Punch Shot: Sergio majors and Spieth green jackets

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

In the wake of the Masters, we have a few questions to answer. How many majors will Sergio Garcia win in his career? Who now is the best player without a major (minimum 10 major starts)? And how many green jackets will Jordan Spieth capture? GolfChannel.com writers weigh in with their answers.

How many majors for Sergio?

REX HOGGARD: At 37, you would think he still has another 20-30 major championship starts as a legitimate contender. Given his track record – he was 0-for-73 before Sunday’s breakthrough at Augusta National – that probably doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but consider his newfound confidence after so many missed opportunities. Garcia will win one more major, probably The Open, before his career is over.

RANDALL MELL: With Garcia unburdened of the notion the golf gods are against him, he will win one more. He should be free of the massive doubt that seemed so debilitating in the past. He should also be free of the pressures that mounted as each failed major passed, but the competition is so intense now with Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day all proven major winners who are in their primes. Winning another major will take an equally strong-minded run from Garcia.

RYAN LAVNER: Three. Garcia said at Augusta that he doesn’t feel any different as a major champion, but he had the look of a man who knows that his on-course life just got a whole lot easier. Unburdened, Garcia remains too good of a player not to pick off another one or two majors. The Open is his best bet to capture another title – he has six top-6s in the past dozen years – and he’ll always be a threat in PGA Championships, where birdies are rewarded. If Garcia can handle the stress-test of a Masters Sunday, why can’t he improve on his U.S. Open record, which already includes five top-10s?

WILL GRAY: I’ll give him another trophy and say he ends up with two. For the past few years, as his renaissance has continued, it always seemed like the U.S. Open or The Open would be the site of his major breakthrough. The fact that he got it done at Augusta instead will certainly free him up moving forward, but those two events are still the ones where his clinical ball-striking is most rewarded – and his sometimes balky putter can prove the least penalizing. At age 37, he’s got several more years to go where he can be expected as a viable contender in majors. He’ll find a way to get it done once again.

Best player without a major?

HOGGARD: On Sunday things didn’t go his way but there’s no denying that Rickie Fowler continues to chip away at the Grand Slam challenge. Fowler assumes the title from Garcia, but it doesn’t seem likely it will take him as long to pass the moniker on to someone else.

MELL: Lee Westwood is the most decorated player without a major. The former world No. 1 had even more major championship starts (76 now) without winning one than Garcia did going to the Masters. But, Westwood, who has nine finishes of T-3 or better in majors, is no longer the best without a major. That distinction goes to Rickie Fowler, only because Hideki Matsuyama hasn’t had the number of major championship chances that Fowler has, and because Matsuyama still seems too young at 25 to have earned the distinction. Fowler is 28 and among the top 10 in the world with four finishes of T-5 or better in majors.

LAVNER: Rickie Fowler. The default answer has long been Lee Westwood, who is now 0-for-76 in majors. But unless he somehow catches lightning in a bottle, or steadies his putting stroke during crunch time, his window to win a major appears closed. That leaves Fowler, who has done everything but bag a big one. No, he hasn’t collected as many victories as Westwood, Matt Kuchar, Hideki Matsuyama or any of the other legitimate contenders, but he’s been a fixture in the OWGR top 10 and in contention in more than a half dozen majors, and he’s clearly on the right track under Butch Harmon. His time is coming, perhaps as early as this summer. 

GRAY: This question boils down to Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama. Lee Westwood’s credentials put him without peer now that Garcia is out of the mix, but on the cusp of his 44th birthday it’s unlikely he’ll continue to have regular opportunities on the biggest stages. I believe this title has to be a mix of great potential to win a major, along with an inability to do so after several cracks in the past. So for that reason I give the edge to Fowler, who at age 28 has 27 major starts as a pro versus Matsuyama’s relatively small total of 16. Thanks to Sunday’s fade, Fowler still hasn’t had a top-10 finish in a major since he reeled off four in a row in 2014. But his game is nearing an all-time high, and his ability to win other big events shows he has the chops to do so at a major. It’s just a matter of when.

How many green jackets for Spieth?

HOGGARD: If Jordan Spieth’s tie for 11th on Sunday is rock bottom in his Masters career just imagine what the next 20 years hold. The 23-year-old has everything on his side when it comes to Augusta National, success after having already joined the exclusive club with his victory in 2015, institutional knowledge of a demanding golf course and, most importantly, time. He may never catch Jack Nicklaus, whose six Masters victories is the gold standard, but he will surely get close.

MELLSpieth looked like the man to beat going into Sunday at the Masters, even two shots down, even with that quadruple bogey from the first round dragging him down. He plays like somebody who has discovered something about Augusta National that most players don’t know, and it’s giving him great confidence there. His fade Sunday was disappointing, but nobody plays with more confidence at Augusta National. He’ll give himself more chances to win a green jacket than anyone else in their prime today, and he’ll convert at least two more of them. 

LAVNERThree. There’s no Jordan-proofing Augusta, but it’s reasonable to assume that he won’t continue to pour in 20-footers once he creeps toward (and beyond) 30. Augusta suits Spieth’s game as well as any course he plays all year because it highlights his strengths – imagination, his course-management skills and short game. That he already could – should? – have two or more green jackets in his first four attempts is ridiculous. But Spieth has accumulated a lot of scar tissue these past two years, whether it was his quad in 2016 or his surprising fade on Sunday. He’ll need to overcome those before he can think about challenging Jack, Arnie and Tiger for Masters titles.  

GRAY: Given that he has about 30 more competitive years to keep coming back to Augusta National, I think it’s a foregone conclusion that Spieth will win another Masters and expect him to end his career with three green jackets. There’s clearly an affinity between player and course, as Spieth has been able to seemingly enter a four-day trance each of the first four years. The length he cedes off the tee proves no issue at this event, where his ability to manage and plot his way around the course is unparalleled and his sublime short game can shine. It’ll be to his benefit to get jacket No. 2 in short order to avoid further lines of questions about the 12th hole, but I believe he’ll still get a couple more cracks at serving Texas BBQ at the Champions Dinner.

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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.”