What we learned: Valero Texas Open

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 22, 2012, 10:33 pm

Each week, the GolfChannel.com team offers thoughts on 'what we learned' from the most recent events and news developments. This week . . .

I learned that the PGA Tour needs to allow tournaments to offer appearance fees. I've never been on either side of the fence with this issue but this week's event pushed me to the greener side. The Texas Open is in an unenviable slot between the Masters and The Players. If it needs, or sponsor Valero wants to pay top players to entice them to compete, they should be allowed to do so. It's ridiculous that an event on the PGA Tour should battle the Indonesian Masters for attention because the latter is allowed to buy Lee Westwood's services for a week. The PGA Tour needs to embrace a capitalist mindset and allow tournaments all avenues to compete against one another. This isn't Russia. Is this Russia? No, because the Russian Open allows appearance fees. – Mercer Baggs


I learned that Branden Grace is much more than a two-week flash in the pan. After he won the Joburg Open and Volvo Golf Champions in back-to-back weeks in January, some contended that the 23-year-old from South Africa simply got really hot at a really good time. His victory at the Volvo China Open this week, though, proved the youngster is no two-hit wonder. He now owns as many worldwide titles this year as the top three players on the OWGR combined – or one more than Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Much like countrymen Trevor Immelman, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen, Grace is a major up-and-coming talent. Speaking of major, those three all own major championships – and it may not be too long before Grace joins 'em in that exclusive club. – Jason Sobel


I learned very successful men sometimes do too much talking. Tiger Woods' current teacher, Sean Foley, wants the media to lay off a 'good dude,' but has never been at a loss for words to critique Woods' work with past instructors to provide chum for a good piece.

Butch Harmon thinks Foley should be shown the door and Hank Haney might used have the golf equivalent of the Nixon Tapes to write his 'The Big Miss.' Harmon said he would never write the book Haney did, but did not mind disclosing some of Tiger's gamesmanship tactics to Phil Mickelson and the press.

Harmon and Haney seem to agree Woods should go find the secrets in the dirt instead of in the digital camera of his current teacher. Then again, Woods completely revamped his swing with both of them at a point in his life when his knee was somewhat healthier and his personal life was less complicated. All three men were or will likely be successful with Woods. The side-show love quadrangle played out in the press will not decide who has been the best of them. Soap operas are dying and this one should, too. – Ryan Ballengee


I learned the LPGA should schedule every event Wednesday-Saturday. Every event. Even majors. This guarantees the tour more coverage on Wednesday (it's opposite nothing) and Saturday (crowing a champion when no other tour does) and is precisely the type of outside-the-box thinking that can only provide dividends. I covered the LPGA for six years in the early 2000s and the idea never occurred to me. Of course Annika Sorenstam was doing her thing and created tons of headlines for the tour. Sadly, that's not the case any longer. Time to mix it up. – Jay Coffin


I learned that maybe it’s a good thing Bubba Watson doesn’t have a swing coach for reasons that go beyond his swing.

Swing instructors are so much more than coaches these days, and that’s not always a good thing for the player. Swing coaches can be muses. They can be confidants. They can be sports psychologists. They can be TV tour analysts, or host their own TV shows. They can be kiss-and-tell authors and defense attorneys.

We’ve seen it all in the past month with Hank Haney, Butch Harmon and Sean Foley making larger headlines than any player not named Tiger or Bubba. Of course, the common denominator in the intensity of interest in the news they are generating is that they’re all connected to Tiger Woods, through past association or present.

Haney created a furor writing his book about Tiger Woods, “The Big Miss.” Harmon stirred sentiments saying he believes Woods’ swing has become “very robotic” and that he has “lost his nerve putting.” Foley made headlines defending Woods, telling radio show host Matt Adams on the PGA Tour Network that the “tearing down” of Woods is “out of hand” and Woods deserves better. All three coaches are fascinating personalities with unique gifts and insights into the biggest star the game has ever seen. That makes them bigger stars than most players today. – Randall Mell


I learned that Mark Twain was spot on; there are lies, damn lies and ShotLink statistics, or something like that. Exhibit A is Ben Curtis’ pedestrian strokes-gained putting standing before the Texas Open (183rd) and where he ended up after his first victory since 2006 (second). And you thought the world golf ranking was skewed. – Rex Hoggard



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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.”