Certainties and unknowns in Tiger's return

By Jason SobelOctober 4, 2011, 12:12 pm

In the column you’re about to read, I’ve been asked to assess Tiger Woods’ chances at this week’s Frys.com Open. Nice assignment, huh? I’ve got a better chance of predicting the ’12 presidential election – 3012.

Anyone who hasn’t been in a tryptophan-induced nap since Thanksgiving night two years ago has witnessed his plight. The erstwhile GOAT (Greatest Of All-Time) is now considered a goat (an inferior member of any group), the model superstar transformed into a model of inconsistency.

All of which means absolutely nothing entering his first career Fall Series appearance. Woods is capable of winning by double-digits or missing the cut – and I don’t know which scenario is more likely. I don’t know if his new “straighter” drives will finally start finding the fairways. I don’t know if his putting stroke – last seen on the back of a milk carton – will return to form. I don’t know if he’ll be motivated against a field of less accomplished players.

So, what do I know about Tiger in advance of his next start? Well, just a few things…

I know that he recently shot a course-record 62 at his new home course, the ultra-difficult Medalist Golf Club. I know this because the news was splashed across the headlines, despite the fact that elite professional golfers collect course records the way most grandmothers collect coupons.

Does it mean anything going into a competitive appearance? Maybe, maybe not. It certainly can’t hurt that Woods at least boasted one fortuitous round prior to teeing it up again, but it should hardly serve as a determining factor of success 3,000 miles away.

I know Woods is working hard and has looked proficient in practice, because his swing instructor told me so. The last time I spoke with Sean Foley, he talked about how his most popular pupil was striping it at the range and gearing up to get back into action.

Of course, not to take Foley’s words lightly, but I’ve never actually heard from a coach who said of his guy, “He’s a work in progress and he isn’t close right now. Don’t expect much. In fact, don’t expect anything. Except maybe an upcoming trip to Q-School.”

The power of positivity may be as important for an instructor as breaking down the mechanics of the swing, but there’s a certain quiet confidence from Foley that tells me Tiger’s return to glory is less a matter of “if” than “when.”

He brings up some terrific points in defense of their work together. They’ve now spent 11 competitive tournaments trying to rebuild and tweak his swing, dating back to last year’s PGA Championship. As a comparative example, Foley invokes the progress of another star student, Justin Rose, maintaining that through 11 events together, his swing wasn’t close to where they both wanted it. The Brit now owns three PGA Tour victories in the past two seasons, including at the BMW Championship two weeks ago.

That would suggest patience is recommended when debating the long-term effects of these changes on Woods, though patience is often forgotten when it comes to his prospects.

I know this feels like déjà vu. Two months ago, Woods returned after a three-month hiatus and the masses were ready to declare him “back” at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. The result reminded me of something I once wrote after spending 30 minutes seated next to Woods on a bus ride through Manhattan. He was “remarkably unremarkable.”

In the case of the bus ride, the context purported that he was just a regular guy – someone who, away from the course, is more apt to speak about small talk such as last night’s ballgame or the weather rather than chasing down Jack Nicklaus’ all-time major championship record. At Firestone, it was a reference to his final result, as he finished T-37 in the 76-man field. Doesn’t get much more remarkably unremarkable than that.

One week later, he played nacho golf at the PGA. You know how nachos always start out hot and delicious, dripping with tasty toppings, only to turn into a weighty pile of stale chips and congealed cheese 10 minutes later? That was Woods at Atlanta Athletic Club, as he posted three early birdies, only to see his chances soon congeal, cleared away from the table before the weekend in the form of a missed cut.

I know that his buddy Bryon Bell was overmatched on the bag those two weeks – and I know Joe LaCava will be a huge upgrade. The former caddie for Fred Couples and, more recently, Dustin Johnson, LaCava is a pro’s pro, one of the top loopers in the game for the past two decades.

It may take the new tandem a few tournaments to learn each other’s idiosyncrasies, but some improvements will be instantaneous. At the PGA, Bell couldn’t have helped stop the bleeding if he was spotted the tourniquet. In the same scenario, LaCava may not know the right thing to say to his boss right away, but he’ll say something, which is better than what was offered from the most recent alternative.

And lastly, I know criticisms of Woods’ game will continue, no matter the end result this week. The tournament may not be a literal no-win situation for him, but it is a figurative one. Think about it: If Tiger fails to contend or even make the cut, the Bronx cheers will ring even louder. Some will mindlessly draw the conclusion that such an outcome means he’ll never again be the player he once was.

It will permeate to those closest to him, too. Foley will be ripped for “ruining” his swing. Couples will be jeered for prematurely naming him to the Presidents Cup team. LaCava will chided for leaving a birdie machine in Johnson for a player whose future may be in doubt.

If he wins, if Woods goes out and blitzes the field by double-digits this week, well, in the eyes of many, he still can’t win. Such a triumph will be written off as the schoolyard bully beating up the younger kids for their lunch money. Against a field of aging vets and wide-eyed rookies, soon-to-be Nationwide Tour regulars and Q-School entrants, even a convincing victory won’t convince people that Tiger is once again capable of being one of the world’s best players, if not the absolute best.

This much I know. As for how Woods will actually fare at the Frys.com Open this week, I still have no idea – but I do know we’ll find out soon.

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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.”