Mickelson loses Open without doing anything wrong

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2016, 8:45 pm

TROON, Scotland – Even for a man accustomed to major-championship heartbreak, Phil Mickelson had no idea how to digest this loss Sunday at the 145th Open.

It wasn’t the 2006 U.S. Open, where he butchered the 72nd hole.

It wasn’t the 2012 Masters, where he clanked a tee shot off a grandstand in the final round.

It wasn’t the 2013 U.S. Open, where he misjudged two wedge shots late on the back nine.

This was … maybe even more dispiriting?

“It’s probably the best I’ve played and not won,” he said.

Mickelson lost to a sublime Henrik Stenson and had nothing to second-guess. Not a different club off a tee. Not a different yardage with an iron shot. Not a different line with a putt.

Vying to become the oldest Open winner since 1867, the 46-year-old Hall of Famer shot a bogey-free 65 Sunday, tied the second-lowest score in a major by a non-winner (267) and carded the lowest final-round score of his career. He found fairways with ease and saved par from the heather and made only four bogeys all week at Royal Troon.

And yet he still lost. By three.

“I’m not sure how I’m going to feel about that,” he said. “I’m proud of the way I played. I played what I feel was well enough to win this championship by a number of strokes, and yet I got beat by three strokes.

“It’s not like I have decades of opportunities left to win majors, so each one means a lot to me. And I put in my best performance today. Played close to flawless golf and was beat.”

And so here comes another test of his legendary resilience. Throughout his 25-year career, no one has learned how to deal with failure better than Mickelson. His 11 runners-up in majors are the second-most all time, behind only Jack Nicklaus (19). The narrow defeats, many of them self-inflicted, are a significant part of Lefty’s legacy, as much as his five majors or his 42 PGA Tour titles.

After the most crushing loss of his career at Merion, after it finally appeared that he was damaged goods, Mickelson summoned arguably his greatest performance just a month later, a flawless Sunday 66 to capture the Muirfield Open. In the aftermath, he raved about how he was playing the best golf of his life, at age 43.

That didn’t pan out, of course, and his game deteriorated over the past few years. After recording at least six top-10s in 16 consecutive seasons, and 10 in a row with a victory, he has mustered only four top-10s the last two seasons combined. His world ranking tumbled outside the top 30.

During the offseason, he made the difficult decision to leave legendary swing coach Butch Harmon, with whom he’d enjoyed the most success, in favor of little-known Andrew Getson, who helped put Mickelson’s long, free-flowing swing back on plane. “It’s taken him a fair amount of time to play golf instead of swing,” said Mickelson’s longtime short-game coach, Dave Pelz, “but he looks great now.”

Never better than at Royal Troon, where Mickelson came within a fraction of an inch, or a pebble, from shooting the first 62 in a major. A day later, in pounding rain, he grabbed his first 36-hole lead in a major in three years. And even when his swing abandoned him during a blustery third round, he turned a 77 into a 70 with his magical short game.  

Caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay reported that Mickelson’s warmup Sunday was “incredible,” similar to Muirfield in 2013, and then Mickelson put on a ball-striking clinic for four unforgettable hours.

Unfortunately for him, so did Stenson. They matched birdies, opening 32s and swapped the lead five times on the front nine. Mickelson climbed back into the lead on 11 and scrambled to an all-world par on 12, but Stenson, better known for his ball-striking prowess than his putter, caught fire coming home. An 18-footer for birdie on 14. A 50-footer on 15.

“I had to make 30-, 40-footers just to try to keep pace with him,” Mickelson said.

It appeared that he might pull even on the par-5 16th, but his 25-foot eagle putt took a peek at the cup and dove left at the final moment. “I really thought that was going to go in,” he said.

Stenson poured it on with a birdie of his own on 16, a macho long iron to 8 feet on 17 and then an exclamation point on the last to shoot a two-bogey 63 and set the major aggregate scoring record of 20-under 264.

Mickelson’s four-round total of 267 would have won or forced a playoff in 141 of the 145 Opens played. So superb was his golf, he was 11 shots clear of the third-place finisher, J.B. Holmes.

“We’ll never see perfection on a links like that ever again in our lives,” said Nick Faldo, a three-time Open champion. “There’s no way. For them to match each other, it was links perfection. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

That’s little solace to Mickelson, of course. Though players are staying competitive longer – a combination of better technology, better equipment and better fitness – it’s reasonable to wonder how many more chances he’ll have to add to his collection of five major titles.

“The only good thing is he didn’t lose it,” Faldo said. “You’re going to lose majors, but Phil will say that I did everything I could, I was just faced against a man who outscored me at the end.

“There’s no discrediting that at all. You won’t be scarred by that loss. Sure, you’ll look back at the bits and bobs, but one man won it, the other man didn’t lose it.”

Said Mackay: “That’s as good of a tournament as I’ve seen him play, if ever.”

Mickelson looked dazed when he emerged from the Recorders’ Office, two Ziploc bags full of snacks in his right hand. He smiled his way through a trophy presentation, praised Stenson and answered 15 questions during a packed news conference. Still, he labored to find the right words, to come to grips with how he could play so well and lose.

“Do you now finally know how Jack Nicklaus felt in ’77?” a reporter asked, alluding to the famed Duel in the Sun at Turnberry, where Tom Watson (65) nipped Nicklaus (66) on the final day in one of the game’s greatest head-to-head clashes.

“I understand how it feels,” Mickelson replied. “It’s bittersweet.”

Afterward, Mickelson, flanked by his longtime manager, Steve Loy, made a beeline for his room at The Marine Hotel, which overlooks Troon’s 18th fairway. He signed yellow replica flags for teenaged volunteers decked out in the R&A’s blue rain suits. He breezed past the hubbub on the front lawn of the clubhouse, where Andrew “Beef” Johnston, wearing a Scottish cap, was taking swigs from a Heineken and posing for pictures. He walked all the way to the far end of the player parking lot and onto Crosby Street, past two unsuspecting fans. And, never breaking stride, he climbed over a short rock wall and sped toward the back entrance of the hotel, despite the “No Entry” sign printed on the window.

Slapping Loy on the back, Mickelson stepped inside, the beginning of what figured to be a restless night. Another major week was only eight days away.

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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.


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.”