Female Member Unlikely Before Masters
Despite the controversy over its all-male membership that swirls well beyond the gates of Augusta National, chairman Hootie Johnson says the Masters will be played the second week of April, no matter what.
He was equally decisive about the club's membership: No women.
Not by the next Masters.
And certainly not at the point of a bayonet.
Defiant as ever, Johnson staunchly defended the rights of a private club, suggesting the Masters has not been tarnished and that most Americans were on his side.
'We will prevail because we're right,' the 71-year-old chairman said in a Nov. 4 interview with The Associated Press.
Johnson's comments were the first on the subject since he fueled the debate with a three-page statement that defended the club's right to privacy, and criticized Martha Burk and the National Council of Women's Organizations for trying to coerce change.
He said in his July 9 missive that Augusta National may some day have a female member, 'but not at the point of a bayonet,' which has become a slogan of his resolve.
'Our club has enjoyed a camaraderie and a closeness that's served us well for so long, that it makes it difficult for us to consider change,' Johnson said during the hourlong interview. 'A woman may be a member of this club one day, but that is out in the future.'
Asked if there was any chance there would be a female member by the Masters, Johnson replied flatly, 'No.'
Burk was equally confident her group would prevail, and suggested that Johnson only broke his silence because he was starting to feel pressure.
'I had sincerely and genuinely hoped it could be settled, and I still hope so,' she said Monday afternoon. 'Hopefully, this is Hootie's last hurrah, and there still may be some pressure outside the club to make this change. That might be the case, or he wouldn't have called this interview to make points he has made in the past.'
Johnson spoke from his second-floor office, whose walls bear a photo of him and former chairman Clifford Roberts and an original portrait of Bobby Jones painted by President Eisenhower.
He was as unyielding as ever, offering the kind of assurances usually reserved for death, taxes and whether Tiger Woods has the game to contend for a fourth Masters title.
'There will always be a Masters,' he said.
He was adamant that Augusta National would not cave in to the demands of Burk or anyone else who dares to challenge the constitutional rights of a private club to associate with whomever it wants.
'This woman portrays us as being discriminatory and being bigots. And we're not,' Johnson said. 'We're a private club. And private organizations are good. The Boy Scouts. The Girl Scouts. Junior League. Sororities. Fraternities. Are these immoral? See, we are in good company as a single-gender organization.'
He sees no connection between racial and gender discrimination.
'Do you know of any constitutional lawyer that's ever said they were the same? Do you know any civil rights activists that said it was the same? It's not relevant,' he said. 'Nobody accepts them as being the same.'
Augusta National opened in 1933, the vision of Roberts, a Wall Street investment banker, and Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur ever.
The Masters was created in 1934 and has evolved into the most famous of golf's four major championships, the only one played on the same course.
Johnson, a retired banker, was 4 when he attended his first Masters in 1935. He was invited to join Augusta National in 1968, and was elected chairman 30 years later.
He is said to have worked behind the scenes to get the first black admitted to the club in 1990, shortly after the all-white membership controversy at Shoal Creek in Alabama.
Augusta National allows women to play its golf course without restrictions. Women played more than 1,000 rounds last year, and Johnson invited the South Carolina women's golf team as his guest.
So, what's wrong with having one as a member?
'We just don't choose to do that at this time,' he said.
Johnson said Burk's letter hasn't had any effect on the club's decision to invite a woman to join.
Still, the chairman clearly is annoyed by Burk's campaign. He never mentioned her by name, three times referring to her only as 'this woman' or 'that woman.'
Asked if he had any regrets about his response to Burk ' three sentences vs. three pages to the media ' Johnson smiled: 'I seldom have any regrets. I don't look back much.'
Then he turned serious and added: 'I regret that she threatened us. And I regret that she threatened our sponsors.'
Johnson dismissed the only TV sponsors of the Masters ' Citigroup, Coca-Cola and IBM ' after Burk challenged them to live up to their own policies against sex discrimination.
That will make next year's Masters, which already gets the highest ratings among golf tournaments, the first commercial-free sporting event on network TV.
Can the Masters survive financially without sponsors for more than one year?
'We could go indefinitely,' Johnson said. 'But I don't think we'll have to. We'll have our sponsors back. I just believe that we're right on this issue, and that they'll be comfortable in sponsoring the Masters Tournament.'
If some view this controversy as having the potential to mar the crown jewel of golf, Johnson certainly doesn't.
'The majority of Americans are with us on this issue,' he said, leaning back in his leather chair. 'I want you to know that.'
How can he be so sure?
'I just know it,' Johnson said. 'I know it by the response I get here.'
He reached for a letter and newspaper clipping on the coffee table, a poll from the Lancaster (Pa.) Intelligencer Journal, that asked readers to call in their vote on whether Augusta should admit women. Of 624 callers, 90 percent said no.
On his desk were four files, each one bulging with letters he said supported Augusta National and its rights as a private club.
Johnson said he has read and responded to each one.
'I don't think we've been damaged,' he said.
The only time Johnson's voice was tinged with agitation was when he wondered why his club should be penalized 'for presenting something that's good for the game of golf?'
'Something that 150 million watch around the world? Something that's a harbinger of spring? Something that is respected worldwide? We're going to be penalized for that?'
Burk has challenged several high-profile members of Augusta National to own up to their public stand against discrimination.
Lloyd Ward, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee and one of only a half-dozen black members at Augusta, said he would work for change from inside the club. American Express chairman Kenneth Chenault, another black member, also said he believed there should be female members.
That violates a cardinal rule at Augusta. The club traditionally speaks with one voice ' Johnson's.
'I'm not going to talk about members,' he said, cutting off a question about comments from executives like Ward and Chenault. 'We'll handle that internally.'
Johnson did not appear to be concerned, nor did he think the debate would steal headlines from Woods going after a record third straight Masters title.
Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.”