Europe wants their players to know basic rules


MARANA, Ariz. – Dustin Johnson had to call for a ruling on consecutive shots around the fifth green in the final round at Pebble Beach. One was for relief from the grandstands, the other because his chip came to rest in a sprinkler head.

“I get a little confused,” Johnson said. “It’s always good to get an official, so there’s no question about it.”

But what if the official is nowhere around and the group has to wait until one arrives?

The European Tour has a new policy this year aimed at making sure players know common rules, and encouraging them not to call for a ruling on the most routine drops.

Europe’s top two officials, John Paramor and Andy McFee, have finished making a DVD that educates players on simple rulings. If they deem that a player has asked for a ruling he should know on his own, the player has three tournaments to attend a seminar (and watch the DVD) before he can enter another event.

“It’s for when you get a guy asking for what we consider a frivolous ruling,” said McFee, the senior referee in Europe.

And what is frivolous?

McFee described some examples as what kind of penalty drop is allowed for unplayable lies and hazards (yellow and red), along with free relief from a sprinkler head or a cart path.

“They need to know how to take relief from a cart path,” McFee said. “Most golfers around the world know this, and our players should not be exempt from that.”

McFee said at Abu Dhabi last month, a player he declined to identify called for an official, who was several holes away. When the official arrived, the player said, “Is it two club lengths if I declare an unplayable?”

“We now have the right to make him go to the rules seminar,” McFee said.

In Johnson’s case with the sprinkler, McFee saw no problem. He said some players can go blank on the rules, and even the highest-rated USGA officials are not immune from that (Trey Holland at Oakmont in 1994).

As for relief from the bleachers? McFee said anything involving a temporary immovable object can be tricky, and they would not consider a ruling that involves a TIO to be frivolous.

He said the policy is aimed at all players, with emphasis on the younger players who are reluctant to take drops on their own.

“I don’t think it’s something we’ll use very often,” McFee said. “But it’s there.”

NEW ATTITUDE: Camilo Villegas missed a 3-foot putt that would have ended his semifinal match against Paul Casey. They returned in the morning, and Villegas essentially handed Casey the match by hooking his tee shot into the desert.

“If I continue to do what I’m doing, the rest of the year is going to be a good year for me,” Villegas said.

He wasn’t talking about the putt. Or the tee shot.

Walking toward the clubhouse just minutes after a devastating loss, Villegas was talking about his attitude. No one is chatty after losing in match play, especially so late in the tournament. The 28-year-old Colombian, however, is determined to show more perspective .

“With this game, you can go all the way back to my rookie year,” Villegas said. “I got out here and you have nothing to lose. Man, I’m on the PGA Tour. You’re so excited. New tournaments, new golf courses. Five years later, I got to No. 7 in the world, you get a lot more attention, you have a lot more people around you … your mind can get away from the game. Little things can frustrate you.”

Villegas won the final two FedEx Cup playoff events in 2008, but went without a victory last year.

He is determined to change that, starting with his outlook.

“I’m playing golf for a living,” he said. “A million people would give whatever to be here. I’m feeling more appreciative of what I’m doing. This week, I’m having fun. I have nothing to lose.”

He returned that afternoon for a consolation match and beat Sergio Garcia, 5 and 4.

OLYMPIC SEARCH: Golf is looking for someone to run its Olympic operations.

The International Golf Federation put out notice Tuesday that it will hire an executive director, to be based in Switzerland, who will run day-to-day operations to get ready for golf’s return to the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

R&A chief executive Peter Dawson and PGA Tour communications chief Ty Votaw will be in charge of the search. They led golf’s bid to get back into the Olympics.

The executive director will report to the IGF’s executive committee, comprised of leaders from the European Tour, PGA Tour, Masters, PGA of America, USGA, R&A and the LPGA.

MASTERS DEADLINE: Players typically have until 5 p.m. Friday the week before a tournament to commit to playing. In the U.S. Open and British Open, they must submit an entry form.

The Masters is by invitation and has no such rules. So if Tiger Woods decides to play the first major of the year, he only needs to show up before his tee time on Thursday.

Players receive an invitation in December that asks them to R.S.V.P., and they usually do.

Masters spokesman Steve Ethun said when Woods announced his indefinite break from golf on Dec. 11, Woods’ spokesman Glenn Greenspan (who previously had Ethun’s job) said he would keep Augusta National apprised.

“We have yet to hear any word,” Ethun said last week.

The Masters has a good idea who is playing when they make tee times on Tuesday for the first two rounds. Even so, Ethun said it was possible for a player to just show up and head to the tee because there is no alternate list.

“They do have to register before their tee time,” he said.

TIGER SPECULATION: Knee surgery that kept him out of the final two majors of 2008 ended Tiger Woods’ chances of ever breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record of playing 146 consecutive majors.

His marriage problems could get in the way of another record. Woods has won at least one PGA Tour event 14 consecutive seasons, three seasons short of the record shared by Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

Along with not knowing when Woods will return, no one is sure how he will perform.

DIVOTS: Ian Poulter’s 4-and-2 victory over Paul Casey marked the eighth consecutive year that the Match Play Championship final did not go the distance. Kevin Sutherland in 2002 was the last winner to go 36 holes in the championship match. … Mark Calcavecchia this week will try to become only the third player to win a PGA Tour event in four decades. He has won the Phoenix Open in 1989, 1992 and 2001. The others to win on tour in four decades are Raymond Floyd and Sam Snead.

STAT OF THE WEEK: For the last three years, Phil Mickelson has won his first PGA Tour event of the season in his fourth start. The Phoenix Open is his fourth start this year.

FINAL WORD: “There’s no time for blinking out here.” – Camilo Villegas.