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PGA of America endorses plan to limit scope of green-reading material, but debate rages on

August 03, 2018

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The USGA and the R&A’s proposed limits on green-reading materials received a relatively hearty endorsement from the PGA of America on Friday. Despite the natural objections of those who’ve developed the technology, the PGA’s affirmation seems to suggest the proposed interpretation will go into effect without many, if any, changes.

The joint proposal, which among other things restricts information on green-reading materials to a minimum contour of four percent, is currently in the midst of “a six-week period of feedback and consultation with interested parties.” Those interested parties include the PGA Tour and the PGA of America, both of whom had representatives serve on the USGA/R&A committee that studied the use of green-reading materials over the last 14 months and according to a USGA official “have already given us their support of the proposal.”

That news comes despite a less-than-full-throated affirmation from the PGA Tour on Tuesday, in which the folks in Ponte Vedra Beach stated that they “will collaborate with both organizations in order to get feedback on the proposal from Tour players, PGA Tour rules officials and through our governance process.”

Friday’s statement from the PGA of America, however, seemed less ambiguous: “We are generally supportive of the change, which keeps the skill of reading greens in the game and also makes for faster play. And, we are grateful to the USGA for seeking our input over the next several weeks and look forward to studying the precise language in the new rule and offering our feedback.”

Until it becomes law, scheduled for January, there remains an undercurrent of uncertainty. The topic continues to be a source of debate. Some players Golf Digest spoke to this week see it as a minor adjustment they’ll have to make, some to their advantage.

“I don't use the book, but my caddie, John Wood, does,” Matt Kuchar said. “I'm for restricting it. For guys who want to stand over it and use the aim point with their finger, you know, that's a skill. Reading a book I guess takes graphing skills or plotting skills, but it's not golf as it's meant to be—plotting your way around using a book.”

If anything, good putters think a restriction on information in green books just makes their natural talents more valuable.

“Whatever they do is going to help someone like me,” said Kevin Kisner, who is 11th in strokes-gained/putting. “I pride myself on being one of the better putters in the game, as I think I read greens better than most. I think it tends to be a crutch for a lot of guys, so I wouldn’t be against them doing away with them altogether.”

But the rule itself, which also restricts the type of handwritten notes a caddie or player can scribble in their books, might not be exactly the right measure, said Adam Scott. The former Masters champ whose choice of an anchored putting stroke was banned two years ago, thinks the green-books decision is an example of the governing bodies overreaching.

“It’s gotten away from where they want it to be,” he said. “It’s very hard to go back. They’re trying to land in the middle, and I don’t see how it’s going to work. Are they going to be checking everyone's yardage books now? I think we shouldn’t have them. But we do, so now it’s no real advantage because everyone has them. How are we going to police having illegal notes in our books? It's too much.

“It seems to be the theme with the governing bodies for the last 20 years that they let everything go to a place they don’t like and then they struggle to dial it back. I don’t get it. I don't get that the size of the arrows that you write down in your book are going to be judged. It’s all mad.”

Lost somewhat in the proposal is the effect on average golfers who almost universally don’t have access to caddies, something professionals routinely do. (The new rule on green-reading materials would also apply to players simply who are posting scores for handicap purposes.) With the green-reading material/technology increasingly being made available to average golfers, especially in the forms of smartphone apps, the question remains whether players at the elite level are effectively playing an easier game than recreational and even competitive college golfers, simply based on the information they would be able to access under the new rules.

Most vocal in objecting to the rule has been StrackaLine, which produces green books for pros and amateurs, including more than 300 college teams. A Tweet on Wednesday from Andrew Tredway, who runs StrackaLine’s college program, looks to rally objections to the proposal:

Golfscope, an app that features an augmented-reality green-reading tool, was less strident but still pointed on its Twitter feed: “It’s always a tough position to enforce rules and then to keep the rules up to date with all the advancements that are made every day. In our eyes, it’s an opportunity for everyone [who] is affected to improve.”

Perhaps no one illustrates the conflict of holding the two competing ideas in your head at the same idea the way Scott does. On one hand, there’s the idea of the skill of green reading; on the other, there’s the idea of technology made available to all, technology that hasn’t necessarily fundamentally changed the skill of making putts.

“They should just say no notes, except what you get from the tour,” he said. “But that’s weird. Why can’t you have notes? It’s just not clear. There’s no good answers.

“I feel like they're bringing up problems that they've created or allowed. Are green reading books really a problem? It's like, is anchoring really an advantage? Well, what player has ever made everything with an anchored stroke? And if it's available for everyone to try, why is it a problem?”

—additional reporting by Dave Shedloski