Wie-Mania reborn after first LPGA win

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2009, 7:20 am
Michelle Wie did substantially more than break through and win her first LPGA title Sunday at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. She resurrected all the hope she brought to women’s golf as the young Hawaiian phenom whose mighty swings made even PGA Tour pros marvel.

Brace for Wie-Mania, the second wave, because you know it’s coming.

With the LPGA nearing the end of one of its most tumultuous seasons, it couldn’t come at a better time.
Michelle Wie
Michelle Wie reacts to her first LPGA victory. (Getty Images)

Wherever he was when Wie closed out Sunday’s victory, Michael Whan must have let loose a terrific howl. The newly named LPGA commissioner couldn’t have asked for a better assist in getting his tenure started. Wie’s popularity veers outside golf’s niche sport boundaries. No woman in the game possesses more potential to drive new interest into the women’s game. The LPGA needs all the help it can get with so many daunting challenges ahead in these hard economic times.

“Michelle’s had a pretty darn good rookie year, but I’ve really felt like next year was going to be the big year,” said David Leadbetter, Wie’s long-time swing coach.

That ought to be music to the ears of LPGA fans who understand what she can do for the tour if she can build on Sunday’s victory.

It wasn’t just that Wie won that mattered. It’s the way she won. With a birdie at the final hole at Guadalajara Country Club in Mexico, Wie showed terrific closing skills and steely nerve to beat the biggest names in women’s golf in a tight back-nine battle.

With a sure swipe of her sand wedge, Wie tossed a tough greenside bunker shot within a foot at the final hole to secure a two-shot victory over Paula Creamer.

“As soon as I put it close, I almost cried,” Wie said. “There was so much emotion.”

Wie, 20, acknowledged what you couldn’t help seeing when she climbed out of that last bunker. She almost floated up onto the green. The weight of so many onerous expectations seemed to lift right there at the 72nd hole.

“It’s definitely off my back,” Wie said. “I think that hopefully life will be a lot better, but I still have a lot of work to do.  I still have a lot to improve.  It just feels so great right now.”

Wie ended an American drought in a big way. She was the first American to win on tour since Cristie Kerr won the Michelob Ultra Open in May, ending an 0-for-17 run.

Wie has long endured criticism that she took shortcuts to the elite level and never learned how to win, but she showed something holding off Kerr, one of the toughest competitors in women’s golf. They played side by side in Sunday’s final pairing. Wie also fended off challenges from Creamer and a charge from Morgan Pressel. She even beat Jiyai Shin, who is known on tour as “The Final Round Queen.”

Notably, Wie’s first victory came in an event hosted by Ochoa, the No. 1 ranked player in women’s golf. That Wie may be putting the pieces together to realize all her promise and challenge Ochoa at the game’s highest level will fuel Wie-Mania II. All Wie’s work with Leadbetter, her confident new putting stroke inspired in work with Dave Stockton, are coming together to revive hope that she’ll yet be a Tigress-like force in women’s golf.

We glimpsed Wie’s rebuilt confidence at the Solheim Cup in September, where she looked like an unstoppable dynamo. In the aftermath of the American victory, LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster predicted Wie would win before the year was out and Wie didn’t disappoint in the year’s second-to-last event.

Wie said her Solheim Cup performance was a factor in Sunday’s victory.

“It put me in such high pressure situations,” Wie said. “I learned so much about how to handle high-pressure situations, and I gained so much confidence from that.”

Back when Wie first emerged in golf’s consciousness, everything seemed to come so easily to her, almost too easily. At 12, she qualified for the LPGA’s Takefuji Classic. At 13, she tied for ninth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship. At 14, she played in her first PGA Tour event on a sponsor’s exemption, shooting 68 in the second round of the Sony Open. By 16, she had already finished fifth or better in six LPGA majors.

Through it all, Wie endured heavy criticism that she was given too much, that she hadn’t earned her chances and that her inability to close out a victory was a byproduct of that.

Wie endured more than the sting of criticism. She suffered through a pair of wrist injuries that almost ruined her swing. She struggled to break 80 in LPGA events trying to come back. She endured other difficulties, like being disqualified from the Samsung Invitational in 2005 for signing an incorrect scorecard in her first event as a professional. She drew the ire of Annika Sorenstam at the Ginn Tribute after withdrawing in the middle of a round that looked like it might end with Wie failing to break 88. Wie was accused of withdrawing to avoid a rule that bans non-members for the season if they shoot 88 or worse.

All of this, plus her lucrative million-dollar endorsement deals, made her a lightning rod in women’s golf.

In the end, Sunday’s victory seemed like a reward for hard lessons learned, for hardships endured, and that makes her breakthrough more satisfying for everyone involved.

Notably, Pressel and Brittany Lincicome waited around to congratulate Wie and bathe her in a fizzy, cocktail shower on the 72nd hole. Wie said earning her tour card this year, forging friendships and feeling like she fit in on tour helped her win.

“I’ve been through a lot, a lot of ups and downs, places I never want to go again, but it all makes this so much more delicious,” Wie said. “It feels good knowing I pushed and fought through all of that. I’m proud of the perseverance. I got a lot of help from a lot of people to really fight through that and overcome that and become a better and happier person in general. I’m just really proud of the dedication.”

Note: The final round of the Lorena Ochoa Invitational will air again Monday at 7 p.m.

Getty Images

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.


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.”