State of the Game: Golf through Arnie's eyes

By Arnold PalmerDecember 29, 2013, 3:20 pm

This is the season of nostalgia. As one year of memories gets packed away, another filled with opportunity beckons. Before we jump headlong into 2014, I’d like to take a few minutes and remember some of the good people we lost in 2013.

My formative experience with losing a loved one came in 1950. I was a senior at Wake Forest when my roommate, Bud Worsham, was killed in an automobile accident. Bud was my best friend; in fact, he was the reason I had attended Wake Forest in the first place. What made his loss even harder to handle was the fact that I might very well have been in that car that night had I not opted to skip a Homecoming dance and instead attend a movie.

I bring that up because there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of Bud Worsham. There’s not a facet of my life that hasn’t been improved for knowing him, albeit so briefly. I’ve lost many loved ones over the years: my father in 1976, my mother in 1979 and of course, my wife Winnie in 1999. But Bud’s death taught me the lesson – wrenching as it was – that death is a part of life, and that the memories are worth the pain. I celebrate that lesson in remembering these departed friends.


Miller Barber: If all you knew about Miller Barber was his golf swing, you’d say he had no shot. He had the ultimate chicken-wing right arm and held the club virtually perpendicular to the ground at the top of his backswing. But what people overlooked with Miller – as they do with most good players with unorthodox swings – was that he had a great release through the ball. And while he may not have been the most athletic looking player, Miller was very strong and very powerful.

He also enjoyed a pretty colorful nightlife, though one that was opaque to the rest of us. In those seemingly simpler days, groups of us would often get together and frequent the same bars or restaurants, but Miller never told us where he was going that night or where he’d been the night before. As a result, our PGA Tour colleague Jim Ferree dubbed Barber “The Mysterious Mr. X.” Over time the moniker was reduced simply to X.  Up until the last time I saw him, I still called him X, not Miller. He had a great sense of humor and took to the nickname. But he also remained the man of mystery and a very close friend. 


Bill Campbell: Bill was not only one of the great gentlemen of the game, he was one of the great gentlemen, period. Sandy Tatum, the high priest of American amateur golf, once said that “in the whole history of golf there have been just two ultimate quintessential golfers: Bill Campbell and Bobby Jones.”

Like Jones, even though he lived a full life off the course, Bill regularly competed against the best players in the world. Although he and I were never paired together in a major championship, we did compete in 1965 when Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and I took on three outstanding amateurs in Bill, Deane Beman and Dale Morey. I wasn’t playing my best, and as we were walking down the fairway I was trying to keep a positive outlook. I said to Bill, “My father always said to me, ‘He can who thinks he can.’ Bill, do you believe you can force yourself to do things?”

Bill said, “Well, Arnold, I can’t argue with that. You’re pretty strong evidence of it.”

Perhaps the story that best illustrates Bill’s exalted place in the game came from Jack Nicklaus. Years ago Jack had been debating the finer points of amateur status with Frank Hannigan, the former executive director of the USGA. Jack said to Frank, “Name one top amateur who doesn’t take anything from the manufacturers.’

“Bill Campbell,” replied Hannigan. Jack paused for a moment. “Okay. You can have Campbell,” he said. “Name another one.”


Photo gallery: Arnold Palmer through the years

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Frank Stranahan: Stranny, who passed away in June, is one of the most overlooked talents in the history of the game. This guy was sensational. He pretty much won everything there was to win as an amateur, including three North and Souths, three Western Ams, two Canadian Ams and two British Ams. The only important amateur trophy that eluded him was the U.S. Amateur, in which he finished runner-up in 1950.

Given that he came from a wealthy family (his father founded Champion spark plugs), many of us expected Frank to remain a lifelong amateur, but he turned pro and won six times on the PGA Tour before leaving competitive golf in the mid-1960s to focus on business. “Muss,” as we also called him because of his fastidious appearance, had the complete package: a terrific game, dazzling good looks and lots of money. People credit Gary Player with bringing fitness to the game, but Stranny, who used to travel with barbells in his suitcase, was a devoted fitness buff and health nut. He ran dozens of marathons, and competed in bodybuilding and weightlifting well into his 70s.

One last note about Frank. I am often given credit for “salvaging” the British Open in the early 1960s. We can argue whether the game’s most historic championship really was in danger of sinking, but it is safe to say that after World War II, many American competitors simply found it easy and more profitable to compete here in the United States. Frank never quit on the Open. He continued to compete there on a regular basis, and finished second in 1947 and 1953. His devotion to the Open Championship is what inspired me to go over in 1960. I won the following year, and I’ve been credited ever since with “saving” the Open, but it was Frank who paved the way.


Pat Summerall: His football colleague John Madden put it best when he said of the millions of sports fans who embraced Pat Summerall’s mellow brand of broadcasting, “They invited a gentleman into their homes.”

Whether it was football or golf, Pat became as much a part of the fabric of American sports as the leather on the arms of our easy chairs. I thought it was a beautiful gesture when Augusta National Golf Club offered him membership upon his retirement from television. Though out of the spotlight, the final years of Pat’s life, when he reacquainted himself with the most important thing in anyone’s life, family, were some of the happiest he ever enjoyed.


Ken Venturi: Ken became well known to casual golf fans when he joined the television booth in the late 1960s, but he was a force in the game as early as the late 1940s. A student of Byron Nelson and frequent playing partner of Ben Hogan, Ken was a formidable talent whose career was both sparked and unraveled by physical ailments. He first took up golf as a 13-year-old in response to his teacher’s diagnosis of Ken as a “an incurable stammerer.” He took up the loneliest sport he knew.

His ironman performance in winning the 1964 U.S. Open while battling severe dehydration remains the hallmark by which on-course toughness is measured. But ultimately it was another physical challenge, carpal tunnel syndrome, which forced his early retirement in the late 1960s and encouraged his transition to the broadcast booth.

Ken and I will likely forever be linked by a rules decision invoked while playing in the final round of the 1958 Masters. On the 12th hole, I hit a 6-iron off the tee and my ball plugged into its own pitch mark on the back fringe of the green. The ground was wet and soft, and a local rule providing relief from an embedded ball was in effect all week. I was leading by a shot, and just to be safe I called over the rules official, the late Arthur Lacey. I proposed that I could lift, clean and drop my ball without penalty to a spot as close as possible to the original position and no nearer the hole (a stance with which Ken agreed), but Lacey disagreed, saying I had to play the embedded ball. I knew I was right, but I wasn't in much of a position to argue. Finally, I said, “I'm going to play two balls and appeal to the tournament committee.” I knew I had that option under Rule 3-3a.

Lacey objected, saying, “No sir, you cannot do that either.” I told him, “Well, that's exactly what I'm doing.” I played the original ball as it lay for a 5 and then announced that I was about to play a second ball. I dropped to a clean lie and made par. Ken objected, saying that I was required to announce to him that I was going to play two balls before I played the original. The officials on site at the Masters reviewed the case, agreed with me, and I won my first Masters by a shot.

That incident affected our relationship. We both wrote about it in subsequent books, each of us insisting that we were right. I think the whole episode says more about the confusion built into the Rules of Golf than it does about me or Ken. I regret that the incident affected our relationship. Ken was a remarkable human being, and a warm and true friend to thousands of people in and out of the game.

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Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.

PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Web.com Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.

Good time to hang up on viewer call-ins

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 7:40 pm

Golf announced the most massive layoff in the industry’s history on Monday morning.

Armchair referees around the world were given their pink slips.

It’s a glorious jettisoning of unsolicited help.

Goodbye and good riddance.

The USGA and R&A’s announcement of a new set of protocols Monday will end the practice of viewer call-ins and emails in the reporting of rules infractions.

“What we have heard from players and committees is ‘Let’s leave the rules and administration of the event to the players and those responsible for running the tournament,’” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status.

Amen.

The protocols, formed by a working group that included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and the PGA of America, also establish the use of rules officials to monitor the televised broadcasts of events.

Additionally, the protocols will eliminate the two-shot penalty when a player signs an incorrect scorecard because the player was unaware of a violation.



Yes, I can hear you folks saying armchair rules officials help make sure every meaningful infraction comes to light. I hear you saying they make the game better, more honest, by helping reduce the possibility somebody violates the rules to win.

But at what cost?

The chaos and mayhem armchair referees create can ruin the spirit of fair play every bit as much as an unreported violation. The chaos and mayhem armchair rules officials create can be as much a threat to fair play as the violations themselves.

The Rules of Golf are devised to protect the integrity of the game, but perfectly good rules can be undermined by the manner and timeliness of their enforcement.

We have seen the intervention of armchair referees go beyond the ruin of fair play in how a tournament should be conducted. We have seen it threaten the credibility of the game in the eyes of fans who can’t fathom the stupidity of a sport that cannot separate common-sense enforcement from absolute devotion to the letter of the law.

In other sports, video review’s timely use helps officials get it right. In golf, video review too often makes it feel like the sport is getting it wrong, because timeliness matters in the spirit of fair play, because the retroactive nature of some punishments are as egregious as the violations themselves.  

We saw that with Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration this year.

Yes, she deserved a two-shot penalty for improperly marking her ball, but she didn’t deserve the two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard. She had no idea she was signing an incorrect scorecard.

We nearly saw the ruin of the U.S. Open at Oakmont last year, with Dustin Johnson’s victory clouded by the timing of a video review that left us all uncertain if the tournament was playing out under an incorrect scoreboard.

“What these protocols are put in place for, really, is to make sure there are measures to identify the facts as soon as possible, in real time, so if there is an issue to be dealt with, that it can be handled quickly and decisively,” Pagel said.

Amen again.

We have pounded the USGA for making the game more complicated and less enjoyable than it ought to be, for creating controversy where common sense should prevail, so let’s applaud executive director Mike Davis, as well as the R&A, for putting common sense in play.

Yes, this isn’t a perfect answer to handling rules violations.

There are trap doors in the protocols that we are bound to see the game stumble into, because the game is so complex, but this is more than a good faith effort to make the game better.

This is good governance.

And compared to the glacial pace of major rules change of the past, this is swift.

This is the USGA and R&A leading a charge.

We’re seeing that with the radical modernization of the Rules of Golf scheduled to take effect in 2019. We saw it with the release of Decision 34/3-10 three weeks after Thompson’s loss at the ANA, with the decision limiting video review to “reasonable judgment” and “naked eye” standards. We’re hearing it with Davis’ recent comments about the “horrible” impact distance is having on the game, leading us to wonder if the USGA is in some way gearing up to take on the golf ball.

Yes, the new video review protocols aren’t a panacea. Rules officials will still miss violations that should have been caught. There will be questions about level playing fields, about the fairness of stars getting more video review scrutiny than the rank and file. There will be questions about whether viewer complaints were relayed to rules officials.

Golf, they say, isn’t a game of perfect, and neither is rules enforcement, though these protocols make too much sense to be pilloried. They should be applauded. They should solve a lot more problems than they create.

Lexi 'applaud's USGA, R&A for rules change

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 5:15 pm

Lexi Thompson’s pain may prove to be the rest of golf’s gain.

David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, acknowledged on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" Monday that the new protocols that will eliminate the use of TV viewer call-ins and emails to apply penalties was hastened by the controversy following Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in early April. The new protocols also set up rules officials to monitor TV broadcasts beginning next year.

“Clearly, that case has been something of a focus point for us,” Rickman said.

Thompson reacted to the new protocols in an Instagram post.

“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson wrote. “In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”

Thompson was penalized two shots for improperly returning her ball to its mark on a green during Saturday’s round after a viewer emailed LPGA officials during Sunday’s broadcast. She was penalized two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard for her Saturday round. Thompson ultimately lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

The new protocols will also eliminate the additional two-shot penalty a player receives for failing to include a penalty when a player was unaware of the penalty.

Shortly after the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A led the formation of a video review working group, which included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America.

Also, just three weeks after Thompson was hit with the four-shot penalty, the USGA and R&A released a new Rules of Golf decision decision (34-3/10) limiting video evidence in two ways:

1. If an infraction can’t be seen with the naked eye, there’s no penalty, even if video shows otherwise.

2. If a tournament committee determines that a player does “all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement” in determining a line or position to play from or to spot a ball, then there will be no penalty even if video replay later shows that to be wrong.

While the USGA and R&A said the new decision wasn’t based on Thompson’s ANA incident, LPGA players immediately began calling it the “Lexi Rule.”