Fowler an Old-School Throwback

By Randall MellJanuary 13, 2010, 7:28 pm
Rickie Fowler at Sony Open Press Conference
Rickie Fowler at Sony Open press conference (Getty Images)


Rickie Fowler will get a hard look from the PGA Tour’s old guard when he tees it up this week at the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Veterans who have endured the test of time aren’t easily impressed.

The hype that can usher in the game’s bright new faces gives them pause. They have watched so many rookies projected to be the game’s next superstars flame out over the years. They’ve learned to trust their own probing eyes.

That’s why Fowler’s performance at the Shark Shootout in Naples, Fla., last month meant so much.

He passed the toughest of inspections there.

He played alongside Mark Calcavecchia and Chris DiMarco and won their respect with his old-school shot making.

By the time he signed his scorecard after that first round, he was practically one of them, a throwback they’re confident would have thrived making his way through yesteryear with persimmon woods and balata balls.

That was the Shark Shootout upset nobody read about.

Who would have thought an up-and-coming rookie whose dashing looks are being compared with Leonardo DiCaprio could be a kindred spirit to a rumpled old warrior like Calcavecchia?

Calcavecchia, 49, earned his way onto the PGA Tour back when Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino were still winning. He’s a 13-time PGA Tour winner who showed his shot-making prowess winning the British Open in 1989.

Fowler’s arsenal of shots impressed this member of the old guard.

It’s what Calcavecchia likes about Fowler’s game. It’s also Fowler’s real value to the PGA Tour.

Yes, at 21, with his long, golden locks, that funky Puma’s painters cap and his grasp of fashion, Fowler connects powerfully with today’s youngest fans. He makes the game seem cool. He’s got an X-Games kind of appeal with a derring-do style of play developed in a motocross background.

While that might win him a youthful following, it wins him nothing in a PGA Tour event.

It’s all about performance between the ropes, the ability to execute shots under pressure.

Calcavecchia and DiMarco will tell you they were won over in that department. They’ll tell you the kid’s got the tools to be special. While it doesn’t guarantee Fowler stardom, they like his chances.

“I’m glad I only have to look at him for another six months,” said Calcavecchia, who heads off for the Champions Tour in June. “I don’t think there’s anybody on the Champions Tour who can hit it by me 50 yards like Rickie did. For a little guy, he can bomb it, but he’s not a full-throttle guy who smashes every shot. He knows how to hit every shot, cuts and draws, how to take a lot off a shot. For 21 years old, to have every shot in the bag is pretty good. I think he’s going to be great.”

It took less than an hour into the first round of the Shark Shootout for Fowler to impress Calcavecchia.

Just 153 yards out in the fairway at Tiburon Golf Club’s fourth hole, Fowler faced a delicate approach into a brisk crossing wind.

It was a little test that made Calcavecchia straighten up and pay attention, the kind of shot that required imagination and finesse, skills most rookies haven’t fully developed in this smash-and-chase era.

The pin was tough to get at, tucked front left with water guarding the entire left side of the green. With the wind blowing in from the right, the water was in play for anything too aggressive.

“I’m thinking he might hit an 8-iron in there,” Calcavecchia said. “I’m right next to him, and I’m thinking I’m going to hit a 7-iron.”

Fowler surprised Calcavecchia, plucking a 6-iron out of his bag. He carved a pretty little three-quarter shot that obediently held its line against the wind before diving back to earth and checking to a stop 10 feet from the pin.

“It was pretty impressive,” Calcavecchia said. “He really took a lot off it. Obviously, he’s got control of what he’s doing.”

Fowler takes pride in his ability to move the ball left and right and control trajectory.

“I was just trying to control the distance along with the spin and flight,” Fowler said. “The wind didn’t touch it much. I controlled the spin to where the ball wasn’t going to do much in the air or on the ground.

“That was kind of a feel shot, trying to control the flight. I feel like there aren’t many young guys coming out that can hit a lot of shots now when they need to.”

An All-American at Oklahoma State, Fowler was a freshman when he won the Ben Hogan Award as the nation’s best player. He turned pro last fall after helping the Americans win the Walker Cup following his sophomore season. He made headlines quickly, losing the Frys.com Open in a playoff in just his second PGA Tour start as a pro and went on to secure his PGA Tour card at Q-School last month.

DiMarco, 41, a three-time PGA Tour winner, was paired as Fowler’s partner in the Shark Shootout’s two-man team format. They finished seventh.

“The kid’s unbelievable,” DiMarco said. “He’s going to be good for many, many, many years.

“He’s a great ballstriker, hits the ball really far and is mature beyond his years. That’s the main thing. I remember when I was his age, and there was no way I was ready for this. The way he handles himself, I’ve only seen that a few times. Tiger was like that, Justin Leonard was like that, guys that were ready at that age. We maybe see one or two of these guys every 10 years.”

Rickie Yutaka Fowler is actually the full name. His middle name is Japanese. It’s his maternal grandfather’s name.

“I’m a quarter Japanese,” Fowler says.

It was his grandfather, Taka, who first put a golf club in his hands when he was 3. A few years later, he was following Taka to the Murrietta Valley Golf Range in his hometown in Murrietta, Calif. That’s where Fowler met Barry McDonnell, the only swing coach he’s ever had. McDonnell would challenge Fowler to learn to move the ball left and right and up and down as his game developed.

“He never used a video camera,” Fowler said. “I was always a feel player and still am.”

Fowler doesn’t pound balls at the range, he crafts shots. That’s how McDonnell got him to fall in love with the game. They would pretend they were drawing drives around the bend at the 13th hole at Augusta National or hitting shots under the wind at St. Andrews. They were always creating, controlling ball flight. Their work was never about robotically honing straight-arrow shots. That instilled a little bit of Seve Ballesteros in Fowler in that he relishes the great escape shots.

“Rickie almost feeds off trying to hit tough shots,” says Fowler’s father, Rod.

Part of that is the now well-told story of the motocross breeding in Fowler. Rod won the Baja 1,000 on a four-wheeler in 1986. He raced hard and rode tough. He has broken his ribs and punctured his lungs more than once in crashes. He had Rickie riding a dirt bike when Rickie was just 3. The entire family rides, including Rickie’s mother, Lynn, and younger sister, Taylor. Lynn won a 24-hour mountain bike race as part of a five-woman team in Idyllwild, Calif., eight years ago.

Rod likes how his son sees golf courses different than most golfers. He says Rickie can see race tracks, mountain roads and desert dune runs in an 18-hole layout. He sees the challenge in certain shots the way he used to see jumps on a track.

“He’s called me over to the ropes in the middle of a golf tournament and said, `Dad, doesn’t this hole remind you of that run at Ocotillo Wells,’” Rod said.

Rod won’t be alone watching to see if his son can put together a thrilling run to start his rookie year. Rickie? He’s taking it one jump – strike that – one shot at a time.

“I know there are a lot of people out there expecting a lot of me, or not expecting a lot,” he said of the hype. “With the pressure, I felt like I've dealt with it pretty well throughout the years, junior, amateur, college. So, really, my own expectations are just to get the most that I can out of every week, because you can be on top of the game one week and then you're struggling the next. I expect myself to play well, obviously, whether that be winning a few events, or maybe some top-10s here and there. I’m just really looking forward to getting a full year out here and trying to go without having too many expectations, have fun, play stress free golf.”
 
The fun, he hopes, begins in Hawaii.
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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.”

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PGA Tour, LPGA react to video review rules changes

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 1:32 pm

The USGA and R&A announced on Monday updates to the Rules of Golf, including no longer accepting call-ins relating to violations. The PGA Tour and LPGA, which were both part of a working group of entities who voted on the changes, issued the following statements:

PGA Tour:

The PGA Tour has worked closely with the USGA and R&A on this issue in recent years, and today's announcement is another positive step to ensure the Rules of Golf align with how the game is presented and viewed globally. The PGA Tour will adopt the new Local Rule beginning January 1, 2018 and evolve our protocols for reviewing video evidence as outlined.

LPGA:

We are encouraged by the willingness of the governing bodies to fully vet the issues and implement real change at a pace much quicker than the sport has seen previously. These new adaptations, coupled with changes announced earlier this year, are true and meaningful advances for the game. The LPGA plans to adopt fully the protocols and new Local Rule as outlined.