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.


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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.

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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.


11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.


11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.


1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.