AUGUSTA (Ga.) — Sometimes a late-night is necessary. Sometimes its a late night. Other times, its an early day. Jeff Hall is familiar with the drill.
Hall, the U.S. Open managing direct overseeing rules, has been working on pairings for six years. His task is simple: Turn a field of 156 players in to 52 threesomes. This is a more difficult task. While some might find it tedious, Hall finds it enjoyable.
2018! It was the best. Hall laughed as he recalled the meat-centric grouping. Well, at least that time, Ruth’s Chris was one his primary sponsors on clothing. Ruths Chris Steakhouse
Halls voice changes from one octave high to another as he explains the part of his job. Hall displays a joy for finding colleges and communities and making connections that would make it easy to believe he would be a great camp counselor. The job of selecting a few people to spend extended periods of time together is similar but different. This is 36 holes, or 12 hours.
Hall stated that they try to solve the puzzle efficiently and effectively while still having fun. We try to use some themes, but they still need to fit together well. You have to be thoughtful when putting men together. Sometimes its a bombers club, or a few top putters, or maybe some Ryder Cup connections.
Hall and Mike Davis, the former USGA CEO, used to lock themselves in a room between 5 and noon. They had 156 note cards measuring 3 by 5 inches and containing the names of all players, their hometowns, and any other information that would make it easy to pair them. Hall and Brent Paladino, the USGA senior director of championship administration, sat in a similar room last year. However, they are no longer writing with pencils or faxing results. Instead, they enter the information into a computer. They started at 7 p.m., and ended at midnight.
Pairings at majors can be complicated. You need to consider the following: pace of play, preferences for TV networks (featured groups), and more!Broadcast windows (you need), Hideki MatsuyamaIdeally, he should be playing at a time when Japan can see him), and the sheer number of players who will need to play in one round of golf.
At least for the publics attention, theres a second factor: How will LIV golf players be paired?
Hall and Kerry Haigh, the PGA Championships PGA Championships Managing Director, shared their visions of how each tournament would handle the task.
Hall stated that Hall believed they deserved the right to be there. You cant hide that fact, Hall said. Brooks [Koepka]You know that he has won four majors. It is true. I believe you would want to pair him up with players of a similar standard. We will try to do that. We dont want to segregate players who play on different tours.
On Tuesday, Augusta National — which, alongside the R&A, did not make a representative available for this story — released the long-awaited pairings for the first major involving both tours. LIV players were not paired with each other, except for one exception. Jason KokrakAnd Talor Gooch. Only Cameron Smith(who is currently the sixth-ranked player in the World) was paired with another top-20 athlete — Sungjae ImSmith and other LIV players will not be featured in the featured groups.
Hall and Haigh both said that they would be paying close attention to Augustas actions. However, LIV is not clear on how they will approach the process differently.
Hall stated that Hall didnt believe it was necessary to create controversy by grouping three players on a piece paper. Hall stated, We believe the U.S. Open will bring out the best stories by having the best players do what they do best. We don’t need to stir up controversy about who the three players were that we grouped together.
Haigh stated that I don’t believe we would do anything different than we did in the past in this regard. All pros play one game, and we should be proud of how strong the field is for the PGA Championship.
Hall and the USGA enjoy telling stories with their homespun pairings. Haigh, however, would prefer to do the opposite. Their approach is more scientific. While Hall would love to pair players with the same colleges, regions, or countries, Haigh stated that the PGA prefers to split those players.
The goal of a group must be diverse and mixed, but not controversial. Haigh said that you want to mix them all up. So its different countries and different nationalities playing together. We do, however, look back at the majors and groupings of the year before just to make sure they arent playing again.
In fact, Haigh & Co. have gone through multiple computer systems that randomize the field for them. The entire field is entered into the system. It generates pairings. Haigh and his staff then go through them, with preferences: Haigh splits up the PGA professionals, sets up featured groups based world rankings, ensuring variety, and then does their traditional group consisting of the three major winners. This year, the PGA Championship will be in May so that group would be. Matt Fitzpatrick, Scottie SchefflerSmith is a LIV member.
I would imagine that group won’t be affected by. [LIV]Haigh said, The champions group is the champions group.
Both Haigh and Hall said that they dont expect things to change, but they agreed that theres always someone involved in the process who gives feedback about player relationships and whether a player should be paired up with another. Jason Gore, the USGAs player relations officer, was responsible until he moved to a similar role at PGA Tour 2022. Scott Langley and Gore would give Hall information about players who might not get along.
It wasnt a secret that Bryson was alive a few years back. [DeChambeau]Hall said that Brooks and Hall werent going to dinner frequently. Well, while it might not have been, oh! lets put them together, and really, you can generate a lot more media hits if its done. But wait a minute. Why would we do that past champions at U.S. Open. Why would we do this to these guys? It doesnt make sense.
Hall said that every once in a while he hears from a player asking him if he was tickled that he got the pairing he did. Sometimes its a player who says he enjoyed his pairing. Haigh stated that they get information from the PGA Tour every few years about certain player pairings. This supports the idea that pairings are meant to be as straightforward and noncontroversial, as possible, in order to generate excitement for the tournament.
Haigh stated, Its an important championship and you want players be focused on their game, not on who they are paired up with.
The reality is that LIV players were in the draw this year. This will be the focus of the discussion. Even Rory McIlroyTuesdays statement was that he may get along better than others with LIV players.
McIlroy stated, Look, it is a narrative and storyline. But the Masters and four major championships are above all that noise.
Although pairings can be kept as simple and uncontroversial possible, Hall and Haigh both made it clear that they cannot control Thursday and Friday. Anything is possible once Saturday or Sunday arrives.