Pandora's Box

By John FeinsteinJanuary 26, 2011, 2:24 am

There was a lot of re-shuffling in the world rankings this past week, especially in the top 10. Even though it is still January, many of the world’s best players – including all four of last year’s major champions – were teeing it up.

There was just one problem: Not one of them was playing on the PGA Tour.

They had all deserted the California desert to play in the desert thousands of miles away in Abu Dhabi. Rather than make a short drive from San Diego to Palm Springs to play in a tournament he had won twice in the past, Phil Mickelson flew halfway around the world. Then he flew back to play at home this week in San Diego.

Was Mickelson drawn by the quality of the golf course? No. The course where the Abu Dhabi event was played is strikingly ordinary. It was blistered by Martin Kaymer, who shot 24 under par to win going away and it may not be used again next year. Was it the purse? Did the oil-rich sheiks put up so much prize money to make it impossible to say no to their event? Again, no. In fact, Kaymer’s first prize take of a little more than 333,000 euros was less than half of what Jhonattan Vegas received for winning the Hope. Total purse: $2.2 million. Total purse at the Hope: $5 million.

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson made a run for the (appearance fee) money last week at Abu Dhabi. (Getty Images)
The answer is much simpler than that: guaranteed appearance money. When Mickelson or Tiger Woods or any star plays overseas – other than in the British Open – it is all about being shown the money in advance. Mickelson’s going rate to play overseas is reportedly in the $1 million range, a nice week’s work if you can get it although it is dwarfed by Woods who in the past has been paid as much as $3 million just for walking on the first tee in Europe, Asia and Australia.

Players not quite as luminous as the current world No. 3 (Woods) and world No. 6 (Mickelson) can get well into six figures to play overseas. The going rate for a non-Woods/Mickelson major champion is usually in the $200,000 to $400,000 range – higher if a Euro Tour player is in his home country. There are no FedEx points involved but the money spends just the same.

All of which has created a serious problem for the PGA Tour. For years, the Tour has been golf’s lone holdout against the ever-increasing wave of guaranteed money. The Tour has even stymied backdoor attempts to pay players appearance money.

A few years ago, a sponsor for a big Tour event began offering players big bucks to play in a Monday outing the week of its event. Technically, the players weren’t being paid to play in the tournament but in the outing. When the Tour got wind of what was going on it put a stop to the outings, which was both admirable and the right thing to do.

Appearance fees are a pox in sports. They have virtually killed tennis in this country the last 25 years. Once upon a time there were tennis tournaments played in the U.S. almost year-round much the way the PGA Tour operates now almost all year. Then, promoters overseas began to pay players – even though it was against the rules – to play in their events. All of a sudden the tournaments in the U.S. went from having John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors as their top seeds to John Sadri and Jimmy Arias.

You can imagine what that did for ticket sales and sponsorship.

Golf isn’t going to go down the drain the way tennis did, especially as long as Commissioner Tim Finchem holds the line against appearance fees. They are a Pandora’s Box. Once you open it too wide you will have tournaments bidding for players and stars refusing to show up unless there’s appearance money on the table. You also might have another issue that seriously damaged tennis: tanking. Often players with a check already in their pockets played half-heartedly in the first or second round so they could get on a plane and go home. If a player has $200,000 in his pocket already and he’s on the cut line Friday, why should he grind to play early Saturday morning?

Sadly, because no one acted sooner, appearance fees are now an accepted part of the golf culture. One thing the Tour could do is this: Insist that if an event pays appearance fees it may not give out world rankings points. By definition, an event that pays individuals regardless of performance is an exhibition. At the very least, players whose appearance fees are often based on their world ranking might think twice before getting on the plane.

A year ago there were 35 PGA Tour events that went head-to-head with European Tour events. In 29, the PGA Tour had more ranked players (and thus, more ranking points available) than the European Tour event. In all likelihood those numbers will come down slightly for the PGA Tour this year.

To be fair, one thing Woods has always done is give people their money’s worth when playing for a guarantee. Most golfers will do that. But the more you pay people in advance, the more you risk having them mail in a performance if they aren’t feeling 100 percent.

Last year, after Woods’s fall from grace, Finchem asked him – in return for the unwavering support he gave him – to please start committing to tournaments earlier than the Friday beforehand (which is the deadline) so the events he was playing in could promote his presence earlier. Woods did do that, at least for a while.

As of this moment, he’s committed to two events in 2011: San Diego, which he committed to last Wednesday and next month’s Dubai Desert Classic, which he committed to last August. Why did Woods, always so reticent about revealing anything to anyone a minute sooner than need-be, commit to a tournament almost seven months in advance?

They showed him the money. Lots of it.

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.”