Big names add spark to early West Coast events

By Rex HoggardJanuary 13, 2016, 7:00 pm

Rumors of the West Coast swing’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

If last week’s left coast kickoff is any indication, concerns that a crowded dance card later this year with golf’s return to the Olympic Games and last season’s relocation of the WGC-Match Play would leave the swing, well, on a participation island were unfounded.

The West Coast, the theory went, would suffer as players would bank a few off weeks before what promises to be a hectic summer – consider that after the U.S. Open top players will face a 16-week stretch with 10 “must-play” events, including two majors (Open Championship and PGA Championship) in a three-week run.

Making things even more dire was the Match Play’s move last year to May. The WGC, which had anchored the West Coast swing, was a prime draw for Europeans to venture to this side of the transatlantic divide.

But the reality, at least based on last week’s field at Kapalua and an unofficial survey of top players, paints a much-more optimistic picture for the West Coast.

The Hyundai Tournament of Champions enjoyed its best tee sheet since 2005 with six of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking, including No. 1 Jordan Spieth and No. 2 Jason Day.

Nor does it seem the winners-only event will be a cameo for the game’s marquee.

Spieth, who has been guarded about his schedule, gave a glimpse of what we can expect.

“I'm not sure if I'm supposed to or allowed to voice [his schedule] right now,” he said on Sunday at Kapalua. “But I'll be back at Pebble Beach and I'll be at L.A. and I'll be back to Tampa.”

It’s not a huge surprise Spieth will play the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am the second week of February given his status as an AT&T spokesman, but the addition of the Northern Trust Open to his starting lineup was encouraging.

After the Tournament of Champions, the Los Angeles stop may be the year’s most-improved field with Spieth, who tied for fourth place last year at Riviera Country Club, joined by Rory McIlroy, currently the world’s third-ranked player.

The Farmers Insurance Open, traditionally the unofficial start of the season for many of the top players in previous years, also has an impressive list of early commitments, including defending champion Day, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson.

Even Kevin Kisner, who has admitted he’s not a “West Coast guy,” will make a few starts, including the year’s first two starts in Hawaii and the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

“I think I made two cuts in my career on the West Coast before,” he said last week. “There's no reason to go. I don't have to do it anymore, so I don't need to beat my head against the wall trying to beat these guys on courses I know I can't.”

This week’s Sony Open, which has traditionally been one of the West Coast’s weaker fields, includes 22 of the 32 players who teed it up last week in Maui.

Among those who made the short hop to Oahu were Open champion Zach Johnson; while Adam Scott, who didn’t make a PGA Tour start until Bay Hill last year, will make his 2016 debut at Waialae.

Much of this improved participation seems to be the byproduct of changing priorities among the game’s young champions.

The perceived lack of star power at West Coast stops is largely based on Tiger Woods, who from 2000-10 condensed his starts out west.

In 2000 and ’01, the then-world No. 1 played five times annually on the West Coast (that included the Match Play before its exodus to the early summer), but that number dropped to four from ’02 through ’05, and from ’07 to ’09 he played just twice each year out west.

Yet where Woods subscribed to a less-is-more approach to scheduling, the likes of Spieth, Day and McIlroy have embraced a more inclusive docket, be that on the West Coast or around the globe.

McIlroy will get his year underway at next week’s Abu Dhabi Golf Championship on the European Tour before shifting his focus to the United States. Similarly, Spieth will also play the Abu Dhabi stop as well as the Singapore Open at the end of January before closing out the West Coast in Los Angeles.

Whatever the changing motivations among the game’s elite, the result is a West Coast that’s not nearly as wanting as some thought it would be.

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.

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Sharma closes on Monday, wins Joburg Open

By Associated PressDecember 11, 2017, 12:43 pm

JOHANNESBURG – Shubhankar Sharma won his first European Tour title by a shooting 3-under 69 Monday in the final round of the weather-delayed Joburg Open.

The 21-year-old Indian resumed his round on the eighth green after play was halted early Sunday afternoon because of storms. He parred that hole, birdied No. 9 and made par on every hole on the back nine.


Full-field scores from the Joburg Open


Sharma finished at 23-under 264, three strokes ahead of the pack, and qualified for next year's British Open, too.

''I actually wasn't going to come here about a week ago ... so I'm really happy that I came,'' said Sharma, who shot 61 in the second round. ''I don't think I'm ever going forget my first time in South Africa.''

Erik van Rooyen (66) was second, three strokes ahead of Shaun Norris (65) and Tapio Pulkkanen (68).

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 pm