Traditional U.S. Open venues unkind to Spieth

By Rex HoggardJune 13, 2016, 10:23 pm

OAKMONT, Pa. – The last time Jordan Spieth settled in front of microphone in a USGA media tent he was the undisputed heavyweight champion.

He’d just survived four surreal days navigating the brown and bouncy moonscape of Chambers Bay to claim his second consecutive major championship and would win his very next start at the John Deere Classic.

He’d flirt with history at St. Andrews, coming within a few blades of fine fescue of claiming the third leg of the single-season Grand Slam, and would cruise to PGA Tour Player of the Year honors.

There was no putt he couldn’t make and no tournament he couldn’t win.

Fast-forward a year, to Monday’s media meet-and-greet at Oakmont and the 22-year-old wunderkind still flashes the same boyish smile and subtle confidence, but there are now questions that didn’t linger 12 months ago.

In his last Grand Slam start, Spieth blew a five-stroke lead with nine holes to play at the Masters. He’s moved on, he said, and his victory late last month at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational is evidence of that.

“Honestly, I think it's out of our heads now just from that one experience at Colonial,” Spieth said when asked if his Masters meltdown still lingers.

There’s no reason to doubt Spieth and he’s shown an amazing amount of resilience in his young career, yet as he spoke on Monday there wasn’t the same air of invincibility that loomed when he outdueled Dustin Johnson last year in the Pacific Northwest.

After opening his year with a convincing victory at the Tournament of Champions, Spieth looked tired through the rest of the West Coast swing and into the Masters, posting just a single top-10 finish in five Tour starts.

He missed the cut at The Players and began the final round in second place, just two shots behind Brooks Koepka, at the AT&T Byron Nelson only to close with a 74 to tie for 18th place.

He’s also been overtaken by Jason Day atop the Official World Golf Ranking and in the eyes of some golf fans following the Australian’s victories at the Masters, Bay Hill and The Players.

But beyond the crowded field of potential favorites each week in golf and the recent ebbs and flows of Spieth’s career, it may have been the setting, brutish Oakmont, site of this week’s U.S. Open, that makes the defending champion seem somehow less imposing.

Although he’s proven to have a game that travels, with victories at a variety of golf courses from East Lake to Innisbrook, an examination of his record shows a less-than-stellar record at traditional U.S. Open venues.

With the exception of the last two U.S. Open sites – last year at Chambers Bay and in 2014 at Pinehurst, both of which featured no rough and bouncy conditions, he’s missed the cut (Merion) and finished tied for 21st (Olympic Club) in 2013 and ’12, respectively, at his national championship.

At Congressional, a two-time Open venue and the site of the Quicken Loans National, he’s missed the cut and posted one top-10 finish in three starts; and in three starts at Torrey Pines, which hosted the 2008 U.S. Open, he’s missed the cut twice and finished tied for 19th place at the Farmers Insurance Open.

It’s a curious - and perhaps far too nuanced - distinction for a player who has proven himself adept on some of the most challenging layouts; but given the severity of this week’s test it’s not entirely unfounded.

Intellectually, Spieth’s relatively pedestrian record on traditional Open-style courses doesn’t add up. Among the game’s best players he i largely consistent off the tee and his brand of low-technique, ultra-feel putting is perfect for greens like those at Oakmont.

Spieth seemed to suggest as much when asked the keys to victory this week.

“I think the most interesting thing I found here was looking back into '07 [the last time the Open was played at Oakmont], and I think out of the top 10 finishers in the tournament, maybe one or two of them were actually in the top 10 of the guys that hit fairways, and that really shocked me,” Spieth said. “That goes against everything I've been saying, which is you've got to put the ball in the fairway off the tee here, or else it's so hard to just hit it around the green, let alone on the green. . . . I can't seem to fathom why.”

He conceded that Oakmont will be a vastly different test from Chambers Bay and certainly Augusta National, where there is room for mistakes off the tee, and stressed that he’s up to this week’s challenge.

Spieth has preached all along that 2015 was a magical year not easily duplicated, but the heightened expectations born from his historic run through the majors leaves precious little room for a benefit of the doubt.

Spieth is still among the favorites this week at Oakmont – dominant on occasion, human at other times in 2016 – just not the favorite like many believed him to be at this point last year.

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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.”

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PGA Tour, LPGA react to video review rules changes

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 1:32 pm

The USGA and R&A announced on Monday updates to the Rules of Golf, including no longer accepting call-ins relating to violations. The PGA Tour and LPGA, which were both part of a working group of entities who voted on the changes, issued the following statements:

PGA Tour:

The PGA Tour has worked closely with the USGA and R&A on this issue in recent years, and today's announcement is another positive step to ensure the Rules of Golf align with how the game is presented and viewed globally. The PGA Tour will adopt the new Local Rule beginning January 1, 2018 and evolve our protocols for reviewing video evidence as outlined.


We are encouraged by the willingness of the governing bodies to fully vet the issues and implement real change at a pace much quicker than the sport has seen previously. These new adaptations, coupled with changes announced earlier this year, are true and meaningful advances for the game. The LPGA plans to adopt fully the protocols and new Local Rule as outlined.