College, junior ranks working to speed up the game

By Ryan LavnerJune 26, 2013, 12:30 pm

In a few years, we may view what happened to Texas A&M at this year’s NCAA Championship as the seminal moment that changed the culture of slow play in college golf.

Previously, there had been only a few isolated incidents of players being penalized for lagging behind. But at NCAAs, Aggies sophomore Tyler Dunlap was slapped with a one-shot penalty during the third and final round of stroke-play qualifying, sending his team from safely inside the match-play cut to a four-team playoff. Less than an hour later, the Aggies lost on the first extra hole. Their season was over.

Clearly, the NCAA was sending a message with the pace-of-play crackdown at its marquee event. But the controversial decision irked several prominent coaches, not least the man whose team was directly affected.

“We need to play faster, there’s no doubt about it,” Texas A&M coach J.T. Higgins said. “But to not have it enforced all year, and then at your national championship all of a sudden it becomes a major issue? I don’t know what to say.”

That coaches were even having this discussion represents progress for the short-pants set, though surely that will serve as little solace for the Aggies.

June is Pace of Play month: Articles, videos and photos

No segment of the sport takes the rap for slow play quite like the college kids, with the loudest critics arguing that the pace-of-play issues on the PGA Tour stem from the next generation ingraining bad habits at the amateur level.  

That’s an oversimplification of the situation, but there’s little doubt that there are fundamental problems that plague the college game – issues that, if not soon corrected, threaten to splinter the amateur ranks.

For starters, look at how slow play affected the NCAA Championship. For the first three rounds at Capital City Club, the NCAA set up four pace-of-play checkpoints on Nos. 4, 9, 13 and 18. Players had 14 minutes to complete each hole and 40 seconds to hit a shot when it was their turn to play. If the group missed two checkpoints, each player in the group was liable for a one-shot penalty. (Texas A&M’s Dunlap was one of only two players to run afoul of the rules at NCAAs.)

It’s a progressive system – similar to what’s used at events run by the American Junior Golf Association – but many coaches took exception with the fact that it’s enforced only once a year. Most regular-season events are run by the host school, an area golf association or another outside organization. There is no uniform pace-of-play policy in place because, essentially, no tournament is run exactly alike, with a different number of volunteers and rules officials each week. Some tournaments have strict pace-of-play policies. Others, not so much.

“We get lulled to sleep all year,” Alabama coach Jay Seawell said, “and because there’s no penalty then, guys don’t think they have a problem with playing slow. The only time we talk about slow play is the events that have enough people to do something about it.”

Another issue is the college coaches themselves. There is no other collegiate sport in which the coach is allowed on the field of play with the athlete. It can become a pace-of-play issue when, for example, a coach coddles the least-experienced player, walking with him, talking with him, making each shot a learning experience.

“Sometimes we would see a coach walk with the guy for all 18 holes, like he’s his caddie,” said Luke Guthrie, a former Illinois standout who now plays on the PGA Tour. “We were always thinking: Wow, can you not play by yourself?”

Seawell considers himself a hands-off coach, but agrees that his colleagues should shoulder some of the blame, too.

But his No. 1 culprit for slow play? Course setup.

Too often, he said, the venues try to provide the most exacting test of golf. That’s a worthy pursuit, of course, but it’s also unrealistic to assume that players will finish their rounds in four hours with hole locations that only a dozen or so in the field can reasonably access. “I haven’t seen a pin in the middle of the green in five years,” Seawell said.

Also easily changed is the size of the fields during the regular season. Most are 36-18 events (36 holes on the first day, followed by an 18-hole finale), with at least 15 teams of varying ability in the field. When there are too many players on the course, in threesomes, with a shotgun start and tee times ineight-minute intervals, there will be bottlenecks on the course. No way around it.

Yet the elite junior circuit in the country has been wildly successful at curbing slow play. According to the AJGA, a threesomes’ average pace of play at its tournaments was under 4 hours, 25 minutes in both 2011 and ’12.

How did the AJGA do it?

A tournament committee sets up six timing checkpoints throughout the course to assess not only the group’s gap time relative to the group in front of them but also the designated overall time par for the course (which varies week to week). Two “red cards” can result in either a group or individual penalty, depending on the situation. Also of note: If a player records five bad times during the round – taking more than 40 seconds to play a shot – then he or she could receive a one-shot penalty for undue delay.

In 2011, the AJGA instituted the Play Ready Golf concept that has trimmed, on average, about 10 minutes per round. The first player to putt out must head to the next hole and be the first to tee off, essentially eliminating the honors system.

Since 2007, the AJGA has issued no fewer than 2,660 red cards (warnings) and imposed no fewer than 26 penalties per year, while averaging no longer than 4 hours, 35 minutes for a round.

“It’s the best way to scare somebody into stop playing slow,” Guthrie said of the AJGA’s tactics.

The obvious question is why doesn’t the college game just implement the same system? Well, it’s not that simple.

It’s unfair to compare slow play at the college and junior golf levels for two reasons: First, the AJGA has a consistent pace-of-play policy at each tournament it runs because it has the resources to successfully enforce it.That’s not true at the college level, where manpower is an issue because each Division I team plays about a dozen events per season all across the country. Secondly, and perhaps more obviously, the competitive environment (course difficulty, won-lost records) presents a greater challenge for college players. They take longer because, oftentimes, more is at stake.

“But for the first time we’re approaching slow play as a cultural thing,” said Matt Thurmond, the head coach at Washington. “It’s not the rules official talking about Xs and Os of slow play and times and penalties. It’s making those that play slow aware that it’s not OK and that it’s actually cool to play fast.”

Indeed, strides are finally being made, especially on the West Coast. For that, credit coaches like Thurmond.

In 2010, he helped organize the “Under Four” campaign at the Huskies’ home tournament. They educated players on how to play faster; they set up the course to promote faster play; they showed each group’s round time on a scoreboard to incentivize playing faster; and they put players on the clock for all 18 holes. Round times there ranged between 4:07 and 4:15. The system worked.

Even more radical was what Rick LaRose, then the coach at Arizona, implemented a few years ago at the Wildcats’ home event. Players had 40 seconds to hit a shot – essentially, a shot clock. If a rules official was watching, and a player didn’t get off his shot in time, he was dinged for a shot.

Said Cal coach Steve Desimone, “It kicked these guys’ butts into gear and scores were the same, if not better.”

The Pac-12 Conference has led the way in this discussion, implementing a few common-sense ideas that have dramatically improved pace of play at its tournaments:

• Eliminating the traditional “honor system,” teaching players to finish out a hole and head to the next tee – in other words, the Play Ready Golf concept

• Handing out an education sheet – chock full of quick tips for players – that is read and repeated at each tournament hosted by a Pac-12 school

• And beginning with the 2013-14 season, Pac-12 coaches will have a “gentleman’s agreement” that no tournament will have a field with more than 81 players. “Coaches like to point fingers at kids,” Thurmond said, “but when you put more than 80 players on the course, there is nowhere for them to go.”

After each tournament, the Pac-12’s three-man slow-play committee – Thurmond, USC’s Chris Zambri and Colorado’s Roy Edwards – collects data about the format, setup, times and best practices, to be presented at the end of the season. Their system isn’t perfect, Thurmond warns, but “at least it’s something. We’re seeing results.”

“Each coach needs to ask himself: Are they part of the problem or are they trying to fix it?” he said. “There are a bunch of coaches that aren’t going to support it. They may say they want to play faster, but as soon as a rules official shows up and puts them on the clock, they’re crying and moaning.”

Yet surely that beats the alternative – crying and moaning after a controversial NCAA Championship.

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Teenager Im wins season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.