Monday Scramble: Let Tiger mania resume

By Will GrayNovember 27, 2017, 4:00 pm

Tiger Woods gets set for his return to competition, President Donald Trump makes (quick) time for golf during the holidays, the governing bodies float out the idea of diversifying the ball offerings and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

In a week where most of us spent time scarfing down leftovers and sharing reasons to be thankful, the golf news cycle rolled right along with two prominent names at the top.

A normally quiet stretch of the season, with the PGA Tour beginning its longest hibernation of the year, still received plenty of attention because of the presence of Woods and Trump.

The fact that the two men intersected for a leisurely round together without breaking the internet shows that we are in a quiet portion of the calendar, but it's still a testament to the interest in both that golf became a discussion point this weekend around turkey, stuffing and football.

Amid this season of reflection and giving thanks, one thing is certain in golf media: with Tiger and Trump making headlines, there will always be something to talk about - even when the sport makes a rare attempt at having an off-season.

1. We start with Woods, whose return to competition this week is somehow being greeted with as much, if not more, anticipation than the same scenario a year ago.

Last year he made his first competitive swipes in more than 15 months at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished 15th out of a 17-man field. This time he'll be teeing it up for the first time since early February, less than two months removed from comments where he entertained the notion of never playing competitive golf again.

It's a remarkable course correction, one whose Zapruder film intrigue has shifted from Twitter videos to first-hand accounts of Woods' game.

He's more than four years removed from his last win, almost 10 years removed from his last major and staring down birthday No. 42 next month. But based on the interest and speculation surrounding Woods, it might as well be 2008.

2. Quickly becoming an annual fall tradition akin to pumpkin pie, the eyewitness accounts of Woods' on-course progress are rolling in at record speed.

After Rickie Fowler explained earlier this month that Woods was hitting it "way by" him at Medalist, Jason Day told reporters in Australia that Woods is currently "the best he's ever felt in three years."

Then came Brad Faxon's detailed account of their round together over the weekend, where he shared that Woods hit it past world No. 1 Dustin Johnson on half the holes.

It all adds up to brimming optimism surrounding Woods' return, a four-day harbinger of what might be in store for 2018 and beyond.

3. But nothing quite matches hearing from the man himself, as Woods' presence in the Bahamas meant that Hero tournament week started a full day early.

Woods zipped around Albany in a cart, with caddie Joe LaCava along for the ride. Afterwards, he explained that "life is so much better" following his lumbar fusion surgery in April.

There's sure to be rust this week as he rounds out a star-studded field amid the sandy fairways at Albany, but the thought of an optimistic Woods holding his own for 72 holes - and more importantly, remaining healthy for more than a couple days at a time - is enough to merit a quick peek at the countdown clock to the Masters.

4. While Woods played over the holiday weekend with Faxon and Johnson, the fourth in the group just happened to be the leader of the free world.

President Trump took to Twitter to explain that he would (quickly) be pegging it with the current and former world No. 1s. The round continued a year in which the commander-in-chief has made frequent appearances on the course, and it was the second time that he and Woods had played together since Trump's election.

According to Faxon, the best-ball match ended in a tie with Woods and Johnson tipping out Trump International around 7,600 yards while he and President Trump played the blue tees at 6,500 yards.

5. One day after his round with Woods, Trump shifted gears by playing with the only golfer ever to win more major titles.

Jack Nicklaus teed it up with the president Saturday at Trump's course in Jupiter, Fla. Nicklaus has worked together with Trump on course projects and was vocally supportive of his potential in the White House, both before and after the election.

"I like what Donald has done," Nicklaus said last year. "I like that he's turning America upside down. He's awakening the country. We need a lot of that."

No word on how that particular match ended up, but it's hard to think of a better 36-hole itinerary than playing with Nicklaus and Woods in the span of two days. Then again, when you top the organizational chart in Washington, D.C., you can sometimes get the tee sheet to bend in your favor.

6. A change to the rules is far from imminent, but the USGA and R&A appear willing to at least consider an equipment option that might restrict some of the eye-popping distance numbers top players continue to uncork.

The two governing bodies are researching the topic together, and last week USGA executive director Mike Davis went so far as to say that the recent uptick in distance has "horrible" implications.

Davis' remarks weren't tied to the 400-yard drives themselves, but rather to the ripple effects they cause. Longer shots mean longer courses, which means expanded footprints and ultimately increased maintenance costs and environmental impact.

"I don't care how far Tiger Woods hits it," Davis said. "The reality is this is affecting all golfers and affecting them in a bad way. All it's doing is increasing the cost of the game."

It's an intriguing angle with which to approach the situation, and Davis' comments signal the powers-that-be might finally be willing to listen to calls for change.

7. But make no mistake, the possible introduction of a tournament ball won't go down without a fight from equipment manufacturers - specifically Titleist executive Wally Uihlein.

In the wake of Davis' comments, Uihlein wrote a stern letter to the Wall Street Journal questioning some of Davis' claims and insisting, among other points, that the motivation for longer "championship" golf courses was simply to sell more houses along the fairways.

As one of the leading ball manufacturers, Titleist could potentially have the most to lose from any effort to curb technological innovations, even if a reduced-distance model were offered to complement - not replace - consumer options. It seems like the seeds have been planted for what could become an intriguing power struggle within the game.

8. The groundswell to "do something" about the ball certainly did not start at the USGA offices.

The chorus of players adding their voice to the issue has included Woods and, more recently, Geoff Ogilvy. The former U.S. Open champ is one of the most thoughful players with a microphone in his hand, and last week in Sydney he compared the distance craze to the use of aluminum bats in baseball.

"We’ve completely outgrown the stadiums," Ogilvy said. "So do you rebuild every stadium in the world? That’s expensive. Or make the ball go shorter? It seems relatively simple from that perspective.’’

9. There was some actual tournament golf played last week, including an almost-perfect homecoming for Jason Day.

The Aussie was making his first start Down Under since 2013, and he carried a one-shot lead into the final round of the Australian Open. But the birdies dried up in a difficult final round, where he fell back into a tie for fifth as 22-year-old Cameron Davis surged to victory.

It was great to see Day back in Australia playing in a top-notch event. The finish, though, was another example of just how frustrating the year has been for a player who was ranked No. 1 as recently as February but now sits outside the top 10.

10. The defending champ didn't exactly challenge, but Jordan Spieth still left Oz with reason to smile.

With caddie Michael Greller back home with a newborn, swing coach Cameron McCormick took the bag and helped Spieth to an eighth-place showing in an event he has won twice before.

Lifting the Stonehaven Cup proved to be a predecessor for Spieth's major triumphs in both 2015 and 2017. Next year he'll look to show that it's not a requirement as he tries to track down major No. 4.

Move aside, Steph Curry.

After the two-time NBA champ exceeded expectations with his appearance at the Tour's Ellie Mae Classic in August, now it's country superstar Jake Owen's turn to try his hand against the world's best.

Owen is an avid golfer and regular partner with Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he'll play in his hometown at the Nashville Golf Open in May. His 3 handicap is pretty stout compared to most amateurs, but it's also a far cry from the 0.8 Curry currently posts.

Owen is almost certain to miss the cut, and likely won't be as competitive as Curry was with rounds of 74-74. But before the "he's stealing a start" crowd gets riled up, remember that both Curry and Owen accepted unrestricted sponsor invites. Even two rounds in the 80s will bring attention and media to a circuit that often struggles to gain traction, and that's never a bad thing.

This week's award winners ... 

Officially Expecting: Gerina Piller. The former Olympian and Solheim Cup hero announced that she'll miss the start of the 2018 LPGA season because she is pregnant with her first child, due in May.

Still in Shock: Cameron Davis, who appeared beside himself after hanging on to a one-shot win at the Australian Open. The win vaulted Davis - who had won at Royal Sydney as an amateur only two years prior - from No. 1494 to No. 229 in the world rankings.

Better Late Than Never: Wade Ormsby. The 34-year-old Aussie finally broke through at the UBS Hong Kong Open, holding off a group that included Rafael Cabrera-Bello for his first European Tour win in 264 career starts. To the resilient go the spoils.

On the Mend: Davis Love III, who is back to rehab following hip replacement surgery. The 53-year-old has targeted the Florida swing in March for his return to the PGA Tour.

Ko 2.0: Jin Young Ko, no relation to Lydia, who announced her intentions to join the LPGA tour before guiding a group of Korean LPGA Tour stars to victory in a team event against LPGA pros from South Korea.

Packing for Scotland: Former PGA Tour winners Matt Jones and Jonas Blixt, who along with Davis, qualified for The Open at Carnoustie based on their finishes at the Australian Open in the first of 15 Open Qualifying Series events.

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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.”