Attached is the transcript from interviews on this morning’s Golf Channel “Morning Drive” broadcast. Interview featured USGA Vice President Thomas J. O’Toole Jr. and Senior Managing Director, Rules, Competitions & Equipment Standards John Bodenhamer.
TOM O’TOOLE JR.
Q. Gentlemen, good morning. We were happy to bring you away from the Northeast, and we’re awfully glad that you’re here. Two weeks ago you were able to announce Winged Foot being back in the United States Open rotation. Tom, let me start with you. These two new championships, explain in detail if you would this Four‑Ball Men’s Amateur Championship and the women’s, as well.
TOM O’TOOLE: Gary, the USGA couldn’t be more excited to roll out these new two championships. It’s the first time in 25 years we’ve announced new championships, and they’re both of the four‑ball variety, the Men’s Amateur Four‑Ball Championship and the Women’s Amateur Four‑Ball Championship, and a very exciting time at the USGA, and what I’d like to call the new vision of the USGA to bring in more golfers into amateur competition, and in this format it’s very exciting.
Q. Why were these two formats chosen for the men and women as opposed to a different kind of format?
TOM O’TOOLE: Well, Mike Davis, when he was the senior director of rules and competition before moving in as our executive director, had this as a brainchild of his to expand our amateur competition by including four‑ball. As you all know, four‑ball is a very popular event, not only at the club level, but through our state and regional golf associations who conduct championships like this. So we had a model to base it on, and to bring that popular event into a national championship context, it seemed like the perfect fit.
So when Mike moved into being executive director, he came back to the championship committee and proffered this for an idea, and we spent about a year and a half deliberating it, and we’re excited.
Q. How much does this change your announcing today potentially move forward with the Walker Cup? We saw the Curtis Cup in 2008 switch from two days to three days with the addition of a four‑ball session. Could we see the Walker Cup going that same way?
TOM O’TOOLE: Good question. That’s been deliberated before. When the Curtis Cup went to the third day, we talked about having the Walker Cup go to the third day. We do the Curtis Cup with the Ladies’ Golf Union. In our discussions with The R&A about the Walker Cup there was never a great groundswell or conventional thinking that we expand it. I think it’s a good point now, we’ll continue to discuss it.
We are always reviewing our protocols for our championships, and we don’t want to stand pat, and I think this is the direction of the new USGA, and we want to expand if they think it’s right to expand. I think if the Walker Cup feels good about expanding, that will be something worth deliberating in the future.
Q. John, with respect to looking at where this championship, these two championships will fit into the USGA’s championship calendar, have you guys determined down to basically a month or basically a two‑month window in 2015 when you will conduct these?
JOHN BODENHAMER: That’s one of the unique aspects of this championship. We plan to conduct it and inaugurate it in 2015. Both championships will be annual championships, but will be in the spring, will be anywhere from late March until late May, which is new for us. We’re excited about being at that time of the year, which expands our championship calendar into the spring season, which we think will appear to any demographic of players.
Q. Will they run concurrently with respect to one being one week, one being the other? Have you kind of dealt with the details here? What’s the expectation of when which will be conducted? Will the men’s go first, will the women’s go first, and will they run within a two‑ or three‑week period?
JOHN BODENHAMER: Great questions. I think it all depends on the place that we go to. If we’re in the southern tier we could be a little earlier, in the late March or early April time frame. If we’re further north, we’ll be in the late May time frame. But we don’t have any set plans to conduct them concurrently. You could see the men’s championship on the West Coast one week, a couple weeks later you could see the women’s championship on the East Coast. There’s nothing to preclude us from doing it at the same time, but we don’t think that’ll be the norm.
Q. For amateurs that are interested in playing, a men’s Handicap Index cannot exceed 5.4, for the women it’s 14.4. How did you come up with those numbers?
JOHN BODENHAMER: This is a collaborative effort. We brought in a cross‑section from across our staff, including basically every department that has to do with conducting our championships, including our handicapping department, and we did a lot of research about who plays in our existing amateur championships and who plays in four‑ball competitions at the state and regional level, and we just kind of came up with the numbers of a 5.4 Handicap Index for men, 14.4 for the women, kind of following a pattern that exists in our Mid‑Amateur Championship and our Women’s Mid‑Amateur Championship.
It’s kind of a ‑‑ it’s uncharted territory for us. This is new. We think we’re in a good place to get things started in a good way, a popular way.
Q. The decision has been made to not really put limitations on players belonging to the same club; it could be someone from one coast and someone from the other. What are the potential difficulties you could see as these teams try to qualify and move on to the championships?
JOHN BODENHAMER: Difficulties? I think it’s the other way. I think this event, this format more than most other formats promotes camaraderie, promotes players traveling together. There’s a risk‑reward element that this format encourages. It’ll breed some exciting golf, more birdies, more eagles, those sorts of things. I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of hurdles with people having a lot of challenges in qualifying. The only challenge or only barrier to playing would be getting the ball in the hole in the lowest amount of strokes through qualifying.
Q. You’ll have sectional sites and then you will have stroke play that will turn into match play for the final 32 teams, both the men’s and the women’s, correct?
JOHN BODENHAMER: The specific format will be on the men’s side, there will be a full field after qualifying, 256 players or 128 teams or sides that will ‑‑ again, the men’s competition will play a 36‑hole stroke play qualifying, the low 32 teams will advance into match play, and that will culminate with an 18‑hole final match to identify our champion. And on the women’s side we’ll start with 128 players, 64 teams or sides that will then qualify out of stroke play qualifying. Again, the low 32 teams will play match play into an 18‑hole championship final to identify our women’s champion.
Q. It’s going to be a little time before we know the inaugural sites will be, but in concert with this announcement is also the announcement that in 2014 you will conduct for the last time the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. That began in 1922, this is the fourth oldest championship that the USGA conducts. Was this something you felt you needed to do in concert with this, and was there any way that you could have maintained the continuation of conducting this championship while adding these two others?
TOM O’TOOLE: Well, I will tell you that while it looks like it was a collaborative effort, we make these announcements together today, they really are mutually exclusive. Our championship committee and executive committee have been on a deliberative effort about our Public Links Championships for some period of time. In fact, many committees prior to us, since 1979, when the U.S. Amateur included public players into its field, this has been a subject of discussion. So it wasn’t without a lot of thought. We’re not in the business of cancelling championships, so this is a somber note, but yet the mission of those Public Links Championships, the men’s in 1922 and the women’s in 1977, no longer served that original purpose or mission.
So it was the decision of the committee that we’d go in a different direction at this time and retire those championships, and really for the next two years celebrate them with great flair and flavor because they’ve been a great fiber of what the USGA has been about, but they are going to retire at the end of the ’14 season.
Q. You’ve had such a strong roster of champions when you look at the history of the event from Yani Tseng and Trevor Immelman, Billy Mayfair, Tim Clark, the Players Champion, and also a link and really a chance to celebrate public golf. Are you concerned about losing that link every year, not to mention that the winner of the Public Links gets invited to the Masters every April?
TOM O’TOOLE: Well, and your champion yesterday, Mr. Snedeker, was a former Public Links champion. No, because so much of what the USGA is doing is about public golf. Every one of our core missions and every one of our outreaches touches public golf. Public golf is very important to the USGA. It’s important to what we are about in 2013, and we conduct many championships at public facilities, and while the Amateur Public Links and Women’s Amateur Public Links were always conducted at those, you all know that we conduct U.S. Opens now at public facilities.
Public golf is important to us. We don’t think this is an impact on public golf because all public golfers are included in all of our championships. We think our outreach is there.
Q. History doesn’t happen very often, but when you have Ryan Moore, Colt Knost winning the Public Links and the amateur in the same year, then Pearl Sinn and Jennifer Song on the women’s side, how much does it hurt knowing that can never be matched again?
TOM O’TOOLE: We’re going to celebrate the history of what’s happened since 1922. It will be in our USGA Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History and will continue to carry on this great history and great experience of some of those players that you mentioned that won both championships in the same season.
But again, we feel that because of the mission of what they were perpetuated and started to serve is no longer there, that it’s time we move on.
Again, these are hard decisions, but we think they’re the right ones for the USGA in 2013. That doesn’t mean that this doesn’t impact some people in a different way, but moving forward this is the right thing from our perspective.
Q. And finally on this, Augusta National Golf Club has always celebrated the amateur, and obviously by extending the invitation to the winner of the Pub Links. Has there been any discussion with them? Are they receptive to the idea that this is an invitation that they have honored so the idea that this is going away, that is a spot in the field which I know you hate to lose that because it’s such a great link. Have you had lengthy discussions with Augusta National and their what are their thoughts about this?
JOHN BODENHAMER: Well, we’ve not had lengthy discussions with Augusta National, and frankly they’ve been most gracious over the years I think since 1988 in extending that wonderful exemption. I think it would be ‑‑ I think the fairest way to answer that would be to allow Augusta National to answer that. It’s their exemption, and they would be apt to address it.
Q. The USGA doesn’t add tournaments very often; this is the first time you guys have done so in 25 years. Should we wait another 25 years? Do you have anything cooking for the future or are you going to see how things play out for the next decade?
TOM O’TOOLE: We don’t have anything in the pot, but as we said at the outset, we continue to look at the protocols, and what are the viability of all of our championships, and let’s continue proactive about that. It’s been 25 years. We really, really respect the past, but we’re excited about the future. We’re going to continue to keep looking forward, and whatever aspects we govern the game, and championship sites, as well.
Q. So you feel like there’s room to grow, you guys already have a pretty schedule, I think a lot of people will be interested to know what it’s like to put on an event, the logistics, the cost, the manpower it takes. You feel like you can grow even more down the road?
TOM O’TOOLE: I don’t know if it can grow, but the contribution that our host clubs contribute to host our amateur championships is significant, and you all know that. We could not do it without these great clubs, facilities, resorts, public, private, stepping up and supporting this championship schedule. It’s an imposition, and so we’re so appreciative.
If we were to expand beyond this, it has to be at the right measurement, it has to be the right feel, so we’ll continue to be proactive to look at our protocols, but again, we’re excited about four‑balls in ’15, and that’s where we’re focusing now.
Q. With respect to one our item, and that is the anchored stroke ban proposal, when you announced this, you also announced that there would be a 90‑day window of evaluation and assessment, getting feedback from virtually every party. We are getting toward the end of that at the end of this month. Where are we with that? Will that date and that window hold firm, and if it does, what can we expect on the back end of that?
TOM O’TOOLE: Well, you’re right, February 28 is when the 90‑day period and the comment period ends, and we’ve gotten an unbelievable amount of positive and really important feedback from all constituents across the game, and we will take that information collaboratively with The R&A and assess it and analyze it as we talk about coming out with a statement post‑February 28. As we’ve stated in the past, these discussions are confidential during this comment period, that we weren’t going to get involved in giving some perspective one way or another about that, but look for the USGA and The R&A to make some response post February 28 after we’ve had an opportunity to really review all this information we received.
Q. In your Annual Meeting in California, Glen Nager laid out some serious criteria with respect to addressing the idea of slow play in the game of golf at all levels. In terms of when we can expect to get quantitative data, is that going to be at the end of the year, or do you have a plan with respect to when we can get that type of information?
JOHN BODENHAMER: I think it’s safe to say that we’re in the data collection, research mode right now. We have some ideas, we have some concrete ideas, but we’re not sure exactly what that looks like. We do know that we want to do all we can to lead with our own championships. We already do that in a number of unique ways, but we’re committed to that, and so we’re trying to develop a set of best practices that will allow us to do that.
I think it’s going to take some time, but I think we are planning to implement some things this year in a meaningful way, not just for our championships but that will benefit the entire golf community, as well.
Q. Is there an issue that you think is the greatest issue in terms of growing the game in the future, slow play, the anchored stroke, distance? Is there something that you feel that is out front ahead of any issue that’s out there?
JOHN BODENHAMER: One issue, that’s a tough one. The game faces numerous issues, numerous challenges, but there are also numerous opportunities. We think the pace of play issue is an opportunity to really have a meaningful positive impact on a very difficult problem, a complex problem but one we’re ready to deal with in a collaborative way, not just in a vacuum. We think that the time is right for that. We think that it’s an opportunity to make the game even more welcoming, less intimidating, appeal to more people’s time schedules, and we’re committed to that.
I think you heard it from President Nager a week ago, it’s at the forefront. That’s one, and there are others, but that may be our biggest challenge at the moment.