The Eyes Should Have It

By John FeinsteinFebruary 1, 2011, 7:22 pm

First, it was Camilo Villegas in Hawaii. Then it was Padraig Harrington in Abu Dhabi. Who’s next?

Villegas got the new PGA Tour season off to a less-than-auspicious start on Maui when he swiped a tuft of grass in frustration while a misplayed chip shot was rolling back to his feet on the 15th hole during the opening round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

Villegas didn’t know that he’d broken a rule by swiping at the sod while the ball was in motion and neither did anyone else in his group. Someone watching in Florida thought there might have been a violation and began making phone calls. By the time he reached someone in Hawaii, Villegas had signed his scorecard. Since he was – correctly – assessed a two-stroke penalty, he had signed for an incorrect and lower score which meant he was disqualified.

Padraig Harrington
Padraig Harrington, on his way to being disqualified at the Abu Dhabi Championship. (Getty Images)

Two weeks later, Harrington, on his way to a blazing 7-under-par 65 in the first round at Abu Dhabi, accidentally brushed his ball with his finger while replacing it on the seventh green. This time it was an e-mail from a fan. Again a look at the video. Although this time it wasn’t nearly as clearcut since it took a microscopic look in HD to be certain that Harrington’s ball had moved forward a fraction of an inch, the final result was the same.

Another two-stroke penalty and – because the e-mail came after Harrington had finished his round – another DQ for signing for an incorrect score.

It isn’t as if this is a new phenomenon in golf. Everyone remembers ‘towel-gate,’ the infamous Craig Stadler incident in San Diego 24 years ago when Stadler hit a shot from his knees on the 14th hole during the third round and used a towel to keep his pants dry. When a rules-geek called in the next day to point out that Stadler had technically been ‘building a stance,’ with the towel he was disqualified after finishing second in the tournament.

And so, predictably, in the wake of ‘swipe-gate,’ and ‘brush-gate,’ came calls to make it impossible for rules geeks to call in and get players disqualified. Soon after, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem weighed in, saying he would ask the U.S. Golf Association to look at changing the rule on incorrect scorecards.

That’s probably a good idea, changing the wording to read, ‘if a player KNOWINGLY,’ signs for an incorrect (and lower) score he is disqualified.’

With all due respect to the commissioner, there’s a much easier way to clean this up without resorting to changing the rules of the sport, which can be a complicated and lengthy process. The scorecard issue can be dealt with and so can the TV rules geeks very easily. So easily, in fact, that it can be fixed by the time the players tee it up in Phoenix on Thursday: put a rules official in the TV truck or the TV tower throughout every telecast of every tournament.

There’s plenty of past precedent for such a move. The USGA/'>USGA has had a rules official – first Frank Hannigan and then David Fay – in the TV tower during the U.S. Open for years now. Both Hannigan and Fay were there to explain rules questions to the TV audience but also had the ability to contact rules officials on the golf course if they spotted something that was a potential problem.

Of course the system wasn’t perfect because the two men also had TV responsibilities. In 1994, during the final round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont, Hannigan was too busy explaining to the TV audience that Ernie Els was not entitled to a drop on the first hole to have time to grab his USGA walkie-talkie and contact Trey Holland to tell him he was making a mistake by giving Els a drop. By then, Hannigan was an ABC employee so his first priority had to be the TV audience.

For years now, CBS has employed Tom Loss, another former USGA rules official, to sit in the truck to explain rules issues to its on-air talent during a telecast. At times in the past, Loss has contacted rules officials to let them know something was amiss. Again though, having a TV employee in the truck – no matter how well he knows the rules – isn’t enough as was evident at last year’s PGA Championship during ‘Dustin-gate.’

Last week in San Diego, two rules officials, Mark Russell and Steve Carman, went to the truck during the last few holes on Sunday to monitor the telecast. With fewer players on the golf course late on Sunday, they were freed up from on-course duties to do this. It turned out to be a good thing because a few geeks called in saying they believed Bubba Watson had brushed his ball taking practice swings before his critical pitch shot on the 17th hole. Russell looked closely at several replays and saw clearly that Watson hadn’t touched the ball.

“I might advise Bubba to stand a bit farther from the ball in the future,” he joked on Monday. “But he did absolutely nothing wrong on Sunday.”

The only reason the Tour may not make this move is – you guessed it – money. The Tour normally sends six or seven rules officials to a one golf course tournament, depending on the layout of the course. Taking one off the course at the height of play Thursday or Friday would be difficult. While it’s nice to monitor play on Sunday down the stretch, it’s not enough. Both of this year’s DQs happened on Thursday.

The Tour needs to send an extra rules official to each site and have that person monitor every telecast every day of the tournament. If that official sees something – anything – he can contact the officials on the golf course. In some cases, it might prevent a player from breaking a rule (as should have happened in ‘Dustin-gate,’ with a rules official right there); in others he will at least tell someone they need to let a player know he broke a rule before he signs his scorecard.

The Tour will argue this is an un-needed expense because incidents like ‘swipe-gate,’ and ‘brush-gate,’ happen so rarely. Really? Two of them occurred in January. That’s two more than should happen in a year. The Tour needs to stop promoting the FedEx Cup for a few minutes and do something for, as the saying goes, the good of the game.

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After Further Review: Nelson lost in the shuffle?

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 21, 2018, 3:40 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the Nelson's future ...

If the goal was “different” by bringing the AT&T Byron Nelson to Trinity Forest, consider it achieved. But bringing a world-class field south of Dallas could still be tricky.

Yes, the tournament can always rely on local resident and AT&T spokesman Jordan Spieth to throw his hat in the ring. But even with Spieth strolling the fairways this week, the field strength was among the worst all season for a full-point event.

The debut of the sprawling, links-like layout likely did little to sway the undecideds, with only the third round offering the challenging conditions that course co-designer Ben Crenshaw had envisioned. And the schedule won’t do them any favors next year, as a revamped itinerary likely puts the Nelson right before the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

The course will inevitably get better with age, and Spieth expects positive word of mouth to spread. But it might be a while before the stars truly align for an event that, for the moment, feels lost in the shuffle of a hectic schedule. – Will Gray

On Jordan Spieth's putting ...

Jordan Spieth’s putting is plainly bad right now, but it isn’t going to stay this bad forever.

He is the second ranked player on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, just like he was last year. This putting slump has lingered, but it’s unfathomable to think this guy just forgot how to putt.

Sooner rather than later he’s going to remember he’s Jordan Spieth and the 40-footers are going to start pouring in. He’ll be telling Greller to go get the ball because he’s too far away and the tee is in the other direction.

Bottom line, the ball striking is for real and the putting slump will pass. He’ll win soon – maybe even as soon as this week. – Nick Menta

On golf and gambling ...

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court over tuned a federal ban on sports betting in most states, a move the PGA Tour and many professional sports leagues embraced as a tool to both build fan interest and grow revenue.

Experts estimate sports betting could become a $150-$200 billion annual industry, and even a small piece of that could be significant for golf, but there will be risks.

Unlike any other sport, golf is played on multiple fields simultaneously, which inherently creates risks when gambling is introduced to the equation. Although the Tour has gone to great pains to head off any potential problems, like all bets gambling comes with great rewards, and great risks. – Rex Hoggard

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Wise continues whirlwind ascent with first win

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 3:13 am

DALLAS – Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Wise continues to prove himself to be a quick learner.

Wise went from unheralded prospect to NCAA individual champ seemingly in the blink of an eye while at the University of Oregon. After eschewing his final two years of eligibility in Eugene, he won in Canada on the Mackenzie Tour in his third start as a professional.

He continued a quick learning curve with a win last year on the Tour to propel him to the big leagues, and he didn’t flinch while going toe-to-toe with Jason Day two weeks ago, even though the result didn’t go his way.

Faced with another opportunity to take down a top-ranked Aussie, Wise made sure he got the job done Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson – even though it took until dark.

With mid-day rains turning a firm and fast layout into a birdie barrage, Wise seamlessly switched gears and put his first PGA Tour title on ice in impressive fashion with a bogey-free 65. Deadlocked with Marc Leishman to start the day, Wise made six birdies in his first 10 holes and coasted to a three-shot win as the leaders barely beat the setting sun to avoid an anticlimactic Monday finish at Trinity Forest Golf Club.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

As it turned out, the hardest part of the day was enduring the four-hour weather delay alongside his mother, Karla, as his afternoon tee time turned into a twilight affair.

“She was talking to me in the hotel about what a win could mean, what a second could mean, kind of taking me through all that,” Wise said. “I was like, I’ve got to calm down. I can’t just sit here. I said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I kind of made her leave the room.”

Wise displayed some jitters right out of the gates, with a nervy three-putt par on the opening hole. But with several players going on birdie runs to turn what seemed like a two-man race into a much more wide-open affair, Wise went on a tear of his own with four birdies in a row on Nos. 7-10.

That gave him a window over Leishman and the rest of the chase pack, and he never looked back.

“I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said. “These greens out here are really tricky, and for me to roll those putts in on 8 and 9 really kind of separated things.”

Leishman had held at least a share of the lead after each round, and the 34-year-old veteran was looking for his third win in the last 14 months. But a bogey on No. 10 coincided with a Wise birdie to boost the rookie’s advantage from two shots to four, and Leishman never got closer than three shots the rest of the way.

“He holed putts he needed to hole, and I didn’t,” Leishman said. “Hit a couple loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him, and didn’t. And that’s probably the difference in the end.”

Instead of sitting next to a trophy in Dallas, Wise could have been closing out his senior season next week with an NCAA appearance at Karsten Creek. But the roots of his quick climb trace back to the Master of the Amateurs in Australia in December 2015, a tournament he won and one that gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the best in the world. He returned to Eugene and promptly told his coach, Casey Martin, that he planned to turn pro in the spring.

The same dogged confidence that drove that decision has been the guiding force behind a whirlwind ascent through every rung of the professional ladder.

“I just have a lot of belief in myself. I didn’t come from a lot. A lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t get to travel a bunch when I played junior golf,” Wise said. “Kind of all along it’s been very, very few moments to shine and I have had to take advantage of them.”

Despite that belief, even Wise admits that he’s “shocked” to turn only his second real chance to contend at this level into a maiden victory. But fueled by the memories of a close call two weeks ago, he put the lessons learned at Quail Hollow to quick use while taking the next step in an increasingly promising career arc.

“It was awesome, everything I dreamed of,” Wise said. “To walk up 18, knowing I kind of had it locked up, was pretty cool.”

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Grace celebrates birthday with final-round 62

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:51 am

DALLAS – Branden Grace celebrated his 30th birthday in style, making the biggest charge of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Grace closed out a 9-under 62 as the sun began to set at Trinity Forest Golf Club, moving from outside the top 10 into a share of third place, four shots behind Aaron Wise. It equaled Grace’s career low on the PGA Tour, which he originally set last summer at The Open, and it was one shot off Marc Leishman’s course-record 61 from the opening round.

“Good birthday present. It was fun,” Grace said. “Little bit of imagination, little bit of luck here and there. You get more luck on the links golf course than maybe on a normal golf course.”

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

Weeks after Grace’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, he now has his best result on the PGA Tour since winning the RBC Heritage more than two years ago. As a world traveler and former Presidents Cup participant, the South African embraced an opportunity this week to go off the beaten path on an unconventional layout.

“It feels like a breath of fresh air coming to something different. Really is nice. I really enjoyed the golf course,” he said. “Obviously I think we got really lucky with the weather, and that’s why the scores are so low. It can bite you if it settles in a little bit in the next couple years.”

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Scott barely misses qualifying for U.S. Open

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:33 am

DALLAS – A birdie on the 72nd hole gave Adam Scott a glimmer of hope, but in the end even a closing 65 at the AT&T Byron Nelson wasn’t enough to earn an exemption into next month’s U.S. Open.

Scott entered the week ranked No. 65 in the world, and the top 60 in next week’s rankings automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills. The cutoff was a big reason why the 2008 tournament champ returned for Trinity Forest’s debut, and midway through the final round it seemed like the Aussie had a shot at snagging a bid at the 11th hour.

Scott needed at least a solo ninth-place finish to pass an idle Chesson Hadley at No. 60, and while his 5-footer on the 18th green gave him a share of sixth place when he completed play, he ultimately ended up in a three-way tie for ninth at 15 under – barely short of a spot in the top 60.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“I tried to make the most of really favorable conditions today, and I did a pretty good job of it. Just never really got a hot run going,” Scott said. “I feel like I struggled on the weekend reading the greens well enough to really get it going, but I think everyone but the leaders did that, too. They’re not the easiest greens to read.”

Scott has played each of the last three weeks in an effort to earn a U.S. Open exemption, and he’ll make it four in a row next week when he returns to the Fort Worth Invitational on a course where he won in 2013. Scott still has another chance to avoid sectional qualifying by earning a top-60 spot at the second and final cutoff on June 11 following the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Scott has played 67 majors in a row, a streak that dates back to 2001 and is second only to Sergio Garcia among active players. While he’s prepared to play each of the next three weeks in a last-ditch effort to make the field, he’s taking his schedule one event at a time with the hope that one more good result might take care of business.

“I’ll play next week and hopefully play really well, and give myself a bit of cushion so I can take a week or so off and try to prepare the best I can for the U.S. Open,” Scott said.