Bubba again getting in own way before WMPO begins

By Ryan Reiterman February 4, 2016, 12:54 am

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Before Bubba Watson’s news conference Wednesday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the moderator rattled off his impressive stats here, highlighted by two-straight runner-up finishes in his last two starts.

But Watson made it known quickly that he wasn’t back at TPC Scottsdale because of his good play in this event.

“I'm here because of my sponsors,” he said.

And when asked why he liked the course, Watson didn’t bite his tongue.

“I don't like it,” he said. “I'm not going to PC it. I don't like it at all. I just mentioned why I'm here. I've got three beautiful sponsors [Ping, Stance Socks and Oakley] that love it here.”

The quote was surprising, but these mini-controversies are not uncommon with the two-time Masters champion.

So many times throughout his career, Watson has created headlines from seemingly minor incidents.

Something as simple as rain ("Water on the clubface, bro … water on the clubface. I got no chance!"),  or slow play can make him pricklier than a saguaro.

He refused to compete in the Long Drive Contest at the 2014 PGA Championship, famously protesting by hitting a 3-iron off the tee.

Watson participated in the contest last year, but he still didn’t sound too pleased.

“It made big drama last year for no reason because I stated my opinion,” he said last year at Firestone. “It’s sad that my opinion is obviously wrong at everything I do, but yes, I’m going to hit the tee shot because I understand it means more to do that than worry about my opinion. My opinion means nothing, as long as my family’s happy.”

And he’s said courses like Olympic, site of the 2012 U.S. Open, and  Doral are “too tough” for him despite being the No. 5 player in the world and an eight-time PGA Tour winner.

And it’s amazing to think what Watson’s record would look like if he didn’t let these things bother him.

For the past year, we’ve all been mesmerized by the record-shattering performances of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, also known as the four players ranked ahead of Watson.

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The noise generated by the four 20-somethings leading golf’s youth movement have overshadowed some great play by other pros, namely Watson. He’s been flying under the radar … you know, as much as a guy with a neon-pink driver can.

He recorded 10 top-10s in 2015 (a career high), including six top-3 finishes and a win at the Travelers Championship.  He ended 2015 with a win at Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge (an unofficial event), and began 2016 with a T-10 at Kapalua.

Compared to the four players ranked ahead of him, Spieth had 17 top-10s in 2015, McIlroy and Day had 11, and Fowler seven. They’ve had more success converting those high finishes to wins, and it’s a fine line Fowler knows all too well.

“It can be one little bounce,” Fowler said Tuesday in Phoenix. “Can be a certain putt that goes in and you go off and birdie four, five of the next few holes. It's pretty crazy how fine a line it is. I mean, you look at what Sneds did last week to being a little ways back and just happens to put together an amazing round and ends up winning.”

When asked what’s holding him back from turning more of those close finishes to wins, Watson cites his putting.

“That's what I need to do,” Watson said. “We know my stats. I don't make that many putts. I've got to try make some putts … I missed the putt to force a playoff (in 2014), and then I just fell short last year. So I've got to just try to make one or two more putts than the other guys.”

While a few more made putts would help Watson, it’s no secret his mental toughness is not on the level of the four players ahead of him in the rankings. And despite what he says, his putting is not that bad. He ranked 54th last year in strokes gained-putting. He was ranked 110th in 2014.

With Spieth and Day sitting out this week and McIlroy in Dubai, the spotlight will no doubt be on Watson, good buddy Fowler and, as always, Arizona State alum Phil Mickelson.

While Mickelson has three Phoenix Open titles, Watson is still seeking his first.

Since his first WMPO start in 2007, Watson has compiled some gaudy stats.

He’s a combined 55 under par in this event since 2012, seven strokes better than anyone else. No one has scored lower on the par 5s since his ’07 debut at TPC Scottsdale. And in his 34 career rounds, he’s never been over par with a scoring average of 68.24, the best in tournament history with a minimum of 10 rounds.

But most of those stats were compiled before Tom Weiskopf toughened up TPC Scottsdale last year, and the changes were the source of Bubba’s grumpiness on Wednesday.

"I didn't see any reason to change it," he said. "You know, again, they didn't ask me. It's just my own opinion. I didn't see any reason to change it ... Scores didn't change. It just makes it goofier and tougher, which is not fun for us. We came here for a reason. We came here because we want to play golf and shoot good scores."

Even with tighter driving areas and more bunkers to carry, TPC Scottsdale should still be a course Watson can thrive on. But now that his attitude has soured on the course, it remains to be seen if Watson can get out of his own way and break through in Phoenix.

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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.”