Willett's life changes - again - with Masters win

By John FeinsteinApril 11, 2016, 1:03 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Sunday was supposed to be a special day in Danny Willett’s life. If all had gone as initially scheduled, his first child would have been born. And, if that had been the case, Willett would have been in Sheffield, England with his wife Nicole when Zachariah James – their first child – arrived.

But Zachariah made his first public appearance on March 30 after a C-section and, after talking it over with Nicole, Danny decided to come and play in his second Masters.

Now, he’ll be coming back forever.

On the day when he thought he would become a father, Willett became a Masters champion. Playing three groups in front of the week-long leader, Jordan Spieth, he shot a solid, bogey-free 67. And, like everyone else, Willett was stunned when Spieth completely collapsed going through Amen Corner, playing the 10th, 11th and 12th holes in bogey, bogey, quadruple bogey.

Spieth had birdied the last four holes on the first nine to go out in 32 and had a five-shot lead as he made the turn. It seemed almost inevitable that the second nine holes would be a coronation march to Spieth’s second straight Masters title.

But, as Greg Norman often said, there’s a reason why golf is a four-letter word.

Until Sunday, the most memorable collapse in Masters history was Norman’s loss to Nick Faldo from six shots ahead in the final round 20 years ago. On that day, Faldo shot a bogey-free 67 (to Norman’s 78) and made the comment that he hoped people would remember that he played well, not just that Norman played poorly.

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“I hope they’ll remember that I came through with a very good day,” Faldo said that day. ”But I suppose they’ll talk more about Greg when all is said and done.”

They did. And they have. But that doesn’t change the fact that Faldo did play superbly that day. The same is true of Willett, whose performance was all the more remarkable given his lack of experience in major championships. Faldo’s win in 1996 was his third at the Masters and his sixth major title, in all.

Willett was playing in his 12th major and had one top-10 finish – last year’s Open Championship where he tied for sixth – on his resume. For most of the day, it looked as if he would add a second solid finish and perhaps his first top-five to that record. But a win?

“I thought we had to get to 6 under or 7 under,” Willett said. “Then I looked up and Jordan was already at 7 under. After that it became a little bit surreal.”

To put it mildly. Willett began the day in a tie for fifth place, three shots back of Spieth. Willett was on the 12th hole, having birdied the sixth and the eighth when Spieth rolled in a long birdie putt at the ninth. Willett was in second place, but still – as he noted – trailed Spieth by five shots.

And then, while Willett was birdieing Nos. 13 and 14, Spieth was suffering one of the most stunning and inexplicable collapses in golf history – most notably at the 12th, where he mis-hit his tee shot, chunked his wedge even more dramatically and then bounced his fifth shot into the back bunker. From there, he made a very good up-and-down for 7.

Suddenly, as he walked off the 15th green, Willett was leading the Masters – by one shot over the man he was paired with, Lee Westwood.

“I heard the groaning or oohing or whatever the sound was,” Willett said. “I looked behind me and saw what had happened.” He smiled. “For a second I thought it was a joke and they were going to change it and put a 7 back up there.”

They didn’t.

If there was ever a moment for nerves to hit WIllett, it was as he stood on the 16th tee. He never blinked, hitting an 8-iron to within 8 feet and holing the putt for birdie. When Westwood three-putted from 50-feet, Willett had gone from trailing the leader by five to leading by three in less than an hour.

Athletes in any sport will tell you that the most difficult thing to do when you are close to a dream is to stay in the present – in this case to not think about putting on a green jacket. Taking his time, taking deep breaths before every shot, Willett got up-and-down from just off the 17th green for par and then hit two sterling shots on 18 to set up a two-putt par. When his final putt went in, he hugged his caddie, Jonathan Smart, as if he had just won the Masters.

Spieth still had a chance, having somehow calmed his shattered nerves long enough to birdie Nos. 13 and 15. But when he missed a curling 8-foot birdie putt at 16, then missed the green at 17 and made bogey, it was over.

“Words can’t really describe it,” Willett said, wearing the green jacket that will be part of his life forever. “I’ve won a few times in the past, but this is a different league. It will take a while for it to sink in.”

While he waited for Spieth to finish, Willett called Nicole. “The line was a bit crackly,” he said. “I think she said, ‘well done.’”

That’s putting it mildly. Willett was a late bloomer as a junior golfer in England and had accepted a scholarship offer from Jacksonville State (Alabama) before he began to win more tournaments and drew more attention. He kept his commitment to coach James Hobbs and spent two years there before turning pro.

His career has been on the rise for the past several years and included a third-place finish in the WGC-Dell Match Play a year ago and the sixth-place finish at St. Andrews last summer. He decided to pass on joining the PGA Tour this year because of the impending arrival of his son.

“I guess he heard my prayers and knew he had to come early,” Willett said. “I’m not sure what’s been more thrilling today or last Tuesday. I’m not sure which one it’s politically correct to say.”

Informed that it was the birth of his son, Willett, the son of a preacher, smiled. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “It really was amazing.”

So was Sunday. Spieth’s pain was Willett’s joy; Spieth’s near-miss changed Willett’s life – at the age of 28 – in ways he could not begin to imagine, certainly not yet.

On the 18th green, just before he tapped in his final putt, Willett took off the white sweater he’d been wearing all day to reveal the green shirt he was wearing.

“I was warm, really,” Willett said. Then he smiled again. “And I thought the green looked a little better.”

He now has the green every golfer dreams about owning. Because he stayed home until the last possible minute, Willett didn’t arrive in Augusta until Monday evening. Since he was the 89th – and last – player to register, Smart wore No. 89 on his white caddie jumpsuit.

He won’t be wearing that number next year. Every player at the Masters receives his number based on when he registers. Except the previous year’s champion.

He gets No. 1.

Regardless of when he arrives a year from now, that will be Willett’s number. And while people will remember Spieth’s collapse, there is no doubt that Willett earned his victory.

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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.”