Cut Line: Spieth makes it big; Chambers a big miss

By Rex HoggardDecember 11, 2015, 3:38 pm

Jordan Spieth was nearly perfect, the PGA Tour was perfectly baffling and Chambers Bay proved to be an imperfect storm at this year’s U.S. Open as Cut Line reviews an eventful 2015.

Made Cut

Jordan rules. When Jordan Spieth began his year at the Waste Management Phoenix Open there were doubts.

Doubts he could close out a PGA Tour victory despite finishing 2014 with back-to-back victories in Australia and the Hero World Challenge. By the time he completed his historic 2015 season there were no such concerns.

The 22-year-old wunderkind won the Masters in record fashion – setting 36- and 54-hole scoring records and tying the 72-hole record – the U.S. Open, and he came within one putt of possibly winning the first three legs of the single-season Grand Slam.

After adding a runner-up showing at the PGA Championship, Spieth closed the year with a fifth Tour title at East Lake to claim the FedEx Cup.

“I’m extremely pleased and I'm happy to go into the offseason now with this year under my belt knowing that I can do this,” Spieth said at the World Challenge earlier this month.

As he exited 2015, no one, not even Spieth, was doubting his ability to close.

Roars and rehab. En route to his first start of the season in Abu Dhabi, Rory McIlroy penned a few goals for 2015 on the back of his boarding pass.

When the Northern Irishman returns to the Middle East early next year he should add a footnote to that list – avoid “kickabouts.”

The Northern Irishman derailed, however innocently, what was shaping up to be one of the most competitively compelling seasons in recent history when he injured his left ankle playing soccer in July and missed title defenses at the Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Prior to his extracurricular snafu, McIlroy matched Spieth with victories at the WGC-Match Play and Wells Fargo Championship. When he did return at the PGA Championship he was rusty and regretful, but by the time he wrapped up his year with a victory at the European Tour’s finale in Dubai his season had come full circle.

“I saved the best for last,” he smiled in Dubai. “I feel like I finally showed this week what was in there. I just needed to find something to be able to let it out and thankfully this week I was able to do that.”

The possibilities to add to next year’s boarding pass are limitless, let’s just hope he commits to cutting back on the “kickabouts.”

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Top heavy. Attendance was up, viewership at all-time levels and sponsorship nearly universal across all platforms, and yet the Tour still found ways to bewilder in 2015.

To start the season, the No Fun League nixed what is largely considered the greatest show on grass when the circuit announced it would no longer allow players to throw items into the crowd adjacent the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale because of safety concerns. This follows the Tour’s move to end the always-entertaining caddie races on No. 16 a few years ago.

At the CIMB Classic in November John Peterson was last in the field of 77 players when he teed off on Sunday with a “Happy Gilmore” swing. After multiple calls from the Tour regarding the incident, Peterson took a unique approach to the potential fine.

“I told them I’d tweet that I’d been fined and then start a GoFundMe page to pay the fine,” Peterson said. “I bet it would have worked.”

Even the Tour had to laugh at that.

Task at hand. Technically, the U.S. Ryder Cup task force was formed in late 2014 in the wake of another European boat race at Gleneagles, but the details and delivery were a central theme in 2015.

As a sign of progress, American captain Davis Love III spent more time texting with Tiger Woods during the Presidents Cup than he did serving as an assistant captain in South Korea.

“We saw some things that we want to be part of the plan next year,” Love said. “If you don’t think the task force is working, Tiger Woods is interested in what’s happening this week to apply it to the Ryder Cup.”

Woods’ commitment level has been elevated to the point that he bought in as a vice captain for next year’s matches – along with Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker – whether he turns his competitive fortunes around or not. The PGA of America’s move to bring the players into the process seems to have injected new life into the event.

Those same players now must do their part and bring some much-needed parity to an event that has been largely one-sided for the better part of two decades. The alternative is another loss and the uncomfortable question – where do you go from here?

Tweet of the year: @JordanSpieth “Pebble yesterday. Cyprus Point today. Spyglass tomorrow. Hard to imagine a better 17 miles than out here.”

Actually, it was Tour rookie Justin Thomas’ response to Spieth’s grammatical faux pas that earns the year’s top tweet: “[It’s] Cypress you dropout.”

His social media miscue ended up being about the only thing that Spieth, who did bolt the University of Texas early to turn pro, got wrong in 2015.

Missed Cut

Bay watch. Some of the greens at Chambers Bay were rough around the edges for the U.S. Open, others were dead long before the first tee shot went in the air for Round 1.

As U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis explained, bringing fine fescue grasses to the Pacific Northwest is a tricky proposition. Yet making an agronomic gamble at the national championship was probably not the most egregious mistake officials made at this year’s U.S. Open.

With apologies to Dustin Johnson – who probably would have converted that birdie putt at the 72nd hole at, say, Muirfield Village – a major championship golf course that doesn’t afford spectators a single view of the eighth hole and only limited glimpses of many other holes is fundamentally flawed.

“For the architect, Robert Trent Jones, to say that they built this golf course for the U.S. Open is awful,” said Billy Horschel, who was also not a fan of the putting surfaces. “I heard today that Mike Davis had input in this golf course, which blows my mind even more that they would build a golf course and not think about the fans and the viewing aspect of it.”

The Open will return to the Pacific Northwest municipal course sometime in the future. Let’s hope they’ve perfected 10-story grandstands and a green thumb by then.

Trump-ed. Donald Trump has vaulted to a substantial lead in the race for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in large part thanks to his bombastic ways, but his politics aside it was golf’s reaction to The Don’s histrionics that missed the mark in 2015.

In July, Trump said “the Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States,” adding that in many cases they are “criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”

The PGA of America cancelled this year’s Grand Slam of Golf, which was to be played at Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles, but the LPGA, PGA Tour and USGA all balked when faced with a chance to make a stand.

Despite the fallout from Trump’s comments, the Ricoh Women’s British Open was played at Trump Turnberry, the WGC-Cadillac Championship will continue at Trump National Doral and the candidate’s course in Bedminster, N.J., is still set to host the U.S. Women’s Open in 2017.

Growing the game has become a central theme for all of golf’s ruling bodies, yet when faced with a real and meaningful chance to make an inclusive statement they blinked and hoped the political winds would blow by.

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.”