Play Ball

By Rex HoggardJanuary 7, 2010, 3:08 am

When the New Yankees wrapped up World Series title No. 27 on Nov. 5, catcher Jorge Posada packed his gear away for a well-earned break. It will be nearly 3 ½ months between last out and the first day of spring training for pitchers and catchers for the Bombers’ backstop.

Compared with golf, Posada & Co. have got it made. For Tour players an offseason, at least in the traditional sense, is a misnomer at best, and an oxymoron at worst, much like unforced errors and four-hour rounds at Pebble Beach.

For most Tour types, particularly those playing the season-opening SBS Championship this week, their last official tournament was in late September, followed by the Presidents Cup (Oct. 11) for some or an assortment of silly season offerings that stretch deep into December.

What offseason there is for the game’s elite is a hurried blur of swing and equipment changes and goal setting, and how that postseason “to do” list is accomplished is as varied as the golf swing.

Zach Johnson, fresh from his most consistent season on Tour, has what is probably the most structured offseason regimen. In late October Johnson assembled “Team Zach” – which includes his caddie, swing coach, sports psychologist and trainer – at Sea Island (Ga.) Resort for two days of dissecting and detailed planning for 2010.

“It easily could have been four days,” Johnson said.

Much of a player’s offseason routine dovetails with his personality, and Johnson, a detail-oriented type, sets specific statistical goals to reach and creates an intense offseason program to achieve those numbers.

“For example, scrambling ... if I can get to a certain level and keep everything else like it has been, my driving and greens in regulation, then that’s going to take me to another level,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s early-season success, four of his six Tour titles have come in the spring, including last year’s victory at the Sony Open, suggests his offseason intensity is working. Yet offseason regimens are not of the one-size-fits-all variety.

Fresh from his worst year on Tour, Lucas Glover put his golf clubs away after his last event in 2008 (BMW Championship in early September) and didn’t see another Tour tee sheet – or nearly any other tee sheet for that matter – until the end of January. The result? His best year on Tour including his breakthrough victory at Bethpage and six top 10s.

Glover followed the same formula at the end of 2009, going home to Greenville, S.C., after playing the Chevron World Challenge in December, taking a vacation with his wife to Blackberry Farms in Tennessee and spending time with his grandfather before leaving for Hawaii on Jan. 1.

“It was basically the same thing,” said Mac Barnhardt, Glover’s manager with Crown Sports. “He just needed some time at home to unwind and get ready for 2010.”

Somewhere between Johnson’s multifaceted preparation and Glover’s relaxed approach is Dustin Johnson, the long-hitting second-year phenom.

Johnson’s last official Tour event was at Turning Stone in New York in early October (he did play the low-key Shark Shootout in December). In between he enjoyed almost equal parts work with swing coach Alan Terrell and relaxation.

“He took 18 days off after Turning Stone and that really helped,” Terrell said. “It’s a short off-season for these guys so you have to balance it. Usually he’ll work six or seven days hard and then take a couple off. He’s not a guy who will go five days a week for two months.”

Johnson’s ebb-and-flow routine worked well in 2009, when he started the season with an 11th-place finish at Kapalua followed by his second Tour title at Pebble Beach and a tie for 10th at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles.

His offseason program also favors a player who relishes the long courses found on the Tour’s West Coast Swing. In 2010, Johnson plans to play seven of the first eight events, with his only West Coast miss being Phoenix.

Whichever route a player takes to ready for the new season, it’s vastly different then the formula used by previous generations. Before the Tour ballooned to nearly 50 events and the silly season became a two-month circuit, players had the option of a month or two of no golf and a few weeks to prepare for the next calendar.

“In the old days the season was over in October and players would take eight of the 10 weeks left in the year off,” said Rocky Hambric, president of Hambric Sports Management. “There was only a Skins Game, not a million other tournaments to play in like Tiger’s event. You had a real offseason. They’d put the clubs away and they’d go to Arizona or California to get ready.”

Before the World Golf Championships, many players would start their seasons at the Bob Hope, where “golf in a dome” assured favorable conditions for rusty swings, before moving on to Doral to ready for the year’s first major in April.

But now that window has collapsed to a few days, not weeks, and players have to find the right offseason formula for them, because in golf there is no spring training – just Thursday’s opening day in Hawaii.

Play ball.

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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.”