PGA Champ. proves golf can thrive without Tiger

By Ryan LavnerAugust 11, 2014, 8:40 pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Can golf survive without Tiger?

The answer has never been more obvious.

The PGA Championship gave us the best major of the year (by a wide margin) and Valhalla Golf Club staged one of the most compelling final rounds ever. The most invigorating part? You Know Who was nowhere to be found.

The week began with cameras fixated on Tiger Woods’ empty parking spot. It ended with Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson – four of the top 13 players in the world – engaged in a wildly entertaining shootout on a vulnerable golf course that left everyone, even the winner, emotionally spent.

The scene at Valhalla was so electric, about the only thing missing was Boo Weekley riding his driver like a quarter horse.

“Of all the ‘grow golf’ initiatives out there,” Ben Crane tweeted, “I think having Phil, Rory and Rickie tied for the lead at a major is the best idea yet.”

Indeed, this PGA Championship was just what the game needed, all of those birdies and roars brightening up the general doom and gloom of this golf year.

A year when the game’s biggest attraction went under the knife (again).

When some in the equipment business reported massive losses and slashed jobs.

When the issues plaguing the game – cost, time, difficulty – lingered with no clear solutions.

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Sunday, however, was a much-needed reprieve. For four thrilling hours, the best players in the world boomed drives, stuffed iron shots and drained putts, all while chasing daylight. Final-round TV ratings were up 36 percent, the highest in five years for a PGA finale.

“It must have been a great championship to watch,” said Stenson, as he and his comrades saved their best recovery shot for last – rescuing the sport from a theme-less season that was more snore than scream.

Hey, don’t blame Bubba Watson (Masters) and Martin Kaymer (U.S. Open) for the lack of drama. Yes, they encountered little resistance on the final day of their major triumphs, but their level of play in capturing major No. 2 was at an all-time high.    

Plummeting ratings suggested a lack of interest from the casual observer, but hardcore golf fans – the main demographic – likely view 2014 as a swing year. The year the game’s star attraction broke down, and the new king reigned, and the new rival emerged.

All sports undergo a similar evolution at some point, whether the spotlight shifts from Jordan to LeBron, or from Tyson to Mayweather, or from Gretzky to Crosby, or from Sampras to Federer. Some transitions are seamless. Others are done so begrudgingly, with growing pains, like ours.  

In Tiger’s case, of course, the pain has been more literal. Injuries have knocked the former No. 1 off-course, and in the past few months there have been calls – OK, howls – for Woods to change everything from his workout regimen to his swing coach to his physiotherapist. Odd, because few suggestions were made 12 months ago, when he was Player of the Year, the top-ranked player on the planet and a five-time winner. So until he gets healthy, fully healthy, it’s wise to exercise patience.

Whenever Woods returns to competitive relevance – and he will, likely sooner than later – he’ll assume a new role, as a foil to McIlroy’s increasingly legendary career.

Sunday’s victory at the PGA stamped the 25-year-old as not just a global superstar but a potentially transcendent one. In both boat races and battle royales, he dazzled with a stirring combination of power and precision, with a bit of panache for the millennials.

McIlroy is the third-youngest in modern history to reach four major titles. If nothing else, his game-changing victory over Mickelson, a five-time major winner, put an emphatic end to all of the “Who’s Next?” questions. Open your eyes – he’s right here, right now, an intimidating presence in a remarkably compact (5-foot-9) frame.

Though McIlroy may be less polarizing than Woods, though he may play a game that is less violent and dramatic, the end result is no less masterful.

“It’s beginning to look a little Tiger-esque, I suppose,” said Graeme McDowell, who only three weeks earlier had dismissed the notion that a player could dominate in an age of competitive parity.

“I’m not eating my words,” he said, “but I’m certainly starting to chew on them right now. When the kid is playing well, he’s pretty tough to live with.”

Sorry, G-Mac, but the kid will be a legitimate threat for only another, oh, 15 years.

Sunday at Valhalla was proof that with McIlroy at the forefront, the sport cannot just survive with a diminished Woods. It actually has the potential to thrive. 

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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 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.”