Monday Scramble: (Don't) Slow your roll

By Ryan LavnerMay 1, 2017, 3:55 pm

The PGA Tour tries team play, officials finally hand out a slow-play penalty, Lexi Thompson returns, Ian Poulter retains his card and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

The new team format at the Zurich Classic was a hit.

The success of a Tour event largely depends on player support, and the New Orleans stop now has plenty of it, with several guys remarking how much fun the event was and how they wished the circuit had one or two more events like it.

For years, the Zurich has been an afterthought, a C-level event on a mediocre course during a dead time on the golf calendar. The switch to a two-man team competition gave the event new life, and it also gave those in Ponte Vedra Beach reason to believe that there’s room on the schedule for team golf other than the Ryder and Presidents cups.

Now, it’s up to commissioner Jay Monahan and Co. to keep the momentum rolling, to find new and interesting ways to liven up the Tour. 

1. On Monday morning, Cameron Smith sealed a victory that seemed destined to be his the previous night.

From an awkward lie on the 72nd hole, the Australian had wedged to kick-in range to set up an easy birdie and post 27 under par. That’s when Kevin Kisner, using only the light from a nearby video board, banked his 30-yard pitch shot off the flagstick and into the cup for an unlikely eagle-3 to force a playoff.

After three uninspiring playoff holes, Smith hit a perfect drive on 18, ripped a 3-wood up the gut and then stuffed his 57-yard wedge shot to 3 feet.

For the 23-year-old Smith, it’s his breakthrough Tour title and earns him a two-year exemption, as well as a spot in The Players, the PGA and the 2018-opening Tournament of Champions. It is his partner Jonas Blixt's third Tour victory, but his first since 2013.

“He’s gonna be a superstar one day,” Blixt said of his partner, “and you can see it now. Seeing how he played golf this week, the sky is the limit for him. I haven’t seen anything that good in an extremely long time.” 

2. Kisner and partner Scott Brown said they didn’t run out of gas, but they definitely ran out of magic.

After recording 16 birdies in a 19-hole span, the team from Aiken, S.C., made par on 10 of their last 11 holes. They were caught by Blixt-Smith in regulation, then that birdie drought kept the door ajar during the four-hole playoff. 

3. Even a new format couldn’t put the Zurich on Mother Nature’s good side.

The six-hour weather delay Sunday added to a growing list of delays at this event. In fact, 43 percent of the rounds (12) since 2010 have either been suspended or canceled.

There is no easy solution to the event’s weather woes. Move the Zurich any earlier in the year, and it’ll be a tough sell for players who are focused on preparing for the Masters. Any later, and players will be subjected to suffocating heat and humidity, and the event would lose its team-play appeal with the Ryder or Presidents cups drawing closer.  

Ideally, the event would be played two weeks after the Masters (or a week earlier than this year), while officials can hope for the best with the weather. 

4. After 22 years, Glen Day is officially off the clock.

The PGA Tour finally decided to call a slow-play penalty, and curiously it waited until the first round of foursomes play – a format unfamiliar to more than half the field – in the first team event on Tour since 1981.  

My thoughts on the penalty can be found here. The CliffsNotes version: By going after a couple of little-known players - Brian Campbell and Miguel Angel Carballo - and by ignoring the extenuating circumstances, the Tour proved that it really has no idea how to stop slow play.

5. Not to be outdone, the European Tour handed out a slow-play penalty to Soomin Lee at last week’s Volvo China Open.

Lee received three bad times before he was finally docked a stroke.

Check out the video: 

6. With extra eyeballs on the tour because of the weather issues in New Orleans, the LPGA once again failed to deliver.

Just a few weeks after the rules debacle at the ANA, the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout was marred by a never-ending playoff and unfathomably slow play from veteran Cristie Kerr.

It didn’t help that the players were forced to play the poorly designed finishing hole six times.

Look, there’s a reason the playoff rotation usually calls for the 18th hole over and over again – that's where the fans are. But the LPGA and every other tour needs to show flexibility when it becomes clear that hole won’t produce a final result in timely fashion.

Both players have to compete on the same hole. What’s the big deal in moving it around? 

7. Thompson and her "team" missed a massive opportunity last week in Texas, the LPGA star’s first event since she was slapped with a four-shot penalty that derailed her at the year’s first major.

Instead of admitting that she had committed an infraction, instead of vowing to mark the ball more carefully in the future, Thompson sounded defiant and refused to acknowledge the obvious – that she had played from an incorrect spot. That her team appears committed to prolonging the controversy, saying that the LPGA needs to provide a “true and transparent” accounting, is even more of a head-scratcher.

Making an already emotional 22-year-old continue to relive the worst day of her golf career is a mistake. Even if the LPGA does divulge information about the viewer who emailed the infraction – and there is no incentive for the tour to do so – it won’t change the fact that Thompson lost.

She needs to move on. Speaking of Lexi ... 

8. The USGA and R&A took another step toward limiting video evidence by introducing a new decision to the Rules of Golf that allows a committee to overturn a penalty if it is determined that the infraction could not have been seen by the naked eye or that the player used reasonable judgment. The full news story can be found here.

The new rule, effective immediately, will help a player in Anna Nordqvist’s situation but not necessarily in Thompson’s. Nordqvist’s penalty last year at the U.S. Women’s Open, when she grazed a few grains of sand on her backswing, could only be detected on slow-motion replay. She wouldn’t be penalized now.

But the same is not necessarily true for Thompson, or at least it’s not as clear-cut. The committee will now be able to discuss the incident with everyone involved – the player, the caddies, the officials in the group, etc. – and also factor in the egregiousness of the error. On a 16-inch putt, it could be argued that Thompson’s re-marking was not reasonably judged. 

9. Of course, a larger issue remains: The post-round scorecard penalty.

When news broke of the new decision, players were asked their thoughts on the change. Most thought it was a step in the right direction, but more needed to be done.

That there even needs to be a scorecard in 2017, with a mountain of ShotLink data providing scores and yardages and other information, is debatable. But penalizing a player for signing a card that is only determined to be incorrect later is outdated and just plain unfair.

The USGA and R&A are taking a “deeper evaluation” of scorecard penalties and viewer call-ins, though the latter issue has no simple solution.   

10. Nothing gets the blood pumping quite like a FedEx Cup points structure story, but here’s the takeaway from the Ian Poulter saga: He has Brian Gay to thank.

It was Gay (who had locked up his card but hadn’t done enough, points-wise, to qualify for The Players) who brought the inequalities in this year’s points breakdown to the attention of the Tour higher-ups. They unanimously agreed that the players competing on major medicals – who were trying to retain exempt status based on a previous year’s standings – were at a disadvantage because of the change this season that devalued finishes between 15th and 68th.

Poulter had no idea, but he's the main beneficiary of Gay's investigation.

Now, the Englishman can turn his attention to trying to keep his card after this season. He’s 129th in FedEx Cup points, but he has the rest of the season, with no restrictions, to crack the top 125.  

Crane is now known for not only his slow play, but his slow pay.

He was reminded again last week that fast money makes fast friends because he was called out on Twitter by Tom Gillis, whose “friend” alleged that Crane owed him $6,000 for losing a putting contest earlier this year in Phoenix.

Turns out – thanks to Charley Hoffman – that that “friend” was PGA Tour winner Daniel Berger.

The issue was “handled,” according to all sides involved, but Crane is now a slowpoke in more ways than one. 

This week's award winners ... 

He's Back: Dustin Johnson. The world No. 1 returns to action for the first time since withdrawing from the Masters because of a back injury. He’ll be looking for his fourth consecutive title – no player has won that many in a row since Tiger in 2007-08 (six). 

Quite the Comeback: Alexander Levy. The Frenchman rallied from seven shots back to steal the China Open. It’s the largest final-round comeback this season on the European Tour. 

Not Bad For a Retired Golfer: Charlie Wi. The 45-year-old journeyman teamed with K.J. Choi and was only two shots off the halfway lead. Wi had retired as a full-time player last summer, choosing to teach juniors in LA over the grind of a 25-event schedule. They tied for 24th.  

First Time for Everything: Drinking Sprite, not some alcoholic beverage, out of the Ryder Cup trophy. 

Learning Experience: Eun Jeong Seong. The 17-year-old, who won the U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Amateur in the same year, shot three consecutive rounds of 69 in Texas before getting blown off the course during a Sunday 86. She’s ready for the pro ranks, even if the final round in wind-whipped conditions suggested otherwise. 

Best Laid Schemes: Pac-12 Men’s Championship. The 72-hole conference championship in Boulder, Colo., was reduced to a shotgun start and 54 holes because of – you guessed it – snow. An ideal way to prepare for NCAAs, it was not. We hear the weather in Southern California and Arizona is lovely this time of year.

Best Wishes: John Senden. He has taken a leave from the PGA Tour after his son, Jacob, was diagnosed with the brain cancer. All the best to the Senden family. 

Something About New Orleans: Brian Stuard. The defending champion at the Zurich, he teamed with Chris Stroud to tie for 11th. It was his first top-15 finish in the 31 events since his rain-shortened victory at TPC Louisiana a year ago. 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Rose. Making his first start since a playoff loss at the Masters, the Englishman was returning to a place where he won in 2015 and had three other top-15 finishes since 2012. He was also playing alongside world No. 6 Henrik Stenson, with whom he has successfully partnered at the Ryder Cup. No matter. They both rinsed their second shots during Friday fourballs and missed the cut by one. Sigh.  

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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.