Tiger's appeal, mystique eroding in Australia

By Doug FergusonNovember 9, 2011, 1:15 pm

SYDNEY – No more than 250 people followed Tiger Woods early Wednesday at the Australian Open, a sign that while he still is the main attraction Down Under, it’s not what it used to be.

When he first put Australia back on his golf schedule two years ago, some 15,000 fans complained during the pro-am round that news helicopters hovering over Kingston Heath in Melbourne kept them from hearing. The only noise over The Lakes came from endless flights taking off from the airport.

For sure, the novelty of Woods in Australia has worn off after three years.

And in large extent, so has the mystique.

This is the two-year anniversary of the last time Woods won any tournament, at the Australian Masters in 2009, when he was on top of his game and No. 1 in the world by such a large margin that it took nearly a year of mediocrity for someone to replace him. The sex scandal that shredded his personal life was exposed about two weeks after he got home.

That’s 25 tournaments worldwide, no trophies to show for it.

“In order to win golf tournaments, you’ve got to play better than I have played,” Woods said. “And as I said, making changes to my game along the way, it’s been frustrating because I haven’t been able to dedicate my time to it.”

As always, no one is sure what to expect from when he tees off Thursday afternoon. In his last start a month ago at the Frys.com Open, he was never a factor and tied for 30th. In his previous start seven weeks earlier, he missed the cut at the PGA Championship.

Now, he commands attention for everything going on around him.

It started when U.S. captain Fred Couples, declaring Woods to be the best player “forever,” said three weeks before the Presidents Cup team was decided that he would be using one his picks on him.

Then, right about the time Woods arrived in Australia for a corporate outing, he got word that ex-caddie Steve Williams used a racial slur to disparage him at a caddies award party in Shanghai. That led Williams to issue a statement of apology, new boss Adam Scott to say the comment was wrong but the apology was enough not to fire Williams, and for Woods to take the high road in saying that it was the wrong thing to say but that he’s moving forward.

Woods said Williams apologized when they ran into each other earlier in the week at The Lakes and shook hands when it was over, even though no one gets the sense this is really over.

For now, the attention will attempt to shift to the golf, and to the best field this proud championship has had in years.

The Australian Open is the fourth-oldest national championship behind Britain and the United States, and behind Canada based on the calendar. It’s past champions include Gene SarazenArnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary PlayerTom Watson and Greg Norman. The last time the Presidents Cup was held in Australia in 1998, the Australian press asked players if it should be the fifth major.

Woods is among 13 players at the Australian Open – along with captains Norman and Couples – who will be in the Presidents Cup next week at Royal Melbourne.

He will play the opening two rounds with Jason Day and Robert Allenby, with Scott (and Williams) in the group ahead of him.

There remain questions whether Woods can contend, something he hasn’t remotely done since The Masters in April, and constant speculation whether he can ever get back to the top.

“It has to be hard,” said Geoff Ogilvy, the defending Australian Open champ. “It is such a visible rehab for him. I can get injured and no one cares or notices. He ties his shoes wrong and it’s world news. I know he had struggled with his knees basically his whole life. You saw him at The Players Championship. He couldn’t walk. You can’t play golf when you can’t walk. You can’t practice.

“That, with all the other things that have been going with him, have contributed to making it hard for him to get to where he wants to get.”

Woods has attributed his demise mostly to the physical part of his game – changing swing instructors in August 2010, then coping with injuries to his left knee and Achilles’ tendon that eventually led to him out of golf for four months.

He now is clear to practice and to work out. What he lacks now is competition.

“I haven’t played a lot of tournaments this year,” Woods said. “I’ve missed pretty much the entire summer.”

He embarks on a stretch of three events in four weeks, concluding with his Chevron World Challenge the first week in December, before taking an offseason break for about six weeks.

This could take time, though his peers that once expected nothing but the best have not given up on him. That includes Scott, who finds himself in the middle of a spat between Woods and Williams.

“You can lose the form, but you never lose that talent,” Scott said. “Once he gets back into those positions with his game, he’ll find it not too hard to have that edge again. You can’t write the guy off. Every time we have, he has proved us wrong in the past. This seems like a longer time than before. He has not played that great.

“I’d love to be at the top of my game when he is back at top of his game,” he said. “I’ve love to compete against him. I’d like that opportunity. I think it would be good for the game of golf.”

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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.