Notes: Field at Kapalua reflects how hard it is to win

By Doug FergusonDecember 31, 2013, 6:49 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – The Tournament of Champions has all the PGA Tour winners from the previous year, but that doesn't translate into the strongest field. Only six of the top 20 at are Kapalua to start the new year, led by Masters champion Adam Scott at No. 2.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are sitting this one out, as they have for years now. Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell also stayed home because they are members of the PGA and European tours and played deep into 2013.

The field is a better reflection of just how hard it is getting to win on the PGA Tour.

The list of those who failed to qualify is nearly as impressive as those who did – Rory McIlroy, Steve Stricker and Sergio Garcia from the top 10 in the world, along with Jason Day, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Charl Schwartzel, Jim Furyk and Keegan Bradley to round out the top 20.

Also missing is Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson and Nick Watney.

Only nine players who were in the field at Kapalua have returned this year, starting with defending champion Dustin Johnson.

This is worth keeping in mind going into a Ryder Cup year.

The strength of a team is not always who's playing, but who is not. Europe was at its strongest in the mid-2000s when players like Rose, Poulter, Casey and Garcia were not locks to make the team. That led Colin Montgomerie to suggest that Europe was deep enough to field two teams.

To consider the strength of the Americans right now, consider the Presidents Cup three months ago. The team featured the usual suspects of Woods, Mickelson and Stricker. But look at who didn't make that team – Furyk, Watson, Dustin Johnson.

That could shape up as one of the top story lines for 2014 as players try to make their respective Ryder Cup teams. It won't be easy.

''You've got to look at 10 guys vying for seven spots,'' McDowell said of Europe's team. ''There's going to be two or three guys who miss – good players, quality players. I would assume (Captain Paul) McGinley's wild cards are going to be very hotly contested. No doubt it's going to be a tough team to get on.''


THE KING PAYS TRIBUTE: In his final ''State of the Game'' published on Golf Channel's website, Arnold Palmer offered poignant tributes to some of the golf personalities who died in 2013. He also wanted to set the record straight that Frank Stranahan had as much to do with invigorating the British Open as Palmer did.

The British Open didn't always get the best players, mainly because it cost more money to get there than players made in the tournament. Palmer went over in 1960, having won the first two majors that year, and he won the claret jug in 1961 and 1962.

''I am often given credit for ''salvaging'' the British Open in the early 1960s,'' Palmer wrote. ''We can argue whether or not 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.''


MILLER TIME: No other golf announcer gets under a player's skin like Johnny Miller, who has developed his own style – and vocabulary – in his 20 years with NBC Sports. Could the two-time major champion take it as well as he can dish it out?

Miller will never know.

He said on a conference call leading to the Tournament of Champions that he played in a different era of TV commentary.

''In my era, nobody said anything but namby-pamby stuff,'' Miller said. ''Nobody ever said anything that would make you upset. As Dave Marr said, we were just gilding the road back then, just making everybody look good.''

Miller does believe in compliments. He's not afraid to praise. But he believes golf is much bigger than it was in the 1970s, and viewership expects more.

''It's not just a cute little sport, or an awesome game,'' he said. ''Now it's sort of a world sport, and in the public view, they want more than, 'That was a fantastic wedge shot 30 feet right of the hole.' That's not what they want to hear.

''I hate to say it, but I'm probably the guy that got announcing a little bit more real, sort of an 'X Games' type of announcer,'' he said. ''And sometimes I wish I wasn't the way I am, but that's the way I talk about my own game, so it's just the way I viewed it. I wasn't trying to rip anybody, but I have a high standard, and I feel like the best players in the world should perform. And if they don't, I'm not going to just say, 'Oh, that was a bad break' or something.''


MR. CLUTCH: Jack Nicklaus is regarded as golf's most clutch putter during his generation. That apparently included playing against his sons.

Jack Nicklaus II was asked recently if he could recall the first time he beat his father.

''I had a putt to beat him or Dad had a putt to miss or whatever, he seemed to always make it, and I seemed to always miss,'' Jackie Nicklaus said. ''Honestly, I don't know if I recall the first time I beat him. It doesn't happen very often. It still doesn't happen very often.''

Nicklaus said all four of his sons have beaten him in casual games. But he never let them win.

''If I had a 30-foot putt to keep one of them from beating me, I probably made it,'' Nicklaus said. ''And the reason for that is that I've always felt like I don't want to ever give them anything. If they're going to beat me, they've got to beat me, and I think when you do that, then they feel like they've really earned it.''


DIVOTS: More than just PGA Tour winners are at Kapalua this week. In the days before tournament week starts, the Plantation Course featured Rory Sabbatini, Scott Piercy and Scott Verplank, all of whom are on Maui for vacation. Verplank is taking an exemption for career money and will make his first start next week in the Sony Open. He said he last played Waialae in 1987. ... Ryo Ishikawa, who earned his PGA Tour card back through the Web.com Tour Finals, moved to the top of the priority ranking in the first reshuffle on the strength of a runner-up finish in Las Vegas. ... The 30-man field at Kapalua includes 13 first-time winners.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Tiger Woods is the only player to win the Tournament of Champions and a major in the same year since it moved to Kapalua in 1999.


FINAL WORD: ''It's hard to predict golf. It was pretty easy to predict Tiger there for a while.'' – Johnny Miller.

Getty Images

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.”