Genuine Loss

By Jay CoffinApril 20, 2010, 10:29 pm
Greg Allen remembers Lorena Ochoa often. The former University of Arizona women’s golf coach, who now is coach at Vanderbilt, calls his two years with Ochoa some of the best times he’s had in his career.

Of all the moments Allen and Ochoa shared, he’ll never forget two very vivid occasions that he feels are the essence of Ochoa. First is a hand-written letter that she wrote to the Arizona administrators, coaches and players when she decided to leave after her sophomore year to turn professional.

Lorena Ochoa Canadian Open
Lorena Ochoa has been one of the most likeable players on tour during her career. (Getty Images)
“She talked about how thankful she was for what we did and how thankful she was to have spent time with people who she appreciates,” Allen said. “It was a great letter. I look at it at the end of the season every year.”

The second specific moment came in 2005 when Allen took his Arizona Wildcats down to Mexico for a college tournament that Ochoa hosted. One player raised her hand and asked Ochoa what she thought was the coolest thing she had done since becoming one of the best players in the world. Of all the options, Ochoa – only 23 years old at the time – said that she was most pleased that she was able to begin a foundation to help children in Mexico.

“She is a sweet, sweet person,” Allen said. “She has a wonderful, gentle caring heart that wants to make people around her happy and better.”

You get the point. Ochoa is one of the most genuine people in the world. Not just the sports world, the entire world. She’s the real deal.

Near the top of the list of Ochoa’s admirable qualities is that when she says something, she means it. That’s what makes Tuesday’s announcement that she’ll retire from golf so difficult. We know she means it.

Good for her, bad for golf.

We don’t quite know why Ochoa is stepping away at the ripe young age of 28, we’ll know more Friday when she speaks at a news conference in Mexico City. Smart money says she’s now prepared to spend more time with her family, which Ochoa always has cherished more than birdies, bogeys and majors.

Ochoa has had one of the great competitive spirits that we’ve seen in a player in a long time, a spirit that led to 27 victories and two major championships in seven short seasons on the LPGA. She’d have been a significant factor on tour as long as she wanted to play. But that time appears done. She has clearly been struggling to balance golf with her new life and new family, having wed AeroMexico CEO Andres Conesa late last year, joining her family with that of Conesa and his three children.

Since Ochoa first came to the U.S. back in the late 1990s she had always wanted to be the best player in the world. She accomplished that in spades, having ascended to the top of the Rolex Rankings and winning the LPGA’s Player of the Year trophy the last four consecutive years. Besides, anyone who unseated Annika Sorenstam as the best player in game earns a special place in golf history. Sorenstam and Ochoa are the only two players to top the rankings since they were launched back in 2006.

This day was coming, and as Ochoa had hinted, had been coming for several years. We just didn’t expect it now. We were anticipating one more great battle for the No. 1 position in the rankings between Ochoa, Jiyai Shin, Yani Tseng and the rest of the cast. We were expecting Ochoa to make one more stand, capture several more majors then ride off into the sunset sometime in her early to mid 30s.

But when you put it all together, who wouldn’t want to go out this way? Ochoa come from humble beginnings in Mexico, dominated college golf for two years in the U.S., then dominated the LPGA for most of the seven years she spent on tour then retired at 28 with more than $14 million in career earnings that now will be used to help raise a family and hundreds of under-privileged children in her homeland.

“I’ve been in the golf industry for 33 years and I’ve met a lot of really special people in my time,” said Rocky Hambric, president of Hambric Sports Management who was Ochoa’s agent for the first three years of her professional career. “Lorena is the runaway most special person that I’ve ever known in the game.

“She had the incredible ability to be ultra competitive and super kind, warm and giving at the same time.  Unless we learn the lessons her life teaches us, we’re really going to miss her in the game of golf.”

Yours truly was an LPGA beat writer for five years from 2001-2006. The last story I filed as part of those duties was for the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open, where Sorenstam won at Newport (R.I.) Country Club. The next LPGA event I covered was the 2007 ADT Championship, some 16 months after the Women’s Open. Ochoa walked up to me, gave me a hug, smiled and said, “Hey Jay, how are you? We miss you out here.”

Now it’s my turn, Lorena. We’ll miss you out here.
Getty Images

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.”