Weeks later, Lexi ruling still a heated topic

By Randall MellApril 21, 2017, 6:06 pm

The LPGA’s black eye isn’t going away.

Lexi Thompson may have been hit hardest when a TV viewer intervened as an armchair referee to help decide another major championship, but she wasn’t the only player wobbled by the nature of the blindside blow.

Nearly three weeks have passed since Thompson lost the ANA Inspiration after being hit with a controversial four-shot penalty in the final round, but even fellow players are still smarting.

There’s something about this viewer intervention that’s different than any of the past in the men’s or women’s games. There’s something about this one that won’t go away.

There’s lingering anger in the player ranks.

“Everyone’s pissed off, not just players,” two-time major champion Cristie Kerr said. “Random golfers I see are coming up and saying, ‘Can you believe what happened? It’s an outrage.’ People aren’t happy.”

Thompson may have lost the ANA Inspiration in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu, but LPGA pros as a group appear to have lost something, too. They seemed to have finally lost all patience with TV viewers getting free rein to be armchair referees.

“We’re all up in arms over that,” said Brittany Lincicome, a two-time winner of the ANA Inspiration. “There’s definitely a lot of us talking about this, and it’s definitely very frustrating for us.”


Video: Alternate Shot: Solutions for Lexi penalty?


There is frustration among players in not knowing if Thompson’s fate is finally going to motivate the USGA to curb, tame or outright abolish viewer interventions as armchair rules officials. There is also frustration in not knowing how much the LPGA is pushing to bring about that change.

LPGA pros say they aren’t hearing anything from the USGA or their own tour.

GolfChannel.com requested an interview with LPGA commissioner Mike Whan for this story on Tuesday and was told he was traveling, then was told on Wednesday that he was in meetings at a conference and was told on Thursday that he was unavailable while traveling again. When GolfChannel.com asked if an interview could be set up on Friday, an LPGA spokesperson said he still wouldn’t be available.

Three requests to interview senior USGA officials for this story over the last week were unfulfilled, though a spokesperson provided a statement and background information.

“I have a ton of concerns, and I feel like it’s just being swept under the rug,” Lincicome said. “It feels like there’s nothing being done, and it’s just, ‘Hey that’s the way the rule is, and this is how it’s going to continue to be.’

“We’ve been talking about it as players, and I think we’re all on the same page in not knowing if anything’s really going to be done about viewers calling in or sending emails. I don’t know if we need somebody to take up a petition, and we all need to sign it and give it to the USGA, but they’re not even talking to us about whether they are trying to come up with a better solution.”

For a lot of LPGA pros, it has come to the point where “enough is enough” with these viewer interventions.

For them, Thompson’s four-shot wallop was the last straw.

Thompson’s agent, Bobby Kreusler, told GolfChannel.com that Lexi isn’t ready to comment publicly, but that she will speak to media for the first time since the ANA next Wednesday at the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout.

Kreusler said he isn’t surprised players feel like there’s unfinished business in the wake of the ANA ruling.

“We have been inundated with emails, comments and letters from people expressing their outrage, and not only their disappointment but disgust over what happened,” Kreusler said. “At this point, I think, on behalf of Lexi, we are entitled to have a true and transparent accounting of what happened, by that I mean all the information behind how this occurred, ranging from whether this was actually a viewer, where they were from, why there was a delay (in reporting), where the email was actually sent to, who received it, and on down the line.

“I’m looking for that information not only on Lexi’s behalf, but on behalf of the entire field, every player that was in that tournament and will play in future tournaments, because this could have happened to anyone.

“The field and all of the LPGA players are deserving of knowing exactly how the email happened, who was responsible, so we can make sure it was an honest, fair and equitable playing field for all. Unfortunately, I don’t have that feeling right now and there are an awful lot of people out there who feel exactly the same way.”

If you need a refresher, Thompson was two shots ahead on the back nine in the final round of the ANA Inspiration, putting on a tour-de-force performance in her bid to win her second major championship. As Thompson was making her way to the 13th tee, Sue Witters approached her with devastating news. The LPGA’s vice president of rules and competition told Thompson she was being penalized two shots for violating Rule 20-7c for incorrectly marking her ball on the 17th green in Saturday’s round. Additionally, she was being penalized two more shots for violating Rule 6-6d for signing an incorrect scorecard.

The LPGA explained afterward that a viewer had emailed their fan feedback site with the possible infraction on Sunday as Thompson was playing late into the front nine, and that an LPGA.com staffer quickly forwarded the email to Witters with Thompson playing the ninth hole. Witters quickly went to the Golf Channel TV compound to review video.

Thompson was in tears as she teed up to play the 13th, going from two shots ahead to two shots down in practically the blink of an eye. Still, she somehow managed to birdie that hole, the 15th and the 18th to get into the playoff with Ryu.


Video: SI writer defends viewer call-ins


Kreusler said Thompson is grateful for the outpouring of support she has received since the ANA Inspiration ended, and that it isn’t limited to fans.

“We’ve also been contacted by several sponsors, including those that might be the biggest on the LPGA, expressing their extreme displeasure and unhappiness and their belief that there needs to be a full accounting in a truly transparent manner,” Kreusler said.

For Thompson’s colleagues, there’s a feeling of unfinished business to this ruling, including an intense clamor to know the identity of the viewer who emailed in the possible infraction.

“We all want to know who it was,” Kerr said. “That’s the bigger story here. It’s relevant who it’s coming from.”

Why?

There’s an element of golf that sees viewer intervention adding to the nobility of the game, to making sure any rule violation is addressed.

But players see something potentially sinister exposed about armchair refereeing in the way the Thompson ruling came down.

What if a “viewer” is actually another player or caddie, or a parent of a player, or a friend of a player? And what if a “viewer” with a vested interest sees an infraction in an early round but holds on to the information until the final round, waiting to see if reporting the infraction would assist a player whom the viewer favors? By holding on to the information, the “viewer” knows he could inflict the most possible harm by waiting until after the player signs her scorecard.

While actual rules officials have ethical duties to the field, armchair referees do not. They can selectively report, or not report, violations they witness.

If a viewer with a grudge focuses on monitoring just a single player, is the honorable game as honorable allowing that?

“They definitely aren’t going to release this viewer’s name,” Lincicome said. “It’s probably some guy living at home with his mother, sitting at his computer watching. But you don’t know. It’s another reason this is so ridiculous and they need to stop allowing viewers to call in.”

Kerr sees a problem with the motivation viewers may have.

“A person could withhold the information until after a player signs her scorecard,” Kerr said. “What if it’s an agent, or a friend of a friend of the winner? I’m not saying that happened, not at all, but it could happen, where it’s somebody biased toward one of the players on the leaderboard.

“It’s another reason you would like to know who the viewer is. This is too big a story not to know who it is.”

Who is the viewer who reported Thompson’s violation?

GolfChannel.com asked the LPGA for the viewer’s name but was denied the request.

Why? LPGA chief of tour operations Heather Daly-Donofrio said it was tour policy not to divulge viewer emails.

GolfChannel.com asked Daly-Donofrio if the tour verified the identity of the viewer who emailed the infraction.

“We have verified who the person is,” Daly-Donofrio said. “I can tell you with complete certainty that it wasn’t a player, it wasn’t a caddie, and it wasn’t anybody related to anybody that I know connected with the tour in any way.”

While Whan wasn’t available to be interviewed for this story, he was empathetic to Thompson in the immediate wake of the ANA ruling.

“It’s frustrating,” Whan told Matt Adams on Sirius XM PGA Tour radio two days after the ANA. “It’s embarrassing. It’s one of those situations where the penalty does not match the crime.”

Whan also said his staff would review the nature of armchair refereeing in the wake of the ANA ruling.

“I think it’s a fair critique and a fair criticism whether or not somebody can point something out that causes us to review it, and whether or not we should do that a day later . . . To change requires us to think through the pros and cons and make sure we are making the right decision. We are going through that process, but we are not going to rush in and do is simply draped in the anxiety and pain of Sunday,” Whan said.

Last week, GolfChannel.com also sought an interview with Whan on this topic. A tour spokesperson replied that Whan was releasing a statement instead, one that indicated the LPGA would be relying on the USGA and R&A to address this complicated issue.

“The Masters was an opportunity for me to meet with the heads of the USGA and the R&A, as well as heads of the PGA and European tours,” Whan said. “To be honest, I’m optimistic about the potential outcome of those discussions. It’s quite clear to me that the organizations that govern the Rules of Golf fully understand the challenges that we faced at the ANA Inspiration and are already actively discussing potential changes.”

When the USGA backed the LPGA’s ANA ruling the day after the event, it cited its proposed modernization of the Rules of Golf as future help in certain viewer call-in situations. Proposed Rule 1.3a(2) will provide that “so long as the player does all that he can be reasonably expected under the circumstances to make an accurate estimation or measurement, the player’s reasonable judgment will be accepted even if later shows to be wrong by other information.”

The USGA plans to implement the modernization proposal in 2019, but USGA director of public relations Janeen Driscoll confirmed that the governing body is “listening and reviewing all options,” including the possibility of expediting some of these rule changes.

For a lot of LPGA pros, changes to viewer intervention can’t come fast enough.

“In this day and age, I just don’t think anybody should be able to call in and affect the outcome of a tournament,” Hall of Famer Juli Inkster told GolfChannel.com. “You have the scorer there, you have your other two playing partners there. Golf is a game of integrity. I just think there isn’t another sport where you can actually call in and make a difference. I just think they need to get rid of it.”

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler are among PGA Tour pros who have voiced the same opinion about viewer interventions.

The way the Rules of Golf work now, once final-round scores are finalized, the tournament is official. Any infraction discovered after that cannot be applied.

Hall of Famer Judy Rankin believes the rule should be amended to where results are official after the close of every round. 

Anna Nordqvist, who lost the U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle last summer after a video replay showed she grazed a few grains of sand taking back her 5-iron in a fairway bunker in a playoff with Brittany Lang, believes video review needs immediate addressing. Nordqvist’s complaint was also with the timing of her penalty, which gave Lang a certain advantage playing her final full shot in that playoff.

“It was disappointing to see another bad timing,” Nordqvist said of the Thompson ruling. “This rule is the major one that needs to be changed now.”

Inkster said the USGA and R&A’s new rules modernization should be amended to more thoroughly address viewer call-ins.

“That needs to be at the top of the priority list,” Inkster said.

The LPGA eagerly awaits such a change in hopes it helps heal its black eye.

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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.


11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.


11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.


1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.