Captains, controversies and the bad Rules of Golf

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Luke Donald’s name is circulating as possibly the next Ryder Cup captain for Europe when the matches head to Italy in 2023. Is Donald the next logical choice or are there others who should get the nod ahead of him?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Luke has played in a number of Ryder Cups, and, much as we may forget, was ranked number one in the world for over 40 weeks a little over a decade ago.  There may well be other names that come to mind, like McDowell, Stenson, McIlroy, or Lowry, but they’re all still young and will probably make the Euro team as players.  Luke Donald is still young, but his best playing days are behind him, and he deserves a shot at the captain’s role.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Luke would be a fine choice. But Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey, Lee Westwood or Ian Poulter would be great choices too. Of the last three mentioned, all are playing well enough to potentially make the team, but that shouldn’t exclude them from consideration (insert Tiger). Personally, I’d like to see Poulter as Captain, who wouldn’t? But I honestly don’t think you could go wrong with any of the above-mentioned players, they all have a bit of a personality that I’d like to see for that week.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: This is a trick question. The most popular choice would be Lee Westwood who has an incredible record in the matches and in his career. BUT! Recently, he withdrew his name from consideration citing “the Ryder Cup is a full-time job and because I still want to play, I cannot commit 100% to both”. Then according to the European Plan, a player is supposed to serve as Vice-Captain first. Of those qualified, all have a similar number of wins but Donald and Kaymer have reached World #1. Stenson and Donald have the best Ryder Cup records, but McDowell has won a major as has Stenson. I’d love to see Stenson just to hear his humour but Kaymer with 2 majors is my pick.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Seems a bit premature, but both sides are running out of sages. Don’t know, is the captain that important? Whatever he says in the luxury suite, still have to hit it off the peg on the first … as you have for years and years as a junior and aspiring pro and maybe Tour player and maybe Major winner. I think the captain sets the menu for maybe the opening meal, and then cheerleads.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): It would appear that others who might be under consideration still want to compete. Which leads me to suggest that maybe the time has come to go back to having playing captains. They say it’s too big a job, but does it really have to be? It’s a golf match not an armoured invasion of Europe. Eliminate all Captain’s picks so no player analysis is required, get an assistant to pick the team shirts and leave the rest of the detail to the hundreds of freeloaders from the two organizing associations. Donald will be a fine captain, but I’d much rather see Westwood, Poulter, Stenson or Garcia as a playing captain.

Some grumbling this past weekend about course set-ups on both sides of the world. On the DP World Tour, Tyrell Hatton went all Hatton in a rant about the Yas Links in Abu Dhabi, while closer to home, Jon Rahm was caught on video complaining about US courses turning into putting contests after three straight weeks of low scoring. While critical comments are often part of the frustration of not winning, the Tours have worked overtime to curb any negativity about host venues and have doled out fines for players crossing the line. By protecting their brand above all else, are Tours robbing fans of a glimpse into the real personality of the players?

Deeks: Yes, I think so.  Not that I have much interest in hearing spoiled multimillionaires complain about working conditions on lush, manicured resort fairways.  I just wish they’d shut up.  And I wish they’d make the courses harder before I lose complete interest in watching guys make 12 birdies per round.

Loughry: I think you need to embrace the good with the bad on Tour. By trying to hide or bury negative situations that inevitably happen around events or to/by Tour players, I think that actually tarnishes the Brand. I’m not saying condone issues/situations, just be transparent about it. Controversy is healthy, as it leads to discussion, and that can lead to change (sometimes for good, sometimes not). I do think fans are short-changed somewhat, but whenever an issue arises it gets amplified, maybe that’s due to social media, but maybe it’s because it’s hard-to-find controversy, so when there is a spark, it gets turned into a forest fire.

Schurman: NO! The TOUR has an obligation to protect its product. I’ve spent the past 60 years organizing events, promoting the game, giving time and money to it. I didn’t do it for a big pat on the back. I did it because I enjoy it. Players can be divided into 3 categories: those who win regularly, those who are frequent contenders and everyone else. The top players constantly travel from city to city and event to event they are rarely anywhere long enough to do anything but compete. I’m thankful for them because they add interest to whatever I am promoting. If there’s a charity involved, more money is raised. If it’s a PGA of Canada or Ontario event we attract more sponsor dollars. We need the best players. However, I am here at home going to work every day and in my spare time working to help coordinate golf functions these same players are here once or twice a year before moving on to the next location where guys like me are giving hundreds of hours to the success of tournaments and the betterment of the game. Strangely, the largest beneficiaries of my efforts are the ‘winner’ players. They are also the most critical, most outspoken, least appreciative. Often, they treat me as though I work for them telling me what I should and shouldn’t do usually their input favours themselves. Sometimes I wish I did; at least I’d get paid minimum wage.

Quinn: Without question, the tours have gone TV trying to get the ‘younger’ audience with long drives, eagles and birdies. Really liked Rahm’s wild mike — it should have been network mike — calling out the PGA Tour. They keep saying these guys are good. Yes, they are. If they are going to play for tens of millions of dollars in front of a TV audience (the only real gallery) then they should be challenged.

Mumford: Definitely agree that the birdie binges are tiresome but so too is the tight control the Tour maintains on everything. I don’t need them to become the next incarnation of World Wrestling, but a little controversy and some well-chosen comments would add some flavour to what is becoming weekly pablum.

The NFL playoff format received much criticism after the Kansas City – Buffalo game went into overtime last Sunday and KC won the coin toss and then won the game on their first possession. Buffalo never had a chance to even the score. Most think this is a bad format, and the rule should be changed so that both teams have at least one possession or they play for a set amount of time. Most of us can also think of a few Rules of Golf that are problematic or unfair. What rule in golf would you most like to see changed?

Deeks: I watched that NFL game and was gobsmacked when it ended without Buffalo being given a kickoff to return, and an opportunity to tie.  What kind of system is that??  As for golf, I’ve often said that if I was the King of the Game, I’d throw out the rule book and replace it with a maximum of Ten Rules, one of which would apply to John Daly’s wardrobe.  But the one that always gets me is the 14-club rule.  Why can’t I use as many or as few clubs as I like?  I still have to hit the shot well, no matter what implement I apply.  I mention this to other people, and some get almost violent in defense of the rule, but I still don’t see why it’s necessary.

Loughry: I’ll go a little off grid here (away from touching the ball, playing from a divot and the like). The number of clubs reduced to 10. I just think this would make players become more creative in their shot making, get back to more of a “feel” game. There would still be power, but I think reducing the number of clubs each player would provide for more entertainment (half shots that can’t spin as much or carry as high). It would also be interesting to see what choices are made. I think we’d find out quickly who the true ball strikers are, and by extension the “players”.

Schurman: Golf has play-offs too. This season the PGA TOUR has decided the player ‘first in’ has the honour of replacing the long-held tradition of drawing the order from a hat. I don’t have a problem with that being the order on the first extra hole but there is a huge advantage to driving first on a hole. Each player should be treated fairly, and the teeing order should rotate on each hole, so each player has the same opportunity. The first player drives first on #1 but the second player drives first on #2, etc. In the case of more than two players in the play-off designate their order 1, 2, 3, etc. and then #1 drives first on #1, #2 drives first on #2, #3 drives first on #3 etc.

Quinn: A pal of mine had a long-time pal named Paul Gur. Of course, they nicknamed him “Ground Under.” And of course, Paul went on to a celebrated career as a golf course superintendent, diligently repairing ground needing repair. A divot — despite what TV announcers say — is not the scar on the turf but the tuft of turf dislodged by the club. So, despite what all the TV guys say, you can’t land in a divot. It’s not only improbable, but pretty darn near impossible, to land on a divot. So, when the scar caused by the ‘divot’ being sent flying is repaired by a ladle of sand and seed that scar — by definition — is now ground under repair. Case closed. Relief, finally.

Mumford: As a slightly more than occasional wild driver, I’m often peeved that my penalty is determined by where my ball gets lost. For instance, a wicked slice could put me out of bounds, deep in the woods or in a pond. (Don’t get me started on “penalty area”. It’s a f%&#ing pond.) OB and lost in the woods are both penalized as stroke and distance (effectively two strokes), while the pond only rates a one-stroke penalty. Yet all those tee shots were equally horrible. A better solution in my view would be to penalize all three shots one stroke and the next shot would be played within two club lengths of where the ball went OB, entered the woods or the pond. If any doubt exists as to where to drop, each hole could have a designated drop area. This would speed up play and probably align with the way most golfers play casual rounds anyway, which is to call everything a lateral and act accordingly.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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