Replay rules under fire after controversial Lexi ruling

By Randall MellApril 3, 2017, 4:20 am

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Cristie Kerr watched it all end with disgust.

Standing behind the 18th green Sunday as this gut-wrenching day came to such an unmerciful ending, Kerr couldn’t hide her outrage.

“This is wrong,” said Kerr, the 18-time LPGA winner. “Where’s the common sense? Where’s the discretion? Where's the honor? This kind of stuff has to end. It makes us look bad. It makes the game of golf look bad.”

Kerr nailed Sunday’s unsatisfying ending to the ANA Inspiration in a nutshell.

The setting around the 18th green at Mission Hills is as close as there is to a temple of women’s golf, with the walk of champions leading players past the Dinah Shore statue and over a bridge to Poppie’s Pond. Kerr hated how the spirit of the game could seem so cruel and wicked in this special place.

Kerr hated that Lexi Thompson had to lose the way she did, with the Rules of Golf and yet another controversially timed video replay spoiling the nature of the finish.

That’s not to say Kerr hated So Yeon Ryu winning. She likes Ryu, and she felt bad for her, too.

Kerr was moved at how fans around the 18th began chanting “Lexi,” how they rallied for her so empathetically, but she didn’t like how some fans seemed to root for Ryu’s last approach shot to get in the water during their playoff.

“I really like So Yeon,” Kerr said. “She doesn’t deserve this.”

Ryu is one of the most popular players on tour, a gentle spirit and respected competitor whose kinships cross all the many borders in the women’s game.


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But Ryu’s win won’t be celebrated the way it should be, not with the way Thompson was so harshly hit with a pair of two-stroke penalties as she left the 12th green in the final round.

Thompson was giving a tour-de-force performance Sunday, a virtuoso effort that seemed destined to be the defining high mark of her still young career.

The 22-year-old American star never looked better with her combination of power and newfound putting touch reminding us of Dustin Johnson’s magnificent finish at Oakmont last summer.

We just didn’t think the comparisons would also go to another distasteful rules controversy.

While Thompson couldn’t overcome the hard blow and win the way Johnson did, she was just as magnificent in her fight. She had so much more to overcome than Johnson, four shots instead of the single shot Johnson faced. The blow was so much more dizzying, with Thompson being told coming off the 12th green that she was being penalized two shots for incorrectly marking her ball at the 17th green a day earlier, for placing her ball back down directly in front of her mark, instead of where she originally marked it, slightly to right side of the mark. And that she was getting two more penalty shots for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Thompson went from two shots ahead to two shots behind in what had to feel like a kick in the gut.

She wept going to the 13th tee but somehow marvelously went on to birdie the hole, and birdie the 15th to briefly take back the lead.

In the end, with a brilliant 5-iron to 18 feet to set up a closing eagle that would win her the championship, Thompson looked as if she was going to script the greatest ending in golf history.

This looked like it would end as a celebration of Thompson’s great poise, that it would be remembered as a testament to her resilience, but her eagle putt stopped short.

And Ryu then went on to beat her with a birdie in the playoff.

Kerr shook her head seeing Thompson lose.

“Lexi’s the most honest player out here,” Kerr said. “She goes to all the pro-am parties, goes to so many junior clinics, signs so many autographs. She does all the right things.’

Anna Nordqvist was also at the back of the 18th green watching Sunday’s finish unfold, Nobody there could empathize with Thompson more.

Nordqvist lost the U.S. Women’s Open last summer after a video replay showed she grazed a few grains of sand with her 5-iron as she pulled it back in a fairway bunker on the second playoff hole. She was assessed a two-stroke penalty as she played the final playoff hole. It sealed her fate as Brittany Lang went on to win.

While Nordqvist was encouraged with the USGA & R&A’s recent release of a proposed sweeping makeover of the Rules of Golf, she was disappointed by a glaring absence in their work. She wanted video review to be addressed.

“This rule is the major one that needs to be changed now,” Nordqvist said.

Nordqvist said she doesn’t have a problem so much with rule violations being discovered by video review. She has a problem with the timing of penalties, how they can be assessed so long after they occur and how that timing changes the integrity of competition.

“It was disappointing to see another bad timing here,” Nordqvist said.

The LPGA will get hammered for this, but the rules officials applied the rules the way they should have been.

That’s because the Rules of Golf allow for no discretion, mercy or even common sense in the way video review is used.

Sue Witters, the LPGA’s vice president of rules and competition, had the unfortunate duty to inform Thompson of her violation.

A viewer watching Saturday’s telecast alerted the LPGA to the possible violation with an email sent to LPGA.com’s Fan Feedback. Witters’ rule staff received it on Sunday with Thompson playing the ninth hole in the final round.

It took the LPGA time to find and review the Golf Channel footage. Witters said the video clearly showed that Thompson put her ball back in the “wrong spot,” maybe an inch from where she should have placed it.

“I didn’t realize I did that,” Thompson said. “I didn’t mean that.”

Witters acknowledged the human component in delivering the news.

“It’s a hard thing to do, and it made me sick,  to be honest,” Witter said.

Witters was asked what discretion she had. She said there isn’t any when a rules official clearly sees the violation.

“What's my choice?” she said.  “If it comes out there was a violation in the rules, then it would be the opposite story: `Oh, they knew. Why didn't they do anything about it?’ I can't go to bed tonight knowing that I let a rule slide?”

The villain here is the Rules of Golf.

It’s video review and no good guidelines in how it should be used or tamed or restricted.

Video replay has simmered for so long now as a source of the most wicked adjudications of the game’s rules. Nordqvist is right. It’s complicated, but video review ought to shoot to the top of the USGA and the R&A’s priorities in remaking of its rules.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”


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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.


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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.


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The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.