Many Losses One Mans Gain

By John HawkinsJune 21, 2010, 8:36 pm
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – If every major championship has a personality, the 2010 U.S. Open would have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The good was very good, the bad about as bad as bad gets, most of which was impossible to see coming. When a final round full of backpedaling finally shook itself out, the leaderboard almost seemed dysfunctional. It made more sense if you looked at it upside-down.

Nothing against Graeme McDowell, who clearly emerged as the most consistent player from start to finish and did everything a U.S. Open champion is supposed to do. At the beginning of the week, I said that anybody with designs on winning would have to make a vast majority of their 8-footers, and McDowell made more than anyone. He kept his golf ball in front of him, stayed away from the cliffs and high grass, and relied on his solid iron play to navigate Pebble Beach in its most resistant state.

As for the Dude in the Red Shirt, you need a vivid imagination to figure out how Tiger Woods had even half a chance heading into Sunday. Other than on Saturday’s back nine, Woods looked no better than average. He clearly resolved issues with his golf swing after hitting it so poorly at the Memorial, but his chipping and putting, which are requisites to any level of success at Pebble Beach, cost him repeatedly in the first two rounds.

It was strange to see Tiger, the king of stroke economization, fritter away so many on a course where he has produced a sizeable amount of history. The guy has proven to be nearly unbeatable on three or four PGA Tour venues, and Pebble Beach would have been on that list if he’d continued to play in the Tour’s winter hit-and-giggle. Woods griped about the bumpy Poa-annua after his late round Thursday, yet he didn’t bother to practice there in the afternoon.

In 2000, he was on the practice green until the night before the U.S. Open started. Nowadays, he’s off the grounds and doing whatever he does well before noon.

He spent Sunday two or three strokes outside serious contention, beginning his day with an utterly inexcusable three-putt on the first hole, and when the time came when he had to make a move, Woods wasn’t sharp enough to make something happen. It all added up to a misleading tie for fourth with Phil Mickelson, who basically had the same kind of week – one good round, a couple of mediocre ones, not nearly enough firepower come Sunday.

When Dustin Johnson began impersonating a 12 handicap on the second green, his big third-round lead vanishing like that golf ball he smashed into the junk left of the third fairway, Woods, Mickelson and Ernie Els all had been handed the break they needed. Els was the only one to gain any real ground on the lead, but when things tightened up on the final nine, he committed a series of blunders you rarely, if ever, see from one of the game’s best tough-course golfers.

If the Big Easy wasn’t despondent over this loss, it was only because he departed the grounds before anybody had a chance to detect his anguish. This was an agonizing defeat for a guy with a closet full of competitive skeletons, maybe even tougher to stomach than the buzzer-beater Mickelson threw at him in the 2004 Masters or the playoff loss to Todd Hamilton at the British Open three months later. At least Mickelson played extraordinary golf and grabbed that tournament by the throat. At least Hamilton played mistake-free golf on a course where trouble was easy to find.

This U.S. Open was hanging off a low-lying branch, just waiting to be plucked. McDowell trailed by three going into Sunday, shot 74 and won despite playing the final 10 holes in four over par, despite making just one birdie all day – at the par-3 fifth. The top three players of this generation, a trio with a combined 21 major titles, all sat within semi-striking distance, yet none came close to chasing down a guy with zero victories and five top-10s in 57 career starts on the U.S. tour.

McDowell claimed our national championship with a final-round score three strokes higher than any of his other 18-hole totals. He did it without so much as having to make a putt, which is what happens when your only pursuer, in this case Gregory Havret, is 391st in the world ranking. More than any golf tournament on earth, the outcome of a U.S. Open is determined largely by the failure of those who fall short, but the 110th edition stretched every rule in the book on matters involving winning and losing, how it all came about and who ended up where.

John Hawkins appears on Golf Central every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and on the Grey Goose 19th Hole every Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.

It was not pro golf’s finest hour. When I saw USGA setup man Mike Davis afterward, he looked he’d just spent four days on a worry bender – the first words out of his mouth were, “Well, it’s over.” Davis did a good job with what he had, but Pebble Beach should undergo some changes before it hosts the 2019 U.S. Open. You can start with the 14th green complex, a combination of too small, too contoured and too penal when you factor in the speed of today’s putting surfaces. When the world’s best players are afraid to hit sand wedges at a target, the situation calls for further examination.

I’m all for a little blood, but I’d prefer the players draw it by virtue of their own doing. The cost of a mistake at the 14th is outrageously disproportionate to crime itself, but then, everything seemed hyperbolized last week. On a beautiful piece of land, we were treated to a rather unsightly version of the competitive element.
A few hours after landing in San Francisco to cover a 1992 playoff game between the 49ers and Washington Redskins, my sports editor at the Washington Times called with a new command. “Drive down to the Monterey Peninsula and play Pebble Beach,” he ordered. It sounded a lot better than spending an afternoon listening to George Seifert or officiating the Joe Montana-Steve Young debate in Ghirardelli Square.

What I got 18 years ago was fairly typical of the Pebble Beach experience: a glorious day, a 5 ½-hour round, the jaw-dropping beauty that begins at the par-4 fourth—and the long stretch of underrated holes, the Pebble nobody talks about. What makes this course one of America’s best isn’t its proximity to the Pacific, the sea lions or Clint Eastwood. From a strategic standpoint, original architects Jack Neville and Douglas Grant created a subtle masterpiece, a place where the exceptionally small greens can feel like moving targets in a two- or three-club breeze.

When prepared with a certain amount of discretion, Pebble Beach is the ideal U.S. Open venue, and USGA setup man Mike Davis has all the dials in all the right places this week. The concept of “graduated rough” has been advanced to include a greater variance of length—some spots six or seven yards off the fairway will be much more difficult than others. Davis has also mandated that the greens not be mowed to as low a level as possible. Longer grass should mean fewer bumps, and in placing additional emphasis on rolling the greens, Pebble’s putting surfaces will still be played at near-frightening speeds.

After watching Zach Johnson toil on the practice green for about 10 minutes Tuesday, I’m more convinced than ever that this year’s U.S. Open champion will hole more than his share of 10- and 15-footers. Four days of clear skies and zero percent chance of rain (10 percent on Saturday) guarantee us firm fairways, so shorter hitters such as Johnson and Jim Furyk have a far better chance than, say, last year at Bethpage. Mega-bomber Dustin Johnson has won back-to-back tournaments at Pebble on the PGA Tour’s dead-of-winter visit, but the tour doesn’t roll the greens in early February, nor is the texture of the grounds even remotely similar to that of mid-June.

Instead of the aerial contest we see at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the competitive balance of this U.S. Open will evolve largely around the ground game. Five or six of the driving alleys, most notably at the par-5 sixth and par-4 ninth, require a shot of viable shape, not only to hit a decent approach, but to keep the ball in play. “I’m probably going to hit just a handful of drivers out there,” says three-time champion Tiger Woods, for whom the longest club in the bag has caused the biggest headaches.

“When I got here last Sunday, No. 6 was into the wind and driver was a perfect club,” Woods adds. “It was just a little 3-wood [Tuesday] and I still had an iron in. The wind has a lot to do with it, but more than anything, these fairways are starting to get really quick.”

All of which takes us back to those tiny greens. “I don’t want to play aggressive off the tee,” says Phil Mickelson, who has downplayed the importance of distance this week. “I want to play aggressive at the pins.”

At an average of 3,300 square feet, Pebble’s greens are about one-third the size of those at many modern venues. Short-side misses will almost certainly lead to bogeys. Those with mediocre short games have little chance of contending—Lee Westwood and Hunter Mahan, two superb ballstrikers who chip poorly, come to mind. Mickelson, Woods and Ernie Els, all terrific around the greens, are likely to factor, but by Sunday evening, a player who best combines accuracy off the tee with the ability to economize strokes close to the hole will hoist the grand prize Sunday night.

Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker—at least two of those three guys will be in the mix entering the final nine.
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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.

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.”