The Best Story of 2001

By Rich LernerDecember 18, 2001, 5:00 pm
The two best things to happen in golf in 2001? New York firefighter Ken Eichele gaining a special exemption to the 2002 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship; and his friend, New York Fire Captain Matt Corrigan, making a hole in one to win a two-year lease on a Cadillac Escalade.
If you buy the notion that, as Johnny Miller told me, golf seems inconsequential in light of what happened on September 11; if the thought of thousands of people randomly and wantonly being killed makes it impossible to truly celebrate the noteworthy achievements of a game; then Ken Eichele and Matt Corrigan, representing all the service personnel who didn't question, didn't falter, didn't hesitate, didn't pontificate, didn't relent - Ken Eichele and Matt Corrigan are the two best things to happen to golf this year.
Corrigan is 45, married and the father of two young children. A captain in Ladder 121, he lives and works in Rockaway Beach, 10 blocks from where the Dominican-bound plane crashed.
Matt's close golfing buddy is Ken, who was featured in a Golf Channel special filmed in the New York area one month after the attacks. Ken is a fire chief stationed at 85th between Lexington and Third, a veteran of 28 years. On September 11th, he was qualifying for the Mid-Am at Bedford in Westchester County, even par through 14 holes, when he learned of the full extent of the attacks.
With all the bridges into the city closed, Eichele and several other firefighters who were attempting to qualify could only watch on television in the locker room. 'I turned to my friend,' Eichele remembers somberly, 'and said, 'We just lost 200 men.''
Nine men from Eichele's Engine Company died. Ken personally knew over 100 firefighters who perished. The USGA cancelled the qualifier, replayed it a week later without Ken Eichele, and then granted him a special exemption to next year's Mid-Am at Stamwich in Connecticut. 'I feel like I'll be representing all the guys,' says Eichele.
Matt Corrigan is a regular alongside Ken in the Nassau Players Club, a group of mostly single-digit handicappers, 100 strong, who play various public courses on Long Island. They happen to call Bethpage Black, home to next year's U.S. Open, one of their regular stops.
As part of our story on Ken Eichele, we arranged to tape Ken and Matt and two of their buddies playing golf on a Sunday morning at Bethpage Black. Corrigan's a salt-of-the-earth character with black hair, an easy smile and a thick New York accent. His choice in clubs is a merrily arranged mixed bag of knockoffs and nicked-up no-names that've hit hundreds of Whiffle balls off firehouse floors. On the day we videotaped at Bethpage, Matt, playing the middle tees, shot 71 on the Black Course.
On September 11, Matt was also qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Amateur, only at another site. The round was cancelled. Obviously like his friend, Ken, he couldn't return for the rescheduled qualifier, not while working at Ground Zero and burying so many friends and brother firefighters.
Unlike Ken, though, Matt hadn't played enough holes to sort of raise the eyebrows of the USGA the way Ken did with his even par, 14-hole effort. Humble and as comfortable in his own skin as any man you'll meet, Matt says, 'Kenny deserves the exemption for all he's been through.' Asked if he plans on qualifying for the same event, Matt, a scratch player, doesn't hesitate. 'Oh yeah, we're gonna try. That would be poetic justice if he could be there with Ken.'Yes, I'll be immersed in the Ryder Cup and the steady drumbeat of important professional events next year, but rest assured, I'll have a close eye and a piece of my heart in the direction of the U.S. Mid-Amateur in 2002.
Anyway, the story doesn't end there, my friends. No, not even close. See, we stayed in touch with Ken and Matt, and invited the pair to Florida for a charity golf tournament Dec. 10 to benefit victims of domestic violence. Lee Janzen, John Cook, Chris DiMarco, Skip Kendall, Laura Diaz and Emilee Klein were among the many pros who, along with their wives, participated in the Harbor House Invitational at Greg Norman's interesting new 36-hole project called ChampionsGate. David Leadbetter, whose eye-popping, state-of-the-art academy is based there, gave a clinic with Brad Bryant before the shotgun scramble.
Ken and Matt were paired with tour pro Mike Sposa and me. Sposa's a very personable, fun-loving guy who swings and putts beautifully. We teed off on 15 and were going along smoothly, though not spectacularly, through five holes, maybe 3-under-par. At the second, a 166-yard par-3 from the middle tees, there sat a huge, shining new black Cadillac Escalade SUV worth $57,000 to anybody who made a hole in one. After Mike put his on from maybe 200 yards off the back tees, Matt let fly with a 6-iron and said immediately something to the effect of, 'Oh, that's right.' To which Sposa retorted, 'Right? Whattya mean? You got the Escalade!'
Sposa turned out to be more than a great guy. He turned out to be a prophet. After a couple bounces and a little roll, the ball disappeared. Hole in one. We went nuts. Absolutely nuts. Three days later, Matt was doing phone interviews with the New York Post, USA Today and the Orlando Sentinel. It made all the papers.
Ken Eichele has gotten his exemption. Matt Corrigan got the ride of a lifetime. And three months after the saddest day in most of our lifetimes, we got to hug and have some laughs. A year in which humanity suffered greatly ended on a blessedly human note.
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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 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.”