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Monahan, the man with the plan

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2017, 7:35 pm

ATLANTA – Jay Monahan settled into his chair with an easy smile and slight hunch, giving the commissioner’s annual State of the PGA Tour news conference a fantasy football draft feel.

Of the litany of things that have changed the last year since Monahan took over for Tim Finchem, however, friendly body language doesn’t begin to accurately portray the differences between the old and new bosses.

As metaphorical extremes go, maybe the easiest way to judge the gulf between current and former regimes was Monahan’s socks, a flowery pattern that fit playfully with the predictable loafers and blue blazer, which firmly announced there is new management now calling the shots in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Finchem didn’t own flowery socks. As best anyone can tell, he didn’t own flowers, just a stoic, B-to-B pragmatist who, in fairness, oversaw unprecedented growth during his tenure as commissioner.

A year ago at East Lake, Finchem gave his final State of the Tour less than two months before giving Monahan the keys to the kingdom. Finchem, as was normally the case, gave a lengthy explanation of the Tour’s reach across multiple media platforms and the coterminous, he actually used that one in 2006, of the circuit’s reach.

That’s not Monahan.

Instead, the commissioner spent his time talking fondly of Arnold Palmer, who passed away a year ago during the Tour Championship, and family.


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“We all make a lot of sacrifices along the way where we're not home as much as we would like to be. That's a part of being dedicated to your craft and that's not lost on us,” he told the assembled scribes.

It wasn’t all warm and fuzzy with a side of flowery socks.

Monahan is currently in the process of the largest schedule makeover since the Tour introduced the postseason in 2007. The new dance card will include a post-Labor Day finish, the PGA Championship in May and The Players in March, to touch on just a few of the highlights.

But before Monahan and Co. can dig into that puzzle of a hundred moving parts, he must shore up next year’s schedule, a 49-event line up that looks largely the same as this year’s with a few concerning issues.

The Tour’s event in the Washington, D.C., area and Houston Open are both on the ropes and currently don’t have title sponsors. In the case of The National, which is run by the Tiger Woods Foundation, the event also doesn’t have a golf course since the Tour recently terminated its contract to hold the tournament at Congressional Country Club in 2018 and ’20.

“So we think that we'll be successful [in Houston] but obviously we haven't been yet and [Hurricane] Harvey is not an excuse,” he said. “I think that we'll continue to work our way through that and hopefully we'll have some positive news as we go forward.”

Monahan’s commitment to an event that has been a Tour staple since 1946 is admirable and understandable. The National, which debuted with much fanfare in ’07 thanks to Woods’ association, is another story.

The Jenga game that is the ’19 schedule and beyond is a factor here.

An indication of how profound those changes in ’19 will likely be could be gleaned from Jordan Spieth’s reaction to the 2017-18 schedule, which is virtually unchanged from this year’s line up.

“I'm not surprised that next year's similar and then after that we'll see what happens,” said Spieth, who has been involved with the ongoing schedule talks. “I wouldn't necessarily be quick to judge on how the Tour's saying that based on a short-term view of next year. Wait and see what happens after that.”

For Monahan, that means maintaining the status quo. If, for example, Quicken Loans, the title sponsor of The National since 2014, wanted to move the event to, say, Detroit, where the company is based, it would leave the Tour in a curious position.

“We’re focused on D.C. and we’re hopeful we can find a solution. There are a lot of markets that want to have a PGA Tour event, but that’s not where we are. It’s a matter of trying to be in a market that has been very good to us,” he said. “If we get to a place where we can’t accomplish that, then you’ve got to look at what those alternatives are and what fits best, but we’re not there yet.”

Perhaps, but if the Tour is going to end it’s season before the start of meaningful football, that means events will either have to be shifted to the fall portion of the schedule or removed, with the former the likely preferred outcome.

Although it’s become a popular topic in recent years, neither Monahan nor the Tour has any interest in an extended off-season. It was little surprise that the commissioner had a ready answer when the idea came up again on Tuesday, explaining that in 1967 the Tour had 47 events on its schedule, the same as this season.

Above all else, the Tour is a business and as a rule businesses don’t contract without a reason, which means whatever form the schedule takes in ’19 and beyond it will simply be rearranged, not reduced.

“If you get to that point and you're ending prior to the NFL and you're not going to the offseason, then you're ending at an earlier point and you're probably starting at an earlier point,” Monahan simply.

And that, more so than the flowery socks and easy smile, may be the biggest difference between the circuit’s old and new. Monahan may not have all the details of the new schedule, but he doesn’t need 10-dollar words and fancy business speak to explain the big picture.

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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.”