Inkster relishes chance to captain on American soil

By Randall MellDecember 19, 2015, 12:24 am

Juli Inkster wondered how her leadership style would work going to Germany as the American captain for the Solheim Cup earlier this year.

She admitted Friday that she wondered if the fact that she isn’t the most organized person in golf would matter when so many important details go into the two-year run up shaping a team.

Her players laughed when she showed up for a practice round at St. Leon-Rot wearing the wrong outfit early in the week. They laughed again when she took the team out for a nice dinner in Heidelberg and forgot her credit card.

They marveled, though, when she was out front when it mattered, challenging European assistant captain Annika Sorenstam amid American concerns Sorenstam was improperly giving advice. She was out front again amid controversy over whether Europe’s Suzann Pettersen was being unsportsmanlike in the controversial phantom concession before singles.

“It’s just B.S. as far as I’m concerned,” Inkster told an international TV audience.

In the end, you got the sense the Americans learned what’s important and what isn’t watching Inkster lead, because they left a lot of nonsense behind following the seven-time major championship winner in their comeback victory in Germany.

Now, they’re going to follow her again, this time to Iowa with Friday’s news that Inkster will reprise her role as captain when the biennial matches are played in Des Moines in 2017. She joins Kathy Whitworth, Patty Sheehan and Judy Rankin as the only Americans to captain two teams.

Here’s all you need to know about what kind of leader Inkster turned out to be.

Her team wanted to be just like her.

You saw that right from the opening ceremony, when the Americans marched on stage wearing Converse basketball shoes. And remember, many of these American women were being criticized for being more concerned about style than substance, about how they cared too much about how they looked in six-inch stilettos, shiny bling and elegant dinner dresses.

Inkster, you may remember, showed up in flip flops at the news conference when she was first named the American captain in the spring of 2014. She joked about her fashion skills in leaning on experts in team uniform selections.

The Americans got rid of the face paint in Germany, and their elaborate red-, white-and-blue manicures.

They shook hands with their teammates after making big putts, instead of strutting, prancing or high fiving their way off greens. They fought hard, but they played with a lot of class.

“I think each one of us had a little bit of Juli in us,” Stacy Lewis said in the aftermath.

That says everything about Inkster’s leadership.

And the thing is, Inkster managed to put the emphasis on substance over style without forcing herself on her players. She wasn’t Tom Watson laying down the law in the team room. Inkster’s old school, but as a mom who basically raised her two daughters on tour, she knows today’s players hearts in ways that reach beyond competition.

Inkster set an example players wanted to emulate.

“I didn’t dictate it,” Inkster said of a humbler, simpler style. “I suggested it. I just wanted them to get back to playing golf. That's what they do week in and week out. If they wear face paint when they play regularly on tour, then have at it, wear face paint, but I don't see any of them wearing face paint.”

Inkster said after the victory in Germany that there was no reason her team couldn’t have substance and style.

They won with substance, but they also won with a big dose of Inkster style.

“I just think sometimes you can put so much energy into all that stuff that you really forget why you're there,” Inkster said.

Inkster said she left nitty gritty details to assistant captain Pat Hurst and to Solheim Cup tournament director Chris Garrett. Inkster, though, didn’t ignore the fine points of what it would take to win. She didn’t win seven major championships doing that.

To get a better feel for team dynamics before going to Germany, Inkster picked the brains of San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti and former San Jose Sharks hockey players Ray Whitney and Jamie Barker as fellow Bay Area athletes she respected.

She reached out to former Ryder Cup captains Paul Azinger and Corey Pavin and Presidents Cup captain Jay Haas. She even borrowed a “modified” pod system from Azinger, setting up three pods of four players to help her team bond.

“Juli was the captain, but she was also one of the girls,” said LPGA president Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, who was among the team ranks helping out the Americans. “There was this unbelievable respect.”

Goetze-Ackerman was also part of the five-member committee that reappointed Inkster. The committee included LPGA commissioner Mike Whan, former captains Rosie Jones and Meg Mallon and a player representative. Geotze-Ackerman said Inkster was a “logical pick” and a “unanimous choice,” though she said other candidates were respectfully considered.

Inkster relishes the chance to captain on American soil. She was interested in the job when Mallon was named to lead the United States in Colorado in 2013.

“I always wanted to do it in the U.S.,” Inkster said. “Doing it in Germany was great, too, but I always wanted to be a captain in the U.S. I'm glad I'll have the opportunity to do that.”

Inkster understands the phantom concession that created so much controversy in Germany will follow the teams to Iowa, but she would rather the quality of golf be the focus.

“I would like to have no controversy,” Inkster said. “That would be awesome.”

Inkster says she doesn’t foresee a lot of changes in the way she will lead the second time around, except for one.

“Next time, I’ll bring the credit card [to dinner],” Inkster said.

Getty Images

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.”