Tour battles two-way miss with course setup all week

By Will GrayMay 15, 2016, 11:29 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – In some ways, a championship golf course is similar to a back judge at an NFL game.

There’s a role to play in the proceedings, sure, and an important one at that. But neither should ever become the focal point of an event or dictate the outcome.

And much like a referee, a course often only gets the brunt of attention when things go awry. Last week at the Wells Fargo Championship, for instance, players battled a brute of a layout that kept the winning score in single digits under par. But we didn’t hear a peep.

This week at The Players Championship was, uh, the opposite of that.

Just as amateurs fight the dreaded two-way miss, tournament officials never could quite get it right this week with the Stadium Course setup. Players feasted on surprisingly soft greens for the first 36 holes, only to encounter glassy surfaces where simply balancing the putter blade behind the ball became a challenge.

Player feedback on the greens Saturday ranged from “borderline unfair” to “dead and balding” to “putting on dance floors.” After two days of getting crushed for offering up soft conditions, tournament officials simply sprinted too far in the opposite direction.

“We always play golf on the edge. That’s what tournament setup is,” Justin Rose said Saturday. “Championship golf is always getting it on the knife edge because you want it firm and fast. Players talk about, ‘Oh, we want it firm and fast,’ but then when we get it just a little too firm and fast, we hate it. So there’s a very fine line there, and it’s difficult sometimes.”

It was a shift that, by multiple player accounts, only occurred because the biggest story of the first two days was how easy the course was playing as eventual champion Jason Day broke the 36-hole scoring record.

While the Tour took successful steps to rein the greens back in for the final round, they also insisted that Saturday’s side show was simply the result of a meteorological perfect storm, not a reaction to low scores.

“We didn’t deviate from our program,” said Mark Russell, the Tour’s vice president of rules and competition. “We just got in a situation where, no humidity and wind, and not a cloud in the sky.”

The Players Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Either way, the ramifications of Saturday’s carnage were clearly felt the following day as Tour officials made not one, but two revisions to final-round pin placements in order to err on the side of caution.

“I’m sure they scared themselves with what happened to the course yesterday,” Graeme McDowell said. “I think with the humidity levels and how dry they got, I think they just scared themselves a little bit that that was possible.”

With course conditions shifting quickly from TPC Deere Run to Shinnecock Hills, players didn’t know what to expect entering the final round. Justin Rose improved his score by 12 shots, going from 78 to 66, but he also admitted to stepping up to a lengthy birdie try on the opening hole with a fear of where his ball might end up.

“I had no clue,” Rose said. “I’m like, ‘OK, well they look a little slower, but I have no idea.’ … I could have putted it off the green. I just had no concept.”

Variations in speed were expected all week long – after all, an inability to maintain consistency with this particular grass strand is a big reason why the greens will be dug up come Tuesday and replaced with a more responsive mini-verde variation.

But the larger issue for players, and the one that led to much of the belly-aching, was one that the Tour likely could have neutralized ahead of time.

“I think the shock factor was worse than anything else yesterday,” McDowell said. “It was like, ‘Whoa, what the hell just happened?’ It wasn’t unplayable, it was just shocking to see the change.”

“I think the thing we were all saying yesterday was there was no warning. There was no warning that it was going to get like that,” added Rory McIlroy. “If there was a notice up in the locker room saying, ‘The greens are stimping at 14 right now,’ then you sort of have a decent idea.”

Years from now, the lone memory of this year’s Players will likely be the dominance with which Day raised the Australian flag high above TPC Sawgrass.

But if the folks in Ponte Vedra are paying attention – as they assuredly are – they’ll learn from the mistakes incurred this week, where course setup decisions very nearly marred the circuit’s flagship event.

The fluctuations in setup were far from ideal, but as McDowell points out, things could have been much worse as the dying greens hosted their final hours of competitive play.

“What would have been interesting would have been if they got it nearly right yesterday, what would have happened today?” he wondered. “If they hadn’t learned from what happened yesterday, today could’ve been scary.”

Getty Images

Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

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.