Westwoods defining moment

By Randall MellFebruary 9, 2011, 10:27 pm

2009 European TourLee Westwood’s first defining moment since gaining the No. 1 world ranking 15 weeks ago is at hand.

It begins when he steps to the first tee Thursday in a highly anticipated pairing with No. 2 Martin Kaymer and No. 3 Tiger Woods at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

It’s Westwood’s big chance to shut up all his critics.

It’s his chance to show everyone who thinks he’s an unworthy successor to Tiger Woods that he’s not accidentally, uneventfully or temporarily the guy at the top of the game today.

It’s Westwood’s chance to show something to all those folks who think Kaymer is really the best player in the world right now. 

Lee Westwood
Lee Westwood has been enjoying his stay atop the world rankings. (Getty Images)
It’s a defining moment because we get this rare side-by-side look at how Westwood measures up to Woods and Kaymer with all three paired together in the first two rounds. It feels like we may be seeing the present, the future and the past if Woods doesn’t turn his sinking momentum around.

Of course, it’s not that the first- and second-round results really matter this week. It’s not that Dubai’s a make-or-break event. The week feels important because of how it can shatter or confirm American suspicions of Westwood’s pedigree.

This isn’t about Westwood coming over to uncomfortable foreign American turf to prove himself. This is Westwood defending his turf in a European Tour event. This is the 17th time he’ll tee it up in the Dubai Desert Classic, where he’s finished runner-up twice. It’s all part of what makes this week feel like the most important tournament of the year so far.

It may unfold overseas, but Westwood can win a lot of respect he isn’t getting yet in the United States.

In some corners, Westwood’s got much to prove because he’s viewed as the least impressive No. 1 in the history of the Official World Golf Ranking. The harsh view is that he has made his climb racking up rankings points while squandering chances to win majors and big events. Of the 13 players who have held the No. 1 world ranking, he’s the only one who doesn’t have a major championship on his resume, though three others won their majors after they ascended to No. 1. Westwood was runner-up in two majors last year. He’s finished second or third in five of his last 10 majors, but he hasn’t shown the ability to win the events that most measure greatness.

Over the last 14 months, Westwood’s won just one official European Tour or PGA Tour event. He’s won just five times on either tour over the last seven seasons. Kaymer’s won five times in the last 14 months.

And the year hasn’t started particularly well for Westwood. In his two starts this year, he’s lost to Kaymer by 26 shots at the Abu Dhabi Championship and missed the cut at the Qatar Masters.

Win something big!

Beat somebody big!

That’s the cold, skeptic’s view of Westwood’s circumstance.

There’s another compelling side to the circumstance, however. A fantastic side to Westwood’s story.

If you’ve followed Westwood’s career, you’ve seen the inspiring climb out of a slump every bit as deep as the one Woods is mired in, minus the personal scandal. You’ve seen the inspiring fight in a guy who’s fought back from a mystifying slide after inexplicably losing his swing. After climbing as high as No. 4 in the world in 2000, then plummeting to No. 264 amid his struggles, it’s remarkable how formidably he’s put his game and his confidence back together. It speaks volumes about the nature of the man, about his resilience and perseverance.

Westwood’s story inspires. It’s why so many people do root for him and why so many believe the big wins will follow for him.

With his rebuilt body, his rebuilt swing, he’s become one of the best drivers in the game.

There aren’t many players as long as Westwood who are as consistently straight. There isn’t anyone as consistently straight who hits it as long.

At 37, all the pieces of Westwood’s game seem to be coming together. In so many ways, this seems like his time. You see it in the dignified and graceful manner in which he’s carrying the No. 1 ranking. There’s no apologizing for the way he claimed the top spot. He's relishing his circumstance, even thriving in it.

If this really is Westwood’s time, then maybe this will be his week, too, his first defining moment as No. 1.

 

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

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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.”

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PGA Tour, LPGA react to video review rules changes

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 1:32 pm

The USGA and R&A announced on Monday updates to the Rules of Golf, including no longer accepting call-ins relating to violations. The PGA Tour and LPGA, which were both part of a working group of entities who voted on the changes, issued the following statements:

PGA Tour:

The PGA Tour has worked closely with the USGA and R&A on this issue in recent years, and today's announcement is another positive step to ensure the Rules of Golf align with how the game is presented and viewed globally. The PGA Tour will adopt the new Local Rule beginning January 1, 2018 and evolve our protocols for reviewing video evidence as outlined.

LPGA:

We are encouraged by the willingness of the governing bodies to fully vet the issues and implement real change at a pace much quicker than the sport has seen previously. These new adaptations, coupled with changes announced earlier this year, are true and meaningful advances for the game. The LPGA plans to adopt fully the protocols and new Local Rule as outlined.