Li, 11, ready to make history at Pinehurst

By Randall MellJune 17, 2014, 10:41 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – Lucy Li’s pig tails are sprouting out of the top of her lime green visor as she makes her way around Pinehurst No. 2 during Tuesday’s practice round at the U.S. Women’s Open.

She’s wearing a green-and-white shirt, with a zebra’s face on the front, sparkly green sequins all over the shoulders, and a green skirt with white polka dots.

She says she’s 5 feet 3, but she seems shorter than that. She can’t weigh more than 100 pounds, but she says she can drive the ball about 230 yards and can hit a 5-iron about 170. When she smiles, she reveals a mouth full of braces.

There’s no missing who the history making 11-year-old is here at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Just a sixth grader from Redwood Shores, Calif., Li will have some story to tell if she’s asked to write about what she did on her summer vacation when school resumes.

When Rolex world No. 1 Stacy Lewis checked in at Pinehurst, she discovered Li’s locker is right next to hers. Actually, it’s just beneath hers. Lewis met her for the first time on the range on Monday morning.

“Seeing how little she was, the pig tails, it caught me off guard,” Lewis said.

Michelle Wie was struck at just how young Li looks.

“She looks so darn cute,” said Wie, who knows something about being a prodigy. “I don’t think I looked that cute when I was 11. She just looks so excited, so wide-eyed.”

There’s something so incongruous about cute meeting fierce here at the U.S. Women’s Open, a championship setting up as possibly one of the most brutish tests the women have ever faced, if rains don’t take the wicked mischief out of these turtleback greens.

Li didn’t just win the sectional qualifier at Half Moon Bay outside San Francisco to become the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. She won it by seven shots. She did this shortly after winning her age division in the inaugural Drive, Chip & Putt Championship at Augusta National. She’s also the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur, pulling off that feat when she was 10.

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Pinehurst No. 2 looks so brawny, so intimidating, you can’t help wondering if the disposition of any 11-year-old is suited to dealing with the pressure of this major championship, and doing it on national television, with worldwide media in tow.

If a golf course could be charmed, though, Li’s disposition would suit it.

She charmed the media Tuesday in her introductory news conference.

A bit of a mystery girl coming here, with her family closely guarding her privacy, Li took the veil off who she is in a news conference. With 15 TV cameras pointed at her, with more than 50 media eagerly waiting to ask her questions, Li didn’t look the least bit overwhelmed.

“I just want to go out there and have fun and play the best I can, and I really don't care about the outcome,” Li said. “It’s just, I want to have fun and learn. I want to learn a lot from these great players.”

Li punctuated her answers with delightful school-girl giggles, an endearing practice that also proved disarming.

What does she like to do when she isn’t golfing?

“I love doing a lot of things, but reading is my favorite,” she said.

She likes Rick Riordan’s stories, the tales of Percy Jackson and his adventures upon discovering he’s actually the modern-day son of an ancient Greek God. She also likes Sherlock Holmes. She’s apparently quite the student. She says she loves all her subjects, including math, science and history. According to the USGA’s official player guide, her parents say she has a photographic memory.

What does she think about playing in front of huge galleries come Thursday?

“I like crowds,” Li says. “They don’t bother me. I play better the more people that come to watch me.”

Does anything about this week scare her?

“Not really,” she says matter of factly.

Has she ever been intimidated on a golf course?

“No, I just don’t care that much,” she says, that disarming giggle letting you know she isn’t being flippant.

The mystery shrouding this prodigy has led to misinformation about the family as a whole. Her father, Warren, isn’t a computer consultant, as has been reported. He’s in finance.

“He’s a stock trader,” Li says. “He’s really good at it.”

The enthusiasm of that answer sent a roar through the media room. She did that more than once.

Her mother, Amy, used to be a manager with Hewlett-Packard. Lucy is also very close to her aunt, Tao, whom she stays with while attending Jim McLean’s golf school in Miami in the winters. She’s also very close to her brother, Luke, who attends Princeton.

Li proved she can handle a crowd of media in an interview room, but what about Pinehurst No. 2?

Li played nine holes on Tuesday alongside Beatriz Recari, the three-time LPGA winner. She played 18 on Monday.

Though Li isn’t long, and will wear out her 3-wood and 5-wood playing Pinehurst No. 2, Recari wouldn’t concede the sixth grader is overmatched.

“I think she was fearless, and I think she’s going to do well,” Recari said. “There were a lot of people out there today, watching and clapping, and she seemed like she was completely cool.”

How serious is Li taking her preparation? She has been at Pinehurst for at least two weeks.

Li’s caddie, a local Pinehurst veteran, said he was in awe of Li’s grasp of the game when he met her for the first time over a dinner on June 3. Bryan Bush has been toting bags at Pinehurst No. 2 for four years but has been playing the course a lot longer. He couldn’t believe it when the 11-year-old began talking to him about golf course design.

“What’s so great about Lucy is her golf knowledge,” Bush said beneath the Pinehurst No. 2 clubhouse after the nine-hole practice round. “She understands and knows all about Donald Ross and how he builds greens. That’s what was so neat when I first met her. She got to town, and we sat down for about an hour and a half. I was blown away with her knowledge of the game at age 11, because I sure as heck didn’t have it at 11 . . . Ross, Alister MacKenzie, she knows all the greats. She knew Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw had done the restoration.”

Playing Charleston Country Club, and the Peninsula Country Club outside San Francisco, piqued Li’s interest in Donald Ross. He designed both courses.

Bush knew Li got the Ross philosophy when she told him: “Ross built these greens to repel golf balls, not receive them.”

So how is a short-hitting sixth grader going to survive taking so many woods into these turtleback greens? Bush shared what he’s seeing in practice rounds.

“You’re watching an 11-year-old hit a 5-wood as well as I can hit a pitching wedge,” he said. “It really brings you back to like, `Wow, I’m in complete awe.'”

Bush was asked if he would be surprised to see her make the cut.

“Oh, no, we will be here on Saturday,” he said.

If that’s true, history will run through the weekend for the Li family.

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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 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.


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.”