USGA Officials Weigh in on LIV Golf, Equipment Changes + More

Besides Phil Mickelson, the most highly anticipated press conference of U.S. Open week was the USGA’s meeting with the media on Wednesday morning. 

USGA President Stu Francis, CEO Mike Whan and Chief Championships Officer John Bodenhamer all spoked with the media and addressed the current chaos going on in the golf world and the eventual equipment changes. 

Stu Francis, Mike Whan, John Bodenhamer

Here are some of the highlights: 

LIV Golf 

Prior to the Open, the USGA announced that players who take part in the LIV Tournament would be allowed to compete in the U.S. Open. 

Despite them being suspended by the PGA Tour. 

On Wednesday, Mike Whan had the following to say about the decision: 

“We definitely feel responsibility to this game, and we feel a responsibility to the competitors that play it. We did sit down and have a long conversation about a week before the U.S. Open, did where somebody else play and what promoter they played it with, disqualify them for this event? We decided no on that, with all the awareness that not everyone would agree with that decision.” 

He added, “Whether we all like it or not, in February 30 guys played for the same promoter in Saudi Arabia with an acceptable release from the PGA TOUR, and for years the DP World Tour has had an event there, same promoter. I’m sure there are players that both came through our qualifying and maybe teeing it up that are sponsored by those different — so we asked ourselves the question of one, one week before if you play somewhere where you’re not approved to play, would you be disqualified for the 2022 U.S. Open? And we said no.”

Whan was asked further about the LIV Golf series a couple of questions later in his press conference and admitted that he was “sad” about what is going on in the game of golf. 

“Listen, I’m saddened by what’s happening in the professional game. Mostly as a fan because I like watching the best players in the world come together and play, and this is going to fracture that. I’ve heard that this is good for the game. At least from my outside view right now, it looks like it’s good for a few folks playing the game, but I’m struggling with how this is good for the game,” Whan said. 

Whan when asked if he could see a situation in the future where players who play LIV don’t play the U.S. Open, he answered “Yes.” 

Distance Debate 

As GolfNewsRI has written about, the USGA is conducting studies on equipment and looking at possibly rolling back distance in the pro game. 

The USGA has been conducting studies on everything from clubs to balls and everything in between. 

Whan offered this update on Wednesday: 

“In March of this year we came to the media and to the manufacturers and said, we’re really focused on two potential areas: How we’ll look at testing golf balls, using essentially the same testing method we do today, but updating that testing method to really replicate the speeds of today’s game. And, quite frankly, we haven’t done that since 2004. So those speeds and the way we test weren’t representative of today’s game. And at the same time looking at a driver that might be something that we only have as a model local rule that would reduce how much spring effect is on the face and reduce some of the size of the sweet spot. Meaning, greater reward for center hits and greater disincentive, quite frankly, for missing the center of the club. 

We couldn’t figure out a way to do that on a golf club and not negatively affect the retail market, so we looked at that as more of a model local rule to be put in play in an elite competition. 

At the same time we talked about doing those two things, I don’t want to miss something else. We’ve actually talked about removing some of the other tests that have been in place for a long time. One is called initial velocity of a golf ball, and the other is the limitation on how big a sweet spot can be. 

We’re potentially analyzing removing those two tests, and the benefit of that is we think if we removed that, there’s a potential — not a guarantee, but a potential it’ll free up innovation space for the manufacturers to create a ball that would actually be better for low club speeds, be better beginners, to be better for my father. Sorry, Dad, if you’re listening. I just really took shot at my dad. But actually give the manufacturers a little bit of freedom. 

At the same time on a golf club if we freed up a little more space in sweet spot, maybe we could create even more forgiving golf clubs. 

At the same time we are trying to address distance at the highest level, we also want to make sure we respect what’s happening in the retail side of this game and the recreation game and not only enjoy it, but potentially maybe even fuel it a bit.” 

Launching Development Program 

The USGA also announced that they will be launching a development plan to help get kids into golf and keep them in golf. 

“We want to build something in the neighborhood of a $40 million grant program. We want to have a significant pool of funds to help — you can’t build an American pipeline with a couple million bucks. We’ve got to be there in a big way, and the good news for me is, and J.B. knows this, I’ve shared this around the country with a lot of people. I’m always floored how many people would like to help, both corporate and individuals that believe that this is more than past time, so I think we’re going to have a lot of friends and family join us on building an American development team process that’s going to be pretty interesting. And if not, we’re going to do it anyway, but I do think we’re going to have room for people to jump on the train with us.” 

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