The Eyes Should Have It

By John FeinsteinFebruary 1, 2011, 7:22 pm

First, it was Camilo Villegas in Hawaii. Then it was Padraig Harrington in Abu Dhabi. Who’s next?

Villegas got the new PGA Tour season off to a less-than-auspicious start on Maui when he swiped a tuft of grass in frustration while a misplayed chip shot was rolling back to his feet on the 15th hole during the opening round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

Villegas didn’t know that he’d broken a rule by swiping at the sod while the ball was in motion and neither did anyone else in his group. Someone watching in Florida thought there might have been a violation and began making phone calls. By the time he reached someone in Hawaii, Villegas had signed his scorecard. Since he was – correctly – assessed a two-stroke penalty, he had signed for an incorrect and lower score which meant he was disqualified.

Padraig Harrington
Padraig Harrington, on his way to being disqualified at the Abu Dhabi Championship. (Getty Images)

Two weeks later, Harrington, on his way to a blazing 7-under-par 65 in the first round at Abu Dhabi, accidentally brushed his ball with his finger while replacing it on the seventh green. This time it was an e-mail from a fan. Again a look at the video. Although this time it wasn’t nearly as clearcut since it took a microscopic look in HD to be certain that Harrington’s ball had moved forward a fraction of an inch, the final result was the same.

Another two-stroke penalty and – because the e-mail came after Harrington had finished his round – another DQ for signing for an incorrect score.

It isn’t as if this is a new phenomenon in golf. Everyone remembers ‘towel-gate,’ the infamous Craig Stadler incident in San Diego 24 years ago when Stadler hit a shot from his knees on the 14th hole during the third round and used a towel to keep his pants dry. When a rules-geek called in the next day to point out that Stadler had technically been ‘building a stance,’ with the towel he was disqualified after finishing second in the tournament.

And so, predictably, in the wake of ‘swipe-gate,’ and ‘brush-gate,’ came calls to make it impossible for rules geeks to call in and get players disqualified. Soon after, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem weighed in, saying he would ask the U.S. Golf Association to look at changing the rule on incorrect scorecards.

That’s probably a good idea, changing the wording to read, ‘if a player KNOWINGLY,’ signs for an incorrect (and lower) score he is disqualified.’

With all due respect to the commissioner, there’s a much easier way to clean this up without resorting to changing the rules of the sport, which can be a complicated and lengthy process. The scorecard issue can be dealt with and so can the TV rules geeks very easily. So easily, in fact, that it can be fixed by the time the players tee it up in Phoenix on Thursday: put a rules official in the TV truck or the TV tower throughout every telecast of every tournament.

There’s plenty of past precedent for such a move. The USGA/'>USGA has had a rules official – first Frank Hannigan and then David Fay – in the TV tower during the U.S. Open for years now. Both Hannigan and Fay were there to explain rules questions to the TV audience but also had the ability to contact rules officials on the golf course if they spotted something that was a potential problem.

Of course the system wasn’t perfect because the two men also had TV responsibilities. In 1994, during the final round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont, Hannigan was too busy explaining to the TV audience that Ernie Els was not entitled to a drop on the first hole to have time to grab his USGA walkie-talkie and contact Trey Holland to tell him he was making a mistake by giving Els a drop. By then, Hannigan was an ABC employee so his first priority had to be the TV audience.

For years now, CBS has employed Tom Loss, another former USGA rules official, to sit in the truck to explain rules issues to its on-air talent during a telecast. At times in the past, Loss has contacted rules officials to let them know something was amiss. Again though, having a TV employee in the truck – no matter how well he knows the rules – isn’t enough as was evident at last year’s PGA Championship during ‘Dustin-gate.’

Last week in San Diego, two rules officials, Mark Russell and Steve Carman, went to the truck during the last few holes on Sunday to monitor the telecast. With fewer players on the golf course late on Sunday, they were freed up from on-course duties to do this. It turned out to be a good thing because a few geeks called in saying they believed Bubba Watson had brushed his ball taking practice swings before his critical pitch shot on the 17th hole. Russell looked closely at several replays and saw clearly that Watson hadn’t touched the ball.

“I might advise Bubba to stand a bit farther from the ball in the future,” he joked on Monday. “But he did absolutely nothing wrong on Sunday.”

The only reason the Tour may not make this move is – you guessed it – money. The Tour normally sends six or seven rules officials to a one golf course tournament, depending on the layout of the course. Taking one off the course at the height of play Thursday or Friday would be difficult. While it’s nice to monitor play on Sunday down the stretch, it’s not enough. Both of this year’s DQs happened on Thursday.

The Tour needs to send an extra rules official to each site and have that person monitor every telecast every day of the tournament. If that official sees something – anything – he can contact the officials on the golf course. In some cases, it might prevent a player from breaking a rule (as should have happened in ‘Dustin-gate,’ with a rules official right there); in others he will at least tell someone they need to let a player know he broke a rule before he signs his scorecard.

The Tour will argue this is an un-needed expense because incidents like ‘swipe-gate,’ and ‘brush-gate,’ happen so rarely. Really? Two of them occurred in January. That’s two more than should happen in a year. The Tour needs to stop promoting the FedEx Cup for a few minutes and do something for, as the saying goes, the good of the game.

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 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.


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.”