Park's gold-medal performance captivates a nation

By Randall MellAugust 21, 2016, 9:10 pm

Inbee Park’s climb atop the medal podium at the Olympic Golf Course in Rio Saturday took her soaring to rarefied air, to a stratosphere only Se Ri Pak knows in a Korean nation that reveres women’s golf.

With a gold medal around her neck, with a victory rivaling Pak’s historic triumph at the U.S. Women’s Open 18 years ago, Park towered transcendentally.

Igniting nationalistic passions in ways Pak first did winning at Blackwolf Run, Park solidified her place in Korean sporting lore.

“Queenbee makes history at the Olympics” screamed a headline Sunday in the Korean Times.

Pak will always be remembered for inspiring a nation to become a golf power, but Park may have finally moved out of Pak’s shadow as the most accomplished Korean player. Park turned Pak’s legacy into gold, the first gold medal in the history of women’s golf. Yes, the first, because when Margaret Abbott shot 47 to win first place in a nine-hole Olympic competition in Paris in 1900, she didn’t take home gold. Abbott took home a porcelain bowl.

Park, 28, is the only Korean to win an LPGA Player of the Year Award and the only two-time Korean winner of the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. Park and Jiyai Shin are the only Koreans to hold the Rolex world No. 1 ranking. Park has won seven major championships to Pak’s five, and now Park has Olympic gold on her resume.

Just like Pak did all those years ago, Park kept a nation bursting with pride awake into the wee morning hours. When Park took the medal stand, it was 2:08 in the morning back in Seoul and yet legions of viewers were tuned in watching.

The moment was televised live by three different Korean networks.

KBS, MBC and SBS television were all broadcasting.

Olympic golf coverage: Articles, photos and videos

Nielsen Korea reported the networks combined for an overnight claim to 23.9 percent of Korean viewership, according to the Yonhap News Agency. That’s about 10 times the ratings an average LPGA event gets there, and LPGA golf is a popular sports staple. It dwarfed the ratings of every men’s major championship played this year.

Sean Pyun, the LPGA’s Korean-American managing director of international business affairs, told that Park’s victory is believed to be the most watched women’s golf event ever in South Korea.

“The only telecast that may be comparable would be Se Ri’s U.S. Women’s Open victory in '98,” Pyun said.

How popular is women’s golf in South Korea? When the Koreans met the Americans in a wild-card playoff at the International Crown two years ago, it was the most watched golf event in the country that year. The ratings were more than double what the Masters got in South Korea.

Na Yeon Choi, winner of the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open, said she got emotional doing TV commentary for MBC when Park claimed the gold medal.

“I almost cried on air,” Choi told in a telephone interview Sunday. “I’m sure Inbee had so much pressure on her, because back in Korea, they really expect athletes to win medals. I saw Inbee and the Korean players in practice on Monday and Tuesday, and they were smiling, but you could sense all the pressure on their shoulders.

“I was texting with Inbee during the week, and she sent a text saying she felt sorry for some of our athletes who didn’t win medals. She felt badly seeing some of them crying and apologizing for not winning medals.”

Battling injuries all year, with Korean fans back in her homeland wondering if she should have given up her Olympic spot, Park may have felt more pressure than any Korean athlete. In the end, it made her victory all the more satisfying.

“Inbee is the star of this Olympics for Korea,” Pyun said.

South Korean president Park Geun-hye sent a special message to Inbee on Sunday morning congratulating her, according to the Yonhap News Agency.

Park didn’t just win gold in the Olympics. She won pulling away, in a dominant effort reminiscent of Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps in swimming, of Usain Bolt in track and field. Park won by five shots.

“Winning the gold medal, I think Inbee has done everything you can do now in women’s golf,” So Yeon Ryu, the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open winner, told “I always thought Inbee was an incredible woman, and now I know just how incredible she is.”

The LPGA credits Park with a career Grand Slam, having won the ANA Inspiration once, the Ricoh Women’s British Open once, the U.S. Women’s Open twice and the KPMG Women’s PGA (formerly the LPGA Championship) three times. She also won the Evian Championship, before it was designated a major.

How does she rank a gold medal against all her majors?

“I think definitely at the top,” Park said. “This is something I’ve never done before. This definitely feels very, very special. Being able to receive the gold medal was an unforgettable moment.”

In what has been a frustrating year plagued by a back injury and a left thumb injury, Park has made it memorable nonetheless. Struggling with nagging inflammation in both a tendon and ligament in her thumb in June, she played through the pain to officially qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame at the Women’s PGA Championship. She left Sahalee, however, with more doubt than ever following her after missing the cut there and announcing she would take an extended leave to heal. She withdrew from the U.S. Women’s Open and the Women’s British Open, where she was the defending champion.

Two weeks before the Olympics, in her first start in two months, Park missed the cut at a Korean LPGA Tour event. She was going to Rio having missed the cut or withdrawn in her last four starts. The struggles set off a debate back in her homeland over whether she should give up her Olympic spot.

“Inbee has accomplished so much, nobody’s ever really had bad things to say about her,” Ryu said. “But all of a sudden, people were saying bad things, that she should give up her spot to give another Korean a chance. It was hard for her to handle that.”

Ryu was roomates with Park at the Kingsmill Championship in May, when Park shot 74 in the opening round and then withdrew.

“Inbee was starting to worry back then if she could play with the injury and if she was going to have to pull out of some events,” Ryu said. “The Olympics were a big deal to Inbee, but I could see she was really struggling with the decisions she was going to have to make.

“Inbee is very strong mentally, and she really handled things well.”

Nobody knew how Park would respond in Rio, but she impressed her Korean teammates.

“I am sure she was under more pressure than anyone else,” said In Gee Chun, who tied for 13th. “It’s incredible what she was able to accomplish under the circumstances.”

Choi said she expects Park’s victory will have the same kind of ripple effect in South Korea that Pak’s monumental victory did.

“I think it will have the same impact,” Choi said. “We were all called Se Ri’s kids, and I think Inbee will have that kind of influence on juniors who watched her win the gold medal. I think they are going to have that Olympic dream, too.”

Pak ignited the spark that led to South Korea’s emergence as a force in women’s golf, and now Park has fanned the flames in a way they have never been fanned before.

“There were people in Korea watching Inbee on TV who didn’t know anything about golf, but they were watching because it was the Olympics and she was going for gold,” Choi said. “We knew that from comments we were seeing during the telecast. We were having to explain what a par was and other golf terms.”

In that sense, Park didn’t just win a gold medal. She helped grow the game in a nation where it’s already flourishing.

“This certainly and finally cements Inbee’s status in Korean women’s golf as a legend alongside Se Ri,” Pyun said. “I also think Olympic women’s golf had a great showing as it relates to continuing development of the game in Asia.”

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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.”