First-hand account of the Pressel-Munoz controversy

By Jerry FoltzMay 21, 2012, 11:24 pm

GLADSTONE, N.J. – On the 13th tee of her semifinal match in the Sybase Match Play Championship against Azahara Munoz, Morgan Pressel was informed that she had violated the LPGA’s pace of play policy. At the time, I was standing next to fellow commentator Phil Parkin, and we exchanged a look of disbelief. Little did we know what would transpire three holes later, but at the time, the penalty seemed unprecedented. It wasn’t.

LPGA rules officials routinely enforce policies to the letter of the law. It’s not fun, and to a person, none of the officials ever want to be the “bad cop,” but they view it as an integral part of their job, and I, for one, applaud them.

The timing of Pressel’s penalty couldn’t have been worse, and the resulting impact on the match was regrettable, but a policy with teeth that goes unenforced, becomes a non-policy.


Video: Anatomy of a slow-play penalty

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Discussion: Penalty fair or bogus?


Rules officials across the board are loath to impose slow play penalties – it’s simply human nature, and they’re even more reluctant to impose those penalties on the player or players in the group who are regarded as faster players. Ideally, the rules and policies would only penalize the “known” culprits. By all accounts, in the case of the semifinal match between Pressel and Munoz, it was Munoz who was the more egregious offender of slow play. But Pressel wasn’t exactly Mika Miyazato (the player I’ve observed as the fastest on the tour).

Through two warnings and notification of being on the clock, Pressel did little to speed up. Having watched what happened from hole Nos. 8-12, and having listened to her interview with Val Skinner (which took place an hour and a half after the match concluded), I’m left to assume that Pressel never thought her pace of play was the problem and that she wouldn’t be penalized.

Slow players cheat the system, routinely, on every tour. They speed up when they’re placed on the clock, and once they’re back in position, they go back to their old ways. It’s as old as time. Therein lies the problem with any objective slow-play policy. However, Pressel’s perceived disregard for the system cost her greatly and might go down as the most expensive penalty in LPGA history.

I was standing next to LPGA official Doug Brecht, to the side of the 12th tee, when he informed me that this match was officially on the clock. I saw the exact moment when he started the timing of Pressel (who was first to play), and I can tell you first hand that he used great discretion as to when to start the clock. And even with that extra allowed time for things to settle down on the teeing ground, she still took 57 seconds to play the shot. Gusting wind, a change of clubs, and a lengthy discussion with her caddie all played a part, but she never appeared to be in a hurry.

By hitting only three shots on the hole, and with the additional 10-second grace period, Pressel was in breach of the rule by 39 seconds – or more than 50 percent of the allotted time. In my view, that blatant of a violation should never receive a blind-eye on behalf of any official. To make matters worse, Munoz missed a short putt to tie the hole, and the loss-of-hole penalty effectively became a two-hole penalty. However, Pressel still teed off on the 13th hole with a 1-up lead.

Clutch putts by Munoz on 15, 16, and 17, combined with missed putts by Pressel on the same holes (and a three-putt on 17) gave Munoz the victory.

Arguments that officials should never decide a match have been flooding my inbox for the last 24 hours, but in this case, I defend Brecht for doing his job, and simultaneously remind people that Munoz won the match on the last three holes – the same three holes where Pressel lost it.

As for the incident on the 15th green, in which Pressel accused Munoz of grounding her putting in her line, I’m sure that Pressel will regret ever making that claim in the manner she did. I’d feel safe in saying she already does.

With Marty Robinson watching the match closely as the referee, any rules infractions would/should have been observed and penalized. It wasn’t a pretty moment for anybody – especially Pressel. Keep in mind, she didn’t accuse Munoz of cheating. Rather, she accused her of inadvertently being in breach of a rule. Either way, it smelled of desperation, and was eventually settled in the appropriate manner.

In the end, both Munoz and Pressel took the high road and buried the hatchet even before the final match. When Pressel made her way out to the final hole to congratulate Munoz on her maiden victory, it was a moment I’ll never forget. I wasn’t the only one getting misty at that moment.

Lost in all of this is the fact that Munoz was clutch when it mattered most, that she handled the adversity with grace, that he was humble in victory. And most of all, lost in all of the controversy was the fact that Munoz lost her grandmother on Monday and was playing with a heavy heart all week. Her parents told her to go win one for the lady with whom she shared a bedroom until she left home at 13 years old to pursue her golf dream. And in the end, one of the kindest young ladies on the LPGA achieved that very dream – for herself, and for those closest to her heart.

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Hot Seat: Honda fans bring noise and heat

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 1:34 pm

The Bear Trap awaits in South Florida.

With hot, sunny days forecast for all four rounds of the Honda Classic, the mercury’s rising, especially at the 17th hole, where the revelry at the Goslings Bear Trap party pavilion could turn the tee box into a sweat box.

It may be even steamier for women playing the Honda LPGA Thailand, with temperatures forecast in the 90s for the weekend.

Here’s our special heat index gauging the toastiest seats in golf this week:

Five-alarm salsa – PGA National’s 17th tee

PGA Tour pros almost universally don’t want to see the craziness promoted at the Phoenix Open’s party hole (No. 16) duplicated at other Tour events, but they will get a distant cousin this week at the Honda Classic.

The Goslings Bear Trap party pavilion sits over the 17th tee, where Graeme McDowell cracked that players can get “splashed with vodka cranberries” if the wind is right. The Cobra Puma Village surrounds the 17th green.

That pretty much means everyone playing through there late in the day, with the party fully percolating, is on the Hot Seat.

Tiger Woods is scheduled to go through there at about Happy Hour on Friday afternoon.

“I said to myself, ‘This isn’t Scottsdale, this is ridiculous,’” Billy Horschel said after playing through there a year ago.

Sergio Garcia was among players who got heckled there last year.

It’s one of the toughest holes on the PGA Tour, ranking as the 21st most difficult par 3 last year.



Hot-collar rub – Rickie Fowler

Fowler returns to the Honda Classic as its defending champ.

He also returns for his first start since losing the 54-hole lead at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he bogeyed three of the final four holes and fell all the way out of the top 10 at Sunday’s end.

Fowler is now one for his last six closing out 54-hole leads on the PGA Tour.


Shanshan Feng during Round 2 at the 2017 Japan Classic.


Spicy Tom Yum heat – Shanshan Feng

The Rolex world No. 1 in women’s golf is back in action with the strongest field of this young season ready to resume chasing her at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

World No. 2 Sung Hyun Park will be making her first start of the year. No. 3 So Yeon Ryu, No. 4 Lexi Thompson, No. 5 Anna Nordqvist and No. 6 In Gee Chun are all in the field.

Park and Ryu shared Rolex Player of the Year honors last season. Thompson was the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year.

Feng has ridden atop the world rankings for 15 consecutive weeks. She opened the year tying for third at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic last month.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 21, 2018, 1:00 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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Copycat: Honda's 17th teeters on edge of good taste

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 12:37 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic won’t pack as many fans around its party hole this week as the Phoenix Open does, but there is something more intensely intimate about PGA National’s stadium setup.

Players feel like the spectators in the bleachers at the tee box at Honda’s 17th hole are right on top of them.

“If the wind’s wrong at the 17th tee, you can get a vodka cranberry splashed on you,” Graeme McDowell cracked. “They are that close.”

Plus, the 17th at the Champion Course is a more difficult shot than the one players face at Scottsdale's 16th.

It’s a 162-yard tee shot at the Phoenix Open with no water in sight.

It’s a 190-yard tee shot at the Honda Classic, to a small, kidney-shaped green, with water guarding the front and right side of the green and a bunker strategically pinched into the back-center. Plus, it’s a shot that typically must be played through South Florida’s brisk winter winds.

“I’ve hit 3- and 4-irons in there,” McDowell said. “It’s a proper golf hole.”

It’s a shot that can decide who wins late on a Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line.

Factor in the intensely intimate nature of that hole, with fans partaking in libations at the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion behind the 17th tee and the Cobra Puma Village behind the 17th green, and the degree of difficulty there makes it one of the most difficult par 3s on the PGA Tour. It ranked as the 21st most difficult par 3 on the PGA Tour last year with a 3.20 scoring average. Scottsdale's 16th ranked 160th at 2.98.

That’s a fairly large reason why pros teeing it up at the Honda Classic don’t want to see the Phoenix-like lunacy spill over here the way it threatened to last year.

That possibility concerns players increasingly agitated by the growing unruliness at tour events outside Phoenix. Rory McIlroy said the craziness that followed his pairing with Tiger Woods in Los Angeles last week left him wanting a “couple Advil.” Justin Thomas, also in that grouping, said it “got a little out of hand.”


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


So players will be on alert arriving at the Honda Classic’s 17th hole this week.

A year ago, Billy Horschel complained to PGA Tour officials about the heckling Sergio Garcia and other players received there.

Horschel told GolfChannel.com last year that he worried the Honda Classic might lose some of its appeal to players if unruly fan behavior grew worse at the party hole, but he said beefed up security helped on the weekend. Horschel is back this year, and so is Garcia, good signs for Honda as it walks the fine line between promoting a good party and a good golf tournament.

“I embrace any good sporting atmosphere as long as it stays respectful,” Ian Poulter said. “At times, the line has been crossed out here on Tour. People just need to be sensible. I am not cool with being abused.

“Whenever you mix alcohol with a group of fans all day, then Dutch courage kicks in at some stage.”

Bottom line, Poulter likes the extra excitement fans can create, not the insults some can hurl.

“I am all up for loud crowds,” he said. “A bit of jeering and fun is great, but just keep it respectful. It’s a shame it goes over the line sometimes. It needs to be managed.”

Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly oversees that tough job. In 12 years leading the event, he has built the tournament into something special. The attendance has boomed from an estimated 65,000 his first year at the helm to more than 200,000 last year.

With Tiger Woods committed to play this year, Kennerly is hopeful the tournament sets an attendance record. The arrival of Woods, however, heightens the challenges.

Woods is going off with the late pairings on Friday, meaning he will arrive at Honda’s party hole late in the day, when the party’s fully percolating.

Kennerly is expecting 17,000 fans to pack that stadium-like atmosphere on the event’s busiest days.

Kennerly is also expecting the best from South Florida fans.

“We have a zero tolerance policy,” Kennerly said. “We have more police officers there, security and more marshals.

“We don’t want to be nasty and throw people out, but we want them to be respectful to players. We also want it to continue to be a fun place for people to hang out, because we aren’t getting 200,000 people here just to watch golf.”

Kennerly said unruly fans will be ejected.

“But we think people will be respectful, and I expect when Tiger and the superstars come through there, they aren’t going to have an issue,” Kennerly said.

McDowell believes Kennerly has the right balance working, and he expects to see that again this week.

“They’ve really taken this event up a couple notches the last five or 10 years with the job they’ve done, especially with what they’ve done at the 16th and 17th holes,” McDowell said. “I’ve been here a lot, and I don’t think it’s gotten to the Phoenix level yet.”

The real test of that may come Friday when Woods makes his way through there at the end of the day.

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Door officially open for Woods to be playing vice captain

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 20, 2018, 11:50 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Thirteen months ago, when Jim Furyk was named the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, one of the biggest questions was what would happen if Furyk were to play his way onto his own team.

It wasn’t that unrealistic. 

At the time, Furyk was 46 and coming off a season in which he tied for second at the U.S. Open and shot 58 in a PGA Tour event. If anything, accepting the Ryder Cup captaincy seemed premature.

And now?

Now, he’s slowly recovering from shoulder surgery that knocked him out of action for six months. He’s ranked 230th in the world. He’s planning to play an 18-event schedule, on past champion status, mostly to be visible and available to prospective team members.

A playing captain? Furyk chuckled at the thought.

“Wow,” he said here at PGA of America headquarters, “that would be crazy-difficult.”

That’s important to remember when assessing Tiger Woods’ chances of becoming a playing vice captain.

On Tuesday, Woods was named an assistant for the matches at Le Golf National, signing up for months of group texts and a week in which he'd sport an earpiece, scribble potential pairings on a sheet of paper and fetch anything Team USA needs.

It’s become an increasingly familiar role for Woods, except this appointment isn’t anything like his vice captaincy at Hazeltine in 2016 or last year’s Presidents Cup.

Unlike the past few years, when his competitive future was in doubt because of debilitating back pain, there’s at least a chance now that Woods can qualify for the team on his own, or deserve consideration as a captain’s pick. 

There’s a long way to go, of course. He’s 104th in the points standings. He’s made only two official starts since August 2015. His driving needs a lot of work. He hasn’t threatened serious contention, and he might not for a while. But, again: Come September, it’s possible.

And so here was Woods’ taped message Tuesday: “My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do whatever I can to help us keep the cup.”

That follows what Woods told reporters last week at Riviera, when he expressed a desire to be a playing vice captain.

“Why can’t I have both?” he said. “I like both.”

Furyk, eventually, will have five assistants in Paris, and he could have waited to see how Woods fared this year before assigning him an official role.

He opted against that. Woods is too valuable of an asset.

“I want him on-board right now,” Furyk said.

Arnold Palmer was the last to serve as both player and captain for a Ryder Cup – in 1963. Nothing about the Ryder Cup bears any resemblance to those matches, other than there’s still a winner and a loser. There is more responsibility now. More planning. More strategy. More pressure.

For the past two team competitions, the Americans have split into four-man pods that practiced together under the supervision of one of the assistants. That assistant then relayed any pertinent information to the captain, who made the final decision.

The assistants are relied upon even more once the matches begin. Furyk will need to be on the first tee for at least the first hour of the matches, welcoming all of the participants and doing interviews for the event’s many TV partners, and he needs an assistant with each of the matches out on the course. They’re the captain’s eyes and ears.

Furyk would need to weigh whether Woods’ potential impact as a vice captain – by all accounts he’s the best Xs-and-Os specialist – is worth more than the few points he could earn on the course. Could he adequately handle both tasks? Would dividing his attention actually be detrimental to the team?

“That would be a bridge we cross when we got there,” Furyk said.

If Woods plays well enough, then it’s hard to imagine him being left off the roster, even with all of the attendant challenges of the dual role.

“It’s possible,” Furyk said, “but whether that’s the best thing for the team, we’ll see.”

It’s only February, and this comeback is still new. As Furyk himself knows, a lot can change over the course of a year.