Hawk's Nest: The problem with Pinehurst No. 2

By John HawkinsJune 16, 2014, 1:40 pm

Forget the scrub, the so-called vegetation, the waste areas, the environmentally conscious regions brought back to Pinehurst No. 2 by course architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. They were fine. There were few complaints about those no-fly zones from the men who competed in the 114th U.S. Open, and for the most part, that is a triumph in itself.

Nine under won in a rout. Three guys finished the tournament under par. From a scoring perspective, things were very U.S. Open-like, especially when you consider the utter lack of breeze – a factor that can impart more havoc on a scorecard than any other.

Donald Trump has a problem with the new No. 2, however, and hopped on Twitter to voice those objections over the weekend. Trump decried the “horrible look” of the wasteland, as if to confuse a major championship with one of his beauty pageants, and used the opportunity to declare several of his courses better, all while luring a few golf Tweetists into a catfight.

Blather + Intent = Marketing mechanism. Nobody works the math with less grace than the Trumpster.

Amid the Donald’s transparent motive, everyone seemed to miss the real issue. Pinehurst’s domed greens are too severe for today’s well-into-the-teens green speeds. Too many well-struck iron shots landed harmlessly on a putting surface but wound up in punitive spots, victimized by the severe runoff that sent some balls beyond the vast “chipping areas.”

Hit it thin? You deserve what you get. Common sense must prevail, however, and the fact of the matter is, original designer Donald Ross never woke up one morning to find his precious babies rolling at 15 on the Stimp, or even 11. Crenshaw and Coore were reluctant to mess with Ross’ fabled greens, a decision that proved long on respect and short on logic.

“Yes, the speeds are too much for the contours,” confirms course-architect maestro Geoff Shackelford. “They need to be lowered and deflated in some cases. Resort wants no part of that. Shame.”

Sure, the ball runs off at Augusta National, but 20-footers become 50-footers, not full-blown sand blasts from 40 yards. There are some clearly defined false fronts at the home of the Masters, at Shinnecock Hills and other major sites, for that matter, but those are strategic components with a rational purpose.

I have never seen more good shots end up in bad places than I did last week. Did it harm the competitive element? Not really, but it certainly could have. It’s hard to measure fairness, especially at a U.S. Open, where the line between tough and silly becomes unintelligible. In effect, that probably becomes a much bigger story than it should.

As for the waste areas, Martin Kaymer’s ability to hit highly functional approaches from the stuff was a huge key to his, uh, runaway victory – and a ringing endorsement for the Crenshaw/Coore restoration. The return of the recovery shot became a lovable upside to this U.S. Open. Pot luck on the lies? Obviously, but poor tee balls that miss ample fairways deserve no better.

The 6-iron that landed in the center of the green and ended up in downtown Rockingham – that’s what bothered me. It will be very interesting to see how many concessions are made to the setup when the U.S. Women’s Open moves onto the grounds this week.

AS WEIRD A year as this has been, a nice little Player of the Year race is shaping up between the season’s first two major champions. Kaymer, with his Players/U.S. Open double, is obviously a lead candidate, but Masters champ Bubba Watson also won at Riviera and, from head to toe (or hip, given that it’s June), has produced the more consistent 2014 overall.

We’ve got a zillion holes of golf left, of course, but here are some vitals on how Kaymer and Watson stack up to this point:

  Martin Kaymer Bubba Watson
Starts 12 12
Wins 2 2
Additional top-5s 0 4
Additional top-10s 1 2
Missed cuts 2 1
Average finish 25th 11th
Earnings per start $328,217 $414,890
World ranking climb 39th to 11th 28th to third

I don’t think Kaymer’s going wire to wire at both The Players and U.S. Open will have any value when his PGA Tour brethren vote on the POY this fall. The margin of his victory at Pinehurst (eight strokes) might pack a little bit of punch, but not much. Hey, the guy was ranked 61st in the world heading into The Players, meaning he was barely Match Play material, so to speak.

The German also finished T-12 at the European Tour’s PGA Championship two weeks ago, but that does nothing to aid his POY cause in America. Advantage: Watson, for now. Bubba finished poorly at the Memorial and talked himself into missing the cut at Pinehurst, but T-2s at Phoenix and Doral (a WGC), plus the solo third at Jack’s House, are the difference in their bodies of work.

BLOWOUTS ARE A funny thing. From 1971-99, the largest margin of victory at a U.S. Open was three strokes, and it happened just twice – Nicklaus in 1972; David Graham in 1981. In the 15 U.S. Opens since, we’ve had two margins of eight shots (Kaymer and Rory McIlroy in 2011) and Tiger Woods by 15 in 2000.

Red Shirt also won comfortably (by three) in 2002; Jim Furyk finished with the same cushion a year later. You could attribute these wider margins to a simple law of averages, figuring that at some point, more separation had to occur, but I think there’s more to it.

Woods was the most dominant player of all-time. His giant margins became statements – an attempt to sap all potential predators of their competitive spirit. He played crazy-hard all the way in at the 1997 Masters, and he did the same at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in ’00. No letup. Even if you heard the last few neckbones cracking Saturday afternoon.

McIlroy certainly has the most complete, high-level skill set of any player since Woods, and when he’s on, he can be way better than everyone else – his two major titles by eight apiece are proof. Which takes us to Kaymer, a talented player who has gotten a lot done before his 30th birthday despite a couple of dry spells and an ill-fated stint as the game’s top-ranked player.

“It’s nearly more impressive than what I did at Congressional,” McIlmarvel said Sunday.

I’ll be the first to admit that ranking blowouts is kind of silly – it’s kind of like ranking Beatles songs – but that won’t prevent me from doing it. Kaymer’s eight-shot waltz was “clearly more impressive” than McIlroy’s three years earlier, for one very distinct reason.

He did it on a much harder course, with danger lurking around every corner. You surely recall that McIlroy won on a spongy Congressional compromised greatly by rain – it played a lot more like a Tour event than a major championship. Not that McIlrampage’s triumph was chopped liver, but mentally, it’s a much easier to protect a lead on soft and slow than first and fast.

It’s interesting to note than both occurred without Woods in the field – a knee injury sidelined him in ’11, a back ailment this time. A more relevant similarity between the Irish Lad and the German? Neither did a very good job of holding onto the top spot in the world ranking.

KAYMER REACHED NUMERO uno after losing to Luke Donald in the finals of the WGC-Match Play in February 2011. He would arrive at the Masters six weeks later seemingly spooked by his brief, ineffective history at the tournament – three missed cuts in three starts – which some found odd. Not many high-ball hitters with dependable putters show up at Augusta National thinking they have no chance.

At that point, Kaymer basically disappeared from the American radar for the better part of three years. Despite winning the 2010 PGA at Whistling Straits, he remained loyal to the European Tour, where he played most of the time in ’11 and ’12. Still, he wasn’t nearly the player he’d been in 2008-09.

Like a lot of guys, Kaymer took on swing changes in an attempt to work the ball both ways, which further cluttered an already crowded mind. There were whispers that he didn’t even want to participate in the 2012 Ryder Cup – captain Jose Maria Olazabal wound up playing Kaymer in just one of the four partnered sessions.

So he holes the clinching putt in his singles match against Steve Stricker, then decides to play full-time in the United States in 2013, then manages three top-10s and finishes 103rd in the FedEx Cup standings. And for the first four months of 2014, it was much of the same.

Too talented to be awful, not tough enough to be really good. The book on Kaymer was short and not so sweet.

“I knew I would struggle a little bit for a while,” he said of the mechanical alterations. “But the combination of both – you’re getting so much attention [for being No. 1] and you’re not winning. Why is that? So why do you change? You don’t want to answer those questions all the time. You answer them once or twice, and that should be enough, but people keep going and I keep answering and answering.”

Watching Kaymer’s post-victory interview from Pinehurst, I couldn’t help but see and hear a guy conflicted by it all. Earlier in the Q&A session, he’d deflected an inquiry regarding his swing changes. Ten minutes later, he was offering a full confessional on why he struggled. We’re talking about a nice guy, very introspective and a bit more sensitive than most of the alpha males he’s been beating lately.

It adds up to a man trying to stay out of his own way. Mickelson could miss eight straight cuts and show up at a Ryder Cup thinking he was going to win five points.

“I don’t want to be rude to people,” Kaymer added, “so that’s why I kept answering.”

I’ve told this story before and I’ll tell it again, given its relevance. Woods had just finished his pre-tournament news conference in Dallas one year and was on the putting green. I approached him and made a rather daring comment – one that might have gotten stuffed down my throat at another time.

“Man, you just spent 45 minutes in there with the media and you said absolutely nothing,” I said with a smile. “You’re better at giving us nothing than you are at playing golf.”

Tiger chuckled. It was rather clear he was pleased with himself over my observation. That dude has 14 majors, this one has two. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

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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.”