#AskLav: Looking back at 2013, ahead to 2014

By Ryan LavnerDecember 12, 2013, 2:05 pm

Here’s a depressing fact: The 2013-14 PGA Tour season will resume in 22 days, barring, of course, another onslaught of hellacious winds, freak snowstorms, derechos and seemingly everything but locust attacks. 

Seriously – 22 days. That’s barely enough time to roll out all of this end-of-the-year content, crank out season-preview stories, buy and return gifts, and then board a flight bound for Kapalua.

So it follows that this will be the final #AskLav mailbag of the year, because, really, we’re left with little choice. There aren’t many Thursdays remaining in 2013. But before diving into your mailbag questions, here are one scribe’s reflections on the year that was: 

• That Tiger Woods won five times and still wasn’t the clear-cut choice for Player of the Year choice tells me two things: 1.) He continues to be judged by the absurdly high standards that he set; and 2.) The quality of golf this year, worldwide, was incredible.

• Never covered a tournament quite like the WGC-Match Play. That week I had the early shift, meaning I covered the tournament Tuesday-Friday while another writer (in this case, the inimitable Rex Hoggard) stayed for the weekend when the field was cut to eight players. That was the plan, anyway. Mother Nature clearly had other ideas, and soon about four inches fell on the otherwise forgettable Dove Mountain course. There were snowball fights, dudes sledding on pizza boxes and long lines for hot chocolate. The warmest jackets we packed were fleece pullovers, and I ended up covering only a round and a half before heading to the airport. Needless to say, the Match Play is not on my 2014 tournament wish list. 

• The course I most wanted to play this year: National Golf Links of America. The host site for the Walker Cup matches is truly spectacular, and an ideal course for a match-play event. Let’s hope it’s not another 91 years before NGLA stages another high-profile tournament.

• Best Tour stop if you like food (which I do): Zurich Classic. Gained nine pounds this April after eating fried seafood platters, barbecued shrimp and succulent chargrilled oysters. And, yes, I’m drooling as I type this.  

• What did we learn from the Tiger-Sergio spat this year at the Players? When provoked, TW always seeks and destroys.

• The top 5 in the world ranking as of this writing is Tiger, Scott, Big Stense, Rosey and Phil. At this time next year, I think it will look like this: Tiger, Scott, Rory, Big Stense, Jason Day.

• One of the great thrills of the year was catching up with Jim Furyk’s group to follow his bid for 59 in Chicago. For all of his meltdowns in the past few years, he showed a lot of stones by stuffing that gap-wedge shot to kick-in range.

• Yes, Merion was tricked out for this year’s U.S. Open. It was possible, maybe even likely, to snap a wrist while hitting out of that rough. The average player couldn’t get home with driver-driver on 18. But man, what an awesome collection of holes. 

• Watching Rory McIlroy in San Antonio, I was convinced that he’d turn it around and win soon thereafter. His strut was back, but so, too, were the titanium-denting drives and rock-solid stroke. Yeah, that didn’t quite pan out – he didn’t win for another 34 weeks. 

• For what it’s worth, I was behind the first green at Conway Farms, staring right at Tiger, when his ball apparently moved in the pine needles. This new video rule is a good one – there was no way that movement was discernible to the naked eye.

• Precisely half of my rounds played this year were during GolfChannel.com’s 11-day adventure in Scotland – 126 holes in five days. My best round of the year (73) was in a tournament the day before my wedding. My worst (85) was the first round after my nuptials. Coincidence?

 

 

Is a heavier driver shaft the missing link in Tiger’s major game? Probably not. In his last 23 weekend rounds at a major, Woods has shot in the 60s just three times. Over that same span he has 12 sub-par rounds on Thursday-Friday. That tells me that there’s a mental hurdle, that he’s pressing, that he’s trying too hard for major No. 15. This a make-or-break year for Tiger when it comes to chasing Jack. If the world No. 1 doesn’t win one this year – with his game in order, with this favorable foursome of venues – then there’ll be serious doubt whether he can get to 15 majors, let alone 18.   


 

 

Well, if Watson had to make that decision today, the U.S. team would be in grave condition, unless, of course, you welcome the thought of an American side with Ryan Moore and Chris Kirk among the automatic qualifiers, with Jason Bohn, who has exactly two wins in 247 career starts, sitting next on the list at No. 10. Tiger (15), Kooch (16), Zach (17) and Sneds (18) would all be relying on picks. So would Billy Ho (21), Keegan (22), Stricker (26) and Spieth (71). Here’s guessing this list will look a little different in nine months.


 

 

Hey, at least Tiger is built to win in 2014! The same can’t be said for the lovable losers, who are stocked with young talent but at least a few years away from being a serious playoff contender. Tiger is more likely to break his curse first, since he’s as healthy as he’s been in years, he’s no longer bogged down with swing thoughts, and he’s approaching 2014 major venues at which he has had success. The Cubs, meanwhile, will be lucky to win 75 games. That drought lives on.


 

 

The single-most important hire will be the lead analyst. Love him or loathe him, Johnny Miller is must-watch TV at the Open. He LOVES that tournament. He’s been in that cauldron (as you might have been told a time or two), and he’s not afraid to opine, no matter how ridiculous. It was reported in August that Fox has approached Greg Norman about the gig, and that would be a curious choice, given his uneven record in the year’s second major (no wins, just five top 10s in 19 starts) and penchant for head-scratching comments (like this, for instance). Though he doesn’t have the same pedigree as Johnny or the Shark, I’d love to see Paul Azinger in that role. Smart, thoughtful, opinionated, well-researched. 


 

 

Good question. For all we know, the 28-year-old is either working hard on his game in Dallas, squandering all of his money ($12M in career earnings) in Vegas or getting ready to start filming the “Entourage” movie with Vincent Chase. He hasn’t played a full schedule since 2011 or been heard from, really, since undergoing surgery on his Achilles’ tendon in summer 2012. At this point, he remains more cautionary tale than comeback candidate. 


 

 

Indeed, this #AskLav mailbag – in which I formed an NFL team with only golfers – was my favorite of 2013. That group couldn’t be any more dysfunctional than the Redskins, right?

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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.”