A Thanksgiving weekend without the Skins Game

By Doug FergusonNovember 25, 2009, 2:11 am
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Each year brought more recognition to Curtis Strange. He was the first PGA Tour player to earn $1 million in a season in 1988, then he became the first player in nearly a half-century to win the U.S. Open in consecutive years.

Success brought another perk, even if it sounds silly now to mention it with the others.

He was invited to play in the Skins Game.

“That was huge,” Strange said in a telephone interview. “Remember, we didn’t play for that kind of money back then. More importantly, it was huge for everyone because of the exposure you got for two straight days. Career-wise, it meant you had arrived.”

The original Skins Game has left the sports landscape, maybe for good.

Thanksgiving weekend will have its usual television lineup of NFL games in Detroit and Dallas, college rivalries such as Alabama-Auburn, Florida-Florida State and USC-UCLA, and way too many meaningless college basketball games.

It will not include the Skins Game for the first time since it became a Thanksgiving tradition in 1983, when Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tom Watson played in a made-for-TV sensation.

Will anyone notice that the Skins Game is gone?

Probably not.

The Skins Game drew a paltry 0.7 rating on Saturday and a 1.1 rating on Sunday last year when K.J. Choi defeated a field that included Stephen Ames, Phil Mickelson and Fred Funk. Even when Tiger Woods played for the last time in 2005, the Sunday rating was a 2.6.

“On the one hand, it will be the first Thanksgiving I’ve had at home in a long time, which is good,” said Barry Frank, executive vice president of IMG Media who has produced the Skins Game since its inception. “As part of the bigger picture, I miss the event. Not having it this year is kind of upsetting. I’m hopeful for next year.”

The Skins Game was canceled when it lost its corporate sponsor, and Frank continues the search for another. Golf sponsorship is a tough sell these days.

It is easy to blame the demise of the Skins Game on the players it attracted. The years of Palmer, Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Fuzzy Zoeller and Fred Couples gave way to Fred Funk, Rocco Mediate and Brett Wetterich.

Golf became so rich that stars had little reason to spend Thanksgiving in the California desert with no guarantee of a paycheck. Strange earned $200,000 for his second U.S. Open title in 1989. He won the Skins Game five months later and made $265,000.

Prize money at the Skins Game remained $1 million. First prize was more than that at 27 PGA Tour events last year.

“I don’t think it went wrong, it got bypassed,” said Alastair Johnston, vice chairman at IMG who delivered the Fab Four for the inaugural Skins Game. “When the money didn’t become competitive, when the silly season became overburdened, when golf was on television 52 weeks, it wasn’t something special. There was no point of distinction.”

Johnston said the Skins Game in 1983 was “a relief from football,” which sounds ludicrous now until put into context.

Back then, golf went off the air after the World Series of Golf at Firestone. The PGA Tour had eight more tournaments through the end of October, and the only coverage came from print.

Then along came a unique event among four superstars, big money up for grabs on every hole.

“The Skins Game had money at stake on every shot, and people were watching,” Johnston said. “It was a very different event. It wasn’t like the Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf. It was real time. There wasn’t a great player who didn’t play in the Skins Game. You had press guys always looking for the scoop on who was going to be in the Skins Game.”

Johnston recalls one golf magazine noting that NBC Sports “finally got its major.” This was before NBC had the rights to the U.S. Open. The first play-by-play announcer? None other than Vin Scully.

“It became a staple of Thanksgiving weekend,” Johnston said. “We even thought about using Roman numerals, like the Super Bowl.”

It wasn’t long before the silly season became crowded – the Shark Shootout, the Kapalua International, the PGA Grand Slam, Diner’s Club Matches, Wendy’s 3-Tour Challenge, the Skills Challenge, even something called the Tommy Bahama Challenge.

Cable networks started televising the occasional PGA Tour event on weekdays, and now The Golf Channel combines with networks to bring all four days of every tournament. It’s a rare week when golf is not on TV.

Frank recalls the Skins Game getting ratings in the 8-9 range in the early days, second only to the Masters. Not even PGA Tour events won by Woods get that kind of rating now. And the arrival of Woods brought TV contracts that quadrupled the prize money in a decade.

Not as many people were watching the Skins Game in the final years, and some might not realize it is gone.

All is not lost. If fans want to watch golf this weekend, they can see the World Cup in China on The Golf Channel. It comes on every night at 10:30 p.m. EST. The Americans used to win the World Cup all the time with teams that featured Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Nicklaus and Palmer, Trevino, Couples and Davis Love III.

The Americans are represented this year by Nick Watney and John Merrick.

Total prize money is $5.5 million.
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.”