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.


ANA Inspiration: Articles, photos and videos


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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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.”