McIlroy faces toughest major challenge to date

By Rex HoggardAugust 10, 2014, 12:56 am

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Thank you, Rory McIlroy, for not making the 96th PGA Championship a foregone conclusion.

As much as the Northern Irishman wanted to add this PGA to his boat race highlight reel, the combination of relatively pedestrian play by the world No. 1 and a golf course softened to perfection by two days of incessant rain has produced Grand Slam gridlock.

He’s won major championships from two time zones ahead and a World Golf Championship from a field goal back. On Sunday at Valhalla Golf Club, McIlroy will try to add to his Grand Slam total from a crowed elevator.

What was shaping up to be another coronation now has all the markings of a Sunday brawl between some of the game’s true heavyweights, a marquee that includes Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Phil Mickelson.

Not a Bob May in the bunch.

Well, there was a Bernd Wiesberger, but with apologies to the man from Vienna – that’s Austria not Virginia – there are no substitutes for star power, and on Day 3 substance and style coalesced into a handsome crowd.

“Of course it’s different,” said McIlroy, who maintained his lead thanks to a third-round 67 that was very much un-Rory-like and left him a shot clear of Wiesberger.

“Standing on the first tee (on Sunday) is going to feel different than how it felt a month ago at Hoylake, because you don’t have that cushion. It is going to be a shootout.”

PGA Championship full-field scores

PGA Championship: Articles, videos and photos

If form follows function, Saturday’s third round will be the standard for the final 18. Consider how McIlroy & Co. traded blows on a soggy layout with all the power and poetry of the Louisville Lip, known in these parts as Muhammad Ali, starting with a pair of unlikely par saves.

Day – freed from a season-long, injury-induced slump by the healing powers of a weaker grip – pulled his drive into Indiana and made a historic par with, without shoes, at the second hole.

Three holes later McIlroy got up and down from Floyd’s Fork, rolling in a crucial 11-footer to keep from dropping a shot, not to mention his momentum.

And so it went, contenders of all varieties emerged to challenge the three-time major champion from every muddy corner of Valhalla.

Fowler holed a 16-footer at the 10th to tie McIlroy at 10 under. Moments later, Ryan Palmer birdied the 11th to join the party. Day was next with a 9-footer for birdie at the 13th hole to grab a share of the spotlight.

But by the time McIlroy splashed his third shot to 7 feet for his sixth birdie of the day at the last, he found himself in familiar territory, but only by the narrowest of margins.

For a player who lapped the field at the Congressional Open in 2011 and the Kiawah PGA in 2012 and entered Sunday at last month's Open Championship six ahead, this is uncharted waters.

“I’ll win any way. I’ll take a win any way it comes,” McIlroy said. “If that means having to scrap it out with a couple people coming down the stretch or if I can give myself some sort of lead going down the back nine or whatever it is.”

The only comparison is the 2011 Masters, and we all know how that turned out. Earlier this week, McIlroy referenced his play at Augusta National three years ago as the last time he’d ever attempted to protect a lead, which was four strokes through three rounds.

“I’ll never do that again,” reasoned McIlroy, who imploded during the final round of the ’11 Masters on his way to a tie for 15th place.

If things continue to trend like they have for three days, he won’t be able to. After a particularly good day for scoring, if not white pants, 11 players now find themselves within five shots of the lead.

But it’s not so much the quantity of the assembled challengers as it is the quality.

A resurgent Mickelson carded his third consecutive sub-70 round (67) for just the second time this season and overcame a poor start to finish at 10 under par and three strokes behind young Rors.

As impressive as McIlroy has been the last month, Lefty was more interested in the traffic jam that had piled up atop the leaderboard.

“When it’s this many guys, I don’t even look at a leaderboard. I just go out and push it,” said Mickelson, who is vying for his first top-10 finish on Tour this season as well as a spot on September’s Ryder Cup team.

Day, who suggested a day earlier it was time to stop waiting for the major championship door to open in exchange for a more bullish approach, faded with a “sloppy” bogey at the 16th hole but still remains just three back after a third-round 69.

But it is Fowler, this season’s Mr. Major, who may be the most compelling spoiler. After largely underachieving for much of his career in the majors, swing coach Butch Harmon has tempered Fowler’s aggressive ways, shortened his backswing and turned him into a bona fide major player.

Fowler is the only player this year to post top-5 finishes in all three Grand Slam gatherings and the final round will be the first major Sunday since the Masters that he didn’t set out in the day’s final group.

Beginning the day two shots back, however, is a solid consolation prize thanks to flawless 67 on Day 3.

“I would say that leaderboard is the most jam-packed it’s been, maybe since the start of the final round at the Masters,” Fowler said. “This one’s out there for the taking, for sure. Anyone can go out and post a number tomorrow with the way the golf course is playing.”

Fowler’s take wasn’t a slight toward McIlroy, whose dominance has been unquestionable the last few weeks, just the reality of a new challenge for the Ulsterman. Unlike those walk-offs at Congressional, Kiawah Island and Royal Liverpool, there will be no room for error on Sunday.

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.”