Monday Scramble: Open season, on everybody

By Ryan Lavner, Will GrayJune 19, 2017, 5:05 pm

Brooks Koepka pounds Erin Hills into submission, the USGA gets one right (at last!), Johnny stands by his 63, Rory McIlroy owns Elk and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

Koepka was a fitting winner at a U.S. Open unlike any of the previous 116 editions.

Erin Hills featured the widest fairways in U.S. Open history, and they were made even more spacious with three days of light winds and heavy rain that took much of the fire out of a course designed to play firm and fast.

Coming into the week, the layout was thought to be a bomber’s paradise, and sure enough Koepka treated every tee as his own personal launching pad. He wailed away on driver, never hitting more than a 7-iron into a par 4 for the first three rounds, and became the first player to hit more than 80 percent of his fairways and greens. It was a clinical performance.

But above all, this major will be remembered for the bevy of low scores, including Koepka’s record-tying 16 under total.

No, this wasn't your father's U.S. Open, but rest assured the punishment will return next year.


1. It’s impossible to overstate how absurdly good Koepka’s ball-striking was last week.

For four days at a U.S. Open, he missed only seven fairways and 10 greens. 

Throw in a hot putter, and he became the first U.S. Open winner since 2003 to rank in the top 5 in both greens in regulation and putting.

2. Did watching Koepka overpower a golf course feel familiar? Because it should have. He’s basically DJ Lite.

Golf’s new bash brothers have become inseparable, living in the same area in South Florida, working with the same trainer, using the same swing coach, and even sharing the same chef while on the road.

Labeled for years as an underachiever, Johnson, 32, has become a mentor of sorts for Koepka, 27. The world No. 1 even called Koepka on the eve of the final round to remind his pal of a few keys – namely patience and process.

Pressed for details, Koepka laughed. “There’s probably not that much that’s interesting, to be honest. It was a long phone call for us – it was like two minutes.” 

3. Koepka became the seventh consecutive first-time major winner – the second-longest streak in the modern era – and it’s a troublesome trend as the sport’s popularity drifts back toward the norm in this post-Tiger era.

TV ratings for the final round were the second-lowest in tournament history.

Yes, these types of things are cyclical, but individual sports are most successful when there is a dominant figure. Even though major triumphs by Jason Day, Sergio Garcia and Koepka were satisfying for the hardcore fans, their breakthroughs merely reinforced that this is an era of competitive parity, at least in the game's biggest events. 

4. On Sunday afternoon, Brandt Snedeker was asked about his Ryder Cup partner’s ceiling as a player.

“I don’t see any reason why he can’t be a multiple major winner,” he said. “People don’t realize he’s got the total game: short game, putting, the way he hits it.”

He did issue a word of caution about his potential, however.

“One thing he is going to have to learn is when to rein it in,” Snedeker said. “But when he’s on like this, hitting driver the way he does, it doesn’t matter if you don’t pick your spots because he’s hitting sand wedge.” 



5. Brian Harman and Rickie Fowler offered an interesting contrast in perspective after falling short at Erin Hills.

Harman had every reason to look for silver linings after his tie for second – after all, he didn’t even have a top-25 in any of his previous major appearances.

Fowler, meanwhile, has the most major top-5s of any player without a win since 2010, and he should be growing tired of watching someone else hoist the hardware.

Or not.

Harman: “I don’t believe in moral victories. I had an opportunity today and I didn’t get it done.”

Fowler: “You have to measure success in different ways, not just winning, because that doesn’t happen a whole lot. … You kind of have to say, ‘Hey, it’s a major.’”

That's a revealing glimpse into each player's psyche, no?

6. There were plenty of red figures at Erin Hills, but the top players in the world found nothing but carnage.

Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day all missed the cut, marking the first time since the creation of the OWGR in 1986 that the top three players in the world missed the cut at the same major.

And frankly, it wasn’t really close. McIlroy and Day shot themselves out of it before the opening round was over, while DJ never got things on track after flying into town late after the birth of his second son.

Erin Hills' sprawling fairways and burly length would have seemed to favor each of them, and McIlroy’s “pack your bags” fescue analysis got plenty of pre-tournament attention. But ultimately a quirky venue got the best of all three, who likely will be happy to see the tournament shift back to more traditional venues for the next decade-plus.

Now, if the oh-fer happens again next month at Royal Birkdale ... 



7. That sound you hear is USGA chief executive Mike Davis taking a big sigh of relief.

Erin Hills may not have been a home run, but for the first time since Pinehurst, the folks in blue blazers left the 72nd green without any egg on their face.

After the greens at Chambers Bay and the rules fiasco at Oakmont, a little chirping about low scores and wide fairways must seem like an oasis in the desert. And while there were some double takes at Koepka's 16-under total, the course received largely favorable reviews from the field.

8. It was apparent, however, that the USGA went the cautious route with this major.

Designed for the usual 20-mph winds to rip through the treeless property, the 50-yard-wide fairways posed little challenge to those who had control of their tee shots.

Criticized in the past for pushing green speeds to the edge, the USGA kept the greens at Erin Hills at a manageable pace, helping eliminate some of the pre-tournament pace-of-play concern.

The course can be tipped out at 8,348 yards, and yet it might not have been all that outrageous to play the Open from the back boxes. The field averaged more than 302 yards off the tee, led by amateur Cameron Champ at 334 yards. In all, 14 players averaged more than 315 yards for the week as the course played nowhere near its sticker-shock yardage.

That the USGA and R&A – which recently concluded that the distance increase in golf has been negligible – can even consider an 8,000-yard major should be a red flag about where the game is headed. 



9. Johnny Miller is no longer on the call for the U.S. Open, but leave it to the NBC Sports analyst to offer the most polarizing opinion of the week.

GolfChannel.com asked for his thoughts after Justin Thomas’ 9-under 63 in the third round pushed aside Miller and set the record for the lowest score in relation to par at the U.S. Open.

Miller made it clear that he still views his 8-under 63 at Oakmont in the 1973 Open as one of the greatest rounds in the history of the sport, even if it’s no longer the benchmark at the Open. He criticized the wide fairways at Erin Hills and said the Open’s low scores made it feel like the “Milwaukee Open.”

“Nine under is incredible with U.S. Open pressure,” he said, “but it isn’t a U.S. Open course that I’m familiar with the way it was set up.”

Fans on social media seemed split by his comments. There were some who said that Miller was right, that his round came on a more difficult golf course in more difficult conditions and with more at stake. And others thought he was just a bitter loon who was typically ungracious.

10. Does Johnny have a point? Well, when judging the quality of these U.S. Open rounds, history likely will still favor Miller.

With his closing 63 in 1973, Miller gained 10.8 strokes on the field, and there were only seven rounds under par that day.

Thomas’ round was nine strokes better than the field average, on a day when 32 players broke par.

But Miller earned the decisive point in the argument with this: his 63 propelled him to victory, while Thomas' final-round 75 dropped him into a tie for ninth.

11. With nary a storm in sight during the opening round, the U.S. Open came and went without Phil Mickelson for the first time since 1993.

Mickelson didn’t receive the lengthy weather delay he needed to make the cross-country trek from his daughter’s graduation in California, a jaunt that always appeared to be a long-shot at best. Lefty took it down to the wire, sending his caddie to scout the course and waiting until hours before his tee time to withdraw, but ultimately his spot went to alternate Roberto Diaz.

Mickelson will turn 48 during the final round at Shinnecock, and we’re now reaching the point where a U.S. Open win for Lefty would be largely unprecedented in the history books.

12. The last major included a playoff between two Europeans, but this time around the Euros were almost absent.

England's Tommy Fleetwood took fourth-place honors, but he was the only Euro to crack the top 15 on a leaderboard coated with red, white and blue. Paul Casey, who held a share of the 36-hole lead, faded to 26th over the weekend while McIlroy, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson all missed the cut.


Steve Elkington is usually wrong about most things on Twitter, but rarely is he so off-base as this.

After McIlroy missed the cut at Erin Hills, the Worst Tweeter in Golf suggested that the four-time major champion was “bored” playing golf and that he was content with his major haul and hefty bank account.

Ring the bell. 

Whoa! Landed a haymaker there. Elk is stumbling around the ring (as usual), but let's see how he responds ... 

OK, he's back, and he appears to have steadied himself long enough to fire off another illiterate tweet:

Second-round TKO. Elk remains winless on Twitter.

This week's award winners ... 


In Need of a Massage: Everyone who attended the Erin Hills Open. Fans who went all 18 walked roughly 30,000 steps – or the equivalent of 15 miles – on the sprawling, linksy property. Yowsers. 

Sorry ’Bout That: Jonathan Randolph. Tasked with keeping Thomas’ score during his historic third round, the Mississippi boy couldn’t fit the card into his back pocket and ended up ripping the bottom of it. “If that goes into the Hall of Fame and it’s all torn and jagged, they’re going to be wondering who in the world Jonathan Randolph is,” he said. 

NSFW: Adam Scott's putting. The former Masters champ had a few cringe-worthy misses from short range at Erin Hills, as his search for a post-anchoring solution continues.



PGA Tour-bound: Aaron Wise. The 2016 NCAA champion started 62-62 at the Web event in Wichita and boatraced the field, eventually winning by five to lock up his PGA Tour card for next season. He’s the next young stud who deserves our attention. 

Running Laps Around the Competition: Leona Maguire. The two-time NCAA Player of the Year won the Women’s British Amateur to continue her reign of terror. Fortunately for the rest of the amateurs, she only has one year left before she takes her game to the next level. 

Well Worth the Work: Local qualifiers. There were five players – Kevin Dougherty, Tyler Light, Jack Maguire, Jordan Niebrugge and Champ – who advanced through both stages of qualifying and made the cut at Erin Hills. It’s the fourth consecutive year that at least that many players have gone 3-for-3. 

Still On a Tear: Braden Thornberry. The NCAA champion and fourth-place finisher at St. Jude kept rolling at the prestigious Sunnehanna Amateur, which he won in a playoff. Can’t help but wonder how he would have fared at Erin Hills if he had qualified. 

If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It: Paul Casey. Yes, that is the Englishman’s wife, Pollyanna, who appears scantily clad not only on the back of his phone case, but also, apparently, on the inside of one of his suit jackets. 


Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Top 3 players in the world. Take your pick as to which player’s missed cut was the most disappointing – defending champion DJ, Rory on a rain-softened course, or Day and his excellent Open record. A terrible week for one-and-doners. Sigh. 

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 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.”