Keeping Score

What’s wrong with golf? Try this fivesome

Everybody has a gripe. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be a golfer, and the better a player you are, the more likely you’ll find something to complain about, which certainly shouldn’t discourage higher handicaps from grousing over stuff that really burns their biscuits.

What’s wrong with golf? Oh, goodness. Where do you start? It’s such a wonderful game until you start keeping score. It takes too long. Costs too much. Then you turn on the TV and it takes even longer. One guy wins and a hundredsomething others don’t, which in itself makes it a breeding ground of anguish, despair and, yes, the occasional complaint.

Of course, we’ve got a few ourselves. With some invaluable assistance from my editor and my podcast partner, this start-up list of grievances and grumbles dips a toe into golf’s recreational and professional sectors. Shouldn’t every journalist adhere to a policy of equal-opportunity cynicism?

Kevin Kisner
American Kevin Kisner, who hasn’t stepped foot in Europe this season nor played a purely European Tour event, nonetheless leads the Race to Dubai standings.

The Race to Dubai: If you think the FedEx Cup derby is a meaningless contrivance, check out the European Tour’s season-long run for the riches. Kevin Kisner, who has never played in a standard Euro Tour event or something that wasn’t sanctioned by the PGA Tour, sits atop the  Dubai standings by virtue of his WGC-Match Play triumph. We’re talking about a guy as American as apple pie, leading a tour on which he never actually has competed.

Four of the top five finishers in last year’s race, including reigning champ Francesco Molinari, played a vast majority of their golf on the PGA Tour. Justin Rose, who ended up fifth, didn’t even show up for the DP World Tour Championship, the year-end shebang where they divvy up the $5 million bonus pool. Long story short? It’s yet another pronounced sign of decline in Europe, where all of the best players have migrated full-time to the United States.

Sand-filled divots: For all the recent changes made to the Rules of Golf, the USGA ignored what should have been a high priority: to consider any displacement of fairway sod due to a previous shot as ground under repair. The simple fact that somebody dumped a scooper full of medicine onto a bald-faced patch of earth literally turns that spot into an area of reconstruction. Free relief not only should be allowed, but required.

Opinions might differ as to whether the GUR revision would apply to unfilled divots; you can’t make the argument that it’s “ground under repair” if nothing has been done to it. I came across numerous Internet references to clubs adopting a local rule on the matter, which amounts to progress, but Tiger Woods remains my top source on the matter. Asked at a British Open years ago to identify the rule in most dire need of alteration, Woods needed no more than a quarter-second to issue a response.

“Sand-filled divots,” he said. Hey, only the ones in your own fairway, Tiger.

Presidents Cups in December: Even with Woods assuming the 2019 U.S. captaincy, this event has become little more than another reason to get angry over America’s ineptitude at the Ryder Cup. Pushing the Prez Cup to the end of the calendar year this time around isn’t exactly a prospect of growth. You almost get the feeling that our friends at the PGA Tour are trying to hide the darn thing. Why else would they take it to Australia?

OK, all right. Enough mean-spirited joshing. A quarter-century has passed since the Tour’s team-match knockoff made its timid debut in northern Virginia, and very little has changed. The Yanks have lost just once in those 25 years. Many of their victories have come by whopping margins, although Royal Melbourne, this year’s venue, happens to be the site of the Internationals’ lone triumph, in 1998.

Any way you draw it up, however, there’s an unyielding sense of meaninglessness to this affair that actually makes the December dates rather fitting. In a year when Camp Ponte Vedra rolled out its condensed schedule, wrapping the season in August, the Presidents Cup got banished to Siberia. Figuratively and literally, it never has seemed further from America’s public eye.

The 15-event minimum: One of those outdated and largely irrelevant concepts was brought on by then-commissioner Deane Beman during his tiff with Seve Ballesteros over PGA Tour membership in the early 1980s. Players make so much money nowadays that forcing them to compete in a certain number of events becomes a double-edged sword. Besides, there are 11 “built-in” starts for those in the game’s top tier, so if you want to coerce the big boys into playing more standard tournaments, raise the number to 16 or 17. Otherwise, get rid of it altogether.

And what happens if you don’t reach the minimum? No biggie. You forfeit voting rights on things such as Tour policy and year-end awards, neither of which is likely to keep a big name awake at night. As for the biggest name of all, Woods has played in just six tournaments to date. Add the three remaining majors and a WGC, plus the distinct possibility that he’ll show up at all three playoff tilts, and he’s up to 13.

That makes an appearance at this month’s Memorial a virtual lock, or Woods could decide not to reach for 15 and rely on his lifetime exemption (20 victories or more) for status. That makes the minimum a moot point. It’s a technicality that has lost its purpose.

The 14-club maximum: First of all, I like Seth Waugh. He’s a very good man with great intentions, and though my dealings with him have been limited to a couple of conversations while he was running the FedEx Cup postseason event in Boston, he’s one of those ultra-sharp, personable guys of whom you can’t help but think highly.

Waugh was named CEO of the PGA of America last summer. A good hire? I suppose, but I’m not crazy about the gigantic roster of high-end private golf clubs to which Waugh claims membership. Shinnecock, National Golf Links, Seminole, Cypress Point, San Francisco GC, Lost Tree, Muirfield Village… The total runs into double digits in this country alone, and I’m pretty sure Waugh has a locker at Lahinch in Ireland.

Call me a myopic, dyed-in-the-wool rube, but that’s not a good look for a guy running an organization of 29,000 club pros, perhaps 20,000 of whom couldn’t afford the monthly dues at any of those places. To his credit, Waugh says he dropped his affiliations at Pine Valley and Garden City because those clubs still practice a male-only admissions policy, but the situation still smacks of elitism. Seriously, how does a man of such importance find the time to write out checks to all those establishments, much less play them?

Dude must have a really cool wife. And lousy penmanship.

John Hawkins is a longtime sportswriter who spent 14 years covering the PGA Tour for Golf World magazine. From 2007 to 2011, he was a regular on Golf Channel’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole.” Email:

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