Notes: The pains of playing late Thursday and Friday

By Doug FergusonMarch 15, 2016, 10:56 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Even though Sam Saunders has had only one close call at winning on the PGA Tour, he has felt the pressure of playing the final hole.

In his last two PGA Tour starts, Saunders has gone into the dangerous part of the course with no room for error as he tries to make the cut. He made it through the ''Bear Trap'' at PGA National with four straight pars in the Honda Classic. And he closed with two tough par saves last week at the Valspar Championship.

Adding to the difficulty is the time of day.

Saunders plays out of the lowest priority, meaning he often gets the last tee time. With that comes a few distractions, making the task that much tougher.

''There's isn't one guy out here who wouldn't tell you tough it is,'' Saunders said. ''You're dealing with stuff that's ... it's strange. There's some people out on the course that are hooting and hollering. You're dealing with all the volunteers packing up and leaving. It's getting dark, so the rules officials are watching you because they want you to finish. Sometimes it can be a little tough to stay focused and not be distracted. Because there are a lot of distractions late on Friday.''

Last week, he got up-and-down for par on the 17th, and saved par from behind the 18th green to finish at 3 over and make the cut on the number. He didn't realize that because amateur Lee McCoy had made the cut, Saunders could have made bogey on the last hole and made it to the weekend, though with 85 players, there would have been another cut after 54 holes.

''I thought I had to make par and I hit a really good chip,'' he said. ''To hit that shot under that circumstance, it's extremely satisfying and you take a lot from that. And made cut is a made cut. And it's never a bad thing.''

A 67-70 weekend at the Honda Classic gave him a tie for 14th. A 68-72 weekend at Innisbrook gave him a tie for 22nd.

Saunders, the grandson of Arnold Palmer, will be taking on more duties at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. But it's still a PGA Tour event, and he fully expects to be in the last group no matter what side of the draw he is on.

''I'm always last off, and it's frustrating at times,'' he said. ''I think the earliest tee time I've ever had for Thursday-Friday was third or fourth from the last group. But most importantly, I'm getting a tee time. No complaints.''

Saunders has a tee time at Bay Hill this week. He's in the last group Thursday.


KNOX GOES TO AUGUSTA: Russell Knox is playing in his first Masters next month, and part of him looks as much forward to the Par 3 Contest.

The son of his late coach will be his caddie.

Mike Flemming was the Jacksonville University coach who recruited Knox from Inverness, Scotland, and remained his coach and mentor as he made his way onto the PGA Tour. Flemming died two years ago, and Knox choked back tears thinking about him when he won in Shanghai.

''It was always my coach and mine's dream to get to Augusta,'' Knox said. ''Even on the mini-tours, that was the goal. He would joke, 'Let's get to the Masters before I die.' He obviously didn't make it. So when I did qualify, it only made sense to have him (Neal Flemming) come along for the par 3. My coach's wife will be there as well.''

Knox already has shared the experience with his father, who accompanies him - but did not play - when Knox played Augusta National for the first time in early February. Knox couldn't decide who had the better time.

''He said the word, 'Wow!' about 10,000 times,'' Knox said of his dad. ''So that was cool. It's a great place. I can't wait.''


PADRAIG'S ADVENTURES: Padraig Harrington flew halfway around the world after the Valspar Championship to New Delhi, where he will play the Hero Indian Open. He said it would be his first time playing in India since 1994, a week that marks one of his career highlights.

It wasn't a major. It wasn't a Ryder Cup.

It was his accountant's exam.

''My mother informed me that I got my exam results at home, and they told they weren't going to open them,'' said Harrington, who studied accounting at Dublin Business College. ''They steamed them open. They told me if I failed, they weren't going to tell me. But because I passed, they told me.

''That was the week I became a qualified accountant.''

He never finished what he referred to as ''my articles'' for the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, and thus never officially was an accountant. Harrington will have to settle for a pair of British Open titles, a PGA Championship, six appearances in the Ryder Cup and 11 times representing Ireland in the World Cup.

He said he has three honorary doctorate degrees.

''I can put all those letters after my name, but I can't put 'ACCA' because I didn't do my articles,'' he said. ''Life is funny. I don't see it as a disappointment. One thing I learned is you have to have an expert look after those things.''


LPGA TO CBS: Five years after the LPGA had only two tournaments on network television, it picked up its seventh of the season when CBS said it would broadcast the final round of the Marathon Classic on July 17.

That means the LPGA will be shown on network TV for four straight weekends in July - the U.S. Women's Open (Fox Sports), Marathon Classic (CBS), International Crown (NBC) and Ricoh Women's British Open (NBC).

The other network events are the KPMG Women's PGA (NBC), the Evian Masters (NBC) and the CME Group Tour Championship (ABC).

''Our team has been focused on expanding our network TV coverage, which gives us a chance to showcase the LPGA to a much broader audience to attract more casual fans,'' LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said.


DIVOTS: The final spot in the 120-man field came down to the 85th position in the FedEx Cup standings. Blayne Barber and Sung Kang were tied at 236.340 points. The tiebreaker was last year, and Barber got the nod because he finished No. 121 in the FedEx Cup, and Kang was on the Web.com Tour. The good news for Kang? He got in, anyway, when Kevin Na withdrew. ... Harrington went from Florida to India and then will return to Texas for the Shell Houston Open, where he would have to win to qualify for the Masters. ''If I sat home and didn't give myself a chance, I would feel I was letting myself down if I didn't try,'' Harrington said. ... Saunders is moving his wife and two young sons from Fort Collins, Colorado, to St. Augustine. Saunders said he loves Fort Collins: ''If I did not play golf for a living, I'd live there for the rest of my life.''


STAT OF THE WEEK: The Valspar Championship at Innisbrook was the first time since the Texas Open that no one shot lower than 66 all week.


FINAL WORD: ''Arnold Palmer made golf sexy.'' – Jason Day.

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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.”