Quick Round with Kerry Haigh

By Randall MellJuly 30, 2010, 3:03 am

For so long, it seemed, the PGA Championship struggled for an identity that set it apart from the other majors.

Then, at the turn of the century, the players came up with an answer.

They made it the most exciting major championship in golf.

In ’99, we crept closer to our televisions for a better look with Tiger Woods holding off Sergio Garcia at Medinah. In 2000, we were riveted watching Woods beat Bob May in a playoff at Valhalla. In ’02, it was Rich Beem holding off Woods, who closed with four consecutive birdies at Hazeltine. In ’03, Shaun Micheel hit that spectacular final shot to win at Oak Hill and in ’04 Vijay Singh won in a playoff at Whistling Straits . . . The theme carried into last year, with Y.E. Yang’s memorable finish in upsetting Woods at Hazeltine.

Through it all, there’s a common denominator. There’s Kerry Haigh, the PGA’s managing director of championships, the man in charge of course setups.

In a Quick Round, Haigh talks about course setup and the PGA Championship’s return to Whistling Straits in two weeks:

The PGA Championship has a reputation as the fairest major championship. What’s your philosophy in course setups?

We look at the golf course playing the way the architect intended it to play. For us, it involves not being a part of the story, letting the golf course and players who are the PGA Championship be the stars of the show.

From a philosophical standpoint, it’s about making the course as challenging and as fair as it can be so the players are challenged both mentally and physically, so they are able to show their skills. As a general philosophy, that is our aim. Every day, every round, you have to be very careful and consider all the factors that will come into play.

With the PGA Championship just two weeks away, how is Whistling Straits shaping up?

Overall, the course is in excellent condition, though we had an awful lot of rain over the past weekend, but we’ve got a few days of drying weather.

A lot of rain isn’t good for the way you want those fescue grasses to look and play, is it? Even the fairways are fescue at Whistling Straits. Aren’t they supposed to have a brownish hue and play firm and fast? Will we see that?

There are fescue grasses on the fairways. They continue to mature and improve. Ideally, they are meant to play a little firm, but obviously Mother Nature has a big bearing on how the course plays, as it always does. With the 4 or 5 inches of rain we had last weekend, they wouldn’t be as firm as we would like, but we have two weeks to go and we are optimistic the weather will pick up and dry out. The course plays better with a little bounce in it, but you don’t want it bone hard.

Will we be looking at penal, chop-out rough or the kind of rough that will entice players to try to go at the greens?

As it was in ’04, the intent is to allow the players to play out of the fescue rough. It is quite long, and again, a lot depends on how much it dries, or how wet it is down in the roots. In ’04, it did dry out a little bit, which helped it play well and allowed the players to play shots out of it, but with very little control over how the ball would react from it. That’s certainly our aim in the planning again. The rough will be 4 to 6 inches, depending how dry it is down in the base of it.

Architect Pete Dye and Whistling Straits founder Herb Kohler changed the 18th hole, creating a risk-reward element to the final hole that wasn’t there in ’04. This 500-yard par 4 now opens up left with a shortcut to the dogleg, but it’s a high-risk play with a nearly 300-yard carry over bunkers to a narrowing fairway. There are multiple tees. Will you bring that new element of the design into play?

We certainly are not opposed to what they’ve done. Pete’s created that avenue down which players could go if they so choose, but to get there, it’s a significant carry. That (part of the fairway) is pretty narrow and has challenges on both sides if you were to miss. In all honesty, it’s a high-risk shot. But we’ll see in the practice rounds, how players do.

As I understand it, depending on the wind, a player could have as much a 5-iron or 6-iron into the green playing safe on the right but only a wedge taking the short cut because there’s a downhill kick. You can dictate how tempting an option the shortcut is by choosing the forward tee boxes, correct?

There are two tees down there that we are planning on using, both are lower tees. It is somewhere near a 300-yard carry from the back of the first tee and probably 270 or 265 from the front of the second tee. So much of Whistling Straits depends on the wind and the strength of the wind. In truth, it’s the wind that makes it so challenging, along with everything else.

The wind’s not so predictable off Lake Michigan, is it?

The wind has been known to change directions, not only day to day but in the same day. I’ve been there when the wind switches from off the lake to into the lake. So that, as much as anything, will be the biggest factor on how the golf course plays and how each hole plays. We will do our best to listen to the weather forecast each morning and go out and set up accordingly.

There’s another big change from ’04 at the sixth hole, a short and drive-able par 4. Dye moved the bunker in front of that green so it now runs up into the middle of the green. Will you use forward trees to tempt players to try to drive the green?

In 04, we played it as a drive-able par 4 on two, if not three, of the days, if I remember rightly. Certainly, the bunker that is now there, and almost in the middle of the green, is a very interesting addition to the hole. It’s an extremely deep and extremely penal bunker if you are in it. It certainly makes you think on the tee how you want to play. Last time there, the hole clearly played differently with left-hand hole locations as opposed to the right-hand hole locations. We plan to split it up a couple times. The left-hand side is more appealing for players to go for the green. How players will play it pretty much is determined on where the hole locations are.

Thanks, Kerry.

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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.”