Not half bad

By Randall MellSeptember 23, 2011, 7:21 pm

DUNSANY, Ireland – Nobody offered them blindfolds and cigarettes at the first tee.

Just the same, there was this feeling that Ryann O’Toole and Christina Kim were doomed as a pairing when U.S. captain Rosie Jones sent them off together in fourballs Friday afternoon at the Solheim Cup.

There were so many doubts about their readiness for this giant stage, about their slumping form and shaky confidence.

They looked like liabilities, and you couldn’t help wondering if they were put together because nobody else was especially eager to play with them, because nobody else wanted to be dragged down carrying either of them.

Boy, were we wrong.

O’Toole and Kim scratched out only a half-point in their best-ball match, but it has to rank as one of the most brilliant and gritty half-points in Solheim Cup history.

They kicked, scratched, clawed and fought to get that half-point from the formidable pairing of Catriona Matthew and Sandra Gal.

Two down with three holes to play, O’Toole and Kim carved one determined shot after another through heavy Irish winds, raging doubts and mounting pressure. They did it knowing a faltering American team desperately needed them to salvage something.

O’Toole and Kim birdied the 16th and 17th holes to square the match and gained a halve with solid pars at the last.

“I told you I could do it,” O’Toole said, hugging Jones near the 18th green.

O’Toole rolled in a clutch 20-foot putt at the 17th hole to move the match to all square.

“I think the fighter in me knew it was do or die, and that if we were going to have a chance of winning, I had to make it,” O’Toole said. “I hit the perfect putt, and it just crept into the edge.”

Fighter? That’s what her father, Jamie, saw in the way O’Toole overcame a month of scrutiny over whether his daughter was really up to the Solheim Cup challenge.

“She was born a fighter,” papa O’Toole said amid the celebration at the edge of the 18th green. “Growing up, I thought she would either be a lawyer or a pro athlete because of the fight in her.”

After being named to the American team, O’Toole missed cuts at the CN Canadian Women’s Open, Walmart NW Arkansas Championship and Navistar LPGA Classic. It was ugly. She put up scores of 81, 79, 76 and 75 during the stumble. She confessed a week ago she was “embarrassed” by her sputtering play.

Nobody was quite sure what to expect when O’Toole teed it up Friday.

“I've been talking with Ryann quite a bit, because I know she's been under a lot of pressure, a lot of scrutiny since the pick,” Jones said. “I know that she has a lot of talent. I know that she was lacking a little confidence. We've had some conversations in the past couple of weeks about that, but I was pretty confident that once she got here, and felt this team camaraderie, the support system that comes with Team USA, that she would feel pretty comfortable and really just let it happen. This is the type of stage that she enjoys. She likes to be up front in a big arena.”

Jamie O’Toole said he couldn’t help being concerned how his daughter would deal with the scrutiny.

“Yeah, sure, but we get used to the way this game works, watching her, and how her game will come around,” Jamie said. “I think with her coach on her bag, he’s such a calming influence, so reassuring. I think she just started relaxing, and then swinging the way she needs to swing.”

David Bartman, a former Nationwide Tour pro, is O’Toole’s mental coach. He was her caddie when she finished in the top 10 at the U.S. Women’s Open in July and is back on her bag this week.

“Ryann isn’t afraid of the big moment,” Bartman said. “The more people there are, the louder it is, she isn’t afraid of that. It actually helps her focus.

“It’s thinking about what’s ahead, trying to prove something to people as a captain’s pick, that’s harder for her than being in the moment. As a captain’s pick, she put a lot of pressure on herself. She’s young, and that’s a lot to deal with, but when she actually got in the moment, she was OK.”

Kim was just as reassuring as Bartman. The chemistry was undeniable. Kim and O’Toole walked side by side down every fairway, practically in matching strides. Kim would wrap an arm around O’Toole after a shot, or pat her on the back, or rub the back of her neck reassuringly. She got O’Toole to laugh between shots.

“You have to give this one credit,” O’Toole said, nodding toward Kim. “Without her, I wouldn’t have stayed as loose, or as energetic, really getting into every birdie putt. And she was there when I fell.”

Kim was there for more than moral support. Though she’s endured a tough season, with too many missed cuts, she delivered in the clutch Friday.

Two down after 15, Kim rolled in a dramatic 18-foot birdie at the 16th hole to turn momentum back the Americans’ way. This was after she carved a mid-iron through the teeth of a hard wind.

“I told myself that I haven’t done crap today,’” Kim said. “I might as well bring it. We are 2 down, what’s the worst that can happen? So it’s time to go big or go home.”

The duo delivered jumbo-sized help to the American team. O’Toole was asked how she managed to avoid looking like a Solheim Cup rookie.

“I don’t know how a Solheim rookie plays,” O’Toole said. “I just went out to play my game. I don’t remember those three missed cuts. I just know what’s here, how I’m playing, what just happened and what’s to come in front of me.”

What’s to come? On Saturday morning, there’s a date with Morgan Pressel as her foursomes partner in a match against Karen Stupples and Christel Boeljon. Suddenly, there appears to be a lot of promising possibilities for O’Toole. She’s got her confidence back in full.

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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 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.”