Woods takes golf into a year of uncertainty

By Doug FergusonDecember 6, 2009, 12:51 am

Practically every new twist in the shocking tale of Tiger Woods includes an aerial view of his Florida home where his troubles began, when he pulled his SUV out of the driveway and drove it into a tree.

More questions arise when one surveys the expanse of grass across the street — the practice range at Isleworth.

Perhaps the most pressing: When will Woods slip into his spikes, step out of his house and hit golf balls again?

There is no telling when the world’s No. 1 player will choose to return to the PGA Tour and the massive galleries that, most certainly, will not gaze upon him quite the way they did at his previous 253 Tour events.

Woods has been out of the public eye since the car crash and subsequent allegations of extramarital affairs took Tigermania into startling new territory during Thanksgiving weekend. He went 13 years without a hint of scandal, the first $1 billion athlete with barely a blemish, guarded with the media even in good times. That’s not likely to change now.

“I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors with my family,” Woods said while confessing to “transgressions” on his Web site last week. “Those feelings should be shared by us alone.”

The greater mystery is his future.

“I think he’s held at a different standard than everybody else out there,” Kenny Perry said Friday at the Chevron World Challenge. “This will be interesting to see how he handles this, though. This is a totally different knock on him when he gets out there and plays next year.”

Until the crash in the wee hours of Nov. 27, anticipation about 2010 in golf was geared toward Woods’ pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record in the majors, especially a year with Pebble Beach (U.S. Open) and St. Andrews (British Open) in the rotation.

That has been replaced by uncertainty and uneasiness.

A sport that promoted its wholesome image as its biggest asset now has a tawdry mess on its hands because of its star player, who happens to be among the most famous athletes in the world.

“What’s interesting to me about this situation is that while its bad in the short term, for golf, on a global basis, it has moved from being a sport to having iconic, celebrity status, and a whole host of other people are now interested,” said John Rowady, president of rEvolution, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency.

“And it may be a sport that is not prepared for that kind of publicity.”

The timing was not the greatest. The PGA Tour is struggling to find title sponsors at four tournaments and renew deals with at least a half dozen others. It also will start negotiations on a network TV deal that ends in 2012.

“I think one of our biggest selling points for the corporate world is that we are relatively controversy-free,” Geoff Ogilvy said at the start of the year. “We don’t generally have too many golfers getting into trouble like some other athletes in other sports do. We’re pretty squeaky-clean like that. It’s been like that for a long time. It doesn’t really seem like it’s going to change.”

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has been silent during all this. He hasn’t made himself available for comment except for a statement in support of Woods’ family and the player’s request for privacy.

Asked if Finchem would take questions about concerns for golf’s image or whether it would affect business, spokesman Ty Votaw said the Tour does not comment on “hypothetical situations, conjecture and guesswork.”

At the start of the decade, Finchem was at Pebble Beach talking about how golf was in good hands. He cited the new arrivals of Adam Scott, Charles Howell III, David Gossett, young players who represented the values inherent in golf.

No need to mention Woods.

No one ever imagined his name would be splashed across anything but the sports pages, except for being on the cover of Time magazine in 2000 during one of the greatest summers of golf.

Padraig Harrington was quick to distinguish between Woods as a player and a person.

“It’s very much a private matter there,” Harrington said. “He wasn’t … speeding or had a DUI and hurt somebody. It really is a family matter. Hopefully, that’s the worst that golf could ever do. But how it reflects on golf? I suppose things like this have happened before at times, and we move on.

“I would still say golf I know this may be saying it from inside the sport – is constantly the No. 1 sport with the moral ethics and things like that. So I think we’re in a very strong position going forward.”

Woods’ corporate sponsors said they are standing by him. Most sports marketing consultants believe the scandal involving his personal life will have little bearing on TV ratings or contract negotiations. No one can be sure, however, just as no can predict where or when he will return to golf.

“There’s no impact on the sport itself other than the fact its best asset is a little damaged right now,” said Michael Gordon, CEO of Group Gordon Strategic Communications, a crisis PR firm in New York.

“But it starts with Tiger. He’s at the top of the pyramid,” Gordon said. “When Tiger is hurt, other assets could get hurt, too – potentially the PGA Tour, sponsors, his family. It’s a little bit of a domino affect, and he’s the first domino.”

His peers at the Chevron World Challenge – the tournament Woods hosts but did not attend – have largely been supportive without passing judgment, perhaps because they realize that Woods is their meal ticket. They are playing for $5.75 million this week, a snapshot of life on the PGA Tour made possible by Woods and his enormous appeal.

Total prize money was $65 million the year Woods turned pro in 1996. They played for $275 million this year.

Stewart Cink is among those who have jokingly suggested Woods is not human, having won 82 times around the world and 14 majors. After losing to him by a record margin at the Match Play Championship last year, Cink said, “I think maybe we ought to slice him open to see what’s inside. Maybe nuts and bolts.”

Woods twice mentioned in statements during the last week that he was, indeed, “human.” Will that make him seem more vulnerable as a player?

“I don’t think that whatever comes out of this will affect his golf because he’s a professional, and part of being a professional is to separate your personal life from what you do on the course,” Cink said. “I’ve had plenty of times when I came to the golf course in a tournament, and I was just a wreck off the course. … And you have no choice but to just leave that. It’s not always real easy, but he’ll find a way, and he’ll be fine.”

Greg Norman, who preceded Woods as golf’s biggest draw, understands scrutiny into one’s personal life, having disclosed in October that his 15-month marriage to tennis star Chris Evert was ending.

He believes golf is bigger than any one player and will be fine. And while he can empathize with Woods’ public life on display, Norman doesn’t feel sorry for him.

“Hey, he’s the No. 1 player in the world,” Norman said Saturday at the Australian Open. “Publicity is going to follow you no matter what you do, whether you win tournaments, lose tournaments and whatever happens.”

Woods has started at Torrey Pines every year since 2006 when healthy. Tournament director Tom Wilson said he recently met with PGA Tour security consultants about what needs to be done, if Woods chooses this event to mark his return.

“We might need to add a few chairs in the media center,” Wilson said.

If keeping together his family – wife Elin and two children – is a priority, Woods might wait longer.

“Is this going to make him stronger? We’ll find out,” Perry said. “Is this really going to get inside his head a little bit and really going to mess with him? I don’t know how the crowd is … going to attack him. Are they going to verbally abuse him out there? We don’t know.

“I don’t think it’s going to change our tour next year at all,” he said. “Only time will tell.”

Woods has tried to quell minor issues in the past with one sentence in a news conference or one posting on his Web site. Though three statements have been posted on his Web site since the accident, they’ve done little to answer lingering questions. As a result, media outlets have shown no signs of scaling back in their hot pursuit of information.

“When you get nonsporting media spending money on stories, whether they’re true or false, it’s just fanning the flames,” Rowady said.

Either way, he said the next few months will go a long way, starting with Woods returning to golf. He said Woods will need to raise his game not only on the course, but for the tour and its sponsors, his own sponsors and TV partners.

“If it’s true that golf is a gentleman’s game, it benefits by the way he finishes this process,” Rowady said. “How he comes out and eventually speaks and plays could be an asset, and then it heightens the awareness. What’s surprising to me is how quickly people are willing to tear him down. I don’t know that anyone benefits by making Tiger Woods into a villain.”

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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.


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.”