SOUTHPORT, England — It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that no news is good news when it comes tournament organizers formally speaking with the media at major championships. (Just ask the USGA and Mike Davis how it worked out last week at the U.S. Women’s Open). In that sense, R&A CEO Martin Slumbers, along with colleagues Clive Brown, chair of the Championship Committee, and Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, executive director championships, made it through fairly unscathed on Wednesday when answering question less than 24 hours before the start of the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
That’s not to say that nothing of import was discussed. Slumbers said that the R&A stands by the USGA’s position regarding the recent questions about the anchored putting stroke and whether the 2016 rules change is being applied properly.
“I know there’s been some comment about it being subjective, but we actually think it’s very clear, the statement that’s in the decision and the rule about it,” Slumbers said. “If the discussion around the methodology of the relevant players we’ve been talking about has been looked at extremely carefully by our governance people and our rules officials, as well as our colleagues in the United States and on the tour. We are all very comfortable the rule is being abided by for those players.”
Slumbers also acknowledged that driving distance numbers at the pro level have increased in the last 18 months, and potentially would be something to look at come the end of the year.
“We are watching this, and it is moving,” Slumbers told Golf World after the press conference. “If it continues, I do feel that it’s very important that the game together works out the right solution and the right question to be answered.”
So what options might be considered? Slumbers said there are a number on the table—including bifurcation of the rules, something that USGA officials have balked at previously.
“When we look at all the options we’ve got, it will have to be one of the options we look at,” Slumbers said. “Whether that’s the right thing to do, who knows yet. Up to date, we’ve had a view of one set of playing rules, one set of equipment rules, and I think that’s served our game extremely well. We must make sure we get the skill and technology right as a balance for the good of the overall game. Getting more people to play is what drives me and gets me up in the morning.”
Among other areas discussed during the press conference:
• The R&A hopes to add blood testing to its anti-doping measures for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Slumbers said that he was in agreement with the decision by the PGA Tour to add this to its test protocol starting in the 2017-’18 season. The European Tour administers the testing for the R&A at the Open, and has yet to commit to blood testing for its events. However, Slumbers says the R&A has let them know this is something they’re like in place for next year.
• Slumbers explained the decision to create an internal out of bounds on the 10th fairway for those playing the ninth hole was due to spectator safety concerns.
• The R&A isn’t sweating whether the PGA of America will move the PGA Championship to May, as is under discussion, and alter the order of the men’s majors, leaving the Open as the last in the calendar year.
“From our perspective I don't really mind whether we're the third major or the fourth major. We try to do our very best with The Open Championship to make it as good as we possibly can do.”
• Trump Turnberry’s status on the Open rota remains even with its owner now being the President of the United States.
“In due course when we get to the next date, it will be one of the courses along with the others that will be looked at.”
Last week, officials running the Scottish Open said that they aren’t likely to consider Turnberry for their tournament in 2019, in part because of the distractions President Trump could bring to the event. (Once again, ask the USGA and Mike Davis how it worked out last week at the U.S. Women’s Open.)