Punch Shot: U.S. Ryder Cup wildcard questions

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 30, 2016, 6:00 pm

The European Ryder Cup team has been finalized. The U.S. squad won't be completed for another four weeks. Captain Davis Love III will make three picks on Sept. 12, after two more FedEx Cup Playoff events, and then a final selection on Sept. 25, following the Tour Championship. Our writers size up some possible U.S. wildcards:

Who is a stone-cold lock to earn a captain's pick?

Ryan Lavner: Rickie Fowler. There are at least enough positive signs to justify the selection – he won against a stout field in Abu Dhabi, he had three good opportunities here in the States and, frankly, there aren’t many better options – and he’s also shown tremendous enthusiasm for the event, even adding the Wyndham for the first time in a desperate attempt to qualify on his own. He’s never won a Ryder Cup match (0-3-5), but he can partner with multiple players already on the squad.

Randall Mell: Matt Kuchar. Davis Love III said: “If somebody is playing well, they aren’t going to get left out.” Kuchar has logged three top-10s since July 1, two of them third-place finishes, including that bronze medal Olympic performance under the American flag. That’s more top-10s this summer than Bubba Watson or Rickie Fowler. Kuchar hasn’t won this year, but five times he has finished fourth or better. Kuchar’s performances have been more steady, consistent and dependable than any other American in this Ryder Cup mix.

Rex Hoggard: Fowler. Although he hasn’t had his best season, he showed flashes of the fire the U.S. will need with a tie for seventh place last week at The Barclays and, if the picks will truly be a collective choice, he would be a locker room favorite.

Will Gray: Fowler. He was believed to have an inside track even before last week’s event, but he showed plenty to Davis Love III for about 68 holes at The Barclays to push his chances from “likely” to something more definitive. While his stumble down the stretch cost him the eighth and final automatic spot, Fowler is a popular guy in the team room, a potential catalyst for the frenzied home crowds and, let’s face it, still the eighth-ranked player in the world. While the battle for the final spot between him and Zach Johnson was an entertaining storyline, it was probably a moot point.


Who is under the most pressure to prove himself?

Lavner: Bubba Watson. How many top-10s on Tour has Bubba had in the past six months? A big, fat zero. Though he seems like an obvious wildcard pick because of his world ranking (No. 7) and length off the tee, he’s driving it all over the map, his short game this season has been abysmal (outside the top 110 in both strokes gained-around the green and -putting) and he poses partnership issues because of his style of play. Throw in a 3-8 career mark in the Ryder Cup, and Watson needs to show something, anything, during these playoffs to warrant a pick.

Mell: Fowler. Fowler got off to that nice start this year with six top-10s in his first nine stroke-play starts, but he is struggling to find his best form since missing the cut at The Players, the first of three consecutive MCs. He doesn’t look steady, consistent or dependable right now, especially with that late collapse under pressure Sunday at The Barclays making his T-7 finish look less appealing.

Hoggard: Bubba. Like Fowler, Watson hasn’t had the best of years - his last top-10 finish was at Doral in March - and the quirky southpaw is an acquired taste for many of his colleagues. If Watson is going to be a unanimous pick, he will need to show he’s worthy.

Gray: Jim Furyk. While the rest of the contenders can view this upcoming stretch as a two-week audition, Furyk needs to bring his best to Boston or risk going home early. After missing much of the season with a wrist injury, a late-season surge leaves Furyk at No. 84 entering this week’s event. Only 70 players will advance to next week’s BMW Championship, meaning that Furyk has some work to do to extend his season. While Love has heaped plenty of praise on Furyk as a potential pick, it’s hard to see him getting the nod if he doesn’t make it to Crooked Stick.


Which player will earn the final Hot Hand pick?

Lavner: Gary Woodland. He’s off to a good start, with a tie for fourth at Bethpage. Woodland has had a solid, if unspectacular, season, ranking 26th in points, but his talent is undeniable. This year’s playoff venues all favor big hitters, and few can pound the ball like Woodland. He tied for 12th last year in Boston, so he should be poised for another climb up the points list.

Mell: Fowler. Almost anything is still possible with Love saying any American still alive in the FedEx Cup Playoffs remains in the running for a captain’s pick. If that’s true, Sean O’Hair, Gary Woodland, Ryan Moore and Jason Kokrak have to be dreaming big after their top-10 finishes at The Barclays. But Fowler gets the pick if he turns that disappointing Sunday at The Barclays into a hot FedEx Cup run. That T-7 at Bethpage Black looks a lot better lined up with two or three other FedEx Cup top-10s.

Hoggard: Daniel Berger. With the pressure off to autoqualify for Hazeltine, expect lasy year's Rookie of the Year to return to his impressive ways.

Gray: Justin Thomas. Thomas got the hard part out of the way, notching a top-10 finish last week at Bethpage Black to likely secure a Tour Championship appearance. He would have factored more heavily in the automatic qualification race had he gotten credit for his win this season at the CIMB Classic, and and he will have plenty of support from Spieth, Fowler and Jimmy Walker. More importantly, Thomas would bring a fresh fire to the biennial competition, and don’t be surprised if he gets the final nod after capping a strong postseason by contending at East Lake. 

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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.”