Finding what makes a fluke in a major

By Doug FergusonJuly 12, 2011, 7:11 pm

SANDWICH, England – Ben Curtis is no fluke.

At least not now.

After winning the British Open eight years ago at Royal St. George’s as a rookie, Curtis has gone on to win twice more on the PGA Tour. He played on a winning Ryder Cup team (not many Americans can say that). And he nearly won another major in the 2008 PGA Championship until two bad tee shots over the last five holes made him a runner-up, two shots behind Padraig Harrington.

Some players wouldn’t mind a career like that.

Even so, any conversation about a “fluke” winner at a major invariably includes Curtis, and he’s probably higher on any such list than he should be.

What made Curtis such a surprise in 2003 at Royal St. George’s was that not many outside his immediate family knew who he was. That included the local caddie he hired for the week, Andy Sutton, who’s first reaction to being told of an American in need of a caddie replied, “Ben who?”

Then again, Curtis was a 26-year-old rookie on the PGA Tour. He only got into the British Open two weeks prior with a tie for 13th in the Western Open, his best finish of the year. He was No. 396 in the world ranking. And he was playing his first major.

By all accounts, that’s the very definition of a surprise.

A big surprise.

The harshest comment that week came from Davis Love III. He was frustrated like so many others by the goofy bounces at Royal St. George’s, and when Curtis was holding the claret jug, Love said, “The Open got exactly the champion it deserved.”

An unpredictable links, a winner no one imagined.

Curtis felt at times as though people expected an apology from him. The leaderboard featured an All-Star cast of contenders, from Vijay Singh to Tiger Woods, from Love to Kenny Perry. And the championship belonged to Thomas Bjorn until he took three shots to escape a greenside bunker on the 16th and squandered a two-shot lead on Sunday.

“It didn’t really bother me what other people thought,” he said. “I know what I did that week.”

He had the lowest score, which all that ever counts.

What makes Curtis stand out is that he was on the practice range, having finished well before the final group, when Bjorn made par on the last hole and Sutton leaned out of the scoring trailer next to the range and said, “Ben, you’re the Open champion.”

He was a surprise because no one really saw it coming until it was over.

Shaun Micheel was different. In the very next major, at Oak Hill for the PGA Championship, Micheel shot 68 in the second round to take the lead and he never lost it. Leading by one shot on the final hole, he hit 7-iron to within inches for a signature moment on an otherwise nondescript week.

It was his fifth season on the PGA Tour. He was No. 169 in the world. He had never won in 160 previous starts as a pro on tour, and he had only one finish in the top three, the previous year at the B.C. Open.

Was that a fluke? His golf sure didn’t look that way at Oak Hill, especially considering Micheel had to cope with being atop the leaderboard over the entire weekend on a difficult golf course.

Since then?

He went three years without once getting into contention or finishing among the top three, a stretch of 83 tournaments that ended when he was runner-up at the PGA Championship, although he was never a factor at a major that Tiger Woods won by five shots.

The PGA Championship remains his only win, although Micheel has been slowed by health issues in recent years.

Just what is a surprise when it comes to majors?

“You could say I was a surprise,” Justin Leonard said.

Most wouldn’t agree with him. Leonard was so good in college that he won a U.S. Amateur and made it on tour without ever going to Q-school. He had already won twice on tour when he arrived at Royal Troon in 1997. But hear him out.

“You’ve got Darren Clarke and Jesper Parnevik in the last group,” he said. “I’m playing with Fred Couples. Now, out of those four guys, how many people would have thought I would win?”

A dozen years later, it was a surprise when Leonard didn’t win the British Open. He was part of a three-way playoff with Jean Van de Velde and Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie, the major famous for Van de Velde’s comical collapse on the 72nd hold to make triple bogey, and Lawrie setting a record by coming from 10 shots behind on the last day to eventually win.

Lawrie, no doubt, would get plenty of votes in the category of shock winners.

Most players would define surprise as someone who had never won before, who had never seriously contended in a major, who had never played in a major or who did not look like he would win until he showed up at the trophy presentation.

John Daly was the ninth alternate in 1991 PGA, spared any talk of a fluke because of how far he hit the ball, and by winning at St. Andrews four years later. Louis Oosthuizen, the defending champion at this British Open, is loaded with talent and one of the sweetest swings. Even so, he had missed the cut in seven of his eight majors, and the lone exception was when he was dead last in a PGA. Then he won at St. Andrews by seven shots.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is one of the most celebrated wins by an American - Francis Ouimet, playing in his first major in 1913 at Brookline, across the street from his house, beating the great Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.

Even more stunning was in 1955 at Olympic Club, when Jack Fleck’s late heroics got him into a playoff with Ben Hogan and then beat him the next day in a playoff. And don’t forget Orville Moody, who’s only win came at the 1969 U.S. Open.

They all had one thing in common.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done,” David Duval said. “You had the best score of anyone else that week.”

Think someone like Colin Montgomerie wouldn’t love to be able to say that?

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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 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.


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.”