USGA walks back Justin Thomas comments: ‘We realize he did not avoid a discussion’

Professional golf is not short on drama these days. It all started over the weekend when the person running the USGA’s PR account on Twitter fired off a tweet on Saturday accusing Justin Thomas — himself complaining about the USGA’s communication about the construction of some of the new golf rules — of bailing on meetings they had to talk about this very thing. Thomas seemed stunned and claimed it wasn’t true. Later, the USGA issued another tweet that same day saying that Thomas had connected with them and that the parties were looking forward to getting together to chat. 

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan stepped into the middle of the fray after the weekend and put out a memo that, somewhat surprisingly (?), seemed to be a bit of a clap back at some of his players for how much complaining they’ve been doing about the rules (which, as Doug Ferguson recently pointed out, have resulted in all of three penalties over the last two months).

“[The Tour] put forward a lengthy list of recommendations to improve the rules in many ways, including the removal of numerous penalties, and virtually all our suggestions were incorporated,” Monahan wrote. “We also had the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed rules prior to implementation, which resulted in modifications for the final version.

“The R&A and the USGA are our industry partners, and we have pledged to work together through the introduction of these changes and provide feedback every step of the way. We have already achieved positive outcomes this year — most notably, the clarification of the caddie-alignment rule — while we continue to focus on the remaining issues that are causing debate and discussion. None of this is unexpected.”

Then the USGA issued another statement via their PR account on Twitter saying that J.T. didn’t actually cancel any meetings. They had just gotten … confused?

This statement, apparently, was complemented by a phone call from USGA CEO Mike Davis, according to the Associated Press. The entire thing has been, to put it mildly, a complete mess.

So what are we left with after all the back and forth from the past five days? We’re left with a bunch of disgruntled players battling for control, an organization in the USGA who can do no right (and may have just falsely accused one of the five best players in the world of something he didn’t do) and a commissioner of the PGA Tour who clearly thinks the USGA is in the right here (and likely doesn’t want to bifurcate) but needs to do his best to protect his players. Golf in 2019, everyone!

“It was important to remind the membership of the role we play, how important their voices are and to continue to make certain our players give us constructive feedback we need to have a proper discussion with the governing bodies,” Monahan told the AP.

“This is an industry in which change is not a natural act,” he added. “You have this amount of change, you’re bound to have questions. We anticipated that, and that’s where we are. Some rules are getting a lot of discussion, and they will continue to get a lot of discussion. But right now, these are the rules we’re playing under, and we need to let them perform.”

This all sort of crystallized for me when I saw that Webb Simpson said the PGA Tour needs its own rules. Simpson isn’t going to say something like that unless he truly believes it, and he raises some good points. Like Chip Patterson and I talked about on our podcast on Wednesday, bifurcation already takes place in leagues like the NBA where you get six fouls and only 24 seconds to shoot. Nobody bemoans those unique rules, which were clearly created to add value to the entertainment experience.

While I don’t think the PGA Tour is looking toward bifurcation, maybe it should. Until then, though, we’ll get a tenuous triangle that includes upset players, a weary USGA and a PGA Tour commissioner trying to smooth it all over. Until next time (like, maybe this weekend).

Categories: National Sports

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