Another dominant day puts Rahm on WGC doorstep

By Rex HoggardMarch 25, 2017, 11:00 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The newest edition of the Spanish Armada has cut a swath through the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play field on a path toward the ultimate competitive treasure.

Jon Rahm continued to defy his first-year player status with a sporty 7-and-5 victory over Soren Kjeldsen. That walk-over followed similar routs of Charles Howell III (6 and 4), Sergio Garcia (6 and 4), Shane Lowry (2 and 1) and Kevin Chappell (3 and 2) this week.

By any definition, the Spaniard has been dominant – think Seve Ballesteros without the magician’s ability to recover because there’s no need to scramble from where Rahm hits the ball.

For the week, Rahm is fourth in driving distance and driving accuracy, first in proximity to the hole and scrambling and second in strokes gained-putting. That’s called the Grand Slam of ShotLink.

Tim Mickelson, the brother of Phil who was Rahm’s coach at Arizona State and is now his manager, said there’s really no part of his game that stands out, “Because he’s above average at everything,” Mickelson said.

Those left in Rahm’s wake this week would agree.

Rahm played 27 holes on Saturday in 11 under without a bogey, he never trailed, never saw anything beyond the 15th tee and never once looked like a 22-year-old playing his first Match Play.

“The only thing I could have done better is maybe make that putt on [No.] 11 and that's about it,” said Rahm in reference to a missed 9-footer for birdie at the par 3. “There are not many rounds of golf where a player looks back and says I cannot play any better and today was one of those. Last time I said that was Torrey Pines.”

At Torrey Pines, just his fifth start as a PGA Tour member, Rahm closed with a 65 to win by three strokes, over Howell no less, and he hasn’t looked back, finishing tied for fifth at Pebble Beach and then third at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

The Scottsdale, Ariz., resident (via Barrika, Spain) was poised to play Phil Mickelson in the final four, but Lefty’s run ended with a 2-and-1 loss to Bill Haas. Maybe it was for the best.

Earlier this year, Mickelson spoke of a friendly match against Rahm at Whisper Rock Golf Club, a 4-and-3 loss despite Lefty posting a “nice, solid” 66.

“Let’s just say, I will only be his partner from now on,” Mickelson laughed at the time. “I haven’t been able to beat him.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

So instead, Rahm will face Haas in the semifinals early Sunday.

 “I was making birdies but Jon Rahm has been making tons of birdies,” Haas joked. “Hopefully we both continue to do that and it will be an unbelievable match. Hopefully he eats some gas station sushi tonight and maybe he's sick tomorrow.”

Gas station sushi may be the only thing standing between Rahm and a showdown with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who is on an equally impressive path to his third consecutive victory and the World Golf Championships slam following a 3-and-2 triumph in the quarterfinals over Alex Noren.

Johnson will have to beat Hideto Tanihara early Sunday – that’s taw-nih-HAR-uh, the 38-year-old from Japan whose competitive claim to fame is a tie for fifth at the 2006 Open Championship. In other words, those who penciled in a DJ vs. Rahm final in their Match Play brackets are probably sleeping easy tonight.

In many ways it would be something of a coronation for Rahm, who has ascended quickly to world-beater status, at least within select golf circles.

Since winning the Famers Insurance Open in January, Rahm has become an increasingly popular pick for first-time major champion, which is something of a surprise considering he’s only played two Grand Slam events in his career.

“I've said earlier, I think he's one of the 10 best players in the world,” Phil Mickelson said. “He continues to validate that with some incredible play. He's a real threat.”

But it’s beyond the statistics and mechanics of an abbreviated backswing and cupped left wrist that makes Rahm such an interesting study.

He’s grounded beyond his 22 years to the point that after being asked how he prepares to play, he bypassed the normal routine of gym/range/putting green and launched into a telling glimpse into what makes the game’s newest star tick.

“I do a lot of work on my life outside golf. Because I'm a believer the better my life is outside my golf environment, family, friends, anything, the better I'm going to be able to play golf,” he said. “That's where I do a lot of work. And it's getting mentally ready and not getting hung up in wanting to win. Every day waking up motivated to practice hard and be aware that if I play good I'm going to have a chance.”

Rahm did concede that he’s “amazed” to be in this situation with just a marathon Sunday and the world’s best player standing between himself and his first World Golf Championships victory.

It was an interesting choice of words because amazing is really the only way to describe Rahm’s ascent up the professional ranks.

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 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.”