Grain of sand muddies U.S. Women's Open finish

By Randall MellJuly 11, 2016, 3:30 am

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – The USGA ought to bring in an exorcist.

The spirit of the game suddenly seems a cruel, wicked entity.

Or maybe a witch doctor is in order.

The U.S. Women’s Open appeared to end under a curse almost as dark as what plagued the U.S. Open last month.

Now is the summer of our discontent, made glorious winter by the cold heart of the Rules of Golf.

What in the name of Bobby Jones is happening to our national championships?

Brittany Lang emerged as the winner Sunday from a fog of confusion in yet another USGA-hosted event. She defeated Anna Nordqvist in a three-hole aggregate playoff to win the U.S. Women’s Open with fans gaping in dumbfounded wonderment over how another rules controversy could scar yet another national championship.

How disorienting was it all?

USGA president Diana Murphy introduced Brittany as Bethany in the trophy presentation, then kept referring to her as Bethany. It was cringeworthy to viewers who remembered Murphy’s strangely tongue-tied delivery at the U.S. Open trophy presentation, which ignited unflattering speculation in the Twitterverse.

Poor Brittany Lang, she deserved better than that finish, as did Dustin Johnson in his U.S. Open victory at Oakmont.


U.S. Women’s Open: Articles, photos and videos


This was the moment of Lang’s golfing life, just as it was the pinnacle of Johnson’s career, but we couldn’t fully appreciate what either achieved with so many questions over video reviews of breaches swirling over their finishes.

“You never want to win with a penalty or something like that happening, especially to Anna, who is a friend of mine and a great player and a classy girl,” Lang said. “It's unfortunate. I still had to play pretty damn good golf to get up there. So, I’m really proud of myself.”

Lang was tough in every way you have to be to win a U.S. Women’s Open, her second LPGA title and her first major championship triumph.

In a nutshell, the controversy Sunday was over Nordqvist grazing a few grains of sand not visible to the naked eye as she pulled back a 5-iron in her takeaway while hitting a shot to the 17th green on the second playoff hole. She was in violation of Rule 13-4b. There was no disputing that once Fox showed a zoomed-in replay. You can’t ground your club in a bunker.

Sunday’s controversy at CordeValle Golf Club was yet again about the timing of the application of a penalty discovered in video review.

At the U.S. Open, the controversy was twofold. It was over whether Johnson violated Rule 18-2, whether he actually caused his ball to move a millimeter or so while over a putt at the fifth hole on Sunday at Oakmont. It was also over the USGA’s decision to inform Johnson at the 12th hole he might be penalized for a breach but the ruling would be delayed until he finished his round. The delay threw the championship into limbo, with players uncertain what Johnson’s score really was or if he actually led the championship at all.

At CordeValle Sunday, Nordqvist was informed of her breach after hitting her third shot into the 18th green at the third playoff hole. She was told there that she was getting a two-shot penalty. The controversy was over whether the USGA should have acted more quickly upon seeing the video evidence.

Nordqvist didn’t dispute the penalty, but she questioned why it took as long as it did to penalize her.

She hit the disputed shot while in a fairway bunker at the 17th and she was informed of the penalty after hitting her third shot into the 18th hole.

“It was quite a long time in between,” Nordqvist said. “With all the cameras and all the tension, you would figure that they would have told me just when it happened, or when we were walking up 17. And certainly not after I hit my third shot [at the 18th], and before Brittany hit her third shot.

“It certainly changed her game plan. But, hopefully, we can all learn from it and we can all get better.”

At week’s start, USGA senior manager director of competitions John Bodenhamer was asked how the Dustin Johnson fiasco would affect rulings at this U.S. Women’s Open.

“We will expedite our decision-making throughout the process, the rule-making, rule-decision process,” he said. “And we will communicate with players in a decisive manner.”

So that’s the real issue here.

There’s no question the USGA was more “expeditious” and more decisive with its Nordqvist ruling, but were officials expeditious enough? Did they still take too long applying the penalty, and did they do so in a way that gave Lang a competitive advantage?

Rules officials told Nordqvist she was being penalized after she hit her third shot into the 18th, but they told Lang before she hit her third shot there.

The 18th is guarded by some trouble, with Sunday’s pin tucked hard against water at the front of the green.

Lang acknowledged hearing about the penalty led her to hit a safer shot. Initially, she said she thought she needed to make birdie and was going to attack the flagstick with a soft-landing lob wedge. After she was alerted to the penalty, she put away the lob wedge and hit a sand wedge to the middle of the green.

So should the USGA have acted more quickly? To be fair, there are extenuating circumstances.

Bodenhamer said he and senior director of rules Thomas Pagel were at the 17th green when they were informed that Fox TV had called to ask if any rules issue was detected with Nordqvist hitting her shot from the bunker at the 17th. They called a USGA staffer monitoring the broadcast. That staffer relayed that he watched the original Fox video three times, but nothing was detectable. Still, Bodenhamer and Pagel drove to the compound a few minutes away to see for themselves. Once there, Bodenhamer said Fox’s close-up video was available, which clearly showed the violation.

“We immediately notified the referee, who as quickly as he could notified Anna and Brittany,” Bodenhamer said. “That's the sequence of events.”

Why didn’t the USGA halt play when first informed there may be an issue?

“We wait until there’s conclusive evidence,” he said. “When we left for the compound, it wasn’t there.”

To be competitively fair, why didn’t they wait until Lang hit her third shot to tell her about Nordqvist’s penalty?

“Our decision was to ask our referee to inform both players as soon as possible,” he said.

The USGA can’t win in this summer of their discontent.

Even resolving to be more expeditious and decisive, the organization finds itself under assault.

Somebody call an exorcist, because apparently the Rules of Golf and Video Review needs some divine intervention to fix.

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.

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Sharma closes on Monday, wins Joburg Open

By Associated PressDecember 11, 2017, 12:43 pm

JOHANNESBURG – Shubhankar Sharma won his first European Tour title by a shooting 3-under 69 Monday in the final round of the weather-delayed Joburg Open.

The 21-year-old Indian resumed his round on the eighth green after play was halted early Sunday afternoon because of storms. He parred that hole, birdied No. 9 and made par on every hole on the back nine.


Full-field scores from the Joburg Open


Sharma finished at 23-under 264, three strokes ahead of the pack, and qualified for next year's British Open, too.

''I actually wasn't going to come here about a week ago ... so I'm really happy that I came,'' said Sharma, who shot 61 in the second round. ''I don't think I'm ever going forget my first time in South Africa.''

Erik van Rooyen (66) was second, three strokes ahead of Shaun Norris (65) and Tapio Pulkkanen (68).

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 pm