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Dark horses lurking at East Lake

By Rex HoggardSeptember 22, 2017, 11:15 pm

ATLANTA – The point of the FedExCup Playoffs was never about doling out an eight-figure check or giving players a reason to learn long division, it was about tidy finishes.

Prior to the playoff experiment, which began in 2007, there were too many years when players arrived with the year’s biggest questions long answered. Think of it as an all-star game without the home run derby, or any meaningful outcome.

The PGA Tour wanted a big finish where players vied for the season’s most meaningful accomplishments, non-major championship division, with a decisive conclusion.

The result has been a work-in-progress, but has largely delivered on that promise.

Consider that in 2006, Tiger Woods had won eight times, including The Open and PGA Championship, and had wrapped up the money title and Player of the Year Award. And what did he do at East Lake? Nothing, he didn’t play. He didn’t need to.

Even in the FedExCup era there were early growing pains that kept the finale from being the desired send-off.

In 2011, Luke Donald finished tied for third at the finale following a phenomenal season, but the Englishman still needed a walk-off win at the Disney event a few weeks later, a windfall worth $846,000, to clip Webb Simpson by $335,000 for the cash crown (remember when the money title meant something?)

But those quirks have slowly been removed from the equation. First the Tour introduced the wraparound season and then crunched the postseason points so that those who had played the most consistent year would have a distinct advantage.

Clean, consistent, calculated, right?

Well, Friday’s leaderboard at East Lake paints a slightly different picture.


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Current FedExCup Playoff points standings


Although Justin Thomas – whose second-round 66 left him tied for the lead with Paul Casey and Simpson – could restore order to the Tour’s postseason with a victory on Sunday that would assure him the cup and the Jack Nicklaus Award, there are enough would-be dark horses looming to make things interesting.

“I like to play spoiler,” Casey said with a mischievous smile.

Casey has been in this position before. In fact, he was the potential author of what Tour types would consider the “nuclear option” in 2010 when he needed only a runner-up finish at East Lake to claim the cup without having won that season.

“That would have been very wrong to win the FedExCup not winning an event, but I would have had no issue with it,” laughed Casey, who is 10th on the postseason points list.

Simpson would be an even bigger Cinderella at 16th on the playoff points list and through two steady rounds (66-67) he’s poised as the ultimate party crasher.

 “I think guys are probably looking at hey, what are the scenarios that could possibly pull a Bill Haas or whatever it may be,” Jordan Spieth said.

Haas famously began the 2011 Tour Championship 25th on the peculiar points list but rallied at East Lake for the title and the cup to become the 1969 “Miracle Mets” of golf’s postseason.

But then Haas’ par save from East Lake - the actual lake - on the 71st hole isn’t happening this year after record rains in the Atlanta area, and for this year’s Cinderella to prevail they will need an assist from the game’s best and brightest: Spieth, Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Marc Leishman and Jon Rahm, the five horsemen who arrived at the finale in the theoretical pole positions – Nos. 1 through 5 on the points list, respectively.

Each can claim the cup with a victory at the Tour Championship, but more to the complicated point they could walk away with the oversized check with a vast assortment of middle-of-the-pack showings.

Spieth could “mathematically” win with a finish as low as 29th, out of 30; and Thomas could fade all the way to sixth and still be in the equation.

But if the scenario of someone outside the coveted top 5 winning the proclaimed season-long race offends the competitive senses of some, it does, and has, made for a unique style of golf each September at East Lake.

Even the most reserved player embraces an added sense of urgency at the Tour Championship, where there is literally no reason to play the safe shot or temper one’s expectations.

“There's no next week for me,” said Gary Woodland, who is tied for fourth place after starting the week 28th on the points list. “We're out here, we're playing aggressive, trying to get the ball in the fairway and then attacking from there. We're definitely playing more aggressive this week than we have all year, which is nice. That's probably why I'm playing well.”

Any number of players could play spoiler this week – from Justin Rose (No. 8) who is tied with Woodland to rookie Xander Schauffele (No. 26), who is in a group at 5 under – and on this history is rather clear.

Just twice in the playoff era has the winner of the Tour Championship not won the FedExCup, but as the postseason has evolved the finale has proven to be exceedingly good at delivering on its original promise – a clean finish.

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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.

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.”