PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — As Jim Furyk was having breakfast Sunday morning at PGA National, all anyone wanted to talk about was the USGA’s we-need-to-talk Twitter spat with one of the game’s biggest stars, Justin Thomas.
“The [USGA] has said they want to have a better relationship [with players], but that tweet sure doesn't help things,” the 2003 U.S. Open champion said. “There’s a better way to handle that situation. I have a very difficult time believing that if they really wanted to find Justin they couldn't do it.”
What a mess.
No week seems to go by in golf of late without some sort of snafu, most of them pertaining to the new Rules of Golf, which, despite USGA chief Mike Davis’ declaring them a “huge success,” have felt like anything but in the first two months of the year.
Davis and the USGA are an easy piñata given their series of missteps most notably at U.S. Opens in recent years, but there is plenty of blame to go around. Incessant whining by players to a level that’s akin to an NBA star crying foul every time he misses a shot doesn’t help.
None of this has been a good look for golf, a sport that prides itself on good looks. So now what? Is it time for professional golf to finally have its own set of rules?
Andrew Landry was among the latest to join a growing list of players advocating for such, tweeting, in part, “PGA TOUR is a players tour..we should fight to have our own rules and only follow the USGA and R&A once a year at our US Open and the Open….New rules are garbage.”
Easy target, that piñata. Also, easy to say but not so easy to do.
Furyk was on the tour’s player board when a ban on anchoring was put into the rules a few years ago.
“The idea of us making our own rules came up and [then Commissioner] Tim Finchem didn’t think it was in our best interests,” he said. “The negatives far outweighed the positives. It seems to me the negatives would still outweigh the positives. The issues are different, but I'm not sure that would be good for golf.”
Among those downsides, from the tour’s perspective, would be breaking from one of the game’s traditions that everyone can play the same courses under the same rules. Then there’s the liability, implementation and cost. And what happens when the U.S. Open comes around? Which rules then?
In short, the PGA Tour isn’t in the rule-making business. It’s in the entertainment biz. That mindset hasn’t changed under current commissioner Jay Monahan, a sentiment reinforced by his memo to players on Monday.
“[The Tour] put forward a lengthy list of recommendations to improve the rules in many ways, including the removal of numerous penalties, and virtually all our suggestions were incorporated,” noted Monahan, who added that the process of the new rules has been a collaborative one and that the tour has been part of it from the beginning. “We also had the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed rules prior to implementation, which resulted in modifications for the final version.
“You will continue to have an avenue to voice your questions and concerns, either through our team, the player advisory council or directly to USGA representatives as they continue to be on-site during our events to gather feedback.”
Monahan is far from alone in thinking tour players shouldn’t make their own rules, by the way.
“These guys have been writing the rules for us for a long time,” said Ernie Els. “I don’t think they did it to screw us. Whenever there’s change there’s going to be difference of opinion but guys will get over it and get on with it.
“I don’t believe in a warm and fuzzy relationship [with players]. [The USGA] should be the policeman. They should be the strong man. They shouldn't make friends out here. We’ve got to adapt. We are professional golfers. They make the rules for a billion people.”
The Big Easy does have a point. But on the flip side of the argument is a point within his point. Does it really matter if in your weekend round you’re dropping from knee or shoulder height? A caddie lining up his player? Unlikely (or even useful) in your home game, but on the professional level potentially advantageous, unless your boss is playing a fried egg on a downhill lie out of a bunker. Putting with the flagstick in? Great for pace of play at the local muni. Not so great on tour when one guy wants it in, another wants it out and caddies are doing the tango all around the hole.
Still, some persist.
“My answer is simple,” said Webb Simpson, another former U.S. Open champ. “We’re a professional sport and we have rules officials on tour that have been out here a long time. When we’re dealing with a $10 million purse it’s a lot different than a country-club championship. We need to have our own rules.”
A valid argument. So how would the tour go about making said rules?
“We would probably have 98 percent of them the same,” Simpson said.
“But we need to set the rules and [the USGA] adjust, not the other way around," Simpson continued. "We can’t have what’s happening keep happening.”
And if it does? What will all of this mess lead to?
“I don’t know,” said Zach Johnson. “That’s the problem."