Quick Round With Dave Stockton

By Randall MellNovember 14, 2009, 4:22 am

The calls for help are coming in from halfway around the world.

They’re coming from the biggest names in golf.

Before Phil Mickelson won the HSBC Champions in Singapore last week, he sent text messages to Dave Stockton back in California , questions about playing slower greens.

The immediate results Stockton produced working with Mickelson and Michelle Wie this summer have made him the planet’s hottest new short-game guru. Mickelson and Wie both caught fire with their putters right after huddling with Stockton.

At 68, Stockton ’s hardly new to the game. The two-time PGA Championship winner was known as one of his era’s great putters. What’s new is his commitment to teaching. He won 10 PGA Tour events, including the 1970 and ’76 PGA Championships, and 14 Champions Tour events. With his Champions Tour career winding down in the last couple years, Stockton began taking on clients and helping his sons, Dave Jr. and Ron, with their teaching careers. The demand for Dave’s services has skyrocketed because of his success with Mickelson and Wie. Senior writer Randall Mell caught up with Stockton for a quick round:

You holed some fairly large putts playing the final round with Arnold Palmer to win your first major in the 1970 PGA Championship at Southern Hills. You beat Palmer and Bob Murphy by two shots. What do you remember about that important victory?

My wife, Cathy, was eight months pregnant with Ronnie. She couldn’t walk the course. I was out there alone, and it was extremely hot. I remember three putting the fifth hole in the final round and this guy yells really loudly, `You got him now Arnold !’ I followed with a birdie, holed a pitching wedge for eagle on the seventh, then doubled the eighth, but I made birdie from nine out of a trap. I started with a four-shot lead and built a seven-shot lead. Basically, all I did was try to play the back nine as fast as I could and try to get to the clubhouse. There was a great deal of satisfaction winning. There were lot of people rooting for Arnold to complete the career grand slam, but it was also important for the Stockton family to win.

I got a little extra boost after the second or third round, when they said, “Unknown leads the PGA.” I took serious offense to that. I may not have been famous, but I won four times in the previous three years. To be called an unknown, that irked me. I used that. It was a fun week. If I hadn’t been playing against Arnold , I would have been rooting for him to complete the grand slam, too.

With your success as a putter, fellow Tour pros must have sought your help.

Back then, I would say to people, `I’ll be glad to help you,’ but when they asked what they could pay me, I would say, `The only thing I want you to pay me is not to tell anybody that I’ve I helped you.’ I didn’t want to help players bump me off the Tour. I wanted to keep playing. I’m not going to beat anyone on the course anymore. It’s a totally different thing. In the past, I’ve helped Annika Sorenstam and I’ve helped Tiger Woods with his wedges. One of the guys I really remembered helping is Mark McCumber. I remember after working a weekend with him, he won the next two weeks. He went berserk that he could pick it up that fast. Teaching is not something I’ve just come upon. I’ve done a lot of corporate outings over the years that were basically like clinics. I pride myself, and my boys also, that we can watch one swing and in one swing we can see what someone is doing wrong, and have the ability to help without screwing people up.

What was it like watching Michelle Wie and Phil Mickelson get so hot with their putters after working with you?

One of the neatest things was how comfortable they were. It didn’t look like either one of them was learning a new technique. They just kind of polished what they had. But they obviously are very talented to start with, extremely so. But it was a great sense of accomplishment for me.

How do you explain having such immediate success with the both of them?

Part of it is luck. You want to analyze what a person is doing, and then the key as a teacher is to correct what they are doing wrong, but get them to be comfortable doing so because you putt with your subconscious. You can’t be thinking mechanically during any part of a golf swing or while putting. It has to be natural. That was one of the things that made me feel the best. Phil’s immediate reaction was, `This is what I remember it feeling like. This is easy.’ Michelle’s reaction was, `This is much easier than I thought.’ It was something they could incorporate into what they were already doing without a lot of conscious thought, because the less conscious thought, the better off you are going to be.

What most helped Phil? Moving his hands forward?

I knew it wouldn’t take much to fix Phil because he uses a lot of loft on the putter as I do. If you forward press, the direction hand going to the hole is in better position. We also widened his stance and did some other things, but the biggest thing with Phil was getting him to stand there and look at the hole as he set his feet, so he automatically lined up every single time. He could see the line the ball was going to roll and just let his hands go through the target.

With Michelle, wasn’t it mostly about making her less mechanical and thinking more about feel?

Absolutely, everybody wants to get better, and they try real hard, but try is not a word, in my opinion, that really helps anybody get better in golf. You tense up. Certainly, with feel shots, you want to have your own creativity. Michelle and Phil have tremendous creativity. I think it’s one of the reasons they picked things up so fast.

Don’t you believe there’s a danger in working too much on your putting?

It will be interesting to see how much Phil practices this winter. I told him he better get some hobbies because it’s not going to be that hard for him to figure this putting out. I’m not expecting him to put hours and hours in, especially on his putting. One thing about working with Annika, if I told her to work on something for an hour, she would work two hours on it. I have a hunch Michelle Wie is the same way. I think Michelle Wie is probably one of the hardest workers, like Annika. Some people, like Fuzzy Zoeller, don’t have to work as hard. Different people have different formulas for success. My job is to look at what is going to make them comfortable and show them what they can do to get better in the shortest time possible.

What are the basics of what you try to teach?

The first thing I do is have you put down a 15-footer and go through your routine. `This is to win the U.S. Open. This is to win the Masters or the Solheim Cup.’ You give them a 15-footer with a break of 5 or 6 inches right or left. And you see how they go about reading the greens, how much time they take to do it. If I help enough people, the game’s going to be faster because I don’t like practice strokes, necessarily, and I definitely don’t like somebody trying to spend a whole lot of time analyzing putts.

With that 15-footer, basically I want to know, `Do you see the line? And why is it taking this much time? Why are you lining it up to the high side when you should be lining it up to the low side?’ Your eyes should always be on the side the ball breaks toward. You can see your line that much better. I’m not a big fan of circling the hole. I want to see your routine because most people, mechanically, probably putt pretty good. But they can’t visualize, or see the line. That’s where most of the mistakes appear to me.

Why don’t you like circling putts or practice putting strokes?

Sign your signature like you are writing a check. Then I want you to slowly make your signature and try to make it exactly the same. It’s your own signature, but you can’t do it. You sign your signature with your subconscious. As soon as you try physically to do it, you can’t. That’s how it is with important putts. Say you are writing a letter to the president by hand. What are the odds you get toward the end and you mess up? It’s just hard because it’s not comfortable. I think the quicker you see your line and have an idea of what you want to do, then get up and get it over with. You would be surprised how much better you play. There’s a huge difference between trying to make a putt and just saying I’m going to roll this thing up there. Those are the ones you make. You see it every week. `OK, this putt is to win the tournament,’ and they just fan it. Golf is full of expectations.

How did you become a great putter?

I don’t know, really, other that the fact that I grew up with a putter and a 3-wood. When I was a boy, I would hit 3-wood down the par 5 away from our clubhouse [at Arrowhead Country Club in San Bernadino , Calif. ] and again on the par 5 coming back. I couldn’t wait until I got to the green and could putt. By the time I was 6 or 7, I would challenge anyone to putt. My dad always taught me that you should never leave a putt short but you should never knock it more than 15, 16 inches past. When I was young, I just thought everyone made putts. I would only hit seven or eight greens in a round, maybe nine or 10 if I had a good day, but I would have 24, 25 or 26 putts. I thought that was the norm. My career was built around the short game, the mental aspect, putting and chipping. I didn’t get excited about where the drive or irons went because once I got inside 100 yards, that’s when I could create. It’s what I liked to do.

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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.


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.”