Hawks Nest: Early odds for the Masters

By John HawkinsFebruary 11, 2013, 2:28 pm

YEAH, WE GOT a little snow in Connecticut last week. Thirty inches, give or take a flake, which left me with a tough decision. Do I start shoveling 25 yards of driveway when it’s 19 degrees out and still blowing like hell, or do I watch celebrity Saturday at Pebble Beach?

I chose the blizzard. Do I really need to sit through another frame-by-frame analysis of Huey Lewis’ golf swing? Am I in a better place because Bill Murray is sporting extended mutton chops? Seriously, you could run a rebroadcast of the third round in 2007 and no one could tell the difference. They need some new blood at that tournament. Sorry, but celeb-a-chop ain’t my thing.

The problem with 30 inches of snow is that you’re out there for like an hour and clear about 4 feet of earth. The payback comes when your daughters start laughing because their snowman just tipped over. Or when they pull out the inner tube and find 20 minutes of joy while sliding down a mound created by the excess from the driveway.

My guess is that Tiger Woods, who grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles (is that a redundancy?), never threw snowballs as a kid. February in the Northeast isn’t for a lot of people, but a few uppercuts from Old Man Winter are of little bother to me. Cold weather and all its inconveniences are only as bad as you allow them to be – it’s not half as brutal as watching washed-up actors hit lousy golf shots.

Tell you what, though. By the time you read this, my next-door neighbor and I will have already split the cost on a snowblower.

BOY, DO I love Brandt Snedeker. He plays faster than fast, has the coolest little follow-through and acts like he’s been there before, even if he hasn’t. He also wears one of those old-school visors – the 1980s design you’re more likely to see on some rich old lady to keep the sun off her face. I like a man comfortable in his own skin.

That 65 Sneds fired Sunday to win at Pebble Beach was a textbook round of golf, a performance reflective of a dude rapidly approaching the game’s highest level. And that has me thinking about the Masters, which is still almost two months away, but I’ve seen enough in the first six weeks of the season to formulate some very early odds.

Woods (7-1): Hasn’t won an emerald sportcoat since 2005, hasn’t putted well at Augusta National for just as long, but his recent win at Torrey Pines was fueled by an airtight short game. He knows he needs to get moving up Mount Nicklaus. The harder the conditions, the better his chances.

Rory McIlroy (10-1): Nike surely will adjust the dials on his new clubs, but that doesn’t mean he’ll hit it any better than he did at Abu Dhabi. where he missed the cut. Hasn’t played since – why is the kid taking such a long break? Still the world’s best player, but more than ever, it’s a what-have-you-done-lately world.

Snedeker (12-1): Fell apart with the final-round lead in 2008, but this is a totally different player now. I’m blown away by the dramatic improvement in Sneds’ ball-striking consistency. The guy missed a grand total of four fairways last week, more proof that swing coach Todd Anderson is one of the best in the business. On the greens? The Visor has never needed an adviser.

Phil Mickelson (12-1): His putting stroke had better fluidity and pace throughout the win at TPC Scottsdale – so much for that ninth rendition of “Phil is Phinished.” I’m not a huge fan of the way-left miss, as you can’t play Augusta National from the wrong fairway, but Lefty didn’t win three jackets by virtue of his pinpoint accuracy, either.

Louis Oosthuizen (15-1): Won a European Tour event in his native South Africa at the beginning of the year, continuing a stretch of fine golf that has continued for a while. Lost the Masters playoff to Bubba Watson last year. When he’s on, he’s really, really on. And when he’s not? No one will remember I had him as a favorite in February.

UNLESS MY MEMORY fails me, which is entirely possible, I’ve played in three official pro-ams during my 18 years as a golf writer, all of which were multi-round events similar to the one last week. I’ve worked with people who have played in a bunch of the Wednesday gatherings on the PGA Tour. Most of those folks either sold ads or sat behind a desk telling guys like me what to do.

What I vividly recall are the half-dozen or so times I’ve played a casual round with one of the game’s biggest stars.

Fred Couples – Lucky me, getting the assignment to do a full-length interview with Couples for Golf Digest in the spring of 2003. Fortune smiled again when he won the Shell Houston Open the day before we met at his home in Southern California, a victory that remains Fred’s last on the big-boy tour.

The original plan was for me to leave early Tuesday evening. I know I was still hanging around Thursday morning, and I must admit, an afternoon nap feels even better when Fred Couples is snoozing on the other couch. We teed it up at the Valley Club in Santa Barbara with his buddy John Pate, an outstanding amateur and brother of Steve.

At the par-5 first, Couples hit driver-5-iron to 20 feet and made the putt, literally continuing the conversation while striking all three shots. He birdied the second with a turkey sandwich hanging out of his mouth, then the third and fourth, and at that point, I was just a wee bit impressed. You could see Couples getting a little bored with it all, however, as if the game had become too easy. I have no idea what he ended up shooting. I’m pretty certain he didn’t, either.

Phil Mickelson – One of the most important rounds I’ve ever played in terms of improving my game. The day after the 1999 Tour Championship, I was asked to join Lefty, his caddie, Jim Mackay, and amateur-extraordinaire Danny Yates III for a game at Peachtree CC in Atlanta. Since Mackay, a scratch player at the time, was only the third best player in the foursome, we basically had three A players and a G-minus.

My little 4 handicap held up quite well, however, especially with Mickelson reading the greens. “If this one’s gonna go in, it has to enter the hole right here,” he would explain, pointing to a spot on the edge of the cup. It was as if someone beat me over the head with a burlap sack full of common sense.

Mickelson read putts “backwards” – from the hole to the ball instead of ball-to-hole – and basically envisioned the line in his head, which allowed him to account for speed and dismissed terms such as “right edge” or “two cups out” from the equation. Rocket science? Maybe not, but we won some bread that day, and I’ve been a fairly decent putter since.

Jesper Parnevik – I’m a trifle embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember when and where we played; probably Mirasol or Old Palm in the mid-2000s. What I’ll never forget was a fiercely contested match pitting Parnevik and Tim Rosaforte vs. myself and caddie Lance Ten Broeck, who holed a putt on the 18th for the W.

We were warming up before the round and Rosaforte wasn’t hitting it very well, which immediately got Parnevik’s attention. The Swede came over and spent the next 20 minutes searching for a cure, spending most of the time on one knee and literally teeing up each practice ball for Rosaforte’s next attempt.

I’d never seen a Tour pro do something like that before, and it’s highly likely I’ll never see it again. What always made Parnevik so appealing to me is that he couldn’t spell “ego” if you spotted him the g and the o.

John Cook – Orlando’s Isleworth G&CC had recently been lengthened and toughened up when we met Cookie there for a round in March 2005. I had begun my season playing well and was looking forward to showing the pro my game. It even crossed my mind that I’d out-drive the old man once or twice, if not all day, seeing how Cook had become one of the Tour’s straightest but shortest hitters.

Not a chance, fella. I spent the afternoon in the right bermuda, 30 or 40 yards behind Cook, who might have missed one fairway. He shot a 69 without an ounce of wasted breath on a behemoth course, reminding me that writers should stick to writing and Tour pros should make their 8-footers.

BY THE WAY, one of the worst golf experiences I’ve ever endured was a round with trashy talk-show host Maury Povich back in the mid-1990s. I mean, the guy was a nice player, and if you don’t believe me, ask him – he’ll be happy to tell you. An unfortunate victim of fame and illusion, Povich’s love affair with himself was hard to digest for 4 ½ minutes, much less 4 ½ hours.

The son of legendary Washington, D.C., sportswriter Shirley Povich, one of the nicest people ever to sit behind a typewriter, Maury was all the proof I’ve ever needed. Sometimes, the apple falls miles from the tree.

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.


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.”