Golf takes step back in reducing technology's role

By Rex HoggardApril 26, 2017, 7:42 pm

During Wednesday’s matinee between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants infielder Eduardo Nunez was thrown out trying to steal second base in the bottom of the first inning.

Although Nunez was originally called out, after an official review the call was reversed thanks to the latest in video technology. The play was studied numerous times in high definition and in slow motion. It was also watched at an exposure at least five-times the normal magnification.

The same scenario unfolds every day in sports, from the NHL to the NBA and Major League Baseball, technology and video replays are now an integral part of the athletic landscape. After decades of trial and error, officials have come to the realization that there is no limit to video review to assure the correct call.

Every sport, that is, except golf.

How the new decision issued by the USGA and R&A on Tuesday will be applied remains to be seen, and by most accounts the new standards are a step in the right direction. But there is something distinctly archaic about a move that limits technology.

Under the new “naked eye” standard, officials will continue to use video reviews to determine if there’s been a violation – and the same standard was already being used in some situations – but the difference now is that officials will need to determine how much technology is too much technology.



“Video technology, especially the use of methods such as high resolution or close-up camera shots that can be replayed in slow motion, has the potential to undermine this essential characteristic of the game by identifying the existence of facts that could not reasonably be identified in any other way,” the new decision reads.

Officials will now need to determine if a possible violation could “reasonably have been seen with the naked eye.”

Put another way, it’s not simply a review of the facts that officials will need to address, but also whether the level of technology used to determine a possible violation fits with the naked eye standard.

A great example of this standard came at the 2014 Players Championship when Justin Rose was assessed a two-stroke penalty – one shot for the ball moving at address and one for not replacing it after it had moved – on Day 3.

This ruling was the result of numerous reviews of the incident using high-definition cameras and highly magnified images, but the next day PGA Tour rules officials rescinded the penalty based on the original naked eye decision and the Englishman began the final round two strokes closer to the lead than he was when he left the golf course on Saturday.

While most agreed that Rose’s situation was exactly what the rule makers were hoping to remedy with the naked eye standard, no one can say exactly where that line should be drawn.

Is standard-definition video and images slowed to half speed where things remain clear to the naked eye, or are there scenarios where a more detailed review would be considered appropriate?

Originally, Tour officials said the naked eye standard shouldn’t apply to Rose’s situation in ’14 at TPC Sawgrass because he’d backed away from the shot.

“He saw something,” the Tour’s vice president of rules and competitions Mark Russell told GolfChannel.com at the time.

A more recent incident involving Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration would be a more legitimate standard, but because neither Thompson nor anyone in her group was questioned about the incident it is unknown if the penalty would have been reversed under the new standard.

Because officials used ultra-high definition and magnified video to determine that Thompson had not replaced her golf ball in the same spot after marking it during the third round it would be a legitimate litmus test going forward. It’s also worth pointing out that most who watched the replay of the Thompson situation agree there was a violation of Rule 20-7c (playing from wrong place).

If the consensus is Thompson ran afoul of the rules, however innocent the incident might seem, should the issue be what level of video technology remains within the new naked eye decision, or whether the Rules of Golf need to be adjusted to account for such seemingly harmless acts?

Technology – and to a lesser degree viewer call-ins and emails, but that’s a column for another day – has been made out to be the problem here, and yet every other professional sport is heading in the opposite direction of golf on the information super highway.

The rule makers are blazing new paths in what has been billed as a “modernization” of the Rules of Golf, but this new decision – which is entitled “limitations on use of video evidence” – feels like a step in the wrong direction.

No one is pleased with the the Thompson situation – neither the outcome nor that it took some 20 hours to unfold – and the desire to avoid similar incidents in the future is understandable, but sports have rules that must be applied no matter how much technology is needed to assure the proper outcome.

Just ask Nunez.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.


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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”


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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.


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“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.