Monday Scramble: Shock and lots of Pebble awe

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 15, 2016, 6:30 pm

Vaughn Taylor climbs out of the career abyss, Phil Mickelson coughs up a 54-hole lead, Bernhard Langer wins without anchoring, "celebrities" steal the show and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Maybe this was too much, too soon for Mickelson.

It’s hard enough to compete when undergoing a swing change. The task is exponentially more difficult when putting a revamped swing under the gun for the first time while trying to snap a career-long winless drought.

In retrospect, Mickelson was doomed as soon as he flew in his swing coach, Andrew Getson, on the eve of the final round for an emergency session. It showed he didn't have enough confidence in his new swing to close the deal.

Really, it's a testament to his otherworldly short game that Phil even had a chance to win this AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He hit only nine greens each of the last two rounds, yet he still was only one 5-footer from forcing a playoff against journeyman Taylor. Had they gone head-to-head in overtime, the odds certainly would have been in Lefty's favor: Prior to Sunday, he had twice as many wins at Pebble (four) as Taylor had in his entire Tour career.

This loss likely will sting, if only for a few days, because the confirmation of his career revival now has to wait. With a cast of largely unproven players behind him, Mickelson squandered a two-shot lead and his best chance to win since that unlikely triumph at Muirfield in summer of 2013. But the big-picture takeaway here is this: Despite legitimate concerns about his age (45), his health (arthritis), his desire and his swing change, Phil is once again a factor. He might be mired in an 0-for-53 slump, but never has winning seemed more attainable.

1. Vaughn Taylor, a winner at Pebble Beach? We can't believe it, either. Among the many did-that-just-happen? nuggets:

  • He trailed a Hall of Famer by six shots entering the final round.
  • He was the first alternate into the event, playing only on past champion’s status.
  • He used a carry bag, because he didn’t want to get dinged with an excess baggage fee.
  • His main goal Sunday was to finish in the top 10, so he wouldn't have to race down to Riviera in time for the Monday qualifier. 
  • The 39-year-old won twice on Tour, but never had he beaten the best players in the world – both of his wins came at the Reno-Tahoe Open, an opposite-field event.
  • More than that, he hadn’t won in 10 1/2 years, nor has he owned a full PGA Tour card since 2012.
  • He finished 151st on the 2015 FedEx Cup points list, meaning he was thisclose to securing conditional status for this season.
  • He was ranked 447th in the world, a few spots behind an idle Tiger Woods.
  • His last two playing opportunities came on the circuit, including a stint 11 days ago in Bogota, Colombia, where he came down with food poisoning and needed an IV.

And, yes, now, improbably, he’s back in the winner's circle, after beating the best field to date, with six of the top nine players in the world in attendance.

"Just absolutely amazing," he said. "I didn't know if it would ever happen again, to be honest." 

2. The victory at Pebble secured Taylor a spot in his hometown event. Fortunately for him, that happens to be the Masters, which he hasn't played since 2008. 

"Playing in the Masters is my Super Bowl," he said. 

In three previous appearances at Augusta, he missed a pair of cuts and tied for 10th (2007). He is the first player this year to win and get in to the year's first major.

3. Taylor’s out-of-nowhere performance was a reminder that it just takes one week to change the fortunes of a PGA Tour journeyman. When Mickelson’s putt rimmed out, Leot Taylor sobbed uncontrollably while holding her 2-year-old son, Locklyn.

“There are so many ups and downs in this career,” Taylor’s wife told the San Diego Union-Tribune afterward. “And this goes to show you that you don’t count anyone out. Everybody can win out here, and I’m happy my guy won this week.” 

The victory was worth $1.26 million. Taylor hasn't earned more than $547,000 in a season since 2010.

4. You might recall that Taylor was a member of arguably the weakest U.S. Ryder Cup team ever assembled, in 2006, a squad that also featured Brett Wetterich, J.J. Henry and Chad Campbell. It's a wonder (miracle?) the Americans mustered 9 1/2 points while getting lapped at the K Club. 

Well, how about this: Taylor now sits at No. 12 in the U.S. team standings.

5. Mickelson was a perfect 23-for-23 on all putts inside 7 feet last week.

Until the 72nd hole, that is.

He powered his 5-foot-1-inch putt through the break, caught the top lip and spun out. 

“It never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t make that one,” he said.

Seems nerves can affect even 42-time Tour winners.

ShotLink was only available at Pebble Beach, but it's worth noting that Mickelson finished the week second in strokes gained-putting. Though he missed a few crucial putts – including five tries from inside 10 feet on Sunday – he also rolled in a 9-footer for par on 9, an 11-footer for birdie on 13, a slippery 11-footer for par on 16 and a dramatic 13-footer for birdie on 17 just to stay alive on a day when his ball-striking betrayed him. 

6. The close call at Pebble Beach pushed Mickelson’s "near-miss total" to 58 – that’s how many runners-up and third-place finishes he has in 530 career events on Tour. He is nothing if not exciting. 

How does that compare to the other great players in his generation? 

  • Tiger Woods: 48 (327 events)
  • Davis Love III: 46 (723)
  • Jim Furyk: 46 (544)
  • Ernie Els: 35 (405)

7. It’s overshadowed by Woods’ insane rate, but Mickelson has been a reliable closer for much of his career: Prior to Sunday, he had gone on to win 18 of the 22 times that he held at least a share of the 54-hole lead. 

Taylor became just the third player (Woods and David Toms) to beat Mickelson when the left-hander had at least a two-shot advantage.

Which is why Mickelson's final-round stumble served as a reminder of the difficulties that Woods will face when, or if, he returns to competition. It’s really hard to win on Tour these days. 

For the better part of three rounds, Mickelson was nearly flawless with the putter on a course that he clearly enjoys a significant advantage as a four-time winner. But the Tour’s depth is such that he still was passed by a journeyman without status who shot 67 on Saturday and matched a career best with a 65 in the final round. For Phil, Tiger or any of the other members of the old guard to win, they have to be nearly perfect for four days, especially with the putter. And that’s a lot to ask. 

8. Langer on Sunday won for the 26th time on the Champions circuit, but the first without anchoring.

For all of the consternation over how Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson would fare without their long wand, it was Langer, 58, who stood to lose the most.

But after a steady, unspectacular start to the PGA Tour Champions season – when he tinkered with three putting methods all the way up to his tee time – Langer seems to have found a solution: He moved his left hand ever so slightly away from his sternum and stroked the putt. His hand doesn’t appear to be more than an inch off his chest, and he keeps it anchored until the moment before he pulls the trigger (hopefully he doesn't have a senior moment), but he opened 62-66 and won the Chubb Classic by three. This method might not work as effectively in windy conditions, but for now it’s a relief that a shortsighted decision by golf’s governing bodies won’t end the career of one of the game's best seniors.

9. Lydia Ko only gets more impressive the more we learn about her. Yes, she now has 15 pro titles at the age of 18, but a week after she openly rooted for Ha Na Jang to win the LPGA event in Ocala, she donated her entire $33,000 first-place check from the New Zealand Open to help her home country. Special kid. 

10. Jordan Spieth was relegated to an undercard Sunday at Pebble Beach. When’s the last time we could say that? 

Spieth and Dustin Johnson – two pre-tournament favorites – finished on the ninth hole while the final groups were coming down the 18th at Pebble Beach. 

After three frustrating rounds, the world No. 1 salvaged a T-21 finish following a closing 66. It represented his worst result, anywhere, since a missed cut over Labor Day weekend. 

His biggest issue? He ranked near the bottom of the pack in proximity to the hole at Pebble, and he was “sloppy” with his play on the par 5s. Prior to Sunday (when he picked up two birdies), he played the longest holes in even par. Mickelson, by contrast, was 8 under on the par 5s.   

11. The European Tour made good on its promise to call out violators of its new pace-of-play policy, announcing that Spieth, Daniel Brooks, Benjamin Hebert, Eddie Pepperell and Gavin Green each received monitoring penalties for taking longer than 40 seconds to play a shot once their group was deemed out of position. 

The potential for a $2,800 fine isn’t the deterrent here; it’s the threat of being publicly shamed.

Here’s hoping the European Tour continues to release its monthly, um, “traffic” report.

Bill Murray apparently can do no wrong on the course at Pebble Beach – after all, it was only a few years ago that he pulled an elderly woman from the stands, danced with her, flung her around in a bunker and wasn’t publicly reprimanded.

But the legendary comedian crossed a line off the course last week when he reportedly became so irritated with a group of selfie-seekers that he hurled their cellphones off a second-story balcony. (Murray has agreed to pay for the damages.)

He was probably just tired from six hours of entertaining, making him grumpy and susceptible to this Kanye-esque meltdown. Whatever the reason, if the 65-year-old flips out at a ritzy post-round party in Carmel, how does he handle the aggressive paparazzi at LAX?

News, notes and observations from the past week ... 

Charl Schwartzel

Sure, a win is a win, but it's hard to read too much into Charl Schwartzel’s latest European Tour victory, for two reasons: (1) It was an incredibly weak field, as he earned only five more world-ranking points than the winner of the Asian Tour’s Bashundhara Bangladesh Open, and (2) eight of his 11 career titles have come from November to February.

There are plenty of stars this week in Hollywood: Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Johnson and Justin Rose are all in the field this week at Riviera. A proper end to the West Coast swing.

• Even though a judge surprisingly dismissed the caddies’ lawsuit against the PGA Tour, that the loopers’ treatment at Tour events is now being discussed is a sign of progress. 

Apparently, Patrick Reed’s ankle is OK. The injury, which led him to withdraw from Torrey Pines (and caused a tiff on social media, thanks to cranky Canadian Graham DeLaet) didn’t appear to affect Reed as he shot 65 Sunday and tied for sixth at Pebble Beach. It was his eighth top-10 in his last 10 worldwide starts.

• Ryder Cup vice captain Tiger Woods suggested that prospective team members take a fishing trip to get better to know each other, that it’ll only help them come fall. Or maybe Tiger is just bored. 

If you're keeping score at home: With his tie for 11th at Pebble Beach, Jason Day leapfrogged McIlroy and returned to No. 2 in the world.

• Give it up for Mike “Fluff” Cowan. All he did last week was fill in as caddie for Sung Kang, who came to his 18th hole Friday at Monterey Peninsula needing a birdie for 59. He settled for 60, denying Fluff an incredible feat: Looping for two players who shot 59. Cowan’s boss, Jim Furyk, who is recovering from wrist surgery, shot 59 at the 2013 BMW.

Jonas Blixt's last nine starts: MC-MC-MC-MC-MC-28-6-MC-3.

Getty Images

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.”