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USGA moves to please disabled golfers, Open contestants and average joes

By Alex Miceli

WASHINGTON – An expanded tournament schedule, a deeper purse and a simpler rulebook.

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The U.S. Golf Association, distinguishing itself from other governing bodies in the nation’s capital, rallied together Saturday at the Ritz-Carlton to disclose some big changes at its annual meeting.

President Diana Murphy, elected to a second one-year term in a pro forma move that had been announced months ago, joined executive director Mike Davis in announcing:

  • A proposed national championship for golfers with disabilities. It’s unclear when and how the USGA will launch the tournament, but the association is looking at working with other entities in the disabled community. Changes in the rules governing play and equipment would be part of the tournament, to help disabled golfers enjoy the game.  “While we allow a disabled golfer reasonable things to hold a club, we’ve never deviated from … the rules, they’re going to play with conforming equipment. . . .,” Davis said. “We really want to look at that and say should there be certain medical exceptions or conditions that would better invite golfers of disabilities.” Davis also suggested that the USGA wants golf to be included in the Paralympic Games, perhaps as soon as 2024.  
  • An increase in the U.S. Open purse, to $12 million, up from $10 million. Since the Fox Sports TV agreement began in 2015, the USGA had not increased its purse for its biggest national championship, and Davis said it was time. The purse for the U.S. Women’s Open also will increase, to $5 million, and the Senior Opens (the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open will be held in 2018) will improve to $4 million. “We need to make sure that this purse is consummate with the prestige and the importance of these championships,” Davis said.
  • A simplified/modernized draft of the Rules of Golf. The draft, expected to be released simultaneously by the USGA and R&A in March, is being characterized as a major change, with a goal of making the rules easier to read, understand and apply. “If we get this thing right, at the end of the day we’re going to have a lot more than just elite golfers trying to know how to understand the rules and interpret the rules,” Davis said. “This is going to be for all golfers.” The draft will be out for public comment for approximately six months before the R&A and USGA review the feedback and work toward a Jan. 1, 2019 implementation.
  • A reset on rules reviews. Officials want to eliminate the sort of confusion that marred last year’s Open at Oakmont. “We will go to our graves saying the right ruling was actually given,” said Davis, referring to a prolonged one-stroke penalty assessed after eventual winner Dustin Johnson was deemed to have caused his ball to move, “but how it was applied in terms of timing, that was a bogey.” The USGA hopes to reduce the need for video reviews.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read.