round recorded overall taking 5:35.
Analyzing the times, Pringle recommend to LPGA officials to try 11 minute intervals in their tee times, suggesting that part of the reason for the long rounds came from players waiting on groups ahead of them. LPGA chief tour operations Heather Daly-Donofrio said there was some apprehension initially from players concerned it might lead to more delays, not fewer, but they eventually agreed to try it figuring they could always go back if it didn't work.
In short order, the times actually did drop, with the average round taking 4:49, the average of the longest round of the day falling to 5:04 and the longest round overall coming in at 5:24.
Additionally, the LPGA also made a change to its own pace-of-play policy on tour, which went into effect at the Kingsmill Championship in May. Rather than assign a time par for all groups to conform to, only the lead group would now be required to meet the time or be subject to warning and individual timing over shots. Subsequent groups, meanwhile, would be responsible instead with maintaining position on the course in relation to the group preceding it.
"The time par policy [for all players] had people focusing on groups behind them and whether they had people waiting on them," Daly-Donofrio said. Conversely, the new policy emphasized focusing on the group ahead and making sure you're not too far back.
The combination of the new policy and 11 minute intervals has results in even faster play. The average round time fell to 4:40 -- 14 minutes quicker than at the start of the year. The average of the longest round was 4:54, the amount of time that previous was the overall average. And the longest round total dropped to 5:13, an improvement of 22 minutes.
The year's most talked about women's amateur is missing the year's biggest women's amateur event (Don't worry, it's a good thing)
The U.S. Women’s Amateur began Monday at Nassau Country Club in Glen Cove, N.Y., and picking a favorite to claim the Robert Cox Trophy remains the proverbial fool’s errand. Rising Alabama junior Emma Talley is the defending champion and is a reasonable choice to win again, but don’t go betting little Sally’s college fund on it, if you know what I’m saying.
More notable perhaps than who is in the field this week who could win is a golfer who is not in the field and who, obviously, can’t. Never mind that she might just be the most talked about female amateur of 2014: 11-year-old Lucy Li.
After winning her age group in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National in April, Li made even bigger news in May when she became the youngest player to ever qualify to compete in the U.S. Women’s Open. The Redwood Shores, Calif., resident failed to make the cut at Pinehurst No. 2, but won over many fans with her game (she did manage a pair of 78s, not bad for an 11-year-old) and carefree personality.
Unlike with the men’s U.S. Open, where amateurs who simply qualify for the championship receive automatic exemptions into any other USGA amateur championship for which they are eligible, female amateurs who qualify for the Women’s Open must play 72 holes to earn additional exemptions. So it was that if Li wanted to play other USGA events this summer she had to attempt to qualify for them.
And here is where it gets kind of interesting. Li, surprisingly, decided to give it a go in just one other USGA event: the Women’s Amateur Public Links in July, where she advanced to match play but lost in the first round to Alice Chen. That meant choosing to skip last month’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, an event Li has never competed in. It also meant bypassing the Women’s Amateur, the tournament in which her name first surfaced a year ago when she became the youngest player qualify for the championship in its 119-year history.
According to USGA officials, Li and her parents (Warren and Amy), didn't want to overload the Lucy’s schedule after her Pinehurst appearance, instead having her play in local and regional events in Northern California and then giving her time to be, well, an 11-year-old. What a refreshing concept.
Indeed while many pre-teen phenoms -- not to mention their folks -- seem to run toward the spotlight when it shines, Li appears to be doing the opposite. The family has turned down the majority of interview requests since she qualified to play in the Women’s Open, preferring to maintain some privacy.
That included my request to ask about her less-than-packed summer schedule. So if Lucy is reading this post, here’s what I would have said directly: Congratulations on not getting wrapped up in celebrity just yet.
It's generally poor form to speak badly of the dead, so I'll type gingerly. Lost amid the hoopla of Rory McIlroy's British Open coronation in England, a pair of funerals were taking place in Kansas and Washington.
Last Saturday marked the final playing of the men's and women's Amateur Public Links championships, the USGA having announced their retirement early in 2013. In their place, the governing body will debut men's and women's four-ball championships in May 2015, with qualifying for the new events beginning next month.
The shuttering of the APL/WAPL was an unfortunate but understandable decision, even if the former event was the USGA's fourth oldest championship dating back to 1922. The original intent of the competition when it started in 1922 (the women's version beginning in 1977) was to promote public golf and provide municipal-course golfers the opportunity to play in a national championship that they might not otherwise have been afforded. Yet that mission was no longer being served, the number of true public golfers competing and contending having dwindled in the last two decades.
Sadly, but perhaps fittingly, the final playing of the two events proved prime examples of that fact. At Sand Creek Station Golf Course in Newton, Kan., University of Pacific senior Byron Meth, 21, defeated incoming Texas freshman Doug Ghim, 18, in 37 holes.
By all accounts, the championship showdown was riveting, Meth (above) making 11 birdies on the day and Ghim countering with seven of his own and three eagles. No matter who pulled the match out, however, the same fact would have been true: for 19th straight year a player who was in college, just out of college or just entering college would have won the APL title. You’ll have to go back to 1984 and Bill Malley, a truck driver from Hayward, Calif., to find the last true blue-collar golfer who could claim victory.
Similarly, at The Home Course in outside Tacoma, Wash., 15-year-old Fumie (Alice) Jo (below) made history by becoming the first player from mainland China to win a USGA title when she outlasted 14-year-old Eun Jeong Seong, 3 and 2, in the final.
Jo's win made her the second youngest player to claim the WAPL title, behind only Michelle Wie and her 2003 triumph at age 13. Notwithstanding the significance of Jo’s accomplishment for Chinese golf, it meant that the oldest ever winner of the WAPL was Amy Fruhwirth. She was all of 23 when she was victorious in 1992.
Photos: Meth (AP Images); Jo (USGA/Steven Gibbons)
Scott Verplank is no longer a hot young golf star, but competition still drives golf's newest senior
By Bill Fields
EDMOND, Okla. -- Upon realizing Scott Verplank would be in the field at this week's U.S. Senior Open -- he turned 50 on Wednesday, the day before the event started at Oak Tree National, where Verplank won the 1984 U.S. Amateur -- I started thinking back to covering him three decades ago when he was golf's hot young star.
Any number of bright lights have blazed lots of promise with their early exploits, but Verplank stood out with an efficient style of play, the hallmarks of which were a relentless confidence and a magical putter that could demoralize opponents. As demonstrated by the way he beat Sam Randolph in that U.S. Amateur final, he seemed to have an extra gear owned by the greats, his not based on power but precision and persistence. Verplank didn't come up hard, the way Ben Hogan did, but there was something in his golf grit reminiscent of the Hawk.
Once, recalling to me the summers in his teens when he, having been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at age 9, would play as many as 54 holes a day in the sweatbox that can be Houston on visits to his grandparents, he said, "I didn't know you were supposed to get tired."
After winning at Oak Tree, Verplank won the 1985 Western Open in a playoff over Jim Thorpe, becoming the first amateur to capture a PGA Tour title since Doug Sanders at the 1956 Canadian Open. That year he won 11 of the 26 collegiate, amateur or pro events he entered and had 21 top-10 finishes. When he turned professional prior to the 1986 U.S. Open, it was on the heels of winning the NCAA individual championship, an achievement diminished in his mind because his team, Oklahoma State, blew a final-day lead and lost to Wake Forest.
The greatness that seemed to be ahead for Verplank would be derailed by multiple injuries -- he has had five operations, including reconstructive surgery on his left wrist in 2011 -- and being an elite athlete with diabetes was never as effortless as he sometimes made it seem.
Between his second tour win (1988 Buick Open) and third (2000 Reno-Tahoe Open), there were severe elbow problems. In two seasons, 1991 and 1992, he made only two cuts in 39 starts. That kind of competitive valley would have been too much for many golfers to overcome, but Verplank persevered. He has five career wins, two Ryder Cup appearances for the United States (2002 and 2006) and has been in the top 100 on the money list 18 of 28 years.
He flirted with winning the 2011 PGA Championship when he was 47, finishing T-4 and leaving it to a wild scrum between eventual winner Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner after hitting it into the water on No. 17 at Atlanta Athletic Club and making a double bogey. A few weeks later he had the surgery on the wrist that had plagued him for two years.
With the joint still not 100 percent and the physical limitations having seeped into the mental part of the game Verplank used to be so good at, he has made only one cut in 12 tournaments on the 2013-14 PGA Tour schedule. As much as he wanted to excel at Oak Tree, in the city where he settled and has raised his family, Verplank knew it would be a long shot despite the local knowledge and lovely memory of 30 years ago.
An odd summer wind -- from the east -- blew on a hot Thursday afternoon at Oak Tree. And despite his recent struggles, it seemed strange to see Verplank unable to conjure any magic at a place he once commanded. The first few holes of his opening round were downright ugly. A par to start was followed by a bogey, double bogey and double bogey. Five over through four, he finished with a four-over 75 that could have been much worse. He topped a tee shot. He saw places at Oak Tree he has never seen.
"Fairly embarrassing," was Verplank's assessment of a round in which his score, without some lengthy par putts, could have been well north of 80. "I can get in a little rhythm on the range and feel OK, and I go on the golf course and it's terrible," he said. "All I know is, I've been hurt a lot of times in my career and I'm hitting it like I'm hurt. I'm going to have to fix that somehow. I hit it short, crooked, unsolid."
Including Verplank, there are 14 players competing in the Senior Open who played in the 1984 U.S. Amateur. If you've followed golf even a little, you've heard of most of the men who sought that 1984 national championship. Billy Andrade, Jerry Haas, John Inman, Jeff Maggert, Rocco Mediate and Duffy Waldorf are among the group. They were on the way somewhere then, to journeys they could imagine but filled with details only time and circumstance can provide.
"I may get a good night's sleep and come out tomorrow and things feel better," Verplank said. "I know I can still play. It's been a hard road. I just haven't gotten back to the level that I want to be at."
If there is any golf justice, Verplank's Friday will be a day of long-enough, straight and solid. The game owes no one, but he deserves that.
Photo: Hunter Martin/USGA
We've got upwards of 1 million reasons somebody might want to slap their logo on Martin Kaymer's golf bag
Players often finish majors upset about missed opportunities, but rarely is it the winner -- or more specifically, his sponsors -- doing the missing. From a marketing perspective, that's what happened with Martin Kaymer.
Despite having deals with TaylorMade, Hugo Boss, SAP and Rolex, Kaymer is the first U.S. Open champ in decades to carry a bag free of sponsors' logos (the sunflower was a tribute to his late mother, Rina, who died of cancer in 2008). Had one been on the bag, it could have paid off handsomely. Eric Wright, president/executive director of research at Joyce Julius & Associates, which studies sponsorship value, estimates Kaymer's in-broadcast exposure during the final round alone was worth "in the range of $600,000 to $1 million."
Without a bag sponsor all year, Kaymer might not remain that way for long. His agent, Johan Elliot of Sportyard, predicts a sponsor could sign on "in-the-not-so-distant future."Follow @MikeStachura
Although Michelle Wie is one of the best ball-strikers on the LPGA Tour, a case could be made that she won the U.S. Women's Open on the greens. The tabletop putting stroke Wie employs might be hard to look at, but it allowed her to go all 72 holes at Pinehurst No. 2 without a three-putt -- no small accomplishment on Donald Ross' turtleback greens.
Photo: Michael Cohen/Getty Images
Wie might also want to hand an assist to coach David Leadbetter. Three weeks ago Leadbetter suggested that his pupil flatten the lie angle on her Nike Method 006 putter to get her hands in a better position. Joking that "it usually takes about a month for me to listen to him," Wie had the adjustment made just prior to the Open.
"I flattened the lie angle 4.5 degrees," Wie said. "The Nike guys were here this week, and since I had a backup with me, it was a good time to make the change. I really wasn't planning to put it in play, but it felt so good I put it in the bag."
Getting the proper lie angle on one's putter might be one of the most underutilized routes to better golf. For starters, few players actually get fit for their putters, opting instead to simply grab one from the putter corral, stroke a few putts and then, like a smitten teen on a first date, fall in love immediately. Tour pros, however, realize its importance to success on the greens.
Often a lie-angle change is needed when the stroke changes. When Chris DiMarco first went to a claw-style putting stroke in 1995, he had little trouble adapting his putter to his stroke. As the years went on, however, DiMarco found the toe of his putter rising off the ground. "I just wanted to get where my left hand was comfortable on the club," he said. "I wanted it so the toe of the putter wasn't off the ground and the heel wasn't off the ground." The final solution: The same Ping Anser F putter he had been using, but with the club bent four degrees upright.
DiMarco's solution wouldn't surprise putting guru Dave Pelz. A proponent of making sure players have the correct lie angle on their putters, Pelz theorizes that many golfers set up too far from the ball, the main culprit being a putter with too flat a lie angle. In fact, according to Pelz, it is four times more likely to find a player with a lie angle that is too flat than too upright.
"A lie angle that is too flat will cause a player to reach for the ball and his hands will move out from under the shoulders," Pelz told Golf World in 2010. "That leaves the putter swinging around the body instead of along the proper path. It also places the eyes inside the target line, which can result in the player aiming right of the target." Left unsaid was that a too-upright putter leaves the eyes outside the line, with a tendency to aim left of the target.
Pelz's comments came shortly after working with Phil Mickelson and changing the lie angle on Lefty's Odyssey putter, making it one degree flatter. Keeping the face angle on path was the main reason for Mickelson's change. "Face angle means a lot more than stroke, and my face angle wasn't lined up," said Mickelson. "It was lined up at address, but it wasn't staying square throughout the putt, and it was noticeable when I started working with Pelz. . . . I spent two weeks working on it and trying to get it dialed in."
What are the telltale signs that your lie angle may be off? A good rule of thumb is that if you're in a comfortable setup position, but find the heel or toe of the putter dragging on the green before impact, then you may need to adjust the lie angle.
Of course, a player doesn't always have to adjust the lie angle to get the effect of doing so. Anytime a player changes the length of his putter, he is effectively altering lie angle as well. It is one of the reasons why some tour pros will change putter lengths after making an alteration to their stroke.
And any adjustment that helps make more putts is one worth considering.
BRENDAN STEELE // Anchor's away
After shooting 74 during the first 18 holes in sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, Brendan Steele had had enough of the anchored stroke. Particularly struggling with his distances on lag putts, Steele -- who won the 2011 Valero Texas Open while anchoring -- switched to a conventional-length putter and a non-anchored stroke for the afternoon round. Steele didn't qualify for Pinehurst, but the second 18 served a purpose. "I made the change because I had nothing to lose," he said. "It was a good time to do it."
Steele putted well enough that he continued with it at the Travelers Championship, where he finished T-5 while ranking 13th in strokes gained/putting, including an opening-round 62. Steele used a Scotty Cameron by Titleist Futura X and employed Boccieri Golf's Secret Grip, which provides a counterbalancing effect. The grip Steele used was the midsize model, weighing 155 grams. The result? "Speed control is a lot better," said Steele.
Nike RZN Black
The company's RZN line features a core with a waffle-pattern to better interlock with the mantle layer. The Black version spins less than the Platinum. Michelle Wie used the Black model at the U.S. Women's Open.
For former U.S. Amateur champion Ryan Moore, finding the right driver has been problematic. One of the reasons is Moore fights a high spin rate. At the Travelers Championship, Moore changed to a TaylorMade SLDR 430 with 10.5 degrees loft, but used the adjustable hosel to bring the loft down to 9 degrees. The move appeared to work. Moore finished T-5 while averaging 292.9 yards off the tee and hitting 80.4 percent of his fairways, ranking T-4 for the week. . . . Lexi Thompson took out her 18-degree Cobra Baffler T-Rail 2-hybrid and added a Cobra S2 Forged 3-iron at the U.S. Women's Open. Thompson added the club to give her another option off the tee at Pinehurst No. 2.Follow @EMichaelGW
Back-to-back redux? Game. Set. Match. After Pinehurst set the successful standard, now it's just a matter of when and where double U.S. Opens are played again.
Forget that the USGA got the two best players in their respective genders as winners, or that Pinehurst exceeded all hopes as a two-week host. This was a winner because the USGA regimes of past and present thought through all of the scenarios and executed things to perfection, right down to how they made sure those massive grandstands on 18 got just a little smaller so that Michelle Wie holed her final putt in front of a full house.
As spectacular as Pinehurst was in hosting these two weeks by putting forward a golf course that showed few signs of wear-and-tear for the ladies, the next venue for back-to-backs should not be in the Sandhills of North Carolina. And that's not a knock on the resort, but instead a statement about Mother Nature.
After years of asking USGA folks the common-sense question as to why the women went second in the back-to-back setup, I finally started getting answers in the last week or so. The women went second only because of possible weather issues. Not agronomy. Not sexism. Not television.
No, it was all about a possible weather delay sending the women to a Monday finish and intruding on the USGA's most important championship -- and biggest revenue source -- the United States Open.
The only beef with Pinehurst was the locale. While the Sandhills are wonderful and the heart of America's golfing core last century and this, inhabited by all sorts of nice folks with great spots to dine, two straight weeks was a lot on the people of Southern Pines and the Village of Pinehurst. It's not that they can't do it again, but if the USGA is to replicate this in the future, a larger region with more options for lodging and off-course activities needs to be part of the decision-making process.
Add up all of these elements and there is one no-brainer for another back-to-back: Torrey Pines.
The men are slated to go there for the 2021 U.S. Open. Adding a U.S. Women's Open to the week before that men's event should be a USGA priority. Here's why:
* Weather. No need to worry about the women spilling into Monday. It does not rain in Southern California in June. Period. And the morning fog isn't thick enough to delay play into Monday either, though the USGA will undoubtedly remember that near disaster in 2008 when soupy fog nearly caused a delay to what ended up as one of the greatest finishes in U.S. Open history.
* San Diego. America's finest city (so they claim) has no shortage of hotels, options for dining, options for other fun stuff to do for people setting up shop for two weeks. Flights in and out are plentiful, and the population size can support two U.S. Opens. It's also a tremendous sports town that will support two weeks of golf and, with a West Coast time zone, will deliver better television ratings.
* The course (or courses). The South Course's bowling alley fairways are not great but they are super for moving tees around and spreading out divots. The setting is second to none. A dream scenario would have the men play the South Course and the women the North, but reality says the North's first four holes are needed for corporate hospitality and media. However, if the USGA wants to get creative, they could perhaps have the women play a composite course of Torrey Pines North and South, then have the men play the entirely on the South. This would provide just enough diversity in setups, while not impacting the bottom-line issues that appeal to the USGA and television in hosting back-to-back Opens.
Pencil it in. Because as the last two weeks proved, back-to-back U.S. Opens can be tremendous for the game. And next time, let's have the men show up on Sunday before to watch the women finish. It'll be grand.
Photo: Stephen Szurlej
Michelle Wie won the U.S. Women's Open with a bag full of Nike golf equipment. I caught up with the first-time major winner by phone shortly after her victory to talk about the clubs and balls she used, including a putter that underwent a significant alteration -- and allowed her to go all 72 holes at Pinehurst No. 2 without a three-putt.
I understand you made an adjustment to your putter this week. What was it?
I did. I flattened the lie angle 4.5 degrees on my Nike Method 006. David Leadbetter suggested the change about three weeks ago, but it usually takes about a month for me to listen to him. The Nike guys were here this week, and since I had a backup with me it was a good time to make the change. I really wasn't planning to put it in play, but it felt so good I put it in the bag.
You've used blade irons for most of your career but now have a split set. Why?
I have played blades for the most part. My grandmother gave me a set of blade irons when I was very young, and those old clubs, especially the 3-iron, looked like butter knives. But it made sense to go to the split set. I still have the VR Pro Blades for the 7-iron through PW, and those are great for the shots that I'm really trying to dial in. But I thought why not take advantage of the technology available to me so I have the Pro Combo irons for the 5- and 6-irons. It's really helped me with those longer irons.
Why did you add the VR X3X Toe Sweep wedges?
Those are my absolute favorites. I started with just the 60-degree and fell in love with it immediately. It's just so good from everywhere -- sand, rough, into the grain. The toe sweep [a wider sole out on the toe area and narrower in the heel] really makes it easy to play a variety of shots, and I've added the 56-degree as well.
What do you like about the RZN Black ball?
Rock Ishii [Nike's director, golf ball R&D] first showed me the ball when we were in Oregon last year [for the Safeway Classic], and I told him I needed to play with it that week, even though it wasn't even out yet. It really was that apparent it was a good ball for me. It's a great ball in the wind, especially, and it helped me a lot when I won in Hawaii.
You only hit driver once on the final nine, but that was a bomb on No. 10. What appeals to you about the VRS Covert 2.0 driver?
I actually like that you can change the loft and lie angle with it. And I like that it doesn't spin as much as some other drivers. That's very helpful to me. The face is just really, really, fast and that's what you want in a driver.
Wie had the lie angle flattened slightly, and the move paid off as she made numerous clutch putts, including the five-footer for double bogey at the 16th on Sunday to cling to a one-shot lead as well as the 25-foot birdie putt on the penultimate hole that essentially clinched her victory.
Here's a look at the rest of the bag for the now first-time major winner:
Ball: Nike RZN Black
Driver: Nike VRS Covert 2.0 (UST Axivcore Red 69X), 9.5 degrees
3-wood: Nike VRS Covert Tour, 13 degrees
Hybrids: Nike VRS Covert (18, 24 degrees)
Irons (5-6): Nike VR Pro Combo; (7-PW): Nike VR Pro Blade
Wedges: Nike VR Pro (52 degrees); Nike VR X3X Toe Sweep (56, 60 degrees)Putter: Nike Method 006