Not Without Sin

By Randall MellSeptember 19, 2010, 12:25 am

Wrong calls and wrong balls.

In the last week or so, we’ve been reminded yet again how golf is different from other sports but also how the people who play golf aren’t as different as those in the game would like us to think.

We’re reminded of that in New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter’s wrong-call controversy and in the LPGA’s wrong-ball debacle.

Golf may be different, its rules and culture different than other sports, but it’s played by human beings who are as flawed as athletes from any other sport.

Golf’s not without sin. We’ve seen high-profile accusations of cheating among the game’s biggest names over the years. We’re hearing ugly whispers about it now in the women’s game.

Golf isn’t immune from athletes getting caught up pursuing success at the expense of character, from choosing achievement over personal integrity. The difference, ultimately, is in the virtue of the game and what it demands, more so than in the virtue of the people who play it.

Wrong calls and wrong balls.

In the last week or so, we’ve seen Jeter hoodwink umpires into believing he was hit by a pitch in a game for first place against the Tampa Bay Rays. And we’ve become aware of LPGA commissioner Mike Whan addressing tour members’ concerns about “way too many” suspicious rules incidents in their game this year.

In the end, the resolutions in these matters differed not so much because of the differences in the people who play the games but in the differences in the games themselves, in the history, standards, culture and expectations within each game.

Jeter pretended he was hit by a pitch when he knew the ball never touched him but struck the handle of his bat. He was awarded first base with his ruse. And even though replays clearly showed he was not hit, Jeter won’t be vilified as a cheater by his fellow pros.

“It’s part of the game,” Jeter told reporters. “It’s my job to get on base.”

Within the culture of his sport, Jeter is a clever competitor, a guy who used the accepted practices of his game to help his team. His sport’s standards molded his behavior. His acting was a byproduct of his sport’s culture.

The LPGA’s wrong-ball debacle is complicated.

If you missed it, Shi Hyun Ahn and Il Mi Chung were disqualified from the CN Canadian Women’s Open for playing the wrong balls at the final hole in the first round.

It’s complicated because though it was ruled that the players ultimately turned themselves in, there were reports of questionable intentions. Ahn’s caddie, Tim Hegna, told both Golfweek and the Web site Waggle Room, that his player knew she played the wrong ball and wanted to cover it up. It’s complicated because there ended up being multiple versions of what happened, a problem that threatened to grow messier as it ignited outrage among tour players over other accusations.

“There have been way too many suspicious incidents this year,” tour veteran Katherine Hull told Golfweek. “And if people aren’t going to play by the rules, they don’t deserve to play.”

Ultimately, Whan intervened, not just in settling the wrong-ball issue, but in addressing larger player concerns about possible cheating. He spent an hour addressing the matters in a mandatory player meeting at last week’s P&G NW Arkansas Championship.

“The resolution was that there was no wrongdoing,” Jane Geddes, the LPGA’s senior vice president of tournament operations, said of the wrong-ball violation. “There was no cheating. The players in question hit the wrong balls. It was discovered after the round, and as soon as they discovered it, they went to find the officials.”

Geddes said Whan laid out the ruling for all the players and opened the meeting for discussion.

“We addressed all of it,” Geddes said. “We took our time. Mike delivered a couple important messages. The first thing he said is that he would protect the game of golf. The second thing is that he would make sure if there was any disagreement, or a judgment needed to be made, he would make sure all the facts were available before he made a call.

“True to his word, he made sure we got all the facts. He talked to all the players and caddies. There was a lot of hearsay and allegations, but the fact of the matter is that regardless who said what, the players did the right thing. They went to a rules official, and they disqualified themselves. That’s the worst penalty somebody could get.”

Geddes is an 11-time LPGA winner with two major championships to her credit. She said she found the entire issue disappointing, but she also acknowledged that the game’s not without sin.

“Everyone feels bad that we even have to address this,” Geddes said. “But I know as a former player, cheating’s been around a long time.”

Geddes said Whan shared a story from LPGA founder and Hall of Famer Louise Suggs with his players during the mandatory meeting. Suggs told Whan what he was dealing with was nothing new. She shared issues she dealt with in the tour’s earliest days.

“Things happen on every tour, everywhere,” Geddes said. “It’s not how the game’s supposed to be played, but we can’t control everyone’s actions. We can only have control when we know things are happening.”

Whan reminded players the nature of their game demands more of them, including their responsibility to call each other out “when in doubt.”

“Hopefully, what the meeting satisfied is players knowing Mike would protect the game,” Geddes said. “Secondly, he would do everything in his power to get all the facts in a situation. Thirdly, if he found somebody cheating, he wouldn’t take it lightly. He would take whatever action was deserved.”

Geddes said that included the possibility of suspensions.

Because while the game of golf may be virtuous, the people who play it aren’t necessarily any more virtuous than athletes from other sports. The game’s higher standard demands more vigilance from its overseers and players alike. It demands wrong balls get right calls.

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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.”