The risks/rewards of changing equipment

By Ryan LavnerNovember 2, 2012, 5:25 pm

His purported contract with Nike may be unprecedented, but Rory McIlroy is far from the first player to chase endorsement dollars and change equipment – and he certainly won’t be the last. (The Associated Press reported earlier this week, for instance, that five-time Tour winner Nick Watney is also bolting Titleist for Nike. What, no uproar?)

But with the anticipated news Tuesday that McIlroy and Acushnet Co. will not extend their relationship beyond 2012, a familiar question arose: Is the Northern Irishman – already the No. 1 player in the world and a two-time major winner at age 23 – taking an unnecessary risk in his career?

Nick Faldo apparently thinks so. On Tuesday, he described Rory’s decision as “dangerous,” and opined that he should “stick with the clubs that you know best, that you believe the best.”

It is to be expected that McIlroy will endure some kind of growing pains with his new sticks, but will that period be perceived as a slump? Will his confidence waver? Will he enjoy as much success in 2013 as he did this past season?

Thanks to Golf Channel’s research department, we now have a bit of perspective. Other factors must be accounted for, of course – age, injuries, an unraveling of a player’s personal life, etc. – but here are some notable players who changed equipment and how they fared the year after the switch:

• Lee Janzen endured a bevy of equipment changes in the mid-1990s. He used Founders Club when he won the ’93 U.S. Open, but switched to Ben Hogan irons in ’94, with mixed results: one win, two top 10s and seven missed cuts in 26 events. A year later, he switched again, to Nicklaus irons, and recorded one of his best seasons: three wins and 14 top 25s in 28 events, earning $1.37 million. And then, after hiring a new agent in ’96, his move to TaylorMade clubs produced average results: seven top 10s in 27 events, but only $540K in earnings.

• The late Payne Stewart won the 1989 PGA Championship and ’91 U.S. Open by using Wilson forged irons. In ’94, however, he switched to Top Flite’s cavity-back irons, with little success: two top 10s in 23 starts, with only $145K in earnings.

• A Wilson staffer when he won his three U.S. Open titles, Hale Irwin began using Cobra clubs in ’94. It didn’t halt his winning ways, as he posted a win and six other top 10s in 22 starts ($814K in earnings).

• Corey Pavin used Cleveland clubs when he won the ’95 U.S. Open, but his switch to PRGR clubs two years later proved costly: In ’97, he posted only one top 10 and missed the cut in half his 22 starts, en route to amassing only $99K in earnings that season.

• Nick Price used Spalding clubs entering the 1992 season, and he was no less productive once he switched to Ram that year: two wins, 13 top 10s and 19 top 25s in 26 starts, earning a whopping $1.13 million. His switch to Atrigon clubs, in ’95, was less fruitful, however: five top 10s in 18 events ($611K).

• A MacGregor staffer when he won back-to-back U.S. Opens, in 1988 and ’89, Curtis Strange swapped out those sticks for Maruman clubs after that Open victory. In his first full season with his new set, he had six top 10s in 20 starts, but his season earnings of $277K was nearly $500,000 less than the year prior.

• The 1990 season was one of Wayne Levi’s most successful on Tour, with four victories. His switch to Yonex in ’91, however, didn’t go according to plan: only three top 10s, with 11 missed cuts in 25 starts.

• Graeme McDowell is one of the most recent examples of a player cashing on a successful season. Alas, he failed to back up his breakthrough 2010 campaign – during which he won the U.S. Open and clinched the winning point for the European Ryder Cup team with Callaway – when a year later, he had only three top 10s and six missed cuts in 16 Tour starts with Cleveland clubs. His on-course earnings also took a hit, from $1.58 million in 2010 to $1.08M in ’11.

• David Duval is one of the most extreme examples, though his precipitous decline was caused more by injury than equipment. A Titleist staffer when he won 12 times on Tour, he became embroiled in an ugly legal dispute with the company and switched to Nike clubs in 2001. True, he won the British Open that season, but two years later, he had made just four cuts – no top 25s – in 20 events, earning $85K.

• A player of Phil Mickelson’s immense talent could seemingly enjoy success with any set of clubs, and his career has supported that: Yonex clubs from 1992-2000 (16 Tour wins), Titleist from 2001-04 (six wins, including first major) and Callaway from 2004-present (17 wins, including three majors).

Tiger Woods has been successful across the board, too, though the equipment changes throughout his pro career have been gradual: Titleist driver, irons, putter and ball until 2000, then a switch to Nike ball in 2000; to the Nike driver and irons in ’02; and to the Nike putter in ’10.

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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.”