As he eyes the Masters, Els has only himself to blame

By Doug FergusonMarch 20, 2012, 9:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Ernie Els has been playing the Masters since 1994, and he has not gone away entirely empty.

He has 12 pairs of crystal goblets from making eagles during the tournament. He twice won a crystal vase for having the low score of the round. And he has two silver medals and silver trays from being the runner-up in 2000 and 2004.

What he doesn’t have is a green jacket.

And that’s why Els might not be going back - at least not this year.

The sentiment is that Augusta National should give a special invitation to the Big Easy, a giant in the game in so many ways. Beyond his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame last year, Els is the modern pioneer as a global golfer with 74 wins worldwide.

But the club is doing the right thing by not giving him one.

Els has no one to blame but himself for being in this predicament. Since last year’s Masters, he has only three finishes in the top 10 (including a playoff loss in South Africa in January) and he has missed the cut six times. He started the year at No. 56 in the world and had three months to crack the top 50.

That’s what made Innisbrook so excruciating to watch. Els made a spirited run up the leaderboard Sunday in the Transitions Championship and was poised to win, which would have given him an automatic invitation to drive down Magnolia Lane. With a one-shot lead, he missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole. Needing to make par on the 18th hole to join the playoff, he tried to jam the 4-foot putt into the cup with his belly putter and pulled it badly.

Els showed a mixture of shock and anger during an awkward TV interview, yet it was a snapshot of why he’s such a popular figure. There is a raw honesty about Els that makes him real.

“I was so hot I found it difficult to even think straight,” Els said the next day on his website. “I’ve had a night to sleep on it, though. It still hurts the way I finished the tournament, but I know in my heart how well I played well week. I have to believe that if I keep doing what I’m doing, the results will reflect that and I’ll give myself plenty more opportunities to win.”

He needs one to get to the Masters.

The Arnold Palmer Invitational has a field strong enough that Els, who is No. 62 in the world, might be able to finish second alone and move into the top 50. This week is the cutoff for the top 50 in the world ranking to get Masters invitations.

Otherwise, his last chance will be to win the Houston Open.

One reason it looks as though the Masters should give Els an invitation - historically reserved for international players - is that it already gave one to 20-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan.

This is the second time Ishikawa has received an invitation.

But this isn’t about comparing Els with Ishikawa, the kid whom Els took under his wing at the Presidents Cup in November. It’s more about Els being a PGA Tour player who had more opportunities to qualify and didn’t.

The Masters, which already has the most exclusive field of any major, runs the tournament the way it sees fit. In an era when international players had a hard time gaining access to the three American majors, it was Augusta National that invited them.

Now, the club is targeting growth in Asia, along with growth in its international TV revenue.

True, Ishikawa played in all four majors and three World Golf Championships last year. Six of them, however, are in American. For some reason, Japanese players have a hard time making the adjustment - culture, golf courses, travel - to the PGA Tour until they actually set up a base in America, as Shigeki Maruyama did.

The last non-Asian to receive a special invitation to the Masters was Greg Norman in 2002.

If that’s the proper comparison for Els, then it’s no contest.

Els is on the short list of players who have had their hearts ripped out by Augusta National over the year. For five straight years, he finished no worse than sixth and twice was runner-up. The most devastating was in 2004, when Els was on the putting green waiting for a playoff when the ground shook from roars of Phil Mickelson making an 18-foot birdie to win.

Els isn’t the only player to lose to a birdie on the 18th hole. Arnold Palmer did that to Ken Venturi in 1960. Mark O’Meara did it to David Duval in 1998. Tiger Woods did it to Chris DiMarco in a playoff in 2005.

Tom Weiskopf was a runner-up four times at the Masters. There were three second-place finishes for Johnny Miller, who like Els was a U.S. Open and British Open champion.

Norman was in a league of his own when it comes to players who don’t own a green jacket.

“Greg has provided our patrons with much excitement by his inspired and superior play during his 21 years at Augusta National,” former club chairman Hootie Johnson said when he gave Norman the invitation for the 2002 Masters.

Norman twice led after 54 holes, including his infamous six-shot lead he lost against Nick Faldo. Larry Mize chipped in on him from 140 feet in a playoff. He made a late charge and was poised for a playoff until hitting 4-iron over the green on the 18th hole and making bogey in 1986. That gave Nicklaus a sixth green jacket - Norman deserved an invitation for that reason alone.

Els might need an exemption to the U.S. Open one day. He should get one as a two-time champion.

But this is the Masters.

Els has never been closer than three shots of the lead going into the final round. He had only one close call, that brilliant duel with Mickelson on the back nine in 2004. Els has immense stature in the game, but not at the Masters.

You get the sense that no one will be rooting harder for him than Augusta National, but probably not enough to send him an invitation.

The club is big on tradition, not compassion.

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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.”

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PGA Tour, LPGA react to video review rules changes

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 1:32 pm

The USGA and R&A announced on Monday updates to the Rules of Golf, including no longer accepting call-ins relating to violations. The PGA Tour and LPGA, which were both part of a working group of entities who voted on the changes, issued the following statements:

PGA Tour:

The PGA Tour has worked closely with the USGA and R&A on this issue in recent years, and today's announcement is another positive step to ensure the Rules of Golf align with how the game is presented and viewed globally. The PGA Tour will adopt the new Local Rule beginning January 1, 2018 and evolve our protocols for reviewing video evidence as outlined.

LPGA:

We are encouraged by the willingness of the governing bodies to fully vet the issues and implement real change at a pace much quicker than the sport has seen previously. These new adaptations, coupled with changes announced earlier this year, are true and meaningful advances for the game. The LPGA plans to adopt fully the protocols and new Local Rule as outlined.