Here come the Yanks

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2011, 7:51 pm

SANDWHICH, England – One of the most demanding days in major championship golf begat what promises to be the most volatile grand slam finale in recent memory that will ultimately be decided, as it always is at the game’s oldest tilt, by another fearsome forecast.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Darren Clarke still leads, the front-running Ulsterman almost a cliché following an effortless 69 on a day that defied even the most high-tech rain gear. His one-stroke advantage will dominate the headlines on this side of the Atlantic, but the subtext to Sunday’s showdown will be what is shaping up to be an American revival.

Relegated in some circles to Dodo-like extinction, American golf has become the Washington Generals to the Globetrotters of late – pay-for-play punch lines that have been relegated to sixth-man status by the four corners of the map.

There was last year’s one-point mud wrestling loss at The Ryder Cup, a world ranking that features just four Americans in the top 10 and a grand slam drought that stretches back to last year’s Masters. On the baseball diamond 1-for-5 gets one optioned to Single-A Peoria. On the golf course, or more to the point in the golf media, it’s a reason to second guess the college system, the PGA Tour, lucrative contracts and global warming.

But if perception is indeed reality, Saturday’s slog through the worst weather this side of Muirfield in 2002 was nothing less than a step in the right direction for the red, white and blue.

The leaderboard at the 140th Open Championship has more American flags than a Fourth of July celebration. All total, six of the top 10 are American, including primary contender Dustin Johnson who powered his way through a throat infection and over much of Royal St. George’s pitfalls for a day’s-best 68 which was matched only by fellow American Rickie Fowler.

“Apparently the death of American golf has been greatly exaggerated,” Joe Ogilvie tweeted from half a world away.

There are no guarantees that the United States can get off the grand slam schneid, particularly considering Clarke’s commanding performance, but there is reason to be optimistic.

Not that any members of the U.S. contingent were overly concerned with the perceived slump.

“The European Tour guys have been playing well, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Americans,” said Johnson, who will head out in Sunday’s final group at a major for the third time in the last five grand slam gatherings.

Problem? What problem?

At least that’s been the collective take. 

“I guess we need to play better,” Glover said on Friday. On Saturday, they did.

After Johnson and Fowler, who is tied for third place three shots back, sits Glover (73), a resurgent Anthony Kim (70) and a refreshingly optimistic Phil Mickelson, who turned a round of sixty-something into a 71 with a collection of missed putts.

Still, Lefty is only five back at an event that has been the professional equivalent of advanced math. He has just a single top 10 in 17 Open tries, had broken 70 just once in his last 10 rounds and arrived on the southeast English coast with a new game plan – play this Open like it was his first.

“There’s nothing more exciting than on Sunday having a chance in a major,” Mickelson said. “I know that I’m not leading, but I’m also right there. To me that is so much fun, and I’m excited. I feel like it’s my first time over here.”

We’ve heard, for some time now, that this Continental shift is nothing more than a natural cycle, but on Saturday the Americans were more concerned with the cyclone that buffeted the English coast.

In what many called the worst conditions they’ve ever played in the day’s scoring average ballooned to 74.69. Long-hitting Gary Woodland made an 8 at the par-5 14th and yet still sounded like a man who had just gotten away with something.

Trevor Immelman needed six towels, 10 gloves and 72 strokes to round his wet and wild 18 on Saturday and considered himself one of the fortunate ones. “That could easily be the worst conditions I’ve ever played in,” he offered without a hint of hyperbole.

Even Old Tom Morris, eh . . . Watson, a veteran of 34 Opens who defied time and the torrent with a 72, called Saturday’s slop the worst he’s seen since that raw day in ’02 at Muirfield. We’ll take his word for it.

Even more concerning, particularly for those holding out hope for an American winner, was a forecast for Sunday that looked frighteningly similar to Saturday’s ordeal.

“A lot of blank faces coming off the golf course wondering what the English summer is all about,” is how Englishman Paul Casey summed up Saturday’s action.

Whether the American slide is real or a media-driven perception doesn’t matter, not when Clarke, raised and recently returned to Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush links, is playing like Samuel Ryder’s chalice is waiting for him on Sunday and the weatherman is churning out carbon-copy forecasts for the finish.

On this home-field advantage goes to the Ulsterman with webbed feet and a wide smile. But there was still plenty of optimism, if not for American golf than for the overall outcome.

“What are you laughing about?” Watson asked the assembled scribes after his round. “You just love to see us pros suffer.”

Maybe, but we also love a good story. And right now the transatlantic scuffle is the best tale in town.

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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.”