In the bag

By Jason SobelSeptember 30, 2011, 7:53 pm

The overhyped “Let Lexi Play” marketing campaign to grant full-time LPGA membership to young Lexi Thompson provided one of the most provocative platforms for any player in recent history.

It was also the most pointless.

That’s not just because Thompson, who will turn 17 early next year, saw her petition requesting 2012 status approved on Friday, just 12 days after she won the Navistar LPGA Classic.

It’s because that scenario never wasn’t going to happen.

As soon as Thompson closed out her five-stroke victory in Alabama, many observers were incensed that LPGA commissioner Michael Whan failed to greet her on the final green with an oversized paycheck and a laminated card ensuring her inclusion on the tour next year and beyond.

That’s not how it works, though. By rule, any player 18 or younger must petition the LPGA for membership. Call it a commendable rule or a faulty one, but it’s in place to protect both the player and the tour – and the latter couldn’t have been expected to bend its own rule, no matter the worthiness of the challenger.

And that’s where things got a little weird.

Thompson’s management company, Blue Giraffe Sports, opted to delay filing the petition for a week to ensure that it wouldn’t overshadow the Solheim Cup proceedings. Nice gesture, but during the same time, her sponsors launched the “Let Lexi Play” campaign through a social media blitz and T-shirts sent to media adorned with the slogan.

It was a contrived scheme that alluded to impropriety on behalf of the LPGA for failing to grant the player immediate status. The truth is, Thompson had planned to play only one more event this year anyway – the season-ending CME Group Titleholders, for which she’s already qualified – so the LPGA wasn’t blocking her from competing in any further tournaments.

In fact, between her victory and Friday’s ruling, there were no full-field events held on the LPGA, so even if she had planned on making every possible appearance, her progress still wasn’t halted.

Meanwhile, the marketing campaign achieved exactly what it set out to do: There was a near-fortnight of consternation amongst golf fans who couldn’t understand why the superstar-deprived LPGA would hold back its next potential superstar.

It turns out all that was needed was some paperwork. Which means, essentially, the equivalent of some withheld TPS reports were the main source of so much uproar.

That’s not to say the LPGA isn’t completely without blame in its handling of this situation. When Thompson won two weeks ago, the organization issued a quixotic release stating that if she advanced through Qualifying School, she would have the ability to become a full-time member.

Quite simply, the immediate reaction could have been much less formal. If Whan or another high-ranking official had simply said, “Look, she’s going to be an LPGA member very shortly; as soon as we receive her petition, we’ll approve it,” they could have avoided the negative backlash that occurred in the wake of her victory.

Perhaps the most egregious error in the handling of this situation is that it didn’t seem like there was a contingency plan in place should Thompson win a tournament. This comes despite the fact that earlier in the season, she held the 54-hole lead at the Avnet LPGA Classic prior to tumbling down the leaderboard that Sunday afternoon.

Instead, the issue was treated with kid gloves – so to speak – likely from prior experience. Though it was before Whan’s tenure started, folks in LPGA headquarters recall the resistance when Michelle Wie was granted unprecedented inclusion into the LPGA Championship as an amateur.

The prevailing feeling this time around was of the “better safe than sorry” variety. Whan chose to err on the side of caution rather than be perceived as offering a handout to another young player with star potential.

Of course, all of that became water under the proverbial bridge as soon as the decision was finalized on Friday.

“In the process of earning her way onto the Tour, she beat an elite field at the Navistar LPGA Classic that featured 15 of the top 20 players on the Rolex Rankings and 45 of the top 50 on the LPGA official money list,” Whan said in a statement. “Additionally, her ability to handle the success and disappointment inherent to this game testifies to a level of maturity that I believe makes her capable of handling the emotional rigors of professional golf at the highest level.”

Throughout the past year, both Whan and Thompson’s representatives have often spoken about working together and having her best interests at heart. Over the past two weeks, it appeared the two camps were conflicted, with the LPGA unwilling to show its cards prior to the petition being filed and the agency using her temporary stay in golf’s purgatory as a rallying cry for support.

In the end, though, it worked out for each party. Thompson will own full-time status for the upcoming season and the tour just may have its much-needed next superstar on the horizon. 

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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.”

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PGA Tour, LPGA react to video review rules changes

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 1:32 pm

The USGA and R&A announced on Monday updates to the Rules of Golf, including no longer accepting call-ins relating to violations. The PGA Tour and LPGA, which were both part of a working group of entities who voted on the changes, issued the following statements:

PGA Tour:

The PGA Tour has worked closely with the USGA and R&A on this issue in recent years, and today's announcement is another positive step to ensure the Rules of Golf align with how the game is presented and viewed globally. The PGA Tour will adopt the new Local Rule beginning January 1, 2018 and evolve our protocols for reviewing video evidence as outlined.

LPGA:

We are encouraged by the willingness of the governing bodies to fully vet the issues and implement real change at a pace much quicker than the sport has seen previously. These new adaptations, coupled with changes announced earlier this year, are true and meaningful advances for the game. The LPGA plans to adopt fully the protocols and new Local Rule as outlined.