No faking it: Matsuyama torches Firestone for 61

By Will GrayAugust 6, 2017, 11:34 pm

AKRON, Ohio – Hideki Matsuyama is the king of post-shot misdirection.

Watch a look of disgust creep across his face after a 7-iron from the fairway, and you might expect the ball to end up in a greenside bunker. But watch it enough times and you’ll know to look for it about 15 feet from the hole.

The Japanese phenom sets a high bar for himself, and he has already been able to match or exceed expectations several times during a brief career. But the performance Matsuyama authored Sunday at Firestone Country Club en route to torching the field at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was his biggest head-fake ever.

As anyone who watched his warm-up session can attest, Matsuyama was entirely out of sorts just minutes before heading to his final-round tee time. Iron shots were sprayed, and drives sailed wildly off-target.

“Last night after the round, I went to the range and hit it really well and had a lot of confidence. Then I came to the golf course this morning and I don’t know where it went,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter. “It was probably the worst warm-up I’ve ever had on a tournament that I’ve won. I was shocked.”

That uneasy feeling extended to the opening tee shot, which he pulled well left. But after that, according to Matsuyama, “something clicked.”

Four hours later, he was putting the finishing touches on a bogey-free 61 that tied the course record, gave him his second WGC win of the season and left him five shots clear of his nearest competitor.

“I did hit some good shots, but I was nervous all the way around because I really wasn’t sure of my swing today,” Matsuyama said.

Uncertainty in mid-motion is a familiar fear among Tour pros, but during a seemingly flawless 61? Those are moves that would make Barry Sanders blush.

Matsuyama started the day two shots off the lead, a deficit he quickly erased with a chip-in eagle on the second hole. Another birdie followed on the next hole, and by the time Matsuyama made the turn in 5-under 30 he had one hand wrapped around the trophy.


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Granted, it was hardly a done deal given Matsuyama’s recent summer stretch. He was clearly the top player in the world to close 2016, winning four times worldwide including a seven-shot romp against an elite field in Shanghai. He successfully defended his title in Phoenix in February, but since then he has piled up close calls.

Matsuyama couldn’t chase down Brooks Koepka at Erin Hills, and his chances of winning The Open abruptly ended when he blasted his tee shot out of bounds on the opening hole of the final round.

“It’s tough to be able to putt well and hit good golf shots all at the same time,” Matsuyama said. “Even after that good run, I hoped I could continue on but it didn’t happen and I was hoping to do better.”

Given another crack on a big stage, Matsuyama barely broke a sweat while vanquishing an elite field and adding his name to the storied history at Firestone that includes the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods.

“Once he gets going, he just keeps the hammer down and keeps it going. It’s very impressive,” said Rory McIlroy, who won here in 2014 and tied for fifth this week. “I mean, he’s won one WGC in China, he’s probably going to win another one here. That’s sort of the caliber of player he is. I expect him to be right up there next week as well.”

If there’s ever a blueprint for shooting a course record, Matsuyama happened to have one in his back pocket. He had a front-row seat four years ago when Woods shot a 61 on the South Course, a performance that seemed equally effortless and led to a seven-shot win.

“I just couldn’t believe it that anyone could shoot a 61 on this golf course,” Matsuyama said. “And then from that point, to work hard and to be able to do it today is a dream come true.”

True to his nature, though, Matsuyama said he downplayed expectations entering the week. He returned home to Japan after his disappointing final round at Royal Birkdale, and he has logged hours and hours on the range this week in Northeast Ohio trying to groove his swing.

The product of those efforts reinforced the notion that Matsuyama’s best can be matched by few – poor warm-up be damned.

“I worked hard early in the week, and every day I seemed to get closer and closer to where I wanted to be,” Matsuyama said.

The victory vaults Matsuyama back into the Player of the Year discussion, and it instantly makes him one of the favorites for the season’s final major next week at Quail Hollow.

It’s a course where he’s expected to thrive, but perhaps the thing that should strike the most fear into his competition would be another batch of one-armed finishes, mid-shot grimaces and haphazard range sessions.

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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.

Amen.

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.”