Tour Players Turn Against Governing Bodies Over New Rules
Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka and Andrew Landry have two things in common - they are all tournament winners and they all hate some of golf’s new rules, in particular the one concerning dropping the ball under penalty from knee height.
You may remember that Fowler was penalised for dropping the ball from shoulder height at the WGC-Mexico Championship, and was not amused. Officials have it within their gift to tell a player he has dropped the ball incorrectly but must do so before the player strikes the ball, and that did not happen in Fowler’s case, thus the penalty. So when he had to drop the ball at the Honda Classic, Fowler made a big play of dropping it between his legs, like a duck laying an egg. He is clearly not happy with this rule. And he is not alone. It seems we cannot get beyond a tournament without somebody voicing their views about the absurdity of it all. And they all say the same thing - dropping the ball from shoulder height does not give them an advantage, so why should they be penalised?
Thomas has been especially vocal in his criticism. "There’s no reason for me to sit up here and tell you guys I think the rules of the golf changes are great when I don’t. I think they’re terrible,” Thomas said. “So why would I say that? I think anything you can do that’s going to change the game positively, or have an impact on something, there’s no reason to feel like you need to hold back.”
He later said that he wasn’t upset by any particular rule change - it was all of them. “Pretty much all of them seemed like they didn’t better the game, to me,” he said. “I mean, the ball-dropping thing is weird, it doesn’t make sense. The tapping spike marks thing down — I understand that, but I think it’s a great amateur rule. I just think as a whole they just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.” Early in the year, he said he “couldn’t take himself seriously” putting with the pin in. And when Denny McCarthy was penalised for his caddie standing behind him, Thomas called the rule “ridiculous” and “mind-blowing” in a tweet.
So are the USGA and and the R&A actually listening?
Well, the USGA left Thomas fuming at the Honda Classic when they responded to his criticisms on Twitter of all places. “Justin, we need to talk,” the USGA tweet said, responding to Thomas’s comment that the USGA needs to communicate with players. “You’ve cancelled every meeting we’ve planned with you, but we are reaching out again. We were at the first 5 events, and tournaments last year, and your tour has had a seat at the table for 7 years. We’d love nothing more than to give you a seat. Call us.”
Thomas was not impressed “To be honest I find it a little shocking,” he said. “You know, I’ve had communication with the USGA, and I’ve talked with a couple of people about how I feel about having conversations with them, about what myself and the players think. It was a little upsetting just because it was inaccurate. I haven’t canceled anything, especially any meetings, but it is what it is, and all I want is the best for the game of golf and the best for the sport, and that’s what we’re going to continue to try to communicate with each other to get that.”
The USGA followed up its initial tweet by saying, “Justin, thanks for connecting with us offline. We look forward to meeting with you and talking through these issues. It’s clear we both want to do what’s right by the game.” But asked if a meeting had been scheduled, Thomas said, “Not that I know of. That’s the hard part. We’ve tried to get on a couple calls, and I was in the middle of this three-week stretch, so I was like, ‘Look, I’m sorry, this time isn’t very good.’ But we’re definitely going to talk at some point, but we’ve had conversations this year multiple times with a couple different people. It’s not like it hasn’t happened. It’s just — it hasn’t the last three weeks because I’ve been at a tournament, and that’s my main focus.”
However, the USGA later retracted leading to further PR embarrassment.
After further and more direct conversations with @JustinThomas34, we realize he did not avoid a discussion with the USGA nor cancel any meetings. We value his and all players’ opinions and are committed to a productive dialogue as the golf world adjusts to the modernized rules.— USGA PR (@USGA_PR) March 5, 2019
It is pretty obvious that the USGA could have handled this better. Using a public forum was clearly not a brilliant idea. John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s senior managing director of championships, said: “It’s clear that direct communication on important topics is critical. We are happy we will have the opportunity to have a live conversation in the coming days. It’s important that we foster a direct connection with players. We have been at several tournaments and we will continue to do so. We have been reaching out to players after every rules issue and after we’ve seen their posted comments back to us. We want to open the door.”
The key thing here is that we are not talking about a few isolated voices speaking out in protest. Jordan Spieth started it at the Sony Open in January. “You drop it knee height, but like, what’s the advantage of dropping it shoulder height? It’s actually probably a disadvantage, so why can’t you still do that? You should be able to drop it from shoulder to knee height in my opinion.”
A few days earlier Bryson DeChambeau said the same thing.
After his run-in with the rules in Mexico Fowler said: “With the new rules that have been put in place, it’s not doing any favours for our sport. I think it will definitely be changed,” he said. “We have been making fun of the knee drop for so long that it was ingrained the first time I took a drop this year. Like, ‘This is an iconic moment. I get to drop from my knee and look stupid.’ So, no, like I said, it was on me but I think it’s a terrible change.”
Treating a tournament professional like a naughty schoolboy hardly sounds like an organisation who want to open the door. It is quite clear that Thomas and his fellow players feel that their views have not been taken into account. It is equally clear that something needs to be done to address this ball-dropping rule before it descends into a total farce.
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