A windy test awaits Open Championship contestants

By Doug FergusonJuly 13, 2011, 7:22 pm

SANDWICH, England – Steve Stricker can appreciate better than most how the British Open is unlike any other major.

One day after winning the John Deere Classic with a birdie-birdie finish on the green, manicured fairways of a TPC course in America’s heartland, Stricker was trying to stand upright on the lunar links of Royal St. George’s. The yardage book was more of a guide than the gospel. It was tough to control his golf ball through the air, even harder when it was bouncing along the ground.

“It’s quite a turnaround,” Stricker said Wednesday. “To learn and adapt to this style in 2 1/2 days is a challenge.”

That short time was all he needed, however, to learn what most others have about this links course in the southeast of England. It’s a strong test for golf’s oldest championship on a mild day. When the wind is up, which it has been all week, it can be a beast.

The 140th edition of this championship gets underway Thursday at Royal St. George’s, as unpredictable as any links on the Open rotation. This is the course where Greg Norman in 1993 became the first Open champion to win with all four rounds in the 60s. It’s the same course where Ben Curtis was the only player to break par when it was last here in 2003.

A dry spring has kept the rough from getting too thick, which is but a small reprieve.

“It’s a big challenge, and we are the best players in the world here,” PGA champion Martin Kaymer said. “So it should be tough. At the end of the day, everybody has to deal with the same golf course.”

Even so, it’s not always the same for everyone.

The piece of information getting most of the attention on the eve of the British Open was the weather report. The forecast is for gusts up to 25 mph Thursday morning with patches of rain, before the wind tapers off in the afternoon. The wind is expected to remain moderate Friday morning, then switch directions and return to gusts upward of 25 mph by the end of the day.

If that holds true, the players teeing off early Thursday and late Friday could get the worst of it. And as a reminder of how significant the tee times can be, remember that Louis Oosthuizen teed off at 6:41 a.m. in the second round last year at St. Andrews, missed the worst of the weather in his round of 67 and was on his way to a seven-shot win.

Among the early starters Thursday: Rory McIlroy, the overwhelming favorite to add the claret jug to his U.S. Open trophy.

McIlroy, who has not played since his record-setting win at Congressional last month, did most of his preparation last week at Royal St. George’s. He played in a strong, southwesterly wind, which is typical this time of the year. The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland played at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday in a wind coming out of the opposite direction.

He played at the same time Tiger Woods used to practice, and while the gallery for McIlroy wasn’t quite as large, the kid caused a frenzy when fans tried to get his autograph after he finished. For the rest of the day, officials banned autographs in the area leading from the 18th green.

It’s a different test for McIlroy, with conditions much more firm and dry than at the U.S. Open.

“It’s firm. It’s fast,” he said. “But the thing is with this wind, you’re going to have to keep the ball low. But sometimes it’s hard to run the ball into these greens because they’re so undulating and they can go so many different ways.”

The wind direction during three days of practice has the Royal & Ancient concerned enough that it might move some tees forward. Chief executive Peter Dawson said the most likely candidates were the par-5 seventh (some players couldn’t reach the fairway) and the par-3 11th (Phil Mickelson couldn’t reach the green with a driver).

Then there’s the par-4 13th, where Stricker hit driver off the tee and driver off the deck to get it near the green.

“Now, if the wind turns around, it’s a different story,” Dawson said.

It’s different for everybody – even in the same group.

Stewart Cink, who won at Turnberry two years ago, was reminded of that while playing a practice round with Davis Love III, Lucas Glover and two-time Open champion Padraig Harrington. They came to the par-3 sixth hole, which measures 162 yards to the front edge of a green that is 35 yards deep. They all hit pitching wedge with the wind in their favor.

“Some of them were short by about 50 feet, and some of them went through the green into the rough,” Cink said. “And they all landed within 5 yards of each other.”

So what does it take on this most difficult links?

McIlroy believes the second shot will be key. Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, emphasized chipping and putting because the greens are so difficult. Kaymer favored the 10-foot putts, many of which will be for par.

K.J. Choi, who won The Players Championship in May and is having one of his best years, spoke in English to describe his experience, and while the sentences were short, the meaning was clear.

“Wind very important,” he said. “This wind is the most difficult. Greens are small targets. Chipping.”

Cink came up with the best answer of all – as it relates to this British Open, and this style of golf.

“Attitude,” he said. “A lot of the field is weeded out already. They’re not accustomed to hitting good shots and being put in a bad spot. Because you don’t always get rewarded for good shots. But if you hit enough good shots, you won’t get in as many bad spots as someone who doesn’t hit a lot of good shots.”

That sounds simple enough, even though getting around Royal St. George’s can be a little complicated at times.

It all starts Thursday with a few key figures. McIlroy will try to become only the seventh player to capture the U.S. Open and British Open in the same season (that’s one thing Jack Nicklaus failed to achieve). Donald and Lee Westwood are Nos. 1 and 2 in the world, both from England, both searching for their first major on a links course that has had only one British winner since World War II.

The Americans have gone five straight majors without winning one – the longest drought since The Masters began in 1934 – and with Woods not at his best and not even playing, it’s difficult to pick which U.S. player might have a chance this week.

For all the crazy comments about this course, there’s a reason the Open is at Royal St. George’s for the 14th time, the most of any course not located in Scotland.

“We believe Royal St. George’s is a true Open Championship test,” said Jim McArthur, chair of the championship committee for the R&A. “It’s very much based on the strategic player rather than muscle. The course is in terrific condition. The wind perhaps is a wee bit stronger than we would like at the moment, but we like that wind on links courses.”

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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.”