U.S. squad making those who stayed home jealous

By Rex HoggardAugust 9, 2016, 9:05 pm

RIO DE JANEIRO – Rickie Fowler’s postcards from Rio have come with a not-so-subtle message to those who chose not to make the trip to this year’s Olympics.

There have been the regular posts to social media – Rickie hanging with Michael Phelps during the Opening Ceremony, Rickie holed up in the athlete’s village with the U.S. diving team, Rickie smiling for the cameras as he learns his way around the Olympic Golf Course.

And then there have been his less public attempts to dig the needle a little deeper into those who opted out of an Olympic start.

Although he didn’t give specifics, Fowler left little room for interpretation on Tuesday during the U.S. team’s press conference, suggesting he’s been in regular contact with those who skipped golf’s return to the Games after a 112-year hiatus.

“As far as making guys jealous back home, I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job of it and there may be some personal messages sent back and forth and I’m telling them we’re definitely having a good time down here,” Fowler said.

Active minds can envision text messages to Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, the top two Americans in the World Golf Ranking who withdrew their names from Olympic consideration, with lines like, “You’re missing it” and “This place is off the hook.”

Fowler has been in Brazil the longest of the Americans, having arrived last week to participate in the Opening Ceremony and embrace the full Olympic experience, but his U.S. condo-mates offered a similar message on Tuesday.

“Just having the opportunity to play and be part of helping to grow the game is huge,” Patrick Reed said. “When people turn on the TV to watch sports the one event where they can see almost all the top athletes is the Olympics.

“To have golf back in the Olympics is just going to help the game. There were some reasons the guys felt they shouldn’t come here, but any time there’s a reason to put on the stars and stripes I’m going to do it.”


VIDEO: Kuchar enjoying Olympic life off the course

Olympic golf coverage: Articles, photos and videos


That’s a long drive from the message Rory McIlroy offered last month when he announced he would be skipping the Olympics.

“I didn't get into golf to try and grow the game. I got into golf to win championships and win major championships, and all of a sudden you get to this point and there is a responsibility on you to grow the game, and I get that,” McIlroy said at The Open. “But at the same time that's not the reason that I got into golf. I got into golf to win.”

To be fair, this wasn’t an exercise in finger pointing or Monday morning quarterbacking. The four Americans who will play in this week’s event didn’t seem entirely comfortable with the topic of golf’s AWOL athletes, but nonetheless had a message for those passed on the opportunity.

Every player who made the decision to skip the Games did so for their own reasons, which were mostly concerns over the Zika virus, and hindsight can often be an utterly unfair judge and jury.

For those who did make the trip to Rio, however, the crowded reality has been much different than the picture that had been painted.

Matt Kuchar, who earned his spot in the field when Spieth and Johnson withdrew, spent Monday playing “tourist” with his wife and watching Round 4 of the table tennis competition; and Reed planned to attend Tuesday’s swimming events.

Bubba Watson was desperately trying to land tickets to the handball competition, all of which seems to dismiss any preconceived security concerns.

As for Zika, Reed had a refreshingly straightforward approach to what has become an issue well beyond the warm confines of South America and the Caribbean.

“I live in Houston, I have lived in San Antonio, I’ve always used bug spray, it’s nothing new,” Reed said. “Being an outdoor sport there are three things you have to do, wear sunscreen, wear bug spray and you have to hydrate.”

The U.S. foursome weren’t second-guessing the decision made by some of the game’s top players to not participate this week – that would be bad form and unfair. Instead, each told a similar tale of conviction.

Representing your country, be it at a Ryder Cup or the Olympics, transcends the historic motivations of individual accomplishment, and if some failed to see the big picture through the fog of uncertainty it’s as understandable as it is unfortunate.

“Growing up all we dreamed about was the majors, but I remember watching the Olympics and wishing I had the chance to go play for a gold medal,” Reed said.

Whether Spieth, Johnson, McIlroy and world No. 1 Jason Day will spend the next few days wistfully eyeing the competition from Rio will probably remain a mystery. Golf is, by design, a sport that demands a healthy dose of competitive amnesia; and Fowler’s regular reminders from Rio will probably serve as little more than good-natured ribbing.

Criticizing the players who sidestepped the Games has always carried an air of arrogance, as if those judging from outside should somehow know better; and ultimately the would-be Olympians are the ultimate arbiters of right or wrong.

But for those who did make the trip to Rio, who embraced the Games and all of the experiences that come with being an Olympic athlete, however quirky that may sometimes be, that choice has already been validated.

“There were funny circumstances this year that led guys to not participate. I think they will regret it,” Kuchar said. “After this year’s event I think it’s going to be a big success.”

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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 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.”

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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.

LPGA:

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.