Packing a punch

By John HawkinsAugust 30, 2011, 3:31 pm

As disappointed as I was with the decision to end The Barclays after 54 holes, nobody should be disillusioned when it comes to the FedEx Cup playoffs in general. The series is in its fifth year, still flawed in a world where perfect barely exists, so we should accept the postseason for what it is. Better than what we had before, obviously. A four-week stretch of premium-field events that should bring the year to a close but doesn’t.

But hey, no need to sweat the small stuff. The golf has been very good, the tournaments etched in suspense, several of them featuring down-the-stretch duels between top-shelf players. Last week’s Dustin Johnson-Matt Kuchar tilt might have happened a day early, but in this game, you take what you can get. From Steve Stricker’s triumph in the inaugural playoff gathering (Westchester, 2007) to Johnson’s hurricane-shortened victory at Plainfield, the only duds have come at a Tour Championship or two, mainly because the overall winner already had been determined.

Just two of the 17 tournament winners came out of nowhere: Heath Slocum over Tiger Woods at the 2009 Barclays and Charley Hoffman at last year's Deutsche Bank. After a couple of early no-shows by the superstars, attendance has been strong – and the best players have carried the product. Those two things had to happen for the playoffs to have any credibility, but until the PGA Tour makes the format sexier, only hardcore fans will understand the concept, much less embrace it.

That said, here are my top five postseason finishes – this list was no gimme despite the FedEx Cup's youth. It might not be a real “playoff” as much as it is a payoff, but if you love golf, the FedEx has, ahem, delivered.

5. 2008 Tour Championship (Villegas over Garcia): This one ranks because it involved two young stars in a sudden-death playoff, which ended on the first hole, but also because it exposed a huge problem in the postseason format. Villegas won the last two events but never had a chance to claim the overall crown because Vijay Singh had won the first two – so much for the crescendo effect.

You would think all that money would buy the Tour a decent mathematician, but Camp Ponte Vedra likes to do things their way. The points-allocation formula was soon overhauled to include a ton of back-end reward, but that doesn't change the fact that the wrong guy won in 2008.

4. 2009 Barclays (Slocum over Woods): The end of the Dynasty, although most would cite Tiger's loss to Y.E. Yang at the PGA Championship two weeks earlier as the official end. Regardless, Woods was beaten by a nobody in back-to-back starts – Slocum holed a 20-footer on Liberty National's 18th, starting the clock on his 15 minutes of fame. As for Red Shirt, he was about to become infamous, but he did win the BMW and his second FedEx title before losing to the fire hydrant.

3. 2010 Tour Championship (Furyk over Donald): Let's not get carried away here. Yes, Furyk had to get up and down from a greenside bunker on East Lake's 18th to edge Donald in a FedEx photo finish for all the marbles, but the two weren't paired together and the weather was absolutely miserable, which made it hard to watch. Still, the bunker shot was as clutch as it gets – it was the first time the season-long title came down to the final hole.

The problem was that Donald came within a whisker of that $10 million despite not winning a tournament all year. Sanity prevailed, however, and believe me, they don't get any saner than Jim Furyk.

2. 2008 Barclays (Singh over Garcia): A true overtime thriller at Woodbridge CC, which got the event after the Tour dumped longtime host Westchester – the 2008 media guide lists the deposed club as the tournament site. Sergio and Vijay holed bombs on the first extra hole, but if Garcia spent that summer running out of gas 50 feet before the checkered flag, this was a fitting sequel to the British Open and PGA losses to Padraig Harrington. Add the sudden-death loss to Villegas three weeks later, and it's no wonder Sergio has spent the last three years picking up the pieces of a broken heart.

Singh, meanwhile, trampled the field in Boston a week later, knocking in 40-footers like Chevy Chase in 'Caddyshack.' That appears to be his last hurrah, but the $10 million he picked up (instead of Villegas) will buy you a lot of good memories.

1. 2007 Deutsche Bank (Mickelson over Woods): One of the best final rounds I've ever covered – and that includes the majors. The electricity running through TPC Boston that Labor Day was off the meter, a current powered by two primary sources: New England sports-fan intensity and the Tiger-Phil pairing in the second-to-last group. Both guys played well, with Mickelson's 66 matching low round of the day, one better than Red Shirt. The W vaulted Philly Mick to the top of the FedEx standings, where Woods had resided before skipping The Barclays a week earlier.

As if to prove he's as open-minded as any superstar on the planet, Mickelson announced during his post-round TV interview that he wouldn't be playing the following week in Chicago. Tiger won there, then again by eight in Atlanta. Phil didn't like the way the playoffs were structured. Not that it mattered back then.

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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.”