Hot Seat: Arnie and Tiger

By Randall MellMarch 20, 2012, 2:40 pm

With the temperatures rising in this space, we recommend a nice, cold glass of iced tea mixed with lemonade. That, by the way, is called an Arnold Palmer, a fitting beverage this week with players taking places on golf’s Hot Seat.

Here’s our special heat index with the PGA Tour moving to the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the LPGA to the Kia Classic.

Flaming boxers – Arnold Palmer Invitational management

Who is scripting these PGA Tour finishes? Steven Spielberg?

With all the unexpected twists and turns this year, with all the dizzyingly good plot shifts, PGA Tour events should come with a warning that viewing on a late Sunday afternoon can cause motion sickness.

What a wild ride this season is so far. Picking the most thrilling finish in a flurry of them is no easy task.

Brandt Snedeker fashioned a riveting ending to the Farmers Insurance Open when he came from seven shots back at the start of the final round to overtake a stumbling Kyle Stanley in a playoff. That ending got trumped the very next week, when Stanley redeemed himself at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, coming from eight shots back in the final round to top a collapsing Spencer Levin. The week after that, Phil Mickelson stole the show, shooting 64 in a final-round pairing with Tiger Woods to win the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. The very next week, Bill Haas worked the late magic, beating Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in a playoff at Riviera’s bedeviling 10th hole to win the Northern Trust Open. Then there was Rory McIlroy, holding off a Tiger’s Sunday charge at the Honda Classic and Luke Donald regaining the No. 1 ranking by winning the Transitions in a four-man playoff, with Ernie Els and Ken Duke enduring heartache finishes.   

So how is the Arnold Palmer Invitational going to top all of that this week? With Woods’ first PGA Tour victory in two-and-a-half years? With Els bouncing back to win and earn a late Masters’ invite? Those would work.


Smoldering britches – Tiger Woods

With Woods limping away at Doral in a final-round withdrawal due to a strained left Achilles’ tendon, questions arose anew about his longevity and ability to hold up to the rigors of the climb back to the game’s mountaintop.

His answers will be definitively delivered if he marches without a setback through seven consecutive days of play this week at the Tavistock Cup and Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Two days of Tavistock, a Wednesday API pro-am appearance and four days of the API will provide a strong test of Woods’ readiness with the Masters two weeks away.

Woods has won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill six times, the last coming in 2009. The only venues where he has won more PGA Tour titles are Torrey Pines (7) and Firestone (7).

Of course, the healthier Woods looks this week, the more skeptics will suspect he wasn’t that injured at Doral. In the end, what matters is what gives him the best chance to win the Masters and the other majors. He’s the best judge of that. Yeah, Doral’s a prestigious event, but Woods is in a unique position in the history of the game with so much at stake for him. If he was overly cautious, can you really blame him? His lifelong ambition rides on that left leg.


Blazing briefs – Ian Poulter

It’s a grand time for English golf.

Englishmen are coming off back-to-back PGA Tour titles, with Donald winning the Transitions Championship on the heels of Justin Rose’s victory at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.

Three of the top eight players in the world are English, six of the top 35.

With Donald back at No. 1, an Englishman has held the top spot in the world rankings 46 of the last 48 weeks. Lee Westwood, who took the top spot from Woods, is No. 3 now, Rose No. 8, Poulter No. 29, Paul Casey No. 31 and Simon Dyson No. 35.

And the English might just be getting warmed up.

Poulter, 36, and Casey, 34, are talents capable of delivering more English fireworks. With just one PGA Tour title each, more is anticipated before they’re done. They’ve each won 11 European Tour titles, and it wouldn’t shock anyone to see these two guys surge to give England half the top 10 players in the world. They have, after all, been there before. Going to the Masters two years ago, Casey was No. 6 in the world, Poulter No. 7.

Casey, coming back from dislocating his shoulder in an offseason snowboarding accident, isn’t in the field at Bay Hill this week. Poulter is scheduled to play, though he’s coming off a recent bout of pneumonia. He’ll be looking to give England its third consecutive PGA Tour victory.


Blistering behinds – Every pro still desperate to get into the Masters

This is the last week for pros to earn an invite to Augusta National off the top-50 in the world rankings.

There are two more chances to win invites with PGA Tour victories. Win the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week, and you’re in. Or win the Shell Houston Open next week, and you’re also in.

Though Els is getting a lot of attention in his bid to keep his run at the Masters alive, he isn’t alone. Els, who came so agonizingly close to winning the Transitions, is No. 62. He’s playing Bay Hill this week. Retief Goosen, struggling with back problems, is just three spots shy of a berth at No. 53, but he isn’t playing this week. Italy’s young dynamo, Matteo Manassero, 18, is No. 61. He’s playing the European Tour’s Trophee Hassan in Morocco.


Roasting skirts – Michelle Wie

Wie didn’t get off to the best start this LPGA season. She tied for 38th in her season debut at the LPGA Honda Thailand and followed that up with a 79 and 81 on her way to finishing 59th out of 60 players at the HSBC Women’s Champions. That start factors into her slip to No. 20 in this week's Rolex Women’s World Rankings. None of that, however, dampens Wie's excitement this week. She is focused on a different kind of strong finish. She’s finishing up at Stanford, where she attended her last class last week and is completing her final exams. It’s quite the accomplishment, earning a Stanford degree in communications in four-and-a-half years while playing the LPGA full time. She won’t officially graduate until the June ceremonies, but she is freed up to finally pursue her golf ambitions full time.

There’s curiosity over how Wie will react with time to devote herself more fully to the game. The next chapter of her golf career starts this week at the Kia Classic at La Costa Resort and Spa’s Champions Course. Wie tied for seventh with the Kia played at Industry Hills outside Los Angeles last year. She tied for sixth when it was played at La Costa two years ago.

At 22, Wie has a lot of time left to chase what has so far eluded her in the game. She will do so with the satisfaction of being a Stanford grad. 


Watch highlights and behind-the-scene action from the Arnold Palmer Invitational pro-am Wednesday at 5 and 9PM ET.

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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.