Low Down Dirty Shame

By Randall MellAugust 16, 2010, 6:41 am

2010 PGA ChampionshipSHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Has golf ever felt more dirty than it did with the sun sinking over Whistling Straits Sunday near the end of the PGA Championship?

I mean literally dirty. Because the PGA Championship was decided in the dirt Sunday at Whistling Straits.

OK, technically, it was decided in the sand, but if you were among the more than 100,000 fans who walked over and around the hillocks and bunkers on this course, you know it’s hard to tell where the dirt begins and the sand ends. There are, after all, more than 1,000 bunkers sprawling through the wispy fescue grasses there.

If you are Dustin Johnson, it probably all seems like manure now.

Dustin Johnson
Rules official David Price talks to Dustin Johnson. (Getty Images)

Because the end of this PGA Championship stunk.

It’s fitting that Johnson marched to the locker room to take a shower before coming out to speak with media after one of golf’s quirky rules cost him a shot at the championship. While Johnson cleaned up nicely, the sport’s going to have a hard time washing out the stain this leaves. Because as accustomed as we’ve become to golf’s mysteriously complex rules affecting outcomes, this was different.

This was a local rules decision that rings as a loco rule now. That’s loco, as in crazier than a golf course allowing thousands of fans to sit in and walk through “bunkers” that are IN play.

Johnson was penalized two shots at the 72nd hole of the championship for grounding his club in a bunker that he didn’t know was a bunker.

And who could blame him for not knowing? Dozens of people were sitting in that “bunker” before his ball came to rest among them.

After finding his ball on the hillside and blowing his approach left of the 18th green, Johnson missed a 6-foot putt for par that he thought could have won him his first major championship. Victory would have been a sweet remedy for the pain he felt blowing the 54-hole lead at the U.S. Open last June. His final-round 82 at Pebble Beach would be remembered differently with a victory at Whistling Straits. And, still, even after missing his putt for par Sunday, Johnson believed his bogey had earned him a spot in a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

Johnson, 25, believed he still had his shot at redemption until rules official David Price stopped him as he left the green to explain that he might face a penalty for grounding his club in a bunker.

“Somebody that saw it on TV called in,” Price said after Johnson marched into the scoring office. “Hopefully, he didn’t do it.”

The scene was crazy outside the old stone clubhouse. CBS roving reporter Peter Kostis scrambled through some bushes to peer into the window to get a glimpse of Johnson and the rules officials as they reviewed the footage. A CBS cameraman was squeezed up to the window, too, beaming the images around the world. Dozens of reporters were jammed together behind Kostis trying to see what he was seeing.

And as all of this was unfolding, thousands of fans jammed along the 18th hole were chanting: “Let him play! . . . Let him play!”

Johnson, of course, wouldn’t get to play.

“I just thought I was on a piece of dirt that the crowd had trampled down,” Johnson said later. “I never thought I was in a sand trap. It never once crossed my mind that I was in a bunker. Obviously I know the Rules of Golf, and I can't ground my club in a bunker.”

This may be the most heart-wrenching application of golf’s rules since Roberto De Vicenzo lost the Masters because he signed for an incorrect scorecard.

Stumbling out of the scoring area at Augusta National in 1968, De Vicenzo uttered the famous line: “What a stupid I am.”

Johnson could have uttered a variation of that line. He could have said: “How stupid is golf?”

There will be debate about this, because players were clearly informed that all the sandy waste areas on the course were considered bunkers.

“We made it the No. 1 item on our local rules sheet, simply to explain that all of the bunkers that were designed and built as sand bunkers on this golf course would be played that way,” Mark Wilson, the co-chairman of the PGA rules committee, said. “And that might mean that many areas outside the ropes might contain many footprints, heel prints, or even tire tracks from golf cars or other vehicles.'

Wilson said a notice was also posted in the locker room cautioning players that all the sandy areas were bunkers.

“This is a unique course with unique characteristics and I think the dilemma is that it's even harder to say some of these are not bunkers and some of them are, because then how do you define those?” Wilson said. “And then a player would be essentially treading on thin ice almost every time he entered a sandy area, wondering where he was. And with 1,200 of them, there's no way to confirm with each player exactly where he lays.”

Wilson was eloquent in his explanation of the difficulty that would occur in trying to distinguish what is and isn’t a bunker on this course, but the fact of that matter is that the PGA was as confused as Johnson was when they first brought the major here in 2004. Originally, the PGA intended to differentiate between the bunkers inside the ropes and outside the ropes. The PGA considered treating those bunkers outside the ropes like waste areas. But officials changed their minds shortly before the championship.

“I don't know, if it was up to me, I wouldn't have thought I was in the bunker, but it's not up to me,” Johnson said.

That’s the whole point, though. If players can’t even tell they’re in a bunker, something’s wrong. If fans are walking and sitting in them, how can they be bunkers?

There is plenty of blame to go around for the unsatisfying ending. Johnson gets his share for admitting he did not read the local rule. For many, he loses their sympathy saying that. You wonder, though, even if he did, would he have known he was in a bunker.

Still, in a cruel way, it was fitting that this championship season should end with a deep discussion of dirt. It started that way with Tiger Woods the biggest story at the Masters and tabloids slinging dirt into the game’s biggest storyline.

This major championship starts the way it ended. It leaves you with the feeling you need a bath. 

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.”