New decision leaves many LPGA pros unsatisfied

By Randall MellApril 25, 2017, 11:36 pm

IRVING, Texas – The new Rules of Golf decision limiting video evidence left a lot of LPGA pros scratching their heads.

They walked away from Tuesday’s news unsure how the USGA and R&A’s new standards will be applied to rules infractions discovered via video and whether this new decision would have helped Lexi Thompson avoid the penalties that derailed her bid to win the ANA Inspiration three weeks ago.

“There’s more gray area than clear definition,” two-time major champion Stacy Lewis said. “It didn’t really clarify anything.”

While some LPGA pros are already referring to Decision 34-3/10 as “The Lexi Rule,” USGA and R&A leaders insist that’s not the case, that the new decision was already a work in progress. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said the rule simply got “fast tracked” after the Thompson controversy.

Still, LPGA pros were immediately trying to figure out how the new decision would have been applied to Thompson at the ANA if it were in effect at the time.

“I don’t think it changes Lexi’s ruling at all,” Lewis said. “It probably changes Anna’s.”

That would be Anna Nordqvist.

Thompson was penalized four shots in the final round of the ANA Inspiration after a TV viewer emailed in to report a possible infraction. She was penalized two shots for incorrectly marking her ball on the 17th green on Saturday and two more for signing an incorrect scorecard after that round.

Nordqvist lost the U.S. Women’s Open in a playoff last summer after she was penalized two shots for grazing a few grains of sand taking back a 5-iron in a fairway bunker during a playoff. The violation was spotted in high definition video replay. She lost the playoff to Brittany Lang.

Basically, Decision 34-3/10 limits 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.

Nordqvist clearly fits the standard for relief created in the new decision, and expressed her satisfaction with the new rule as it relates to her.

"I am happy with the USGA and R&A Rules Decision regarding infractions that cannot be reasonably seen with the naked eye," she wrote in a message posted to Instagram. "After my experience last year at the U.S. Women's Open at Cordevalle, I know firsthand the impact that the advancements in technology can have on potential rulings. As I said following the round I made a mistake, and I take full responsibility for it. I am happy that going forward this will no longer be an issue. I will be making no further comments on this new decision. Thank you for your understanding."



As for Thompson? In order for her to have avoided the penalties under this new decision, the championship rules committee would have had to determine that her mismarking wasn’t visible to the naked eye, or that she showed “reasonable judgment” moving her ball back to its mark.

While Lewis said she believes Thompson should have won the championship, she wasn’t completely certain how “reasonable judgment” would be applied.

“I just think it was so clear,” Lewis said. “Yeah, you had to zoom in on it. It’s pretty clear what happened.”

Lewis wasn’t saying she believed Thompson intentionally returned the ball to a wrong spot, only that it was clear she didn’t return it correctly.

“I don’t think she purposely tried to move her ball,” Lewis said. “I’ve never seen her do that.”

Lewis has more of an issue with the two-shot penalty Thompson got for signing an incorrect scorecard, because Thompson didn’t know her scorecard was incorrect. Lewis also believes the USGA should implement a rule that would “close out” a round and make scores official once the following round begins. If that had been the case, Thompson wouldn’t have been penalized at all.

“I still think she won that golf tournament by four shots,” Lewis said. “I hope she thinks that too.”

Catriona Matthew also wasn’t sure a rules committee would grant Thompson relief, with a TV viewer apparently seeing the infraction with the naked eye and with “reasonable judgment” not a certainty in how a committee viewed her marking of the ball.

“She clearly moved the ball,” Matthew said. “Some people are then going to argue, 'How much should you move it for it to be a penalty?’”

Whan said the LPGA rules staff hasn’t gone back to review how Thompson’s infractions could have been treated under the new standards. He’s respectful of the champion, So Yeon Ryu.

“Could we have had a different outcome, I don’t know if it does any good to assess that now,” Whan said.

Like Lewis, Matthew sees the new decision creating a gray area that’s going to land in the laps of local rules committees.

“I think it muddies the water even more,” Matthew said. “That puts the rules officials in a much harder position. What do they call a judgment call?”

If Matthew had her way, viewers wouldn’t be able to call in violations, which would have spared Thompson the penalties.

“I don’t think you should be able to phone in after the fact,” Matthew said.

With the release of Decision 34-3/10, the USGA and R&A announced they are immediately beginning a “comprehensive review of broader video issues” within televised competition, including viewer call-ins.

That can’t happen fast enough for most LPGA pros.

“I think everyone understood the two-shot penalty [for the mark], but not the scorecard,” reigning U.S. Women’s Open champ Brittany Lang told Golf Channel’s Tom Abbott in a Golf Central interview. “My opinion is they have to do away with call-ins.”

How strong is Lang’s opinion on that?

“I think if you are going to call in, they ought to put your picture and your information on TV, just to show who is doing this and why you did it,” Lang said

More than one LPGA pro wished the USGA and R&A would have gone further on Tuesday, or more strongly committed to going further.

“I don’t feel like this is going to help,” Angela Stanford said. “It looks like the USGA and R&A are making an effort, but I wish they would just address the big question everyone is asking: Why allow people to call in at all? Or, if you are going to let people call in, why can’t you stop it at the end of the day? In my opinion, it means you must want that to continue.”

Count Mo Martin among those who want viewer call-ins to end.

“In my opinion, nobody has been caught flagrantly cheating,” Martin said. “I don’t think Lexi or Anna got an advantage. This is about tiny grains of sands and a ball maybe being moved a quarter-inch.

“The bigger issues are do we allow call-ins? And I hope that’s going to be addressed.”

Whan is optimistic those solutions are coming with the LPGA, PGA Tour, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America joining the USGA and R&A in a comprehensive review of the broader video issues.

“I love the fact they are building a team to do that, and they are taking input from all different tours.” Whan said. “I feel like whatever decision comes out of that, it will be the right one. I’m enthusiastic they moved so quickly on what they did, and I really like the process for going forward.”

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What's in the Bag: CJ Cup winner Koepka

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 23, 2018, 12:50 am

Brooks Koepka closed strong to win the CJ Cup in South Korea, and he also took over the No. 1 ranking. Here's a look inside his bag.

Driver: TaylorMade M3 (9.5 degrees)

Fairway Woods: TaylorMade M2 Tour HL (16.5 degrees)

Irons: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (3); Mizuno JPX-900 Tour (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 Raw (52, 56 degrees), SM7 Raw TVD (60 degrees)

Putter: Scotty Cameron T10 Select Newport 2 prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

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HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 4:20 pm

Margot Robbie has already starred in one sports-related biopic, and if she gets her way a second opportunity might not be far behind.

Robbie earned an Academy Award nomination for her work last year as former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the movie, I Tonya. She also has a desire to assume the role of her fellow Aussie, Jan Stephenson, in a movie where she would trade in her skates for a set of golf clubs.

That's at least according to Stephenson, who floated out the idea during an interview with Golf Australia's Inside the Ropes podcast shortly after being announced as part of the next class of World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.

"We've talked about doing a movie. Margot Robbie wants to play me," Stephenson said.

There certainly would be a resemblance between the two Australian blondes, as Robbie has become one of Hollywood's leading ladies while Stephenson was on the cutting edge of sex appeal during her playing career. In addition to several magazine covers, Stephenson also racked up 16 LPGA wins between 1976-87 including three majors.

Robbie, 28, has also had starring roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.

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Monday Scramble: Who's No. 1 ... in the long run?

By Ryan LavnerOctober 22, 2018, 4:00 pm

Brooks Koepka becomes golf’s new king, Sergio Garcia enjoys the Ryder Cup bump, Danielle Kang overcomes the demons, Michelle Wie goes under the knife and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

Brooks Koepka added an exclamation point to his breakout year.

His red-hot finish at the CJ Cup not only earned him a third title in 2018, but with the victory he leapfrogged Dustin Johnson to become the top-ranked player in the world for the first time.

That top spot could become a revolving door over the next few months, with Johnson, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose all vying for No. 1, but it’s a fitting coda to Koepka’s stellar year that included two more majors and Player of the Year honors.

For a player whose team searches long and hard for slights, there’s no questioning now his place in the game.


1. DJ won three events this season, but he wasn’t able to create much separation between him and the rest of the world’s best players.

Koepka’s rise to No. 1 made him the fourth player to reach the top spot this year, and the third in the past month.

Who has the greatest potential to get to No. 1 and stay there? Johnson is the best bet in the short term, but he’s also 34. Koepka will be a threat in the majors as long as he stays healthy. So the belief here is that it’ll be Justin Thomas, who is 25, without weakness and, best of all, hungry for more success.  

2. Koepka had an eventful final round at the CJ Cup. Staked to a four-shot lead in the final round, his advantage was trimmed to one after a sloppy start, then he poured it on late with an inward 29. He punctuated his historic victory with an eagle on the 72nd hole, smirking as it tumbled into the cup.

It was his fifth career Tour title – but only his second non-major. Weird.

3. How appropriate that golf’s most underappreciated talent – at least in his estimation – became world No. 1 in a limited-field event that finished at 2 a.m. on the East Coast. Somehow he’ll spin this into being overlooked, again.



4. Sergio Garcia carried all of that Ryder Cup momentum into the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where he earned the hat trick by capturing his third consecutive title there.

While the rest of the world’s best gathered in Korea or rested for global golf’s finishing kick, Garcia won the weather-delayed event by four shots over Shane Lowry. Garcia’s foundation hosts the tournament, and he extended his crazy-good record there: In 14 career appearances at Valderrama, he has three wins, seven top-3s, nine top-5s and 13 top-10s.

Garcia, who went 3-1 at the recent Ryder Cup, became the first player since Ernie Els (2004) to win the same European Tour event three years in a row.

5. Gary Woodland probably doesn’t want 2018 to end.

He was the runner-up at the CJ Cup, his second consecutive top-5 to start the season. He made 11(!) birdies in the final round and now is a combined 37 under par for the first two starts of the new season.

6. This definitely wasn’t the Ryder Cup.

Four shots back, and the closest pursuer to Koepka, Ian Poulter had a chance to put pressure on the leader in the final round. Instead, he was left in the dust, mustering only three birdies and getting waxed by seven shots (64-71) on the last day. Poulter tumbled all the way into a tie for 10th.



7. It hasn’t been the easiest road for Danielle Kang since she won the 2017 Women’s PGA.

The 26-year-old said she’s dealt with anxiety for months and has battled both putting and full-swing yips. Her problems were so deep that a week ago, she stood over the ball for four minutes and couldn’t pull the trigger.

No wonder she said that she was “pretty stunned” to hold off a bevy of challengers to win her second career title at the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

“I’m finally at a place where I’m peaceful and happy with my game, with my life,” she said.

8. In the middle of the seven-way tie for second in China was Ariya Jutanugarn, who will return to No. 1 in the world for the second time this season.

9. Also in that logjam was another former top-ranked player, Lydia Ko, who had tumbled all the way to 17th. Ko hasn’t been able to build off of her slump-busting victory earlier this summer, but she now has six consecutive top-16 finishes and at least seems more comfortable in her new position.

“Sometimes you get too carried away about the awards and rankings,” she said. “It just becomes so much. I think it’s more important to keep putting myself there and … shooting in the 60s, and that way I think it builds the confidence and the rankings kind of sort itself out.”


Here's how Tiger Woods explained his pitiful performance at the Ryder Cup: “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf.”

Of course, he looked just fine a week earlier at East Lake, where he snapped a five-year winless drought with one of the most memorable weeks of his legendary career. His training wasn’t a topic of conversation there.

It's reasonable to expect that the emotional victory took a lot of out of him, but if he was so gassed, why did he sit only one team session and go 36 on Saturday? By Sunday night, Woods looked like he was running on empty, so either he wasn't upfront with captain Jim Furyk about his energy levels, or Furyk ran him out there anyway.

This week's award winners ...  


Can’t Catch a Break: Michelle Wie. The star-crossed talent announced that she’ll miss the rest of the season to undergo surgery to repair a troublesome hand injury. Maybe one of these years she’ll be able to play a full schedule, without physical setbacks.  

Grab the Mic: Paul Azinger. Taking Johnny Miller’s seat in the booth, Azinger will call all four days of action at every Golf Channel/NBC event, beginning at the WGC-Mexico Championship. He was the most logical (and best) choice to follow the inimitable Miller.

Take That, Dawdler: Corey Pavin. It was Pavin – and not the notoriously slow Bernhard Langer – who earned the first slow-play penalty on the PGA Tour Champions in what seemed like ages. The one-shot penalty dropped him to 15th in the event.

Long Time Coming: Jason Day. His tie for fifth at the CJ Cup was his best finish worldwide since … The Players? Really. Wow.



The Tumble Continues: Jordan Spieth. In the latest world rankings, Spieth is officially out of the top 10 for the first time since November 2014. A reminder that he finished last year at No. 2.

Clutch Performances: Andalucia Masters. Both Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Richie Ramsay both moved inside the top 116 in the Race to Dubai standings, securing their European Tour cards for next season. Gonzo tied for fifth in the regular-season finale, while Ramsay was joint 11th.

That’s Messed Up: CJ Cup purse. As colleague Will Gray noted, the purse for the 78-man event was $9.5 million – or $400K more than the first 15 events of the Web.com Tour schedule combined. The difference between the haves and have-nots has never been larger.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. The defending champion never could get started in Korea, closing with his low round of the week, a 4-under 68, just to salvage a tie for 36th. Sigh.  

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."