USGA continues to confound with latest course reversal

After decades of leading the way on lowering mower heights and speeding up putting surfaces, USGA executive director Mike Davis is singing a different tune on behalf of his organization.

We’ve seen some of the slickest putting surfaces in the history of the game at U.S. Opens—Shinnecock, Winged Foot, Chambers Bay, Oakmont. At all these venues in the past 15 years have drawn ire and seen baked-out greens that were more like skating rinks.

Davis reversed course at the U.S. Open media day last week, however, suggesting things have gotten out of hand.

“I will say, and we’ve said this publicly before, too, this notion that good greens have to be fast greens is bad for golf,” Davis said. “It’s just not good.”

No, it certainly isn’t. And not only did Davis join the chorus of his organization’s critics in general, he echoed their specific barbs.

“It’s costing the game more money to keep greens fast. It compromises in some cases the health of the greens. It compromises the architectural integrity of the greens sometimes. It certainly hurts pace of play. We would just say that, taking off our U.S. Open hats for a second, that this arms race to get fast greens is not a good thing for the game of golf.”

Did you catch all that? The executive director of the USGA just admitted ultra-fast greens are more expensive to maintain, not good for the health of the putting surfaces, and contribute to slow play, the same thing critics have been saying for years.

All of this is abundantly clear. And the underlying absurdity–the real reason we’ve arrived at this point–is because of the USGA’s philosophical attachment to protecting par. In order to ensure the winning score is around even par (or above par) at the U.S. Open, the USGA began speeding up greens. And apparently not anticipating the carryover of that orientation, green speeds have been boosted all over.

Davis, however, didn’t suggest that greens will be rolling at a 9.5 on the stimp meter (slow) at Erin Hills next month, but he did call them “wonderfully conditioned.” Thus, we can hope to be spared the Chambers Bay-esque criticism of green conditions. And certainly Erin Hills’ greens aren’t nearly as undulating as the mogul-laden surfaces at Oakmont, so we can hope, too, to avoid a Dustin Johnson situation.

Ultimately, it’s nice Davis is seeing the light. However, critics of him and the organization he represents will see him as “all talk, no action” and suggest that that the real issue here is the distance and stopping ability of the modern golf ball.


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