A vintage performance by Walker

By Ryan LavnerAugust 1, 2016, 2:32 am

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – It’s time to uncork that bottle.

At his home in Las Vegas, Butch Harmon has stashed away in his wine cellar a $1,200 Chateau Margaux. It was a gift from Jimmy Walker.

Harmon had refused to accept any payment for their first few lessons, in 2013, so Walker gave him the 16-year-old bottle as a thank-you present. The legendary swing coach never opened it. He wanted to wait until the day Walker won a major.

“I’ve been saving it for a special occasion,” Harmon said late Sunday at Baltusrol, “and this is a special occasion.”

Then he turned around and nodded at Walker, who was posing for pictures with the Wanamaker Trophy.

“I’m gonna take it to Texas,” Harmon said, “and pour it in that big old cup over there.”

A drab, marathon final day at the PGA Championship came to life in the final 15 minutes. What had been a comfortable three-shot cushion as Walker strode down the 18th fairway was reduced to a one-stroke margin when world No. 1 Jason Day poured in a 15-foot eagle putt on the last.

The tension was ratcheted up even more once Walker dumped his approach into the worst possible spot: a gnarly lie right of the green, short-sided, about 8 feet below the surface of the green. Needing only a par on his 36th hole of the day, he chopped out well past the flag and coolly two-putted for victory.

That Walker, 37, captured a major wasn’t the surprise here – as recently as last April, he was a top-10 player in the world, with five wins in an 18-month span. It was the timing of his breakthrough.

By almost any measure, the past year has been a struggle. His long game suffered. His putter cooled off. And his psyche took a beating.

“He lost faith in himself this year,” Harmon said. “Things weren’t working right and that’s how it goes sometimes. This is a hard league you’re in. I just had to do some work to get his head back in the game.”

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After all, that missing piece was one of the main reasons Harmon was so intrigued by Walker back in 2013. At 26, Walker was the Web.com Tour Player of the Year, but his career was derailed by a neck injury. When he finally made it to the big leagues, he went winless in his first 187 starts.

“There were some mechanical changes we had to make,” Harmon said, “but those were pretty easy. I had to make him believe how good he was. He wasn’t sure that he was as good as I thought he could be and I told him that. He went out and proved it.”

As is often the case with Harmon, the fix to Walker’s game was simple. After a missed cut at The Open, Walker moved closer to the ball and tried to maintain the flex in his right knee.

“For the last three weeks, I’ve been saying, ‘He’s trending,’” said Walker’s caddie, Andy Sanders. “We’ve been building, making progress, moving up, getting better.” 

In practice-round matches here at Baltusrol, Walker put on such a stripe show that he blew away one of Harmon’s fellow students, Rickie Fowler.

“It was some of the best I’ve seen him swing it,” Fowler said, “hitting it close on every hole.”

Trusting the changes, and himself, was the final piece to Walker’s success. Before he headed out for his 36-hole day, Harmon told him: “Just go out and show them who Jimmy Walker really is.”

Sure enough, he played his last 28 holes without a bogey – remarkable, when you consider that he hadn’t played a blemish-free round since May – and became just the third player in the past 20 years to win the PGA wire to wire.

“Jimmy just played too good all day,” Day said.

Afterward, a worn-out Walker rushed to take pictures with PGA staffers, greens staff and family before nightfall.

It was a reminder of just how close they’d come to pushing the year’s final major into an extra day, or two, and how they’d spared the PGA from another night of overheated discussion and second-guessing.

Despite a dicey forecast that called for more stops and starts than Manhattan traffic, players were sent out in pairs off the first tee Saturday, with the last group slated for 2:55 p.m. local time. Walker didn’t even get halfway through his warmup before the horn sounded to suspend play.

Facing a media mob five hours later, PGA setup czar Kerry Haigh squirmed as he was bombarded with questions about why they didn’t tee off earlier, and in threesomes, to avoid the exact scenario that sent the 2005 PGA here off-track. Most peculiar was how Haigh and Co. clung to one time-honored tradition – everybody must start at No. 1! – while eschewing another, with no re-pair after 54 holes.

Of course, those minor inconveniences paled to the PGA’s unprecedented decision Sunday morning, midway through the 36-hole slog. For the first time in major-championship history, they allowed preferred lies in the fairways that had more worms than grass. On a rain-softened course, there was plenty of locker-room chatter that a player might lift, clean and cheat himself into the record books with the first 62 in a major. But no one even sniffed that hallowed mark.

After all of the initial handwringing, the decision to play the ball up was universally praised by the players, even though it didn’t produce the most thrilling golf – a series of clobbered drives, plugged irons and birdie putts left short on the chewed-up greens.

That was the early pattern for Walker, at least until the 10th hole. After beginning his round with nine consecutive pars, he holed out from the bunker for a much-needed birdie, then followed it up on 11 with a 30-foot slider to push two shots clear of Day.

When Walker moved three ahead after a short birdie on 17, it looked like he’d be able to enjoy a victory lap on the final hole.

That’s when Day ripped a 240-yard 2-iron to 15 feet and rolled in the putt, igniting the crowd. Even better, he glared back down the fairway, sending a message to Walker, who was waiting with ball in hand, 287 yards away, needing only a 5.

“It doesn’t matter,” Sanders told Walker after seeing the crowd explode, and his boss agreed.

Rather than lay up to a comfortable distance, Walker crunched the numbers and decided that ripping a 3-wood up toward the green was his best option. He wouldn't make bogey from there.

“And then I literally hit it in the worst place you could hit it,” he said. “I didn’t mean to. It just happened.”

Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Day had returned to the 18th green to watch the drama unfold. Tracking the action on CBS' small handheld monitor, Spieth implored his friend and fellow Texan to play the smart shot, to send his pitch shot to the back of the green, to two-putt for par and his first major title.

As Walker calmly stroked in his 3-footer to win, Fowler documented the moment on Snapchat; Spieth tugged nervously on his upper lip; Day shushed his son, Dash; and Harmon waited high above the green, in the Sky Sports TV booth. “This is the first time I ever wanted to stop talking,” he joked.

The cheers from the crowd said plenty.

Just before 8 p.m., Harmon was relieved of his TV duties. He made his way down from the tower and onto the green. Finally, it was his turn for a picture, for a shot with the Wanamaker, and in that moment he couldn’t help but tease Walker about his new beard.

“It’s special,” Harmon said a few moments later, his eyes welling with tears. “He was a great friend before we even worked together. I’m just happy for him.”

The plan is to meet up soon in Walker’s hometown of Boerne, Texas, coach and student, and to celebrate. They won't forget the wine opener.  

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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 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.


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.”