#AskLav: Very, way too early 2015 major predictions

By Ryan LavnerOctober 23, 2014, 1:30 pm

Signs we’re in the fall portion of the wraparound schedule:

• The big winner in Vegas was not Ben Martin but rather the photographer who got the plum assignment of hangin’ by the pool at TPC Summerlin. Women in bikinis, fruity drinks and a haunting, photobombing teddy bear ... tough gig!

• The story that occupied a precious headline spot on every major golf website: Jack Nicklaus weighing in on embattled Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston’s scribbling habits. Like we really expected the Golden Bear to bash the guy who feeds his grandson in the red zone.

• Tiger Woods’ return to the range prompted a BREAKING! message on ESPN’s mobile alerts. Dial back the enthusiasm, text-typers! We do realize that Tiger’s event is now only six weeks away, yes? It’s time to go to work.

As a young stringer covering high school sports, my editor once told me: “Not every night is Game 7.” His point, of course, was that not every inning/quarter/period/whatever should be subject to microanalysis, that not every nine-inning baseball game was profound or significant or offered a glimpse into the future.  

That’s even more important to remember in pro golf, now a year-round pursuit. Just as quickly as Billy Horschel deposited $11.44 million, Sang-Moon Bae won the first of 47 events in the new season.

This week’s stop in Sea Island holds the unofficial distinction of being the Most Laid-Back Tournament of the Year … even for those trying to author a Jimmy Walker-type breakthrough or simply get a head start in FedEx Cup points. The McGladrey is the best full-field PGA Tour event this fall, and it certainly offers the best environs, what with the good eats, the beach, the perfect weather and the Wiffle ball games. Amid a crowded Tour schedule, this event has a kick-your-feet-up vibe.

But chances are this week’s result won’t be terribly significant. Not every night is Game 7, just as not every week is the Masters. I kinda prefer it that way.

Now, for your (very few) mailbag questions:  


 

 

Call these educated guesses, because these days seemingly no player is immune to injury, lawsuit, confidence-shattering slump or self-imposed leave of absence. So here goes …

Masters: Adam Scott. His putter still goes cold a bit too often, but his record at Augusta in recent years is indisputably excellent – four consecutive top 15s, including the win in 2013. Even if he doesn’t slip into another green jacket, he’ll still be a major factor next year.

U.S. Open: Jason Day. Assuming he stays healthy, J-Day is in store for a monster 2015. (Alas, we seem to type these exact words every year.) His best bet to win a major is at the Open, where he already has three top-4s in four career starts. Because Chambers Bay is such a mystery to everyone except the young pros – the 2010 U.S. Amateur was held there – you can expect the best ball-strikers to rise to the top.

Open Championship: Rory McIlroy. Now that he’s rekindled his love for links golf, there should be no stopping Boy Wonder next year at St. Andrews, where his driver should give him a massive advantage. We all remember the opening 63 at the home of golf in 2010 (followed, of course, by the Friday 80), and his T-3 there still represents his second-best finish in the year’s third major. His rounds of 64-68 at this month's Dunhill Links only bolsters the belief that he’ll be a prohibitive favorite in Scotland next year.    

PGA: Rickie Fowler. Gut call here. Whistling Straits favors the big hitters, and the 150-pound Fowler is sneaky long. He had top 5s in all four majors this season, and he’s likely to be even better in Year 2 under Butch Harmon, especially with his iron game (ranked 100th on Tour in greens hit). Plus, his close calls should leave him plenty motivated in 2015, so we’re banking on a few Ws – perhaps in the year’s final major. 


 

 

There isn’t one, besides an obvious lack of fan interest in the fall and a watered-down product overall. As long as companies are still willing to pony up to sponsor events, these C-level fall events – and the tiresome wraparound schedule – aren’t going anywhere.

Really, I’ve come to view the PGA Tour as essentially two separate seasons: One that starts in the fall, for the Tour’s middle class and those bored by the thought of an offseason, and one that starts in March, for the superstars. There’s nothing wrong with this, mind you. With the nation’s sporting attention on playoff baseball or the NFL season or LeBron, the Tour’s fall events can help establish an early theme, or maybe a rising star like Jimmy Walker. And then when the Tour heads to Florida, in early March, the “real” season can commence, with Tiger and Phil and Rory gearing up for the Masters. Hard-core golf fans – those likely reading this mailbag on Oct. 23, with little going on – can still get their fill all year long.  


 

 

Good question, because we are indeed beginning to see a changing of the guard. In the past, players tested equipment during the fall and then debuted the new stuff at the start of the calendar year. Now, with the wraparound schedule, those players can no longer afford to simply ease into action, which means an abbreviated test period during the season for those searching for the latest and greatest. Many companies still offer contracts that run through Dec. 31, but recent moves by Keegan Bradley (re-upping with Cleveland/Srixon) and Ian Poulter (moving to Titleist) show that equipment companies are starting to adapt as well.  

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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.”