USGA again in tough spot after Nordqvist confusion

By Randall MellJuly 11, 2016, 7:48 pm

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – In the final analysis, the USGA may have actually acted too quickly in applying the two-stroke penalty to Anna Nordqvist’s score in Sunday’s U.S. Women’s Open playoff.

Yes, the notion is totally at odds with the brunt of complaints about yet another rules controversy in a USGA event, but there were a lot of opinions rendered Sunday before the rules committee even had a chance to explain how the ruling unfolded.

After Sunday’s finish, USGA senior director of competitions John Bodenhamer patiently detailed in a news conference and in a separate media scrum how the penalty unfolded. In the end, he gave thoughtful answers for all the hard questions, except perhaps one: Why did the USGA inform Anna Nordqvist of her two-stroke penalty after she hit her third shot into the final playoff hole but before Brittany Lang hit her third?

The answer there is that USGA officials may have been in too much of a rush to get the news to both players once they could confirm a breach of Rule 13-4b, which occurred when Nordqvist grazed a few grains of sand taking back her 5 iron in a fairway bunker shot at the 17th hole, the second playoff hole. 

In a news conference before the U.S. Women’s Open began, Bodenhamer was asked what the USGA learned from the Dustin Johnson rules debacle at the U.S. Open last month and how it would affect rulings at the U.S. Women’s Open.

“We will expedite our decision making throughout the process, the rule-making, rule-decision process,” he said. “And we will communicate with players in a decisive manner.”

Even Nordqvist questioned why it took as long as it did to assess the penalty. She breached the rule in the 17th fairway bunker and was assessed the penalty after hitting her approach at the 18th hole. Bodenhamer addressed that. He said he was at the 17th green when he and fellow rules chief Thomas Pagel were informed that the Fox telecast team called asking if the USGA detected any issue with Nordqvist’s shot from that bunker in question. Bodenhamer said that a USGA staffer monitoring the telecast replayed video of the shot three times after Fox called, but the staffer could not see a breach from the original, live Fox footage. Bodenhamer said he decided to drive the few minutes to the USGA compound to see the video themselves. He said it wasn’t until they arrived there that Fox’s zoomed-in footage was available to them, which clearly showed a light brush of the sand undetectable to the naked eye.

Bodenhamer said once that breach was observed, rules officials on the course were called to immediately inform the two players of the penalty. It’s apparent that in that rush to “expedite” the ruling, the USGA didn’t take into account that Lang would get an advantage knowing the penalty before she hit her third shot into the 18th. Lang confirmed that the news led to her changing tactics. She backed off a plan to attack a tucked pin near water’s edge with a lob wedge. She knew she was two shots up on Nordqvist after hearing news of the penalty, instead of tied with Nordqvist. Lang then safely hit a sand wedge to the middle of the 18th green. 

“We did not know where the players were on 18,” Bodenhamer said of his vantage point huddling with Pagel in the compound. “We knew they were on 18. Our decision was to ask our referee to inform both players as soon as possible.”

In a difficult position, feeling as if they were racing against the clock with players marching to the finish, that decision to inform players "as soon as possible” might have been the lone mistake the rules committee made.

As to why the USGA didn’t just halt play while Bodenhamer and Pagel made their way back to the compound to watch the video, Bodenhamer explained that they needed “conclusive evidence” to justify halting play. They didn’t have that until they got to the compound and saw Fox’s zoomed-in footage.

Too slow at Oakmont, and maybe too quick at CordeValle, the USGA finds itself in a tough spot yet again with video review complicating decisions. The USGA may need a task force to examine how video review can best be applied more than the PGA needed a task force to examine how an American Ryder Cup team can best be assembled. Like the American Ryder Cup team, the USGA is battling a tough losing streak.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

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Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

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McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.