Politics, Tiger and the Tour

By John FeinsteinJuly 5, 2011, 7:38 pm

It began as a slam dunk, a tap-in for the world’s greatest golfer. The AT&T National hosted by Tiger Woods swept into the nation’s capital in 2007 as a godsend for the city and as a vetted big-time event on the PGA Tour before anyone teed up a ball.

The timing was close to perfect in every way: The Tour had stripped Washington of its status as an annual PGA Tour stop in 2006, offering what had been the Booz Allen Classic a slot as part of the Fall Finish, which the sponsor turned down.

There was a considerable amount of criticism attached to both the Tour’s decision to abandon Washington and the way in which it handled that decision. Finchem certainly heard those voices. And so, when The International, one of the player’s favorite Tour events, also went dark because it lacked a sponsor, Finchem saw a perfect storm.

Woods, the best and most popular player in the world at the time, wanted his own event. He wanted it in a major city on a big-time golf course. Even though he had never played the old Tour stop in Washington, that would change if the event had his name on it and was played at a top club like Congressional.

And so, in about 15 minutes, a new PGA Tour stop was born. AT&T – then one of Woods’ sponsors – jumped on board as the title sponsor and the late Ben Brundred Jr., the longtime executive director of the D.C. stop and Congressional’s most influential member, convinced the membership to give up the club for Fourth of July weekend.

The Tour instantly slotted the tournament into a primo date – the middle week of the three between the U.S. and British Opens – and a match made in heaven was born. The new tournament was expected to step right into the first tier of non-majors along with The Players, Memorial and Bay Hill. Woods’ presence every year, along with Congressional as the site, essentially guaranteed the event's future.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

In 2007, almost every big name on Tour turned up for the inaugural ‘Tiger.’ Even Phil Mickelson, never mistaken as Woods’ best friend, showed up out of respect for the host and the venue. The crowds were huge, the weather was hot but bearable and most went home happy.

Then the Good Ship Tiger – and thus his event – began taking on water. The trouble began when Woods couldn’t play in 2008 because of major knee surgery shortly after winning the U.S. Open. Most connected to the tournament understood that Woods wasn’t going to play but the sponsors and members weren’t thrilled when he couldn’t spend a day on site glad-handing with the people who put up the cash to hold the tournament.

A month later, Woods did make it to Washington for a ‘town hall meeting,’ where Congressional’s members (full disclosure, I am one of them) were briefed by the tournament host and Finchem about the future of the event. With the tournament scheduled in Philadelphia in 2010 and 2011 – because of the U.S. Open being held at Congressional – the question was whether the Tiger Woods Foundation and the club wanted to renew their contract since the first three-year deal wasexpiring.

Woods was at the height of his popularity at that point, a little more than a month removed from winning his 14th major title. Still, he and Finchem were met with considerable skepticism that night by a membership that liked the money thetournament brought but didn’t like the intrusions it brought to club life.

At one point a woman stood up and asked Woods, “Why exactly would we want to continue doing this?”

Woods, in his uniquely dismissive way, looked at her and said, “I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t want to do it.”

Congressional voted to sign a new deal. Barely. The vote was 52 percent to 48 percent andprobably would not have passed if the board of directors hadn’t pushed so hard and if Finchem hadn’t implied during the meeting that the date might change in 2013 when new TV contracts were signed. The deal was for three years with both sides having an option to get out at the end of 2014 or agree to go forward for another three years.

Then came the fire hydrant.

If the Congressional membership was split on the issue of Woods’ event prior to that it wasn’t afterward. The USGA has made it clear to the club that it will not get a U.S. Open in the future if it is still hosting a PGA Tour event which means Congressional can’t show Tiger the door fast enough.

Except for this: There’s a contract for the next three years. Reportedly, the folks at Aronimink, who were less-than-happy with the way Woods conducted himself last year, were charmed last week by the new Tiger who didn’t play, but showed up and did everything but kiss babies.

So, perhaps Aronimink will take over the contract from Congressional. Maybe it will host for at least one more year to give Congressional a chance to catch itsbreath after hosting the Open. One thing is for sure: Congressional will not be the tournament’s long-term host. There has even been talk that, to keep the tournament in Washington, it might be moved to the newly-renovated TPC Farms at Avenel.

The renovated golf course got good reviews from the senior players last fall but does not carry the reputation of being a top-notch course among most Tour players. Davis Love’s long-ago line about Avenel still resonates: “It isn’t a bad golf course…unless you have to drive past Congressional to get there.”

This year’s AT&T field wasn’t much better, if at all, than the fields at Hartford two weeks ago or John Deere this week. Most of the big names were either resting or playing overseas to get ready for the British Open. The obligation to the world’s 17th-ranked player to show up at his event apparently isn’t the same as the obligation to show up to play for an event hosted by the greatest player of our time.

And the world’s former No. 1 is still day-to-day, when it comes to playing golf. Last week he was Billy Payne with a goatee.

Of course a year from now he might be No. 1 again and the tournament might be back at Congressional. But nobody knows. And the future of a Tour stop that was once as glittering and glitzy as anything you could find outside the four majors is murky and uncertain.

Like its host, it is day-to-day. 

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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.


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.”